To be an individual is to have irreducible complexity.
What do I mean by that? When people are viewed as groups, details about the individuals within the group get lost or ignored. Those details, those individuals, matter. They’re what define us as ourselves and what we derive meaning from.
Being an individual doesn’t preclude being a part of society; that would go against a fundamental part of being human. But to be at once an individual and also a part of society is a challenge. How does one interact with the people around us, themselves individuals, while remaining full in the nuances of who we are? It’s easy to think in terms of groups; to aggregate people loses those details of who they are, and doesn’t force us to contend with information about those people that would possibly go against our assumptions. Our minds see a pattern as it wants it see it, instead of seeing someone as themselves, a full individual. It is the individual within those groups that has value, not the group per se.
There are many terms that characterize me: Christian, male, introvert, depressive realist, artistic, etc., but no single one of them is me. I am a sum of all of those things, and more, more than I could even find words for. Furthermore, just as no one trait of mine could be considered “me”, to remove one would be to artificially reduce the complexity that encompasses my individuality. I am a whole person, however broken in an eternal perspective. “I”, is irreducible.
But if “I” is irreducible, how does one function in a group, or society at large? Groups are based on several characteristics that its members share, which defines the group from others that don’t share those characteristics. Groups, by their nature, minimize the individual by seeking to place value on those characteristics, rather than the people within them. They attempt to reduce the irreducible complexity of the individual, of “I”, and homogenize the individuals within them, replacing the “I” with “We”.
“We” is not a substitute for “I”. “We” is where individuality is lost, experience is lost, and truth is lost. “We” is unthinking, the poor replacement for the discernment of “I”. “We” does not have value apart from “I”.
“I” has irreducible complexity. “I” has value.
I am an individual.
This selection comes from Fredrich Hayek, The Fatal Conceit:
Nothing is more misleading, then, than the conventional formulae of historians who represent the achievement of a powerful state as the culmination of cultural evolution: it as often marked its end. In this respect students of early history were overly impressed and greatly misled by monuments and documents left by the holders of political power, whereas the true builders of the extended order, who as often as not created the wealth that made the monuments possible, left less tangible and ostentatious testimonies to their achievement.