Hyper Individualism and Radical Diversity Are Leaving Americans Very Lonely | Manhattan Institute (2022)

Hyper Individualism and Radical Diversity Are Leaving Americans Very Lonely | Manhattan Institute (1)

He held his phone close, eyes searching for privacy. The man scarcely noticed the subway riders around him, nor the 90-year-old artist sketching his hunched frame from across the train. In the seven decades since Alex Katz first drew the outlines of commuters on New York City's early-morning trains, the chattering riders and newspapers had all but gone. In their places were people who rode alone together, the light in their eyes reflecting the glow of their phones. In his cover art forNew Yorkmagazine, Katz hints at a profound change drawn across America over the course of his life, one that has profound implications for us, our communities, and our politics.

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America is increasingly a lonely nation. The proportion of American adults who say they are lonely has increased from 20 percent to 40 percent since the 1980s. Roughly 43 million adults over the age of 45 are estimated to suffer from chronic loneliness. The unmarried and the uncommitted to community report higher rates of loneliness, with the causality likely being a two-way street. Prosperity has afforded our independence from neighbors and networks, as the Social Capital Project of Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah) found, but the relational and emotional collateral damage has fallen hardest on those least able to afford it. An isolation of affluence is indelibly marking modern society.

As conservatives ponder their future, they would do well to consider America's crisis of attachment as an orienting challenge of our time.

Consider that just three decades ago, the typical American had a little more than three close friends. Today, he or she barely has one confidant. Often someone's closest companion is staring at him in the mirror. It is surely no coincidence that the average household is growing smaller and older. In fact, over a quarter of Americans now live alone, up from 13 percent in 1960 and increasing especially after the Great Recession.

Friend groups, where they exist, are smaller and narrower than in the past. When Americans do confide in someone else, they are more likely to look inward to kin rather than outward to community. Social networks are increasingly folding in on the nuclear family. Yet marriage and family formation are becoming less a rite of passage and more a mark of privilege. Around half of American adults are married, down from 72 percent in 1960, and their age of matrimony is increasingly past the age at which men and women begin to lose friends, which is roughly age 25. The stability of their unions -- whether they stay together or have children -- is increasingly a function of income. As family formation becomes a luxury amenity, isolation is more likely to be a province of the poor.

This tide of autonomy is washing over the shoals of society. Those who shrug at faith -- especially middle-aged Mainliners and unaffiliated Millennials, as Pew found -- are simply going their own way rather than gathering in a community. Modern religious life, as with nearly every social institution in America today, is increasingly subsumed by an ethic of expressive individualism. And this autonomy is manifested and reinforced in myriad ways by modern American life -- whether it be the three-quarters of Americans commuting alone in their cars or the personalized worlds of smartphones, social mediaand video games.

Loneliness is an emotional response to a rending of the fabric of American society. Why the isolation? The reasons are complex, but the story they weave is simple: The ties that bind us have come unwound in the face of enormous change. The movement from agrarian life to industry coincided with a shift away from the family and toward the individual as the basic unit of society and the economy. Our politics were downstream of these changes and embedded a healthy tension: between a liberal individualism and a moral communitarianism, both oriented toward liberty. Now we appear to be entering a disorienting new era of hyper-individualism and radical diversity.

Today we live Spotify lives, full of options that cater to our every whim. We have liberated our desires from want of choice and given voice to our own identities. Just a glance at our phones instantly widens the horizon of our selves. Yet this freedom has come at the cost of our cultural and economic order. Family, faith, and community -- the reserves of liberty -- have suffered tremendous losses, particularly since the 1960s and 1970s. It turns out that "You do you" is disorienting to anyone who lacks dense social networks and deep wells of social capital to draw on. The result, as Yuval Levin articulates inThe Fractured Republic, is that "we have set loose a scourge of loneliness and isolation that we are still afraid to acknowledge as the distinct social dysfunction of our age of individualism."

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As conservatives ponder their future, they would do well to consider America's crisis of attachment as an orienting challenge of our time. What it suggests is that the individualism that has marked the Right and Left is insufficient at best and destructive at worst to the citizen's role in the American project. A community-oriented conservatism is best placed to speak to our ills as well as to our better angels.

The liberal individualism that has been adopted nearly whole-cloth by the Right in recent decades places us above society and the institutions that give us meaning, rather than deeply enmeshing us in them. As Patrick Deneen has pointed out, the libertarianism and internationalism of the Reagan era were "in orientation profoundly opposite to the original Burkean, traditionalist, communitarian form of conservatism." Modern conservatives are often, at best, half-hearted individualists, always fighting a battle of retreat against progressivism. Today, this essentially democratic ethos is expressed through a nostalgic populism and an introverted nationalism centered in Washington. As the middle ground between man and state withers, it becomes far too easy for our political life to slouch into narcissism and nihilism.

Traditional conservatism stands athwart an unwinding social order. It sees man as a social animal -- relationally oriented and networked to community. This sort of interdependence rightly orders our civil freedom toward sustaining virtue through the things we have in common: habits, traditions, and institutions. Rather than simply freeing us from the shackles of government or social constructs, this bonds us to faith, family, and community in such a way as to give meaning and purpose to our freedom. In turn, it is on these social networks, capital, and institutions that we build truly flourishing markets that work for the common good, particularly for "the least of these."

The notion that our politics could serve as a binding agent is not new. There is a rich vein of thought from Saint Augustine to Alexis de Tocqueville and Edmund Burke that conservatism has mined since its founding. More recently, everyone from the writers inNational Affairsto the architects of Senator Lee's Social Capital Project have kept these ideas very much alive. It is at this moment in American history, a time when we the people are coming apart, that we need a conservatism that seeks to weave us into our social fabric.

Restoring a more traditionalist, communitarian conservatism must begin by acknowledging the limits of policy. There is no bill in Congress that can ever satisfy the longings of the human heart for fellowship. Government cannot bind us together. Nevertheless, America's diversity can be the source of its solutions for the 21st century. We can start by bringing political power closer to our communities and elevating our shared institutions. People who are empowered together are likelier to work together. Ideas should necessarily emanate upward from America's towns, cities, and states rather than downward from Washington. An urban conservatism, for instance, would be well placed to tackle the barriers in housing, entrepreneurship, and governance that prevent Americans from becoming a part of our most prosperous communities.

America's emerging startup hubs suggest the shape of thriving communities in the 21st century. A place such as Salt Lake City, Utah, is at once hyper-local and hyper-global,spawning micro-multinationals that reflect the unique character of the place from which they come. Localism is at home with mobility, and nationalism is more of a neighborhood project. Moreover, we see that dense social networks flush with social capital lie at the heart of Utah's innovative dynamism. Prosperity flows from a healthy community, just as poverty lingers in broken relationships. These are truths that conservatives should voice.

Loneliness will not disappear at the stroke of a pen.

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Nevertheless, conservatism should start from the basic human desire for relationship. From there, it should seek to strengthen our bonds as Americans in the context of our local communities. We may still fear being alone, but we should not fear that our politics does not care.

This piece originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News, adapted from National Review

______________________

Michael Hendrixis the director of state & local policy at theManhattan Institute. Follow him on Twitterhere.

Are you interested in supporting the Manhattan Institute’s public-interest research and journalism? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and its scholars’ work are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

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FAQs

Why is individualism important to American culture? ›

Americans usually view every person as self-sufficient individual, and this idea is important to understanding the American value system. Everyone is their own person, not a representative of a family, community, or any other group.

What is individualism in American values? ›

AMERICAN VALUES

Page 3. Individualism, or individual will, means each person is free to do what they want and need, as long as it doesn't interfere with the rights of others. Competition is inherent in individualism as people strive to be recognized and rewarded.

Is America a individualistic culture? ›

A few countries that are considered individualistic cultures include the United States, Germany, Ireland, South Africa, and Australia.

How does individualism affect society? ›

In particular, individualistic systems urge people to pursue personal achievement, which creates competition between individuals (Triandis, 1995). These systems can also result in high social mobility, which lead to high social anxiety (Oishi et al., 2013).

What is an example of individualism? ›

When you support yourself financially and do not depend on anyone else for your needs, this is an example of individualism. When the government allows citizens to be responsible for their own retirement instead of relying on social security, this is an example of individualism.

Why is individuality important in society? ›

Embracing our individuality is essential for personal happiness. Trying to hide or change who we are to fit someone else's ideals lessens our sense of self-worth, causing self-esteem to plummet and insecurities to soar.

Which country is the most individualistic? ›

The United States scores highest of all ranked countries on the Individualism Index, developed to measure the importance that a nation places on individualism compared to collectivism [52, 53] .

What's the opposite of individualism? ›

Collectivism is the opposite of individualism. Ideally, in a collectivist society, decisions benefit all the people. This is a difficult idea to put into practice, as seen in the attempted collectivist society of Soviet communism. Definitions of collectivism.

Is society becoming more individualistic? ›

As the researchers reported in the journal Psychological Science, individualism has increased by roughly 12 percent worldwide since 1960. This increase appears to be due mostly to increasing socio-economic development, including higher incomes, more education, urbanization, and a shift toward white-collar jobs.

Why collectivism is better than individualism? ›

Collectivism prioritizes group cohesion over individual pursuits, and it sees long-term relationships as essential since it promotes group goals. On the other hand, individualism focuses on human independence and freedom. It is generally against external interferences regarding personal choices.

Can individualism and collectivism coexist? ›

Other studies have shown that individualistic and collectivist values are a continuum, can coexist, and can influence cognitive decision-making strategies and performance in uncertain situations (e.g., Güss et al., 2010).

What are some of the dangers of individualism? ›

In particular, individualistic systems urge people to pursue personal achievement, which creates competition between individuals (Triandis, 1995). These systems can also result in high social mobility, which lead to high social anxiety (Oishi et al., 2013).

What are the main ideas of individualism? ›

The three factors focused around the three main themes of individualism—autonomy, mature self-responsibility, and uniqueness.

How does individualism view the person? ›

Individualism encompasses a value system, a theory of human nature, and a belief in certain political, economic, social, and religious arrangements. According to the individualist, all values are human-centred, the individual is of supreme importance, and all individuals are morally equal.

How is individualism seen in society? ›

Individualistic societies are those that prioritise the needs of an individual over the needs of a group as a whole. In this type of culture, people are viewed in an independent way and social behaviour tends to be directed by the attitudes and preferences of individuals.

Which values are most important to individualism? ›

These ideologies emphasize individual values, such as independence, self-reliance, individual achievement, competition, and freedom.

What would happen without individuality? ›

If all aspects of individuality were nonexistent, it would have ramifications on our individual personalities, being that we would essentially be symmetric and manufactured persons. Society would be VERY straightforward, for everyone would think and act the same way.

Do individuals have the power to change the society in which they live? ›

Answer. Only an individual cannot change a society or a country in which he is living.

What is individualism and why is it important? ›

Individualism is the freedom to do what we want as independent people. People are constantly bombarded into doing things that people in authority want them to do. It's important because if everyone was able to pursue their own goals, then we would have a stronger society as a whole.

Where does the US rank on individualism? ›

Individualism
CountryPDIIDV
United States4091
Australia3690
United Kingdom3589
Netherlands3880
63 more rows

What is the most masculine culture? ›

Japan is the world's most masculine society, with a rating of 95, while Sweden is the most feminine society, with a rating of 5. Other "masculine" cultures are USA, the German-speaking world, Ireland, United Kingdom, Mexico and Italy.

What country is not high on individualism? ›

The lowest ranked countries for individualism ratio are: Guatemala. Ecuador.

Why is collectivism bad for society? ›

Individual needs tend to be obscured when prioritizing collective interests, which are also used as a tool for justifying inadequate social programmes. In a collectivist society, burdens that should be shared equally by all may not be equitably distributed, falling disproportionately on the disadvantaged.

Is Japan individualistic or collectivist? ›

The Japanese have been considered a typical collectivist nation whereas Americans a typical individualist nation (e.g., Benedict, 1946; Dore, 1990; Hofstede, 1980; Lukes, 1973; Nakane, 1970; Triandis, 1995; Vogel, 1979).

Is China collectivist or individualist? ›

Nonetheless, China is still generally considered to be a collectivist country. For example, Michailova and Hutchings (2006) describe the Chinese as expecting to subordinate their individual needs, goals, and aspirations to the requirements of the collective.

Why is individualism important to society? ›

Individualism emphasizes personal freedom and achievement. Individualist culture, therefore, awards social status to personal accomplishments such as important discoveries, innovations, or great artistic achievements.

Why is individuality important in society? ›

Embracing our individuality is essential for personal happiness. Trying to hide or change who we are to fit someone else's ideals lessens our sense of self-worth, causing self-esteem to plummet and insecurities to soar.

What aspects of culture in the United States exemplify individualism? ›

These values include self-sufficiency, self-determination, self-advocacy, self-competence, self-direction, self-efficacy, self-regulation, self-reliance, and self-responsibility.

What is the relationship between the individual and American society? ›

The relation between individual and society is very close. Essentially, “society” is the regularities, customs and ground rules of antihuman behavior. These practices are tremendously important to know how humans act and interact with each other. Society does not exist independently without individual.

What country is the most individualistic? ›

The Most Individualistic Countries

Apparently, U.S. News Israel ranked as the number one most individualistic country in the world. That perhaps may explain why it has so many battles in it and around it. People seem to practice their faith regardless of what could happen to them.

What's the opposite of individualism? ›

Collectivism is the opposite of individualism. Ideally, in a collectivist society, decisions benefit all the people. This is a difficult idea to put into practice, as seen in the attempted collectivist society of Soviet communism. Definitions of collectivism.

What would happen without individuality? ›

If all aspects of individuality were nonexistent, it would have ramifications on our individual personalities, being that we would essentially be symmetric and manufactured persons. Society would be VERY straightforward, for everyone would think and act the same way.

Why is individualism better than collectivism? ›

Collectivism prioritizes group cohesion over individual pursuits, and it sees long-term relationships as essential since it promotes group goals. On the other hand, individualism focuses on human independence and freedom. It is generally against external interferences regarding personal choices.

What are the main ideas of individualism? ›

The three factors focused around the three main themes of individualism—autonomy, mature self-responsibility, and uniqueness.

What is individualism in society? ›

Individualistic societies are those that prioritise the needs of an individual over the needs of a group as a whole. In this type of culture, people are viewed in an independent way and social behaviour tends to be directed by the attitudes and preferences of individuals.

Can individualism and collectivism coexist? ›

Other studies have shown that individualistic and collectivist values are a continuum, can coexist, and can influence cognitive decision-making strategies and performance in uncertain situations (e.g., Güss et al., 2010).

Is the US individualistic or competitive? ›

The United States has one of the most individualistic cultures in the world. Americans are more likely to prioritize themselves over a group and they value independence and autonomy.

Can a society exist without individuals? ›

Society does not exist independently without individual. The individual lives and acts within society but society is nothing, in spite of the combination of individuals for cooperative effort. On the other hand, society exists to serve individuals―not the other way around. Human life and society almost go together.

What is individualism country? ›

In cross-cultural psychology, an individualistic culture is a community that prioritizes the individual over the collective group. Individualistic cultures emphasize attributes like uniqueness or individuality; personal goals; independence, self-reliance, self-sufficiency; and privacy.

What is individualism US history? ›

Individualism is a philosophy that views people first and foremost as unique individuals rather than as members of a group. It emphasizes the importance of independence, individuality, and autonomy. Foundation for Economic Education. 293K subscribers.

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