While raking leaves and twigs from the yard, my mind wandered as it usually does while doing manual, domestic chores. Wouldn’t it be great to have someone help with this drudgery?
Then I remembered that raking the yard is a chore that gives personal satisfaction. On the other hand, my back and shoulders ache afterwards. Yet, it would be great to share the chore with someone. Then both of us could have sore backs. On and on went the mental debate. Individual versus collective action–both have positive and negative qualities.
At a basic level, we have the business of feeding ourselves. A person can grow fruits and vegetables in her yard, if she has a yard or access to a plot of suitable land. This is a good example of individuality. On the other hand, If she lives in a tenement in the inner city, this is more difficult. Some cities have converted vacant lots into places where people can cultivate family gardens. This level of cooperation represents basic collectivity. Depending upon circumstances, the rural woman can feed herself and her family by her own efforts and the urban woman can feed herself and her family through cooperative efforts.
However, most of us do not have the desire, the time, nor the skill-set required to cultivate all of our food. Food growing requires a lot of dedicated effort and time. We have various interests and career goals to accomplish. Some of us have grown old or are physically incapable of gardening. Many of us couldn’t care less about growing our own food–that’s why there are supermarkets.
A well-managed supermarket is an example of a healthy balance between individuality and collectivity. The individual efforts of various types of laborers and farmers who grow and raise the myriad food items are brought together out of the need to feed thousands of people in a neighborhood. Supermarkets are so ubiquitous that most of us give little thought as to the complexity and collectivism required to make them feasible.
My mind shifted attention back to the raking chore. Although, I am able and willing to care for the yard now, this may not be the case as I grow older. There will come a time when it will be wise to hire someone to help with routine mowing and raking responsibilities. The process of morphing from extreme individualism to accepting collectivity proceeds out of necessity as we grow from youth towards elderly status. The older one gets, the more we need others to help with basic needs. This has been one of the basic responsibilities fulfilled by society and civilization throughout the ages.
People who are well-fed and can obtain competent healthcare have the time and energy necessary to think about intellectual concepts such as individualism and collectivism. Certainly, there are radical advocates who preach the virtues of one or the other, but radicalism eventually mellows into the reality that society thrives by blending the two concepts.
We have the individuals who contribute to society by their work and imaginative inventiveness. We also have social institutions to implement, manufacture, and coordinate the efforts of individuals. As to the balancing act between individualism and collectivism, that is another matter altogether. Citizens, politicians, and economists have fought over this question for a long time.
Meantime, I have mundane chores and tasks like yard raking to do. Such work goes faster when big questions are debated in my mind.
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a quip from comedienne Lily Tomlin. “Reality is nothing but a collective hunch.”