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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ego Empathy and Individuality

Without the twentieth century movement towards individualism the women’s liberation movement would have stalled at the first barrier. It freed the feminine ego to contemplate limitless possibilities for self-fulfilment.  And it encouraged the other sex to exert a similarly assertive response to the multiple layers of authority that had discouraged public expressions of self-assertion in the pre-‘post modern’ era. Society has admired individual exemplars but even today, it despises, because it fears, the individual as a concept, that is to say, someone who stands apart from the group.

All individualism is, to an extent, a renunciation of the community because it asserts the pre-eminence of the individual over the community.  One may argue that altruism exists to bind individuals as a community but in as much as altruism fulfils a need within the self can it truly exist separately from the ego?  And if all things spring from the ego, how can individuality and altruism co-exist as anything but a transient connection?

A society with its adult males pursuing a course of individual attainment may have survived because only a few individuals ever distanced themselves from the group but they nearly always remained within the community. However a society in which both sexes reject the cohesion of the group damages the community and must test its sustainability. 

Individuality and ego are entangled. Political and religious extremism are no more than the expression of an uninhibited ego. As such the difference, if it exists, between them and pornography is that the latter is usually private while the former is not.

And this leads us onto ‘respect’ because if respect is not mutual it is a deceit. And individualism at its most nihilistic is the antithesis of respect.   This is where society has failed.  Today we are all of us witness to a society that has no respect for the individual and only conditional respect for the group.  We are spectators to the debilitation of the modern community; or worse, its replacement by ethnic based communalism.

In usurping the role of the community in pursuit of the egotists’ agenda, journalism has succeeded in trivialising debate and marginalising the community.  As a profession it is complicit in returning us to medieval ignorance.

Jeremy Rifkin says that we are soft wired to experience the plight of another person as if we experienced it ourselves; that selfhood goes with empathetic development. There is a line we cross in the pursuit of individual attainment where we lose our empathy for the individual and replace it with a group consciousness.

During the American Civil War it was said that The South loved ‘Black’ people as individuals and hated them as a group while The North loved them as a group but hated them as individuals.  Perhaps the essence of being human is that we are only capable of seeing the other as an individual and that when we attain a group consciousness we immediately compartmentalise those who are not like us into neat stereotypical blocks. As a species we appear to be incapable of transcending our need for labels.  In a competitive world this is religions greatest failure because empathy, predicated on faith, is tribal. We have not evolved to the degree we assumed.  Simon Greer wrote in the Washington Post that we are at our best as a society when we put humankind and the common good first. But it is how we interpret the ‘Common good’ and ‘benefit’ that counts.   And past history teaches us that in most cases, even when we transcend our tribalism, ego trumps empathy.

How all that I have referred to previously matters is that it would be truly naive to believe even for a moment that what happened at the News of the World (NotW) was a peculiarity of News Corp.  Phone Tapping and hacking into the mobile phones of innocent people was not a single news corporations’ aberrant behaviour.  The principle that still legitimises intrusion and snooping to uncover non-conformism or illegality remains wholly supported across the media.  Ethically this is wrong.  And while it would be irrelevant to ascribe revenge against feminism as a motive for bringing Rebekah Brooks to account, the pack mentality has been very selective in targeting News Corp.  Ed Miliband demanded the break up of Saint Rupert’s media empire without any mention of the BBC or any other global hegemon.

This pack mentality legitimises disrespect for the individual as well as the group. It is the Media's legacy and has been concealed from us in any discussion of the nature of the present threat to our freedom.

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