individualism


The great, preposterous cliché of sports motivators is the ubiquitous “there is no ‘I’ in ‘Team.’” This is supposed to indicate the need for self-sacrifice in co-operative efforts.

And, certainly, in most co-operative efforts one must forgo some self-directed strategies and self-gratifying agendae to get the job done.

But the truth remains that a team wherein all have sunk their selves into the social construct of the group effort becomes something much worse than a team. The people become a mob.

It is vitally important for there to be many individuals in the team. Many I’s. They must merely organize themselves in a negotiated dance of I-You relations.

I will refrain from going all Martin Buber, here, and merely note that much of the rhetoric of co-operation is, in truth, hyperbolic at best, perverse at worst.

Which is the case with a lot of social uplift and “we-help.” Indeed, one could almost define “socialism”* as the misattribution of sociality to the principles gleaned from superficial and hyperbolic anti-individualism. The error, here, is a huge one. It is Individualism, not socialism, that embodies respect for others as separate persons, not as mere cogs in the wheels of others’ designs. It is individualism that holds the keys to sociality.

Recently, gay marriage has become all the rage. A once-individualistic notion now sounds socialistic, at least in the mouths of its loudest proponents. Perhaps I have been jaded by my thirty-plus years of advocacy for this notion, but — as witness in my last post — but I find the temper of the current movement at least partially distasteful. The too-obvious prominence of some notion of inclusion and the common insistence on the importance of equality over the older agenda of liberation largely explains my vexation with the “kids these days.”

My approach to social reform is very different. Forswear the state as much as you can. You want to marry? Then “live in sin” (as we used to say), make your pledges, write down your contracts, and call yourself married. If the state or its loathsome concatenation in the federal government gives more privileges to those with licenses, demand the change there. Deny the state any right to “license” marriage or privilege one form of marriage over another.

Since writing my last discussion of gay marriage, I have learned of another privilege denied to gay couples that heterosexual marrieds have, automatically: immigration rights; that is, the right to take a spouse from another country and skip all the vile, exclusivity rigamarole that is America’s border policy.

So, yes, let us have “gay marriage” and recognize it under the 14th Amendment. But also recognize it under the Ninth Amendment: as a right (and rite!) retained by the people.

For the specter of people demanding the government “give them something” makes them supplicants. It is unbecoming.

Do what you will that is peaceful, and then demand that the state recognize the authority of your peaceful contracts. The current movement for gay marriage assumes that the state is all-important to marriage, and that is just unspeakably dangerous.

In my slogan, at top, I provide not the “equal” sign but an “equal or greater than” sign as the logo for marriage rights now. For it is too easy to be caught up in a struggle for mere “equality.” No one worth his salt wants to be merely equal. Or made equal. Each person ought to strive, instead, for his or her own quality.

For, in a free society, equality is a term of art. In the old days, men like Volney would commonly assert that there is “nothing more obvious” than that all men are equal. I submit that this has to be understood only in a narrow sense, for in a practical sense, nothing is more obvious about human beings than that they are radically and even unalterably unequal.

But our inequalities are diverse, not univocal. One man is not greater than another, and that is that, for one is greater than another at sports, or one sport, but inferior at the arts, or one art. Measurable IQ is one measure, practical social skills another. I am both your superior and your inferior.

This is a slightly more complicated thought than “all men are created equal,” but it is the truth, and fairly obvious, at that. Some of my qualities are better than yours, others inferior. Most are unmeasurable, merely orderable in preference, and those preferences vary from person to person. This welter of inequalities sort of balance out to a general notion of equality, but that level of “balance” does not pertain to every instance.

So, when someone demands “equality” from others, or the state, it is not always clear what that someone means.

I always hope that the equality asked for, or demanded, is judgment by an equally applied, or universal, standard, which in a special sense means “equal treatment.” (It does not really mean actual equal treatment, of course: by the same standard means judging different behaviors differently:  A criminal is not to be accorded the same treatment as a peaceful citizen. Really. But, before the criminality is determined, the judging must assume impartiality.)

As you can see, the literal meaning of many of these common terms are at variance with their “understood” meanings, as terms of art. Equality in a free society is a legal fiction. We are all presumed responsible adults, and treated with forbearance as free people. But if one of us does not reciprocate this “basic deal” (for it is a deal that can only work if there is general reciprocity), then the actual freedom goes.

The problem comes when some people do not have the wit to see that equality is a term of art, and operative only at a certain level of abstraction and generality. They do not understand the difference between a vital legal fiction and a utopian goal. And thus many who talk about “marriage equality” also yammer about “economic equality,” and many other impossible things.

And these utopians have a horrible tendency not to recognize the complex nature of social institutions, and the limitations we have in making even marginal improvements through specific piecemeal design changes. They do not see that our limitations in ability to make wholesale changes at every level require limits on power. And they seem to pretend that inequalities are ineradicable. Real inequalities of talent, inclination, energy, opportunity and nearly anything else. They see the basic nature of man as “unfair” — and it is. Making societies more peaceful and just does not replace the injustice of nature. It cannot. But it can ameliorate the harsh conditions of some deep differences in qualities between I and you, us and them, and we against all the atoms of itness in nature.

Credo: A limited conception of equality limns a division of responsibility, opening up vast expanses of voluntary co-operation where there is iteration after iteration of mutual gain. And progress. Quality increasing. Leaving old inequalities passé.

Move on, folks; move on.


* To translate into Hayek-speak: The socialistic ethos of the age is the re-animation of an atavism, the revivified entelechy of principles that were mere partial truths operative in tribal times. Contrary to trendy anti-capitalism, it is in individualism that the great social wisdoms reside.

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