An Artist’s Statement – The Individual in Society

Doodle

Most people think of the relationship between the individual and the community as one of struggle — the nonconformist rebelling against social injustice while the community oppresses the rebel’s voice in an attempt to keep the peace.  But that is just one phase of the cyclical, symbiotic relationship shared between the community and the individual. They need each other like how clownfish need anemones and anemones need clownfish. One without the other would lead to the death of both.

What happens when a community discriminates, ostracizes, or condemns an individual and what is the impact on society as a whole?

Being part of a community can be good — you can seek shelter and comfort amongst people who share your values, you have strength in numbers, and you can live life without judgement by just being one out of an entire school of identical fish. But a community is only as good as the people in it. When the people of a community are plagued by discrimination, dishonesty, ignorance, and lack of compassion, there is no longer any reason to be a part of that community. A corrupt community in which people hurt each other is self-destructive. A school of cannibalistic fish is not going to last long.

Individuals

It is then that the community needs an individual to challenge the outdated ideals that oppress rather than uphold the people of the community. When the South segregated, denied legal rights to, and even lynched African Americans, Martin Luther King Jr. said that “Perhaps the South, the nation, and the world are in dire need of creative extremists” (290 The Language of Composition). A corrupt community needs someone who can see things from the opposite end of the spectrum or through a different lens.

But in order for the individual to really make an impact on society, they need to be brave enough to speak out. When people are afraid to express what they are passionate about and what they truly believe in, regardless of the status quo, their words, actions, and art lack conviction. There is no substance to something which its own creator does not believe in. Fear of being different will only make the world a shallow, empty place.

Open Mic Night Poetry Reading

“Drawn Blood” by A. Razor

sometimes…

they grab the microphone

and pour it out

real thin

like the lighter

of two liquids

in a settled bottle

never revealing the

heavier, deeper emotions

lying underneath

sometimes…

they make it safe for the sake

of acceptance among peers

a lack of vitality being the

lesser of two evils

as they choose

the safest words

possible for

the room or

situation

sometimes…

I feel like someone should

be there to shake them

well before reading

maybe even hang them

upside down by the ankles

so we can hear some real inspiration

or, at the very least, some genuine

torturing of the soul

while they torture

what is left

of mine

But speaking your mind is scary.

Even dangerous.

The community will probably react negatively to unorthodox ideas. History shows that rebels are not usually treated kindly: heretics were burned at stake during the Spanish Inquisition for having different beliefs about God, Vincent Van Gogh’s revolutionary impressionist style was too radical for people to digest so he committed suicide, believing himself to be a failure, teenage boys beat and stomped on the head of Sophie Lancaster until she fell into a coma and died thirteen days later, just because she was Goth.

But “we know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed” (284 The Language of Literature). If people don’t speak their minds, society won’t change. Sometimes people need to have their eyes and ears pried open before they can see that “the world is [not]… so narrow” and that solutions to their problems and the key to happiness might lie beyond the world of beliefs they know (152 The Scarlet Letter). But it takes an individual with a strong enough character, one who holds their ideas with such conviction that they are willing to risk their social life, their reputation, and even their life for the sake of letting ideals that might hold a better way see the light.

“It is my will which chooses, and the choice of my will is the only edict I must respect.”

– Ayn Rand, “Anthem”

The actions of the individual will not take effect immediately. It may be years after the individual’s death before his or her ideas begin to take hold on the community, but if those defiant words have any value at all, they will make an impact. As time passes, people reevaluate themselves and their worlds. They look for answers to questions that the community does not understand in places that they didn’t think they would ever go. As more and more people begin to see the value in the rebel’s words, the community changes. Old walls are torn down and new foundations are built upon ideas that were once scorned upon as insane or heretical. Less than 500 years ago, we thought that the Earth was flat and the center of the universe. Then someone said that was wrong. Everyone called Copernicus insane except for a few. Then a few more. And then some more after that. Since then, we have discovered new planets, captured images of the stars up close, discovered new galaxy, flown to the moon and back, and sent miraculous contraptions to the edge of the solar system. None of this would have happened if one man hadn’t spoken his mind.

There is a strange twist to the story of the individual and the community. Once the individual’s ideas have succeeded in changing the community, they become an essential part of it. Then, sooner or later in the future, this new community will find something else to mess up, someone else to suppress. The community filled with people who conformed to the ideas of the nonconformist. Then, when a new nonconformist comes along, he or she will be spat upon, persecuted, and placed in a social insane asylum. And so it goes. Samuel Adams, once the face of rebellion and anarchy against an oppressive government, violently opposed Shay’s Rebellion, an insurrection in the name of gaining greater rights under an oppressive and inefficient early American government. Hester Prynne, once considered the very embodiment of the sin of woman became an advisor to young women in her old age by the end of the “Scarlet Letter”. The rebels who once opposed authority may someday be one of them.

“No his mind is not for rent

To any god or government

Always hopeful, yet discontent

He knows changes aren’t permanent

But change is”

Rush, “Tom Sawyer

Just because society absorbs new ideas doesn’t mean that it will be welcoming to more nonconformity just yet. The rebellious individual works to change the world with radical views, and he or she accomplishes it. Then, the views are no longer radical. As people come to accept them are they still the thoughts of an individual? So many of the facts and beliefs that we hold as common sense today were once radical. As the beliefs of the individual are accepted by the community, new individuals will challenge them. Then, that individuals beliefs will be accepted by a community of the future and then challenged by yet another individual. This how the world changes. Sometimes it is painstakingly slow. Sometimes, when we try to change it we get bogged down. But for as long as we are human, there will always be things that need changing, and as long as there are individuals willing to stand up to change the community, it will never be stagnant. Because of individuals, the community will always be progressing, evolving, and changing.

“The line it is drawn

The curse it is cast

The slow one now

Will later be fast

As the present now

Will later be past

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’ ”

– Bob Dylan, “The Times They are A Changin'”

Social Insane Asylum

Social Insane Asylum (Through the Ages)

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