Open to all,
its definitive credo is:
Universal human progress by private and voluntary means.
The Essential Individual
Some years ago it was discovered that the performances of racehorses could be improved by exercising them in swimming pools, urging them to from one end to the other against the resistance of chest-high water. Trainers, however, did not announce a discovery that horses had been discovered to be water animals, and launch drives to stampede them all into the ocean. They recognized their technique for what it was: a way in which a land animal could improve its performance as such.
Circus people have trained bears to ride bicycles. Yet no book on zoology defines "bear" as "bicycle-riding mammal usually forced by cruel circumstance to resort to quadrupedal locomotion." Bicycle riding is understood to be an acquired behavior expedient to the feeding and maintenance of trainer and bear.
Yet philosophers, social scientists and political commentators, observing that people find enjoyment and advantage in voluntary cooperation and collaboration, have declared the saga of humankind is purely and exclusively a toilsome struggle to transcend individual liberty and realize its consummate destiny as a single collective organism in which the material conditions of all cells are equal, under the tutelage of a small, exclusively authoritative brain cell organization.
The psychologist B.F. Skinner's book BEYOND FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY is one of the most comprehensive and strident modern expressions of this view, which in part dates back to Plato's THE REPUBLIC. It has caused and still causes no end of confusion and damage to persons, peoples, and the human species.
On January 9, 2001 columnist Diane Alden published on Newsmax.com an essay entitled, "What Do Conservatives Want?" (www.newsmax.com/commentarchive.shtml?a=2001/1/9/202513) Like much lamentation on the right, and better than most, it bewailed the fact that individualists, libertarians, conservatives and such, the political opinion holders generally combined under the general category, "the Right" do not seem to be making very much headway in their struggles against "the Left."
"Looking back at the last 35 years," Alden wrote, "it would seem that all we have been about is defending our beliefs and ourselves while the left successfully claims the language, the institutions and the high ground."
The political context provides an enlightening example of the operation of the general, or philosophical, one. Indeed, if a number of people were asked to describe Plato by vocation, more would call him a philosopher than a political scientist. The association between philosophy and politics has always remained close. Law, at its best, consists of those philosophical principles people admire enough to make mandatory. Since humans are ambivalently individualistic and gregarious, the questions, what is a person and what should a person know, believe, and do, have consistently and necessarily been asked in the plural number also. And considered, organized, and particularly mandated group behavior includes politics as a very large component.
It has become a consensus concession in the right's publications that the left has somehow established, in its own mind and in the electorate's, its superior moral entitlement to govern. That notion is acknowledged to persist no matter which side's candidates win elections and occupy public offices. When the incumbents are of the right, it seems to be implicitly understood that they govern on sufferance and subject to the approval of the left, never according to left-contradicting convictions they may hold.
Their terms in office are tacitly considered intervals of caretaking. In his otherwise gracious concession speech ending the United States' 2000 presidential election, the first word Albert Gore, Jr. used to describe the coming George W. Bush presidency was "stewardship", a synonym for passive place-holding.
Should officials of the right presume to alter or reverse directions established by the left, the prevailing impression is that they have to be straightened out as soon as possible. When, in 1994, conservatives swept into the majority of both houses of the U.S. Congress and launched what they termed a revolution, it was quickly and energetically quashed. By 1996, the perceived natural order of things was restored by then-president Bill Clinton's re-election, and Clinton's party, the Democrats, narrowed the rival Republican majority in the Congressional elections of 1998.
It was further narrowed in 2000. In the Senate, but for the vice-president's tie-breaking vote, it was eliminated as that house emerged evenly divided between the parties. Plotting the six-year trend, it was not unreasonable for Gore to term Bush a White house steward, or U.S. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle to declare that Bush should proceed by adopting Gore's campaign platform and abandoning his own. Indeed, the left has succeeded in establishing that if officials of the right aspire to achievements beyond the level of chair-warming, they must govern as deputy members of the left, leftist factotums and functionaries, never according to their own contrary principles.
The left never loses confidence in its ultimate vindication, and, indeed, indulges and is indulged in petulant demonstrations of frustration, impatience, and defiance whenever it is balked. Those emotions sell as righteous indignation at the heel-dragging of the right enroute to realization of the left's agenda. Assumption that consummation is inevitable is the universal after-all of contemporary politics.
Why the Hex?
And the right cannot for the life of it fathom why this assumption persists and seems immutable. In his book SEE I TOLD YOU SO, Rush Limbaugh attributed it to haughty self-righteous arrogance coupled with obstinate arrested development, a willful and petulant determination never to face facts that contradict preferences. Indeed, cavalier pronouncements of what one chooses to believe or prefers to think do characterize leftists' expression. The diagnosis may be true of many of the left's active exponents, but it falls short of explaining why popular opinion tolerates it.
The right has slowly come to realize deliberate strategic and tactical activity make a huge difference. The importance of Italian communist Antonio Gramsci's recommendation of a "long slow march through the institutions" is now acknowledged, as are that march's successes in academe and the communications media. Former leftist David Horowitz in THE ART OF POLITICAL WAR: A RADICAL PURSUIT rails that the right can never equal or forestall the left's successes, or even impede them, unless the right acquires equal skill in trench-level, victory-or-death political combat unhampered by reservations, doubts, or misgivings. While the right seeks valid principle, issue by issue, the left seeks victory.
Too typically, the right then attempts to explain that difference by attributing to the left a doctrinal descent from the Romantic tradition of Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, et als., people who more or less believed human will can supersede physical laws, an idea that provoked the devastating wars of the past century. Surely, once all this is explained, the left will relent?
Surely not. As long as we are human, it will remain possible to win an argument on behalf of fallacy by bashing one's adversary's brains out, shouting him down, or mocking him to scorn. It has been noted that wars do not determine who is right, but who is left, and the same is true of vindictive political and doctrinal contention. It will remain possible for zealots to propose that if all humankind is wiped out, but the last person to die was of the correct conviction, the outcome is acceptable. That is the left's older analog of the Generation X jest, "The one who dies with the most toys wins." It is Fidel Castro's declaration that Cuba will remain Communist so long as it contains one Communist, and he will be that Communist no matter what. It is the rabid arrogance that had captivated the mind of the renegade Special Forces officer in the motion picture APOCALYPSE NOW, the berserk faith necessary to spur and sustain Vietcong terrorism. And it is that unquestioning conviction that made and still makes leftists tireless prosecutors of any who violate human rights, yet indignant apologists for any such violators identified with the left. That phenomenon was documented in THE BLACK BOOK OF COMMUNISM: CRIMES, TERROR, REPRESSION, edited by Stephane Courtois, a product of French scholarship that is the definitive authority on the subject.. .
The right's real quandary is that its adherents feel unable to muster anything like such zealotry. This remains so despite considerable progress made. Anticommunists such as Hayek, Mises, Orwell, and Rand are now academically respectable and may even be studied in courses on some campuses. William F. Buckley's NATIONAL REVIEW magazine arose to provide validation, support, and competently enunciated rationale for great numbers of people whose sensibilities favored the right for reasons they could not explain or defend. One figure who acknowledges Buckley's boon is Limbaugh, formidable verbal vindicator of the right and inspirer of many others.
As those figures and others point out, the predictions and prescriptions of the right are almost invariably borne out by events, while those of the left are nearly always confounded. Marx's Socialist Man did not outproduce and, as predicted by former Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev, "bury" the capitalist world, but rather found his economy being surpassed by such capitalist giants as South Korea and Singapore. The welfare state did not bring about universal harmony, but, rather, universal truculence and hostility, exactly as Ayn Rand predicted. Its substantial moderation by Congress did not result in people starving in the streets, but, rather, continued prosperity. Yet the left maintains its tenets and continues its crusade, prating evasions and alibis, (such as, suddenly, Marx's dialectical materialism was never about materialism, but "fairness" or "justice" or "compassion" as the left sees fit to define them), and the right continues to bow and accommodate. Why?
Ironically, the right first possessed and expressed the unshakeable conviction the left now enjoys. It is commonly acknowledged that both political positions are largely competing branches of the French Enlightenment, which was inspired by the two prior centuries' British aggrandizement. That flourishing has been succinctly explained in Warren Tute's THE TRUE GLORY: THE STORY OF THE ROYAL NAVY OVER A THOUSAND YEARS . Beginning in the sixteenth century, Tute explained, England began to reap the benefits of three circumstances. First, she was isolated from the mainland and its tumult by what was then a significant sea barrier, the English Channel. Second, the Royal Navy commenced and continued to grow as England found her destiny in maritime commerce. But, most important of all, "[O]rdinary Englishmen became freer under the Crown and the Law than the inhabitants of any other country in the world," said Tute. Liberty and security engendered prosperity at a scale unprecedented in Europe, and eventually attracted the attention of the French Encyclopedists and Physiocrats whose works formed the Enlightenment.
Adam Smith's THE WEALTH OF NATIONS essentially paraphrased the French Physiocrats' doctrine, laissez-faire: Freed from feudalistic political restraints, private citizens pursuing private interests would and did, he explained, engender unprecedented prosperity.
The formula of political equality and free-market commerce became and remains the credo of the right. Its naturalness is often extolled with the observation that pluralistic democracy and free markets are what happens when nobody hits. And, as noted above, the competing leftist descendants of the Enlightenment to the contrary notwithstanding, the combination has proven the most powerful elevator of the human condition so far discovered.
Unfortunately, at its inception, the Physiocratic vision of the Enlightenment was proclaimed the route to universal equality of condition. A moment's thought would have revealed why that can never be so, and the fact was doubtlessly recognized at the time But appealing hyperbole promising equality of opportunity would result in equality of condition, was too powerful a promise to be foregone. Even after the stunning American Declaration of Independence had adopted the moderate motto, "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness", the French revolutionaries proclaimed "life, liberty, and property" and "liberty, equality, and fraternity" as their goals.
It only remained for British political economist John Stuart Mill and others to notice that political equality and laissez-faire economies did not automatically bestow property upon all, much less produce equality or universal brotherhood, and perceive a necessity for popular, that is, state, intervention in the free market to confiscate from some and distribute to others. Economic opportunity and political influence were not equalized, much less economic condition, when various people started their aspirations with different levels of assets and advantages, it was noted, and it was believed freedom must be sacrificed to achieve at least true equality of opportunity. When the mind-over-matter segments of Rousseau's writings were, via the works of Hegel, Marx and Engels, added to that idea, the core premise of the Left was born. Equality usurped liberty's position at the leading edge of the march toward social progress.
At the time of the American Revolution, adherents of the liberty-laissez-faire precept possessed the unshakeable conviction the right now lacks. It can hardly be enunciated more unconditionally than by the famous words of Patrick Henry, "Give me liberty or give me death." Accordingly, in the Declaration, its signers pledged "our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor" toward its vindication, and many of them sacrificed all but the third of those treasures. For almost two centuries, despite the growing sentiment favoring equality, the faith and confidence in liberty as the primarily necessary component of human life persisted. Why did the right lose its unequivocal confidence in its correctness and the later-developing left come to possess it? Why did equality supplant liberty?
The answer lies in a core controversy about the definitive nature of human life itself, where politics refers back to the broader conceptual context of philosophy. It was first indicated by the difference between the American and French declarations recited above. The left's view of the appropriate answer now prevails to the point of exclusion. That is no wonder. The right's progenitors more or less conceded it from the outset, as noted above, by asserting, or at least tacitly agreeing, that liberty would lead to equality, and, therefore, equality was at least as noble a social and political goal as liberty. Liberty was even presented as a means toward the greater and higher end of equality. And that is a fallacy.
The Fundamental Question
The underlying question is: Are we humans primarily individualistic or a collective? Are we individuals who happen to belong to a common species, as we happen to share certain qualities with other land-dwellers, backbone-growers and oxygen-inhalers, but remain as distinct from one another, though to a lesser degree, as any of us is from a land-dwelling, backbone-growing, oxygen-inhaling aardvark? Or are we all essentially cells of a grand human -- or even more inclusive -- organism?
This question evokes two classic philosophical ones: Are we humans and is the universe that contains us ultimately a unity or a multiplicity? Is being, or doing, our definitive quality, or do they coincide?
Radical Positivism interjects a somewhat more modest or functional question: Even if it is acknowledged that the universe is by definition singular and all-inclusive, can humans, situated as we are, conform to that concept without courting disaster or indulging absurdities? Or is, as has been asserted, humankind the proper study of humans, and is humankind, patently multiple, the measure, or most valid referent, of all things so far as humans are concerned?
Once that question is answered, all other answers in the left-right debate follow. If we are cells of a single grand organism, then every constitutent cell is equally entitled. There can be no justification for inequality of property or material condition. Inequality of condition demands immediate equalization. Even if it results from exertion of more energy, ambition, ingenuity, industry, and productivity by some cells and less by others, the traits of greater or lesser inclination to make such exertions are merely a quality of the single organism, the common property of all, as is everything they happen to produce. We must love at least our conspecifics as ourselves. We have no right to study self-interest, but owe all effort to the collective.
Under the collective-egalitarian premise, whatever actual experience may indicate, however often, mutually affectionate equality is the consummate goal. Its realization justifies any act, no matter how drastic, and its pursuit can never be abandoned or even legitimately diluted by other considerations. Any persistent inequality of condition within the unified organism is of the nature of a cancer, and must be burned out.
According to that premise, liberty is a null value, since the entire collective, being all-inclusive and having no potentially oppressing rivals, is by definition free. Individual liberty, by contrast, is antithetical and abominable. Thus in communist societies there can be no legitimate protest, strike, or uprising against the state because the state is all reformist impulses reconciled and made manifest. It is the best of all possible worlds. Any objections to it are by definition regressive.
Even the collective's material prosperity is a subordinate consideration. If equality among components is the goal and experience proves the collective cannot survive its achievement, then the irrefutable logic of our condition will have established that we must deprive, even extinguish ourselves rather than prosper by abandoning equalization. We must shrug and concede we were not, as it turned out, worthy of existence. Dispersion into a regime of every-cell-or-organ-for-itself, collaboration and mutual benefit to be limited to cases of mutual advantage voluntarily pursued, would be extinction of the definitive collective being. A house divided against itself, after all, cannot stand, and it is any potentially divisive considerations, not the house, that must give way. If that causes the house to collapse, so be it, so long as every component collapses simultaneously.
This is precisely what the left believes. Unfortunately, it is also what the right and its intellectual progenitors unwittingly concede. Both sides consider individualism an expedient and subordinate theme, at best a means to the end of equality. It is why the left succeeds in depicting the right as selfish and mean-spirited, and why the left has established its superior moral right to govern and the supervening rectitude of its doctrines in the opinion of both sides. It is why one description of the distinction between left and right is that the left boldly favors realization of equality, or egalitarianism, by any means and as quickly as possible, while the right timidly prefers realization of equality, or egalitarianism, at a more cautious and circumspect pace. It is why the debate between left and right, when restrained within bounds deemed acceptable and responsible, was characterized by the bygone parleys of David Gergen and Mark Shields on public television's MCNEIL-LEHRER REPORT: Shields for the left and absolute confiscation and redistribution immediately, Lehrer for the Right and absolute confiscation and redistribution eventually. The right has since broken out of that particular confinement, but has not yet recognized its battle extends to definition of the essential nature of human existence, individual-versus-collective. That fundamental and vital ground it still concedes to the left.
Under the still-prevailing premises, to extol liberty or individuality other than as incidental expedients nature happened to establish constitutes an impermissible secession from the one-species-indivisible. The goal recited in the national Constitution, "to form a more pefect union", is taken to mean to form one from many, "E Pluribus Unum", in a sense so literal as to require all constituent parts to become uniform in composition and condition. To maintain that material bounty neither trickles nor cascades down, but that each recipient is called upon to climb up and pluck it is anathema, especially if it is contemplated that some will climb higher and pluck more, some less, and suggested the variegated outcomes must be left undisturbed. If equality is deemed to equal justice, acceptance of unequal conditions resulting from unequal endeavor seems impermissibly hardhearted. Instead, as the Romantics asserted, matter and energy must in all cases defer to will, and it is the unconditional duty of the ablest to make it appear to work. The weak and indolent completely fulfill their rightful role by pointing out their displeasure and screaming, "Somebody do something!" From then on it is up to those who can to get something done: from each according to ability, and by Marx, make it work!
Had collectivist egalitarianism proved more productive than individualistic libertism, perhaps some individualist diehards could have been permitted to withdraw to separate spaces and indulge their petulant obstinacies. But the very fact that the reverse proved true compels at least the able among them to remain engaged and vulnerable to confiscation, because their more productive minds, bodies, impulses, and genetic material are owned by all the others as much as by themselves. Did the possessors of bright minds, strong bodies, and energetic impulses build or earn them? No. Did their parents? Then who brought their parents about? Ultimately, the answer is nature, or nature's Author, owned by nobody and thus subject to claims from everybody for equal shares.
Under collectivistic assumptions, possessors of advantages have no legitimate claim to their disproportionate enjoyment. There will be no Ayn Rand ATLAS SHRUGGED Gulch populated by disenchanted providers permitted. Anything short of equality is injustice, and despicable. And any who would desire such are self-stealing runaways and ought to be ashamed.
Unfortunately, they are. When leftists parody themselves, they assume personnas of grinning, unreasonable zealots for the egalitarian Utopia screaming, "Now!" When those of the right spoof themselves, they pose as predatory renegades on selfish quests for plunder. Even in jest, the left, at least by its lights, lauds itself. The right scolds itself, equating liberty with piracy and rapine.
These political, actually social, political, and economic convictions are based on the philosophical assumption that humans are a single collective; that multiplicity and sometimes competing interests are only the way the collective happened to constitute itself; that the composition is deceptive; and that achievement and realization of the collective, with all components equally situated, is the ultimate mission and destiny.
There would be nothing for the verity-valuing, principle-propelled right to do but surrender but for one point: The shared core premise is absolutely wrong. Its error is more fundamental than the operative one the right has spotted, that it does not, in practice, work. It is, rather, essential, that is, of the essence and definitive.
Individualism and Liberty, the Grander Premise
What the right -- and the human species -- have been missing is the individualistic-libertistic concept of human nature itself, one which, unlike the collectivist-egalitarian one, happens to be correct. Here is a vastly oversimplified synopsis of the pertinent dialogue to date:
Sixteenth-seventeenth century English: We are secure and relatively free, and getting along surprisingly well.
Eighteenth-century French (the Enlightenment): Liberation of all human talent and energy from artificial political restraint permits the means of production to be operated by the best qualified, and prosperity results.
Adam Smith, in THE WEALTH OF NATIONS: Mysteriously, when individuals are relatively free to pursue self-interest, the general condition improves along with particular individual circumstances.
Jeremy Bentham: We should adopt whatever policies produce the greatest good for the greatest number.
John Stuart Mill: It appearing that, with the emergence of large-scale, mechanized, powered industrial productive techniques, Mr. Smith's regime of general self-seeking will elevate some disproportionately while denying or even depriving others, land and perhaps other primary sources of production should held in common to realize Mr. Bentham's goal.
Karl Marx: Humankind being ultimately a unity, no individual inherently deserves more than others, and none must be allowed to deprive or even excel others in material condition. Talent, health, and energy being unequally distributed, all must labor, all must produce for the collective to the extent of ability, and the fruits of production must be distributed among the collective's individual human components according to need.
John Kenneth Galbraith: Mechanization has advanced to a point where it will be superfluous and indeed impossible for all to labor in service of productivity, thus, irrespective of who owns the land and the means of production or labors, distribution must take place irrespective of contribution, according, perhaps, to the mere fact of existence.
The Twentieth Century: After long and painful adjustment to production by artificial and highly technical means and the alterations and disruptions it creates, productive opportunity has flourished along with material prosperity. The collectivistic propositions advanced by Messrs. Mill, Marx, and Galbraith cannot be made to work, but instead result in economic, that is, productive and distributive collapse, whereas pursuit of Mr. Smith's proposition in the modern environment produces ever-increasing prosperity and dissemination of material adequacy, including adequacy of opportunity.
The left: As the lessons of the Twentieth Century, if heeded, would produce or maintain the injustice of inequality within the definitive collective, we must ignore those lessons and, if necessary, maintain that:
a. The verdict of the Twentieth-Century experiment is not final, but suffers from the fact the right people have not yet been in control of the Mill-Marx-Galbraith propositions.
b. If coherent standards of evaluation disfavor the collectivist concept and its egalitarian corollary, then such standards militate against morality and justice, and must be ignored and denounced and all people, cultures, and propositions declared superveningly, transcendentally equal -- except, perhaps, for obstinate advocates of coherent standards of evaluation, who deserve only contempt and suppression.
c. In the event our dispositions at last prove unworkable, then we must, if necessary, return to the mentalities and perhaps the conditions of the Middle Ages, as recommended by Pierre Manent in THE CITY OF MAN. We must proclaim the French Enlightenment and subsequent material progress an aberration that abandoned the ethereal, mysterious nature of humankind as explained by Albert Gore, Jr., in EARTH IN THE BALANCE. We must recover our essential identity by reversing our materialistic course, perhaps to the point of returning to the short average life spans, high infant mortality rates, and impoverished, but materially equal, conditions of the Neolithic or even the Paleolithic eras idealized by Marx and Rousseau, as indicated by technophobe Jeremy Rifkin in a number of works. At any and all costs, all material conditions must be re-equalized in the name of justice and moral rectitude.
The right: We acknowledge we are being selfish by evading the moral imperatives of collectivism and perfect equality, but we remain reluctant to abandon accelerating advances that, absent calamity, are almost certain to lead us to universal access to material adequacy, undreamed-of opportunity for personal empowerment and fulfillment, and material affluence for those who care to earn it. If rectitude indeed requires we abandon all that, as, we acknowledge, it seems to do, please give us a little more time to get used to the idea, and to fumble about hoping something perfectly egalitarian will turn up in the context of increasing prosperity after all. We feel rather like Edward Luttwak, author of TURBO-CAPITALISM: WINNERS AND LOSERS IN THE GLOBAL ECONOMY: We acknowledge our direction is the worst possible one, excepting only everything else that has been tried.
Is it any wonder the right cannot muster faith and conviction on its side while conceding the left fundamental moral correctness? The right argues, "When we do according to the dictates of individualism and liberty, we prosper, and when we do otherwise, we falter." The left responds, "Perhaps, but beyond all our doings, our being and therefore our ultimate destiny is that of a unified collective in which all components are equal, and so continued attempts to realize that condition, no matter how many failures occur, are not only proper but mandatory."
In the universe, all existence is dynamic. We know of nothing perfectly still. Nevertheless, in human cognition, being supersedes doing. A person maintains an identity throughout life, and definitive qualities change little and relatively slowly. But the same person may do any number of different things, some contrary to the others. A person may behave erratically without becoming, in general understanding, a different person. With an object, such as an automobile, we can easily and in fact do most readily contemplate its being as static, its performance capacities potential, not kinetic, until activated. The left has occupied the position of defining our being, our essence, as collective rather than individualistic, so that our multiplistic, individualistic, and libertistic attributes are all conceptually subordinate, consequential, incidental, even trivial. The right, by letting broad assertions pass unchallenged, has conceded that precept. And yet, once again, the left's assertion and the right's inadvertent concession are utterly erroneous. In diametric opposition to the prevailing consensus, individualism is essential and definitive, collectivism behavioral and consequential in the nature of human beings. Liberty, not equality, is the fundamental human quality.
Believing Our Eyes
Can sufficient evidence to support faith in human individuality be produced? Can the right achieve, or recover, conviction sufficient to meet the left on equal or superior terms? Obviously, matters of faith cannot be proven. Nevertheless, faith is generated by continued assertion and affirmation, and supported by validation, that is, consistent facts, testimony, exhibits, and demonstrations plentiful enough to permit the believer to reach an unshakeable conclusion and see inconsistent evidence as insignificant anomaly or mere incidental detail.
An unbiased observation of humans and other species reveals the distinction between organs and organisms. Two organisms can draw apart without tearing tissue. Two organs of the same body cannot. Even two ants or honeybees, members of extremely collectivistic species, can go their separate ways without fatal or even physically painful consequences. They do so constantly. Glue all the bees together and the result would not be greater coordination and efficiency for the hive: the bees and the hive would die.
There can exist an isolated human individual. Defoe's Robinson Crusoe is the most familiar example, and that character's story was drawn from an actual incident that befell one Alexander Selkirk. In other words, an individual can exist without society. Any number of individuals can exist in a state of isolation from one another. They can even exist in proximity to one another, but without organization. Politically, we call that condition anarchy. We can even realistically conceive of a cluster of misanthropes who pass one another by without speaking, and never collaborate.
Society, however, cannot exist without individuals. Society, any and every society or collective, is only an abstraction, a result of the works of individuals be those works impulsive, deliberate, or even compelled of some by others. Take a picture of a small hobby society. Now remove the individuals and take another picture. The second picture is empty. It is only by the deceptive intellectual exercise of subordinating material humans to ethereal concepts that we ever forge the notion that humankind is essentially collective. It really is that simple.
Why, then, do we experience social impulses, gregariousness, as so compelling? Why does denial of others' supplications, or withdrawal or ostracism from our accustomed groups, tug, so to speak, at our heartstrings? Does not the very strength of those emotional sensations instruct us that we are, after all, merely components of some definitive unity? Why would we feel them so strongly otherwise?
For creatures of our physical characteristics, gregariousness is highly expedient. It may well be vital, considering our physical characteristics. As is often noted, we lack substantial fang or claw. Our hides are naked, bereft of scale or even pelt. Due to the size of the human brain, which expanded more rapidly than the female pelvic opening, we are required to be born about a year prematurely. For that year our vision is undefined and our undersized limbs are uncoordinated. We are helpless. We burden our mothers. Males may assist in our care, but it is vital that we be near milk-giving females, unless some artificial substitute is arranged, and it has been established that human female milk, preferably our mothers', is optimal for our nourishment. Our females are considerably burdened, and exchange mutual assistance. Protection and some degree of material support by the less encumbered and more heavily muscled males corresponds with group benefits the constituent individuals share.
The impulse to cluster and collaborate is installed in our emotional equipment far deeper than the level of conscious deliberation. There is no disputing that it is deep-rooted. Unlike individuality, however, it is not physically definitive. To analogize to computer terminology, it may be assembler code, but it is not hardware. It is software, programming. Individuality is hardware, the physical apparatus itself.
Its strength in our emotions actually testifies to its subordinate role. Physically separate, we also, unless abnormally gregarious, maintain a penchant for privacy and, when we want it, isolation. We are not, like honeybees, physically separate but so strongly programmed to collaborate in set patterns that we cannot conceive of the alternative. The emotionally compelling strength of our motivation to cluster is necessary to and does deliver us access to the benefits of combination. If it were much weaker, we would all be hermits, denied the benefits of gregariousness.
Could it not be credibly asserted that the emotional gregarious trait should be deemed to overbear the physical distinctiveness, so that the latter is, after all, merely an expedient means of accommodating the former? Should we not use our relatively bright minds to decide that we are merely struggling from an individual toward a collective nature, and the latter is our rightful goal and inevitable destiny? Once again, simple observation tells us the very opposite is true.
Is the natural state of an organism one of stress, or relative comfort? Due to deliberately undertaken activities, we humans may impose pain and fatigue on ourselves when we could avoid it. We usually do so because our exceptionally conscious and analytical minds see a greater net benefit in doing so than in refraining. The ability to work for long-deferred benefits by considered and deliberate choice distinguishes us. Other creatures encounter pain or fatigue consequentially only, as a result of pursuing primary instinctive drives, never willingly.
Sustained privation or excessive stress are debilitating. Even we humans seek net-benefit outcomes, that is, try to achieve, quickly or eventually, as much gratification, with comfort a significant component of it, as possible. As with all organisms, minimization of stress, physical and emotional, is our better condition, or, at least, our characteristic ambition. Comfort and the absence of distress must be good for us and, surely enough, as we have made ourselves more physically comfortable in the materially advanced societies during the past century, we have seen our life expectancy and proportion of healthy, vigorous times, compared to total lifespan, increase. We should infer that what we do in relative comfort rather than what we do in stressful situations indicates the more definitive aspect of our natures.
Humans coalesce in peril or distress and disperse in their absence. In emergencies, under arduous conditions, and at times of perceived threat, we impulsively gather. When conditions are prosperous and secure, we separate and pursue individual concerns. That is why tyrants invent emergencies to incline us to accept regimentation. It is why clerics scold us for indifference to religious solace when we do well and resorting to it only when in trouble. If our rightful destiny is greater health, happiness, and security, it is also greater individualistic behavior that corresponds with those conditions. Collectivity is, after all, an ancient expedient installed to enable us to meet dangers and see us through difficulties.
Another immediately observable indication is that no gregarious species assembles its specimens in a single cluster. There are many separate beehives, anthills, chimpanzee troops, and human groupings. We humans eventually developed larger clusters than we had historically used for the same reason we gathered in the primordial ones. Deliberate assembly in large towns and cities, followed by organization of ever larger coalitions, served the interests of security, or, sometimes, predation, first. Eventually, as we learned to improve organization and administration and abate squalor by deliberate measures, they offered other congenial amenities and attractions as well. Large clusters expedite generation of wealth by affording security and by making intereaction, organization, and collaboration easy.
But we found security in ever greater numbers precisely because our gregariousness is not all-encompassing. Usually, we tended to choose up sides and fight, and found larger coalitions to have military advantages over smaller ones. In the primitive state, humans in relatively small clusters tend to refer to themselves as "the people" and members of other groups as "the others", that is, the not-quite-people. When we would attack or oppress others, we first emphasize distinctions and disparage our intended victims, dehumanizing them. Even within our large allegiance groups, we conduct our internal struggles beween competing interests by denouncing our adversaries, slandering them as less worthy, less human than we. Indeed, even in individual discourse, we seem to find it impossible to advocate anything without disparaging the opposite. And we will join battle, in many cases deadly physical combat, over almost any available excuse: genetic heritage, culture, religion, political preference, et cetera, et cetera. We are too pugnacious to be natural collectivists.
The combinations we do form, from hamlet to international alliance structure, represent not an intrinsic drive to gather, but individuals seeking greater benefit under particular circumstances. A stronger case for the gregarious impulse can be made at the modest levels at which it is virtually instinctive, those of the clan, the hamlet, the village, and the small town. People do indeed seek company, but, with few exceptions, they do not need large towns, cities, states, entire nations, and international combinations, much less the entire world., for that. Though members of such large combinations, they divide into cliques, clubs, and factions to restore the natural limits of the gregarious impulse.
The final indicator, with which the right constantly heckles the left, is that societies that deem individualism the primary theme work, and those that assign that status to collectivism deteriorate. As Adam Smith noted, the chaotic pursuit of individual self-interest, at least by means other than murder and thievery, spontaneously and rather rapidly improves the general condition. By contrast, organized, orchestrated, closely-managed and regimented systems that proceed from a first premise of collectivism do not prosper individuals, nor, at last, the collectives themselves. They fail. Continued attempts to make them succeed, typically characterized by compulsion, repression, and intimidation, can only be justified by supercilious hauteur and a choice to believe in the obvious fallacy that the collective-egalitarian regime is fundamental, more moral, and the after-all, despite-all, and, in colloquial British parlance, damn-all destiny of humankind.
Premises Have Consequences
It cannot be denied that we have steadily become organized in greater and greater clusters. The activity of advanced technology coupled with variegated, voluntary endeavor is spreading communication, transportation, and commerce worldwide. To leftists this seems to indicate our proper destiny is coalition into a single worldwide political entity, ourselves tamed and reconciled to regimentation in ever-increasing detail. Wherever human initiative occurs, they believe, someone must chase it down and subject it to moderation and regulation. In their view, a single best answer to every question for every individual is to be discovered and imposed worldwide. One by one, issues will be concluded and the conclusions established as law universal and eternal, an ultimate, optimal tranquility established at last.
But a synonym for tranquility is stagnation. At some point, if the collective premise is followed, even improvements and further technological progress will be discouraged as disruptive and unsettling, posing risk to that placid tranquility. If matters begin slowly to deteriorate, toleration of this and that loss of life quality will be counseled, probably enforced. In any case, the habit of cobbling up ingenious solutions, expedients and makeshifts will have disappeared from our thinking habits, because inventiveness is sustained only by encouragement of invention. Slowly we will sink, hardly noticing but resignedly tolerating the steady deterioration, certain, in any case, that anything that might be done would inevitably make matters worse.
We will have replicated medieval China's decline from its earlier halcyon times, and we will magnify and dispute over nostalgic illusions of Golden Ages long past. And this time, barring extraterrestrial invasion, there will be no barbarians to invade our shores and shock us out of our torpor with their crude displays of wealth and might. Perhaps we will forget how to use words, and troops and chance individuals will wander in bemusement among ruins of the garish and glorious works of antiquity, skeptical that their makers could truly have been the ancestors of creatures such as themselves. Such are the wages of subordination of the individual to the collective.
As with flight among birds, mental acuity for humans is an expensive survival strategy. When not stimulated by desperation, fascination, or ambition, it degenerates, just as muscle tone deteriorates among those who can and do indulge in sedentary life styles. When exertion of might and genius at last makes our life easy, the hard-earned privilege of ease relaxes the faculties that brought it about until it is lost in a weary and fatalistic despair. To be maintained, those faculties have to be challenged. Our sort of humankind is a new species, its individuals' tastes, traits, and talents still very disparate as a wide range of different working hypotheses is being tested in search of an optimum model refined by trial and error.
Distress can be general, but, once it is alleviated, ambition and fascination and the opportunities to pursue them must be variegated, with no elaborate orthodoxy suppressing the explorations of all but those it happens to suit. And this is so regardless of affluence and subsidies for those mal-adapted to the exclusively-instituted order. We have recently been reminded that humans must have significant participation in contribution, or, at least, freedom to pursue unique talent and impulse at risk, a chance to prove their ways, too, can at last bring about achievements highly valued by and in some way valuable to their peers. Subsidized marginalization and indolence does not, after all, pacify its recipients. Told their society wants and indeed will accept nothing from them except docile noninterference with those whose efforts matter, they sink into lethargic despair, erupt in defiant rebellion, or fume and lash out sporadically, often at one another.
There is nothing in this essay everyone does not already know. There is much that, though known, is not being acknowledged, assimilated, and put into practice. It is not only for general economic welfare, but also for the general vigor and continued growth of our species that individualism-libertism must be acknowledged as prime referent. That does not mean we are consigned to anarchy or some chaos of isolation. One exercise of individual choice is the free choice to engage and collaborate with other people. Individualism can employ and accommodate collectivism, but the reverse is not true. At the moment vested interest or aberrant conviction causes the collective to begin to impose itself on the unwilling, the usurpation of individualism's rightful primacy begins, and, with it, the drift toward compulsion, repression, privation, and stagnation.
To the extent individualism is maintained as first principle, and individuals remain free to act alone or combine and disperse as they knowingly and deliberately choose, each and all of us will continue to progress toward material adequacy, fulfillment, and expansion of our species into realms where no planet's sky is the limit.
Radical Positivists of the world unite, and make it a better place for all!