Collective-Individualism: What’s the Real Difference?

Political opinions tend be emotionally charged and divisive. Lately, I’ve been trying to narrow the differences of political opinion into fundamental iotas of opinion. What is the base of the disagreement? Why can’t the Right and the Left come to some sort of mutual agreement? After all, both “sides” tend to try to be logical. I honestly believe that neither side vehemently hates the other on a base level. We all respect each other’s humanity, right? My fiancée pointed out that maybe the difference was on the definition of human. How does the Right define a human? How does the Left define a human? I don’t know. I can’t even put into words what I think a human is, other than “us.”

So, I did a quick survey of the internet to determine the ideological differences between the Right and the Left. Two words that caught my eyes were: collectivism (the Left) and individualism (the Right).

I took to Merriam website for the definitions.

Collectivism has two definitions:
1. a political or economic theory advocating collective control especially over production and distribution
2. emphasis on collective rather than individual action or identity

Individualism has two definitions (with sub-definitions):
1. – a doctrine that the interests of the individual are or ought to be ethically paramount
– a theory maintaining the political and economic independence of the individual and stressing individual initiative, action, and interests
2. individuality

The difference between the two stems from what is more important: the individual or the group. This is overly simplistic, in my opinion. When I first started learning to drive, the classroom portion of the driver’s education emphasized defensive driving. Defensive driving is when one is constantly alert, making sure they are anticipating the mistakes the other drivers are potentially making. In a sense, here the driver is practicing collectivism. They are watching out for what everyone is doing. However, when I got behind the wheel, the driving instructor told me to think about defensive driving later; he wanted me to focus on offensive driving first. He said make sure you are doing everything right, imagine in your mind that everyone else is doing what they’re supposed to be doing, you just focus on you driving correctly. I would compare this to individualism. Over time, I’ve adopted a happy medium between offensive and defensive driving. That’s because collectivism and individualism alone don’t produce a satisfactory outcome.

A community only thrives long-term when it’s members are empowered and have individual freedoms. But individuals don’t accomplish nearly as much as groups.

I think this is accurately modeled in families. Each individual family member is loved and important and is able to act as an individual. Let’s assume a traditional American nuclear family: a father, a mother and 2 kids. Both the father and the mother work outside the home, arranging their schedules to be able to take the kids to and from school. The children have chores at home (collectivism) and responsibilities in school (individualism). The father and mother combine their incomes into one joint account and make decisions for the family: where to live, what to eat for dinner, where to go on vacation (collectivism). Some families let kids vote or decide on certain decisions (individualism). Depending on the family, a teenager might work; some parents make their kid pay for their phone or other bill (collectivism) and others let their kid keep the money (individualism).

The family is an interesting mix of collectivist and individualist practices. And it’s not a this-or-that proposition.

When this thought is brought to small communities and then to larger communities, I think the same principles still apply.


  • the First Amendment – freedom of speech, religion and press
  • allowed to travel where we wish
  • copyright
  • a plethora of clubs and societies based on individual identities
  • free-market economy (with certain protections)
  • choice of major in college, if one chooses to go
  • choice of job
  • choice of neighborhood
  • the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms to protect ourselves from government and others
  • the ability to go to the store and buy what you want
  • the right to vote
  • the entire Bill of Rights – right to a speedy trial with a jury, right to bail, due process, etc.


  • roads and other infrastructure
  • emergency services
  • taxes to pay for public interests, goods and services
  • anti-monopoly laws
  • public education

Those are in not particular order. I just think that one can’t actually put the individual as paramount without considering the collective.

Protecting the individual while advancing the collective would be ideal, I think.


Poem #817

we sit in the bathtub together
your knees pushing on mine
the soft wave of water whenever we move
that little drip noise when we lift our hands
your hair is slicked back
and your eyes are wide.
the words march out of you
organized, powerful.
like a true revolutionary
I was attracted to you before
but this, it’s neodymium
the only reason I didn’t drown
is because you got up
and grabbed a towel

Poem #816

when I see you
it’s your black hole eyes
that suck me in.
but the gravity of your eyes
is nothing
you are everything
the sweet notes you leave me
your enthusiasm for justice
the way you pronounce “alien”
how you try so hard
even when most people wouldn’t
to be kind and patient
you, your essence,
are a nebula.
a cloud with any shape
you are anything

Poem #815

this sickness
it’s falling
into a vat of honey
you can’t move your limbs
it gets into your mouth
you scream
and the sickening sweetness
it invades you
it’s wonderful and terrible.
you’re in control
but you feel out of control
when it gets to your eyes,
it’s the worst.
you can see what you’re doing
and you can see it’s not helping;
but you can’t do anything about it.