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Who Is "We"?

What you believe and how you conduct your life is no one else's business, as long as you mind your own. It is none of my business, for example. I explain this so no one will make the mistake of presuming I'm attempting to change what anyone else believes or does, or that just because I mention someone, that I'm criticizing them for their beliefs. This is only about ideas, not the individuals who hold or promote them. The ideas are those found in the article, "Individualism vs. Collectivism: Our Future, Our Choice," by Craig Biddle.

Starting With a Contradiction

There is either a contradiction in the title, or the choice that is being recommended is collectivism. After all if it's "our future" and "our choice" it is some collective (ours) to which the "future" and "choice" belong. I am certain Mr. Biddle did not intend to recommend collectivism, but his view is a collectivist one nonetheless.

An individualist does not think in terms of, "our," anything, because an individualist does not subordinate any aspect of his life and future to the choices and actions of others, nor does he require any collective action, such as the collective choice of some number of individuals, to achieve any of his goals. The only choices an individualist is concerned with are his own. What others choose is of no importance to him, or any of his business, unless those choices involve direct interference in his life.

Morality Pertains Only to Individuals

Mr. Biddle divides his article into four parts following the pattern of a correct philosophical hierarchy: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics. In general I agree with his delineation of the first three.

I think Mr. Biddle would agree that morality (or ethics) pertains to individuals, that it provides the principles by which an individual must choose to think and act to live successfully and happily in this world. It is surely what Ayn Rand believed:

"Man's life is the standard of morality, but your own life is its purpose. If existence on earth is your goal, you must choose your actions and values by the standard of that which is proper to man—for the purpose of preserving, fulfilling and enjoying the irreplaceable value which is your life. ...

"The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live." [Atlas Shrugged, Part Three - Chapter VII, "This Is John Galt Speaking."]

She emphasized that morality was not a social (i.e. political) concept:

"You who prattle that morality is social and that man would need no morality on a desert island—it is on a desert island that he would need it most." [Atlas Shrugged, Part Three - Chapter VII, "This Is John Galt Speaking."]

No Social or Political Moral Principles

Mr. Biddle is defending "individualism" against "collectivism," and through the first two sections of his article dealing with metaphysics and epistemology he does that, but at the end of the section on ethics, just before his discussion of politics he wrote:

"... societies—consisting as they do of individuals—need moral principles ...." But there is no such thing as "social ethics," or, "political moral principles."

Moral principles are the means by which individuals, and only individuals, make correct moral choices. Volition, which is the ability and necessity to live by conscious choice exists only in individuals. Principles are of no use to societies (or governments), only to the individuals within a society. No society, and no other collective of any size, can make choices.

This fact of reality is seldom recognized, even by those who embrace individualism. It is the reason so many self-identified individualists express themselves in collectivist terms. The title of this article ends with the words, "Our Choice." In the final section on politics Biddle writes: "Such is the state of politics in America today, and this is the choice we face ... we can look at reality, use our minds ...."

The obvious question is, "who is we?" Whose minds are, "our," minds. While I'm certain Mr. Biddle does not think in terms of some absurd, "collective mind," he nevertheless thinks that "we" will be using "our" minds to think the same thing, apparently to make a collective choice or participate in a collective action to bring about a political change. In particular he wants his collective, "we," to, "shout the truth from the rooftops and across the Internet." He then asks, "What would happen if "we" did the latter?"

Mr. Biddle quotes Ayn Rand: "You would be surprised how quickly the ideologists of collectivism retreat when they encounter a confident, intellectual adversary." Notice that it is "a confident intellectual adversary," not some, "we," but an individual. The kind of organized collective action Mr. Biddle advocates is exactly what Rand despised:

"Individualists have always been reluctant to form any sort of organization. The best, the most independent, the hardest working, the most productive members of society have always lived and worked alone. But the incompetent and the unscrupulous have organized." [Emphasis mine.] [The Letters of Ayn Rand, July 20, 1941, to Channing Pollock.]

All political and social activism is by its very nature, "organized." The independent individualist is too busy being a creative productive individual to waste his abilities, time, and effort on the organized efforts of others. Organized efforts are for, "the incompetent and the unscrupulous." The independent individualist wants no part of them.

Free Society, The Unrealizable Ideal

The following is adapted from a much earlier article of mine with the same title as the name of this section.

What's Wrong With Promoting Liberty?

Of course there is nothing wrong with promoting the principles of individual liberty, of demonstrating what is wrong with coercive government (and there is no other kind), or of supporting the view that every individual owns their own life and that no individual may rightly use force to interfere in the life of any other individual. All of the individuals and organizations doing such promotion do a commendable job in making people aware of the ever-growing levels of government oppression.

What They Are Not Doing

Though I am sure they all believe otherwise, not one of these organizations or individuals is promoting or fighting for individual freedom. I'm sure that they all want individual freedom, and want it to be a reality in as many people's lives as possible, but their stated methods and objectives will never make a single oppressed individual free.

Every one of these individuals and organization, implicitly, if not explicitly, expresses the view that individual freedom is a function of society, that in order for individuals to be free, a free society must first be established. They differ somewhat in how they believe that is to be accomplished, but whatever methods they advocate, that is their objective.

Those who, quite correctly, see government as the source of all oppression, advocate any method of limiting or eliminating the government, or the state. Those who believe it is ultimately society itself which is the reason for government, or the state, seek to spread the ideas of freedom, free markets, and individual liberty by means of education, propaganda, various programs and activism, thus changing society itself to one that will reject the state.

A Matter Of Faith

Many libertarians and anti-state individualists are atheists who criticize Christians for entertaining a delusion of some future paradise based solely on faith. But how many libertarians, anti-state, and free-market advocates really believe their educational efforts, propaganda, programs and activism are going to eliminate the state or change societies into free ones. Is it not mostly a case of faith, a kind of wishful thinking, and a desire to convince themselves they are at least doing something?

I think all these "freedom-efforts" are mostly a matter of faith, because there is no sound rational basis for supposing any of them will work. Consider the most common methods being proposed: education, propaganda programs, and various forms of activism, such as, "passive resistance."

How's that education program going to work? The US population is over 311 million (June 2012). There may be as many as 500,000 libertarians in the US, and, since it is impossible to get any statistical data on the number of anti-state and anarchist individuals, I will generously suggest 250,000 of such in the US, a total of three quarters of a million people interested in true individual freedom.

In 2010, there were 3.6 million full-time elementary and secondary school teachers, all promoting the leftist statist government curriculum. If all 750 thousand freedom-lovers in this country were active full-time teaching the principles of freedom and liberty, there would be four statist teachers for every freedom teacher. In reality, there will never be more than handful of active freedom-lovers, and all their "teaching" efforts will be swamped by millions teaching on the other side.

What's Wrong With Teaching and Propaganda

There is a WEB site called, Changing Minds, which is dedicated to, "all aspects of how we change what others think, believe, feel and do."

There is no doubt there are ways to influence what people believe, and even what they want and do. The very successful business of advertising, every successful political campaign, and the historic spread of religions, all testify to that fact. Teaching and propaganda work, but they do not work for everything. In most cases, teaching and propaganda work because most people are ignorant, gullible, lack discernment, and are easily influenced by appeals to their feelings—their desires and sentiments (in the case of most advertising) or their doubts and fears (in the case of most political campaigns). What teaching and propaganda do not appeal to are reason and objective values (which are the only moral methods by which individuals may deal with one another).

[By, "teaching," I do not mean the transfer of knowledge from one individual to another by means of the rational explanation of that knowledge by the teacher and the rational comprehension of the knowledge by the student, both engaged in that activity by their own mutual choice for there own mutual benefit. Very little of what goes by the name teaching these days refers to that kind of legitimate didactism. What I mean by teaching is any attempt to convince or "change the minds of" people who, on their own, have no particular interest or desire for that "knowledge."]

Freedom Is Not Marketable

There is a bit of a mistake in the notion that people can be changed. In reality, people can only change themselves. A product, for example, can be advertised with all kinds of glowing descriptions that appeal to people's desires, but any individuals who actually choose to buy the product have to make that choice themselves. We can offer people information, encourage them to think differently, and even attempt to motivate them to make changes, but ultimately every individual will change only when they choose to.

For those who understand the nature of freedom, and its individualistic nature, there is something wrong with the attempt to change people. There is nothing wrong with offering people information, or offering to teach them if they choose to be taught, but any other method of "changing" people is really an uninvited interference in their life. As moral individuals, we have no business trying to change others.

Morally, our only option is to offer freedom to others in the form of concepts in the "free market of ideas." Unfortunately, freedom is not a very marketable commodity, and our competition has all advantages.

Most People Do Not Want To Be Free

It was the socialist, George Bernard Shaw who ironically said, "Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it."

What most people want is not freedom, but security. Shaw was right, to be truly free means to be totally responsible for all of one's own choices and actions, one's success or failures determined solely by one's own efforts. For the truly free, there are no guarantees in life, and one must face every risk on their own, either learning how to deal with them, or suffering the consequences. For the truly free, nothing is provided and everything must be acquired or achieved by one's own effort. For those who love freedom, these are freedom's virtues, but for most people, the very virtues of freedom are a source of terror.

The collectivists and statists are offering exactly what most people desire. Where freedom offers responsibility, the state offers relief from that responsibility. "Don't worry about making provisions for your old age, the state will take care of it." Where freedom offers the reality of risk and danger, the state offers guarantees and safety. "Don't worry about natural disasters, the government will take care of everything and protect you from them. Don't worry about the dangers of the world, the government will pass laws that will make everything safe, your job, your food, your medicine, even driving your car."

The promoter of freedom can protest as clearly and loudly as possible that the state produces nothing, that the state can only confiscate what is produced by others and redistribute it, that the state cannot and never has been able to deliver on any of its promises. But the protests will fall on deaf ears.

The collectivists and statists have another advantage. There is no moral compunction on their part against outright lying, and all their propaganda and promotions can promise anything anyone might want, even when there is no intention or means of delivering on those promises. The promoter of freedom can promise only that every individual will be free to have or achieve whatever they can by their own efforts and ability. Since most people have little or no confidence in their own competence to achieve or accomplish much, the empty but appealing promises of the statists win the day every time.

There is a final advantage of the statist message that makes it almost impossible to defeat. That advantage is its shear simplicity. It is presented as the simple solution to all problems. It requires no effort to understand, only ignorance and gullibility to swallow. No matter what problem there is, the government can solve it simply by passing a law or forming an agency.

Think about what you are trying to promote. The principles of individual liberty and free markets are not easy concepts. Have a look at any of the freedom promoting sites on the Internet. Notice the language, the vocabulary, and the ideas that are being discussed. How many people do you think will be able to understand most of those ideas, much less be interested in them? Look at what holds the attention of most people, that mass of ignorance we refer to as the "television viewing audience." How much of free-market economics do you suppose they are going to understand?

Freedom, But When?

If you look at any of those sites on the Internet promoting individual freedom there is, in all the discussions, no sense that any of those freedom lovers really expect to have true individual freedom in their lifetime. They love freedom, work for freedom, even live for freedom, though, in truth, they do not really expect to be free.

Woody Allen once said, "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying." While his desire was not a realistic one, I have my own desire that reflects his sentiment. I do not want to work for freedom to be realized only in some future I'll never see, I want to work for freedom that I may enjoy in my own lifetime. I think working for freedom that will only be realized by some future generation is tantamount to altruistic self-sacrifice, a despicable act of immorality.

The Only Freedom Worth Pursuing

Freedom is not some movement to be promoted, and is not a social concept. Societies are not free, only individuals are.

Promoting freedom with the objective of producing a free society is a futile and morally mistaken idea. No society is anyone's society to make into one they think they would like. That is called, social engineering—a socialist concept, not a concept of individual freedom. A society is only individuals, and the character and nature of every society is determined solely by the individuals that are that society. To change a society means changing the individuals that make up that society. No one has a right to do that.

A society in which every individual is free to live their life as they choose without the interference of any other individual or individuals would be a wonderful thing. Such a society is impossible so long as most individuals neither choose to be free, nor want to be. If you are waiting for such a society to exist before being free, you will never be free, nor do you deserve to be free. If you are not a statist, you do not expect society to provide you anything, not your food, not your housing, not your education, not your health care or anything else. Why do you expect society to provide you your freedom?

If you want freedom, like anything else of value in your life, you must provide it yourself, or at least seek to provide it. Like everything else in life, there are no guarantees. You may pursue it and fail in that pursuit, but if you do not pursue it, you will never have it.

Whether or not a "free society" is possible in this world, even in the future, I do not know. I do know if such a society is ever to exist it will be composed entirely of individuals who are already free, individuals who are self-sufficient independent individualists who desire nothing in this world but whatever they can achieve by their own effort, desiring no relationship with any others except those freely entered into by all parties for their own mutual benefit. Only those who have already freed themselves deserve the society of other free individuals or have anything to contribute to such a society.

Worthy of Freedom

What do most people want freedom for? Is it to be able to produce the best product they are capable of, to provide a service others would willingly pay for, to be all they can possibly be as a human being?

Whenever I look at those Internet sites that claim to be about individual liberty, they are mostly concerned with being able to use drugs, or engage in some hedonist practices that government suppresses or to participate in demonstrations and "protests," without consequence. It is with rare exception that any of them are concerned with producing anything of real value, or achieving anything exceptional, or even having an original thought.

H.L. Mencken was right:

"The average man never really thinks from end to end of his life. The mental activity of such people is only a mouthing of cliches. What they mistake for thought is simply a repetition of what they have heard. My guess is that well over 80 percent of the human race goes through life without having a single original thought."

My own guess is that less than one tenth of a percent of the human race has ever had an original thought, and that anyone who thinks in terms of, "we," has automatically excluded himself from that one tenth of a percent. Such will never be free, nor do they deserve to be.

—(11/12/15)