"What force has a multitude?
They can only force me who obey
a higher law than I."
-Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience"
I live in solitary confinement. What most, however, would consider the literal, prosaic interpretation of this concept is, happily, not my implication. I do not feel imprisoned, or deprived of any comfort or liberty I choose to enjoy, within the limits of expense and reciprocity, viz., would I want what I do done to me.
No, the enjoyments of these little perquisites of not being in rooms I cannot open the doors of do not interfere significantly with my confinement to the concentration on self, and the improvement of same, chosen by me, and embraced with all the passion of my life. Peeling away the dead husk of delusion, and revealing the kernel of self-truth, those are the goals, perhaps unattainable by me, for which I strive. The struggle, the jihad, is attainment enough.
Why do I look inward for my answers, rather than solely to the world of sense-experience, where most believe reality lies? Because reality does, indeed, lie, not in its particulars, the details of life, the interaction of beings, but in its contention that no other reality exists. I do not imply that there are alternate dimensions, or parallel worlds, or anything otherwise smacking of advanced science, or speculative fiction (a case could be made, I think, that the difference makes no odds). I mean, instead, that, with the realm of sensation, exists the realm of thought, altogether as real, and worthier, though by far more difficult, for exploration.
Explore, however, I must, as surely as I eat or breathe. Every sensation, every concept, every vista of vicissitude upon which I gaze I must hold my values and beliefs up to, as a curtain before a candle, to see where the light peeks through the comfortable velvet of my personal ethos. Why this, and what about that, I query, perhaps hearing no answer, but ask I must. Every notion of mine is constantly challenged, not by any outside critic, for who is fit or able to see within to what lurks in my intellect, but by the harshest judge of all. My friends, who find me somewhat opinionated, I think, may be surprised at this, and perhaps disbelieving, but, I assure you, reader, and them, that, though they and you have not been privy to all the workings of my mind, they have gone on, nonetheless.
Where, then, into this exploration of self does freedom fit? The freedom to which I refer is not the paltry liberty of the corporeal form, the orgy of excess to which I submit myself in the company of my fellows, going hither with no clear notion of where to, for how long, and for what reason, but the freedom of the self, the dauntless resolve to visit the foreign shores upon my own intangible globe. I do not refute here empiricism, for sense-experience is the meter of mind, and, surely, the world of commonly held perception will go on without the more ethereal reaches of individual thought, nor do I suggest the existence of a priori knowledge, anathema to the rational mind, nor living only in a fantasy of one's own devising, but I do, assuredly, question the validity of playing bull to the matador of the mundane, charging the cape of perceived reality, yet never touching it, as it is whisked away to reveal the false colors in which the temporal is clothed. Integration of perception, thought, and action makes the character fecund for integrity itself.
In many ways I may liken myself to a tailor, who fits only one suit, unsure of whether it will ever fit rightly, yet continuing to hem, trim, take in, and let out, without concern for the final fitting, for it may never come. The material of my mind is the stuff of which this suit is woven, and the happenstance of life is the pattern to which I must fit it. Only I can and shall choose where to cut, and where to sew, and where to merely pin up, in the event of the trimming not hanging as I think it should, when new material is provided. However, when the pattern changes radically, I must boldly, without hesitation or remorse, recut, though some particularly beloved construction of mine be altered or lost, for adherence to truth is the impetus of this work, rather than satisfaction of conceit.
Why undertake this fitting, if a culmination of effort may offer no substantive yield, due to the inadequacy of my own resolve, or the wrongness of my philosophy, or just because I run out of time and die too soon? Because any less than the most exacting examination of self, and exploration of thought, is a betrayal of principle, and therefore a betrayal of my self. If one does not believe in higher powers than oneself, either temporal or spiritual, or the doctrine that submission of will to a collective confers self-worth or that genetic propagation brings contentment, from where does one draw one's raison d'etre? If there is no reason to be, why be at all? For me, the answer lies within.
In my view (and all that follows here is in this category), the fundamental contradistinction of existence is the valuelessness, and therefore, the intrinsic worth, of human life. Looking at the long view, our race has no purpose, exhortations of the clergy and other victims of wishful cogitation notwithstanding, therefore, the question is begged, to what end do we, as a race, progress? Some say that the eventual gathering of the nations of the planet under one bureaucratic umbrella, as chicks gathered to a hen's wing, is the "first step" towards human accomplishment of its "destiny" of world peace. These people say that, by making this fact, the lives of the majority of humans will be improved, by the application of a common standard of treatment to all. One penalty of this pursuit which is ignored is the loss of the pedal franchise, i.e., voting with one's feet; if all the world is governed the same, where does one go when one does not like the way things are going where one lives? Another is the people who do not desire this outcome, and work against it, or refuse to accept the destruction of their nationalism, or the rule of a few far away who have never even lived in their country. What will happen to them? History shows that those who do not conform are demonized and crushed, destroyed financially, politically, and in cases physically. Are the individual rights of these people, of whom there are certain to be many, less important than the goal of globalism? Perhaps, if globalism could be shown to be more than the concentration of power in the hands of an oligarchy, but no serious scenario can be demonstrated to my satisfaction in which this would not be the result. I find, indeed, this hierarchical goal to be the product of thinking of the most limited, and, therefore, limiting, sort.
Contrarily, some ask how the finite life of a human can be considered the end-all of existence. Does not the expenditure of effort on the behalf of an end "greater" than oneself justify existence to a greater degree than living for oneself only? To accept this view, it seems to me, lowers men to the level of expendable units, fit only to serve. If this ideology holds, why do men want freedom at all? Should not the good of the collective come before all else? Why, then, are there creatures of wealth espousing egalitarianism, yet retaining what they, or, more frequently, their forebears have amassed? Should the wealth not be re-distributed? If these people will not hold to what they profess to believe, how much worth can their word, or their words, truly contain?
Finally, is there really a "third way?" Is there a path between the extremes, where cooperation and individuality may coexist? Certainly, for a while. However, I believe history demonstrates that all government ends in tyranny, or, at least, has so far. Human beings run governments. Is human nature likely to change? Authority is the aqua regia of golden character. The point of government is, so its proponents say, to protect the rights of the people, the state deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed. Yet, is this consistently the case? Or, are corruption, sloth, and officiousness more often the order of the day? Perhaps not for those with the wherewithal to lubricate the wheels of justice, or stay the course of bureaucracy, but for those without it, the "other" system is applicable.
Wherein lies the value of life, then? It lies, I feel, in the filling-up of the self with the experiences, both inward and outward, which make my life worthwhile. Every eddy of the stream I travel is a whirlpool of insight, every minutiae of thought teaches me about myself, and life, and all the persons I know instruct me daily in how to live, without ever knowing they do so. I am man, individual, free, and that is value enough, for liberty, in every form, is the meat of the nut of existence.
Though it may seem that I have here diverged from my stream of thought, I explored this tangent to examine my own basis for my fundamental philosophy of individualism over collectivism. How can I state what I believe without examining it? I do not think I can say: "I look to myself, for all else is false," without stating why I think so. When I stay within my self-imposed confinement to find what is in me, rather than only what is in others, and live for myself, rather than for a collective, it is not selfishness, but sincerity, and, in the truest manner, freedom.
Some call the ideas I espouse negative, or unrealistic, which last they may be, in the sense that, when offered the choice between responsibility for one's own values and actions or the obedience to imposed rule, most people seem to choose the latter, but the former accusation I shun, for what I believe is that people can behave themselves, and should not need this rule of law, but society today has been conditioned, in my view, to accept the dictation of the political and law-enforcement establishments as natural, and not to look within for the resolution to improve.
All, I think, are born complete people, secure within themselves in their minds, heedless of anything but the physical care they require. Upon being thrust into the whirlwind of social interaction, this self-security begins being whittled away, and the heads of the young are filled with the propaganda of society. "No man is an island," the essential nub of this campaign to excise individualistic thinking, is accepted as a truism, yet is on the face of it false. Have you, reader, ever read the thoughts of another? Ever been to the landscape of another's mental meadows? Ever felt another's deepest emotions as they felt them? No? That is because, I think, every man is an island, complete unto himself, able to look to all his mental and emotional needs, if only he will let go of the pusillanimous rhetoric with which his head has become turgid, and accept, in his core being, the mandate of reliance on self, rather than society, and, thereby, freedom.