We live in a world where we are told by forces (I know, it sounds ominous but bear with me) tell us that the individual should be self-sufficient. In their seminal works on Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze and Guattari talks about how psychoanalysis ‘works’, but is no neutral practice. I would argue that the same holds true for not only psychoanalysis but principally every strand of psychology including ”scientifically proven” versions such as CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy) operates on much the same basic premise; that you are yourself closest; you can be your own best friend, and no one is closer to yourself, you have less control over anything or anyone else compared to yourself. Yes. Such a stance ‘works’, but it’s not neutral or innocent or based on a matter-of-factly observation. Instead, it works in the service of capitalism and hyperindividualism.
Religious Studies scholar Craig Martin has reacted to recent works on new religious movements. There is one much hailed study (which I thoroughly dislike for its methodological flaws) by Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead called The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality (2004) that in no uncertain terms explains a shift from traditional ”life-as” religion to new forms of spiritual searching, typically gathered under the umbrella sometimes referred to as ‘new age’ teachings and practices. Notwithstanding the methodological problems of the study (which could be a blog post in itself), Craig Martin’s objection to this (often hailed as seminal) study and others like it, in his book Capitalizing Religion: Ideology and the Opiate of the Bourgeoisie (2014) is that the individual is an under-theorised category. We should, says Martin (and I fully agree) theorise the individual as an analytical category and see the underlying ideological structure to which it adds.
You may think capitalism is wonderful. And I don’t blame you. How else would we all afford a new fashionable pieces for our wardrobe (probably produced by child labour in the third world, but never mind) every season? And the sense that a communist state could predict its citizens’ every need has clearly never worked very well. But the sense that every man should fend for himself is not innocent. It’s an ideological production, it’s a pledge of allegiance to a vision of a society where people don’t need others.
For instance, we are taught by magazines, newspaper, advertising, our workplace, colleagues, relation columns, TV and whatnot that if we invest too much in others we only have ourselves to blame when things go tits up. The various strands of psychology available to us, all help to make us productive cogs in the machinery, aware of our ‘personal trademark’. The problem with being an employable cog in the machinery, is that it entails chiseling away much of your difference. What a cog is, other than a functional part of a whole (in this case capitalism) is replaceable. And as much as you should be an employable self-sufficient individual, you must at the same time not be so individual that you alienate yourself from the market. The ideological summa is the following: Not being employable, cog-like enough is your fault. Enacting your freedom (oh how we love the talk of freedom) too much, then it’s equally your fault that you don’t fit in the capitalist system. So the bottom line is that the freedom promised within the current structure is not really much freedom at all. More than anything the ”freedom” we have can be summed up as: The freedom to be employed or perish.
Deleuze and Guattari’s response to the individual is the dividual. Signifying all the different connections, flows, virtualities (yes, I know, a lot of terms thrown around here), becomings and emergences (not emergencies) that ‘we’ are imbued with. The individual is an ideological product(ion) that aims at reducing much of the difference that people display. William E Connolly writes about different sites of agency within our bodies displaying their own subjectivity and trajectories, not all pulling in the same direction. Also our consciousness doesn’t pull us in just one direction. We don’t just have one thing we want and nothing that stands in opposition to it.
When I was 14 years old, my mother said that ‘you have these different sides that shouldn’t go together’, implicitly hinting that it would probably be best if they were aligned, structured by my free church belonging (again, an ideological production providing direction) to that master narrative. Of course, taking the dividual (as opposed to the self-sufficient individual) seriously is also an ideological production. A counter-capitalist resonance machine, Connolly would call it. But at least there is a serious attempt here to theorise the individual. This theory is a reappraisal of human interdependency, Deleuze and Guattari is the tribute band to our connections (I think the band should probably be called The Connections, in classical Motown style).
Infant babies who get clothed and feed and are able to sleep enough and aren’t wrought with any deceases or medical conditions still die if they aren’t held sufficiently. If they don’t get to experience human connection they wont make it. Human connectedness, intimacy, love is real stuff. And it’s not something you can predominantly exercise towards yourself, although connectedness to your self and self love is admittedly all the rage (again: ideological production). But we need to break with the notion that this is what existence is ultimately about: looking out for yourself. It truly isn’t. It’s a slow march to death on a road of isolation.
I live in a relationship where we oppose the notion that we are enough for ourselves. And that whatever happens between us is just a ‘feelgood bonus’. Instead we reappraise love as something integral, a stuff of life, an elixir of sorts. What we try not to do, however, is to just extend the individualism to a twoism (to namedrop a Boards of Canada EP). As soon as we (humans) see this ‘entity’ as something natural and self-sufficient, we fall into the same trap. It’s now just a two (wo)man show which can be equally focused on aligning itself with capitalistic ideological production of cogery and personal trademarks.
Our spirituality is that we can create enough flow of energies between us so we have an easier time reaching out to others, being there for others, performing acts of kindness to others, without demanding that others give back to us (instead hoping that they give back something to someone). If the fear of being deemed a faulty cog (which is always your own fault in capitalism) could be replaced by a thinking of abundance, generosity and dependency I believe a really important shift could happen in human consciousness. Maslow in later days criticised his own stair of needs, and added a new highest step: self transcendence. This includes letting go of ego, letting your fears of not being a productive enough cog, and trusting that there are people to reach out to when you need them. If we weren’t so hung up on that input and output had to come from the same people I believe this could happen, as there is no actual shortage of either monetary or material resources, just the distribution of them.
Anyone who has ever handled a mixing desk knows the problematic truth of what happens when input and output are connected to each other. You have a microphone that inputs sound, the mixing desk amplifies the sound, which the microphone picks up and a horrible screeching feedback sound ensues. For music to ensue, it’s absolutely critical that input and output is not the same source. Now: How’s that for a theory of the individual?
What if we construe individualism as a sickness? Instead of looking at the lack of self-sufficiency and being enough for oneself – if we saw people struggling to make their own ends meet (dog chasing his tail), and tried to help these people by telling them that they’ve got it all backwards? That the illness is actually not being overly reliant on others but that they suffer from an acute lack of connections? An acute deficiency of connectedness to others? That it, much like the child, will kill you. That you inevitably need more dependency, not less, and that being at the mercy of your fellow human beings is not something to be feared but to be longed for, to strive towards and achieve? What if capitalism is the inner manifestation of agoraphobia; being afraid of the square, of the people that we so need to make our lives full of meaningful connections and commitments? That’s the theoretical stance at least I want to take on the individual.