On Individualism

There’s this idea that gets talked about by people much more studied than me in policy, economics and history. It’s the criticism about how we tend to look at the results of structural and systemic problems and demand individual solutions.

For example, we see obesity rates rising in the poor communities…faster than in other economic categories…and we decide the solution is to make sure each of them are buying healthier food with their SNAP money. We try to do things like forcing establishments that take EBT cards to sell X percentage of “produce” type foods. We don’t look at the systemic problems like food desserts or unregulated processed food industries, we don’t look at the emotional challenges caused by generational poverty that may cause people to look for quick and easy mood boosts in the form of fast food.

We also see a lot of “individual” response to systemic issues in global issues. Like how we approach migrating groups from Central American at our borders by analyzing individual cases of “Asylum” without looking at the historical and economic roles the US played in the decline of stability in their origin countries. We start fighting terrorism after 9/11 with individual targets listed without trying to reframe how we need to handle future military support in waring regions as our involvement in the Soviet Afghanistan War war with Operation Cyclone helped give rise to al Quaeda.

It’s not that individual and small-scale approaches don’t have a place. But as they do not address systemic or structural problems, we are basically often treating the symptom and not the disease.

We see this in how we expel and punish “problem children” in high school without trying to create an upheaval in our education and childcare systems to help these kids and their families before they get to be “problem children.” We want to put drug test requirements on any sort of government assistance program without figuring trying to solve our poverty problems at their root level so people don’t turn to drugs for salvation to begin with. (Not that drugs are only a poor-people problem, obviously.) Or we don’t look at how often for an entire generation of under-performing students, we found slower removal of lead paint in their homes.

I am no expert in any of these areas, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it ever since I stumbled upon this introduction to how widespread this “individualism” approach is and how detrimental it is to the general perception of policies that advance systemic change.


I have simply been trying to reframe my perspectives on these type of issues and always try to be listening for systemic approaches to problem solving. (And especially focusing on noticing bad systems that contribute to a lot of these problems like extraction capitalism.) So, I thought I’d just kinda introduce you to some of the concepts too so you can keep your mind open and maybe not take these individual solutions as the way to “solve” systemic problems and keep an open mind when policies are proposed that conquer things at a bigger scale.

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