There seems to be a growing acceptance of the notion that we each are free independent individuals and as a consequence we not only can, but also should, order life in society accordingly.
Being free independent individuals necessarily means people can freely do as they please or more specifically that they should do as they wish for their own pleasure—(my) life is all about me getting what’s mine without interference. Apart from being unencumbered in seeking what we want, this belief also implies there is no obligation that an individual has to other individuals, because such obligation would be tantamount to an imposition (by another) upon one’s freedom to act as he/she desires.
Being independent also means I depend on no one else and no one else depends on me—everyone is on his/her own. This implies that we each are separate with different intentions, hence the importance of being free to enact these intentions. I think and do for me and only me.
With collective action requiring individuals to follow an idea that is likely not one’s own, it leads to everyone’s action being constrained or circumscribed by this idea. Thus acting as or in a collective is something that must be rejected by free independent individuals—there can only be free independent individual action if there is no constraint or obligations. That is, free independent individual concept as the overarching theory to guide order-creating policy necessarily means collective concerns are denied out of existence. Thus, action upon each other (in pursuit of self-interest) is far more likely than acting with each other (in support of collective interests).
[Note following this idea might not even be possible because it equates to restricting one’s action by the imposed idea of another—specifically that you ought to act as if you are a free independent individual. Hence this essentially means that another’s idea for how to order life is imposed upon your life and in conforming to the idea of someone else you would no longer be acting from your own idea as a free and independent individual!]
A Thought Experiment
Let’s conduct a thought experiment where we take the notion of free independent individuals to its logical conclusion. In this experiment we make the assumption that free independent individuals is the foundational principle upon which life is structured.
So we have a number of free independent individuals—a crowd of people—inhabiting Earth. In this created world of free independent individuals each roams about following his/her own plans in pursuit of his/her own ideas unfettered by the ideas, needs or wishes of another. Everyone is on his/her own doing his/her own thing! Now let’s fast forward to the future to see what has come of this world of free independent individuals doing his/her own thing.
Absent of collective shared values, laws and ideas of what is right and good there is no rationale for or vision of a ‘we’ and hence no government. After all a system of governance is antithetical to the notion of free independent individuals who believe that their freedom rests upon them not being encumbered and having no inherent or institutionalized obligations to others that would impinge upon them acting in accordance with their own plan for pursuing their own interests. So for example, in place of government, we see each individual ensuring his/her own safety and security through his/her individual idea that each believes affords him/her safety and security. Likely fearful of each other they each equip themselves with weapons of their choice for protection.
Also there are no other public services simply because there is no vision of a collective—a.k.a. a public—there are only autonomously acting independent individuals. In short there is no need for any public anything since each has the unquestionable right to act independently and free from accordance with or obligation to the ideas of another person or persons. Individual rights are supreme.
Moreover, in this world we see each person learning independently (of course) on his/her own. Learning is purely individual learning since accepting ideas from another would necessitate displacing one’s own idea with that of another’s and would equate to another’s idea directing one’s actions, which is counter to free independent individual action. Also as a result there is an absence of scientific knowledge, as both science and its advancement would be impossible without cooperative and collaborative action. Generally the advancement of knowledge among a crowd of individuals is quite unlikely because following or working with the ideas of others would be strongly resisted among independently acting individuals—creative and synthetic thinking would be rare.
Because the efficient and effective functioning of any system rests upon collective action there are no such systems in this free independent individual world. Therefore the existence of a functioning system of exchange and economic activity, as well as the development of industries and business organizations would not be possible. The whole idea of free independent people willfully coming together in support of the accomplishment of another’s idea and interests—especially when no obligation can be assumed from the other to them—is antithetical to unbridled autonomy, to a world of free independent individuals.
With each free and independent individual acting as if each has dominion over the resources nature provides, each will use them as he/she sees fit. That is to say, there is no concern for either what is left for others or how it is left for others, since either of these implies an individual has an obligation to or is constrained by the others. Again this runs smack in the face of being independent of other individuals. Stewardship of the environment, not only for one’s self but for all others who have or will have a need for these resources is a concept that cannot be embraced within this world.
Moreover, to the extent that doing one’s own thing allows for procreation we have the corresponding (although remote) possibility of future generations of free independent individuals. That is, the likelihood of this is near zero since it requires two independent individuals giving up their independence to be dependent on each other and to be obligated to a third individual. If this remote possibility did materialize, clearly infant mortality would be off the chart (100%) since newborn human beings could not live for long as free and independent beings. In other words, since the development of a human being requires one or more individuals being obligated to and responsible for the child’s development, this required collective action is antithetical to a world of unbridled autonomy.
My life is all about me getting what’s mine cannot be the way to a high performing society, much less a healthy and harmonious society. Why? A society of people implies the existence of a collective, a ‘We’ and not merely a crowd of ‘Me’s’. Being free independent individuals does not necessarily mean we should freely do as we please or more specifically that we should do as we wish for our own pleasure.
History provides more than enough examples of intelligent individuals (acting as if they are free independent individuals) without a complimentary understanding and heartfelt sense of oneness with other beings doing horrible things. The 2008 Financial Crisis is a case in point where unencumbered people inflicted harm upon many others in their pursuit of their own interest; there was no felt concern or responsibility for the consequences others might experience, there was no sense of ‘we’.
This thought experiment, which takes the belief that human beings are at base free independent individuals to its logical conclusion, clearly shows the idea to be more fantasy and fabrication than fact. It should be clear from this thought experiment that free independent individuals as a principle for life is a recipe for the destruction. If people critically think about this notion the vast majority will acknowledge its falsehood and its destructive impact on society.
Interdependent Not Independent
Acting as if we are free independent individuals is antithetical to our very nature. It is counter to developing humanly productive relationships for the satisfaction of our inter-subjectness—we are social beings not merely separate independent beings. Consequently by structuring our life following the idea that we are free independent individuals—that we have no connection and obligation to each other—we necessarily lose our sense of humanness. We become less than human, with an increased likelihood of committing inhumane acts—all in the name of independent individual freedom.
So people are not simply independent beings but rather social beings who must communicate and commune with other individuals in a social system for mutual development, for both individual and collective development. Consequently, each individual requires being in helping relationships with others for the development of each other’s potential. Individuals need to harmonize with other individuals, as there is an inter-subject aspect to being human as much as there is an individual intra-subject characteristic. Human beings are social beings as much as they are individual biological beings—people exist collectively not strictly individually.
Collectivism is no more a dirty word than is individualism. To deny or renounce the need for collectivism is to refuse one’s own humanity. The individual and the collective are part and parcel to our humanness, thus being human means we have a responsibility to both.
Of course as individuals we have the right to pursue our interests but we also have the responsibility to do so without impinging upon the right of others to do the same, now and in the future! Moreover while we have the responsibility to develop our humanness we also have the responsibility to facilitate its development in others. Accordingly, we must act as individual agents as well as collaborative parts of a community. This is not an either/or choice. It is important that we each understand our (shared) nature and the fact that we each impact the environment within which we all live.
If we only could see that we are deeply interconnected and that we truly need each other—if we can transcend self-interest—then we’d have little difficulty embracing our responsibilities to each other and accordingly making our society a more human society. The solution to our difficulties will not emerge by attaching to one end of the individual to collective spectrum. Doing so would lead to self-destruction. Responsible people will not be selfish and short sighted and thus not act in a way that would diminish the prospects for the continued quality of life of all individuals. By transcending self-interest and embracing our I-We nature we can each lead the evolvement of our society to a higher level of human existence ensuring a brighter future for generations to come.