The foundation of the Western liberal tradition is property rights. To paraphrase Machiavelli, a man will sooner forgive the death of a parent than the seizure of his patronage. One can’t choose one’s parents. One can purchase goods that are a material reflection of personality and ideals and testify to the effort put into achieving the capital which purchased them.
But no one ever considers what lies at the heart of ownership. Yet, that which does is the simplest and most crucial of ideas. That idea is ego, the “I” upon which every thought and emotion an individual ever experiences over the course of their life hinges.
“I” is not simply a product of linguistic structure; it is an inescapable absolute. It’s at the heart of philosophical treatises, pithy opinions and eloquent declarations of abounding love. Even that which is supposedly altruistic- the doing of something to benefit others- revolves around ego. An act of charity, or an action undertaken for the benefit of another, is done because the actor thinks or feels it is moral or right.
Selflessness is a myth. All thought, emotion and action is borne of the internal stimulus of a singular mind. No man can think or feel for another, only for himself, and this he must consciously choose to do every waking moment of his existence.
The daily frenetic world is prosaic, yet it is in such mundane interactions that man’s ego is tested. Matters of principle are simple matters of epistemelogical consideration. Right and wrong and the actions that lead to them are clear. The only real variable is man: Does he have the courage of his convictions?
Adversity pits man against man. The banal necessity of queuing in checkout lines blurs the clearly demarcated lines of ego. The wealth of products made accessible by the myriad blessings of capitalism ought to catalyze self-expression. But, modern society is alarmingly ignorant of the symbolism of free market interactions. Mass produced media, clothing, even coffee brands scream to consumers: conform; join the cultured intelligentsia.
From the dubious union of everydayness and conformity springs the malformed chimera known as “society.” Its patronage, on closer examination, is undecipherable. Like some medieval patriarch suddenly springing to power, society speaks for all on the authority of some ancient bloodline whose roots can neither be discovered nor disproven.
Possessing ultimate, unquestioned power, it behaves as some petty Torquemada, commanding in a wheedling, nasal voice, “Submit or be destroyed.” The penalty for defiance is death by exsanguination. The collectivist vampire seizes at the beating heart of ego and sucks lustily as individual identity courses from the fading shell of its victim and floods its own constitution with new strength.
This horrid affair is made all the more pernicious because it kills in spirit, but not in body. Stripped of everything that makes him by the faceless and omnipotent masses, what is man? This is not a rhetorical question, but a serious one. What manner of creature does man become when he is assimilated into the body of a beast that effectively functions as a metronome, moving this way and that without purpose, as it responds to its prime biological impulse- survive? What, without self-sovereignty and the ability to discern and pursue goals, is the point of survival? What of the second rule of nature- to advance and thrive in the long term? There can be no answer, for the husk of man fully integrated to social pressures has no independent constitution and is incapable of considering these questions.
The individual is the only empowered entity. Only he can sanction or condemn his survival. It is impossible to acquiesce to the supremacy of society’s collective judgment because society is nothing more than a collection of individuals in agreement on the merits of a particular idea. Social consensus is not an artificial intelligence; it cannot learn. It is dependent upon the continuing resonance of viewpoint between the individuals that make up the majority.
There can no moral superiority of social selflessness over the individual ego because society is built on ego.
Also published on Medium.