Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at thinking, intelligent individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

08 April 2007

Individuality and Loneliness

There is a constant tension between asserting one's individuality and feeling welcome within a group. In fact, we are all very complex and differentiated individuals and we are also mostly social animals. Many of the most difficult choices we make in life are the result of a tug of war between our desire to be ourselves and our desire to be well-regarded and welcomed by others. In a rational world full of benevolent and tolerant people, the tension in this rope would be reduced, but it would always still be significant with most of the people who may hold the other end of the rope. Of course, they will be different in their capabilities, interests, and values in most cases from ourselves. This is simply a consequence of the complexity and the many differences that exist among people.

To start life, we are different in many ways at birth. We are so complicated at the level of initial biochemistry, that many differences exist between us already. Then, we start experiencing the world and interacting with other people and we each have a unique experience with unique exposures to stimuli from reality. Then, we each make a constant stream of choices in our thoughts and in our actions which have consequences unique to our own life. In the end, there can be no question but that each of us is a highly complex and differentiated individual. This in turn means that if you put any two people on the opposite ends of the rope, there will be tension in that rope. Two sisters at opposite ends of the rope will find times when the tension is great, as will two lovers, two scientists, two farmers, two historians, two philosophers, two friends, two bloggers, two unionists, and two businessmen. The tension is always present at some level.

If we consider even just fairly common traits, we do not find it easy to match two people up on any fairly substantial, yet quite finite set of traits. People have a tendency to be distributed across wide ranges, often along a bell-shaped curve, for given traits. Of course, many people may be close to the maximum of the curve for a given trait, but any two people who are close for that trait may be far apart on the distribution curve for another significant trait. For instance, suppose you are trying to match two people for intelligence, talkativeness, energy level, political beliefs, religious beliefs, and sexual preferences. As we know, it is difficult even with such a limited set of traits to find someone who matches any given individual. In real life, especially if one is looking for a marriageable mate, the number of traits that may be of importance is much greater. We would have to add such items as desire for children, manner of handling money and finances, preferences in homes, driving technique, sharing versus specialization in chores, how to entertain friends, how to interact with each other's family, and how to respond to each other's career needs. Bringing any two lives together is a very challenging task. This is true in many realms beyond that of two marriage partners.

The rope is always under tension. Yet, we are social animals. We want to receive and give affection, we want to exchange ideas, goods, and services, and we want to enjoy and appreciate others who are goal-directed living beings faced with many of the same challenges in life that face us. So, we want to find those to hold the other end of the rope who will not yank us off our feet and will allow us to be the individuals we are. At least, this is what we do if we are rational, because we realize that it is important to also be the individual we are. Less rational people will often try to diminish their individuality to belong comfortably within a large group of people, so they can have any number of people from that group at the other end of the rope without being yanked off their feet. In the Northeastern US and California, many people looking for some large group to belong to will decide to share in the socialist and Europeanized vision of government and society. In the heartland, many people will seek this common ground in a Christian community. In India, they seek it most commonly in Hinduism and the caste system. In Northern Africa and parts of southern Asia, they find it in Islam. Of course, this and other aspects of the common culture in these areas are only a part, though a substantial part, of an effort to reduce the tension in the rope. Most of these efforts involve a considerable sacrifice of individuality and with that a pain of its own.

How much pain there was and how much people had a need to express their individuality has been made very clear by the advent of the Internet and the now widespread communication channels opened between countless individuals seeking to find those who lie on the bell-shaped curve for a given interest or trait near them. For instance, maybe as many as 0.01% of Americans consider themselves to be Objectivists. Despite this small number, there are at least a dozen forums for Objectivists to discuss ideas, each with its own unique flavor. Or, consider the general distain for explicit sex and its public discussion. Yet, the internet is heavily trafficked with hordes of people trying to express their individuality in sexuality which they would never express within their local community. The Internet has become a tool also for finding that mate who might best be a match for marriage. It provides a means to filter through far larger numbers of people than one could ever meet in one's local community or travel to see and it allows people to assert their individuality without as great a risk that it will be discovered at their church, their workplace, or by their political henchmen. So, the Internet has done wonders to redress the constraints put on a person's individuality by the desire to fit in with some group of people without totally suppressing their individuality.

But, there is still that tension of having one realm in which one can be an individual and another in which it is hard to assert that individuality. Yet, oddly, very many of those who try hard to conform in their local community are the individualists of the Internet. Many of them have now been exposed to a higher level of personal expression and therefore freedom on the Internet. As they turn back into their communities, the benefits and the knowledge that have come about other people and their yearnings are bound to have a big impact on the level of benevolence toward individuals and tolerance toward the idea of individuality. This effect will be greater on younger people who came of age on the Internet. Community conformity will be almost certain to diminish over the next couple of decades as a result.

Among many other things, this opens the door for a philosophy for living which stresses individuality. It is also a very strongly positive development because it allows those few people who are willing and able to sustain their end of the rope, when it is under the greater tension characteristic of a little-shared philosophy of life, to meet one another. We Objectivists can at least be a part of a society through the Internet. This Internet society will grow if we practice our rational philosophy rationally. As it does, more and more people who can sustain rope tensions in their local communities of smaller magnitudes will be enticed to become Objectivists. The cost of membership will have to be brought down before a substantial fraction of even the American population will be willing to become Objectivists. If we want Objectivism to become a powerful force in our local world, we must practice both Internet and local community benevolence and toleration. The activation energy for becoming an Objectivist must be decreased, or there will only be a very few Objectivists and too many of them will simply be masochists and contrarians, who will be poor representatives.

Even with the Internet, being an individualist and an Objectivist is a lonely experience. You really must be a strong and resilient person. You must have the strength to bear some rather serious loneliness. Some of that loneliness is the result of already generally being a particularly intelligent person with a strong commitment to understanding reality. That already places you far out on some bell-shaped curves. Then on top of that you reject all the popular philosophies and causes of our time. You reject religion, socialism, environmental animism, tribalism, racism, and simple-minded, relativistic diversity/multiculturalism. You stand out like a sore thumb. You seek company on the Internet then where you can search the entire world and still you find only a small number of individuals you can really admire and whose friendship can be treasured. The cost of loving reality is only exceeded by the cost of acquiring a club to join by denying reality. It remains a fairly lonely business to be an individualist and even more so to be an individualist Objectivist.

Of course, the only real Objectivist is the individualist who expresses his individuality, thinks for himself, lives a productive and creative life, and seeks his own happiness. The orthodox, the cultist, the contrarian, and the masochist do not live the philosophy of Objectivism. They are pretenders or in some cases those who would be carnivores. Life is short and there is much to do. This imposes an economy that dictates against wasting one's time in endless debates with those who will not be convinced by rational argument. One must identify those who treat reality with total respect and ignore those who have other primary allegiances. There are some who distort the findings of science, pick them selectively and in as out-of-context a manner as do the environmental animists while claiming to respect science. This is actually a very fundamental attack on science, one which will totally discredit it, if allowed to go unchallenged.

This attack on science is being carried out very broadly by those environmentalists who falsely claim that there is a scientific consensus that the recent global warming is caused primarily by man rather than by a natural increase in radiation from the sun. But, in some Objectivist forums, there are other attacks upon science. Some are attacks upon quantum theory, which while not yet a completed program, is nonetheless not at fault for the reasons often claimed. Another is an attempt to claim that science has proven that all operations of the mind are now understood in terms of classical physics, classical thermodynamics even! This argument is viewed as a keystone argument that man lacks volition and the mind is really just a very complex program that makes choices. How these choices differ from simple conditional branching in a computer program has not been explained, but these claims have met with widespread acceptance on one major Objectivist forum.

The battle to be true to reality is a never-ending battle and I wonder if I will ever find a reasonable and sustaining number of friends to join me in these battles. If I should not carry the day, at least I will never be defeated! I will be true to my own individual nature and to my primary respect for reality whether I fight alone or with a few magnificent friends. Those who fight under the banner of individuality and reality beside me, I will love.