June 29 2017

Video-Flashback #15 – Panel “Peak Individualism”

If there was one single overarching megatrend of the 20th century, it was individualism. Ongoing individualization is at the core of Western modernity, bridging 18th-century Enlightenment with the 19th-century Industrial Revolution and 20th-century consumer capitalism. It got, as Adam Curtis argues in his most recent movie-essay, another boost in the 1970s through “HyperNormalisation” and the age of post-politics. But – like oil consumption and the world population – individualism can’t grow forever. Peak Individualism is nigh, if not already passed. The very concept of individualism as a booster of “being modern” is under attack – not dead yet, but already smelling funny. On a broad scale – from Adam Smith’s prosperous egoism via the cultivation of elaborate individualistic taste toward Stanford’s new take on californian ideology called “DYL” (Design Your Life) – a growing minority is fed up with the selfish culture of narcissism, and alternatives are surfacing. The hipsterish turnaround of “Normcore” – dressing up like “ordinary people” – might just be an ephemeral symptom of the erosion of Western individualism. But the success story of 1.3 billion Chinese people rising from poverty pursuing a different path to social prosperity (fueled by an aspirational lifestyle somewhere between social collectivism and luxury conformism) can hardly be ignored and cries out for interpretation and extrapolation. We humbly take up the challenge in this collectivist conference track.

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Deutsche UNESCO Kommission

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