If it’s a coincidence that “individual” begins with a letter that’s also a closely associated word, it’s a happy one indeed. Individual and I are inseparable. “I” is the pronoun used to refer to oneself as the speaker, writer, thinker, or actor. Without exception, “I” is an individual, not a group or a collective of any sort.
In keeping with my individuality, I seek to be as independent and self-reliant—a burden to no one—as my abilities allow.
This fact is worth endless celebration. For the profound truth it represents, we should be thankful every waking moment of our lives. I rejoice that I’m not a replica, an appendage, or a cog. Like each and every one of you reading this, I’m a completely specific, utterly unique, self-winding, and inner-motivated one-of-a-kind. No other human in our planet’s history was or is exactly like me or precisely like you, either. I’m not someone’s robot. I will resist efforts to program me or collectivize me into something I’m not. If ever you catch me trying to program or collectivize you, blow the whistle so I come to my senses.
I’m appalled at the ease with which some people speak of their fellow citizens as though they are liquids to be homogenized or tools to be manipulated—not by request but by the force of political power. It’s all for the nebulous collective good, they assure us, but for some reason they are willing to do us harm to achieve it.
A Yearning for Independence
In keeping with my individuality, I seek to be as independent and self-reliant—a burden to no one—as my abilities allow. I will speak for myself and gladly accept responsibility for my actions. And I have rights, the only kind of rights that make any sense: individual rights. I will never willingly forfeit them by jumping into a communal blender for the sake of some abstraction called “society.”
This makes me an enthusiastic and unabashed proponent of individualism and as fierce an opponent of collectivism as you’ll find. In a 2013 article titled “Snowstorms or Snowflakes,” I explained:
A collectivist sees humanity as a snowstorm, and that’s as up-close as he gets if he’s consistent. An individualist sees the storm too, but is immediately drawn to the uniqueness of each snowflake that composes it. The distinction is fraught with profound implications.
If this point is lost on you, then watch the 1998 DreamWorks animated film, Antz. The setting is an ant colony in which all ants are expected to behave as an obedient blob. This is very convenient for the tyrant ants in charge, each of which possesses a very unique personality indeed. The debilitating collectivist mindset is shaken by a single ant who marches to a different drummer—namely, his own self—and ultimately saves the colony through his individual initiative.
Barbatus, voiced by actor Danny Glover, is one of the ants in Antz who lives his entire life as an indistinguishable bit of the collective blob known as the colony. In his last words to Z, the hero of the story voiced by Woody Allen, he says, “Don’t make my mistake, kid. Don’t follow orders your whole life. Think for yourself.”
Reflecting on that poignant moment later, Z sadly confides to another ant, “He just died in my arms like that. You know, I don’t think he ever once, in his life, made his own choice.”
Never to make a choice of your own is, to me, what Hell must be like.
Individuality vs. Collectivism
Individualism embraces human nature, our inherent individuality. Collectivism attempts to thwart it. The largest, most horrendous mass murders in history were collectivist crusades against the individual. Stalin, responsible for a minimum of 20 million murders, is widely reputed to have declared that “One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.”
The collectivist disparages the individual. He tells us there’s some higher moral good to “the group,” especially if he gets to define it or run it. Collective entities invariably reduce to very specific individuals telling other individuals what to do—or else!
Individualism is sometimes portrayed as anti-social. Nothing could be further from the truth. FEE’s Dan Sanchez explains:
As individualists have long emphasized, self-interest draws individuals toward mutually advantageous exchanges: toward “doing business” with one another.
After all, it’s the individual, not the collective, who decides to marry, to form a family, to employ people, to enjoy parties and other social get-togethers, to create wealth and trade, and to be neighborly in a thousand ways.
As Ayn Rand warned,
Do not make the mistake of the ignorant who think that an individualist is a man who says: “I’ll do as I please at everybody else’s expense.” An individualist is a man who recognizes the inalienable individual rights of man—his own and those of others.
Celebrate the Individual
I invite you to celebrate the individual, today and every day. It’s who we are, the way we were made, the way we grow, the way we make a difference in the world.
Lawrence W. Reed is President Emeritus at the Foundation for Economic Education