The Society Of Individuals

I love this phrase — it’s what I named my would-be think tank when I was 22: The Society of Individuals. Twenty years later and I still cling to, and seek to elucidate, what such a society might be.

In my last apartment here in San Francisco, I’d occasionally get a note slipped under my door, asking me to participate in the neighborhood group. I recoiled at such a prospect — partly for aesthetic reasons (I feared great tedium) and partly out of fear: I always imagine that I’m the one that will get run out of town by the barrio posse.

OK, you can call this paranoia. And no doubt it is. But it speaks to my greater issue with groups of any sort. Any time there is bonding around a common issue, it invites interrogation and condemnation for those who differ.

Take fans of a sport team. I, for one, like sports — at least some sports. But I’m not a fan of being a fan. It just seems strange to me: I want my team to win! But what makes it your team? And isn’t a good game better than your team winning?

I’ve learned the hard way that this is not a popular position. Which is to say, I’ve learned not to watch 49er games in a bar. Jesus! The violence of that community is palpable, seething, imminent. The night the Giants won the world series, I was sure I’d get my ass kicked for not giving the right high-5 to a drunkenly deranged stranger.

My point is this: I imagine a different kind of community, one that is not united in sameness but which agrees to enjoy difference. I like having a neighborhood; I lived in the same neighborhood for 20 years and enjoyed the company of barristas, bar keeps, shop owners, and locals. But what I enjoyed is not that we are all the same. What I enjoyed is how different everyone is, all the quirks and oddities, the tics and predilections.

A society of individuals is a communality built on difference. Now, that may seem oxymoronic but it’s not. It only seems that way because of the overwhelming prejudice for the sentimentality of agreement and unity. A society of individuals is a group of people who relish the fact that we are not the same, that we don’t always agree, that we are different.

Nietzsche says he only wants those who sit atop their own peak — not those who sit at his feet on the same mountain peak. This is how I imagine the society of individuals: each on his or her own peak, strong enough to bear the winds and solitude.

I only want to cavort with such people — those who hold forth with their idiosyncratic beliefs about life and love and goats and gin; those who spend weeks naked in the woods, building their own shelters and tracking mountain lions while covered in mule piss; those who make insane, beautiful films that emerge from the interaction with the camera, and who contemplate love at the same time; those who write poetical dictionaries and text books on atmospherics because it seems so, well, obvious; those who write avant normal pop songs in their basements at night, weaving together Led Zeppelin, The Cure, and Thelonious Monk. I want those who follow strange, uncharted paths and have no shame about it.

My politics is dedicated to creating such a society. TC mark

image – Wenzel Hablik


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  • macgyver51

    Why don’t you just admit that you’re just too hipster and cool to make real friends?

  • Reilly

    Loved this article. Cannot agree more. My politics exactly.
    All the more love because you live in SF, my fave city and my true home.

  • Blake Austin

    Absolutely love this and believe it very deeply. I have to shamelessly plug a rant I recorded that I think applies here… What bothers me most is when people decide to join a group then sacrifice their ‘themness,’ for lack of a better word, so that their group starts to decide how they think and feel. I totally agree with the author here; the world should work to praise those who express from the inside out and not from the outside in.

    • macgyver51

      Clearly no one here understands what it means to have a legitimate friends. Your hubris is off the charts.

      • Blake Austin

        We’re talking about the individual functioning within society. You have no idea of how me and my friends interact. Are you aware of your own hubris? Stop making assumptions about people you don’t know.

      • macgyver51

        I guess you didn’t read the part about everybody hanging out on their mountains of solitude and trying to be friends. Good luck with that. Do you see the irony in putting your comment out there and then posting the link to your blog in it, yet accusing people of not knowing you?I never claimed to, but I can read fairly well…

      • Blake Austin

        Mountains as metaphors for feats of individual expression and literal mountains where people sequester themselves to be alone are two very different things. I do not think the author is an advocate for being alone… Quite the contrary. They’re trying to express their praise for the individual which in turn involves getting to know that individual. Maybe you and your friends are all the same and that’s why you get along… If so, great. Go keep your mates. I’ll keep mine. Get off your pedestal and stop trying to dictate how I choose my friends. The idea that you could ever try to tell someone how to make and keep friends is so antithetical to whatever argument you might try to make (which I’m assuming has something to do with making friends on the basis of similar value-systems) that you might as well be living alone on some private mountain, dictating my life and the lives of the people I love. And I’m sorry that I don’t believe you know me very well because you can read my blog. Do you want to be FB friends? Would you like to follow me on Twitter? I forgot that I share every vestige of my being on the internet. How could I be so silly? You must know me pretty well now. I guess that means we’re friends.

      • macgyver51

        Throwing my hands in the air on this one. I don’t understand how one can post all this junk, make such judgmental declarations, but when called on it play the “You don’t know me!” card. Bless your heart

      • Blake Austin

        Naw, you know me. I was wrong and now I’m just happy we’re friends. 

  • your friend

    You are absolutely tremendous. It is always such a pleasure to read your work.

  • Satan

    I don’t like mule piss. Can we still cavort?

  • Guest

    Yeah, this reeks of hipster. 

  • Guest

    Especially that last paragraph.  Does uncharted paths include work your 9 to 5 job because you have to make money somehow, go home, work out, and watch Dancing With the Stars, eating Wendy’s chili on a Monday night?  Because that’s what I did, and I superbly enjoyed myself.

  • lou

    You talk about friends as if they are objects to be chosen and owned. How about you just try to be friends with everyone?

  • Ralph

    It’s easy to build a politics out of difference when differences amount to nothing but ‘quirks’ which subordinate themselves to your aesthetic fancy. It’s the same as saying you want to eat ice cream every day.

  • Brandon h

    I refuse to read any TC article that uses the word “elucidate”

  • maybe

    blabbady bla dee blah bla

  • Joshua Logan

    I’m curious about the hipster comments.  What exactly about this article is hipster? Are metaphors hipster? A large vocabulary? Reference to Nietzsche? Enthusiasm for diversity? Someone please tell me what about this article screams ironic mustache, peg leg jeans and neck tattoos? 

    • Ralph

      Purple prose, sophomoric reference to Nietzsche, enthusiasm for ‘diversity’ as long as that diversity is aesthetically pleasing to the author, overwrought self-absorption.

      • Joshua Logan

        First of all purple prose is not hipster unless the new definition of hipster includes romance novels and obscure Gothic literature from the 18th century. Secondly the only ‘diversity’ ever celebrated by any hipsters I’ve ever known is their own affected differences which they love to highlight through smug criticism of others.  

  • Katzenjammer


  • FDS

    Hey foo, there are people, and then there are their jobs, and then there are their hobbies, and they all exist at the same time. You’re making the exact same mistake you hate in the people you despise by classifying people into narrow categories over surface impressions

  • Michael Lynch

    Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri talk about ‘the multitude’ – in it’s most simple meaning, a society of individuals as you’d put it. The term is meant to counter the traditional Marxist theory of the all-abiding mass and when put in context of their argument, the word describes a new type of democracy for the working class. I think you’d appreciate it.

  • Anonymous

    “I think having a favorite baseball team is like having a favorite oil company”
    Hunter Thompson (1977)

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