It is fashionable these days to insist that individuality is impossible, and it is plain to see that interdependence is the rule and not the exception. Even if one was able to separate them selves from other people completely and live in the wilderness, (the dream of misanthropes and saints alike), one would still depend on the direct resources of their immediate environment for survival and identity. The situation gets worse still for the 'individual' when one considers that every word one speaks is shared by every other speaker of their language. Even our privet thoughts consist of things we've heard. It be hard to even think of something that could exist apart from other things. Even ones awareness of a thing can disturb that thing's tranquil individuality by making it a comparison to other things.
So what can the word individual even mean if we can't even imagine one? Is individuality meaningless? I don't think so. In spite of the fact that I fully embrace the communion of all entities, I still find that individuality is a powerful and liberating concept worthy of deep contemplation.
In, Phenomenology of Perception, M.Merleau-Ponty gives a possible alternate conception of individuality. "The novelist task is not to expound ideas or even analyze characters, but to depict an inter-human event, ripening and bursting it upon us with no ideological commentary, to such an extent that any change in order of the narrative or in choice of view point would alter the literary meaning of the event. A novel, poem, picture or musical work are 'individuals,'
that is, beings in which the expression is indistinguishable from the thing expressed, their meaning only through direct contact, being radiated with no change of their temporal and spatial situation."
For Merleau-Ponty the individual is some one or something that can only be understood through a direct encounter, and this makes sense because if said "individual" could be understood through analogy then it/he/she would be in an inseparable collection with its analogue. The kind of individual Merleau-Ponty speaks of does exist, if it didn't analogy would be sufficient for experience. What's strange is that a set of analogies like a poem can, it's self, be an individual. Merleau-Ponty's individual is possible even given what we know about the role of interdependence, because we all know individuals that live in families and communities.
This understanding of individuality has the power to reopen the discussion between individualists and communalists and open new relationships of liberty and dependence. This debate goes to the heart of the meaning of love and respect.
(I do not think collective entities are imaginary).