Individualism or Sentimentalism

The debate on Individualism versus sentimentalism held in Vijay TV, anchored by Gopinath (31-08-2014) was an excellent, informative and very useful program. Both sides put forth their point very clearly with strong conviction.

The way Sri Arumugan, the Tamil Philosopher, presented his view in his own colloquial style, sometime using strong words which others can take as an attack on the opponents, was the highlight of the program. Not only his presentation, but the points which he highlighted were excellent to which the opponents could not give any convincing response.

‘Is the Tamil society still a sentimental one, or we need to adopt to the need of the hour by becoming more individualistic?’ is the main thrust of the debate.  Those who argued for individualism insisted that the present economic scenario demands for individualism. They also said that by remaining sentimental fools, Tamilians have failed to make progress and contribute to the larger world.

There is not enough space for me to take each point and present the views and counterviews by both sides. Those who are interested can log on Vijay T.V. Neeya Naana (31st August 2014) to listen them all. But the way Dr. Mohan finally presented a clear response against individualism cannot be refuted. If I am correct, he even proved that ‘individualism’ is another form of sentimentalism.  I completely agree with him.

But one interesting point that I must disagree with is the way Kaniyan Punkundranar’s famous lines were quoted and misused by both side to twist the meaning to make use to serve their purpose. I wrote about this in another article ‘Universalhood and Tamilians’.

To support their argument, one person from the Individualism side quoted Punkundranar’s line ‘Nandrum teedu pirar thara vaara’ (தீதும்நன்றும்பிறர்தரவாரா – the evil and good are not given by others).

In response, another person from the sentimental side said that the very first line of this song goes against this view: Yaadum voore yaavarum Kelir’ (யாதும்ஊரேயாவரும்கேளிர் – every place is my own and all are my relatives).

But as I pointed out in my earlier article, ‘the evil and good are not given by others’ is not talking about individualism as if each one has to decide about the evil or good. Since the context is ‘karma’ (Uzh in Tamil), each one is personally responsible for her karma. But according to karma theory, a person’s karma is decided not only by her acts but also influenced by others with whom she is related. For example a husband’s karma is affected by his wife.

Similarly the person from the sentimental side was correct by pointing that the first line of this famous poem (Every place is my own and everyone is my relative), goes against the individualistic view. But this view is not based on any sentimentalism that ‘all are my own place and everyone is my own relative’.

No doubt that Tamil is not only the richest language, but also Tamilians have a unique history. However, they are not completely different from others. Their uniqueness in no way has mad them supernatural saints. There are very few ethnic groups in the world like Tamilians who can boast about their language, culture, worldview, and above all, sentiment related with their language and people. They have been able to keep continuity with the past while also accepting change.

Finally we should not confuse individualism with ‘individuality’. Individualism is self-centered and selfish in its core. Individuality gives recognition to the personal right and choice of an individual. No human can be neatly divided as a mere individualistic or sentimental fool. Each one has both these characters according to their own temperament, nuturing, and situation. Human nature cannot be put in water-tight compartments because they overlap with each other. But that helps us survive as human beings. No human value or view can work at the cost of the other.