Pandemic Perspective

One of the effects of the pandemic, or a positive spin-off, has been the appreciation of our social or cooperative instincts. We have taken great pride in acknowledging how Canadians have helped each other or banded together (often virtually) to survive the pandemic. Rightfully we have praised front line health workers and others in essential services who have taken the risks of infection in the fight against the virus. It has been inspiring how so many people have generously accepted the need to physically distance, wear masks and reduce social gathering to protect each other as well as ourselves.

As we start to recover from the pandemic (when and how that will come to be) I hope we retain the perspective of how important our collective relationships are to our survival. I hope we continue to value each other and especially those who work on the frontline of our social services. It may be an ambitious desire, but I hope we resist the pressure to put individual rights before collective responsibilities.

I believe there has been a creeping, surreptitious manipulation of our culture to put individual rights before collective responsibilities. I completely agree we need to protect individual rights in our society, particularly for minorities and women. Being an individual with the capacity to know, choose and err is essential for our collective existence. However, individualism as a manipulated  ideology undermines the social cohesion and cooperative enterprise we need to be individuals. The individualism we see running rampant in the United States for example, is socially corrosive in its violence, racism and exploitation.

Like many of you, I have been watching more movies in the last year. One dominant theme I think I see in American movies is the absolute acceptance of individualism. Weather it is comic book heroes, financial or historical characters or benevolent stories, the individual is always the primary focus, not the collective context they are in. Even stories with a social message in a movie inevitably feature individuals rather than a collective.

In Canada, the covert primacy of the individual over the collective is slipping into our cultural norms. Canadian movies are playing into the same American market themes. Far right organizations are echoing the same libertarian protest. The charter of rights and freedoms and human rights commissions are being tested by individual grievances. Electoral politics has become a celebrity competition (national elections look like presidential campaigns for example). And daily journalism is always reducing stories to individual impact as if we are unable to see ourselves and our interests in the news.

Stressing our collective responsibilities enhances our individual rights. As a white male, I benefit from official efforts to correct the impact of colonialism for Indigenous citizens and when women are enabled to play a greater role in the governing of Canada, for example. Prioritizing individual rights however is another means to divide and rule, based on a false dichotomy between individual and collective rights.

About Dennis Lewycky

Communications professional with work experience on three continents and in the fields of public consultations, mass communications and social marketing.
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