I used to be an Objectivist. Due to my strong disagreements with the Objectivist party line as regards to the theory of knowledge and political morality, I can no longer call myself that. "Rational Individualism" is a good term, but it is perhaps not that succinct, and somewhat redundant.
This reflexion started very recently. I have been successful in connecting the dots between religion and politics
- they are just two forms of the same kind of destructive collectivist belief. But I want to go further and look at other negative aspects of life, like cults, quack medicine, diets, exercise programs, AA (and other such recovery systems based on submission and groupthink), the self-help industry, altruism and duty, and the "rat race". Things that people follow and end up just making their lives more complicated and full of hardship. Like religion and politics, actually! Do you see where the dots start to connect now?
Philosophy is not just about high concepts, but also about daily life, or at least it should be. After all, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that there is a difference. Our large-scale decisions are nothing more than the result of a lot of small-scale ones. We decide to go to church or not go to church, to vote or not to vote, to speak for or against something, to break or stay in a noxious relation. Making the same choice again and again commits us to a path. We may learn to regret that path.
Philosophy asks us to reconsider our fundamental positions and examine their premises. Shouldn't it ask us to reconsider our daily actions and their motives as well? Why not?
The main common thread between all these things is that people make their lives more complicated than they need to be, and they buy into systems that other people have built in order to gain money or power. Now, gaining money and power, when done honestly, is a great thing. But when done dishonestly, it's our responsibility to stay clear of the results. Otherwise you become a "spiritual seeker", a compulsive dieter, an AA nut, a battered wife, or in the worst case scenario, a Scientologist (I was gonna say "a Nazi in jackboots", but I don't want to trigger Godwin's Law- besides, Scientologists are funnier).
You just make your life harder, more complicated, less happy. That's all it does! Rarely do any of these things ever solve anything, and if they do, the relief is usually temporary. In the case of medical quackery, the placebo effect does actually make it slightly less of a crap shoot, although placebo is still fraud any way you look at it.
The main role of these things is to enslave you into a specific scheme of thought and feelings- to always do a little more, and that will solve it. The solution must be in the next diet, or the next religion, or the next election, or the next year of AA meetings, or the next homeopathic pills, or the next spinal adjustment, or the next family meeting, or the next time you talk to your abusive husband, or the next promotion, a bigger this, a smaller that...
It requires a lot of individualism to go beyond the conditioning (i.e. what we've been actively taught to believe) and the mainstream (i.e. just believing what most people believe), and look at one's premises. In fact, breaking free of this morass is pretty much necessary for any real philosophy, we already know that. But this is really deep-reaching stuff. Anyone who's ever deconverted from religion or statism knows how it feels. And at a smaller scale, anyone who's broken free from the other systems I listed. It's also a powerful liberation. This is powerful stuff!
I'm not trying to say something as stupid as "simple is always better" or "don't trust anyone". You can make up an exceedingly simple rule and fail. I can say that all people with green eyes are evil, and everyone else is absolutely good, but that would equally just subject me to hardship, because it is a false and evil rule. Likewise, some people can help you see things that you overlooked, or contribute a ariety of approaches to life.
You have to look at problems from a fresh approach, look at your premises rationally (what are your values? are those good values?), and come to simple and reasonable solutions. The obvious case is religion. Just forget about all the belief systems out there and look at the reality of it. Have you ever seen a god? Does the notion even make sense? Not really, no. We really have no idea what we're saying when we say "supernatural" or "Creator", and if it makes no sense, what good is it to include it in our lives? All we see is the material universe, so it makes more sense to cut away from those beliefs and try to grasp the universe on our own material terms. If belief in some universal force makes you feel better, then by all means believe in it, but don't get hookwinded by people who claim to speak for this or that god.
A good example of a person who does this in other areas is Reinhard Engels, who came up with the concept of Everyday Systems
. It is his work that inspired me to make these new connections. He proposes various solutions to problems such as drinking, overeating, exercising and information overload, but his solutions are not gimmick systems designed to make you fall in a rut. What he proposes are catchy, simple habit changes that you integrate in your life. That's all. Deceptively simple, but extremely reasonable. His work is a perfect example of someone looking at problems from a fresh perspective, looking at his premises rationally, and coming to a simple and reasonable solution.
One important premise is that everything you do must try to reinforce your free will, not erode it. One constant between all these systems is that they attempt to impose arbitrary restrictions, or attempt to make you submit and obey. They are based on trying to cave your will in, and get you to return again and again to the fold. Instead, the methods you choose should try to reinforce your will- through changing your habits, empowering you to search for yourself, to make your own destiny instead of letting others dictate it for you. No good can ever come from subjecting your intelligence and critical faculties to another, however much you trust them.
Reinforcing your will can be uncomfortable because it implies that the problems are actually the result of your decisions. That's okay! As long as you want to change, why should you hit yourself on the head? Lay off the guilt complex until you do something actually worthy of feeling guilty for.
And of course I want to clarify that when I talk about free will, I am not talking about severe mental problems where you are actually not in control (such as severe depression, or schizophrenia). You can't reinforce what is not there, and people who need actual medical attention can't be expected to follow a method that requires willpower.
And sure, some problems are more complicated than others. Curing cancer is very complicated. But from a personal standpoint, I simplify my life if I follow my medical treatments and don't buy into all the quack stuff out there, which at best will only make me poorer (and could kill me). Getting chemotherapy is more than enough hardship, and I don't need further hardship on top of that. If some inoffensive thing like getting needles stuck in your back or getting "therapeutic touch" makes you feel good, then go ahead and do it, but don't believe that you're doing anything but paying for someone to pass her hands around you. If you're gonna do that, why not pay for a massage? At least you get something real out of it.
You've got all these diets- but all a diet does is make you crash and feel guilty when you fail, so you start another one. It's self-perpetuating! You are asked to buy into these complicated systems which do nothing but enslave you. Individualism simply means to stop buying into all these magical recipes and think for yourself. Go back to the premise of your values and the facts of the matter. As always, it comes back to morality- what are your values and how best to accomplish them? The answer, if you are honest, will never be "by subscribing to a system that tries to enslave me in an endless pattern of guilt and hope".
You have to recognize what does not exist, and what does exist and can be used. For example, altruism does not exist- everyone acts in their self-interest. That's just a basic fact of human behaviour. Now, if you want to go and help others, you can do that! Just don't make it into a moral doctrine. Do it in recognition of what it brings you. God does not exist, religion is bullshit- be spiritual if you want, do your own thing, just don't buy into what other people want you to buy into. Make your own connections. Don't rely on others to make them for you.
Same thing for consuming and working. If you value work and consumption, don't feel guilt over it. It's your values, your life. Don't fall into altruistic duty, but don't fall in the opposite side either. Don't buy something just because you saw a good commercial, or because your neighbour got one, or something like that- unless of course your purpose is to be better than your neighbour! Individualism is not a fixed worldview, everyone will do things differently. That's perfectly fine, as long as you check your premises.