One of my very first posts on this blog was about how I am not the Steve Wiggins who is a gospel singer. There I mused on the coincidence that we share fore and surnames, as well as an interest in religion. He is far more prominent than I am. I don’t sing. Since that time the most prominent Steve Wiggins on Google is the one who shot a police officer in Tennessee. We don’t even share the same name, technically. My given name is Steve, not Steven. The branch of Wiggins I come from, however, is from the south. Stephen F. Wiggins, even further removed in the name-spelling department, was CEO at Oxford Health Plans. Now, I work for a publisher that shares one of those three words, and it’s the one that’s most specific. Are Steve Wigginses drawn to the same places? Another Steve Wiggins, just a couple years older than me, lived in Russellville, Arkansas. I grew up in Rouseville, Pennsylvania. Coincidence?
Our sense of individualism is, it seems, socially conditioned. If we try to imagine life in earlier human social structures, such as hunter-gatherer society, it looks as though people tended to function more as a collective organism. The benefit of the group was the deciding factor, rather than what an individual wanted. No doubt this was a more harsh environment for those who liked to think for themselves, even though evolution had given us that capacity. Biology, however, seems to have species survival as its goal. Individuals die while the organism lives on. In modern society we consider individualism as one of the highest aims.
Our names individualize us. I sometimes think of countries like China that have a combination of very large populations and a tradition of short names. With limited numbers of possibilities repeats in names becomes inevitable. It’s a prominent aspect of our western society that we want name recognition. We want to feel special. Unique. We work against evolution, but evolution has vastly more time than we do. Perhaps we’ve gone too far with our individualism. I hope we don’t have to step back as far as The Matrix, but maybe a movement in the direction of the social good over individual wants would be the right thing to do. Our psychology makes us want to feel special. Our biology wants us to play nicely together. Who, in the end, wins out? It could make a world of difference.