A conservative recently wrote (though hasn’t yet published) that my statement that this blog is committed to our collective welfare is what’s wrong with this blog, this preconceived notion I am imposing on the discourse here, promoting a collectivist rather than individualist orientation. But what individualist orientation, that is even vaguely consistent with our fundamental shared values, does not privilege our collective welfare? For what is our collective welfare, other than some function of our combined individual welfares?
If someone is not advocating for our collective welfare, even if a social system that benefits some at the expense of others, or that leaves some to suffer horribly, then what are they advocating for? Consider, for instance, the argument, that I consider erroneous but that certainly is a valid argument to make, that we are all better off in an uncompromised lottery of life’s fortune, each left to his or her own fate, or to whatever non-governmental alliances they can form, all pursing only their own interests by any and all means that they can, unfettered by any collectively imposed constraints, than in any more equitable system, because at least, in such a lottery, each has some chance of winning, whereas in a more equitable order everyone loses (or so the argument goes). Even that erroneous argument is an argument about why such a lottery is in our collective interest. So who would refuse to engage in discourse about what is in our collective interest, if even the argument that a Hobbesian war of all against all is the best of all possible worlds is admissible in such discourse?
The answer: People whose ideology is inherently absurd. Those who argue against working toward having a functioning society, including a functioning government which constrains individual freedom in ways which serve our collective interests (as our Founding Fathers knew was a necessary part of the challenge, and as our Constitution set out to do), can’t frame it as an argument about what is in our collective interests, because their position is ultimately absurd if they do. And they can’t frame it in any other way, because, again, their position is absurd if they do.
If one is not arguing that their preferred policy is in our collective interest, then why should anyone care about their argument, or favor their policy? If they’re arguing for something other than our collective interest, what is it? Their own individual interests, which serve no one else’s interests? Some group’s interests, which serve no other group’s interests? No one’s interests at all? Some blind bit of dogma that privileges some other dehumanized social value over our collective interest? Why would any rational person taking an interest in social policy prefer any of these over our collective welfare?
The problem with extreme individualism is that it obfuscates this self-evident truth, and privileges a bizarrely inconsistent insistence that only extreme individualism is acceptable, not because it is in our collective interest, but because our collective interest doesn’t matter. And by that argument, if made consistently, we need no laws, no protections, nothing but the Hobbesian war of all against all that I have long considered the far right to covet, which no sane person can argue is in our collective interest. And so no sane person does.
So we have a robust ideology, a movement, in America, that argues against our collective interest, and tries by an alchemy of irrationality to convince itself that that makes sense. And this is why I think we have reached the final distillation of the great struggle of human history, the one that really counts: The struggle between reasonable people of goodwill, and irrational belligerents who argue a socially self-destructive absurdity, pursued with fanatical determination.
But why, then, should any decent human being react in any way other than disgust at this notion that we should dissolve as a society, and be only a jungle of conflict and mutual predation? And how can we be anything else without discussing the parameters of what that something else should look like, to best serve our collective interests? Why should anyone embrace an agenda seeking, stupidly, the lose-lose outcome of absolute conflict, rather than the win-win outcome of a well ordered society, perhaps one characterized by well-framed cooperative competition?
Extreme individualists are literally “enemies of society”. Well, here’s my olive branch: Let’s rid ourselves of this absurdity, and agree that we are always discussing what is in our collective interests, regardless of what you think it is. And, by recognizing this, maybe we can finally engage in some rational and constructive public discourse.