A debate on individualism vs. ecosystems

Occasionally social media breaks loose and real ideas emerge. We recently crossed swords on Google+ with Pierre Johnson, a brilliant mind, in a debate about USPS’s broken business model that turned into a foray on individual liberty. If you ponder what drives today’s disappointed liberals and infuriated conservatives, try these excerpts:
Ben Kunz:

It’s easy to proclaim that government is bad and wasteful and shared resources are a burden, when the truth is almost everyone in our society wants more government than we are willing to pay for. By government, I don’t mean the fiction of waste — which is mostly that, an illusion — but the major buckets of spending called the U.S. military, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Those buckets account for most of our government, whose primary purpose is to fight wars or send checks to old people, and any attempt to cut them significantly draws screams of protest from the right (military), left (Medicaid), or seniors (Social Security and Medicare).

The sad facts are U.S. government spending represents 25% of our GDP while tax revenues are 14.4%. Do the math and we’d have to cut government spending almost in half to balance our budget, and no one is willing to do that.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with shared resources, which are one component of society … as adults, we have to give back to society to support the basic things such as roads, education, and clean air that make our group society possible. It’s a nice fantasy that we can live every man for himself. What individualists often miss is a clear field in the economy or hunting grounds requires a healthy ecosystem, and it is only by the many sharing some of their resources and building rules for the environment that individuals can thrive.

Pierre Johnson:

Collectivists of all stripes suffer from mediocre intellects. They’ve never discovered what can be found everywhere in nature and why any ecosystem thrives — emergent spontaneous order. Yet, hubris-suffering technocrats and their sycophants cling to their false beliefs that through their tiny models of scientism, they have suitably captured the immeasurable — a centillion of interaction and components.

Society is a not so nice fantasy. It doesn’t exist. It’s a word of mere rhetoric spoken by those seeking to use force or the threat of force to take from many and give to some. For any true adult knows that this is how power gets seized and maintained, exactly. Power derives from the consent of the bribed, the beggars for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, TANF, SNAP, Section 8.

While all are right to want to live as long as they can. No one is right to want to live at the expense of faceless, nameless others who get forced to make it happen. For adults know that life-extending, longevity medicine exists and the want for such is foreseeable to anyone in his or her twenties. Aging and disease are not great mysteries that sneak upon humans…

For when life gets boiled to its marrow, we see that all anyone has is living through a limited slice of time. Any imposition upon one’s time amounts to theft and slavery. And as income is money and credit exchanged for packaged skills through time, any enforced taking of that income — what goes by the rubric income taxation amounts to the stealing of that precious time. It’s theft of life itself.

Ben Kunz:

Ah Pierre, has it occurred to you that you, as an individual, are part of a larger species organism that is trying to survive, and as such some none-individualistic behavior such as sharing or altruism is an evolutionary trait that, like a man who wants to breed with 1,000 pretty woman and yet is drawn into monogamy to care for one child, helps others and thus the entire species survive? If we define the individual as the species, and not organism, then collective sharing may be a requirement for survival. So let’s take your thoughts to an experiment (I’m testing my omniscience here, bear with me) and assume what brings you maximum individual pleasure is pumping, in one shot, enough carbon into the atmosphere to fry the entire planet … and to continue this thought experiment, let’s assume every other individual on the planet votes a mandate to charge you $100 million for a permit to do so, knowing (I guess wildly) that you could not do so. Is that an infringement on your rights?

In other words, we are not debating rights, but who the rights belong to. The individual or the species?

Pierre Johnson:

As I mentioned to you elsewhere, species don’t exist. Only individuals exist. Species is mere academic abstraction for individuals having alike genomes.

Since there is no such thing as a species, there cannot exist a collective, hive mind that decides in attempt at survival for the abstraction that we label as ‘species’.

Does the doctrine or way of living known as altruism exist, actually? For many consciously claim to give or help freely, but in their acts, do so because they’re motivated to feel good about themselves. Also, it’s well known that seemingly altruistic acts lead to reciprocation. There could be underlying, subconscious factors at work that are yet to be well-understood by those who study the mind.

As to your thought experiment, “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins,” as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said. In other words, it is the equal liberty of others to be left unharmed that constrains your liberty.

Far too many get the whole idea of rights, well, wrong. Rights aren’t permissions bestowed on some by those who wield power and hide behind the name government. Those are privileges. It’s the clever ones who adroitly use words and call such privileges by the moniker ‘civil rights’.

We can go back to the earliest Germanic roots of English to discover quickly that right means straight, morally correct. Saying the word ‘rights’ is shortcut for saying a man is right to defend his life, a man is right to defend his liberty, a man is right to pursue his preferences and desires, yet only within the bounds of himself and through any voluntary association…

Ben Kunz:

Of course, if value has a spectrum of definitions, then freedom from paying money as taxes to support others is only one type of freedom; we should also be free from rules that stop us from owning and not sharing value in any other way. So if we remove the artificial line of “money” as value, where does our freedom from sharing value end? If it is wrong to force sharing to help an old woman, why should we have laws forcing sharing that stop me from eating all the food off your table or taking your car? Why do red street lights prohibit my rapid progress? Why can’t I talk on my cell phone near 10,000 feet even if it might crash a plane?

Any restraint would be altruism; altruism may not exist, because its motive is reciprocity, which is another grab at value. Caught in this Mobius strip of self-interest, any imposition of rules against pure consumption and selfish ownership of anything is quashing our freedom, no?

Thus, freedom can only exist in a vacuum without any rules to stop it.

The problem with this concept of freedom is its logic resides in an arbitrary and fictitious definition for ownership. Ownership, unlike your one Truth, is a mental construct with numerous possible parameters that simply draws a line around some “value” that we call our own. Because any individual resides at the center of her universe and may draw her circle of ownership large, the circles conflict, and individual freedoms cannot reside in the same space and time without rules to limit them for others.

I choose now to draw the circle around the planet. It is all mine, and I will not share. Don’t stop me, +Pierre Johnson, because I now own you, and I will not share you with yourself.

Pierre Johnson:

You ask, “If it is wrong to force sharing to help an old woman, why should we have laws forcing sharing that stop me from eating all the food off your table or taking your car?”

Yet, I’ve explained above, my right to be left unharmed constrains your want to steal from me or to harm me.

Though many might use the word value as one might use a screwdriver as a hammer and another a screwdriver as an awl, concepts are invariant and unique.

Value arises from economic relation which one thing bears to another in exchange, Value gets seen expression of a ratio of importance between two commodities. When one of two things in exchange is money, we give value another name, price. Yet no one would be right if she or he described a thing as value, though that thing might give rise to value…

True, ownership is a construct of a mind and through time, many minds. Yet, this most useful construct is unparalleled for its facilitation of human interaction. For it is through ownership that men interact without violence…

Freedom is the realm where a man or woman is self-sovereign. Only collectivists would rhetorically claim that Freedom does not exist and thus decree they are right to seize the living moments of anyone, dictating to those seized how to live, when to live and where to live.

Officialdom is the realm where men and women seize power and dole out privileges often referring to such privileges as rights in exchange for keeping power. Officialdom demands privilege seekers to surrender each of their respective realms of Freedom.

Ben Kunz:

I give up Pierre. I concede individualism is the center, and I will use that to make the collective choice to share with you a beer.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

2 thoughts on “A debate on individualism vs. ecosystems

  1. First, thank you so much for posting this!

    Second, I’m curious about the science behind Pierre’s thesis. Most science I’ve seen says that yes, we are individuals, but interconnected individuals, operating within a whole that is, at the very least, equally important to us than our individual being. So first, I’m curious to see if I’m missing something in my own work – not asking to goad, but really wanting to know.

    And then this wonderful discussion (so pleased to see it!) leads to a larger question. What would it take for humanity to be what it has the potential to be – proven over the centuries NOT by how badly we treat each other but how well, in fact, we do live together?

    We create our future every day. What conditions could we create, that would lead to our achieving what we have the potential to achieve – both individually AND collectively.

    Wow – never thought someone would get me so awake and thinking on a Friday morning. Can’t thank you guys enough for that!

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