October 27th, 2008


We are all individuals!

I had a dream that I was attending a reunion of the Honors College. There actually was such a reunion before, but I didn't go. Anyway, in the dream, I ran into people I knew from college, and they were nice, but didn't want to talk to me very much. I kind of felt like I didn't really belong, except at the time when everyone started singing the Sesame Street theme for some reason. I think the whole thing was a reflection on my actual college years, and how I felt like I was generally liked, but still somewhat of an outcast.

This conveniently relates to a topic that I wanted to discuss, which is that of individualism and society, and how they relates to human belief systems. In the third part of the epilogue to The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell writes that, "for the democratic ideal of the self-determining individual, the invention of the power-driven machine, and the development of the scientific method of research, have so transformed human life that the long-inherited, timeless universe of symbols has collapsed." rockinlibrarian has written recently about how modern society fears death, and no longer shows respect to the dead as many ancient cultures did. I think this might be related, in that someone who thinks of himself or herself more as part of a larger group than as an individual might not be as concerned with his or her own death, as long as the society as a whole survives. That kind of thought still exists, but perhaps it isn't as common in an era of individualism, because death is certainly the end of the individual person. People claim that you can live on through your works or your children, but that's not really living on in the purely technical sense, as you're not there to see it. Sure, it would be cool to be remembered for something I've done, but even if I were to create something immortal (which I don't think will happen, mind you), that wouldn't make ME immortal. And in a way, I kind of fear that the people who want to live on through their children are the ones who will try to force those kids to follow in their footsteps. Nobody really lives on through their children, because those children are their own individual people.

Some say that religion can remove fear of death, but it obviously doesn't always work, as very religious people tend to be just as afraid of dying as anyone else. I think part of that might be because, even if you believe in an afterlife, it's still not life. Whether you think you're going to Heaven, Hell, or anywhere in between, you're no longer going to be taking part in events in your day-to-day life on Earth, and such a change is scary even if you believe it'll be for the better. We're reluctant to give up what we have in life. I don't know. I don't think I'd want to live forever, but the idea that death can strike at any time is a frightening one. But then, I'm not sure I'd want to know when I'm going to die either, because then I'd just keep dreading it like I do other unwanted future events.

According to Campbell, the society of which we should now see ourselves as part isn't a tribal or national group, but the world as a whole. I consider that a goal to which we can all aspire, but I'm sure many people don't want to.