But you try it, though. Go ahead. Make a society without individuals. I dare you.
In which case we need to define what an individual is.
Am I an individual in the sense that I inhabit a body that is separate from yours? A biologically distinct meatbag distinct from the other meatbags that inhabit the planet. Is my cat an individual member of a society because it is also a meatbag distinct from other meatbags? Or is the definition of being an individual in the sense of being an active human being forms opinions and takes action?
I would tend towards the second. So then the question is how we can be active human beings, and what we can do with those activities.
In the current material conditions we live do we have the space, time and skills to all be able to produce the food on which we survive?
No. We don’t have the land on which to individually farm for ourselves or raise the livestock for ourselves as individuals. Many people live in apartment blocks where they don’t have gardens at all, in urban housing with very limited garden space, suburban houses with more but not a great amount of garden space. Even with allotment spaces that doesn’t add up to the sort of soil for you to be able to produce a balanced, or even unbalanced, diet throughout the course of the year. Instead the space is grouped together so that the produce from a particular area can be focussed so that a maximum yield for the maximum people can be gained.
No. We don’t have the time to each individually work the land for our own individual produce. With a variety of other things we need to be doing such as making clothes to keep us warm and dry, making housing to keep us sheltered, finding fresh water to keep us hydrated. If you then become seriously injured, as an individual, there’s a choice you must make between treating your injury and trying to recover versus tending the fields to make sure you have something to eat.
No. We don’t have the skills, for a similar reason to above the way our society works is that we practise a particular skill so that we can do that activity to the best of our ability. Our farmers spend a lifetime farming and know what they’re doing, our doctors spending a lifetime practising medicine and develop knowledge that makes them good at their job and so on. If we were individuals, and had to do every task ourselves because there’s no society to provide different necessities for us, we’d not be able to develop the level of workmanship that would make the work done the best possible, neither would it allow for the rate of development and advancement that specialisation facilitates.
So looking only at food, being an individual is pretty problematic. Instead of being individuals, we have society. Society enables us to exist and have the time to do the things we want to. Society provides us with education and training so that we can build on the knowledge of our ancestors, society provides us with housing so that we don’t die of exposure, society provides us with food so that we can eat, society provides us with water so that we can drink, society provides us with sewer systems so that we don’t pollute our water supply with our own faeces. Society provides us with medical care when we’re ill, with modes of transportation that mean you don’t have to walk from A to B. Society provides us with social networks where we can make friends, find shared interests, build a conscious awareness of other people in the world. In turn they create a support group to provide for you where you’re unable to provide for yourself.
What is there worth doing as an individual that isn’t facilitated and made possible by society? So maybe the original premise is bunk in that it places primacy on the individual enabling the existence of society, because it fails to consider even the existence of the individual let alone the nature of society.
Maybe there’s a dialectical relationship between the individual and society whereby society is a collection of individuals, but without that society those individuals would not be able to exist. Maybe the ideological and cultural expectation amongst contemporary society has become so focussed on the primacy of the individual that it forgets the importance of the society as a functioning whole, atomising people into their own personal struggles rather than being able to connect with the wider community on how to forward the whole of humanity rather than just a select few privileged individuals.
I dare you to live without society.