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You Say 'Anti-Individuation,' I Say 'Deindividuation'

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Tuesday, 24 Nov 2015 05:19 PM Current | Bio | Archive

When people these days aren’t using the typical assortment of shopworn, overused clichés, ineffective words and tired expressions, they instead tend to ride the bandwagon of not-so-clever trendy expressions, however illogical, ambiguous or fleeting they may be.

Lately, yours truly has gotten the whiff of a new one that may be on the ascendency: “anti-individuation” or “deindividuation.”

But this one has got some real substance to it.

The original word “individuation” of course is a respectable term with a long pedigree, from the Latin “principium individuationis,” describing the principle or manner in which a thing is identified as distinguished from other things, or how an individual person is distinct from other persons or things in the world.

It was the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung who placed the process of individuation front and center in human experience when he founded the field of analytical psychology, popularly known simply as Jungian psychology.


To Jung, individuation is how the individual self slowly develops out of an undifferentiated unconsciousness. Ideally, components of the immature psyche, innate elements of personality, as well as myriad life experiences eventually integrate into a well-functioning whole.

As Jungian analyst Martin Schmidt wrote, “Jung saw it as the process of self-realization, the discovery and experience of meaning and purpose in life; the means by which one finds oneself and becomes who one really is. It is a process of self-realization, discovery and experience.”

Deindividuation, on the other hand, is considered by most social psychologists to be the loss of self-awareness and — most importantly — personal responsibility, when the individual participates in a group.

This includes such things as becoming a member of a police force, political activist group, the military, engaging in social media on the Internet, sports teams, gangs, cults, and social organizations.

Positive aspects of deindividuation can include donating money or time to philanthropic efforts, but its negative qualities can include fostering disinhibited individual behavior, which in turn leads to unrestrained, irresponsible collective activities such as mob violence and even genocide.

The late English scholar A.D. Nuttall (1937–2007) in his 1996 book “Why Does Tragedy Give Pleasure?” sought to explain the “strange sweetness of grief and fear,” that underlies the enjoyment of tragedy.

After commenting on Freud’s idea of The Death Urge, Nuttall notes that Nietzsche “suggested that tragic pleasure might spring from our sense of re-immersion in pre-individuated consciousness — in the orgiastic unity of the multitude — as the hero dies.” In other words, an anti-individuation process.

Nuttall quips that, “Nietzsche, like a dozen other anguished, over-introspective post-Romantics, feels a nostalgia for a supposed primal unity.”

But as any student of history can tell you, the collective impulse of Romanticism also contains the seeds of social upheaval and revolution. The collective anger of dispossessed segments of society demanded respect, and so came the French Revolution, the Terror and the Russian Revolution.

One fear is that the new generation is subject to a modern form of angry Romanticism brought about by technologically-driven deindividuation.

Violent online gaming and fantasy, uninhibited social media rants, texting, messaging, and other networked electronic amplifiers of the deindividuation process can nurture everything from downloading pirated software (since the online, deindividuated person feels anonymous or even justified in his or her actions) to bullying and even acting out inner inhibitions in the real world.

Indeed, perhaps the deindividuation process and its great magnifier, the Internet, are responsible for the new era of student protests now sweeping America.

Unlike the noble “social conscience” protests of the 1960s over the Vietnam War, foreign policy and human rights issues, today’s boisterous, bizarrely irrational students, loaded as they are with collective feelings of alienation and perceived slights, persistently attempt to suppress the principles of freedom of speech on campuses nationwide — the very principles that make their rampages possible.

For example, the Washington Post reports that a Pew study “found that Millennials were actually about as likely to endorse some censorship at rates greater than countries that have no 1st Amendment or its equivalent.”

The many student protests occurring today are bewilderingly diverse, ranging from grand charges of historical racism to amusingly fickle disputes such as those students at the University of Missouri who expressed outrage that a professor was to forego joining protesters in favor of administering a scheduled test. (Amazingly, after receiving death threats the professor in question filed his resignation, but the University wisely did not accept it.)


Older generations also appear to be susceptible to the phenomenon, as one can observe in the increasingly tumultuous political arena.

I fear we have not seen the last of the social effects of computer-mediated communication; namely, an increase in the deindividuation process, and an increase in unrestrained group behavior that will lead to increasing social irrationality and violence.

Richard Grigonis is an internationally known technology editor and writer. He was executive editor of Technology Management Corporation’s IP Communications Group of magazines from 2006 to 2009. The author of five books on computers and telecom, including the highly influential Computer Telephony Encyclopedia (2000), he was the chief technical editor of Harry Newton's Computer Telephony magazine (later retitled Communications Convergence after its acquisition by Miller Freeman/CMP Media) from its first year of operation in 1994 until 2003. Read more reports from Richard Grigonis — Click Here Now.


 

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When people these days aren’t using the typical assortment of shopworn, overused cliches, ineffective words and tired expressions, they instead tend to ride the bandwagon of not-so-clever trendy expressions, however illogical, ambiguous or fleeting they may be.
Polls
874
2015-19-24
Tuesday, 24 Nov 2015 05:19 PM
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