Today’s Massification and Anti-Individualist Society
Sure as daylight, the world has been transformed into a small village. The societal structure is undergoing rapid reorganization registering an unparalleled paradigm shift from individual focused format into one that values integrated society. In this paper, I will use literature material; short story, journal articles and text books to put this in context. The materials will be used to research today’s society and compare it with other generations of the past. The short story to be referenced is A&P by John Updike that revolves around a character, Sammy who quits his job in search for freedom from what he considers “rigid” society. In his bold move that signifies an element of individualism, Sammy wades off any efforts to convince him otherwise. Upon quitting his job, however, he realizes the world is not a fairly tale. This does not make him change his mind about resigning as all he wants is to be free from the massification of the society since following and conforming to the society is against his personal principles. This research paper will show that beyond any doubt, today’s world is moving towards massification and an anti-individualistic society.
The perception that the world is moving towards adoption of massification and anti-individualist tendencies has aroused heated debate among many scholars. The massification process is rapidly penetrating all spheres of life; political, social, spiritual and even in education. The shift towards massification dates long back in history. The initial formation of society and the associated connectivity between individuals through communication signifies the beginning of societal structures and the invasion into the realm of individualism. Therefore, much as people are naturally detached from one another and appear dispersed, there exists an element of unification that brings them together (Lang& Engel Lang, pg. 998). Some individuals who have made attemptsto break away from this conventional setting find themselves isolated as depicted by the case of Sammy in John Updike’s “A & P”. On quitting his job, at the store, Sammy suddenly realized that the society would not definitely be on his side as he took an individualistic step in pursuit of personal freedom(Updike, Para 21). The spirit of mass culture and society may have emerged as a dislike response to the capitalist movement that has been sweeping the world over time.
With the advent of mass media, the integration of society received a major boost as sociological ties have been created that surpass the individual, clan or tribe. The aura surrounding today’s massification trend differs markedly from the ancient models in which people were integrated together through political, racial or religious classifications. The modern societal forces have captured a multitude of unique individuals hitherto thought impossible. With no distinct central authority, marked territories or written rule book, people from all walks of life, orientations, beliefs and cultures have in an inexplicit way created an interdependence of some sort to form a web that defines their lives. Early scholars have described the shift vividly as “the small independent community whose connection was based on consanguinity had slowly melted giving rise to a new society which entailed more of a clique of people who have the ability to live and interact with one another but apparently still detached. The connection is mutual on the one hand but there still exists an element of detachment despite the seemingly evident connectedness” (Lang& Engel Lang, pg. 1000). Therefore, these people lead independent lives but are dependent on one another in a way that amounts to beneficial exchanges. On some occasions, the ties among these individuals may break leading to backtracking into territorial cocoons magnified by use of common language or sharing a common history. This in reference to the John Updike’s “A & P” is manifested by Lengel’s efforts to persuade Sammy not to resign from his position as a cashier at the store pointing to the fact that such a move would frustrate his parents with whom Lengel share a lot in common. It is evident from this incident that an effort to pursue individualistic gratifications will always face hurdles as the society is fragmented into connected groupings that readily support one of their own in times of need as a gesture to be replicated at the appropriate time by the same individual.
The unstoppable move towards massification and anti-individualism is according to another school of thought driven by the necessities of life as opposed to mutually based sympathy. According to this school, any efforts to arouse sympathy as a basis of strengthening the bond between people who in some cases may be strangers to one another or simply harbor personal differences would be futile. Through intellectual reawakening, people have suddenly realized that interdependence is inevitably important and as such they make efforts to pursue it with the main goal being achieving success through the support of one another. This has necessitated the use of tools such as the mass media and education to encourage people get more involved into this movement. Advancement in technology in particular the transport and communication sectors has played a pivotal role in pressing forward this trend. Apart from the media and other influential tools encouraging integration of the world populace, they have also had an influence on culture as well (Lang& Engel Lang, pg. 1001). The general way of life of many people has been greatly transformed.In the incidence at A&P store, Lengel is offended by the dressing code of the three girls who come over to make a purchase. The girls, all wearing loosely fitting swimming costumes appear indecent to Lengel a conservative per se but by analyzing the conversation they had with him, they innocently perceive themselves to be decent. This may have resulted from the societal influence from the mass media which displays a mixture of cultures. Since the media does not necessarily force one to embrace such cultures, Lengel may have opted to ignore such influence which on the other hand was adopted by thegirls.This degenerates into a conflict that according to Sammy who seems to misunderstand the conflict and feels that Lengel is behaving in a dictatorial manner when he condemns the girls for dressing that way. To Sammy, it is normal and usual to see ladies in the town streets wearing shorts and tight pants during summer. He therefore wonders at the behavior of his boss and opts to resign. Today the modes of spending leisure, dressing and many other lifestyles have changed as the world opens up to a transformative society (Updike, Para 14). The era of patronage by authorities and cultural barriers seems to have taken a back seat as people explore new lifestyles hitherto considered taboo in small natural communities of the past era.
According to Park, “The creation of societal collective behavior is as a result of a continuous process and relations that in turn create recognizable formations social or otherwise”. As such the new societies are spontaneously emergent crowds of people coming together driven byan intense interaction that arouses widespread attention by all. In developing a society, the spontaneity may not yield immediate results of cohesion and integration but developsslowly since contact is not always guaranteed. This is however not to mean that the society developing is isolated; on the contrary they just exist asa scattered mass. The need for response to an emerging opposition or negative force brings many people together through self-consciousness(Lang& Engel Lang, pg. 1007).A known element in massification that impacts on society is a phenomenon described as public opinion. The phenomenon is described by Ibid as a naïve impulse spreading within a group and that can be easily manipulated by catchphrases. The naivety has be exacerbated further by the media in the modern times who instead of constructively offering guidance in such scenarios are at the forefront serving as an apparatus to control the collective attention. Public opinions are brought to the light through words or deeds of a few individuals andcontinually arouse debate. In most cases the individuals will have opposing opinions based on facts or attitudes.The generalsociety then ultimately settles on one side but this does not necessarily mean that what is agreed upon by the majority is the factual or truthful information. However it is known that an individual’s attitude is largely influenced by the public opinion and this is how majority end up conceding the emerging ideas without considering the need to question its validity since they themselves have no adequate background knowledge on the same (Lang& Engel Lang, pg. 1008).
In the past generations individualism was mainly linked to personal ideologies. During the cold war for instance, a large clique of liberal thinkers emerged whose individualism was informed by the desire to protect themselves from the societal ideologies. In understanding the concept of this individualism, there is a need to contextualize it from a societal point of view. A preview into the American society of early 19thcentury shows an emergence of not only a growing nation but a unique characters as well; that of individualism. It was evident that in all aspects of their lives, the Americans were adopting a culture that showed a determination to exert and display individual abilities and the need to exercise personal liberties. The prevalence of this culture did not emerge from nowhere but was a culmination of a developing culture that had characterized the American history over along time (Santee, pg1).
The traditional American culture was characterized by puritanism in which there were strict obligations that demanded each member of the society to uphold moral responsibility and maintain high standards of discipline. At the time there were no religiously crafted structures to govern societal morality as is the case today and as suchthe individual had to observe and show conduct that was generally acceptable. This focus on the personal capacity to make rational decisions as a human being encouraged the spirit of individualism to a large extent. Over time, this cultural trend influenced the people to develop their intellectual abilities in an effort to express individual values.Besides the influence of culture on the individual, the economic system also played a vital role in inculcating active individualism within the American populace. The large tracts of fertile lands and the ease with each to acquire it attracted immigrants from all parts of the world who desired to own a piece and lead independent lives. With millions of landless immigrants acquiring land, a new great sense of freedom was born and with it came the feeling of achievement. This resulted in more emphasis of the individual value creating a unique society based on individualistic tendencies. Ordinary men and women settled further westwards covering the entire frontier in the New World. The intermixing of all races and classes of people in these regions promoted equality among the populations making each individual appreciate and value themselves (Santee, pg1).
The fast growing economy provided myriad of opportunities for many individuals who grabbed the chance to engage in investment and in the process making great returns. This environment promoted the birth of a new reawakening among the low cadre investors who were determined to make huge profits for their own well being. In such circumstances, there was absolutely no need for any government involvement in the lives of these individuals. This spirit of unparalleled capitalistic nature only acted to boost the element of individualism further. With the government promoting more freedom of the individuals through democratic constitutional system, the spirit of individualism received a further boost. The democratic system allowed every individual the right to participate in electoral processes through voting or vying for elective posts. Constitutional amendment continued to be effected throughout the history of this rapidly developing society. Personal liberties such as right to assembly, freedom of speech, religion and the allowing of proliferation of free press ensured that every citizen had the power to express themselves. This aspect encouraged the growth of individualism within the society. Unlike in other societies of the world such as Europe, America birthed dynamic political and societal systems that focused on developing each individual to allow them realize their ambitions without any hindrances. In most other countries, the society was governed by more rigidly drafted rules that allowed only particular classes of nobles to have full control of community affairs. Monarchial and aristocratic systems ensured that these societies only followed strict guidelines and no any form of individualism was tolerated. With the classifications of people in such societies, the ability of individual to develop was strongly curtailed as the systems focused more on the general public than the individual who constituted that public. This is not to mean that the American type of individualism lacked shortcomings. In actual fact, the continued promotion of individualism soon created a society characterized by aggressiveness and a competitive assertiveness among the people (Santee, pg1). This in one or another resulted in collapse of the societal thread. The stiff competition may be attributed to the formation of unequal society as groups of people tried to fight for the inadequate resources. The government seems to have made it no easier as new political class that slowly usurped the peoples’ powers was born. With reference to the John Updikes, A&P, the character of Sammy comes out as that of an individualistic nature. Sammy strongly believes that man should be let free to express him/herself in a society without barriers. Just like in the American individualistic system of the past generation, Sammy like the investors would not be willing to accept any interference either from the government or the society in an effort to achieve what he has set his eyes on. In his individualistic attitude, he confronts Lengel for being strict on the girls whose dressing Lengel considered overly indecent. When the leading girl blushes out of Lengel’s condemnation, Sammy is offended as he perceives this as an infringement into the personal freedom of the girls. It would be necessary to understand that much as the individualistic society supports the freedom of individuals, if the freedom is offensive to others in the society then it ceases to be described thus (Updikes, Para, 14).
Despite all the euphoria associated with moving towards anti-individualistic society in the world today, massification suffers from its own shortcomings. The element of massification is fragile in nature depending entirely on the spirit of enchantment and realization of proposed promises. In a massified social system, the centrally involved group will gradually be differentiated from other peripheral groups in turn creating a hierarchy setting that does not support the concept of homogeneity as would be expected of an anti-individualist society. With such a system that is based on weak organization structures, difficult tasks may remain largely unaccomplished. Such tasks require increased impetus and energy in well formulated and accommodating social systems that can also allow distribution and sharing of available resources equitably and in justifiable terms (Lipgar& Malcolm, pg. 214). Using the variety of skills and different personal ideologies in an effort to realize common good for all involved is virtually impossible. The tendency to go back into individualized cocoons and personal gratification first creates disharmony and the peripheral groups may feel sidelined. This results in envy and helplessness and a feeling of despair in a society based on pseudo cohesion. Sprinter groups therefore form within the once coherent societal setting and eventually, individuals opt out in entirety. When the massification spirit dies owing to these difficulties, the society reverts back to aggregation to find security in one another. However, this does not offer any solution and the previous difficulties once again come to the fore (Lipgar& Malcolm, pg. 215).
By analyzing the incidence in Updike’s A&P, once Sammy resigns and steps out of the store, a sense of guilt overcomes him and he soon realizes that his effort to pursue individualism leaves him exposed and vulnerable to myriad difficulties. He reflects on the possibility of going back into the store but again realizes that going back to the old system will only act to add to the misery he is running away from.This is the challenge that confronts many people in a socially massified society. They may feel secure at first due to the euphoria and the promises the system seems to offer but soon they realize they can not achieve any satisfaction. Their efforts to pursue individual satisfaction on their own bears no fruits either and would therefore fall back to the societal thread they were avoiding in the process creating a non-ending cycle(Lipgar& Malcolm, pg. 215).
The fact that today’s world is moving towards massification and anti-individualist society is clearly evident. With the trend of rapid globalization, it has become almost impossible for an individual to exist on their own. At the larger scale, different societal groupings in the world are slowly opening up to embrace others in euphoric magnitudes. The advancement of technology especially global mass media has been a driving force towards the efforts for an integrated society. The paradigm shift towards massification differs markedly from the past generation that promoted individualism. A case in point is the historical development of the United States which was characterized by political and constitutional changes that promoted the individual development as opposed to societal development. This eventually resulted in unnecessary competition for scarce resources and the emergence of a political class that sidelined some groups of individuals. With it came uprisings aimed at achieving equality and a unified society that regarded each person as an equal in an integrated society. The movement initiated the birth of the phenomenon being witnessed in the world today; massification.The massification has however brought its own challenges with societies being formed solely on the basis of benefiting from one another and easily breaking apart when the promised targets are not met. Nevertheless, individualism has been dealt a blow and not matter how much one resolves to pursue it, they find themselves falling back into a societal framework.