I am speaking more about the damage that has come about from catering to the individual. It leads to people feeling they have a right to preferential treatment. This problem exists at all levels of economic status and in turn leads to people trying to find ways to use systems that might otherwise be beneficial to all for their own personal gain. All the while, their self-serving approaches slowly begin to erode the system for others who are willing to follow the rules. You see this in the people who attempt to cheat the welfare system (so called "welfare queens"). You also see it in the insider trading of the upper middle class and wealthy. Both the welfare system and the stock market can be positive systems that could benefit everyone. But for that to work, everyone involved must follow some rules.
Another less important but example of how placing focus on the individual is a detriment is the concept of "tagging" on the web. It is one of the ultimate examples of the cult of the individual. It places the importance of an individual's perceptions above formal taxonomy of information using known and predictable classifications. Tagging, might have some useful applications in some arenas, but not when you really want reliable classifications. We wouldn't want tagging to be used to classify species, or define parts of the human body, or categorize library books. But, one of those things is being talked about. Some libraries are considering moving away from or entirely abandoning the Library of Congress or Dewey Decimal system in favor of more "friendly" tagging. Can you imagine the morass that libraries would become if they rely on end-user tagging? People have enough trouble finding the books they want on the shelves today. Tagging would make that an impossible task.
Yet another bit of fallout from placing too much focus on individuals is the lack of civility that we've seen in western society. People are much more likely to place far too much importance on their own endeavors and their own time to be bothered with actually thinking of others. It is a major inconvenience for people today to think about how they affect everyone else. And I suggest that this has happened only because we've been raising one or two generations (possibly three) with the idea that they as individuals are the most important thing in life. It's led to an "I've got mine, you go get yours" attitude that is destroying civility. There is no longer any consideration for what was once called "civic duty".
Because of all of this focus on the individual, people also tend to feel that there's no reason for them to put forth the effort and hard work required to keep the rest of the world working. "Leave that to someone else. I'm busy working on making myself a success. Why should I need to know how to do X, Y and Z when I can just become a millionaire and pay other people to do this stuff for me"? The sad reality is that people with that attitude exist at every level of society and because of the cult of the individual, they have increased in number to a count that is far higher than it ever was in previous generations.
People like this used to be considered sociopaths and were ostracized for their selfish behavior. Today, they are glorified in the media as being the prime example of the highest form of human being. Just look at the number of celebrities and "personalities" who are held up as successes, completely ignoring the fact that they've done nothing for the betterment of mankind. In many cases they don't even have any real talent worthy of the attention. And yet, there they are, on display for the rest of the world to emulate.
I concur that the shepherds in this case are the advertising business within the media simply trying to separate people from their money. But, I don't see that as the real problem. The real problem, in my view, is that people are not resistant to these appeals to the individual. The small number of people who are resistant to those appeals are vastly marginalized in our society as modern day outcasts. They are the "fools" who don't see the writing on the wall. Or they are "out of touch" with the pulse of America. Or they are dull, boring and needlessly pedantic.
This cult of individuality reached a turning point enabled first by cable television and then in the 90s, by the internet. It appeals to the lazy, the mediocre and the cunning (which is not the same as intelligent or smart). That is specifically what I am talking about. The growing push for people to be like this has also been accompanied by a society-wide time impoverishment. With the lack of time to do all the things that one wants and needs to do in a day, people are content taking shortcuts. Those shortcuts are built around putting the individual in an imaginary position of authority over their own lives. But the insidiousness of the whole situation is such that the shortcuts simply mold them into the sheep that the various shepherds want.
Mostly I'm just writing this to clarify my belief that placing the focus on the individual is not a good thing. My nature is such that I've always preferred cooperative modes of working to competitive ones. The progress might not be as fast as when competition is the driver, but I think the progress is more stable, and usually fair for all. As long as everyone does the most important thing when working as a group: follow the rules.