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ME-ISM: The cult of the Individual

By Dr Stewart Hase

Let me state from the beginning that I am not opposed to human rights. I’m a member of Amnesty. I will never complain or even raise an eyebrow to someone’s right to order a quarter strength, half almond and goat’s milk, three quarter decaf, latte in a compostable cup while half an office block of people are waiting in line.

Apparently, around a hundred anti-maskers invaded Westfield Shopping Centre in Paramatta at the weekend. The report, complete with video and photos even shows placards stating that Coronavirus is a scam. Clearly, these people have been over stimulated by Craig Kelly’s Facebook page and need to spend more time in the real world.

What I most want to ask these demonstrators is what would be the motive of any government, particularly ours that is obsessed with neoliberal principles. Point the finger at anarchists by all means but she’s only running a party of two and has completely lost all influence. If they want to blame someone then they should blame that big guy in the sky with a white beard that apparently has nothing else to do than take an interest in one, tiny species on a very tiny planet, in a minor galaxy among the billions of galaxies in what is an increasingly large universe (apologies to Monty Python).

But I digress and don’t want to spend too much time and effort pouring cold vaccine on yet another conspiracy theory: cognitive bias almost certainly makes this a waste of time and effort.

Let me also admit to the fact that I hate baseball caps and refuse to wear them. This is not pique but a broader statement about wanting an Australian culture not an American one. My protest includes a dogged resistance to spelling colour correctly and travelled has two &*$#@@! LLs not one, so there. The placard at the demonstration in Parramatta, that read, ‘We will not be muzzled’ is a more important issue.

The culture of the individual or what I want to call ME-ISM, is embedded in the US constitution. In simple terms this was an attempt to ensure that the new country would not be subject to the power of governments, as it had been as a colony under the British. Individual rights were given the nod over collectivism. I’m sure that the founding fathers did not foresee how this would eventually play out when America became the most powerful country in the world, neoliberalism would rule and Trump would come to represent an American ideology that places the needs of the individual before the needs of the community, where the common good has become an anachronism. And the powerful are given free reign to do and say what they want.

And we, Australia, are inheriting this philosophy, just like the baseball cap. The anti-maskers, the anti-vaxxers, and those who don’t get tested or isolate when they have cold symptoms or lie when they enter public places make this clear. People who think about themselves rather than the collective good, who don’t care about the 80-year old that is going to die because they don’t want to wear a mask. And it’s not just because the mask is uncomfortable-it’s ideological. As an ex nurse, I’d wear a mask for hours and it is easy to get used to it.

As a psychologist, I’m obviously familiar with the fact that self-interest is a major human motivator. But there is a self-interest in being a good community member too because the community will take care of us-there is a strength in numbers. I suspect that this worked really well when we lived in small tribes and everyone knew everyone else and it was difficult to be a rebel. It is evident in small communities. But I suspect we have lost this with large cities and increasing population.

The effectiveness of communities relies on people being compliant: to put the interests of the common above their own. It relies on co-operation. It relies on leadership from our politicians and for the common to speak up with our expectations.

Or are we to follow the American way?

Stewart is a psychologist with a special interest in how people adapt and also learn. He’s written widely in these areas. He continues to consult, and annoy people who misuse power. Twitter: @stewarthase

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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  1. Win Jeavons

    I agree . I started to point out the dangers of excessive individualism back in 1985 and events since only reinforce this. We are a social species and do not do well in isolation. As with so much there is a middle position somewhere between N. Korea and the US, and we are moving too close to the latter extreme. Living in a small country town shows the value of community. Having almost free school education and healthcare illustrates the value at a national level. We must resist the efforts of the libertarian types to push down a very divisive and anti social path. Tax evaders at the highest level sponge off the rest of us and that too must be fought tooth and nail. Selfishness is NEVER a virtue.

  2. DrakeN

    Me-ism exists in parallel with ‘other-ism’.
    It’s always ‘others’ who are the causes of our angst and anger.
    ‘Poor me’ exists alongside and the heart of many problems is the aorta; as in “Aorta do summick abaht it.”
    “The Lord helps those that help themselves” still resonates as a saying with those who firmly believe in helping themselves to anything which they come across; such a popular concept, too.
    A return to the ‘Golden Ages’ of Master and serf is the desired out come, even for the many who have absolutely no chance of joining the ‘Upper Class’.
    A healthy, happy, well educated citizenry is a sound barrier to the aspirations of greater wealth and control by the already rich and powerful, and, as such, highly undesirable.

  3. Joseph Carli

    The little red hen.
    So much depends
    On the little red hen,
    Standing beside the wheelbarrow,
    In the pouring rain. . .

  4. Roswell

    Joe(with the ‘seph’), what’s up? You seem to be a little erratic today.

  5. Joseph Carli

    Just thought I’d cheer the pages up a tad, Ros’..

    How about this then…: Whence the saying : “To fiddle the books”?.. From Samuel Pepy’s Dairy Nov’ 7th 1660…: “ After all this he called for the fiddles and books, and we two and W. Howe, and Mr. Childe, did sing and play some psalmes of Will. Lawes’s, and some songs; and so I went away. “

  6. Bob

    Stewart, at one end of the social interactive spectrum is ME-ism and at the other end is sheep-ism. All I see is a lack of open debate. It’s as if the wheels are going to fall off the medical propaganda jalopy if the sacred cows of PCR test false positives is challenged or the counter-arguments to the safety of mask wearing are brought up. 100% of the msm narrative is currently one-sided and formulaic. Anything else is a conspiracy theory. As if that childish assertion means anything other than msm is either corrupt and hiding the full facts from the public or are incapable of researching medical topics in deep. There are more than a few sources of alternative argument on the effective of mask such as in the Reference list to this article:

    Neurosurgeon: Face Masks Pose Serious Risks to Healthy Individuals

    Joseph and Stewart, imagine you are together in a therapy room that contains a couch and a little red hen. Go.

  7. wam

    The below average poor are happy as long as they can see there are people with less.
    Happy people keep the status quo.
    Scummo’s government and murdoch’s journalist’s lies boosted by bbq sheep still rabbotting on about whitlam and gillard’s debt, are not balanced by labor’s efforts to show alternate positions because the normal avenues for redress are locked and much of scummo’s governance was outside parliament with no labor input except at state levels.
    The perfect formula is to keep enough workers worried about labor and the loonies to garner enough seats.
    bob are you not worried tby the hen’s cry ‘the sky might fall’???

  8. paul walter

    It is a welcome piece.

    Truly, it seems to me to be about divide, conquer and plunder spearheaded by the likes of Murdoch, from the time of Thatcher and before that creatures like Ayn Rand and the Austrian School economists.

    But what does such behaviour and attitudes, such traits of self sabotage, say of the New Colonial Masters trying to poison the water wells for most of the planet as their primitive squatter ancestors did 150 years ago?

    The lunacy has split civilisation down the middle like a sheep’s skull so that the vulture capitalists can suck the brains out with a copper straw and it is indeed that neo lib ideology has been the rationale behind selfish individualism massaged into some thing akin to mass psychosis and paranoia of the sort we have just witness at the Capitol in the USA.

    But it never seems to sate the dreadful pull toward an insatiable self gratification through control, power and symbolic wealth to defy immortality, for that minority who have become dislocated from their own selves and their own feelings and nature…cold and impotent.

    Today, we are ALL “other” and a doco I saw tonight on China and surveillance, where even the People are “other” just lights up the dystopic direction the world heads toward.
    And we in the West are no better, although maybe a little less crude, although perhaps we are so sotted we can’t see the changes that have happened.

    The America of the last half- decade at least would be my “Exhibit A”- brainwashing as to reality in our time.

  9. Uta Hannemann

    Very good article!

    “. . . an American ideology that places the needs of the individual before the needs of the community, where the common good has become an anachronism. And the powerful are given free reign to do and say what they want.”

    Further on you say: “As a psychologist, I’m obviously familiar with the fact that self-interest is a major human motivator. But there is a self-interest in being a good community member too because the community will take care of us-there is a strength in numbers. . .”

    Maybe studying psychology should be made compulsary in schools?!

  10. Henry Rodrigues

    The me me me doesn’t apply when the biggest corporations and banks and financial giants come to the taxpayer with the begging bowl asking for a bailout, circa 2009, GFC. Dog shagger Kelly and bargearse Christiansen and their slimy boss Scummo bang on about the free market and how you get a go if you give it a go, except when their big money donors get into trouble, then its the duty of the humble taxpayer to help the economy.

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