A Plea for Anti-Anti-Individualism: How Oversimple Psychology Misleads Social Policy

Abstract

This essay responds to the criticism that contemporary efforts to redress discrimination and inequality are overly individualistic. Critics of individualism emphasize that these systemic social ills stem not from the prejudice, irrationality, or selfishness of individuals, but from underlying structural-institutional forces. They are skeptical, therefore, of attempts to change individuals’ attitudes while leaving structural problems intact. I argue that the insistence on prioritizing structural over individual change is problematic and misleading. My view is not that we should instead prioritize individual change, but that individual changes are integral to the success of structural changes. These theorists urge a redirection of attention, claiming that we should think less about the individual and more about the social. What they should urge instead is that we think differently about the individual, and thereby think differently about the social.

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