Pseudo-Individualism refers to the illusion of choice and differentiation in a cultural paradigm defined by standardized modes of production. Most products in the same category, are made in the same way and have the same utility. Camel cigarettes are sophisticated and cosmopolitan. Marlboro are rugged and tough. This sameness is disguised by product design and marketing techniques which present the illusion of freedom and choice.
On an individual level, we see this pattern being replicated through the participation in the act of ‘personal branding’. The harsh, competitive nature of capitalist society necessitates a performance of the ‘peculiarity of the self’ (Adorno and Horkheimer, 63). We are compelled to individuate by drawing from a standardized list of known signifiers; whether it is a deep voice of a ‘strong man’ or a slight English affect these signifiers present the ‘fingerprint on the otherwise uniform identity cards’ of our kind (63). Adorno argues that failing to draw from these recognizable identifiers will condemn the individual to an “impotence which is prolonged in the intellectual powerlessness of the ‘eccentric loner’” (49). This places the individual in a paradoxical position where they must individuate but only within acceptable parameters. The path of individuation finds such comprehensive encouragement from our social and economic apparatus that all permutations and expressions of this impulse have or will be incorporated.
This crisis of individuality outlined by Adorno and Horkheimer, is defined by them as a totality. However, by privileging communication and community over individualist expression we might see a mode of ‘subversive conformity’ that points to an outside.