Thursday, July 26, 2007

Individualism, Properly Understood

There is some confusion in terms of how many people tend to define individualism. According to some, individualism is akin to dictatorship, where one individual controls everyone else regaurdless of consent or ethical consideration. Thus, in this view, individualism and narcissism are virtually indistinguishable. Another common mischaracterization of individualism is the idea that it's social isolationism, where everyone lives as an absolute hermit. Typically, the "cure" for individualism that is proposed is some kind of collectivism, in which "society" or "nation" or "state" are said to be supreme over the individual. In collectivism, people are identified uniformly as members of groups rather than as unique individuals unto themselves, with their own minds and actions.

It is my contention that collectivism is what is truly nihilistic, while seemingly paradoxically, individualism results in society-wide and "collective" ends when consistantly carried through. All collectivist plans for "society" inevitably must be enforced by some kind of oligarchy or dictatorship, and therefore require nihilistic control over the masses by a small few. On the other hand, individualism does not advocate the total social separation of each individual from the other (everyone would simply die) or bare nihilism, it advocates the freedom of each individual in a universal manner.

Individualism is universalist in that it consistantly applies ideas about human conduct and rights to each individual, while collectivism holds the individual in a completely subordinate position with respect to groups and social constructs and assigns groups an unequal distribution of rights. Obviously, since everyone is an individual, individual rights apply to everyone. In individualist philosophy, no majority is supposed to legally be able to overthrow your individual rights of self-ownership (which entails self-defense by defacto), life, free expression, free association, labor and property. You possess those rights by virtue of being a human being, by one's nature as an individual.

True liberty (individualism, properly understood) is where each individual's liberty is limited by the like liberty of everyone else (for example, my individual right to "free" speech prohibits everyone else from initiating force to stop me from freely expressing myself on my own property, so in order to consistantly have "free speech" each individual must be effectively shielded from invasion by everyone else); not the absolute rule of the majority, which is nothing but "might makes right" and violates the rights of the individual and minority.

Majoritarianism is a form of collectivism in which rules for the conduct of people are inconsistantly applied, where a group with superior numbers is allowed to get away with what an individual or group with minority numbers is not allowed to do. Majoritarianism is the narcissistic rule of the many over the few. It need not be confined to absolute majorities, it can be manifested in "numerical majorities", in which there is a multitude of interest groups and one of them with the largest numbers empowers itself at the expense of the rest. In practise, this type of majoritarianism is akin to an oligarchy.

The idea of "collective rights" or "group's rights" is based on an unequal distribution of rights, by defacto. It categorizes rights as belonging to groups, and therefore the distribution of rights becomes group-specific (wether it be categorized by nationality, race, economic class, etc.), where each group is in practise designated as having a special set of rights, different from other groups. And the idea that "society's rights" trump the individual's rights is nonsensical. "Society" is not an individual, but a statistical aggregate of individuals. The cumulative result of each individual's rights constitutes "the whole". "Society" does not have rights, real flesh and blood people do, individuals do.

The individualist answer to the wise question, "When is it just for a group to do that which it is not just for an individual to do?", is "never". The idea that a particular group of people should be allowed to do things that it is immoral for an individual to do is anathema to individualism. A dictator, by their nature, has the power to do to others that which is immoral. The dictator is therefore immoral by individualist standards. When we apply principles of human conduct consistantly to each individual, then in determining ethics it becomes irrelevant what political position, economic status, ethnicity or any other such group-identity a given person belongs to.

An individualist believes that one should act in their self-interest. Self-interest is not the same thing as bare narcissism. When people's pride goes to their heads, they in fact act against their own self-interest. Someone who never interacts with anyone else is acting against their rational self-interest. It is necessitated by the fundamental facts of existance that one must engage in some kind of association with other people or die. An individualist is aware of the fact that it is in one's self-interest to voluntarily trade with others and maitain one's personal relations in a non-violent manner. Thus, the concept of mutual self-interest and social cooperation arises as a result of individualism.

Indeed, there is no such thing as a selfless person. By definition of being a concious being with self-ownership (I.E. self-control), each individual has a self and therefore self-interest. It would be impossible to act without it. Eating food, having clothing and shelter, being protected from violence, are necessary functions of self-interest, and simultaneously they only can efficiently be obtained by cooperation between multiple individuals acting together in their self-interest. Thus, there is a natural incentive towards human cooperation that is part of the functionality of self-interest. Goals for "the community" cannot be met without a manifestation of cooperation in conjunction with self-interest.

The individualist does not oppose individuals giving to and helping eachother, what is opposed is the use of force to make people do so against their will and self-interest. What is opposed is parasitism, where one individual or group is forcefully coerced to sacrfice to the benefit of another individual or group. This is the exact opposite of social cooperation: it is the method of theft and phony philanthropy. The individualist clearly sees that the best way to benefit people is for them to work together voluntarily in their self-interest so that all parties gain. True philanthropy results from cooperation. If the methods to one's well-intended ends are not cooperative, if they are coercive, then this is not true charity, but rather a destructive act that disintegrates the social order.

It is quite apparent that collectivistic schemes hinges not on harmony between people but antagonism between them. As soon as the consistant application of rules to the individual is removed, as soon as one group is exempted from such considerations, as soon as one group is forcefully made to sacrifice to benefit another, a huge hole has been poked in human rights. The result is a struggle between groups, with one group struggling to maintain dominance over another, and with a subject group struggling to cope with such dominance or escape it. Social order cannot result from such antagonistic relationships between people. The Hobbesian "war of all against all" is not the result of too much individual rights, it is the result of a democratic system in which each group competes for power of the other by either fighting over the reigns of power itself or for indirect influence over it and favorism from it.

The introduction of a power-elite, a monopolistic group of individuals, into a society disrupts the harmony between the individuals that make it up. It creates a fundamental "class divide" of a sort in which on one hand there is that group of individuals who possess ruling power, and on the other hand there are those who are subject to that ruling power. The class with ruling power is resitricted to a relative minority. It can be said to be made up of two distinct groups that are tied at the hip: those who directly hold the reigns of narcissistic power, and those special interests who ally with them to indirectly control the reigns of power. So long as such people are considered to be particular collections of particular individuals, rather than individual entities in themselves, this view of modern society is perfectly compatible with individualism. It is just such a society that individualism opposes.

The nature of power in human relations is constantly being blurred by collectivist abstractions. The individualist clearly sees through the rhetoric of the "nation", "state", "the people", "race" and "class" that is so often used in political discourse. The concept of the "nation" is anthropromorphic and polylogistic in that it assigns what objectively can only be defined as a territory of land with traits as if it were a single individual person, and it treats different territories as if each territory has its own uniform character as if it were one individual. Of course, the concept of "nation" is typically used to get people to identify with the "state". That is, one's identification with a particular territory is blurred as to imply definition with "the state". The individualist clearly sees that "the state" is made up of a particular oligarchy of individuals, and thus cannot realistically be alluded to as if were one and the same with the overall territory or "the people" as a whole.

To the consistant individualist, while race can be used to describe some superficial physical differences between individuals, as soon as it goes much beyond this it becomes nothing more than a collectivist construct. A methedological individualist proclaims that the human mind's essential logical structure is the same with each individual (barring those with severe mental disabilities, granted). On the other hand, a methedological individualist realizes that each individual is different in their physical abilities, ideas, actions and so on; I.E. each person is on certain criteria inherently unequal and therefore diverse. Therefore, an individualist opposes all forms of polylogism, where different groups are treated as having different logical structures, while at the same time members of these groups are erroneously treated as being identical to eachother. For example, Marxism is economic polylogism, where one's economic class is supposed to uniformly and absolutely determine one's ideas, the logical structure of one's mind; economic determinism. An individualist rejects such notions.

When an individualist proclaims that the individual is the true unit of value, they are simultaneously saying that the human race, human life and its quality in general, is the truue unit value in that the human race is the cumulative result of every individual. On the other hand, when a collectivist proclaims that the individual must be subordinate to "society" or "the state" or "the nation", they are in practise saying that the masses at large must be subordinate to an allegedly specially endowed group of men. That is true elitism and narcissism. It is the idea that the human race at large must sacrifice its life and quality thereof to appease a particular group of individuals. If the ideologies of collectivism dominate for long enough, the human race will be swallowed up.

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