Thursday, September 27, 2007

It Takes Individuals to Make a Village

It is a fact that as human beings we are born alone, live alone and die alone. While other people may share in these moments - for instance your mother - ultimately we are all profoundly alone. When you look into a mirror the eyes looking back at you are yours and yours alone. There is no sentient being in there with you sharing your thoughts and experiences. We are individuals. For those who share themselves with a personal God, well, the truth is we stand alone in the eyes of God as well.

Never fear, this is something to be celebrated as right and good. It is one of the reasons America, the ideal and the practice, has been so revolutionary in world history. The individual was first and foremost in our founding as a nation and a culture. The term rugged individualism is often derided as macho jingoism, but it is a badge of honor to those who truly understand the implications of the alternative.

Individualism is described as a moral, political, or social belief that puts human independence and personal liberty above any single societal group. Individualism is not egoism, and does not argue that selfishness is inherently good. That being said individuals are not duty-bound to any socially-imposed morality, instead individuals are free to choose to be selfish or not. To be and individualist is reserve and preserve choice.

Individualism rejects the notion that any tradition, any one religion, or any other morality play should limit an individual's choice. We, as individuals "choose" to part of a group as opposed to societally forced pigeon-holing. Individualism is, therefore, antithetical to socialism. We have heard the term "no man is an island" or "it takes a village..." and these are profoundly true observations but they are predicated on the certainty that we are groups of individuals. We all have our very own thoughts and opinions regardless of the what the "village" thinks. Perversely it is when humans act with a herd mentality that we often get into deep trouble.

Paul Johnson examines the glory that is bestowed on herd animals and hive insects by philosophers and socialist thinkers in this piece on He correctly points out the basic flaws in such "collectivist" thinking:

What is the difference that makes ants and bees engage in endless repetition, remaining static, while humanity relentlessly changes and advances? The difference is summed up in one quality that the culture of the hive and the nest so conspicuously and necessarily lacks: individualism. There is no such creature as an individualist bee or ant. They are not identical; each has a life to live and lose. But none thinks for itself. All accept the burdens and conformity, the monotony and changelessness of communal society. In this instinctual acceptance lies the secret to their successful survival, as well as their failure to advance. Now, human beings have never mindlessly accepted society as they find it or the methods of doing things as handed down by their forebears. The earliest of archaeological traces reveal novelty, be it only in the chipping out of a flint tool or the assembly of a crude necklace of pebbles.

If you look at the history of civilization, where mankind has come together to live and work toward the great things that can only be accomplished by acts of cooperation, you will inevitably find a few remarkable individuals behind all things.

Most great ideas, scientific advancements, artwork, music composition, inventions and any number of breakthroughs almost always leads to one man or one woman standing alone behind the curtain. That's just the way it is. One man can't be an orchestra or single handedly build a cathedral but without the composer or without the architect nothing will be heard and nothing will be built. When the light bulb goes on it illuminates only one mind - eureka moments don't happen in unison.

It is dangerous to elevate the group above the individual. For this reason socialism and collectivism are the wrong ideals to strive for. We are led to believe that some groups such as laborers need societal protection of their human rights. What are human rights if not individual rights? It allows the state to take from one group, in this case business owners, and distribute benefits whether it is deserved or not. What about the rights of those being taken from?

When society puts one group above the others we end up with nightmare scenarios like Germany's WWII final solution, or in contemporary times the scourge of dhimmitude as practiced in some Muslim cultures. Dhimmitude is the comprehensive legal system established by the Muslim conquerors to rule the native non-Muslim populations subdued by jihad wars. It relegates a non-Muslim to second and third class citizenship and forces submission and extra taxation on "non-believers". In other words some individuals have more "human rights" than others.

Lumping individuals into groups based on gender, race, religion or occupation then painting their wants, desires and experiences with broad brush strokes is the sheer opposite of honoring human rights. We are individuals, people, human beings. I am a person and I am to judged on my own merits.

The reason we seek to connect to each other, one on one, individual to individual is because we are not meant to be alone. We need companionship and ultimately we need love. We flock to each other because being alone, stuck in this one body, in this one mind severely limits us. We are as a society greater than the sum of our parts. But in the end parts is parts...