Individuality and commonality are both fundamental, necessary values of life. This holds true at all levels, in every corner of the world. Life depends on the creative variety of the individual for adaptability and on the efficiency and power of the group to make the most of its potential.

We see this everywhere. No matter how close a family is, every person is a little different. No two towns are exactly alike, yet all share similarities. Millions of weeds or bugs might seem identical, yet some survive our attempts to eradicate them as pests and develop for their kind a resistance to our effort. Medical professionals deliver efficient, reliable care by following standardized best practices, until some individual creates a different treatment approach that works better.

To the human mind, individuality and commonality appear to be not just in conflict, but opposites. There is a tension between them that life needs to resolve — and then another tension develops. This is because life is always, in every one of its manifestations, both individual and common. We tend to focus on the conflict between the one and the many because contrast is the only way that we see. But every individual is also always simultaneously the many, and the totality is always simultaneously each individual expression of life — which is one of the lovely mysteries of life.

Everyone understands this to a degree and acts accordingly, choosing to go with what’s common sometimes (until it becomes restrictive, less effective or plain boring) or what’s individual (until the errors are too common or the strain of going it alone is too much). Humans constantly work these two values back and forth to enrich their individual and collective lives and develop them further.

This is what is playing out today as people struggle to improve human organization at the highest levels. Nationalists assert the rights of countries and peoples to have their own individual lives different from others, and globalists assert the advantages and the need to take common approaches on many matters.

Nationalism and globalism have been necessary characteristics of human life since it covered the Earth. Though they may not act like it, every nationalist is also a globalist, and every globalist also a nationalist.

Everyone wants to maintain the distinctive character of nations. Think how unlike each other are Canada, Japan, Ireland, Egypt and Chile, for example, and all the rest. The world is enriched immeasurably by the countless different practices of peoples everywhere. A global uniformity of culture, character and politics would greatly devalue human life.

Yet everyone also wants to establish sufficient global commonality to effectively manage things that can be handled best or even only on a worldwide basis, such as trade, large environmental issues and epidemics. The current level of civilization already depends on much work being done at the global level, and a lot more will be needed to handle already-known challenges.

Balancing these two aspects of human organization couldn’t be more important, since it affects people at all levels all over the world. A proper balance would be supported by large majorities in all the advanced nations — so the strife between nationalists and globalists in America and Europe shows achieving that is still far off. A greater understanding of life in general and humans in particular will be needed before we can conceive of, much less implement, an effective global federation that also fully serves the interests of the nations.

Email Kevin Post, editorial page editor, at

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