Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 725, June 16, 2013

The only reason we have plane and subway and
shoe bombers in America is because America
seems like a country in dire need of a good
plane, subway, or shoe bombing to foreigners.

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How To Not Be a Collectivist
by Paul Bonneau

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Every once in a while I get a little shock watching people condemning collectivism, at the same time unconsciously advocating another variety of collectivism, or acting in a collectivist manner. Don't they see? Do they never examine their own actions?

This is of course a disease of the political "right"; those on the left generally embrace collectivism so there is nothing hypocritical about their behavior. Sometimes their honesty is refreshing, even when I don't agree. Anyway it's easier to make an argument directly against collectivism, than it is to first have to convince the person you are talking to that he is advocating collectivism—and then arguing against it. Thus, collectivist leftists are easier to deal with than are collecivist rightists in denial. This is assuming any argument needs to be made, of course; generally I don't have any dispute with collectivism per se, but only against the imposition of it on me and mine. If someone wants to live as a cog in a commune, who am I to complain? How is it my business?

To know how not to be a collectivist, for those rightists who are interested in that, we first have to know what collectivism is. Merriam-Webster online says:

1: a political or economic theory advocating collective control especially over production and distribution; also : a system marked by such control
2: emphasis on collective rather than individual action or identity

Already we can see some problems. This is such a broad definition that it includes, for example, members of a church getting together to voluntarily build a church school, at least by the second definition. Few reasonable people of any stripe would have a problem with such actions; indeed, any free/anarchist country would crucially depend on large amounts of voluntary collective action for society to function. What we really mean when we argue against collectivism is the first definition, particularly the political aspect. In that case, people are forced to participate in the schemes of others.

This point raises a question. When leftists say they support collective action, are they thinking of the voluntary sort, against which no reasonable person would argue? Is that the picture they have in their mind as they speak? Perhaps we are wrong to argue against collectivism at all, since we are in fact voluntary collectivists; and what we should be arguing against is coercion. Coercion would be much harder for a leftist to defend—assuming he goes along with it at all (which might or might not be so). Maybe we should remove "collectivism" from the libertarian Lexicon of Bad Things. Maybe we should force leftists to argue for coercion, which is really what we object to, rather than collectivism, which we don't—that is, to draw him out from behind his usual euphemistic veil. Maybe I should change the title of this article!

Anyway, how does one avoid acting and advocating for the coercive variety of collectivism?

1) Question everything. Particularly, question your own, most closely-held beliefs. Are they collectivist, of the coercive sort? It does you no good to question other's beliefs. You must honestly question your own so if you find you have been propagandized into some position that doesn't fit with your values, you can set yourself right. (This is all too common—there is even a phrase describing it, "cognitive dissonance". It is common because the propaganda machine of the state has planted its lies deep within us at childhood, and reinforces those lies all through our lives via the media. I catch myself in this respect, at times, even in my 60's.) Don't worry, if your closely-held beliefs are worth a damn, then they can stand a little questioning. If not, then maybe you should change them!

2) Keep in mind that the world is 90% bullshit. That which passes for conventional wisdom is often little better than self-serving propaganda.

3) Don't go following the herd—even if that includes your closest friends. The instant everybody wants to go off in some direction, is the time you should be putting the brakes on and start asking, "Why?"

4) There are people whose job it is to manipulate YOU. They are very practiced at it. Keep your eyes peeled for them.

5) Try to imagine people as individuals. Then, treat them as individuals. Don't listen when some characteristic is applied to some group of people. If you are, say, a "white", Christian male, you aren't the same as every other "white" Christian male, are you? If one "white" Christian male is dishonest, does that make you dishonest? If you want to be treated as an individual rather than as a maligned ignorant minority, treat others as individuals. Golden rule...

6) Get control of your fear. Fear is one of the main tools of the state. Do you fear being bombed by some Koran-spouting terrorist? Seriously? Try to get a handle on the actual threats you face, where the risks really lie. Read some history, do the math, whatever it takes to calm yourself. Figure out who your real enemies are, the ones with both the means and the motivation to crush or control you. Figure out who harms you on an ongoing, daily basis (can we say, "taxes"?). Collectivism is often if not always enabled by fear and by dehumanizing others. Don't let the manipulators put you into that state.

It's unbelievable some time, how far some people are willing to go in the collectivist direction once they have allowed themselves to be manipulated. The latest flap about immigration is one example. I don't know how many "conservatives" I have heard willing to go along with such liberty-trashing measures as national IDs and government permission slips for work, just to avoid having some guy named "Jose" at the same grocery store he is shopping in. The irony is that many of these might have (for example) Irish ancestors, who were the "Jose's" of the 19th Century. Sheesh, people, read a little history. Put yourself in others' shoes for once.

If someone calls you a collectivist, that should be a little warning bell telling you a self-examination is called for. Unless you want to live on a commune, stop being a collectivist!

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