One of the biggest debates in our modern political climate is the balance between what is best for the individual versus what is best for the community. It is not usually at the forefront of our minds when we think about political issues, but the basis for most arguments from both sides revolves around which of these categories is more important. Understanding how you think about the issue of individual liberty can help solidify your point of view.
For many, the argument that anything about the individual should come first appears to be evil, because for them “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one”. This is clearly an altruistic sounding statement, and when you look at it from a cold mathematics perspective, making a decision that helps ten people at the cost of one seems like something that just makes sense. If you look at it in that very simplistic way, it becomes an easy decision to put the group before the individual.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it completely ignores the reality of human nature. There are billions of unique human beings on the planet, and while many of us share myriad viewpoints, none of us are exactly the same. Different things are important to each of us, and while we might group together to push for a cause we believe in, at our core we are individuals who want individualistic things. How do we decide which ideas to adopt and which ones to reject when we are all so different?
This is the problem with large societies. Once the population grows to a certain point, the expediency of “group think” begins to erode the emphasis on our own individuality in favor of what is best for the biggest number of people. Rather than remembering that we each have things the we like and dislike, we start focusing on what the group decides is important and begin ignoring the needs of the minority. This is an extremely dangerous way to make decisions, because it causes the kind of terrible back and forth societal shifts we are experiencing today as power shifts from one major group to another.
One of the founding principles of our American Republic was the idea that we wanted to preserve the freedoms of the individual and avoid any one group from ruling over another. To quote one of my favorite movies: “why should I trade one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away?”. The understanding from the very beginning of our nation was that we did not want a repeat of what had happened in the past with dictatorial rulers oppressing the people with their power.
Today’s political climate has become exactly what the founders of the nation feared and did everything they could to prevent with the Constitution: large groups of people banding together in an attempt to force other groups of people into submitting to their authority. Despite what each side tries to tell us, it is no longer about what is good, but who can win and assert their dominion over the population. It is 1775 all over again.
This is the reason why individual liberty is so important. Of all the things about us as human beings, the fact that we are each a unique individual is the one thing that is universal, regardless of nation, creed, religion, or otherwise. Understanding this fact, the logical conclusion when deciding how to run a society is to make this single factor the foundation upon which we build everything else. When we all have such differing viewpoints on how we see the world, the only fair way is to only put rules in place that preserve the ability for each of us to live our lives the way we decide is best. Forcing people to do things a certain way can never lead to lasting peace.
The crux of the issue is all about learning to understand that large groups of people aren’t just numbers to be manipulated, but real human beings who are affected by the decisions imposed by others. We rarely think about how the policies we support force unbearable restrictions to people who oppose our point of view. It doesn’t matter if living with the restriction doesn’t bother you; you have to understand and empathize with the fact that it does bother them.
The problem we have today is that we can’t put ourselves in the place of others and realize that we wouldn’t like it any better if they forced their way onto us. By believing that individuals rights come first is selfish, we become truly selfish by forcing others to bend to our way of thinking because we can only see our way as the good way. We forget that there are actual people who must radically change their lives to accommodate our personal preferences, and we become oppressors rather than fellow citizens.
One of the biggest changes we can make in the way we interact with our political structure is to shift ourselves away from these big groups who care only about being in charge and start voting for people who understand that it is free individuals who made our society great and who will make it great again. It is when we all freely choose come together around common goals that we find the best in ourselves and make great strides as a species. One free man who willingly joins you is worth far more than many slaves who obey only out of fear. As counterintuitive as it sounds, it is when we stop worrying about the group and provide individual people with maximum freedom that our society finds the greatest good.
What do you think about individualism? Have you traditionally regarded it as selfish, or do you believe we should try to accommodate different points of view? What can you do today to advance the cause of individual liberty? While many will never be able to understand the seeming contradiction, it is important for us to think critically about human nature and carefully insert it into our political decision making. Failing to do this inevitably results in conflict, just like we are seeing today.
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