Hyper-individualism is the stance or philosophy that values oneself without regard to society. In the core value of this system, individuals approach their selfhood, conceptually, as being separate from society rather than constituted socially. This ideology is so universally accepted, it has earned the label of common sense. Nonetheless, the attempt to find a better life for oneself is not the same as hyper-individualism. This becomes hyper-individualism when their decision, such as casting a vote in a democratic election, is based on self-gain and self-advantage over the good of society.
Individualism is a worldview not created to explain the world but to control it. It’s designed to fragment strong communities, turn citizens against each other and diminish the power of solidarity to give way for a system that is controlled by party leaders and elites of the country. Since the introduction of “multi-party democracy” in Maldives, the political landscape has been controlled by two sides, with party name changes every now and then. Democracy is supposed to give power to every citizen to choose the right person to run the country but the choice is always limited to two views and two parties. With a population of around 400,000 people, it is improbable for all these people to have only two views about how the government should be run. This system survives on hyper-individualism, forcing each person to choose one of the two parties which is gonna benefit their own self and as long as the individual gain self-advantage, they turn a blind eye to the corrupted system that is halting the development of the country.
The interlocking frameworks of individualism and capitalism have developed symbiotically, influencing how we understand and build our world. However, important and worthwhile values conveyed by healthy individualism, such as independence and self-reliance, have now become excessive and overreaching, twisting our understanding of self and society. By overemphasizing a completely separate individual self at the expense of a more integrated self, our fundamentally social nature is denied. We, as a species, have always been reliant on one another to survive many hardships and excessive individualism corrupts these social relations, diminishing the nuanced problem-solving experience of community and prevent the ability to effectively engage in participatory democratic processes as a means of tackling problems faced by society at their structural foundations. Last year, during the height of the pandemic, many shops in the capital Male’ were looking to gain huge profits by increasing the prices of essential need items when the community was in need of help and leniency.
Tourism is the largest source of revenue for this country. Our entire GDP depends on it. The resort owners make millions. Our local tourism workforce is so underpaid compared to the revenue it brings. The average basic pay is around USD 300 which is not enough to cover the rent of a single room apartment in Male’ City. Though the 10 percent service charge is for the resort workers, resorts still hesitate to give the full payment to their employees. This fine example of corporate greed and hyper-individualism was evident during the pandemic. Resorts laid off several employees and sent most of them home with no-pay agreements. They had enough money to cover the expenses of these workers but chose not to, despite the government providing these resorts with million-dollar loans to compensate its overhead during a very difficult time.
Similarly, foreign labour workers in the Maldives face abuse and exploitation daily, our deluded perception as being superior to them even when we share the same religion and almost identical struggles. The workers, who come here to better their lives, are put at fault for the life they are forced to by a system which allows Maldivians to gain profit by exploiting them. They are overworked, underfed, and underpaid. This is echoed throughout every capitalist country in the world. Hyper-individualism breeds greed and greed leads to exploitation.
The common man is pitted against each other. Most social systems in the world have developed to reinforce this mindset. Our institutional approaches to solving social problems rely on either the state or capitalist market systems to provide opportunities that will allow individuals to have a fair chance at making something of themselves, disregarding the ramifications of the socio-economic context through which the individual is fully understood. Moreover, the view about an individual being responsible for adjusting to and adapting to social conditions compatible with the dominant institutions and structures is primarily driven by an absurd assumption that the problem lies in a deficiency in the person, family, or community.
When we look at the present-day Maldives, we see it as a breeding ground for hyper-individualism. Most people are consumed only by their greed. Everything they do is because of greed. We have diluted the true meaning of finding a better life with self-gain. It’s always “me, myself, and I”. We have become accustomed to some of these individualistic ideas that we are unable to recognize or see the destructive nature of it to our society. We should shift away from a pattern of extreme individualism and move towards social processes that manifest inclusion, connectivity, and collaboration which is necessary to develop a just and humanely sustainable society by integrating the care of the individual with the care of the community.