by Richard Rieben
I have previously written about my experiences as an outsider while living in foreign countries. It was liberating. As an outsider, no one expects me to conform to the local culture. I eat different foods, wear different clothing, have different values and emotional responses, have a different educational background, have different standards … and my skin is a different color … etc. I am not expected to be like them.
Of course, the cultural pressure to conform does apply to their neighbors and to others of “their kind.” But I, as an alien, am exempt.
For the most part, their attitude toward me is respectful, especially if my attitude and behavior shows respect for their way of doing things (without conforming, myself). And, for the most part, I am very respectful of other people’s way of doing things. As long as I am not expected to get with “the program,” I don’t really care how other people live, worship, eat, sleep, and so forth.
And that’s well and fine—until I come back home. I lived (and traveled) abroad for 10 continuous years. Not just a short vacation, but long enough to become accustomed to the condition of living “at liberty”—to develop a degree of confidence in my own, unique, individual way of doing things, without the constant pressure of a culture forcing me to conform to its way of doing things. I became confident that there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with me, nothing I need to change about myself or my way of doing things. I am “right in the world.” And I know this with a kind of deadly certainty. Challenge me at your peril.
I had forgotten how repressive most culture is at a personal level. Perhaps I had also forgotten how difficult it is to associate with people who are constantly, chronically and continually undercutting your individuality … even your best friends; perhaps especially your best friends. I had forgotten what it’s like to be continually told that you are wrong and must change—that you must be like this or that—and more accommodating, to boot.
I had forgotten how the entire advertising industry (and entertainment industry) is designed to make people feel inadequate, so they will want and buy unnecessary products … that it plays upon people’s fear of being inadequate, as a standard modus operendi. And that, deriving from this, most people also play this same game in their personal interactions and relationships—as a power trip: to make sure others are subordinated to the group, are with “the program,” are marching to the same drummer. And to focus a great deal of enmity at those who are not (unless they are in positions of power) out of sheer envy (the great constant of altruism/collectivism).
It is difficult for others to understand that I am not like them … nor do I want to be. I do not share their programmed values, I do not eat the same kind of food they eat, as much, as frequently, or at the same times (on an institutional schedule … lunchtime, breakfast time, dinner time … these are group precepts, perhaps necessary to living in a family—or in slave quarters).
I do not sleep when they sleep. I do not watch television. I do not follow their sports or movies (circuses), or otherwise share the values that constitute their entertainment dishes. These values strike me as unpalatable—toxic even. I cannot, and do not, relate. My values are not the same—nor even similar. I do not enjoy their music. I do not share their sense of humor, nor their standards of physical, emotional or psychological health. I am not one of them.
I have greatest difficulty, perhaps, countenancing the expectation that I share their moral or ethical standards. Nor do I have much toleration for their typical altruistic double standards, the hypocrisy with which they preach Christ and practice Saul. I have an academic interest in their religion, but I do not find any spiritual validation from the swill they are used to sucking up at a communal trough.
I get downright nauseous at the altruist-collectivist mores, values, and ethics that enforce sacrifice of the good to the mediocre, that desecrate human strength, health, joy, integrity and life upon the alters of weakness, disease, suffering, corruption and debauchery. I am continually amazed at the altruist-collectivist’s willingness (eagerness) to accept weakness, disease, suffering, corruption and debauchery as normal. And to expect that I do likewise. No one would expect that of me in a third world country … they would be hoping that I, as an outsider, might have enough sense to see through the local cultural garbage—and admire me for it (or at least be disappointed in me if I didn’t).
But at “home,” in my own culture, I am not expected to be an individual. I am expected to go along with “the program.” It is expected that I share certain basic values with other Americans … of a certain kind or class. And perhaps I do, to some degree, but not where these conflict with my individual values and choices. However, the culture expects that I will subordinate my values and standards to the collective experience. And that it is right to “get with the program,” and to stay on track with the values that “our” culture preaches and practices. There are accepted ways and manners of dissent, divergence and disagreement, but these take the form of statements, protests, convictions or beliefs that are not practiced by the person making them.
Beliefs and convictions, in the Christian, Western culture are not expected to be followed, merely to be recorded or announced. This is undoubtedly true of many cultures, but it is at it’s strongest in Western culture, where the dominant Christian belief system preaches Altruism (Death), while the American political system (the ethics of liberty) practices Life. The discordance, and the acceptance of this discordance … as a mythical mind-body dichotomy … leads to Pragmatism and expediency.
Because the stated value system of the West—Altruism (self-sacrifice)—is impossible to practice, except by killing oneself (literally), yet is demanded by the collective that everyone subscribe to it, a philosophy of discognizance develops to allow us to say one thing, not mean it at all, and proceed to do another thing (without even trying to substantiate it). This is the philosophy of expediency: Pragmatism.
Thus we preach Altruism and Individualism, and practice Envy and Collectivism.
This is an old, old thesis which has been overdeveloped by such people as Ayn Rand. And it is not my point here. My point is that, here, in this country of the United States of America, I am not any more like anyone else than I am in Malaysia, Zimbabwe or India. I am different from you. I am not one of you. I am an individual.
Under an actual system of political liberty, which no one in any country comprehends, virtually all people would be “outsiders” in this same fashion: individuated, without any expectation that anyone is going to share their values or beliefs, or their tastes in food, literature, film, religion, money, sports, work, sex or any other personal values.
There would be voluntary and contextual group value systems that would arise and, thence, be trashed, in the course of time, perhaps such as family values, which are defined by the peculiar, individual values of the parents, extend over the offspring for the duration of childhood, and then dissipate as the offspring come into their own adulthood, develop their own individual ways of doing things and become unique on their own footing. But even that is not expected or allowed to happen in most cultures of the world. It is one of the least attractive aspects of liberty to most collectivized people—they consider this healthy progression of individuation a disease. And, to collectivism, altruism and group-held values, it is destructive. It is destructive to a great many unhealthy, inbred, incestuous, festering conditions of collectivism.
The point of this essay has very little to do with ethics, culture or the evils of collectivism. It has to do with recognizing that, under liberty, a citizen is culturally an alien to every other citizen. The cultural ideal of political liberty is alienation. This is not a disease, but a badge of independence, strength, health—and adulthood. There isn’t a cozy feeling of togetherness and belongingness. These are marks of weakness, dependency, subhumanity … of a failure to develop as a human being.
The contradiction of a great many libertarians, and many who got caught up in the new age feelies, is the idea that culturally, as a group, we will find a common bond in the quest for liberty. Well, no. Not really.
We may, if we could ever overcome our communal, collectivist conformity (which is rooted in altruist-envy), find a common respect for one another as separate and distinct individuals. But there is no assumption, under liberty, that any of us share any values or standards of any sort whatsoever. We share a respect for boundaries, and a respect for our individuated differences, but we aren’t allowed or permitted the laziness of presumption that anyone else is “like” us.
A culture of liberty is in no way similar to the standard, historical culture of collectivism. But, of course, that is all any of us have ever experienced, known, studied or been aware of. Thus, as blinded asses, we “assume” it would be much the same. However, it would not, should not, could not.
Liberty does not result in the same cultural experience as collectivism. This should be a no-brainer, but it is overlooked intentionally by most libertarians, who are selling their brand of dictatorship on cultural grounds (and upon the premises that real liberty would be unappealing to brainwashed cultural zombies). The fact that their salesmanship of liberty is based on a lie, upon varnishing the truth, is the surest indicator that they are not actual advocates of liberty, but of dictatorship (aristocracy, oligarchy).
True, liberty is unappealing to brainwashed, collectivist zombies. But that’s not a reason to lie about liberty in order to delude people into “wanting” more liberty. It merely weakens real liberty by making it more obscure. Real liberty is not a warm-fuzzy. Real liberty is a hard and cold reality—and it feels fine, thank you very much. But it is incomprehensible to deformed, diseased, brainwashed collectivists. Or, no—not incomprehensible. Merely an impossible dream—but dream they do and will (like most of the people on this planet used to dream in regard to the United States of America—before it became Darth Vader’s Empire and the enemy of liberty-loving people everywhere).
The experience of liberty does not give us a feeling of a common bond, aside from basic respect for political boundaries of individuals. Moreover, we wouldn’t feel any sort of “belongingness.” That was left behind in childhood, in the exceptional experience of being a child in a family group—and it ended (or should have) when we reached an age of maturity (if we ever did). Instead, under liberty, and with liberation, we have a feeling of not having to belong—to any one or any group. Of being free to make associations of choice, rather than of presumption. And of being valued/evaluated based up our personal merit, rather than membership in a group, association or race. Liberty, at a personal level, is liberation from the group and the values of the group.
People tend to associate “belonging” with comfort. And, to the extent that we had pleasant childhoods, this would correspond with a feeling of being comfortable. As we grow into adulthood, we can try to retain this feeling through group association or drugs, but, in either case, it is matter of sustaining something that no longer has a relevant context (to adult human beings).
Individuated adults are comfortable with themselves. They are comfortable with other individuated human beings (who respect boundaries). They are comfortable with self-responsibility, self-accountability, self-support—with their own adulthood and independence. They don’t need to join with others for those warm-feelies of childhood. They are not children. They have a different level of existence and of relationships.
Many people say that they are fighting for liberty, when all they are fighting for is their group values, their traditional values, their family values, their religious values … which they want to sustain under a condition of something they call “liberty”—as a GROUP.
Sorry, this does not compute.
Liberty is specifically liberation from the group. From all groups. From any group. From group values. From conformation to the group. From the warm fuzzies of shared values. From culture. From childhood.
Liberty is what children in some countries hope to grow up into … adulthood. This rarely, if ever, happens because we don’t have political liberty, we have collectivism—as a fundamental cultural precept—a building block which prevents our being able to build anything other than dictatorships, tyrannies and totalitarian (group) political structures. And these same values will subvert and destroy any attempt to build an actual political system of liberty (because liberty is incompatible with—the antithesis of—collectivism).
To all my libertarian friends in the United States, I have to confess: I do not share any of your values, standards or goals. I stand for liberty. You stand in—and for—the collective. You may be incapable of standing for anything other than the collective, and I, as an individual, respect your limitations. But I cannot “join” you in anything that you are doing, because it is, ultimately, the opposite of what I value and believe in—the opposite of what I stand for—the opposite of what I practice. I am not like you.
And, believe it or not, I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be like anyone. I am the person I want to be. Moreover, I am the person that I always wanted to be when I was a kid: I am an adult. And it doesn’t get any better than that.
Your President Bush said, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.”
So be it:
Death to the collective, to collectivism, to collectivists, to the tyranny of altruism, envy and conformity … and to tyrants everywhere.
[NOTE: This article was originally published in December 2002, at Take Liberty.com, which no longer exists. Richard Rieben died in 2006. He is mentioned in these other Free Individual articles: “Free Individuals,” and “Dead, or Alive and Free?” Real Freedom Fighters is another article by Richard Rieben.]