I want to live in a community, not a collective
Recent political developments, most notably the abandonment by many Western nations of the principle of informed consent to medical treatment, signal a worrying shift in our public philosophy from an ideal of society as a community of free and equal citizens, to an ideal of society as a collective that walks in lockstep with their rulers.
A Collectivist Philosophy of Governance
A collectivist philosophy of governance treats society as a herd of animals to be carefully managed and prodded into shape by an elite class of rulers, guided by a body of “expert” knowledge. A collectivist philosophy of governance tends to view civil rights as provisional rules to be overridden whenever they stand in the way of pressing political priorities.
You know collectivism is just around the corner when you can be asked for your ID and health status just to go for a coffee, and when your family and friends want to know your vaccination status to invite you to dinner. You know collectivism is knocking on your door when the government threatens restaurants with massive fines for refusing to check their customers’ vaccination status; when citizens’ donations can be commandeered for favouring the “wrong” cause; and when citizens’ bank accounts can be frozen just for having the audacity to participate in a peaceful protest.
Those who see the world through a collectivist lens view the inherent unpredictability and creativity of human beings with deep distrust. Instead of celebrating people’s creative and entrepreneurial potential, collectivists attempt to domesticate it or fit it into a straitjacket designed by public functionaries. Collectivists seek to micromanage citizens’ lives, and leverage the resources of the administrative state with a view to engineering optimal social outcomes, or achieving the “greater good of the greater number.”
Seeing the World Through the Eyes of a Collectivist
Cruel and oppressive policies are legitimated in a collectivist society in reference to some notion of collective utility. But collective utility almost always functions as an ideological smokescreen for the arbitrary and self-serving decisions - and indeed, delusions - of the ruling class, since nobody can possibly have the knowledge and art required to engineer optimal social outcomes through involuntary, top-down directives (how did grand collectivist experiments work out for communist Russia or Nazi Germany?).
In a collectivist culture, solidarity and sacrifice take on a whole new meaning. “Solidarity” becomes a euphemism for unthinking submission to the arbitrary diktats of the ruling class, while sacrifice for the common good, instead of being offered up freely and intelligently, is imposed coercively by a police state or by a baying mob, that demands blind subordination of individual liberties to a chimerical “common good” invented by government propaganda, a “common good” that many citizens do not remotely identify with.
Once collectivism installs itself as the reigning public philosophy, most of us “plebs” lose our personal dignity and standing as self-governing citizens, and instead become a herd of sheep, to be led this way and that by a political, economic, and scientific elite that sees us as their subjects rather than their equals, an elite that does not have to worry about putting bread on the table, and does not have to live with the consequences of their hubristic interventions in the social fabric.
The spirit of collectivism is alive and well in political leaders like Trudeau, Macron, Sánchez, Biden, Ardern, Daniel Andrews (premier of Victoria, Australia) and plenty of other public officials, and they have made a scary amount of progress in installing collectivism as the reigning philosophy of their governments.
We Must Dare to Dream and Hope for a Better World
But we cannot afford to give up hope or resign ourselves to defeat. We must give ourselves the chance to dream and hope, against all odds, for a better world, just as civil rights activists like Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King did. We need to open up our imagination to what is best and most inspiring in humanity. We need to think beyond this dark moment in our history, when cruel, inhumane, and anti-scientific authorities seem to rule the roost.
We must engage in forward-looking thinking, and dare to conjure in our mind’s eye the sort of society we want to live in, and the sort of society we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in, once authoritarian and collectivist governments finally collapse under their own weight.
Communities vs. Collectives
To think beyond collectivism is to imagine life in a free and open society. One way to articulate what it means to live in a free and open society is to contrast life in a free community of equals with life in an impersonal, alienating collective ruled from the top down, by a political and technocratic elite that is invariably out of touch with the true needs of the people.
In a community, every individual is valued for his own sake; in a collective, every individual is dispensable, little more than a producer or disease vector or taxpayer.
In a community, individuals are trusted to manage their own health and well-being and look out for the needs of others; in a collective, the government assumes you are untrustworthy and selfish, and presses down upon you by every available means, whether “soft” or “hard,” until you make the “right” choices, as determined by government-annointed experts.
In a community, social problems are managed through reciprocal exchange and horizontal cooperation; in a collective, they’re managed by experts who think, or at least pretend, they know what’s best for everyone.
In a community, citizens come and go pretty much as they please. They do not answer to anyone but themselves, their employers, and their families and friends for their whereabouts; in a collective, the government assumes the right to track your movements and restrict them if and when they deem it appropriate, not because they have reason to believe you are planning a crime, but because you failed to take one of their prescribed medications.
In a community, freedom of expression is cherished as a necessary condition for social and scientific progress; in a collective, Twitter mobs delight to see journalists fired for expressing unpopular opinions, and influential figures seek to boycott media platforms until they remove disagreeable or politically “offensive” content.
In a community, private property is considered one of the natural pillars of social order, and cannot be looted at will by the government; in a collective, the government, sometimes with the blessing of a corrupted judiciary, treats private property as a privilege it can grant to its friends, and remove from those who dare to stand up against it.
I sure want to live in a community.
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