Written by Jeffery Branham
A great deal of philosophy is focused on Individualism and Collectivism, weighing the pros and cons of each. My philosophy is no different. But first, I must define both terms.
Defining My Terminology
Individualism is the philosophical and social ideology that ethics ought to primarily concern individuals. Collectivism is the philosophical and social ideology that ethics ought to primarily concern groups, or ‘collectives’.
I hold firmly that the Individual ought to be the primary concern of ethics. Each person must be afforded individual rights and the ability to exercise those rights to their fullest extents, provided the free exercise thereof doesn’t infringe upon the rights of others. This is a cornerstone of ‘classical’ liberalism, but I need to justify why I believe this is true.
Without individual rights that are both granted and protected to each person, first and foremost by the government but secondarily by other sources, individuals will not have a concept of what is permissible behavior in society and what is forbidden. By ‘behavior’, I’m referring to the words and actions chosen by individuals.
The Individual is Vital to Economic Prosperity
Human history strongly suggests that, for a society to become as prosperous as possible, individuals must be granted enough freedom of choice to contribute to society at their maximum potentials. Under all government systems other than the anti-human authoritarianism variants, people have freedom of choice, meaning each person has the ability to make their own choices to varying degrees (the degree depends on the non-authoritarian system in place). See: Industrial Revolution, Enlightenment
In this Digital Age (current year 2019 as I write this), economists and social scientists have the ability to collect large amounts of statistical data and demonstrate which societies are prosperous and which societies are failures by comparison to the prosperous. See: Happiness Index
The data is clear on what happens to economic and personal prosperity when a government is authoritarian: it decreases. Why? Because marketplace productivity greatly decreases when individuals are oppressed or otherwise not free to make their own choices in life. So, it’s obvious that, if the goal is economic prosperity for the majority of people living in a society, authoritarian government is an abject failure. See: North Korea Economy
My Ethical Argument
Because individual freedom has a strong correlation with economic prosperity for the majority of individuals, I can conclude that individual rights ought to be both granted and protected by the government.
My first premise is that individuals who contribute to society ought to experience some degree of economic prosperity. My second premise is the data showing that Individual Rights are required for economic prosperity. So, my conclusion is an ‘ought’ that comes from another ‘ought’, making it an Ethical Argument, as it would be invalid to derive an ‘ought’ from only ‘is’ premises. The ‘is’ premise needs an ‘ought’ for context before a conclusion of ethics can be a valid argument.
In reality, morality is subjective, as people can simply form whatever morals they feel and/or think are correct. However, any code of morality requires a point of reference. When I say ‘point of reference’, I mean the primary construct used to determine right and wrong.
Although a moral code requires at least one point of reference, it can have multiple points of reference. Too many points of reference makes for an unclear, impractical morality. Too few points of references makes for a simplistic morality devoid of reality’s nuances. My morality’s points of reference are Empathy (whether Emotional or Cognitive) and Objectivism (Reason, Purpose, and Self-Esteem for the Individual).
NOTE: I only subscribe to the personal parts of Objectivism (Reason, Productivity, and Self-Esteem), not the parts concerning what ought to be the correct form of Capitalism. So, to clarify, I am only in half agreement with Ayn Rand’s philosophy. My concept of an ideal market for society is fundamentally different than what she had envisioned.
So, I’ve fully presented my metaphysical economic argument in favor of granting and protecting individual rights. Likewise, I have more Ethical Arguments leading to this same ‘ought’ conclusion, but that’s too detailed for me to explore at this time without venturing completely off topic.
The Role of Government
I hold firmly that the Role of Government ought to be primarily defining, granting, and protecting individual rights. By extension, the Role of Government ought to be ensuring Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness for its citizens.
Life is defined, very simply, as the right to be alive in society. Liberty is defined as the Individual Rights defined, granted, and protected by the Government. Pursuit of Happiness is defined as the freedom of each Individual in society to pursue their productive goals, free of unnecessary obstacles that may destroy productivity, so that those pursuits may lead to Happiness, but ‘happiness’ is defined by the Individual, not by a Collective of any sort.
Although non-authoritarian government systems are more prosperous (because of individual freedom), that doesn’t mean the size or authority level of government is inversely proportional to the level of individual freedom, as libertarians generally argue. If a government grants individual rights to its people, but those rights are unprotected, individual rights become meaningless platitudes instead of serious constructs. They can suddenly be violated based on the whims of whoever might fill the power vacuum created by a non-functional government.
So, the real debate, when it comes to metaphysical economic arguments, is this: which non-authoritarian government system is the best system for the highest number of individuals living in the society?
Collectivism Can Be Extremely Dangerous
Many philosophers have attempted to give answers to this question and their ideas have been implemented by real governments, but the most obvious trend is this: governments that are primarily Collectivist in nature have always led to either very little economic prosperity or atrocities such as genocide and starvation. Collectivism, especially when enforced by the government, has generally led to unnecessary human suffering, including, but not limited to, the Communist and Fascist philosophies.
I’m not arguing that Collectivism is bad in all its forms, but rather, my conclusion is that Collectivism is bad when used as a philosophy’s primary ethical framework. This isn’t some conclusion I’ve reached using magical fairy dust or armchair thought experiments. Instead, it’s a conclusion I’ve reached through observation of current events and learning about historical events. Each and every abject failure of Collectivism in human history is a new premise leading to my conclusion. In this context, I’m defining ‘failure’ as unnecessary human suffering, especially when combined with the prevention of economic prosperity by restraining the individual from free choice.
The only forms of Collectivism that are reliably successful are the forms that facilitate the Pursuit of Happiness and/or the protection of individual rights. Any other forms of Collectivism are reliably doomed to failure.
“Taxation is Theft” – Libertarian Dogmatism
For example, a law enforcement agency is generally paid for by taxation, and the primary purpose of such an agency ought to be the protection of individual rights. A violent criminal murdering you on a public street is very obviously an infringement upon your individual rights, so having a law enforcement agency and a corresponding court system to capture and prosecute the murderer constitutes a successful form of Collectivism. Preventing the murder would have required effective Self-Defense. However, I’m talking about deterrents, not prevention, in this context. Not only does a Justice System serve as a deterrent to potential murderers, but it also protects the lives of individuals, by extension protecting their individual rights. You cannot exercise your individual rights if you’re dead.
A ‘controversial’ example (in current year 2019 United States) of successful Collectivism that facilitates the Pursuit of Happiness would be a Single-Payer Healthcare System, which grants healthcare to all citizens of a society. If you become physically or mentally ill, your Pursuit of Happiness becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible in some cases, depending on the severity of your malady, but if you have guaranteed healthcare as an individual right, you’re likely to mitigate that health barrier to your Pursuit of Happiness.
Libertarians generally argue that Single-Payer Healthcare (a form of what I call ‘Social Collectivism’) constitutes a form of ‘slavery’ because healthcare providers are ‘forced’ to serve everyone in the society. However, the libertarians seem to be arguing this under some kind of assumption that healthcare providers won’t be fairly compensated for their labor. However, they seem to be confusing Government Regulation with Government Funding. It’s important to also note that a number of libertarians believe “taxation is theft”, so Government Funding, to those libertarians, is unethical unless the money was obtained by the government in a completely voluntary manner on part of the citizens. I fundamentally disagree with that ethical argument.
If the government is simply funding healthcare using tax dollars, but not interfering with the individual’s decision on what doctors to visit, doctors will be compensated based on their market demand, not given a salary determined by the government itself. Even if you believe “taxation is theft”, that shouldn’t preclude you from noticing a difference between the government funding an industry and the government doing an outright takeover of an industry.
Without the government funding healthcare, private citizens or private companies would be funding it, so the doctor is subject to market demand regardless of whether the funding is privatized or collectivized. Depending on medical bill costs, it’s likely that voluntary, private funding of an individual’s healthcare may not be enough to cover those costs. The existence of successful single-payer healthcare systems that don’t infringe upon the rights of or enslave individuals, such as those in Scandinavia (current year 2019), debunks this popular libertarian argument. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, if you believe “taxation is theft”, you will also believe that Single-Payer Healthcare is unethical.
Real life data has a great track record of debunking dogmatic political arguments, yet some people choose to cling to false arguments even in the face of hard evidence contradicting them in full. I believe people are free to choose what to believe, but reality doesn’t change just because somebody wishes it were different. Karl Marx’s vision of a perfect society may have been an amazing construct on paper, but when implemented in reality, it has been a disaster every time it has ever been attempted (current year 2019).
Ignoring Evidence Does Not Change Reality
If an individual wishes to learn about objective reality, that person should never ignore evidence. The more an individual ignores evidence on an issue they’ve argued for or against, the more detached from reality they will become. Ignoring contradictory evidence while clinging to an ideology an obvious example of Cognitive Dissonance. Depending on the severity of an individual’s willful ignorance, it’s sometimes possible to go further, calling it Delusion instead of Cognitive Dissonance.
The Two Arch Enemies of the Individual
Authoritarianism, when it’s a form of government, greatly decreases individual productivity in both the workplace and marketplace.
Contrary to some folks’ beliefs, authoritarianism doesn’t always come from a government. It can come from a business entity, a collective, or other individuals, especially whenever there is a strong inequality of power and/or influence between the individual and the infringing party.
There are two main forces that interfere with individual rights: abuse of authority and social anarchy.
By ‘abuse of authority’, I’m generally referring to governments using their power to infringe upon individual rights. However, any individual or collective within a society, assuming they have power and/or influence, can infringe upon individual rights. It doesn’t have to be a government necessarily.
By ‘social anarchy’, I’m referring to individuals or collectives using their power and/or influence to do whatever they ‘feel’ like doing while intentionally not recognizing the individual as a human being who deserves rights and some degree of dignity. This is referring to people who use any excuse whatever to justify trampling upon the individual, no matter how fallacious or wild the excuse happens to be. It is, by and large, not rational to behave like this.
The social anarchists’ excuses to trample upon the individual are generally insane rationalizations rather than well reasoned arguments supporting their actions. In my observation, some (usually convoluted) version of the ‘Argument from Popularity’ fallacy is the most popular anti-reason excuse for this behavior in a society (Latin phrase is ‘argumentum ad populum’).
Examples of the Attacks on ALL SIDES of the Individual
Now, I’ll give examples of both forms of Individual Rights violations. ‘Abuse of Authority’ violating Individual Rights includes, but is not limited to, the following: Government endorses or engages in censorship of Free Speech, parent ‘spanks’ or otherwise assaults their child as a form of ‘discipline’, school teacher takes the side of bullies instead of the victim, and a giant corporation intentionally preventing people from free expression. Those are abuses of authority that violate individual rights and I must stress these violations DO NOT have to come from a Government. They can come from various types of Individual and Collective sources.
Next, I will give some example of ‘Social Anarchy’. Examples of ‘Social Anarchy’ violating Individual Rights includes, but is not limited to, the following: group of people bullies a person who hasn’t violated anyone else’s rights, person justifies their nasty behavior towards an individual because ‘everyone agrees they’re bad’, racist justifies hatred of black people because they’re supposedly ‘inferior’ to other races, and school kids ostracize a student because that student is ‘weird’ (again, we’ll usually see this justified by ‘everyone agrees they’re bad’ instead of an actual reason).
Neither the Authority Abusers nor the Social Anarchists generally behave in a manner that recognizes the Individual as worthy of rights and/or dignity. The Authority Abusers are operating from a standpoint of Unethical Egoism. Meanwhile, the Social Anarchists are operating from a standpoint of Toxic Groupthink.
Neither of those perspectives gives a toss about Individual Rights and it’s not even a tertiary concern to them. The Authority Abusers only support Individual Rights if it strongly and personally benefits them in a tangible way. Of course, the Social Anarchists only support Individual Rights if the Individual is also a Social Anarchist.
“SHUT UP AND CONFORM” is the Social Anarchists’ mantra.