Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Individualism and Classism

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jul 08, 2008

Originally posted on Half an Hour, July 8, 2008.

Responding to an email from Nick Bowskill:

I think you have a good point and I'm always attentive to the risk of catering to the Ayn Rand set when I talk about centering learning on the self. My intent is absolutely not to foster some sort of egoism. The reason I focus on the self, rather than some wider definition of learning, is that each individual is different, and indeed, that such diversity is to be valued. This is especially evident in a field like education, where each learner has individual needs and interests.

I subscribe to Kant's dictum, that each human is an end in and of him or her self, and not a means to some other end. In is in this philosophy that I see the distinction between myself and the 'celebrity of the self' movement. For it follows that other people are not merely means to satisfy your own selfish ends, that they must be respected as having inherently the same value as yourself. Thus, though my philosophy is rooted in the self, is not a form of primacy of the self.

The other reason I focus on the advancement of personal learning, in such articles as 'What You Really Need to learn', is that there is no shortage of people who will attempt to use you, your insecurities, and your aspirations, as a means of advancing their own ends. History is in fact a succession of people being used for one purpose or another, often at the cost of the destruction of those used, and typically without any particular benefit or advancement to humanity.

So my advice is often of the form, "Protect yourself." And this has to come with the admonishment that each individual is valuable and has worth. Because at the heart of the 'celebrity of the self' movement is an appear to an individual's lack of self worth, to their inherent sense of self-doubt. People are all too often willing to sacrifice themselves for others, and while such sacrifice can be noble, it is too often cynically used by people simply to enrich themselves or to advance some parochial interest.

In truth, I don't see myself undertaking a balancing act at all, and I don't see myself as in any real risk of being confused for an egoist or individualist in my philosophy. My epistemology is based, not on atomism, but rather, on a sense of connectedness between interacting individuals, each of which prings its own uniqueness, its own perspective, to the mix. This allows me on the one had to argue against the all-encompassing darkness of classism, that is, any philosophy that subsumes the individual under some notion of class, race, nationality, religion, or whatever, while at the same time being very clear about the way in which individuals are mutually interdependent.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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