Douglas Rushkoff on individualism and disempowerment.

Another affirmation that cooperation can be more empowering than only looking out for number one, this time from economics and media theory. This is Douglas Rushkoff in his opening invocation at Personal Democracy Forum 2008 (transcript, video/audio). If you’re going to listen to a whole presentation, I prefer his similar 56th Annual Korzybski Lecture but I couldn’t find a transcript of that one.

The individual we think of today was actually born in the Renaissance. The Vesuvian Man, Da Vinci’s great drawing of a man in a perfect square and circle— independent and self-sufficient. This is the Renaissance ideal.

It was the birth of this thinking, individuated person that led to the ethos underlying the Enlightenment. Once we understood ourselves as individuals, we understood ourselves as having rights. The Rights of Man. A right to property. The right to personal freedom.

The Enlightenment— for all its greatness— was still oh, so personal in its conception. The reader alone in his study, contemplating how his vote matters. One man, one vote. We fight revolutions for our individual rights as we understood them. There were mass actions, but these were masses of individuals, fighting for their personal freedoms.

Ironically, with each leap towards individuality there was a corresponding increase in the power of central authorities. Remember, the Renaissance also brought us centralized currencies, chartered corporations, and nation states. As individuals become concerned with their personal plights, their former power as a collective moves to central authorities. Local currencies, investments, and civic institutions dissolve as self-interest increases. The authority associated with them moves to the center and away from all those voting people.

(Emphasis mine.)

I really notice the undefined “we” in that speech. He is expecting to be heard by people who take European history as their own history.