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One of the strawiest straw-men ignited by those with a collective bent is that the support for classical liberal ideas is akin to atomistic antihumanity. No need to delve deeper into that point here aside from pointing out that this is not at all an uncommon charge. Of course, the entire point of classical liberalism is to celebrate and inculcate the emergence of voluntary social arrangements – that forcing such collective arrangements is inferior on many moral and consequential criteria.

Which brings me to a very short conversation I had with a stranger today. I was looking at a solar display at the local zoo when I mumbled that I’d love to sever the chord from my electric supplier if solar and battery technology improved enough to allow me to do it. After all, we’ve already done such severing with our television provider and are quite happy. The stranger heartily agreed that “going off grid” was not just convenient but moral and would save the planet (not in those words of course). Now, since I am such an intrepid jackass, I then asked the guy a rhetorical question, “so, it’s morally appropriate and great for the planet to be a crass energy individualist, an energy atomist?” I then reasked the question by dropping the adjective.

Of course, I asked no such question, but I sure was thinking it.

3 Responses to “Atomistic Individualists!”

  1. Harry says:

    I get your drift, WC, and your point is well-taken. However, perhaps you might have used a different term from atomist/atomistic.

    Not that reading Aristotle and other profound thinkers is not worthwhile. For example, Heraclitus pointed out that one never steps into the same river twice, a principle that has justified many bachelors’ experience.

  2. Alex says:

    I was actually having a tangentially related conversation (with a close friend) today. My friend asserted that our society and culture, at least for the new generation, has emphasized individualism and individual choice. As a result, people have lost something. A sense of community.

    He was not so much concerned about WHY people form communities (mutual benefits from trade, protection, being racist, etc.). Rather, it is the idea that being able to opt in, to choose to participate or not, undermines the effect of the community. He argued that as good as it has been for society to emphasize freedom, individuality, and choice, we have lost something in the process (when it comes to communities).

    This was not some precursor to a prescription for “fixing” this “problem”. He recognized that forcing marriages and communities has too many ethical complications. He was just pointing to something that seems to have been lost since the previous generation.

    I was compelled by his argument although it was hard to separate from any implications of actions.

    • wintercow20 says:

      It’s a good point, I think. To be brief, I wonder about two things, possibly in opposition to one another. First, wasn’t it the radical left of the 1960s that began the charge away from community and toward radical individualism? These are the folks in power today. Second, I run across the comment you refer to quite a bit: that “our culture” today emphasizes individualism and individual choice. This seems to me to be completely unprovable. From the world I live in, I don’t see very much individualism imposed explicitly or implicitly, and indeed much of the social phenomenon that I find myself engaged in tends to emphasize quite the opposite. It’s sort of like the notion of the “culture of deregulation” that people refer to these days, despite the seemingly overwhelming evidence that we are moving in quite the opposite direction. I think the entire basis for this and related conversations is in fact off.

      Again, your friend’s point seems to be on the cusp of being radically conservative. I am sort of excited to see how the political parties reformulate themselves over the next 20 years, particularly as the old stodgy white guys leave the conservative party.

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