Monday, July 7, 2008

The Dangers of Groupthink

    Do you consider yourself an individual or a member of a group? "I'm an individual, of course," you answer. Well, it might surprise you to find out that according to most social scientists, as well as many policymakers in positions of great power, you're a member of a group first and an individual a distant second. This is not only a wrong-headed way of looking at people, but it is extremely dangerous; it produces horrific outcomes, and has resulted in the deaths of untold millions of human beings.

    Let's get one piece of tedious terminology out of the way right off the bat. It's a great nine-dollar term that you can throw around with your friends next time you're have a few beers with them. It is methodological individualism. It means that in any discussion of people—of societies, cultures, nations—the individual human being is the proper unit of analysis, not the group.

    Recent history is full of examples of what we could call "group-think": considering groups to be the proper unit of analysis rather than individuals. Adolf Hitler practiced group-think. He thought of Aryans as the Master Race, not as individuals but as a group. And he thought of Jews as another group. He never thought of them as individual human beings, but as a sub-human group fit only for liquidation.

    Joseph Stalin felt the same way about the Kulaks, the small land holders of the southern Soviet Union. They were a group, or to use Marxist analysis, a class, that stood in the way of achieving the Communist paradise that Stalin wanted. He wiped them out, perhaps as many as fifty million of them according to the figures that Russian historians are turning up in their archives.

    No one seems to know how many millions Mao Zedong murdered in his quest to remove undesirable "groups" from Chinese society during his Cultural Revolution.

    There are plenty of lesser, but no less horrible, examples. In Rwanda in 1994, the Hutus slaughtered eight hundred thousand Tutsis not as individuals, but as a group. Serbs killed Bosnians as a group during their ethnic cleansing. Pol Pot of Kampuchia reputedly murdered anyone who wore glasses because they were members of a group of intellectuals rather than being workers. Women in the Islamic world suffer all sorts of injustices because they are members of a group. We could go on and on.

    Then there is the question of racism. The United States is not immune to group-think. Since the first slave was imported into this country, and continuing to this very day to some extent at least, black Americans—individual human beings—have been treated as an inferior group, first to be literally owned as property, and later to be discriminated against.

    Linguists, anthropologists, sociologists, economists, political scientists—you name it—all keep stacks of books in their ivory towers that are full of technobabble supposedly justifying a "group" vision of the human race. Watch out for them. They are teaching this dangerous junk to your children. Especially watch out for politicians who want to make you a member of a group rather than to consider you as an individual. They are either stupid or malicious. If elected, the policies they produce will either be failures or worse, they will threaten your individual liberty.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Talk Radio and the Culture War

    Conservative talk radio has fundamentally changed the political dialog in the United States very much for the better. It advocates limited government, low taxes and the maximization of individual liberty. At least one host of note demonstrates a profound knowledge of the Constitution and is a strong advocate of its principles and of the original intent of its framers. This is most admirable. The Federal Recluse sincerely hopes that everyone listens to this man, learns from him, and demands that the principles he espouses be engraved in stone and embodied in every law of this land forever. But we are not sanguine about the prospect of this happening. It is our perception that a number of these hosts operate under the assumption that a majority, if not a vast majority, of the American people agree with them. If only the word could be gotten out, they seem to believe, the Constitution would once again be respected, liberty would be restored, and all would be well. We doubt that this is the case.

    It is often said that we are currently engaged in a culture war pitting the advocates of limited government and individual liberty against those who advocate paternalistic collectivism. Such a war is certainly ongoing. It is our opinion, and we arrived at it reluctantly and sadly, that the forces of collectivism are winning. "Conservative" talk radio is staving off that victory by energizing the remaining individualists in this country. Through the popularity of their programs, they are creating the illusion that individualists are still in the overwhelming majority. But the political culture of individualism has been waning, becoming more and more diluted, for a very long time. Make no mistake, there are still millions upon millions of individualists left, the Federal Recluse being one of them. But at this writing, and for some years past, it has become our opinion that we are being overwhelmed by a massive tidal wave of paternalists who espouse collectivism and its political concomitant, statism.

    Those talk show hosts never site their data when they assert that the majority of Americans share their opinions. There is little to cite. Perhaps the best we can do is to look at electoral results since the culture of paternalism first began to assert itself in American politics at approximately the turn of the Twentieth Century. The trend is quite clear. In election after election, the country drifted—and occasionally lurched—in the direction of collectivism and statism. There were exceptions, of course. But these were just holding periods during which statism was briefly held at bay. Any serious attempts to reverse this collectivist drift were soundly rejected by a plurality of the American people. There was, for example, the disastrous candidacy of Barry Goldwater in 1964. When he promised to undo Roosevelt's New Deal sufficient paternalists were appalled that he suffered a devastating defeat. No major party candidate since has been so bold in his opposition to paternalism and statism in this country. Ronald Reagan was the last true individualist to run for and serve as president. Those were a wonderful and refreshing eight years, but frustrating as well. An opposition congress rendered most of his efforts to re-impose individualism in this country fruitless. Newt Gingrich, with his ten-point Contract for America, quickly discovered the immense power of paternalism as he hit the political wall at great speed. Universally pilloried in the press, and castigated by virtually everyone in a position to do so publicly, Speaker Gingrich was virtually ridden out of Washington on a rail. Subsequent politicians learned these lessons well. The Republican Party, which once produced torchbearers of individual liberty like Goldwater and Reagan, now produce national candidates who hardly dare mention individual liberty, much less a reduction in the size and scope of the state. It has reached the point in American politics where such a discussion is no longer considered acceptable political discourse. The Republican Party's current presidential candidate, Senator McCain, is not exactly a paragon of individual liberty. His track record in the Senate speaks otherwise. His opponent, Senator Obama, by all the evidence appears to be a dyed-in-the-wool Marxist, and he is currently leading in the polls. The pendulum has swung that far in just a century.

    The future of individualism does not look bright, at least for the immediate future. As has been pointed out in previous entries here, the United States is being inundated by immense waves of immigrants the vast majority of whom possess the paternalistic political culture and are strong advocates of statism. These people now seem to have achieved critical mass, and no candidate with national aspirations dares to challenge their philosophy. On the contrary, pandering is rampant. Add to these the vast numbers of native-born Americans who advocate these same positions, and the magnitude of the problem becomes apparent.

    However, all is not be lost. Limited government, individual self-reliance and liberty work. Statism and parasitic paternalism do not. We are, after all, dealing with the real universe, with real immutable laws, and we are not free to concoct any hair-brained political philosophy that makes us feel good. The individualists are right, and the statists are wrong. It is as simple as that. Ultimately, human nature with its entirely selfish desire to be free and to enjoy the product of one's own labor, will reassert itself. The leviathan state under which we all labor will crumble of its own dead weight. So, you individualists, take heart; there are millions of us left and we will win in the end. It is inevitable. Reality is on our side, and it is the ultimate weapon. Continue to listen to talk radio, learn what you can, read voraciously, and above all—keep your powder dry.