Wealth, Intellectualism, and Individualism, Part 1

From Michael O. Church in response to Justine Tunney, Thanks for your insightful reply:

What is this war? What are the sides? To be honest, I see a lot of bitter conflict in our society, but I don’t see the coherence of a war. I don’t see “sides”. I see a dissolution into feudalism and extreme individualism. I see a society where selfishness has become a virtue, in which “neoliberalism” (which is not very new, and not liberal) goes unquestioned, and in which pointless division thrives.

Maybe he’s right but perhaps too pessimistic about individualism, which I see as a force against leftist collectivism, whether economically or socially, but this push to individualism may also may be disconcerting those who are unable to adapt and or morally object to America’s increasingly atomistic economic and social landscape.

‘Individualism’ is a major theme of this blog, as part of the ‘trinity’ of wealth, intellectualism, and individualism, defining ‘themes’ of post-2008 society. Our post-2008 economy is a more cutthroat one, where status, more than ever, is based on individualistic merit, not collectivism or connections. Also, whether it’s stock trading, real estate, or the obsession with finance, everyone is striving to get rich, and high-IQ entrepreneurs like Martin Shkreli and Elon Musk, who embody all of the trinity, are tantamount to ‘deities’ for a generation of otherwise agnostic or atheist millennials. Some could liken the post-2008 economy to an ‘Ayn Rand world’ in overdrive, with neoliberal/neoconservative economic and foreign policy thrown in, too, and this seems accurate given recent economic and social trends. Even George W. Bush, in 2004, famously coined the phrase ‘the ownership society’ to describe the increasing importance of personal ownership and individualism. [Although some on the ‘right’ call neoconservatives liberal Straussian Trotskyites, such labels fall apart upon closer scrutiny.] From the Atlas Society:

Objectivism is the philosophy of rational individualism founded by Ayn Rand (1905-1982). In novels such as The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged , Rand dramatized her ideal man, the producer who lives by his own effort and does not give or receive the undeserved, who honors achievement and rejects envy

Of course, Michael O. Church and I are not the first to make this observation. Tom Wolf, in an influential 1976 article in New York magazine, described the 70’s as the “‘Me’ Decade”, a ‘general new attitude of Americans in the 1970s, in the direction of atomized individualism and away from communitarianism, in clear contrast with social values prevalent in the United States during the 1960s.’ But perhaps the difference between then and now are how values have changed, from a society where individualism and success were only a part of a bigger picture, not the entire picture itself.

Recent examples of Individualism include the MGTOW movement, the ‘choose yourself’ paradigm as described by James Altucher, millennials trying to be self-sufficient financially, ‘selfie culture’ (Instagram and Snapchat), and ‘hustle culture’ (millennials trying to make money on their own terms, whether through stocks, real estate, and other means, bypassing the traditional 9-5 job route).

Individualism also means more accountability and personal personal responsibility, instead of ‘shared’ responsibility. In the pre-2008 world, millions of mediocre workers were overpaid to perform jobs that have since been automated, outsourced, or completely eliminated, as emphasis has shifted towards ‘value creation’, efficiency, and productivity. The rise of the ‘gig economy’ is an example of how individuals are being paid for the value they directly produce, instead of workers being overpaid and the collective (company and shareholders) footing the bill. In the past, the cost of mediocre employees (think the pointy-haired boss of Dilbert) was distributed among the productive, and no one noticed, allowing these mediocre employees to fly under the radar for many years. Then 2008 came, profits began to fall, and bosses began to ask, ‘Why are we paying all these people so much to do so little?’ The herd was thinned, and since 2009 and profits and stock prices have surged. And to add insult to injury, in spite of huge profits, many of the jobs eliminated in the recession never returned.

Worse still, remaining employees that have not been tapped by the icy finger of the ‘profits reaper’ find themselves at the mercy of perfidious employers, in an era where loyalty is gone and the supply labor vastly exceeds demand, giving employers decided upper-hand over employees, for many industries and jobs. And then there is the SJW digital lynch mob, ready to descend on anyone that they deemed ‘racist’, a word that has been redefined to mean not someone who acts on actual prejudice but merely observes biological differences or, ideologically, fails to subscribe to far-left liberalism.

Here is a video by Mike Cernovich interviewing James Altucher about ‘choosing yourself’:

Of course, a lot of people resist this ineluctable reality. ‘I want to keep my overpaid job,’ they insist. Unless you’re in the top 1-5% of talent and are irreplaceable, odds are your employer will eventually find someone or some way to perform your job for less money, rendering your job unnecessary.

From tinkerers, to writers, to entrepreneurs, some individualism is necessary for society to advance, but like most things there is an optimal balance between collectivism (community, clergy, schools, family) and individualism (innovation at the individual level, research-based academia, and entrepreneurship).

To be continued…