Brandon Smith is under the weather, so we are running a “Best of Brandon Smith” article.
Tyranny thrives by feeding on human necessity. It examines what sustains us, what we hope for, what we desire and what we love, and it uses those needs as leverage against us.
If you want safety, tyrants will take it away and barter it back to you at a steep price. If you want to raise a family, then you must accept the state as a part-time parent. If you want independence, then you are simply labeled as a threat and done away with altogether. Autocratic rulers are first and foremost salesmen; they convince us that life itself has a cost, that we are born indebted and that all bills must be made payable to the establishment. First and foremost, we are sold on the idea that in all of this, we are ultimately alone.
It is within these manipulated concepts of cost and isolation that we discover the foundation of all totalitarian cultures: collectivism.
Collectivism is a psychological prison derived from a beneficial instinct as old as humanity itself: the instinct to connect with others, to share experiences and knowledge, to build and create together. It is an instinct as essential to our survival as breathing. Collectivism uses this instinct as a weapon. It is a corrupted and poisoned harnessing of our intuitive nature. It is an inadequate and cancerous substitute for something that normally invigorates and supports healthy culture: true community.
In this age, our ideas of what constitutes “community” have been tainted and confused with the propaganda of collectivists. Our instincts tell us that the world we have been presented is hollow, while our controlled environment tells us that the world is just as it should be (or the best we’re going to get, anyway). How then, are we to tell the difference between natural community and destabilizing and destructive collectivism?
Common aspects of collectivism
Looking back at the single-minded and highly dominating collectivist experiments of the past, it is easy to see the common threads between them. Certain methods are always present. Certain actions are always taken. Certain beliefs are always adopted. Here are just a few:
The blank slate: In order for the state to elevate itself in importance above the individual, it must first promote the idea that the individual does not exist, that your uniqueness or inherent character are only a byproduct of your environment. There are many methods to propagating this mindset. Junk science and establishment psychological theorists often treat the human mind as a mere bundle of chemicals and synapses.
Existentialism attacks individualism from the philosophical end, suggesting that all actions and reactions are random results of a purely chaotic universe, while at the same time peddling moral relativism and apathy.
Religious organizations that choose to abuse their positions of trust also feed collectivism by standing in the way of personal awareness, or even making it taboo to value the individual over the collective (though people tend to wrongly blame the concept of religion itself, rather than the corrupt men who sometimes misuse it).
Each one of these tactics is a tool in the arsenal of collectivists meant to degrade our social admiration for individual thought. Yet as desperate as elitists have been through the years to build an environment devoid of independent thought, they have met only with failure.
Centralization instead of cooperation: Cooperation in society is often spontaneous and dependent on a number of underlying factors working together at the right place and at the right time. It takes a noble endeavor and even more noble leadership to inspire the masses to step onto the same path toward the same direction. This is why legitimate, large-scale cooperation is so venerated in the annals of history; such events are truly rare and miraculous. Tyrants and elitists have no endeavors that rank as “noble.” They serve only their own interests. So, instead of trying to encourage cooperation they won’t receive, they centralize various systems by coercion. If you can’t convince the public to abandon their own paths for yours, then forcefully remove all paths until the people have only one choice left.
Economic centralization is very indicative of this maneuver. While we in the liberty movement see a whole spectrum of possible options for markets and trade, many other people see only what is right in front of them: the same crooked fiat money system controlled by the same gaggle of fraudulent central bankers. A large portion of our populace has been convinced that there is only one way to participate in the economy; thus, they act collectively and blindly.
Another obvious example is the false left/right political system. While there are as many political views as there are people, most people tend to affiliate themselves with one of two: Republican or Democrat. Even if you were to believe that the two major parties are honestly opposed, you have still allowed the establishment to narrow your choices down to two. Add the fact that both major parties actually support nearly the same exact policies and goals, and now your choices have been narrowed to one. Millions of people jump on this one bandwagon every four years, thinking that they are cooperating voluntarily, when they have instead been centralized, and collectivized.
Constant fear, constant threats: Fear and survival are powerful motivators. Without ample self-awareness and strength of character, these basic instincts can overwhelm rationality and conscience. Every collectivist feudalist system ever devised has used a “common enemy” or an iron hand to quell dissent in the citizenry and to forcefully unify them not under the auspices of an honest cause, but a terror so profound as to drive them to malleable despair. After a period of constant danger and distress, even fascism can feel comfortable for a while. Collectivist systems are always clashing with the bubbling tides of individual freedom. Because of this, they must continuously qualify their usefulness. There must always be an imminent threat over the horizon; otherwise, the strangling regulations of the state serve no purpose.
Individualism equated with selfishness: One of the inevitable conditions of collectivism is the demonization of free thought. In a collective, every person becomes a cog in a great machine. The majority begins to see itself not as a group of individuals acting together, but as a single unit with a single purpose. Any person who chooses to step outside of the box and point out a different view becomes a danger to the whole. A machine cannot function if all the parts are not working in harmony. Disagreement in a collectivist system is not considered a civic duty; it is considered a crime that places everyone else at risk. As a dissenter, you are not a person, but a malfunction that must be dealt with.
It is easy to tell when your nation is turning toward collectivism; you have to gauge only how often you are accused of “selfishness” every time you question the needs of the state over the needs of the individual.
Promises of a fantastic future: “Innovation” and “progress” are alluring dreams that can easily be realized in a free society made up of intelligent individuals thinking in ways that go against the norm. The more unique insights present in a culture, the more likely it is to surpass itself and succeed. Strangely, though, it always seems to be collectivists who throw around visions of high-tech trains, floating cities and sustainability as benefits to relinquishing certain freedoms. The insinuation is that if people set aside their individualism, their society becomes stronger and more productive, like worker bees who strive for only one thing: the perfect hive.
Common aspects of community
Now that we have explored the intricacies of collectivism, let’s take a look at what it is designed to destroy. What makes real community? What are its benefits and its weaknesses? How does it begin? How does it end? Why is it such a threat to collectivists?
Real purpose: Communities develop in light of meaningful exchange. Their purpose is natural and common. Their goals are not fixed, but evolve as the community progresses. The beneficiaries are the citizenry — sometimes even those who do not directly participate, rather than a select minority of elites. Communities work best when purpose and destiny are self-determined.
Voluntary participation: There is no need to force people to participate in a system that operates on honesty, conscience and individual will. In fact, many people today long for a system like this. When men and women apply their energies to something they believe in, instead of something they are manipulated into following, the results can be spectacular. Progress becomes second nature — an afterthought instead of an unhealthy obsession.
Legitimate respect: The purpose of a true community is not to keep tabs on the personal lives of its participants, nor to mold their notions. The rights of the individual are respected above all else. Again, the more varied the insights of a population, the stronger it becomes. For a community to attempt to stifle the viewpoints of its citizens would be to commit suicide. There is strength in numbers, but even greater strength in variety. Individualism takes effort, time and dedication. A society made up of people who have made this journey cannot help but esteem each other.
Flexibility leads to stability: A wise man adopts what works and throws out what fails. He does not dismiss methods out of hand, nor does he hang onto methods that disappoint simply because he cannot let go. He educates himself through experience. Adaptability, flexibility and agility in thought and in policy create solid ground for a society to build. Communities survive by being able to admit when a mistake has been made and by being open to new options. Rigid systems, like collectivist systems, cannot function unless the people conform to the establishment and its deficiencies. Communities function best when the establishment conforms to the people and the truth.
Mutual aid: Collectivist systems are notorious for promoting the idea that “we are all one.” However, they usually end up becoming the most antisocial and uncaring cultures to grace the planet. You cannot centralize or enforce charity because then it is no longer charity, but slavery. Citizens of communities, on the other hand, actually seek to help each other — not because they expect immediate returns or because it’s “good for the state,” but because they value an atmosphere of benevolence. The generosity of community helps individuals detach from dependence on government, or bureaucracy. The less dependence on centralized authority, the stronger and safer everyone becomes.
Mutual defense: While collectivism sacrifices its participants for some undefined “greater good,” communities defend one another, knowing that if the fate of one’s neighbor is ignored, the fate of oneself may also be ignored by others. No one is “expendable” in a community. Everyone is expendable in a collective.
Building community in a modern world
The task of constructing meaningful community today is daunting, but crucial. In an increasingly centralized and desensitized world, the only recourse of the honorable is to decentralize and to reintroduce the model of independence once again. This starts with self-sufficient communities and solid principles. It starts with unabashed and unwavering pride in the values of sovereignty and liberty. It starts with a relentless pursuit of balance and truth. It starts with an incredible amount of hard work.
The trappings of collectivism sometimes seem insurmountable. The mindless devotion of our friends and family to a system that harms them can cause us to lose hope and to lose focus. We must remember how collectivism operates: by removing the power of choice from the equation. If we return that power, then many people who we may have once deemed “lost causes” might awaken as well. By exposing the masses to another option, a better option, we undo years of lies and lengths of chain. If there was ever a perfect moment to begin this battle, now is the time. Americans are still searching for solutions, and they are not too fearful to pursue them once they are found.