There’s no such thing as an individual, just a pack member and her bones. So claimed a famous dog in the recent past.
Both my house and my workplace have four storeys. I think this is rather a lot – in particular, it means that in my house there’s two empty storeys between where the humans sleep and where I do. I much prefer it when we all bundle onto a sofa together. And I think they do too, even if they do claim they get trampled on from time to time.
Unlike dogs, humans often have a curious habit of seeing being separate and self-reliant as a really good thing, even when it’s not even necessary. It’s seen as a sign of strength to be self-sufficient and independent, and competitiveness is seen as a character strength. On the other hand, being reliant on others is sometimes seen as a sign of weakness – often something to be tolerated in others but not really allowed in oneself. Calling someone 'needy' is an insult, and one that is usually applied to females, who get the worst of these kinds of things. Humans often also construe people in a way that assumes this separateness is how people are – so for example they will speak of humans as ‘individuals’ – so that people aspire to self-sufficiency, without even thinking about it.
Actually, not all humans think separateness is a good thing, and the idea hasn't even always been popular. The word ‘idiot’ comes from the Greek word ‘idios’ which means ‘self’ or ‘belonging to the private world’. So somewhere along the line some people must have recognised that being a self-sufficient individual, or trying to be, is not really that a great a virtue.
One of the areas of philosophy that interests me is philosophy of emotion. Because humans tend to be individualistic, human philosophers often look at an individual's’ emotions – what it’s like for one person to be in love, or feel angry, or be jealous. But some philosophy also looks at collective emotion. What’s the difference between an emotion when it’s felt by several people, rather than merely one person? And mightn’t this actually happen rather a lot? Perhaps the emotion feels different if it’s shared – for example, the feeling of grief may be different if it’s not just felt by one person, but shared by a couple, or close family members, or a close-knit community of friends. And that different feeling wouldn’t be just an ‘add-on’ to individual feelings of grief: it would make the grief totally different in the way it feels, through and through. This might be a kind of ‘off-loading’: in the context of grief, the mourners might share the work of grieving with trusted others.
I’ve been very influenced by the work of Joel Krueger on collective emotion (being a human, I’m not sure whether he shares my dislike of individualism). You can find out more about Joel’s philosophy here.
I’m a fan of collective emotion, and also of critiquing individualism (see my earlier post on the human Marx), at certain times - like when it comes to piling on to a sofa with lots of people to watch an emotional film together. All of that said, I’m quite an individualist when it comes to bones.
Mental walkies with Lola,