• Kamya Vishwanath

Methodological Individualism: A Singular Approach to Multi-faceted Problems


Convenience - it is no longer an option, but, in fact, a preferred way of living. The idea of convenience has possessed the people of the 21st century so much that they are besotted with all things that seem to fit their perfectly curated boxes of misguided opinions.

We see the manifestation of this convenient living in numerous ways- you reading this e-magazine instead of a hardcopy, for example. Technology is an overt form of this way of living that has made our lives simpler and far less complicated to deal with. However, like most thing intangible, another form of this befitting way of viewing the world comes from the way in which people look at the different quandaries that plague our society. An adolescent who seems to have taken a liking to narcotics? ‘Peer pressure’, they all say. A step further would be to blame the ‘circumstances’ one is in, that coerces him or her to deal with situations in the manner that he or she does. Long story short, I’m here to tell you that all of this is purely convenience: blaming society for the actions of an individual, and considering the society a collective whole rather than an assortment of individual members coming together to form the entire group. In fact, it is downright wrong.

The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy holds that methodological holism is a system that “invoke[s] social phenomena (e.g., institutions, social structures or cultures) [that] should be offered within the social sciences”.[if !supportFootnotes][endif] As opposed to this, methodological individualists feel that “social phenomena must be explained by showing how they result from individual actions”.[if !supportFootnotes] The former gained ground during the late 18th – early 19th century, with the advent of Marxism and Socialism. Marx was a methodological holist himself and believed that the political economy ought to be studied ontologically as the relations between individuals but holistically where social objects ought to be considered in their entirety rather than as a sum of all the different individual actions, determined by one’s circumstances.[if !supportFootnotes]

"As an individualist, I would see the issue before me as something that I could then choose to fight or discard altogether. Ultimately, the choice lies in my hands. There are no circumstances that drive me to choose what I would like to partake in."

As a methodological individualist through personal experience, I would have to argue otherwise. I believe that people are actors of their own free, individual choices and that these choices are based on their perceptions of the world around them, and not the world itself. The line of difference is ever so minute that it is almost always discounted and people directly point to the larger more tangible source of one’s frustrations. As an individualist, I would see the issue before me as something that I could then choose to fight or discard altogether. Ultimately, the choice lies in my hands. There are no circumstances that drive me to choose what I would like to partake in. I say this because man’s role as a social animal comes after his role as an individual. Individualists like Karl Popper, Max Weber and Joseph Schumpeter too realised the power than an individual alone could possess to change the world through individual actions.

The system of holism is convenient because it shifts the blame onto the entire society rather than onto the individual. It seems politically correct and more forgiving to pin the responsibility onto something that is beyond one’s control, for that would increase the scope for large-scale action rather than one that was more tedious and required one-on-one effort. While it seems unfair to subject an individual to feel this way about oneself, it makes it equally as powerful if one could realise that the way to deal with the outside world lies in their own hands. With that immense power, every person could be in charge of how they handled situations.

This idea of holism has been carried forward by marxists, feminists and the like to suggest that people do not and cannot regulate their actions and that they are, in fact, only consequential in nature. Marxists say this about the labour force and feminists often blame the patriarchy. This form of debate had come up recently in the famous interview between the renowned psychology professor of the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson and the presenter of the Channel 4 News, Cathy Newman. [endif]

The interview was supposed to be largely based on Jordan’s new book ‘12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos’. Beginning the interview, she points out the so-called “problem” behind how the majority of those who listen to Jordan Peterson’s show are men. A methodological holist would jump to the conclusion that the patriarchy is at fault and that his words are full of male chauvinism and misogynistic ideals. As a methodological individualist AND with the added bonus of being a woman, I will whole-heartedly propose that THAT IS NOT TRUE.

"Peterson also added that YouTube is a male dominated domain while Tumblr is a female-dominated one, to show that these are merely just the way things are and that there is no larger problem as such behind them. This does not automatically indicate woman’s oppression."

The reason why more of the male population tends to watch his show as opposed to the female population is because, and as he says so as well, it is the men who want to watch it and can. It’s as simple as that. This does not conversely mean the opposite – which is that women do not like to watch it; in fact there’s a logical fallacy of ‘defective induction’ in that argument. Is it a systemic problem that more women do not watch his show? God, no! It’s merely because of the fact that they choose to not watch it for personal reasons. Peterson also added that YouTube is a male dominated domain while Tumblr is a female-dominated one, to show that these are merely just the way things are and that there is no larger problem as such behind them. This does not automatically indicate woman’s oppression. When Cathy then began to talk about the gender pay gap between male and female workers in the UK and even said that only 7 women are the heads of some of the Top FTSE 100 companies, Peterson took the stance of an individualist. He then went on to say that in order to achieve such a high feat, one had to dedicate an immense amount of working hours (nearly 70 to 80) that men found easier to do as opposed to women. There are more men than women who are prepared to make the sacrifices and that is what must be kept in mind. This is often countered by the argument that women are forced to succumb to parental and societal pressures of bearing children, taking care of their parents and performing house-hold chores. The key word I wish to use here is "Agency".

With the exception of those cases where a woman is actually almost held at gunpoint and asked to be wed and bear children, no woman is forced into doing so. Social stigma and stereotypes would mean nothing if a person had enough faith in himself or herself to be able to stand by their decisions, regardless of the opinions of other people. As Solomon Asch in his conformity experiment had concluded, people tend to go with the crowd for fear of isolation. As a result, individuality takes a hit. When a woman is being ostracised by her family for choosing to go against their wishes, what happens there is confined to that environment and is not to be generalised to the entire population. Furthermore, what she does from that point onwards is up to her to decide. No, I am not being ignorant to the rants of numerous feminists, I am merely expressing that the way to handle the problems that they often talk about is different and more individualistic in nature.


As I conclude this, I wish to put forward my final thoughts on all of this:

With the advent of social media, validation from the masses has taken centre stage; doing things for oneself and sharing with those who matter has lost its value. Self-love is not preaching about body positivity, uploading pictures of people in different sizes and expecting other people to be okay with it. It is about learning to accept oneself for whatever shape or size one comes in and understanding that no matter what others think, they must be at peace with themselves.

Social media ought not to be used as a tool to teach self-love; it must be inculcated from within.

Self-love is a person coming to terms with his or her own opinions on issues and accepting them as his or her own, without a care about whether or not he or she is being judged for it. When this happens, one begins to take responsibility for one’s own actions and understands that doing so may bear certain consequences.

The power to change and control lies within you; take responsibility for your individual actions and know that you can control it.

About the Author

Kamya Vishwanath is extremely passionate about her political opinions and reads extensively about the subject. A strong advocate of mental health and combating stigma around the same, she has interned with the Spastics Society of Karnataka and the Center for Law and Policy Research and continues to write passionately about mental illness.

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