Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

Defending the West

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As is so often true, the nature of our civilization has been seen more clearly by its enemies than by most of its friends …
— F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (1944)

Several people have asked why Tashfeen Malik, the woman who participated with her husband in the San Bernardino attack last week, would abandon her infant daughter to go on a shooting rampage that was certain to lead to her death. It is a good question, provided we don’t settle for a platitude as an answer.

We will never know for sure what was going on in her mind; Tashfeen took her secrets with her to her demise. However, the current thinking is that she “self-radicalized,” meaning that she raised her hand into the ether and said, “Here I am; give me a mission.”

What would a person be thinking that she would do this?

Individualism

Her behavior doesn’t make sense to us, because we believe that it is wrong:

  • To throw your life away on a suicide mission;
  • To demand of another person to undertake a suicide mission except in a military combat situation (and then with restrictions);
  • To kill innocent people.

However, many people don’t know where these believes came from, or realize that through most of recorded history these principles were not accepted.

The idea that every person’s life is an end in itself — that your life is not the property of a king, priest or chieftain to preserve or end as he thinks best — is a Western idea. Most of the people who have ever lived did not live and die in societies that accepted this belief.

Even in the West, there have been retrograde movements. The Nazis did not believe these principles, and temporarily removed Germany from Western Civilization. To them, everyone’s life belonged to the Führer. The people of the master race existed so that he could work his will through them; everyone else existed to be used by the master race for their purposes. Even being in the master race was no shield; you could be called upon to sacrifice your life, and you should do so gladly. Yes, they mourned their family members who died, but in the Nazi belief system they had no moral leg to stand on to claim that the deaths were wrong.

What is life? Life is the Nation. The individual must die anyway. Beyond the life of the individual is the life of the Nation.
— Adolf Hitler, February 1943, speaking on the defeat at Stalingrad.

We don’t accept this thinking. While we recognize that the individual will die anyway, we don’t look at the nation — or the faith, or the ethnic group — as the source of meaning to which individuals are fungible members. We don’t consider the Nation to exist beyond the individual, and certainly not above the individual.

The proper definition of individualism is the belief in weighting the value of the individual over the value of the group, society or nation where these conflict. There is a spread range of individualistic beliefs, but all of them at their core assert that the default position is that it is not OK to sacrifice individual people for the good of the group.

People who do not hold individualists beliefs often have a simplistic way of viewing individualism, convincing themselves that there is no heroism possible in an individualistic society. This is not true. We have police and firefighters who put their lives on the line for others every day. We have soldiers, sailors and airmen with continuing traditions of heroism and sacrifice.

Autonomy

As individuals whose lives have value in and of themselves, we get to choose how we live, within certain parameters. We get to choose our own beliefs. We get to choose what we will do to earn a living and what we will do in our free time. We can choose where we will live and with whom we will associate. All this ability to choose is called autonomy. Provided we do not break the law or injure others, we are sovereign over ourselves.

Autonomy is fun when I get the benefit of it. It is less fun when my adult children assert their autonomy and they won’t listen to me. But they have to earn their own beliefs. Furthermore, they are individuals, too. In an individualist society, they get to choose for themselves what their lives will be like. Even if they have to learn things the hard way, it’s their way.

Periodically, people in the West get all misty-eyed about clans and folk community, with a sentimental idea of the benefits of giving up autonomy in order to belong. However, we have real, living examples of folk communities with low autonomy, such as the Pashtuns of Afghanistan:

Their ancient and eternal code of conduct is Pashtunwali, or “The Pashtun Way.” The reason for following Pashtunwali is to be a good Pashtun. In turn, what a good Pashtun does is follow Pashtunwali. It is self-reinforcing because any Pashtun who does not follow Pashtunwali is unable to secure the cooperation of other Pashtuns, and has very low life expectancy, because ostracism is generally equivalent to a death sentence. Among the Pashtuns, there is no such thing as the right to life; there is only the reason for not killing someone right there and then. If this seems unnecessarily harsh to you, then what did you expect? A trip to Disneyland?
— Dmitri Orlov, The Five Stages of Collapse

Yes, most of the Western-born detractors of Western Civilization do expect a trip to Disneyland, and if they ever got what they were asking for, they would be fatally disappointed. In a society such as the Pashtun, there is no autonomy for the individual. For example, you don’t get to choose not to carry out a vendetta; to fail to fulfill your obligation would make you less than a man and unworthy of respect from anyone. You do what the community demands you do if you want to belong to the community. Otherwise, you can go out on your own, where life is mean, solitary, nasty, brutish and short (not that the quality of life inside the community is all that great, either).

However, autonomy is complicated and somewhat scary, which is why there are Western-born thinkers who long for folk communities and other ways to lose oneself in the collective. There is no grace in autonomy; it’s just you, your choices and their consequences. If you succeed, however you define that, it is you that has succeeded. But if you fail, what then? Is it your fault? That does not appeal.

Autonomy Fail

Autonomy means you select your mission for your life. What if you can’t find one, or think of one? What if you want someone else to take the responsibility? What if you are looking for something greater than yourself to be a part of? You’re sitting around with your life in shambles, when a voice says, “Go kill the slaveowners.” No, sorry, that’s not Tashfeen Malik, but John Brown.

There are people who are don’t want to live in societies based on individualism and autonomy. They find themselves isolated, alienated and adrift. They want structure, cohesion and belonging. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Some are even prepared to die rather than live in a society that does not offer this.

We just got done fighting a series of wars against the Total State. In the 1990’s, there was a certain amount of wishful thinking that all the ideological questions were now settled in favor of individualism, autonomy and the liberal state. Think again. There will probably always be people who don’t accept that outcome. Where we are going in the West is untried, uncertain and can be downright forbidding. Not everyone wants to go there with us.

The Next War

Individualist and collective societies cannot coexist peacefully along side one another. The individualist, autonomous society intrudes on the various true believers of the collectivist world. It did on the Soviets, it does on the radical Islamists and it always will on the collectivists. Over time, disaffected members of the collectivist society will leak out to the individualists, just like my father did in 1956. One must prevail and the other must go under.

The enemy is not Islam. There are Moslems who are not radical enemies of societies based on autonomy, and there are enemies of autonomy-based societies who are not Islamic.

The enemies are collectivists of all stripes who cannot tolerate our continuing to exist as an society that values individualism and autonomy. They think we are so chaotic and individualistic we can’t come together. They think we are too weak to prevail against them, despite our material advantages, because we do not have the will to fight.

They have never been right before. Are they right this time?

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Written by srojak

December 7, 2015 at 11:59 am

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