I ask the question with solemn seriousness. No, I haven’t been smoking or otherwise ingesting anything to make my brain go wonky. I have actually been thinking about the issue—from a very different context—for some time now, and trying to find a way to gather my thoughts for presentation here. I’ve not yet accomplished that, but a news article I just read crystallized the above question out of my mind.
The article, The Damage of Card Rewards, is plenty thought–provoking on its own. It’s a quote from philosophy instructor Dave Hanson on the second page that slipped my mind into questioning individualism:
The sad fact of contemporary American economic culture is atomistic individualism. Anything else is decried as communism.
My immediate response was to attempt to form a protest, but a picosecond later, I realized that Mr. Hanson had drilled deeply into much of my discontent of late with the freedom movement. Divided we stand, far too often; and so divided we easily fall—and too many times we fall because we divide ourselves. I have been as strident as many others who love liberty in deriding public policy ideas as communism and/or socialism, but I hope that in so doing I have been clear and consistent on one thing: my objection is lasered on coerced payments and choices.
While I have felt myself to be outside mainstream America both culturally and politically for a long time, I have only intermittently (and briefly) felt myself to be inside any sort of community in the freedom movement. I have rambled on this subject too much already, so let me just reiterate that I know I am responsible for some measure of my lack of fulfillment there. (Ironic as it may seem, I felt a stronger sense of voluntary community after just a few weeks at my dojo than I have in the freedom community—something I plan to explore here at some point not soon.) Yet I still long for a freedom–focused community based on frith ... while thinking that many of my potential cohorts take a dim view of the term “community”. It does have its six first letters in common with that dreaded ideology mentioned earlier, after all. Lest anyone think I’m kidding or being overly harsh, have you ever asked yourself why so many pro–freedom communities choose to call themselves a “gulch” rather than a community? Perhaps Ayn Rand chose that word deliberately, viewing any term linguistically tied to communism darkly.
A friend shared with me his opinion that ideology may well be the curse of the 20th century. The more I think about it the more inclined I am to agree. We are all individuals [okay, stop that inane chanting right now!], but we are also all part of various groups. Some of them are involuntary, but many are not ... and I think it is an extremely rare individual who truly wants absolutely no contact with any other human for the remainder of his life. (We may argue about such a person’s “mental health status” some other day.) While I cherish my freedom deeply, I do not like the thought of a society based on “atomistic individualism” ... and in fact, I see that perspective as partly culpable in some of America’s current social and political problems.
If I’m right about Rand, perhaps her silly skittishness has been unwittingly passed to many lovers of liberty over the years. I don’t doubt that some came to the same end on their own—it doesn’t take a towering intellect, after all, to notice relations among words. Yet it doesn’t do much to recommend a person’s acumen if his thinking does indeed run along such lines. Everything “social–” ≠ socialism; and similarly, everything “commun–” ≠ communism. We are social animals. Liberty and community can peacefully and happily coexist. I can’t be the only pro–freedom person who sees problems with atomistic individualism ... can I?