It comes as no surprise that many of the ills of modern society can be traced to our inability to comprehend the interconnectedness of creation. But I was intrigued to learn this morning that the word "individual" originally meant indivisible, not cuttable, as in the Trinity, or husband and wife. Originally an individual was a person or thing seen in relation to the whole of which it was but a part, as in an individual instance of a family.
But by the mid-nineteenth century Darwin was describing "individuals of the same species" and soon the indivisible part of a whole had become just a separate part. "Individualism and individuality became the modern attitudes towards the self, meaning now the autonomous, completely self-determining subject, not the person intrinsically united to God or the Whole....Notions of individual identity may even underlie the turbulent and dangerous shift today from economic cooperation with our neighbors to the unbridled competitiveness of market forces. The notorious claim of modern capitalism that "society" does not exist threatens the weak and marginalized who cannot defend themselves, just as it enthrones the successful individual in a pleasure palace of consumption." (Raymond Williams, Keywords, via Laurence Freeman)
Reading this, I am reminded of some discussions I have had with my older daughter over the years about feminist language. She thinks I am rather rabid on the subject (I did come of age in the 70's after all) but I truly believe that how we use language affects how we perceive at a very fundamental level. It could, of course, be simply a chicken and egg problem, but if we could possibly follow the course Madeline L'Engle prescribes in A Swiftly Tilting Planet and go back in time to right a single wrong, the implications for our current thinking could be immense, rather like the butterfly effect: that part of chaos theory that suggests the flap of a butterfly's wing in Brazil could trigger a tornado in Texas.
All of which is to say that when I look at this image and feel the existential loneliness of this seagull, I am speaking wholly as a product of my century and my culture; that less than 200 years ago another -- dare I say, Individual? -- looking at this image would see, not loneliness, but an instant, an instance, a rare moment when one of a flock sits at rest, enjoying the flow of the tide and the rise of the sun. One might even call her perch a pleasure palace, though obviously not one of consumption -- unless we're speaking of her potential consumption of nearby fish!
And what do you see?