Thursday, February 18, 2010

The value(?) of individuality

What is the value of individuality? It seems obvious that unity provides strength. The combined efforts of many can accomplish what a single effort cannot. Aesop illustrated the concept in his fable about a farmer with bickering sons who demonstrated the strength of unity by bundling sticks. When a certain task requires a greater diversity of skills than any single person has then it becomes beneficial to form a committee where each contributes her individual skill and strength to the task. So if each person hadn't developed unique skills, the task would be impossible. Hypothetically, if all members in a culture were the same, if no-one had individual or exceptional abilities, the community would stagnate, atrophy, and dwindle. Only when individuality can be expressed, will a culture advance. So if it is to the advantage of a culture to include and promote strong individuals then why are we constantly encouraged socially to conform? why this grand homogenization? It has gotten to the point where a persons individual worth is challenged if they do not demonstrate outward signs of conformity or comply with some pre-determined arbitrary public standard. On the other hand, some personal achievement is publicly celebrated. Our cultural values don't seem to correspond to what, historically, has promoted or advanced our civilizations. Our culture seems to value entertainment more than science, religion, law, or art. We reward actors and athletes with celebrity and wealth while scientists and teachers have to struggle and sacrifice to make their contributions.

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