Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why liberals attack individualism

Written by Dr. Joel Wade
Friday, 23 May 2008

One of the things that I noticed over the years working as a psychotherapist, is how so many of my colleagues who were so compassionate and caring on certain levels, could be so rigid and judgmental when it came to differing political ideas.

Most of my colleagues have been politically to the left to one degree or another, and I often found it odd and irritating how harshly critical they could be of conservatives, while holding a stance of unconditional acceptance toward their clients in general.

I have not found the same dynamic to the same degree with people on the right. Sure people have strong opinions, and sometimes the discussions or arguments can get heated, and I have certainly seen examples of rude and spiteful behavior from a few conservatives here and there, but this is not usually conservative style.

From the right, in general, there is usually a more respectful tone than from the left. How come?

There are many reasons, of course. Conservatives tend to more often attend church, give personally of their time and money (rather than working to have the government give of other people's time and money on their behalf), and to have families. They also tend to be happier than liberals. This all reflects and encourages a more generous spirit.

It may be that it is not conservatism that makes a person more accepting, but that more accepting people tend to become conservatives. (In an interview years ago, the drummer for the rock group Van Halen, Alex Van Halen was asked about the group's wild behavior. He replied: "We're not like this because we're a rock band, we're a rock band because we're like this.")

Whichever may be the case, there is one quality in particular that I want to focus on, that is central to the relative benevolence of conservatives. I want to focus on it because it is often the object of attack on the part of those on the left, and because I believe that it is a fundamental dynamic in the lives of most conservatives:


Those on the left attack individualism, claiming that it promotes selfishness, greed, inequality, lacks compassion and rests on a kind of dog-eat-dog social Darwinism. (Though dogs generally do not eat dogs, and social Darwinism was in fact a progressive fascist idea - See Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism)

Individualism breeds compassion and acceptance of our differences, because the individualist reveres his or her own unique qualities, and cannot, without mind-bending hypocrisy, or pathological narcissism, avoid doing the same with respect to others.

For a collectivist, compassion involves social justice - making sure that everyone gets stuff, and as much as possible an equal allotment of stuff. The stuff in question may be food, shelter, clothing, money, health care, social security, or self-esteem. But it tends to boil down to who gets how much of the imaginary pie.

This means in practice that the collectivist believes that there is an ideal way to be. I have heard people on the left assert that nobody should earn more than $100,000 a year. Others claim that everyone should have a certain amount of psychotherapy (these would be therapists calling for this, of course), and an obvious example of such leveling is in the movement for politically correct speech.

Talk to a leftist, and you will likely find within them an ideal, a mental image of how we all should be - which means in practice that they would like to force you to be the way they would like you to be.

For an individualist, on the other hand, there is an inherent contradiction to such a stance. An individualist knows that we are all different. In fact, an individualist loves the idea that we are all different. That is the big idea, after all. There would be no individualism without our differences.

It is this fundamental premise that requires the individualist, even a grumpy and judgmental individualist, even an idealistic individualist, to be more accepting of the differences he or she sees in others. It is a structural necessity.

An idealistic individualist has to struggle with the contradictions and conflicts between his or her ideal, and the premise of individualism. There are limits to how un-accepting of differences an individualist can be.

Notice that I do not use the word tolerance here. Tolerance means putting up with something that is repugnant or antithetical to one's values. A conservative is not likely to be tolerant of a terrorist, or a traitor, or a criminal. But a conservative is likely to be more accepting of the wide range of behavior that human nature propagates, for better or worse.

An individualist does not need the world to conform to his or her image in order to be happy. An individualist knows that individuals grow and change at their own pace, and in ways that are unique, and that the course of a life is a creative process - often a very messy creative process.

For an individualist, society is not a singular phenomenon that can be shaped and molded by men into some optimally functioning whole. Society is a group of individuals being sociable with each other. When done with grace and a sense of self-responsibility, this can be a nice thing; when done with rudeness and a sense of entitlement, not so nice.

An individualist does not particularly care about "the poor", or "blacks", or "gays", or "farmers", or "teachers" - because these are categories; groupings of ideas. These categories work for the collectivist who seeks to mold society into a particular configuration: "You blacks, over there, we will help you in this way; teachers, over there, this is the help that you will receive..." etc.

These categories are not real people, they are diagrams on a flow chart. They are the core of Democrat Identity Politics - over which Hillary and Obama are tearing each other to shreds. He is not an individual man running for president on his own character, vision, and experience, he is The Black Candidate; she is not an individual woman running for president on her own character, vision, and experience, she is The Female Candidate.

The compassion and acceptance of the individualist is toward the real people in his or her life, and the real people toward whom he seeks to engage with or help. And when he or she does seek to help someone, it is more personal.

The great strength of heart of the conservative is that, as an individual, caring for other individuals, he or she is caring for actual human beings. People are not an abstraction, they are real flesh and blood; as different as can be, but with qualities that we can recognize in ourselves.

The individualist is more accepting, more compassionate, more forgiving, because humanity is not a concept; it is the living, breathing person right there. And that person has a unique value all his own.

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