The Collective Is Not Always More
Correct Than The Individual

One mistake often made by people who want to strive for a more collective society -- whether that society might be called anarchist, communist, or "small-d" democratic -- is to assume that the collective can always be trusted above the individual. Unfortunately, in many radical-left circles, if we talk too much about individual rights and even suggest that an individual's opinions and observations might be closer to the truth than the votes or consensus of the collective, we might be accused of pushing "individualism," which supposedly is a bad trait typical of capitalist and "bourgeois" society, not to be tolerated in egalitarian circles. Yet, this kind of mentality, at least when taken to the extreme, enabled a lot of really nasty totalitarian societies to exist in the past century, and the history of those societies basically proves the point that individuals (who were suppressed) can often be more correct than the group

If we are really striving for a fair and egalitarian society, then we need to give utmost importance to the rights and liberties of the individual. This does not mean promoting the kind of "individualism" that dictates that each person must look out for her/himself and that collective decision making and concern for the community are a hindrance to true liberty. What it does mean is that each of us is unique and must be considered, judged and observed according to our own unique combination of circumstances. This means that our behaviors are far more complex than might be assumed by the knee-jerk sort of ideologue who would say, for instance, that any of us enjoys certain privileges above others for belonging to one particular group based on race, gender, or ethnic origins. It also means that nobody's behavior should be judged by a formulaic check list, so that in any given situation, one person must be assumed to have certain politically undesirable characteristics based on a particular incident when we don't know the backgrounds, tendencies, or histories of the individuals involved. (So, for example, a man who shouts at a woman or says something vaguely disrespectful to her is automatically assumed to be "sexist" when a closer examination of the histories of the individuals involved might reveal a dynamic that is far more complex, with more equal hostilities, etc., than anyone realized.) When we fail to recognize the potential uniqueness and complexity of the individual, then we are failing to create a situation in which each individual might enjoy a maximum amount of freedom and liberty.

Sometimes, moreover, the individual can be really badly misunderstood by a group which has made assumptions or followed presumptions that might not really apply to the person involved. In judging individuals, groups can make terrible mistakes, sometimes based on a lot of bias and prejudice. This is illustrated not only by the countless collectivist mistakes made throughout history, but also by the many smaller examples of collective injustice and manipulation that we have already discussed in our Collective Book. When a group is manipulated, becomes misguided, or simply fails to be vigilant about judging everyone fairly and equally, it can become more wrong than any single member.

The individual also might have a particular outlook or opinion in a given situation that ultimately proves to be wiser or more accurate than the outlook of the group. This is why it really is necessary to listen to the opinions of individuals within the group who may not be going so well with the collective flow. Dissenting opinions sometimes can change the mind of the entire group, once the group considers the dissenting opinion fairly, allowing each person within that group to weigh the merits of each (differing) point of view.

In examining other literature dealing with problems within collectives, we have seen quite a few articles talking about how to deal with the difficult person who won't go along with the group, the ornery person, the malcontent whose behavior or opinions seem to disrupt the group's smooth functioning. The issue is thus usually depicted as finding a good way for the group to collectively deal with a problem member. Unfortunately, this is only one way of looking at things.

A truly democratic and egalitarian collective can't always assume that the only problem to be considered in group-versus-individual conflicts is protecting the integrity of the group against the disruptive individual. Sometimes, the problem involves protecting the individual against the group.

Please send your comments and suggestions to:

"Is This What Consensus Looks Like?"

"Is This the Just Society We Want to Model?


[Why This Booklet?]
[Introduction to Consensus]
[The Particular Vulnera-
bility of Collectives
[Power Sharing]
[Red Flags to Guard Against]
[Ploys To Subvert Consensus]
[The Problem With Politeness]
[The Need For Kindness]
[Creating Pariahs]
[Respect for Differences]
[Personal vs. Group Issues]
[Micro-Managing Behaviors]
[Skepticism is Healthy]
[There's Hope]

[A Model for Justice?]
[The Dearth of Due Process]
[What About Free Speech?]

[Codifying the Collective Process]
[Relinquishing Control of Projects and People]
[Staying True to the Mission]
[What’s a Lone Person to Do?]







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