The Individual in Community
(Original version delivered as a speech in Porto on February 15th, 2020.)
“I would not encourage in your minds that delusion which you must carefully foster in the minds of your human victims. I mean the delusion that the fate of nations is in itself more important than that of individual souls. The overthrow of free peoples and the multiplication of slave-states are for us a means (…); the real end is the destruction of individual souls. For only individuals can be saved or damned…”
― C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (taken from Screwtape’s address to the young devils graduating from Hell’s training college).
Individualism and collectivism are two terms one often finds counterposed in the discussion of politics. Within the context of the 20th century, which might be understood as a battleground of mutually antagonistic political ideologies, we can employ George Orwell’s term oligarchical collectivism in the case of fascism and bolshevism, and modify it into oligarchical individualism to describe the liberal Pax Americana. While adherents of those ideologies may have believed themselves to be fighting in the name of their nation, class, or individual freedoms, as the case may be, in truth their ideals served as vehicles for the mobilisation of entire societies into projects which would ultimately only benefit the interests of a miniscule oligarchical class. To provide an example, I present here an extract from Kerry Bolton’s book ‘Revolution from Above’:
“Both Big Business and Marxism view history as dialectical. This means that history proceeds from the clash of opposites (thesis and antithesis) and from this tension emerges something new (synthesis). In the instance of dialectical capitalism, the synthesis that is supposed to emerge is a centralised world state controlled not by commissars and a politburo but by plutocratic coteries and their technocrats. A strategy of dialectics means backing movements in the short term to achieve quite different, even opposite goals, in the long term. Hence the rationale behind capitalists supporting socialist and even communist movements, as will be shown.
In the case of communist dialectics, the Marxists believe that socialism cannot emerge in a peasant or agricultural society and that a stage of capitalism and industrialisation must first be reached. Of course the communist analysis is wrong: the major communist revolutions have taken place in peasant societies (China, Russia, and Cuba).
On the other hand, the dialectics of Big Business considers that plutocracy cannot be achieved until a society has gone from its peasant stage into an industrial phase. In order to achieve this sudden and forced industrialisation from a peasant society, the plutocrats have used socialism. History has shown that the plutocratic dialectic is proceeding successfully: the plutocrats backed communist revolutions in Russia and China to overthrow the traditional peasant societies. Once socialism had been used to achieve the industrialisation of those societies, the next phase of the dialectic has been to introduce privatisation and globalisation to the economies of the former Eastern bloc.”
Bolton refers in part to the work of Anthony Sutton, an Englishman, who worked as a researcher at the prestigious Hoover Institution of Stanford University, until controversy surrounding his research led to his dismissal. Sutton began by studying the transfers of western technology to the Soviet Union, which led him to discover just how extensively the supposedly anti-communist Wall Street banking interests had invested in the Soviet economy, and further, that it had helped instigate the Bolshevik Revolution through its support of Trotsky and Lenin. He then went on to find much the same scenario with regards to Wall Street and the 3rd Reich. Furthermore, it is now well documented how at the beginning of the 20th century, German militarism was deliberately inflamed by the actions of the British Milner Group in order to provide a justification for their much desired war with the German state, which at the time presented a formidable obstacle to the interests of British monopolists. History, as the saying goes, is written by the victors, or indeed its instigators.
How then, first as individuals, and subsequently as communities, might it be possible to overcome the manipulations of this oligarchy, who – it must be remembered, have nearly infinite resources at their disposal, as a result of their control of the debt-based money system? Investing ourselves in the ideologies which they provide for us has consistently been our downfall. We must also recognise that it is only through mass conformity that these manipulations are able to succeed. And human communities, for the most part, constitute a very efficient mechanism for eliciting conformity from their members, especially where dissent is punishable by exclusion – something most cannot not bear to face.
Hence, two questions emerge:
- What motivates those who risk expulsion from their communities in order to persue their own truths?
- What does a community that doesn’t demand conformity from its members look like?
Apart from ideological wars, the 20th century likewise witnessed an outpouring of what are now referred to as ‘intentional communities’ – groups of people coming together to create lives in some way separate and differently organised from those into which they were born. What had in the past largely been the preserve of religious communities – whether sanctioned by the dominant powers, such as monastic orders, or persecuted by them, as with the Cathars, the Russian Old Believers, or the multitude of nonconformist sects that settled America – was increasingly sought out by people without explicit religious affiliations, though often with a romantic mindset and a desire to explore ways of life outside of the confines of their ever-more industrialised societies. This ethos crystallised in the form of the Lebensreform and Wandervogel movements in Germany.
A key development in this regard was the colony of Monte Verita at Ascona in Switzerland, created in 1900 by a group of well-to-do youths who advocated a co-operative lifestyle of spartan living, manual work and craftsmanship, vegetarianism, nude sunbathing, and the persuit of the arts. Monte Verita evolved over time into a nexus point for numerous thinkers and movements that would go on to have a major influence in the years to come – among them Carl Jung, Herman Hesse, James Joyce, Stefan George, and Rudolf Steiner. The anarchist Prince Pyotr Kropotkin is likewise said to have visited, as are his authoritarian communist rivals Lenin and Trotsky. Ultimately, some of the ideas explored at the community proved to be a good deal more useful to the oligarchy than others, and these would be appropriated into both fascism and communism. It is however an idea often associated with Jung that I wish to explore further here – the concept of individuation. Individuation is defined in Jungian terms as the development of the individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology, something perhaps best conveyed by Blake’s declaration “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s; I will not reason and compare – my business is to create.”
In Rudolf Steiner’s model of human development, the Renaissance was the outcome of the emergence of a newly individuating consciousness, which felt the need to reach its own understanding of truth, rather than having it dictated by authority figures. This was expressed in phenomena such as the Reformation, the development of the scientific method, and a growing interest in mysticism as a path to personal knowledge of the Divine (then, students of science and mysticism were allied in their search for wisdom, rather than at odds). This development brought both great potential and immense danger, as exemplified in the story of the archetypal Renaissance figure, Dr. Faustus, or indeed his real-life counterpart, the British magus and mathematician John Dee. Dee’s visions in turn fed into the conception of a Protestant British Empire, which over time came to be governed by an ethos of scientific materialism – something that has played no small part in bringing about the state of affairs in which we find ourselves today: rule by banking elites through capitalist monopolies.
Nonetheless, I wouldn’t advise that we throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater – which is to say that, in my opinion, humanity has since the time of the Renaissance, been in the process of outgrowing traditional authority structures in the same way that a child eventually begins to outgrow the structures imposed upon it by its parents, and begins, hopefully, to take responsibility for its own actions. As with adolescence, this is a bumpy road, leaving many casualties along the way, but equally a very necessary one. Hence, the source of authority moves from being external to internal, and in parallel with the growth of the awareness of how our actions affect others, we may begin to develop what is called ‘conscience’, or ‘the science of togetherness’. Through this may develop the understanding that, as the anarcho-punk group Crass put it, “there is no authority but yourself.”
Returning now to the subject of community, some acknowledgement of home truths is called for. The first is that despite the many attempts made since the time of Monte Verita to forge alternative cultural, social, and economic arrangements, and the influence that the ideas of numerous pioneers and visionaries have had upon the world of ideas, the reality is that the vast majority of us in the so-called developed world are subject to a system which, in a multitude of pernicious ways, makes it a great challenge to create independence from it. This is, in my view, entirely deliberate – the architects of said system are monopolists by nature, and dislike competition. Hence, likewise, their drive to constantly extend its reach – what we now call ‘globalisation’.
Consider in this light the proposal by Robert Anton Wilson, that “instead of governments, we should have contractual associations that you can opt out of if you don’t like the way the association is going.” Wilson’s idea, which might be described as panarchist – in other words, allowing for the widest possible variety of social arrangements, under the principle of voluntary association, is one upheld by both panarchism and national-anarchism, positions I have (loosely) associated myself with. Ultimately, to the extent that they continue to remain subservient to the demands of capitalism and the state, intentional communities can have little meaningful effect on society at large, and will remain a mere refuge for the well-to-do from the horrors of our dehumanising technocratic society.
Another thing to note is the fact that the majority of attempts to form intentional communities are unsuccessful. And of those that do form, a great many flounder under the weight of interpersonal conflict and ideological strife, or the perennial tension between the needs of individuals and the group. To some extent, this is inevitable, and divergences of opinion are the basis of divisions and schisms which go on to spawn new communities – their means of reproduction, if you will. At the same time, we should acknowledge that our present mode of existence in for the most part ‘unintentional communities’ (and here, as with many symptoms of modernity, it is the Protestant cultures which might be said to be ‘in the lead’) does not encourage the sense of conscience and diplomacy which successful community living demands.
Living in community has never been, and never will be a perfect image of harmony. It requires a set of skills for dealing with conflict and resolving disputes, which if we do not wish to depend on the wholly corrupted capitalist institutions of today, we must learn and begin to practice. Here the words of metaphysical and folkish anarchist Gustav Landauer, one of the more mature proponents of that philosophy, seem fitting:
“One can throw away a chair and destroy a pane of glass; but those are idle talkers and credulous idolaters of words who regard the state as such a thing or as a fetish that one can smash in order to destroy it. The state is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another. (…) We are the state, and we shall continue to be the state until we have created the institutions that form a real community and society of men.”
The isolated individual falls as easy prey to the trap of debt-slavery; hence the push to forge an autistic, deracinated homo economicus, driven by anxiety, vanity, and hedonism. Meanwhile, the ongoing challenge for the individual who seeks something better is to avoid losing one’s autonomy to assorted collectivisms. This seems to be a balancing act much akin to walking a tightrope. And yet for many, it seems that the pull to identify with a ‘consensus reality’ of one flavour or other is too strong to resist. The distinction here being that some level of epistemological alignment is needed among peers. A healthy community, in my view, would be one in which intellectual diversity is truly respected, while core values and the relations between its members have been agreed upon. Taking up Landauer’s challenge, we can look here to some curious historical institutions for inspiration – for example the ‘articles of agreement’ of outlaw groups such as pirates or Cossacks, to see how this might be achieved.
Regardless of scale, any steps taken in the direction of greater independence from the present economic system, and interdependence with those with whom we share values, are a step in the right direction. Food and housing co-operatives, farm-to-table box schemes, alternative currencies, barter systems, repair shops, community social spaces, homeschooling, and peer-to-peer education are all ways in which we can begin to form new relationships. Out of such experiences we may then grow our understanding of how critical the quality of our relationships is to either the continuation, or the overcoming of the present system. To borrow and old anarchist slogan, we must “build a new world within the shell of the old.”
1 thought on “The Individual in Community”
Very good article, I agree with almost all of it.
Regarding intentional communities, I wouldn’t lose hope. I suspect most of the failed communities have failed to integrate the best parts of current democratic systems and went either full anarchy or dictatorship. Or something along those lines, but the point is: they probably didn’t think carefully enough about their system of governance and means for the community to reach consensus. If the system for reaching consensus for decisions within the community is robust and clear for everyone, that makes failure because of interpersonal conflict much less likely, since everyone is clear on the rules which determine which ideas and decisions win. Of course freedom to leave a community is required too…
In my view, the book by Dan Larimer – “More Equal Animals” (free pdf here: https://moreequalanimals.com/posts/book-launch) have the most bleeding edge ideas regarding this subject. The author has experience creating online decentralized communities and some of his ideas I think have potential to be revolutionary. For example, his system is able prevent collusion from having any considerable impact to the outcome of democratic consensus process. His ideas are already being tested out in practice within these communities that anyone can join:
Regarding intentional communities not having any meaningful effect on society I think this can change as well. First of all, just the ability to reach consensus is powerful and being able to exchange opinions at least within the community is as well. Currently the mainstream media and mainstream social networks control our impression of what is the majority opinion within the society. That makes people fearful of expressing their opinion if they are thinking something else. Now imagine a community which contains majority of the country within itself. People would be able to learn what the majority really thinks. That would make majority of the country resistant to manipulation by the media. And you don’t need a ton of resources to create this kind of community online (the bigger challenge is having enough people join).
Another key point is dialectic. This article like so many other seems to refer to Hegelian dialectic as something negative as if it only was a means of manipulation. I think you can see dialectic in every human creation, both negative and positive. Individuation process, which you mention as a way for an individual to free himself from the (potentially manipulated) collective psychology *is in essence a dialectical process.* within the individual. This an interesting topic in itself, but my point is dialectic is not in itself a bad thing. It can be used to create good things as well as bad. Maybe you didn’t mean it as bad, but I just want to stress that dialectic can be used to achieve something positive for the individual.
What if the new intentional communities with superior democratic processes and totally voluntary participation employed dialectical process to influence their elected members of traditional government? Similar to the influence typically employed by the rich, except this influence would be exercised by a democratically governed community of people and would be totally transparent. Just throwing it out there as something to think about. I’m planning to write a more detailed article about this idea.