The Ego and His Own
find that I often learn more from those with whom I have both strong
agreements and disagreements than I do from those with whom I always
agree. The former compel me to think about troublesome or unresolved
matters; while the latter provide, at best, additional information
or analysis regarding what I already believe or, at worst, reinforcement
of my existing thinking or entertainment. Ayn Rand and Max Stirner
are two persons who come to mind as the first examples of this phenomenon.
Each was an important catalyst in the development of my thinking,
even though I have ended up rejecting the greater portion of their
Without going into a detailed account of my differences with these
thinkers, let me focus on one element they had in common: their
embrace of egoism. Each was an unabashed defender of an ethic
of self-centeredness running so deep as to question whether one’s
motivation to benefit others was an act of "self-sacrifice."
The title of this article – which is also the title of Stirner’s
principal work – reflects this attitude.
For as long as I can recall I have been an exponent of both individualism
and the view that people are incapable of acting from any motivation
other than self-interest, ideas that I addressed in an earlier
article. The question with which I struggled for many years – and
which Rand and Stirner helped me to resolve – was this: is individual
self-interest synonymous with egoism? In other
words, can one act with the intention of benefiting others
and remain a self-interest motivated person?
Most of the problems that we face stem from conflicts produced by
the divisiveness of thought. The politically-organized slaughter
of some 200 million of our fellow humans during the 20th
century was occasioned by the kind of thinking through which we
separated ourselves into mutually exclusive political, religious,
cultural, and ideological camps, and then warred with those who
were not of "our" group. This mindset continues to pile
up broken bodies and spirits throughout the globe, with political
leaders in Washington continuing to exploit such divisiveness. If
the American people are to be persuaded to join in the current lynch-mob
frenzy, they must be reminded of the incompatibility of their
interests with those of others in the world; that life invariably
comes down to a struggle of "us" against "them."
helps to create and reinforce this kind of divisive thinking.
By definition, the ego separates itself from others, it being solely
the product of its own thinking. The ego knows no boundaries except
the range of its own consciousness. Because he has separated himself
from others, the egoist believes that others exist to serve
his purposes, and may be exploited in furtherance of such
ends. The egoist transforms "utilitarianism" into the
doctrine of "the greatest good for the greatest guy."
An individualist, on the other hand, acknowledges the self-serving
nature of all life. But instead of taking this fact as evidence
of some inherent conflict with others, sees it as the basis
upon which he and his neighbors can cooperate to accomplish
ends each would be incapable of doing on their own.
Because he sees his commonality with others, he is inclined to support
social systems that harmonize, rather than negate,
our self-serving pursuits. This is why he is less inclined to think
of the "marketplace" as a geographical location than as
a process by which people can peacefully negotiate for their
self-seeking ends. Because the marketplace operates on principles
of voluntariness, the individualist is aware that, in order
to promote his self-interest, he must appeal to the self-interests
of others. This not only results in unintended benefits to
others, but intended ones as well. This is another way of
saying that all volitional acts are motivated by the expectation
of our being better off after acting than we would have been had
we not acted.
The egoist – like the statist - operates from the divisive
premise "if you’re not with me, you’re against me" and
is prepared to use any means necessary, including force, to overcome
the self-interest motivations of those who are unprepared to cooperate
with his schemes. To such a person, society with others is a potential
threat to be guarded against because, like himself, others are seen
as having no purpose that would benefit him. This is why so many
egoists have been attracted to the vision of a hermitage, a retreat
from the rest of mankind, be it in the form of a "Galt’s Gulch,"
an isolated island or mountaintop, or a space station.
The individualist, on the other hand, recognizes the social nature
of his existence. All that he is, and all that he is capable of
becoming, has been shaped by his untold millions of ancestors, as
well as by his constantly fluctuating relationships with contemporaries.
His language and knowledge, as well as the quality of his material
existence, have all been greatly influenced by others.
We discover who we are through relationships with one another. It
is no coincidence that men who become serial killers are often described,
by others, as "loners." When we have no one else with
whom to converse but our own inner voices, we are apt to get the
kind of skewed definitions of "reality" than can cause
us to see anyone and everyone as "threats" to be overcome.
It is in the current debate over cloning that the distinction
between egoism and individualism becomes most apparent.
Cloning is the perfect expression of egoism, for it allows one to
reproduce unilaterally, without having to involve another
self. Like a Xerox machine, cloning faithfully replicates the DNA
of the original, providing a seemingly endless collection of duplicates.
Select the number of copies you want, hit the "start"
key, and you can have a one-person population explosion!
Individualism, on the other hand, emerges from the diversity
that is implicit in sexual reproduction. Because of sexual reproduction,
each person becomes biologically unique, his or her specific
DNA structure deriving from a shared gene pool. Thus the paradoxical
nature of our existence: it is our individual uniqueness that
we have in common with one another. We are all
alike in being unalike, and we share this attribute
because we are cousins to one another.
The singular and unique nature of our individual personhood derives,
in other words, from the fact that we are biologically connected
to all of humanity, not from our being carbon copies
of either of our parents or duplications of some idealized being.
The state has, in order to control us, introduced division into
our thinking, so that we come to distrust others and look
to the state for protection! But the roots of our individualism
remind us that what we are is inseparable from the source from which
all others derive; that coercive practices that threaten our neighbor
also threaten us. This is why liberty cannot exist
for some but not others; and why slavery diminishes
the lives of both master and slave!
The one element in Ayn Rand’s writings that has stuck with me and
continues to represent her principal contribution to individual
liberty, was her frontal assault on the doctrine of collectivism.
She was the most visible critic of this pernicious ideology long
before "libertarianism" had even surfaced. Collectivism
is a dehumanizing philosophy because it is founded on division,
i.e., the forced repression of our individual interests in favor
of a sham "common" interest which, on close examination,
is only a state interest. Collectivism forces us into a conflict
between the pursuit of our interests and obedience to state authority.
But Rand’s criticism of this doctrine was grounded in the equally
divisive notion of egoism.
While Ms. Rand gave frequent lip-service to individualism,
her philosophy was one of self-centered egoism. She brooked no "individuality"
in her followers that deviated from her insistence upon ideological
conformity. Her appeals to "reason" and "freedom"
did not extend to tolerating anyone marching to the steps of a different
drummer. Artistic, musical, and literary tastes were defined for
her devotees, as were her opinions about history, philosophy and
philosophers, and the nature of government. Those who turned out
as faithful, Xeroxed copies of her views were "rational,"
while those who did not were chastised as "whim worshippers."
She insisted upon – and helped generate - intellectual clones, men
and women who allowed themselves to be intimidated into believing
that this woman’s subjective opinions about the world were
an expression of objective reality!
Ms. Rand – with her preoccupation for "rationality" -
had contempt for those who spoke of such intangible qualities as
feelings, emotions, and anything that smacked of a "spiritual"
side to being human. Men and women who exhibited such dispositions
were dismissed as "mystics." For those whose lives are
ego-centered, anything beyond the ego becomes little more than a
barrier to or resource for the fulfillment of ego-will.
The inner life of others is too unpredictable, too intangible, too
uncontrollable, to be trusted for any expression that does not serve
more immediate, superficial needs.
What would be anyone’s purpose in having a biological clone? Would
it be anything other than to provide "spare parts" in
the event the master needed an organ transplant? Or would the master
delight in such a creature only for the Narcissistic purpose of
admiring his physical reflection in another?
The clone is a biological replica of oneself. Unlike identical twins
who share the same DNA through the fortuitous circumstances of birth,
cloning oneself amounts to a projection of one’s ego onto another.
Such an act denies the individuality of the other, to the
end that he or she becomes little more than a material resource
for the fulfillment of the master’s purposes.
But what about those intangible human attributes that do not transfer
via DNA, such as emotions, values, tastes, learning and other personal
experiences? Such expressions of the inner life that we think of
as the "human spirit" – particularly as manifested in
others – would have little relevance to either the material world
of clones or the inner world of egos who have separated themselves
from the spiritual lives of others.
Thus do we find the advocacy of cloning reflecting the same dehumanizing,
spiritless, and mechanistic premises that represent our highly structured
world. Whether the clone is to be considered a person whose will
over his or her own life will be regarded as inviolate will likely
receive as little attention as it does for the rest of us when our
political masters use us as "spare parts" in their machinations!
There are other adverse consequences for the unilateral replication
of oneself, be it through egoistic or cloning behavior. Life must,
if it is to sustain itself, be resilient to the inconstant nature
of the world. In words whose origins I do not recall, "the
only real security is to be a changing person in a changing world."
This is as true for societies as for individuals.
The collapse of prior civilizations was often brought on by institutionalizing
practices that emphasized the preservation of existing arrangements
over the processes of adaptation and inventiveness.
As with the biological origins of the individual, creativity
comes about from a synthesis of diverse influences, not from
an obsessive repetition of the familiar. Life is a constant interplay
of the forces of change and stability, but with the
needs for variation constantly nudging the inclinations for durability
so as to avoid deadly rigidity. This is why liberty and spontaneity
are so essential to all life processes.
If our lives are to remain creative, we must reject the redundancy
implicit in cloning. Cloning returns us to the reproduction methods
found in single-cell division, a process that has kept the amoeba
at the same changeless level it was millions of years ago. To live
as creative, spirit-filled humans we must avoid the trap of trying
to repeat our past successes. We must discover that the health of
any society is to be found in the mutual celebration of our individuality.
© 2002 LewRockwell.com