Liberal Collectivism, Conservative Collectivism, and the Libertarian Answer

Liberalism and conservatism are simply two sides of a collectivist coin, minted with the dual airs of superiority and inferiority. To the extent that either are coherent political ideologies, they cohere around groupings, aggregation, and stereotypes. The only difference is how they respond to the various collectives into which they carve up society.

Collectivism inevitably leads to “less than” and “greater than” judgements and comparisons between groups. If I’m in group X, groups Y and Z are either less than or greater than my own.  

Liberals respond to those in groups they perceive as less than with pity. Conservatives respond with fear.

Liberals place the poor and those of different genders or races or religions or lifestyles on a kind of pedestal, because they pity them. Liberals fear in the open give and take of culture that individuals in these groups would suffer. It is not enough to defend the rights of outcasts, they must be lionized, praised, rewarded, and supported just for being a part of their collective.

Conservatives place similar groups on trial and consider them a threat to their way of life and culture. Guilty until proven innocent, they are dangerous, possibly terrorists, or radicals, or lowlifes who should be shunned, shamed, caged, or even killed. Conservatives fear in the open give and take of culture that these groups would overtake their own and push them into exclusion or extinction. It is not enough to disagree with the habits or disassociate with outcasts, they must be demonized, put down, and punished just for being a part of their collective.

Liberals respond to those in groups they see as greater than with envy, conservatives with idolatry.

Liberals place the rich and those in majority races or religions or with common lifestyles on trial and consider them a threat that may stifle all culture progress and diversity. Guilty until proven innocent, they are powerful, privileged, corrupt, and ready to smash everyone else. Liberals fear that individuals in these groups would persecute anyone different and must be called out, shamed, shunned, dispossessed, exiled, caged or even killed.

Conservatives place the rich and those in majority (or “traditional”) races or religions or with common lifestyles on pedestals and consider them the last defense against dangerous shifts in culture. Conservatives fear that individuals in these groups would be destroyed by the angry outcast mob, and must be praised, looked up to, protected, given power and a mandate to do whatever it takes to survive the winds of change.

Both outlooks are demeaning, condescending and small minded. Both feed the lowest human impulses. Both are anti-humanitarian. The fundamental fault is the same: the suffocation of the individual in a sea of collective biases.

The classical liberal, or libertarian tradition has an elegant and humanitarian solution to this ugly state of affairs. It offers a truly unique perspective that avoids the simplistic pity, fear, envy, and idolatry of both modern liberalism and conservatism. Individualism.

Individualism is not the belief that groups or communities are useless. It has nothing to do with dog-eat-dog, or relentless competition. It certainly doesn’t involved zero-sum games. Individualism is simply the belief that the fundamental, acting unit of any human society is the individual human.

Only individuals can act. Only individuals can dream. Only individuals can be morally or practically responsible (or irresponsible). In matters of broad institutions or systems like laws or civic norms, all individuals are equals.

Individualism does not pretend that everyone has the same biological makeup or cultural background. Quite the opposite. Only individualism allows each person’s unique characteristics, challenges, and advantages to be taken for what they are.

Individualism does not condescend to anyone and assume they are helpless unless propped up with false praise or support simply because of some characteristic they happen share with other individuals. Nor does it assume they are bad or threatening and must be held down for the same reason.

Individualism does away with the “less than”/”greater than” group distinction entirely. People may pursue what they wish. They ought to be afforded the respect and dignity of enjoying the rewards of their actions as well as bearing the responsibility. This does not rule out charity or kindness or sympathy. The individualist is just as caring as the next person, but in response to individual need or concern, not assumptions based on group identity. Nor does the individualist take a rosy view of humanity or rule out caution or the possibility that people can do bad things. The individualist is just as realistic as the next person, but in response to individual situation and behavior, not incidental commonalities with collectives.

Only through the lens of individualism can genuine community emerge. Community based on voluntary association or disassociation, always accountable to the costs and benefits of both, and borne by those who practice them. One of the marks of a human growing from a child into a healthy adult is when they despise being treated as more praiseworthy or needy or dangerous or stupid than other adults. When we collectivise we infantilize everyone.

Don’t get caught up in heated arguments about whether the “less thans” and “greater thans” should be praised and propped up or criticized and brought down. Both outlooks are rooted in collectivism, both are uncivilized and uninformed, and both are very dangerous and have led to untold suffering and bloodshed when wielded by political powers. Libertarianism allows a simple change in perspective that lets us rise above both.

Ayn Rand famously said, “The smallest minority on earth is the individual.” Once we realize that we each belong first and foremost to a category of one, we are left no option but to judge an individual according to his or her actions and the outcomes they produce.

Are You Living on Purpose?

Humans are not like other earthly creatures.  We cannot live for only the biological imperative to survive and procreate.  Humans require purpose.  Lack of purpose is the greatest disease against which all of humanity must daily fight.  It is the one disease that will not and cannot be overcome by advances in medicine.

You can’t have purpose on accident

Our existence is couched in a series of accidents.  That we were born, when, where, and to whom are accidents (they were not accidents to our progenitors, but from our own point of view).  Our genetic structure is an accident.  The first language we hear, and therefore learn, and the first beliefs to which we are exposed, and therefore predisposed to, are accidents.  Purpose can not come from accidents.  We do not discover or live with purpose naturally, the way we grow physically.

None of these accidents are good or bad.  The simply are.  In your exploration and creation of purpose you may find that a meaningful life demands radical differences from the norms and beliefs in which you were raised.  You may find that it demands beliefs and norms almost identical to those in which you were raised.  Whatever the end result, the one consistent demand is that you choose it.  You cannot discover and live a purposeful life by simply following rules handed down to you, taking the path of least resistance, and sitting idly on the conveyor belt you were plopped on.  It’s not where it takes you that matters as much as who decided to go there.  If it was not your decision, you will never find fulfillment from it.

Suffering with and without purpose

Suffering is terrible.  It can also be valuable, in the same way the physical sensation of pain is valuable.  Without it we would soon die of unattended wounds.  Because pain is valuable doesn’t mean it’s noble or to be sought.  Psychological suffering is the same.

To suffer is no noble deed.  If the suffering is avoidable it’s a worthless or even cowardly thing to suffer.  If the suffering is unavoidable your response to it can be heroic.  There is nothing heroic about the suffering itself, but heroism can be found in someone who chooses to respond by finding meaning in unavoidable suffering.

Do not mistake your suffering for heroism.  If it’s at all avoidable, the heroic thing to do is to escape from it.  If not, create purpose in it.

There is no right decision

There is no decision that will give you purpose.  Your life is not a series of binary choices, with the door on the left leading to meaninglessness and the door on the right leading to purposefulness.  What you choose at each juncture of your life matters little compared to the fact that you, not someone else, choose.  You can’t find a perfect version of your purposeful life.  You have to create it by the undivided, definite choices you make.  Consciously choose to do things you value and find meaningful.  Consciously exit those that aren’t.  It doesn’t matter what you choose so much as that you choose.  Complaining about a path someone else pushed you down and against which you did not resist will not do.

Purposeful living is a process of exploration, experimentation, feedback, adjustment, and joy in the midst of it.  There is no pressure to get it right because there is no right.  There is better and worse, as determined by you.  It requires self-knowledge and self-honesty to find your own scale of better and worse.  It requires courage to abide by it.

Are you the 2%?

At any given moment 98% of us will choose – or rather not  choose – to live by default.  It is only the 2% who decide with definite purpose to act according to their own wishes who are really living.  How often are you among them?

Opportunities That 98% of People Should Take But You Shouldn’t

When you start to find your groove and get a lot of stuff done you will be in high demand.  You’ll compile a network of interesting people.  You’ll have no shortage of projects.  Inevitably, a phenomenal opportunity will be presented to you.  One that would be a no-brainer for anyone to jump on.  Except you.

One of your defining moments is likely to be the day you say no to an opportunity that almost everyone else would and should say yes to.  If you spend your life doing the sensible thing that everyone else is trying to do, and taking every opportunity that others say they’d kill for, at some point you will stop being you.  You’ll be the sum of “good” decisions in the aggregate.

This doesn’t mean you should turn down every good thing that comes your way just to be different.  You’d probably better take most of them.  But there will be rare moments when you know in your gut it’s not for you, even though everything about it seems amazing.  A simple but effective test is to let yourself really and fully imagine saying yes.  Imagine how it plays out, how it feels, how it challenges you and makes you grow.  Then imagine yourself saying no.  How does it feel to say it, and how does it feel to live without doing the thing?  Which one resonates with you more?  Which one aligns with who you are and makes you feel more at peace?

When others would freak out to discover you said no to it, but you know for sure it’s not right for you, you’re probably on the path to your sweet spot.

The Real Motive for the Matrix

I received a fair number of comments, suggestions, and complaints after yesterday’s post about the obedience-entitlement matrix and how different generations might map onto it.  Unsurprisingly, all of them were from Millennials.  I was glad.  If someone puts your generation in a quadrant with the word “Slaves”, I hope it rubs you the wrong way.

There were two motives for yesterday’s post.  The first was just fun.  I find categories and paradigms enjoyable as intellectual playthings.  No research went into it.  I’m experimenting with different ideas to see if they entertain or enlighten in new ways.  I wouldn’t even say I stand by whatever labels and descriptors were there in any way, except that I fully admit to finding the exercise useful.

The second motive was to rub a lot of people the wrong way.  Not to actually upset anyone, but to leave all readers feeling that the categories put forth fail to accurately capture many people, and especially the reader him or herself.  Stereotypes, categories, sweeping generalizations, and even concepts like generations are made up.  They have no objective ontological status (may my philosopher friends correct me if I’m using these words confusingly).  Like all myths and symbols, they have truth value in that they convey truths, but they aren’t true.

I hope every time you see the world broken into a few big categories it makes you feel a bit like you don’t really fit into any of them neatly.  Disassociate from collective categorizations and see yourself as exceptional.  Collectivism is one of the most pernicious outlooks in the history of man and is responsible for untold evil.

This balance is to use groupings, categories, and two by two matrices as tools to enhance your experience of the world and improve your interpretive and predictive powers.  Don’t actually believe them.  There are two kinds of people in this world: those who accept being lumped into two groups, and those who don’t.