America was once proudly known as the “melting pot.” Its inhabitants, both native and foreign, understood at least implicitly that the essence of being American was that one was free to shed certain of his characteristics, such as race, and live by his individual values. Today, however, many Americans reject such individualism for various forms of group-worship, as Americacreeps toward the bloody conflicts that continually plague regions such as the Balkans and Rwanda.
At root, individualism rests on the belief that an objective reality exists, it is knowable, and its facts are to be adhered to. An individualist understands and adheres to the fact that man’s essence is his rational faculty; that the primary unit of man is the individual; that the individual has free will to chose his own values; and that he has inalienable rights, such as liberty, to act to achieve them.
Conversely, collectivists believe that the individual is essentially a mere atom within a group, any group based on certain characteristics, such as race, gender, age, etc., and that his rights arise only by virtue of his group membership. Moreover, these group-worshipers characterize the individualist as one who “only thinks of himself,” dismisses help from others, fails to see his “interdependence” on the group — all of which leads to his “alienation” from others.
That individuals in America are falling ever-more into group-worship is most recognizable in our universities and politics.
Once, an undergraduate member of a “diversity education” committee at the University of Pennsylvania sent a concerned note to the administration regarding the school’s multicultural programs. In her note she expressed a “deep regard for the individual and my desire to protect the freedoms of all members of society.” One administrator returned her note, with her word “individual” underlined and his accompanying comment: “This is a red flag phrase today, which is considered by many to be racist.”1
Borrowing from this sentiment, Al Gore in his 1998 Martin Luther King Day speech at a church in Atlanta railed against advocates of “color-blindness.”2
And President Clinton referred to individualism in his 1996 State of the Union address when he said, “The era of big government is over. But we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves.”3 Translation: Either government provides you with your life’s requirements or you acquire them totally alone, i.e., as an “individualist.”
Once, to judge a person primarily by his individually chosen values and abilities — despite the irrelevance of his race — was properly hailed as racism’s antidote. By the group-worshipers’ twisted logic, however, individualism now equals racism.
Once, America’s constitutional republic upheld individual liberties that allowed each person to freely pursue his life’s requirements by producing values and voluntarily trading them with (or giving them to) whoever or whatever he valued. Now, however, it has degenerated into a “democracy,” whereby any group claims a “right” by majority vote to force the individual to pursue their requirements for them. Why do these staggering reversals exist?
Observe that the groups — such as blacks, women, the elderly — aren’t based on any conceptual-level, individually chosen values, that is, abstract values, such as honesty, production, independence, but on perceptual-level, non-chosen characteristics, that is, concrete values. Because they believe that no objective reality exists, they reject conceptual-level values universal to all men. To them, there is only “black” logic, or female “intuition.” To them, individualism is mythical; only the group exists, which determines the individual’s identity. Thus, to them, individual rights are invalid; there are only “group” rights, to be given to each group at the individual’s expense.
In reality, for an individual to identify himself primarily with his perceptual-level, non-chosen characteristics is to smother the essence of his being: his individual, rational, value-choosing mind. Because the university administrator, Al Gore, and Bill Clinton believe that non-chosen characteristics are the basis of an individual’s identity and rights, they therefore regard any opposition to their theories or “rights,” such as affirmative action or Medicare, as “racist” or “alienating.” But because they necessarily must exclude from their group the individual who doesn’t exhibit their characteristics and who transcends his own perceptual-level differences with other men by sharing or trading with them conceptual-level values, the group-worshipers ultimately bring onto themselves exactly what they claim individualism engenders: racism and alienation — and irrational divisions and enmity among men.
Unless it can restore individualism, America is creeping ever-more toward the bloody conflicts that continually plague regions such as the Balkans, which are caused by group-worship.
1. Peter Schwartz, Return of The Primitive, Penguin Putnam Inc., 1999 (p. 250).
2. Jason Zengerle, “The Gatekeeper,” The New Republic, March 22, 1999.
3. Ken West, “Please Mr. Clinton, Let Us Fend For Ourselves,” AOB News, March/April 1996.