Tag Archives: anarchy

The timeless struggle of the individual versus the collective

Is it possible to speak of individualism these days without laughing?  The concept of the individual and his inherent rights and worth has occupied many of the greatest thinkers and philosophers throughout recorded history.  Aristotle discussed the topic 2,500 years ago and it has reappeared in irregular intervals and in widely varying places and circumstances since then.

These days, the banner of individualism has mostly been taken up by libertarians and anarchists in the West. Sadly, today, we have no philosophers who stand proudly on the shoulders of Paine, Jefferson, Emerson, and Thoreau and enunciate the core principles of individualism to a modern audience. John Zerzan from Eugene, Oregon writes from an anarchistic and individualist perspective, but his books are too dense and academic for most readers in this day.  G. Edward Griffin is an excellent researcher and his talks on the origins on collectivism are edifying, though he has little to say about individualism per se.

Although the West is the birthplace of individualism and has seen dozens of brilliant thinkers espouse on its merits for the last 2,000 years, it has never gained a firm toehold. Collectivism and its modern manifestations-communism and socialism- always gains sway and brushes aside the fractured and disorganized individualist movement. Indeed, individualism’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. People who believe in and live the principles of self-rule and self-reliance seldom want to band together with large numbers of others and hence are easily picked off and isolated by institutions such as the state.



In the East, the various Asian cultures have never produced the rich legacy of individualist thought that the West has. Confucian values remain firmly rooted, with their emphasis on family and tradition. The importance of filial piety, culture, and group identity are constantly reinforced, both overtly and covertly. The individual, as such, has little to no meaning in Asian cultures. In Viet Nam, one of their more popular idioms is ‘the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.’

Whether we are speaking of East or West, another factor to consider is that humans are by nature tribal creatures and we desperately want to belong to groups, to ‘fit in.’  That group can be as small as a gang or fraternity or as big as a country. Hence, the popularity of ‘nationalism’ and its extreme manifestation- jingoism. This longing and insecurity has been deftly manipulated by political elites for thousands of years.Individualist thinkers and activists, whether wearing the label of ‘left’ (anarchist) or ‘right’  (libertarian) have been hounded, persecuted, ridiculed, ignored, and sometimes murdered for their beliefs.

‘Group think’ is not a modern phenomenon. It has been a part of human society since, well, forever. Cultures, societies, nations, governments and corporations don’t want individuals. They want sheep. The want predictability, conformity, and efficiency. They want obedience. And most of the time, humans are all to willing to oblige.

As an exercise in awareness, I often try to do the opposite of what is expected of me, whether ordering food in a restaurant, walking across the street, talking to a stranger or sitting in the dentist chair. Acting outside of the norm of acceptable  and expected behaviors always produces uncomfortable effects on people. Many people become physically agitated when you don’t do what they expect. You are not playing by the rules. Acting as a thinking individual just doesn’t cut it in society. ‘Why are you throwing a wrench in the machine? Why don’t you just go along to get along? Stop making things hard on yourself and others…..’

Individualism as an ideology and practice will never penetrate deeply into human societies. It will always remain on the fringe, as an enticing and enlightening idea, an inspiration for a brave few to try to live authentically, as Thoreau encouraged us to do 150 years ago.




Abused words: consensus, anarchy, genocide, contractor, home

George Orwell warned humanity in his novel 1984 that totalitarian governments of the future would mangle language to such an extent that the original meanings of words would become lost as history was rewritten, and words would at times even come to connote the exact opposite of their original meaning.


Pick up any random copy of a business press release, a mainstream newspaper,  mass market magazine, or a government document, and you will be confronted with this mangling of language on a daily basis. The examples could fill an entire book, but here are some of the most egregious:

1) consensus

There are instances when dictionaries cause more confusion than clarity. Such is the case with ‘consensus.’ Most dictionaries define it as general agreement. But what the heck does the word ‘general’ mean in the definition? That’s open to interpretation. One dictionary says that it is an agreement shared by a majority while another says that it is an agreement shared by ALL. So, are we to say that consensus means 51% or greater, or does it mean 100% agreement?  Most writers, reporters and bloggers today use it to mean a majority but when I was living in communities we always understood the word to mean agreement by everybody, no exceptions. Also, the phrases ‘growing consensus’ and ‘general consensus’  are meaningless. Authors, speakers and propagandists who attempt to gain traction for a theory or idea that they are trying to sell often use this word  in an argumentum ad populum.  This type of argument says ‘the majority believe it, so it must be true.’ Furthermore, it sounds more official and learned to say ‘there is a growing consensus’ than to say, ‘a majority of people believe…’

2) anarchy

Leo Tolstoy


In my lifetime, no word has been more vilified and shredded than ‘anarchy.’ The word traces its roots back to ancient Greek.  ‘An’  means  without and ‘arkhos’   or ‘archon’ means ruler. So, anarchy means without rulers or without government. An anarchist is someone who doesn’t believe in government. Or, to put it in a more active form, an anarchist is someone who believes in ‘self-rule.’ Anarchism refers to the political theory while anarchy refers to the actual practice.

Over the centuries,  further definitions were added on to the original. The second, third and fourth entries in dictionaries  gave ‘disorder, chaos, confusion,’ and other scary words to associate with ‘no government.’

In the years that I have been reading and studying the media, mostly in the USA, I have NEVER seen anarchy used in any context but chaos, confusion, and violence.  As soon as a riot breaks out somewhere, either as a result of a natural disaster or economic conditions , you can bet your life savings that a government spokesperson and television  announcer will proclaim that there is a great danger of ‘anarchy.’

This is a pretty sad state of affairs, and it is nothing more than conditioning and programming of the masses. Governments have always been fearful of the idea of anarchy and have always tried to conflate anarchy and chaos. There was once a time, even in the USA, not too long ago when anarchy and anarchism were talked about seriously. Those days are long gone, and now we can only watch the spectacle of talking heads on television frothing at the mouth and shouting ‘anarchy!’


3) genocide

Few words in the English language can arouse  emotion so quickly as ‘genocide.’ The word came into popular usage after World War II. Dictionaries, again,  can steer  us off course. Most state that it is ‘the extermination of a national, racial, ethnic, or cultural group.’  Does ‘extermination’ mean 100% of those members, a majority,  or just a large number? The word has become so politicized now, and is such a favorite of dictators, propagandists, and speechwriters, that anytime a few thousand, hundred or dozen get killed- from a population of millions- someone is screaming ‘genocide.’ Not only is this not accurate and purposefully inflammatory, but it degrades the memory of groups and tribes who truly have been exterminated.  Certainly, when large numbers of people are killed, we should mourn them, but rarely does the killing  warrant the use of the word ‘genocide.’ Even many otherwise excellent and insightful political writers whom I read regularly abuse this word.

4) contractor

Welcome to the USA, post 9/11! Our government ‘leaders’ have dropped all pretense and shame, and now proudly proclaim WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM  IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. Such is the mentality of government warmongers and war profiteers that mercenaries are now called by the politically neutral and benign word  ‘contractors.’ Even the word ‘mercenary’ does not truly do justice to the reality of  murderers- for hire. Nowadays, our mainstream media blithely and sickeningly will only use contractor when talking about the thousands of Blackwater hit-men roaming the mountains of Afghanistan and the streets of Iraq. One can imagine if a reporter from the New York Times were to attempt to write ‘mercenary.’ He would quickly be reprimanded and reminded that news organizations don’t use that language anymore. The CIA says so.


5) home

I’ve often wondered how and why the word ‘house’ has almost completely disappeared from the English lexicon. As George Carlin so eloquently said, a home can be anywhere -the street, your friends couch, the road- and is more likened to a state of mind than a physical, tangible object. Most people are familiar with the idiom, “Home is where the heart is.” A house is a building,  a dwelling that is usually built by a corporation and meant to be sold to a family or individual so that one day they can call it a home. These days, many people don’t even want to do that; they simply buy it as in ‘investment’, a profit making opportunity.

Pick up a newspaper, magazine, pamphlet, hand-out, or book and try to find the word house these days. It is almost impossible to find. Marketers and PR hacks  discovered way back in the days of Edward Bernays that people resonated with the word home , much more than house . You are far more likely to put down a lot of money to buy a home than you are to buy a house. It all comes down to marketing.

News reporters have been sucked up into this nonsense. How many times have we seen a helicopter flying high over a devastated region after a tornado or hurricane and the reporter looks below at the shattered structures and houses and says, “There are so many destroyed homes…” Selling disaster for ratings.