4 Sep

I think it’s well understood.: individualism and individuality are different things. To be an individual is to be different, unique, free. To be an individual is to pay your way, to compete, to be master of the ship in the sometime stormy economic seas. Free? Aye! there’s a rub there.

Usually the former type individual will find herself in some particularly peaceful province of the American Empire. A University with a lawn perhaps? There she can indulge her tastes for loud colours or extreme androgyny; she can spend her waking hours in philosophical discourse viz the ubiquitous and for everything blameworthy Patriarchy amongst a mixed crowd wherein the boys are meek and compliant; the girls the egotists.

Or he can spend four years reading Kerouac and doing his best to look like Bob Dylan circa Blonde on Blonde. Not unique so much but a niche type. The sort of individuality that is really a pattern of consumption based on archetypes that are not ‘popular’. Not as popular. It’s fundamentally a form of elitism. They’re ‘hip’, sorta. The hipster is a kind of consumer. Those who’d actually live in the style of original hipsters (like the nefariously over-rated Kerouac) would be thought freaks by the various Gen Y HipsterBots you see about compulsively texting their bro’s viz some half-baked infobyte gleaned from the internet.

In reply, Gen X are a chorus of sneers. But are we better? We sell the kids the archetypes. We design the marketing strategies that perpetuate this endless regurgitation. Have we grown up and out of it? Or our heads still full of the same old shite only with the standard weary irony? Guess judgement on that’s an individual basis kinda thing.

Go back to the leafy campus you’ll find the ‘other kind’ of individual: sportswear, occasional comical attempts at ‘ladies’ and ‘gentlemen’. I remember ’em telling us we would never get jobs and I presume ’twas they that wrote things above the toilet paper like: ‘Free Arts Degree: Wipe Ass To Develop’.

When there’s an enemy of some kind you characterize such by the worst of them, yeah? But that’s the way I saw it. And that’s the way it still looks, only different. Science faculties tended to feature 85% nerds, 14% hippies and 1% those rare bugs who are excellent across the Arts/Science divide. Commerce students were ‘sporty’. Rugby, toga parties, like that. They got on well with Science Bots. They believed in the get-the-money kinda freedom. They despised individuality and espoused individualism:

These stereotypes are merely illustrative and out of date. It’s just a picture. A picture of dichotomy. A model based on oppositions – Arts: Science. Left:Right. Alternative: Mainstream. Black: White. Rock: Hip-Hop. Travel: Fast Car. Seachange: McMansion. Apple: Microsoft. Tradition: Progress. Progress: Tradition.

To apply it to reality would reveal how things don’t fit into systematized categories. There’s no hard black line cutting the world in half here. Consider a tale of two upper-middle spoilt brats. The yobbo-jock arsehole and the emo-goth wanker at the University of Smedley. Hated each other’s guts, nearly came to blows. Ten years later you can find an accountant and this copywriter become occasional coffee companions talking Robert Hughes and Raymond Chandler, enjoying a spar come election time; once in a while a bit drunk.

By then the copywriter will have found a place in the market and found it to his liking. And the accountant learned the limitations of a strictly economic assessment of things. Of reducing everything to what can be counted and how much it costs. They’ll laugh about the days when the fascist and the revolutionary were at loggerheads.

An over-simplification yes. And only depicting a tiny part of the whole. But perhaps it makes some sense of this Individuality: Individualism distinction? That it is not just a question of tastes, interests, values but minds and souls. And bodies. Of different type humans?

The truth is that most of us are neither especially unique or master of the ship. Most of us are ‘self-reliant’ according to the usual standards. Most of us embody somehow a type, often because of our mode of self-reliance. All of us are someone that’s never been and will never come again. So, some of us look at the ad and see ‘freedom’ in the landscape; some see it in the advertised 4WD or luxury sedan. Does this difference, which is unlikely to be entirely the consequence of a conscious decision, necessitate a war?

In what laughingly passes for newspapers these days it seems the answer is yes.


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