Many of the fundamental doctrines and attributes of Western civilization are a mixture of Greek-Roman values and a distorted Christianity. They are ultimately derived from ancient, pagan myths, one of the best harms of which is the legend of Prometheus who ‘stole’ fire from the gods at the risk of eternal punishment. This tragic heroic defiance of Prometheus is the original impulse of Western humanist attitudes, which have driven Western people into individualistic isolation. Such attitudes reject any supreme being, and deify assertive egoism instead, of which a bleak, lonely individualism is an inevitable consequence.
Individualism is a philosophy which, like Nietzsche’s nihilism and Kroptkin’s anarchism, encourages people to turn away from religious values. It rejects divine authority altogether and any kind of religion-based command. It regards human beings as creators and human intelligence as the only guide in life.
A study, done in the United States and Germany between 1984 and 1986, produced remarkable findings about the social and economic characteristics of people living alone in these countries:
The numbers of such people have increased from 6.9 million to 20.6 m. in the United States and from 4 m. to 8.8 m. in Germany. Similar increases can also be observed in the other European countries.
Other research studies named SOP (Sozio Economisches Panel) and SIPP (Survey of Income and Program Participation) give the general reasons for this increase as follows:
a- Life conditions have become easier due to economic and technological development
b- Women have moved into different occupations and stations in life
c- New methods of contraception
d- Changes in social norms and values, in particular a decline in family life
e- Desire to live free of responsibilities
According to the SOP survey rest homes in Germany were overfilled after the Second World War with war widows and a generation of people made hopeless and desperate by the unfavourable psychological effects of the war. Marriage rates fell over the same period. The same research states that the young unemployed in many European countries account for an average fifty percent of the number of those who have chosen solitude.
The individual, who has lost all attachment to the society in which he or she lives, and has no feeling of responsibility to that society, abandons all links with its cultural values and symbols and its norms of behaviour: the individual becomes alienated and, probably, anti-social.
Sociologists suggest that this trend is eroding societies. If the bases on which social orientation is built have been weakened, if, in other words, there is no longer any trust among the members of a society, then that society will begin to disintegrate. Durkheim calls this collapse ‘anomie’. Suicides, homicides and general disorder are inevitable since so many individuals do not have a sufficient reason to respect life, not even their own.
This kind of survival or persistence in a life of which the individual can no longer make much sense turns around mere calculation of advantages, difficulties and, if any, of pleasures. The isolated individual is, because of isolation, over-attached to personal advantages, too alone to deal effectively with the difficulties that inevitably arise, and too self-oriented in the pleasures available to him or her. Life is thus reduced to a mere shadow of what, deep down, the individual knows it ought to be, and the envy. loneliness and selfishness which the individual feels makes the situation ever more painful and hopeless.
Lack of religious education and a near absence of devotional and contemplative habits are the background condition which urge people into a form of self-limitation and self-imprisonment. Their moral imagination atrophies so that they do not know of, or if they know, they do not much care about, the suffering and hardships that others endure. It is all too obvious that modern Western individualism has brought unhappiness, depression and disorder into many human lives and societies. Nor can the deterioration be reversed until people return in sufficient numbers and with sufficient sincerity and wisdom to the true faith.
Individualism and Solitude
- By M. Sabih
- Category: Issue 2 (April - June 1993)
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