A four-minute introductory speech that was not given at a liberty conference during 2003.
Do you ever get the feeling, in certain social situations, that you are alienated from the group in some fundamental fashion? If you are an atheist, it might be like going to a religious gathering and, while trying to be respectful of these people's beliefs, rituals, customs and traditions, you still feel confused and off-center - forced off-center by their expectations that you are, in some sense, "like the rest of them," even though you know that you are not. Or, if you are a religious person, of attending a Pagan or Buddhist function, and, while respecting the beliefs of these people, hence, not necessarily feeling smug or superior, are confused, perhaps intimidated, by the social undercurrents, assumptions and philosophical premises that predicate their sense of community.
I spent 10 years of my life, living around the world, in a variety of cultures, feeling just that kind of social alienation, as a constant backdrop to my daily life. Out of step, yet intimately involved in cultures that were alien to my own experience and understanding. I traveled by bicycle, which I would park in various places for a few months at a time in order to absorb the culture, assimilate my experiences, and write.
I suspect that one of the main reasons for embarking on the venture was a similar sense of alienation that I felt in my home country, the United States. I wrote books that assimilate this experience of the individual versus the collective, and I formulated a political philosophy designed to abort the collective's stranglehold on the individual. I developed, formulated and published a comprehensive philosophy of liberation, against the worldwide cultural philosophy of domination.
But the philosophy of individualism has only been minimally developed by any philosopher, and it remains a sketchy reality. We are not hardwired for any particular condition. We are indoctrinated within a collective; that is, within and by our own sociocultural environment. And we remain guided by - and some may say, crippled by - this conditioning even in the context of socializing with other supposed individualists.
The main reason that we do not seem able to throw off the conditioning of collectivism, and why we keep seeking to "belong," even in cluster groups of others who are similarly claiming individualist beliefs, is that the philosophy of individualism is a light sketch, and, for bred-collectivists, which we all are, it is a high-wire crossing without a safety net; it feels like stepping out into a vacuum.
I feel that, today and this evening, I am in the company of a group of powerfully programmed collectivists who are intent on resisting that programming in a variety of evasive maneuvers, most of which are personally devised and motivated. Some of us are trying harder than others. Some, clinging to the underlying collectivist values, are not resisting at all, merely wanting to "belong" to a group that makes fewer demands on them - a group that gives them the security of a collective group, with the illusion of freedom from accountability to the group - which is a particularly awkward balancing trick on the high-wire of life.
I am a world traveller, culture-buster, author and publisher. My books are available in the back corner of the room. Thank you for your time.