Hyper-individualism and sentimentality


I woke up thinking about the German sociologist Georg Simmel and his theory about growing individualism in the metropolis. The up-side of individualism, as he saw it, was freedom to be. Freedom to choose one’s social circles, to belong and to be excluded from that which was or was not of interest. The down-side was that in order not to be swallowed up by the greatness of the city and its many diverse social groups, one had to become desensitized. One had to learn to brush off the unsightly in order to experience the greatness of the freedom of being whichever self one wanted to be. Unlike the country side where social cohesion was high and diversity of different selves was low, the city’s infinite possibilities meant the possibility to be indifferent to others and to become fully immersed in one’s own ego. In the 1900 when he wrote all of this, I tend to believe that he was being more of a visionary than providing an accurate description of his times. Modernity was causing a great deal of excitement but also a great deal of paranoia for the world’s great theorists. Being fearful of people becoming assholes and basically loose atoms with no real concern for, or connection to, the people around them was quite common in his time.

Fast-forward to 2013 and I find myself thinking that those predictions were pretty fucking spot-on. Look, I love cities. I love big cities. I love living in a place where people feel this freedom to be whoever the fuck they want to be, sure. It’s fantastic and I cannot possibly stress this enough. But does that really have to come at the cost of human decency? Maybe it’s my Disney movie corrupted mind at work again but I always used to think of the world as being split down the middle between goodies and baddies. And people who were good were helpful and kind and well-mannered and very considerate of other people’s feelings. People who were bad maybe had some interesting characteristics and we could keep them around and even occasionally interact with them but we would know, just by looking at them, that they were neither kind, nor helpful, nor well-mannered and very visibly inconsiderate. Unfortunately for my little sentimental heart that loves to build up expectations about people, we are living in a time where moral contradictions seem to be pretty acceptable.

I’m not claiming to be some sort of saint. On the contrary, I have hurt people and made some questionable decisions that really blew up in my face. But those few characteristics that I think are absolutely key to having what I would consider a moral character, I have always tried to not break. Friend of a friend needs a favor and if I move some things around in my diary I can help? You bet your ass I will be there. A shy friend arrives at a party and is looking a little lost? I will always keep an eye out and try to include them. If someone invites me to stay at their house, you can be sure that I will be on my best behavior making my mommy proud. Ask me to stay at my house and you will be treated with the kindness and respect that you deserve without late night shouting or turning on lights in your face while you sleep simply because you do not pay rent there. Basic shit right? Nope, not really. Apparently expecting this sort of, to me at least, very normal crap from people is expecting way too much. I cannot possibly express how often I’ve been taught this lesson yet somehow I am failing to learn it.

Now I cannot tell you if the country side is different because the only time I lived in what one may call the country (let’s say, somewhere where you’re dangerously close to a pasture and you know way too many of the people you pass by on the streets) I was still living as an expat and the international “allure” of the place made us all feel rather cosmopolitan in spite of the geographical reality of our location. But what I do know is that I am calling bullshit on this acceptable practice of being an inconsiderate person. Not cool, world. And you’re totally breaking my heart.

In all honesty maybe it’s my own hyper-individualism that causes me to apply my version of morality on my assessment of other people’s characters… But seriously, am I the only one who is having a hard time finding solid, good people lately? People who are human and make mistakes like everyone else but have the basic decency to give a shit about others and take other people into account always and unquestionably?

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