Two Minutes of Hate for the Collectivists

Column by Paul Bonneau.

Exclusive to STR

I was listening to the interview of Mike Vanderboegh by my friends Michael Dean and Neema Vedadi, and made an initial response on Libertarian Enterprise. Since naming that response “How To Not Be a Collectivist” bothered me a bit (you can detect my uneasiness in that article), I have thought some more about it; here are my cogitations.

First I should say I have nothing but respect for Mike Vanderboegh and for all he has done to support liberty, particularly on the subject of firearms. I am a regular visitor to his blog.

But I am a little concerned at one thing he seems fond of doing: whacking collectivists.

Now, we all know what he means by that; he means those statists who impose on us to participate in or fund their schemes, be they fascist or communist or any other-ist. I don’t so much argue with his disdain for them, as I do with the word he chooses to describe them. The problem is that much of human life is collective action. Virtually everybody acts at times in ways that are properly described as collective.

Go to work, other than in a sole proprietorship? You are a collectivist. Go to church? You are a collectivist. Go to school? You are a collectivist. Fund a charity? You are a collectivist. Play baseball? You are a collectivist. Even the last thing you do, attend your own funeral, is a collective action--although at that point you don’t have much say in the matter!

I’ve gotten interested in the idea of boat building recently, and ran into this example of collective action. What decent person could object?

Well, what’s the problem, then, if “everybody knows” what Mike is talking about?

Well, think about Ronald Reagan, a man who managed to turn “liberal” into a dirty word. What did that accomplish? Although “everyone knew” what Reagan meant, still it was useful to get liberals and conservatives hating each other, even though the reason conservatives actually hated liberals had nothing at all to do with liberalism (in the old definition, anyway). The “everyone knows” reason, coercion by government, got lost in the shuffle. The hate remained. Think how long the ruling class has milked that left-right paradigm for its benefit.

Neither liberalism, per se, nor collectivism, per se, are objectionable. It’s coercion that is objectionable, whether dressed in liberal or collectivist clothes--or for that matter, whether dressed in conservative or progressive or anarchist clothes. We don’t efficiently focus on condemning and ending the coercion, by hating the clothes it is dressed up in.

I have a feeling that this is one of the ruling class tools for domination (a part of the Divide and Conquer tactic). We might call it “deflection” for want of a better term (perhaps there is another term in general use I’m not aware of). Here is how it works for the ruling class:

Rulers are constantly dividing people. They need a wedge issue to do it, perhaps some bogeyman. The wedge must do these things: 1) be something people can be made to hate due to an association, however tenuous or manufactured, with something that ordinary people naturally do hate for good reason; 2) be something that eventually obfuscates the reality of the situation; 3) be something that eventually becomes difficult to question through societal pressures or propaganda.

Example: Gun control. People naturally hate and fear crime and violence. If they can be convinced that guns cause (rather than prevent) crime and violence, they will eventually learn to hate guns and those who use them while never questioning the premises (perhaps because they have become part of their worldview and therefore hard to dislodge with reason). The wedge? “People have a right to live without fear.”

Example: Socialized medicine. People naturally hate to think that others have no recourse to healthy lives, or that they themselves may be put into a situation where they have no recourse. If they can be convinced that a government medical cartel fixes this possibility, they will hate those who fight it. The wedge? "Everyone has a right to health care."

Example: Immigration. People are naturally suspicious of others who are “different,” or dislike those who might take their jobs, or who might increase government statistics in crime rates (never mind that most crime is a predictable result of government prohibitions). If they can be convinced that Mexicans, for example, are fundamentally different (more socialist even if they aren’t, more violent even if they aren’t), then they can split society between immigrants and their supporters on one hand, and everyone else--each group hating the other. Irish were the “illegals” of the 19th Century. The wedge? “‘We’ must control our borders.”

The rulers don’t give a rat’s ass about controlled borders (they are internationalists), they don’t care about the health of the peons and may not even want it, they actually prefer that people live constantly in fear. But they put these things out there to deflect people from this reality and to split society.

Getting back to collectivism, it is a great bogeyman for splitting people into two groups, namely those who appreciate collective action, and those who fear it (even though both groups act collectively). Notice the deflection? Those who hate collectivism lose sight of what they really legitimately fear, government coercion, and focus instead on “collectivists,” most of whom are not in government and have no power.

On the other hand, those who appreciate collective action wonder what is wrong with the others, to hate it. Are they mad? Or just stupid? In other words, the hatred also goes back in the other direction.

Collective action is not inherently bad; in fact, the human race would expire without it. Collectivism can be good or bad depending on how one defines it, but the good/bad correlation depends primarily on whether it is accompanied by coercion or not. In other words, it’s actually the coercion that is bad, and the collectivism “factors out of the equation,” as a mathematician would say.

I think we all need to examine the jargon we use, and try to eliminate terms that deflect us from reality or that serve the rulers better than they serve us. Let’s stop dancing like puppets to the ruling class tune, folks. Instead of whacking collectivists, we should be whacking statists or plunderers or tyrants.

By the way, whacking “collectivism” is collectivist thinking. It’s not treating people as individuals.

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Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 106


Thunderbolt's picture

I think this line of thinking is incorrect, Paul.
It is certainly possible for people to share a common goal, but it is not possible to abandon one's individualism. For example:
If I am a pitcher in a baseball game, my motive is to be the best pitcher I can be. Winning a game is incidental to my selfishness, but not inconsequential.
If I am in a church, my purpose there is to enhance the spiritual side of my person. That it increases the enrollment of the church is incidental to my selfishness.
If I am in school, my motive is to enhance my learning, or perhaps survival, or maybe improve my earning potential. I cannot see any collectivist motive. If others benefit from something I have learned, it is incidental to my selfishness.
If I object to war, I might send money to AntiWardotcom, but I do not become a collectivist in the antiwar movement. My objection is personal and intense. If the movement benefits, it is incidental to my selfishness.
If I work for a company, I want to do a good job for my employer so that I can retain my income. That the company benefits is incidental to my selfish motives.
If I send money to a charity, I do it to make myself feel better about a given topic. That the charity benefits is nearly incidental to my personal motives.
If I carry a gun or join the N.R.A., it is to reduce my personal risk, and perhaps that of my progeny. It retains its individual flavor, even if the N.R.A. benefits.

Paul's picture

It's still acting collectively. Your motives are irrelevant; anyway one could argue that EVERYONE is motivated by personal enhancement no matter what they do. It's beside the point.

Lawrence M. Ludlow's picture

Paul, as always, you miss the point, and you re-define things so that you can be cranky. As  Albert J. Nock so clearly defined it 70 years ago, there is society/community, and there is the enemy -- the state. Nobody disputes this. Libertarians do not advocate "man as an island." As traders, they understand the value of specialization and trade and associations that are voluntary. Most collectivists are not of this stripe. They want a predetermined result because they focus exclusively on their "ends" and think that it justifies the "means." We libertarians know that the ends are always concepts and may not ever come to fruition. But we do know that we always live with the means. That's why we don't abuse them. That's why voluntary is part of community as Nock explained. Don't re-define simply to nit-pick.

Paul's picture

Well, I'm not re-defining at all; I'm using an actual dictionary definition.
See the second item in that definition, which is innocent.

You are also missing the point of the article. I'm not surprised because it is a subtle one - and I have to admit I'm still not sure about it. But to re-cast it in an attempt to make it more plain:

It doesn't matter that YOU, Lawrence Ludlow think of evil imposers when you hear the word "collectivist". It matters that not everyone thinks the same. Other people think of collective action as something naturally innocent, just as with that second definition above. When you or Mike V. attack "collectivists", those people think you are attacking them - even if you would otherwise have no issue with them. And so the state's needs are served, and people are divided.

Look at my example in the article of medical care (follow the link). Perhaps that example gets the point across better.

This is not a question of picking nits. It's a matter of not being dupes to state "divide and rule" tactics. We have to focus, focus, focus on the coercion, not on various ill-defined "isms".