THE CHASM: TWO ETHICS THAT DIVIDE THE WESTERN WORLD
There are many words commonly used today to describe political attitudes. We are told that there are conservatives, liberals, libertarians, progressives, right-wingers, leftwingers, socialists, communists, Trotskyites, Maoists, Fascists, Nazis; and if that isn’t
confusing enough, now we have neo conservatives, neo Nazis, and neo everything else.
When we are asked what our political orientation is, we are expected to choose from one of these words. If we don’t have a strong political opinion or if we’re afraid of making a bad choice, then we play it safe and say we are moderates – adding yet one more word to the list.
Social mores and religious beliefs sometimes divide along the Left-Right political axis. In the United States, the Democrat Party is home for the Left, while the Republican Party is home for the Right. Those on the Left are more likely to embrace life styles that
those on the Right would consider improper or even sinful. Those on the Right are more likely to be church-going members of an organized religion. But these are not definitive values, because there is a great deal of overlap. Republicans smoke pot. Democrats go to church. Social or religious values cannot be included in any meaningful definition of these groups.
Not one person in a thousand can clearly define the ideology that any of these words represent. They are used, primarily, as labels to impart an aura of either goodness or badness, depending on who uses the words and what emotions they trigger in their minds.
Most political debates sound like they originate at the tower of Babel. Everyone is speaking a different language. The words may sound familiar, but speakers and listeners each have their own private definitions.
It has been my experience that, once the definitions are commonly understood, most of the disagreements come to an end. To the amazement of those who thought they were bitter ideological opponents, they often find they are actually in basic agreement. So, to deal with this word, collectivism, our first order of business is to throw out the garbage. If we are to make sense of the political agendas that dominate our planet today, we must not allow our thinking to be contaminated by the emotional load of the old vocabulary.
It may surprise you to learn that most of the great political debates of our time – at least in the Western world – can be divided into just two viewpoints. All of the rest is fluff.
Typically, they focus on whether or not a particular action should be taken; but the real conflict is not about the merits of the action; it is about the principles, the ethical code that justifies or forbids that action. It is a contest between the ethics of collectivism on the one hand and individualism on the other. Those are words that have meaning, and they describe
a philosophical chasm that divides the entire Western world.
The one thing that is common to both collectivists and individualists is that the vast majority of them are well intentioned. They want the best life possible for their families, for their countrymen, and for mankind. They want prosperity and justice for their fellow man.
Where they disagree is how to bring those things about.
I have studied collectivist literature for over fifty years; and, after a while, I realized there were certain recurring themes, what I consider to be the five pillars of collectivism. If they are turned upside down, they also are the five pillars of individualism. In other words, there are five major concepts of social and political relationships; and, within each of them,
collectivists and individualists have opposite viewpoints.