Individual Thought & Society

Throughout one’s course at Ridgeview, he or she will inevitably come in contact with a dystopian novel. Some of the major ones taught here are Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Orwell’s Animal Farm, and Huxley’s Brave New World. Each of the societies envisioned by these novels rejects the individual—those independent of society: Jack and Piggy in Lord of the Flies are alienated from a violent and savage society (or rather, a lack thereof) because of their attachment to goodness and decency; Montag is viewed as odd in Fahrenheit 451 because of his pursuit of knowledge, and yet he exists in a society that declares knowledge as an enemy to civilization itself; in Animal Farm, Boxer is sent away because, while he is loyal to their leader, he is gentle by nature in a society that demands its members be unfeeling; moreover, in Brave New World, John is rejected by a society devoted to endless happiness because he sees a perfectly comfortable life as no life at all. In each of these novels, the pursuit of good is not only unorthodox, but there is no place left for any individual thought.

In our society, however, there appears to be no threat to the individual. We are constantly encouraged to be different. In fact, it appears as if our society has taken the opposite view of those dystopian novels mentioned above, for individuality is now considered the social norm. Individuality is praised as a sort of virtue, and complacency is denounced as being “fake.” But are we really as individual as we might think? This question merits some contemplation.

It appears that, in striving for individuality, we have achieved just the opposite. “Being different” and “expressing one’s inner self” today means doing your hair and dressing a certain way and protesting in the name of certain individual rights. But, if these are now the social norm, do they really make one all that different from everyone else? And yet, were one to disagree with the opinions of the masses or even confront them about their phantom individuality, they would deny your claims and present you with the modern proverb “Everyone’s opinion matters, but yours is wrong.” This current sentiment seems to be more conducive of complacency and conformity than individuality.

Furthermore, it has become increasingly easy to adapt to the modern-day passions instead of logically searching for truth. Too often people slip into a mob mentality and embrace beliefs that may not be worth embracing. Members of our society today frequently join campaigns and protest in support of ideas that are appealing on the outside, yet they fail to discover the true character of what the rush to be a part of. We are constantly being presented with arguments, and then habitually nod our heads in consent, though, in doing so, we voluntarily reject our own reason. In this respect, our society, which be boast to be the pillar of individuality, is closer to that of Brave New World or Fahrenheit 451 than perhaps it has ever been.

What contributes to this lack of self-examination is the consistency with which we fail to question what is worthy of being questioned. Not only do we accept a handful of things on faith, but rarely do we take the time to educate ourselves in matters of importance. We are not stupid—education is currently at an all-time high—but we are ignorant of our own fault. One moment we are in school reading Brave New World, astonished that any society would stray so far to eliminate individual thought; another moment we praise our society for its acceptance of those who are different, even though both societies are similar in more ways than they have ever been. People of our society today seem perfectly fine supporting individuality on paper, but when it comes to their own lives they forget the meaning of individuality and simply assume that they possess it—how can they not, if everywhere people are allowed to voice their opinions and believe what they want?

I therefore challenge you to resist these pulls from society, and take the time to question everything that comes your way. Think actively with the intention of finding truth, rather than agreeing with something that appears to be true. Moreover, do not be afraid to stand against the harsh currents of common belief, for your truth, so long as you have arrived at it through sound and valid reason, is weightier than all of the shallow streams of conformity and consensus that flow against you. Your beliefs will then be filled with the waters of truly individual thought, while their sentiments run dry without it.

Ethan B.