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29 August 2010

Toward a thick individualism

Toward a thick individualism

Thick individualism as I intend to formulate it is not exactly the same thing as thick libertarianism. Of course I don't regard individualism as exactly synonymous with libertarianism. Libertarianism, both thick and thin, it seems, is anti-government first and pro-individual second. Another reason I tend to distance myself from libertarianism is because while libertarianism draws the battle lines between the public sector and the private sector, I tend to draw the battle lines between individuals and institutions. The latter category definitely includes all governments and businesses, and I generally also tend to throw in nonprofits, religions and perhaps families. I'm the type of anti-authoritarian for whom the creators of the Geek Code invented the PE>$ designation, which translates to "Distrust both government and business." That statement pretty much sums up my worldview, and it's been my worldview pretty much since my first job.

The apparent cluster of ideologies that includes thick libertarianism, left libertarianism, market anarchism, market socialism, and mutualism (at least in the American sense) seems to have a decidedly anti-corporate flavor (which, curiously, is starting to emerge in right-wing 'libertarian' circles) but it isn't clear to me whether they are pro- or anti- 'business,' in a sense that would include, for example, small business. I'm decidedly anti-business, as my working definition of capitalist is 'someone who owns and/or operates a business.' Like the IWW, I understand a worker to be 'someone who isn't a boss.' An employee of a small business is an employee, which is to say, used. From the vantage point of the employee, the employer is definitely an institution. Granted some employers are individuals, but here we're generally talking about work in personal service and other situations involving explicit social rank, which would logically be an affront to all schools of anarchy save the capitalist ones.

Needless to say, at some point I started to refer to my system as anti-institutionalism. This left a disturbing aftertaste, however, since it seems the only thing more trite than a neologism ending in -ism is one that also begins with anti-. Besides, it is fashionable these days, for some reason I can't quite fathom, to chide people for expressing with precision what they are against without describing what they're for. The formulation neo-individualism occurred to me, but the neo- prefix is perhaps even more trite than anti-. Then a few days ago, I saw yet another reference to thick libertarianism and it hit me. Why not call it thick individualism, describing it more or less as individualism as if individuals mattered.

The practice and advancement of thick individualism should logically avoid the creation of institutions. This begs the question of the legitimacy of organizations such as syndicalist unions and federations. One way around this is to regard these as part of a dual power strategy, although I'm generally inclined to think of power itself as a dirty word. Small-f federalism as a decentralizing tendency is, I think, of real value, so I would say that if we must have organizations, they should be federations of smaller organization, which devolve in a transparent way all the way to the individual. Given my general anticapitalist (which to me implies anti-market) bias, I'm inclined to think that if we must accept organizations as a necessary evil, they should also ideally be nonprofit organizations.

Anarcho-capitalists, of course, self-identify as individualists. Like thick libertarians and thick individualist(s?), this to them means they are anti-statists. They seem to think the state is collectivism taken to its logical extreme. I think of it is inequality taken to its logical extreme. Meanwhile I struggle with certain questions, like, whether it's possible for an organization not to be an institution, and whether my professed love of collectivism is simply out of spite toward the capitalist types. My provisional answer is that I can imagine no non-collective strategy by which the mice can bell the cat, whether the cat is the boss or the state.

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