A History of Individualism: This Time it’s Personal | By @mikeypie12

The following was written by @mikeypie12.  


Today I have watched a group of anti-democratic, hate-filled thugs, wishing to inflict as much carnage upon a defenceless civillian population, disregarding civillity and human rights as part of an idelogical crusade of zealotry – as all the while they continue on a path of tearing apart an ancient country, and destroying all manifestations of its culture in the name of abject tyranny. Such is life in a country that is ran by The Bullingdon Club.

It is the first time I have seen this movie, and I am largely behind the times. I have no doubt much artistic license has been taken in the portrayal of the club and its motives, however I think the film infact best serves as a microcosm of the savagery of the current regime. Wilde once said, “A cynic is he who knows the prices of everything, yet the value of nothing.” No better a summise for this group of intemperate rich-boys, licentiously revelling in their new-found power (let us disregard that atleast in theory. Perhaps more than a lament on the inhabitants of Downing Street, it infact serves more fittingly as a visual characterisation of the era, and country that we live in, and – whilst I by no means speak for everyone, and simply brushing with broad strokes – our own attitudes and lives, which have become immersed as part of a grotesque orgy of self-absorbtion, and instant self-gratification, where even the time spent with friends and our own most intimate moments must be spent pandering to ones own innately selfish whims, a malaise of solipsistic ego-queens. I’ve asked myself innumerable times about the roots, and even if it’s a bad thing. To understand and answer these questions, and even answer them, we shall go back in time and meet the devil himself – the one man who is worse than Red Ed and Jeremy Corbyn…

Key to developing an understanding: It was Hegel who first propagated the theory that would come to be appropriated, developed and known through a man who should never be mentioned in polite civilised society as the materialistic conception of history. It simply means in laymans terms, that the economic, or broadly speaking, the trade conditions existing in the world, determine the way in which the production of wealth must work. One could also pontificate, that this ‘working out of production’ goes so far as to even determine what the social, ethical and religious considerations shall be. However, it is recognised that economic conditions don’t stagnate, they are always in a state of evolution. Inevitably, they will come into collision with the previous social, ethical and religious state of affairs. What we will consider the previous state of affairs however, will not simply die and go away without a struggle, consequently react, in doing so, limiting the extent of the material evolution which is going on. At the risk of leaving myself open to objections, I have given this principle as fully as I can, within a short space in order to provide context and a background to the question of individualism. 

Simply, all of mankinds greatest and most enduring achievements have been attained collectively, the same can be said of mankinds worst and most horrific. Again, I leave myself open to objection, if there is one defining moment in the history of humanity which has been perpetuated solely by an individual without the input or assistance of others, I am not aware of it. Pre-thirty five years ago, large socially funded projects were normal and seen as good and worthwhile. The ultimate example of which being NASA and the moon landings. Now, having provided the context in the previous paragraph, we shall find that the onus is simply on individual consumerism. Generally speaking anyway. Which of course has limits as what you buy is largely restricted to your own personal use and gratification. You can’t say, buy a lot of road or land, and some ready-to-lay train tracks and decide to set up your own local affordable Metro/Tram system, because yourself or a couple of friends got drunk one night and thought it’d be a good idea to have a whip round and do it. Most – probably all of the technology, I’m sure there may be a exception – of what we have now is mainly just small refinements on technology which was developed by public funded/owned industries before incidentally being sold off to private business within the past 25-30 years. Not necessarilly a correlation, but there’s definitely a causality.

Simply put, there are two kinds of commodities which are readily available to those who we will deem working people – the first and most readily available is that which is for personal use, and has little or no targeted resale value beyond yourself. Today, these will include your phone, most of your designer clothes, ebooks, music downloads, Spotify. It may be feasible to make money out of any of these things, but essentially the premise is, that the odds are largely against you making a profit. The second are the things you are able to buy, then subsequently sell and make a profit. It is this second set of commodities, when we look at them in conjunction with the first will be the most indicative of how we find ourselves in such an individualist society, today. It is unlikely (although certainly by no means impossible) most average wage-earners without deeply concerted effort can afford this second set of commodities without borrowing and accruing debt. For most people born post-1980, it may come as something a surprise that credit-cards, and most other banking products were not ubiquitous. In 1980’s Britain, as the powerful trade-unions were crushed and made de-facto illegal, this shift towards becoming a debt based society may effectively be the most determing factor in why the individualist became predominant in a previously collectivist society. With this came a largely societal shift towards believing in an albeit-imaginary form of social-mobility beyond the confines of their class. The irony of course, is that with greater debt comes a greater ball-and-chain. The debtee is more reliant than ever on their employer as their main source of income, this makes any mass-mobilisation or organisation as part of the now semi-outlawed trade-unions superfluous. Thus, it is against the persons self-interest to become embroiled in industrial action, which could be costly and put one in the position of being at odds with your employer, who you are reliant upon. Nonetheless, a concerted and incessant advertising system and media reaffirms your faith in yourself, and your belief in a perceived one-upmanship when you can scrape together a direct-debit for a new iPhone which you will be effectively paying for over the next two years, providing an extra layer of reliance. In far as individualism goes, this is about as far removed from the ideals of one of its greatest proponents, Ayn Rand and her vision of the the individualist man as a self-reliant demi-God, infinitely resourceful and free to achieve his most lofty ideals. It simply reiterates the point about the evolution and shifts in the distribution of wealth. 

Whilst corporations exploit the planet for every last ounce of its useful raw-materials (which would no doubt please Ayn) the deindustrialisation of labour in ‘civilised societies’ in favour of a customer-service based, debt-ridden society, our economy is increasingly based on speculation rather than tangible production. Production itself is moved to foreign shores to exploit maximum surplus value, from the cheaper labour and cheaper raw-materials to maximise profit. This presents a massive challenge, as this has created massive unemployment in previously industrialised sectors. Unemployment in turn is highly advantageous for business owners, as demand for jobs in conjunction with semi-illegal and almost amoral trade-unions makes it easier to deskill remaining functions and drive down wages as demand for employment is greater. Or atleast the aspiration is for it to be greater, hence the onslaught and de-facto demonisation of the unemployed as ‘workshy’ or ‘benefits claimants.’ Driving a further wedge between people who in reality belong to the same social-class. The working class can now be divided although not quite neatly into three sectors: the unemployed, a precariat: those with largely unstable working arrangements, and the aspirational working-class those with steady employment and reasonable salaries upto and slightly beyond the middle-income bracket, who aspire for greater social-mobility, although in doing so, perhaps through a rejection of trade-unionism, working longer hours, weekends without pay, aiding and abbetting the demonisation of other parts of the working classes in hope of aspiring to a middle-managers job where they imagine they shall be more comfortable, they are infact in all likelihood, driving themselves and others closer to the precariat and unwittingly destabalising their own futures. 

The premise in ‘capitalist society,’ is that the cost of a product on the market is determined by the cost of raw materials and cost of labour – the actual price on the market will be ‘surplus value,’ basically, because in capitalism, the means of production, the materials, and even the labourer himself are at the disposal of ‘the capitalist’ to be exploited. The whole system is therefore dependent on exploitation, as the labourer does not get the full value or reward for their work. However, this is an oversimplification and at the risk of oversimplifying further, as we become increasingly market dependent, where values are increasingly speculative which is to say they aren’t based on anything as tangible as physical assets of which we can include machinery, materials and even workers in this. It is a system of ‘fictitious value’ based on an expected yield or return somewhere in the future. Of course, these values can become inflated by factors such as supply-and-demand, or predicted profit some years down the line, which in itself can be manipulated by any accountant worth their salt. This trend will likely lead to increased speculation before the bubble inevitably bursts. In this kind of speculation driven economy it can become easily overstated how much impact actual labour has on what we have deemed ‘fictitious value,’ since speculative trade does not actually have to be based on or supported by any kind of tangible asset. Thus it may be the case that a companies value, and actual production are only indirectly related. No matter that when the bubble-bursts, it may well be that the workers are the first to suffer. Again I have tried to explain this concept as simply as I can, within the constraints of this piece, leaving myself open to repudiation.

Short-term, it is difficult to see it getting any better. Capital will continue to shift and evolve, though. I always take further solice from ‘Scienza Nuova,’ a work by the great Englightenment thinker Giambattista Vico, that history goes in cycles. Yesterday, great works were forged through collective effort, today, they are stripped to the bone by the individualists, tomorrow, we shall collectively reforge those great works again, better than ever.

By Michael • @mikeypie12

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