I imagine many visitors here have already seen Butler Shaffer's latest essay, Extremism in Defense of the Status Quo. Not surprisingly, he's hit another one out of the park; here's a sample from this excellent piece:
Each of us is biologically and experientially unique. There is probably no one else on earth who thinks, acts, and dreams exactly as you and I do. In this sense, each of us is an "extremist," and our individual uniqueness is what we have in common with one another. And yet, we have been conditioned to deny this shared quality; to imagine – as the political establishment must have us believe if it is to survive – that mankind is some collective monolith, and that "we" are outsiders, while all "others" naturally fit into the common mould. We buy into this collective mindset so that we will not feel alone in the world, ending up as members of what David Riesman termed "the lonely crowd."
What is a mild surprise to me is how often the subject of his essays parallels my own thoughts (it isn't more of a surprise because we're both American-born anarchists, observing and commenting on the sicknesses of the society).
Before reading Butler's piece, I had just sent off an email to a good friend, commenting briefly on one of the more frustrating elements (for me) of human nature: the competing elements of our individualist nature, yoked to our social needs. It makes for awkward dances throughout one's life, trying to balance the pushes and pulls they exert. In some ways, it can be (perhaps paradoxically) even worse for individualists, especially those who see themselves as creating their own ways, when in reality they're (to varying degrees) riding on the coattails of some pro-freedom "guru". Here's part of what I wrote on that in my email:
Too many supposedly pro-freedom individuals have simply chosen a darker horse to follow than most do. Since the human genome seems to contain a very odd blend of individualist and social critter genes, it's hard to criticize simply on that basis ... we all take turns leading and learning from others at varying points in our lives. But ... it is disconcerting. And you're right in that such things do not bode well for liberty.
To be clear, I know that I too have done my share of following when I should have been hacking through the underbrush -- I'm not exempt from my observation. As I said, leading and following are both important elements of our existence -- but it's extremely important to recognize when one is choosing to follow another, and for what reasons.
For example, it's terrific that my friend Boston T Party has written a number of excellent books, including several on firearms. He is extremely knowledgeable on the subject, and related subjects (ancillary equipment, training, and the psychology of self-defense, for starters), and is a worthy resource for someone who's getting started, or who wants to expand his or her range of self-defense options. Capitalizing on his expertise is appropriate "following" -- slavishly buying whatever you can afford (or going into debt to acquire what you cannot afford) simply because "Boston sez" is not. Sometimes individuals slip over that line without recognizing it -- been there, done that too. [FTR, I'm not intending to pick on Boston -- he's made it clear he doesn't want to be anybody's guru. He's simply a good example of someone I know well who attracts followers for both good and bad reasons.]
The only method I've found that's successful at countering that tendency to slide too far into following is to question myself. And I do that a lot. What are my thoughts, feelings, and most importantly, motivations? From whence do they come, and when they change, how and why have they changed? Have I gotten new information that sufficiently demonstrates my prior thinking was somehow flawed or incomplete? Or is someone's persuasive power (especially heady in new friendships) getting more weight than it should? I know that sometimes I'm much too hard on myself, to the detriment of myself and relationships, but so far I've not found a way to maintain this crucial self-awareness without being my own harshest critic.
Anyway, back to Butler ... I had the pleasure of meeting him in person last summer. It was a delight, too, because he's even better in person than he is in his essays. This essay helped highlight just why I respect him so much: he seems to understand human nature and social systems -- their foibles and possible glories -- better than any other essayist I know. And he communicates his ideas in wonderful prose. He may be my favorite pro-freedom nonfiction writer ... My favorite pro-freedom fiction author? F. Paul Wilson. Another splendid human being, who's also better in person than one dares hope. But I'd best save my Paul story for another time ...