Childhood is that pivotal period of one’s life where character is forged. In school, children are taught to “fit in” with their arbitrary peer group, to “respect authority,” and most importantly, to never ever deviate from the “norm” (whatever that happens to be at the moment). If one is not a “team player,” they are unjustly ridiculed for their individual autonomy. Indignities against self-determination are an indispensable hallmark of contemporary America.
Awhile back, I was attending a local chapter meeting of the Libertarian Party (LP), and one of the discussion topics that was brought up on the agenda was about government welfare. As the more vocal members began to eventually die down, I decided to chime in. Naively, I questioned why these libertarians were debating amongst themselves about what kinds of welfare they should apply for and how much, since welfare handouts are nothing more than those portions of stolen wealth that were looted from the populace in the first place. Not realizing it at the moment, I had unintentionally antagonized these LP members so badly that after my fairly brief critique (as well as answering some questions from the LP membership), the chapter chairman stood up and condescendingly quoted Ayn Rand at me in front of everyone (for those of you who don’t know, Ayn Rand was all in favor of applying for welfare under the justification that it was somehow mystically “getting some of your tax money back;” I had essentially argued the opposite case that by choosing to pursue the acquisition of it, you were sanctioning the original theft, especially since there is no accounting of whose wealth was stolen and in what proportions).
A few years later, I was on a conference call with some fellow political dissidents and we were chit-chatting about a variety of subjects (as well as on some ongoing efforts) when suddenly one of them mentioned about how I still maintained contact with some propertarian anarchists, to which the other guy then made an insulting quip about how I should not waste my time with those particular dissidents at all. What really infuriated me about this was that these chuckling amigos of mine had just beforehand cowardly refused to participate in a badly needed project, so I was left doing my small portion of it all by myself instead of being able to mutually benefit from the their collaborations as force multipliers.
Group-think is very much present in political dissident circles, much to my own dismay. Whether it be the devoted audiences of the Patriot Rockstars or the Ron Paul Refugees, there is still very much a common desire to play “follow the leader” by propping up the immaculate virtues of a Messiah like he’s going out of style. While a voluntarily organized hierarchical brotherhood of nationalists is desirable for certain functions, that is not the same thing as the hero worship so common with many anti-Establishment types, all the while nothing constructive or productive is being accomplished.
As much as I’ve learned from the Austrian school of economics (especially given they make many of their books available for free download), I am a bit perturbed at the methodology of praxeology, a supposed field of science that blatantly rejects the scientific method. Social scientists can measure ordinal as well as continuous variables (that is, preference ordering alone versus preference ordering with equal unit differences), such as with votes or opinion polls, so I don’t see how rejection of empirical observations, data sets, testing hypotheses, and interpreting results is at all truly scientific. Painting a broad brush against all the Austrians isn’t fair either; Tom Woods is a far cry from Walter Block, since the former is a gentlemen in public debates whereas the latter likes to slander anyone who does not hop onto the Ron Paul bandwagon.
Some people confuse egoism with individualism. While it is true that there is such an outlook called, “egoist individualism” (courtesy of Max Stirner), those “isms” can be mutually exclusive. You can have individualists who care very deeply about the less privileged, and there are egoists who are very collectivistic. Personally, I think the term “egoism” is misleading; I think self-interest or even selfishness is preferably acceptable, so long as it is crystal clear that it is altruism, the notion that sacrifice (either of others or especially of the self) is necessary so as to maintain order, is considered to be inimical to everyone’s liberty. It is the pseudo-justification of the welfare State as well as the warfare State (the latter of which is justified by the concept that you must be willing to die for the self-aggrandizing glory of the nation-state).
At most, “society” is really nothing more than the expressed preferences of individuals in the collective aggregate. As Professor de la Paz (from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) said:
“A rational anarchist believes that concepts such as ‘state’ and ‘society’ and ‘government’ have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals. He believes that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame… as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. But being rational, he knowns that not all individuals hold his evaluations, so he tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world… aware that his effort will be less than perfect yet undismayed by self-knowledge of self-failure. [emphasis added]”
While such collective nouns and adjectives are convenient for linguistic use, conceptually speaking if they lack tangible existence, then they are simply fictional. A tree is a real individual thing whereas a forest is a collection of trees, even though it’s simply an abstract grouping of trees; this gives “missing the forest for the trees” an additional meaning where “the devil is in the details” (not to mix metaphors).
You might be pleasantly surprised if you treat people as individuals instead of as members of “forests.” Your best ally could be a disgruntled government agent who wants to seek revenge against his current (or former) employer; likewise, your worst foe could be that sniveling acquaintance of yours who’s more than happy to rat you out in the mistaken belief that he’s somehow saving his own hide. Whenever individuals become part of groups, they mistakenly believe that responsibility is somehow diffused; what they fail to realize is that each and every one of them who did something is fully responsible for what he alone did.
And why is it that we feel so powerless alone, even when history has repeatedly shown us that it is the individual (the lone ranger so to speak) who acts outside the realm of the norm in order to effect positive change? So what if the nature of our existence is that we are essentially all alone; we all dream alone, we all feel pain alone, and we all die alone. That does not mean we are powerless; far from it. If you simply change your belief about your alleged powerlessness, then your natural power that you have over your own life begins to return to you, and to you alone. So what? That is powerful enough, by far.