So I was reading and I found this quote:
"But if values are matters of individual preferences mediated solely by money, how can society hold together, and how can we distinguish between good and bad social values? Indeed, liberalism to a certain extent denies the very idea of society as such, of collectivity possessing a moral authority over its members."
and it got me wondering, Is individualism something that has been over-emphasized and over intesnifyed to the point that it would be fair to say that contemporary understandings of individualism are just as much of a quaint fantasy-reality as that of communism?
If you'd give the source for the quote, it would help folks answer.
Consumer Culture & Modernity.
Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers Inc.
I must make a somewhat uniformed comment, not having the oportunity to read the book.
Individuality does exist. It is manfested in one's personal tastes in food, drink, entertainment, and dress. Unfortunately, the innate need of humans to be accepted into and belong to a group tends to make folks repress their individualistic expressions into those that conform to the group's expectations.
Individuality is not over-emphasized, it just seems that way, owing to the huge social and psychological pressures to conform to the expectations of whatever groups, i.e., "tribes" one belongs to.
Next point. The totally individualist persona, such as Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe or Robert Heinlein's Waldo Farthingwaite-Jones doesn't exist in "real life". This is because humans are a social animal, and have the innate need to be associated with a tribal group of some nature. It is wholly possible for a human to "belong" to multiple tribes, conforming to each "tribe's" ethos and behavior as needed. That in itself is an indivdualist behavor. An example would be that is is possible for someone to simultaneously belong to the "tribes" of his work (the social and professional grouping and sub-groupings he belongs to at work), the Southern Baptists, the NRA member, the ACLU member, and player on a local "rec-league" ball team.
Nero Wolfe is not unrealistic, just rare. Men as him are known to have lived; in classical times, they were called Epicureans. It's hard to find anything about Nero Wolfe - & what a interesting name he has! - that had not been said by Epicurus or Lucretius. Some of the most ostentatious skeptics of classical times also have much in common with him.
N.W. accepts social constraints, the constraints of working for the police, & especially the necessity to get money on occasion, so that he may live in a city so blind to his merit that he does not take his meals at the public expense. He just does not see much good in these things, that is, more than their merit as means to ends. What seems to make him disagree with people on the worth of the laws is his insight into their lack of intelligence. Were people reasonable, by & large, he could hardly make a living by detective work, on the other hand. -- He says about himself that he has a passing acquaintance with justice. He lacks any love of justice, but he has great respect for cleverness, including criminal cleverness. It seems like his involvement in punishing people is mostly theatrical, having little, if any part of pleasure.
Compare him with Sherlock Holmes, who apparently would prefer to die rather than endure the existence of crime, so he would kill a great criminal, whom he admits he cannot but admire, even at the price of his own life. Surely, such a man does have great love of justice & a corresponding great hatred of injustice.
I think it really pends on how far away from the social norm the individual is.
One thing to offer regarding your quote. I read a set of definitions in my Engineering Ethics class that I really like and help clarifies somethings. Morals are ones individual values, Ethics are the agreed set of guiding values that societies work within.
By clearly adding in room for your personal Morals to be differing from your professional ethics setup up some agreed common ground for the society.
That reminds me of a coworker I had years ago. Dude was a notorious skirt chaser. The workplace take was that "J*** was an extremely moral person, once you accepted his morals."
Engineering Ethics? Sorry, but doesn't that mean not deliberately underspecing the design?
Mostly the class was a remember if you screw up you could kill people and try to give back to society course.
Indeed, liberalism to a certain extent denies the very idea of society as such, of collectivity possessing a moral authority over its members.
As it should be.
The "collective" is not a moral authority, and cannot be a moral authority. It is, at best, a necessary evil ... at worst, just an evil. "Collective" doesn't make right. In fact, it is very often ass-backward. Many of the worst atrocities in the history of the world have been done because of the "collective". Morality must exist outside of the collective, otherwise the collective could never be wrong -- and it often is.
Individualism isn't a fantasy, it is an ideal. Ideally, we would be free to do as we wished in all cases -- free from the constraints and infringements of a burdensome "collective" intruding on personal decision-making. But, the inherent flaws in humanity require some control be asserted to protect the individual rights from intrusion by other individuals ... or by the collective as a whole. This is the sole moral purpose of the "collective". It rarely keeps to that limited purpose ... often, instead, endeavoring to protect us from ourselves and the consequences of our own decisions.
That "collective" control -- being an inherent infringement -- should be as minimal as possible. More often than not, it isn't.
PJ O'Rourke wrote "There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences." That is the ideal. That -- not hairstyles, or clothes, or speech, or whatever -- is individualism.
Morality is not up for majority vote, as much as the collectivists would like you to think it is.
That right to act seems to raise people who are successful & demote people who are not. It praises force or cleverness intrinsically. If to act is good, then doing rather than failing to do what one sets out to do, is good. How this is any different to 'might makes right' or 'fraud makes right' I am not sure. Certainly, I've read about a large number of men who did as they damned well pleased & lived with the consequences, proving not only that tyranny tempts men, but that some can succeed at it. I do not see that the self-assertion that creates individuality - my sense of my own individuality, which others may lack or disapprove - is spontaneously going to avoid asserting oneself at the cost of everyone else...