No 12: Oneism

ISMISM New concepts for the Nineties
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The Independent Online
One adj n single. Also pron I, me, eg "One would like to help, but one really is too busy looking after oneself." Increasingly important number as groupings involving more than one person, eg the family, decline in importance. Now one in five young women in the UK is likely never to become a mother, the number of lone households is rising along with the divorce rate. These social trends have rendered older notions of collectivism out of date. Whereas egoism used to do moral battle with altruism, the war is now all but over: no one can really be bothered doing anything for anyone else.

Hence oneism n practice of putting number one before everything else. A self-obsessional philosophy that became mainstream under Thatcherism but continued to develop in the Nineties as society broke down into single entities. Each became, as the Scottish poet and nationalist Hugh MacDiarmid was famously labelled, "a splinter group of one". The National Lottery became the weekly ritual, as nearly everyone vied to be the lucky one. The process of social change was symbolised by BT's decision in April 1995 to place a one in front of all telephone numbers.

Early pioneers of the oneist credo included Oscar Wilde, who spent his life creating the myth of his own individualism. His characters are obsessed with their own significance. Thus in The Importance of Being Earnest, Gwendoline Fairfax comments that she always carries her diary because it is vital to have something sensational to read on the train.

However, for much of history, oneism has been socially frowned upon. Its sexual manifestation, onanism, better known as masturbation, has until recent times been considered a perversion. Woody Allen championed the practice as "sex with the one you love", but it remains an embarrassment. Likewise oneism has yet to become completely acceptable, forcing British politicians to cover their basically oneist tendencies with the language of communitarianism.

But as time goes by, the creeping dominance of oneism is becoming clear. Couples are still socially acceptable, but troilism n three-in-a-bed, has become so disapproved of that government ministers have been forced to resign for acting out such collectivist fantasies. Likewise trinitarianism, the Christian belief that there are three persons in one God, is less and less appealing to a population more likely to choose a B&Q Sunday special of buy one and get two for free.