Friday, December 14, 2018

Two Sides of the Same Coin

We seem to be heading into a confrontation between the two forces of Modernism: the primacy of the individual versus the increasing technological and economic might of the central state.
-          Charles Hugh Smith, The Conflicting Forces of Modernism: Kafka and Kierkegaard
The individual on the one hand, the all-powerful state on the other.  Are these two opposite and antagonistic forces, as many believe, or are they merely two sides of the same coin, with one feeding the other?
If two things are two sides of the same coin or opposite sides of the same coin, they are closely related to each other and cannot be separated, even though they seem to be completely different. (Emphasis added)
Returning to Smith:
The primacy of the individual is the core of Modernism, as each individual discovers the mysteries of God in their own way and time, and creates their own identity via their own choices and commitments. 
Hasn’t western society – and certainly US society – maximized this “individualism” already?  Tattoos and body-piercings in places known and unknown, hair in every fluorescent color, an infinite variety of gender possibilities, family units of every type, gods of every type?  Yes, I guess “more” is always possible, but western society does not suffer from a deficit of “God in my own way and time” or “my own created identity.”
As much as we have maximized individualism, in what manner will we be able to resist the state?  With whose support?  “You and what army?”
As each of us is now our own unique individual, for what reason would I join with you to defend your individualism – an individualism that might be completely contrary to anything that matters to me?  Yeah, yeah, I know the poem: “First they came for the socialists….”  What good are such words when we know that no one has acted on these?  What are you willing to die for?
If, in fact, individualism stood at the opposite side of a mighty central state, why does the mighty central state support, advance, and subsidize all manners of behaviors that allow each of us to create our own “individual”?  It is very easily possible to make oneself free from all interpersonal support systems, institutions, cultural norms, etc. – in other words, as individual as imaginable – thanks to state support.
“The primacy of the individual versus the increasing technological and economic might of the central state.”  Two sides of the same coin; these two cannot be separated, even though they seem completely different.
Nothing better for the increasing growth of a centralizing state than ensuring – and even supporting – the “individual.”


  1. I hate it...hate, hate, hate it. And oh how I wish I could refute it...

    1. Ron, I hate it goes against all that I once understood about liberty.

    2. Mr. M.,

      I know. You and I commiserated about this very issue (seeing in groups, rather than individually) a while back...

    3. I still think there are many aspects of individualism that are worthy of preserving in the treasury of liberty.

      For instance:

      1) The individualism employed in developing the economics of the Austrian School. Only the individual acts. Individual evaluation of goods and resources is essential to a well functioning economy capable of increasing living standards.

      2) Each individual is responsible for his own actions. It is not society's fault you injured or stole from your neighbor.

      3) Crimes are only committed against individuals. The collectivist victimization cult of today is absurd.

      4) Individual consent is required for just behavior between adults.

      5) Each individual must participate is his own salvation, choosing God's path for himself. You cannot rely on the faith of your community to save you (though it certainly helps).

      I think the truth is nuanced and not all of individualism is bad, but perhaps, due to its atomistic connotations, 'individualism' is a word we should reject. But what to use in its place? Personalism? Certainly not collectivism, a term, in the very least, not any less guilty of offenses against liberty.

    4. ATL, the "individualism" that I am learning to reject is only the "individualism" that I address - the context is the loss of meaningful intermediating institutions. Leaving aside the theological Pandora's Box that your item 5 entails, I have no quarrel with your points.

      Like many terms built on reason devoid of tradition (equality, liberty, etc.), the meaning of "individualism" has lost any foundation. Therefore, a libertarian's "individualism" becomes the state's plaything.

  2. And of course, the one potential bulwark against the centralized state, my Holy Roman Catholic Church, blows kisses to GHW Bush upon his death.

    1. Pathetic. No "speaking truth to power" in this group.

    2. Perhaps the Eastern Orthodox faith is a more likely candidate for promoting liberty and speaking truth to power. Somehow they found a way to survive under Communism despite living under the mass persecution of that militantly atheistic regime for 70 years.

  3. So the argument is 'individualism' can be understood as a tactic of power, an invention by a well organized and united ruling class to disrupt, to fracture, to split apart all other potentially contending groups so as to neutralize them, to prevent the possibility of them acting as a concerted competitive force ?

    1. Other than replacing your word "invention" with "co-option, yes, I agree.

  4. Perhaps the maxing-out of individualism is just another step in the constant experimenting and pushing the limits that occurs with human beings.

    If human development/evolution of consciousness is to continue (, the current extremes of individualism will reach an inflection point wherein it has mostly run its course. Then the swing of the pendulum will push toward a new emphasis of some kind. Whatever new emphasis begins to assert itself, it too will build-up and eventually max itself out in extremis. Nowadays, that’ll be sooner rather than later.

    The interesting thing is that, with the assistance of the many radical technologies available to all of us, it appears that many pendulums are swinging wildly at the same time; e.g. radical expressions of vulgar individualism happening within an advancing framework of radically increasing vulgar political collectivism.

    In centuries past, shifts of human lifestyles and social norms moved very slowly, with the shifts occurring well within the organic pace of life, human comprehension and abilities to adapt, generally speaking. Nowadays, not only are changes moving far too fast to really understand what is going on, but there are also countless rapid and radical changes happening across the board, all at once. From my POV, it's foolish to pretend that any of this is controllable, steerable or even containable... though the bastages currently pulling on the levers of force will try their level best to do so.

    Being uncontrollable and uncontainable, my prediction is that we are entering an unprecedented era of rapid fragmentation and decentralization of social and political structures. Massive out-of-the-box experimentation is occurring, and increases. Constraints of all kinds are being ripped to shreds. Especially the social and political constraints being undermined with technology: our abilities to communicate instantly to millions; our abilities to gather and disseminate info, bypassing and eventually eliminating middlemen (blockchains); our abilities to utilize independent currencies (cryptocoins), bypassing paleo govt and banking structures; and even our abilities to privately and securely create, foster and disseminate publicly our own abilities, talents, character and degree of integrity as our own "reputation score," which hopefully would help to allow the real cream of humanity to rise to the top.

    After all, as Bionic mentioned awhile ago (paraphrasing), “Pick and choose your govt, but regardless you will be governed.” If that is true, then far better to have a reliable method so that best of us rise to the top.

    1. "Nowadays, not only are changes moving far too fast to really understand what is going on, but there are also countless rapid and radical changes happening across the board, all at once" - PerClear

      This is the curse of the information age and largely of our modern generations, especially mine (and all those coming after), which grew up at the dawn of the age of the internet.

      "Society is composed of men, and every man is a free agent. Since man is free, he can choose; since he can choose, he can err; since he can err, he can suffer. I go further: He must err and he must suffer; for his starting point is ignorance, and in his ignorance he sees before him an infinite number of unknown roads, all of which save one lead to error." - Bastiat, Economic Harmonies

      With the internet we're seeing the truth of Bastiat's "infinite number of roads." It's a double edged sword though, like individualism itself, in that the more roads there are to choose from (with only one that is true and correct for man), the greater the likelihood of falling into error and suffering, but on the other hand, with the internet also comes the ability to spread the truth with unprecedented efficiency, clarity and scope.

    2. @ ATL

      Love your comment ATL, both on the issue of the speed of changes since the advent of the internet(I'm a Gen Xer) and the reference to the dual nature of individuality-which makes me feel redundant as I made the same exact point shortly before reading your previously posted comment.

      Oh well, *sigh*- I'll chalk it up to "great minds think alike".


  5. Individuals resist the state right now, every day. I don't mean bring the state down, or even do it harm, but just go about one's business irrespective of the states dictates. There are limits, of course, but the all powerful state has lost much control from its peak.