Sunday, 25 March 2018

Collectivism is Selfish

Afternoon - be assured that if this is a roaring success I'll be calling out other writers for some sort of 'blog-off' on a winner-takes-all basis. Write me a cheque for a pound if it's no good...

When I listen to the tribal battle being played out in the mainstream and on social media my reaction is a sort of mix of amusement and bewilderment. The terrain Left vs Right, Labour vs Tory, Leave vs Remain, Native vs Foreigner and Majority vs Minority is something of a dead end for all concerned. It's a bit like watching two bald blokes fighting over a comb or a couple of cats taking swipes at each other while simultaneously chasing their own tails. That so many otherwise sane, rational people not only partake in this garbage but allow themselves to become emotionally invested in it means that division and destruction are the logical consequences. No good comes from such nonsense.

As I've outlined previously the real battle lines are not between one form of authoritarian collectivism or the other, but on a whole raft of other axes where the 'right' side (at least as far as I and presumably many of our readers are concerned) are taking something of a shellacking. In the arenas of Reason vs Emotion, Responsibility vs Victimhood, Respect vs Mudslinging and Opponent vs Enemy we're seeing an 'endarkenment' within our times as Toddlers of both persuasions continue to increase their profile in terms of both volume and sheer number. Crucially, both are emphatically on the side of 'the collective', way over and above that of the rights and freedoms of individuals.

Everybody apart from those inclined towards victimhood-driven 'identity politics' should be concerned by this slow death of the individual within our public discourse. Anarchists aside, all of us on the 'lone ranger' side of the argument acknowledge the need for some sort of balance and that the collective has to prevail on occasion, at least to some degree. This may include a need for the State to dispense law, order and justice, defend us from invasion or provide some sort of safety net to prevent people from falling into abject poverty (be that in the form of a 'reduced fat welfare state' or universal basic income). Some of you may strike that balance in a slightly different place and that's fine.

This is important as pretty much any defence of the proverbial lamb against two wolves discussing what to have for lunch is frequently depicted as selfish, mean-spirited, grasping and unreasonable by those aggressively pursing a more collectivist worldview. Now it's true that full-blown anarchists and their pseudo-intellectual cousins known as Anarcho-Capitalists cross over into a somewhat unhealthy and potentially dangerous 'survival of the fittest' zeitgeist which makes no attempt to grasp a multitude of complicated realities. However, while this mentality is both inherently selfish and philosophically bankrupt, its ultra-collectivist equivalent is equally so.

One of the few positives to come out of the recent poisoning of the well is a raw expose of this dismal modus operandi for what it is. This shouldn't be necessary as history has taught us the required lesson many times over, but perhaps the biggest lesson of history is that we are doomed to either learn the 'wrong lesson' from it or precisely nothing. Be it Trade Union maniacs in the 1970s and 1980s, militant feminists, whining men's rights activists, racists regardless of colour or creed, nosy 'socially conservative' homophobes, LGBT lunatics, Nazis, Facists, Communists, big government types of all persuasions, the moral is the same. Collectivism has nothing to do with fairness or genuine equality.

While the 'struggle' of various identitarians has gathered pace the historical claim that "all we want is a fair shake" has basically been parked in favour of more outright calls for special treatment and/or an insistence that the issues of their group are somehow so much more important than everybody else's. Once you start demanding that we talk solely about subjects relating solely to black/white, women/men or straight/gay then you are by definition putting down a marker that equitable treatment before the law and in terms of civil rights is not what you're actually talking about. Where such genuine inequalities exist I am of course as keen as anybody else to end them immediately.

At the heart of all collectivism is a piece of rank intellectual dishonesty, the pushing of a generic 'group experience' over and above the reality that individuals live diverse, complicated and wholly unique lives. While I'm not exactly president of the Margaret Thatcher fan club, I've always found the attitude of many interested in 'women's issues' towards her somewhat interesting. Rather than holding up the first ever female Prime Minister as a ray of hope that not all is lost, that she achieved what she did seems to perturb a great many politically minded women who I've heard complain, amongst other things, that "she did nothing for women did she?". It depends what you mean.

Being not only a woman but a grocer's daughter surrounded by the old boy's club that was the High Tory establishment, it can be argued that regardless of what you think of her record, the achievement of first becoming leader of her party and then staying in office for a decade transcended 'issues' not only of gender but of class as well. Alternatively, while I don't dispute that some encounter closed minds and closed doors on account of what they are rather than who they are, it's quite likely that Thatcher wasn't one of them. Just because you're part of some 'historically oppressed' group doesn't mean that you will experience exclusion and inequality of opportunity on a personal level.

If you look at those who have been successful in the spheres of sport, business, politics, the arts or whatever else there seem to be two common reactions amongst those pushing the narrative of a 'generic experience' based on group identity. One is to say nothing other than to hope that their new 'champion' will do something for their denoted brotherhood/sisterhood. The other is to pontificate about their 'triumph over adversity', as if the individual must have faced ostensibly insurmountable obstacles and smashed them through talent and sheer force of will. The possibility that no such obstacles really existed (at least for the person in question) is simply not an option up for discussion.

Meanwhile the reaction to one form of collectivism in recent years has been what can only be described as the same bad taste joke in reverse polarity. The Toddler Right of Make America Great Again, Take Back Control, Men's Rights Activism and silly toytown Angry Nativist movements is simply 'another side' joining in what they perceive as the same zero-sum game, battling for control of the narrative, resources, kudos and group recognition. Instead of the 'historically oppressed' we now have the perpetually pissed-off white working class, a 'silent majority' that never shuts up, whining manchildren complaining about being 'forgotten' and how "nobody ever listens to me".

My heart bleeds - the poor lambs. Anyway, swiftly moving on...

While some of the criticisms that both sides might have of each other are valid on the surface level, how they get to that place and propose to 'fix' things are basically two sides of a highly authoritarian and anti-individualist coin. Moreover, it's this lie about 'generic experiences' that serves as fuel to both - while bad things are done by and are done to individuals of all races, genders, sexual orientations or whatever else, a manifestation of the age old maxim that "shit happens and life isn't fair" should serve as compelling evidence that this 'generic experience' narrative is bankrupt and fraudulent. This silliness even fails on its own terms when put under the slightest scrutiny.

Instead, both sides cherry-pick and wheel out material as Exhibit A for the prosecution, with the wrongdoers of 'their side' dismissed as isolated bad apples while the reverse is held up as an embedded confession to some social/institutional/systemic bias to which 'rigging the game' is the only solution (and anyone suggesting otherwise must be some sort of 'bigot' themselves and therefore part of the problem). In reality there is no Utopia and there will always be idiots possessed of dumb, immature and unpleasant attitudes towards all sorts of questions for all sorts of reasons or even none. No amount of 're-education' or 'social pressure' is going to change what people think or how they feel.

Far from being liberating, collectivism crams people into highly restrictive boxes based on a single aspect of themselves and creates a wholly false sense of obligation. I might be white, British and heterosexual, but the notion that I therefore 'owe' something to complete strangers who happen to share these traits is illogical and absurd. Beyond promising not to turn aggressive or steal their possessions I have no higher or lower obligation to such an individual as I would to anybody else. It was Ayn Rand who nailed it when she said that "at the heart of all collectivism is the pursuit of the unearned", correctly identifying the use of identitarianism to disguise crude selfishness as solidarity.

The antidote to this is not to set up your own 'rival group', advocating special treatment for itself and demanding 'free stuff' from the State, but to reject militant collectivism entirely and embrace at least some sort of balance that deals in individual liberty. If you're interested in localism then the promotion of the smallest locality there is (namely the individual) should be on your agenda. If you want to protect minorities against majority tyranny then take care of the smallest minority of all (the individual again), protect his or her rights consistently and rigorously, and punish anyone who attempts to infringe them. Once you've looked after the individual, 'groups' take care of themselves.

I'm off now to contemplate whether to write a book from scratch on topics covered here in the last 3 months, or release some of this stuff as a book (perhaps an e-book) of its own. If you have a view either way on that then please let it be known - we're all for freedom of expression on these pages.

In the meantime I'll leave you with some great music from Joy Division (RIP Ian).

Thanks for dropping by and I'll catch you midweek.

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