Seems to Me I’ve Heard That Song Before

We’ve all heard the speech.  In fact, we’ve all heard it over and over again.  It goes something like this:

“Friends, and I call you friends because you are my friends, this is a wonderful country we all live in.  It’s a great country, and we’re a great people.  But we have fearsome challenges ahead of us.  We, as a society, are threatened by those who do not have our best interests at heart.  We are threatened by the forces of self-interest, forces that do not understand, and do not share, our values.  These people must be stopped!

“We can only do this together.  We must all work together to make this great society greater.  We must sacrifice.  We must put aside our individual interests on behalf of the common good.  We must protect our society, and our values.  If you support me and if we all work together, I know we can make this country truly great.  Thank you.”


What this speech represents is a call to collectivism, of one sort or another depending on the identity of the speaker.  If the speaker is of the so-called “right,” we must rally together to fight off the foreign enemy that “hates America,” protect ourselves from immigrants and “minorities,” and not give in to internationalism, socialism, communism, godlessness, and, always, liberalism.  If the speaker is of the “left,” then the enemy is the rich, the corporations, most religions, and, lately, white people, men, and especially white men.  And any conservative, of course.

But both the evangelists of the “right” and the “left” believe that the individual is of secondary importance to the greater good of the greater numbers, and to the great future we’ll all share in our great society.

Bullcookies, I say again!

At the risk of sounding Randian, let me point out the historical truth that the vast majority of milestones along the road of human progress began in a single human heart, a single human mind.  Whether we’re talking about Galileo Galilei, Nikola Tesla, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, or Zeno of Citium, some one individual person gave birth to most of the ideas that led to today’s world, a world in which the common man is richer, better fed, better housed, better educated, more widely traveled, and long-lived than at any time in the history of this tired old world.

Now, to be perfectly clear, there are two things that I am not saying.  I am not saying that people shouldn’t give a hand to another person, and I am not saying that it’s possible for anyone to get along without cooperating, some of the time and on some things, with other individuals.

There’s a thread of Objectivism, the school of philosophy introduced by Ayn Rand, that asserts that one should never just do something for someone else.  As many other objectivists have pointed out to me on several occasions, this is a misreading of Rand’s work.  Rand’s famous quote, from Atlas Shrugged, “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine,” doesn’t mean that one should never do a favor for someone else without receiving something in return.  It means that the decisions on what to give, how much to give, when to give, and who to give to must remain with the giver, not with the recipient or with some third party.  One of the great philosophers of what I call the “Missouri School” (the other being Mark Twain), Robert A. Heinlein, phrased it this way: “If tempted by something that feels ‘altruistic,’ examine your motives and root out that self-deception. Then, if you still want to do it, wallow in it!”

And I am sure as hell not against cooperation.  While few good things originate anywhere but in the single human brain, almost nothing of any real worth gets done by one person alone.  Have you ever read Leonard E. Read’s brilliant essay, “I, Pencil?”  If you haven’t, please drop what you’re doing and correct that deficiency immediately!  Here’s a link to it: http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/rdPncl1.html

It bears repeating: almost every good in human society, physical or immaterial, is the product of cooperative action.  Where the collectivists err on this is that they can’t or won’t draw the distinction between voluntary cooperation and collective actions mandated, at the end of the day, out of the barrel of a gun.  The true distinction mirrors exactly the questions about helping out your neighbor: The decisions on what to cooperate on, when to cooperate, how much to cooperate, and with whom to cooperate must remain with each individual, not with some outside mandating force. 

I’m not promising that the choice will always be completely wide open and free.  My present job situation might not be everything I could want it to be, and there may be outside forces that affect how easily I can find another or go out on my own.  There may be similar constraints on other areas of activity.  But as long as I can say, “No!” I retain the choice, even if it’s the choice to starve.

There is at least one person, though, who desperately needs that collective action, that sacrifice, that surrender.  That’s the politician that makes that speech at the beginning of this piece.  He or she desperately needs for you to willingly surrender your soul, so that he or she can accumulate power by leading you.  And that, as much as anything else in the world, is pure, unadulterated bullcookies

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