Money versus individualism

When moneys afoot, we’re socially conditioned to sell out. In popular fictions an individual may be able to detach wealth from their self-worth, sublimating criminal activities with the persona of a charming rogue in tights alongside a group of Merry Men. But in most of our realities, money drains us of our individualism, and our claim to the self is often obscured by innumerable dollar signs. 

Money whitewashes huge segments of society; individual identities are subsumed within categorisations of poor, rich and the somewhere in-between. It is the bedrock of our social structures, and more and more we adhere without hesitation. Due to its pervasive influence, we deem wealth to be the barometer to performance and success – how much an individual has been able to achieve is seldom measured by their kindliness, charitability or any other benevolence, but by the size of their salary.

But individualism is an increasingly abstract concept, like a word whispered repeatedly through history until it has become foreign, ascribed to the curious preoccupations of our ancestors. A few hundred years ago, 18th century philosophers believed the importance of individualism to be absolute, emphasising a need to cherish the self above, say, religious or national identities. For them, individualism meant an autonomous, self-reflected identity existing independent of any doctrine or social construct.

But industrialisation (and therefore urbanisation) changed much of that. Cities are multi-million-person hotboxes of individuals disgorged of their individuality, wherein identity ceases to be much more than broken twigs on corporate branches.

There are swathes of exceptions, of course, but in general we’re encouraged to forego our claim to individuality in favour of a better job, at a better company. We fall into paradigms and structures that ultimately rob us of who we are, virtual prisons in which the walls and chains are made of the salaries that we fervently pursue.  

And that will always be the obstacle to reclaiming our individuality – the need to diverge from the popular social paths, and rid one’s self of the idea that their worth can be or should be derived from the money they make. Individuality isn’t readily apparent to us anymore; it’s hidden behind bush and tree, thick overgrowth that can only be traversed if we decide the path of anonymity, of whitewash conformity, is no longer tolerable.

Many of us are institutionalised by our existences; they may not be good for us, but in a world where money decorates who we are, it’s enough to feel comfortable and know we’re keeping to the path. It’s rare, but we do also have triumphs of individuality – moments in which we glimpse something through the trees that is worth taking the risk for. Relationships, passions, loves – a finite tableau of ever-tantalising objects that many of us will yearn for, but seldom dare to reach.

But there is value in money. It’s a gateway to possibilities, and the literal currency of freedom. We often presume that anybody focused on wealth has let forego their dreams, but money also enables us to pursue them. The detriment exists in money as a toxic presence in our lives, one which erodes any claim to individuality we might once have had. In our attempt to climb to the top of some wealth-strewn ladder, we might invariably let fall those things which we once cherished – and which we would still cherish if we hadn’t yet been blinded by repeated flashes of green.