The following is a response to a question I received to my recent article, "What Is an Individualist." The question concerned the following paragraph:
"In the entire history of the world every advance in civilization, every gain in knowledge, and every improvement in the human condition has come solely through the efforts of independent individualists. They and they alone are the creators, innovators, and discoverers of the world. These men are all there is of positive importance in all of history; all the rest, the tyrants, the dictators, the famines and plagues, earthquakes, floods, the mass of ignorant and superstitious humanity, the crimes and the wars were important only in the negative." [Quoted from the article.]
The question was, "And you know this how? Empirically or a priori?" The following is my answer.
What I Mean By 'Individualist'
The whole article, of course, discusses what I mean by an individualist, but in that opening paragraph I did not mean those I've identified as individualists would have identified themselves as such, I mean that the particular achievements by which those individuals benefited the world were accomplished by their own individual efforts.
So the question I am answering is how I know that in the entire history of the world every advance in civilization, every gain in knowledge, and every improvement in the human condition has come solely through the efforts of independent individuals. The answer is that I know it in four ways: I know it from the irrefutable evidence of history, I know it because all non-individual (i.e. collective) efforts have been the source of all that is evil in the world, I know it because human nature makes no other explanation possible, and I know it from long experience with true creators and innovators.
I note only that the question was, "you know this how?" and the answer is to explain how I know it. It is not meant as an argument to convince anyone else or change what they think they know. Everyone has their own mind and must use it to come to their own best rational conclusions.
The Evidence of History
One has to wonder how anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the world's history could not know that every advance in civilization, every gain in knowledge, and every improvement in the human condition came through the work of individual thinkers, innovators, and creators.
No matter what the field, the history of all advances in every field from the sciences to the arts is the history of individual accomplishments.
The record of the accomplishments of individuals such as Nicolaus Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, William Harvey, Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, Francesco Redi, Sir Isaac Newton, Christiaan Huygens, Leibniz, Antoine Lavoisier, Edward Jenner, Alessandro Volta, John Dalton, Georg Ohm, Amedeo Avogadro, Michael Faraday, Lord Kelvin, Louis Pasteur, James Clerk Maxwell, Gregor Mendel, Dmitri Mendeleev, William Crookes, J.J. Thomson, Marie Curie, Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Ernest Rutherford, Niels Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli, Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Paul Dirac, Alexander Fleming, James Chadwick, and many other individualsis the history of science.
The record of the accomplishments of individuals such as Johannes Gutenberg, Gerardus Mercator, Evangelista Torricelli, Zacharias Janssen, William Oughtred, Christiaan Huygens, Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, Thomas Newcomen, John Kay, James Hargreaves, James Watt, John Wilkinson, Jesse Ramsden, John Wilkinson, Martinus van Marum, Andrew Meikle, Edmund Cartwright, Eli Whitney, Edward Jenner, Friedrich Sertürner, Robert Fulton, Nicolas Appert, Charles Babbage, William Sturgeon, John Walker, Moritz von Jacobi, John Bennet Lawes, Sir Henry Bessemer, Heinrich Geissler, Gaston Planté, Alexander Parkes, Louis Pasteur, Alfred Nobel, Nikolaus August Otto, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Sir Charles Parsons, Carl Gassner, John J. Loud, Whitcomb Judson, Rudolf Diesel, Orville and Wilbur Wright, John Ambrose Fleming, Leo Baekeland, Jacques E. Brandenberger, Alexander Fleming, Ernst Ruska, Edwin H. Armstrong, and many other individualsis the history of technology and invention.
The record of the accomplishments of individuals who have written every history, novel, play, opera, journal, and all poetry (of which a tiny fraction of the list would fill many pages) is the history of literature.
Surely there is no need to include the history of art, the history of music, the history of exploration and discovery, the history of mathematics or the history of philosophy, all of which are the records of the multitude of individuals whose accomplishments are the history of those fields.
History of the Collective
In contrast to all the benevolence individual creators, producers, and innovators have contributed to the world, all war, oppression, failed social systems, organized crime, and economic failure are caused or produced by the collective efforts of social reformers, politicians, government and government agencies, criminal gangs, and corporations. Of course there have been individual criminals, but compared to the evils foisted on the world by collectives, their crimes are little more than petty nuisances.
Some of the collectives that have wreaked the most horrors on the world are organized religions (think the inquisition and modern-day Islam), environmental movements (think the banning of DDT and the global-warming scam), social/political movements (think prohibition), and NGOs (think the United Nations).
Even if there were no historical record, human nature itself would demonstrate that all creative value must come from the productive effort of individuals using their own individual minds to determine their action.
Minds are distributed one to an individual, and every individual is required to use their own mind to do their own learning, their own thinking and to make their own choices. In other words, what every individual is and does is determined by how they use their own mind to learn, think, choose, and act.
While the vast majority of human beings live by repeating the thoughts and actions they have learned from others, all innovation, all discovery and invention come from the minds and efforts of individuals who choose to think something new and to do something no one else has done and to follow a path no one else has taken.
No new idea, invention, or method comes from those who submit their own minds and thinking to that of the mob, the crowd, the consensus, the popular, "what everyone knows," or "what we've always done." The creator is the individual who avoids the mob, has no use for the crowd, disagrees with the consensus, does the unpopular, knows something everyone else does not, and does what no one else has done before.
My Experience With Creators
For over forty years I worked in the computer, IT, and telephony industry managing technical writing and publishing departments, board and system test departments, and design departments, in both small cutting-edge development companies and large international industries. There was one problem I observed in all companies, which was much more serious in the larger ones. Most managers were neither creators nor innovators and had no understanding of what true creators and innovators were and all their policies and management styles always only interfered with the productive efforts of my best designers, writers, and technicians.
My job as a manager was to ensure that projects were completed on time, coordinated with all other relative departments, and that the quality of the work was the best possible. Practically that meant most of my time was spent running interference for my engineers, artists, writers, and technicians, protecting them from the absurd meddling of upper-management who were perpetually trying to force their idea of "teams," "training," "SOPs" and "endless meetings," down their throats.
I was very fortunate that most of those I managed were individualists, self-starters, and competent. They were all different, had different methods of working, different skills and abilities, but were imaginative and creative, because I did everything I could to give them the freedom to think and choose for themselves how they worked and how they accomplished their assignments.
I held them to very high standards, but the standards only applied to the product of their effort. I frankly did not give a damn how they accomplished their work, only about the quality of their work. Almost every project required cooperation between workers in my departments and those in other departments, and because my workers knew they had the freedom to achieve their objectives in whatever way was best for them, my departments gained a reputation for being the most cooperative.
The irony was that my workers had nothing to prove to anyone and were only concerned with their own achievement and accomplishments. They never worried about being part of some fictitious, "team," or "a contributor" to some corporate cause or image, but it was always the workers in my departments others would come to when inevitable difficulties in the development processes arose, because they were competent, and because they were as free as I could make them in a corporate environment, and therefore chose to cooperate in any effort they enjoyed being part of.
All evidence and reason convinces me there is only one source of any true value in this world in every aspect of human life—the self-initiated effort of independent individuals in pursuit of their own chosen goals and actions.