People who react adversely when their individualism is interfered with are often misunderstood and misinterpreted as having a reactionary relationship with the authority or the interferer. They are not always visible to the naked eye as their discreet ways of intrusion are often unknown to the advocates of individual autonomy. Instead of preferring the path of informed decisions and enlightening themselves with the expedient knowledge, the meddlers choose to invent innumerable reasons to encroach upon an individual’s freedom. Encyclopaedia Britannica defines individual autonomy as, “leading one’s life according to reasons, values, or desires that are authentically one’s own” for the term is derived from ancient Greek words auto (self ) and nomos (rules). Individualism, on the other hand, has been defined by many sources as a philosophy wherein the individual emphasises strongly or forcefully on ideas such as human independence, self-reliance and liberty and vehemently displays a lack of tolerance to those who interfere with his or her choices whether it be the state, society, institution or any other group. Individualists also reject any attempts made by any tradition, religious views or moral standards to curtail their choices or actions.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to teach a HSC module titled Individual vs Institution with the prescribed text being Scott Monk’s novel ‘Raw’ and in an attempt to unpack the rubrics for learners in a way that they could comprehend easily I had to re-word it as a conflict between an individual (usually characters in the texts) and the society (in which they live) or the institution they represent. While explaining the causes that lead to such conflicts, I remember having pointed out that few choices made by individuals do not cause any harm to other individuals or institutions or society of which they are a part of. Years later, situations forced me to traverse along that memory lane and I began to reflect on the extent to which people could interfere with others’ lives, even if their choices or pathways digressed from the majority, especially if those decisions of the individuals do not affect them personally or cause any significant losses.
If one were to rule out the obvious powerplays by scheming manipulators behind situations involving individualists, what could be the reasons for people to collectively raise a hue and cry about individual autonomy. Are they psychopaths or sociopaths who take immense pleasure in harassing the individualists with put downs and underhand sabotages? Effortless research via internet browsing would confirm the validity of this argument for they often use charm to escape detection in society. According to a former FBI Agent Joe Navarro,
“The manipulator will make carefully chosen insinuating comments to evoke an uncomfortable emotional response or even several responses at once. He knows your weaknesses and your hot-buttons, and he will enjoy dropping a bomb like this and watching the fallout. If someone says something that has multiple negative meanings and causes negative emotions while leaving you flummoxed and without a meaningful response, you’ve experienced it.”
His observation could enlighten the clueless about the myriad underhand tactics a psychopath or sociopath would adopt to defeat the individualists while wearing the cloak of false humility. Or are the anti- individualists, narcissists or pathological liars, who as pointed out by Dr. Staik (2018) in her article, “15 Reasons Narcissists and Sociopaths Lie,” use lies as a tactic to vanquish individual autonomy.
“Lies are used to lure prey, to emotionally manipulate them, to put them on emotional roller coasters, and to get their hopes up only to later snatch them away, again and again. Lies and illusions big and small are how a narcissist’s props up their false image of themselves as a supreme dream fulfiller — and traps others into believing their “lies,” so much so, that they get others to collude with them, and join in duping and fooling …”
These behavioural patterns and observations raise the classical question, “To what extent can a person or body interfere with others’ lives?” We would be unanimous in our response that we have the right to interfere when the actions or choices of an individualist could cause significant or insignificant damage or destruction to a well-knit society. However, when situations are otherwise, even well-wishers should not entertain any thoughts of interfering with individual autonomy let alone the insecure, the uncomfortable and the threatened. Law regards personal autonomy as a basic human right as it is important for individuals to have certain experiences as it provides them the opportunities to learn, mature and grow, even if the experiences are negative.
Interference with individual autonomy has its limits!
"To what extent can a person or body interfere with others' lives?" We would be unanimous in our response that we have the right to interfere when the actions or choices of an individualist could cause significant or insignificant damage or destruction to a well-knit society. However, when situations are otherwise, even well-wishers should not entertain any thoughts of interfering with individual autonomy.