Interpreter of Maladies

A Look Inside the Outsider College

“Society exists only as a mental concept; in the real world there are only individuals.” These are the words of the 19th century writer and poet Oscar Wilde, and they perfectly illustrate the oft-contentious dispute between individualism and conformity to the community. Indeed, this dispute has played out through the pages of history, and it is difficult to objectively state that either of the extremes provides better outcomes or a more correct answer. On the side advocating conformity to community, there are both unforgiving despots who wished to carve men into machines, along the lines of Stalin, and cherished apostles of societal betterment, similar to Mother Teresa. On the other hand, advocating individualism and relative neglect of larger society, we can see both great writers, much like the above-mentioned Oscar Wilde, and cruelly apathetic hedonists, including Nero and many other Roman emperors of the first century.

In reality, though, few people have devoted their lives to advocating either extreme conformity or extreme individualism, as have the above-mentioned individuals. Rather, most people hold views somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, incorporating bits of both theories. When the debate does surface in the...

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