Monday, January 13, 2003

The Herd and Individualist

Victor Davis Hanson is on the mark again. He notes that while the causes of leftist Americans' anti-Americanism are probably various, mob mentality has a lot to do with it. Human beings are strongly prone to mark, accept and champion the core values of their society. (This disposition has obvious evolutionary advantages; a tribe without shared values doesn't last.) When there is a strong trend towards a silly and illogical value, the mechanism works nevertheless. This is where a culture of individualism - a culture recommending to each of its members the habit of reasoned reflection and evaluation of the proffered values of the society - does well. John Ray has explained the connection between conservatism and individualism. The individual's desire to figure out and do things for himself conduces only to small government of libertarian principles. I've argued in various posts that failure and envy drive leftism. But of course, that's too simple. At this point, perhaps we can draw a few more connections.

For an intelligent and educated person, the route to happiness lies in reasoned reflection about how to select from traditional ways of life a set of values, projects, and practices that best suit one's own circumstance. You'll have little luck creating anew; you need tradition. But you'll have little luck just drifting through life without the sort of self-determination that requires the reasoned reflection of the sort I've just mentioned. A mere semblance of this traditional yet individualistic attitude can be found in the disposition to reject and denounce the powers and values of one's society and to call for an egalitarian revolution. It seems to be thinking for oneself. It seems to be a recovery of the value of justice. Of course, it is neither. It is merely to tune in and begin to resonate with the moral frequency of a large group: leftists. It seems to be a discovery of a meaningful way of life. But of course it is not this, since it is too uncritical and, as a result, embedded in error (error about the nature of justice, error about the difference between a value's cause and its justification, errors of logical coherence, errors about economic realities, etc.).

Conservative individualist culture took quite a blow from Marxism. Demographically, we're still reeling. The blow has inhibited the ability of many to find happiness, encouraged the envy that results from this disability, and lodged itself in our culture as a focus around which to gravitate and align one's moral values. In attacking individualism and offering a nihilistic version of justice wrapped in sweet utopianism, Marxism has proven itself to be a meme of considerable virulence. When the members of a large portion of society's elite group are disinclined and unable to love themselves in the sense of taking pleasure and pride in the events and ways that make up their particular lives, it is no surprise that they will feel envy and hate established ways of finding happiness. It is also unsurprising that the basic mechanism that causes people to align with a group's morals will kick in and reinforce the failure in themselves (and encourage it in others - "How can you just live your life while people are dying?!"). This virus has real staying power. It feeds itself, replicates itself, and, in portraying rational criticisms as mere tools of oppressive powers, it defends itself superbly.

Marx said that all talk of justice is merely the tool of an oppressor and never based on good reason or evidence. The postmodernistic Marxist adds that all talk of evidence is merely such a tool. The infection includes the insanely incoherent inference that therefore only strict egalitarianism is real justice. This is enough. In the body, the virus quickly metastasizes, issuing forth both the devastating creed that it is evil and delusional to reject the virus and the psychopathological notion that finding happiness individually, by one's own lights and in acceptance and delight in the tradition and circumstances in which one finds oneself, is a life empty of meaning.