The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

The Self vs. the Group

Is anyone “born” anything, except
tabula rasa? Is one “born”
a Jew, or a Catholic, or a Muslim, or Buddhist, or even an atheist?
Recently, a writer I esteem for his
consistently perspicuous and insightful observations on foreign affairs,
domestic policies, and modern culture, writing about being Jewish, made this startling
statement
:
“Jewish is a
group identity. There is no such thing as an individual Jew. No man is an
island and certainly no Jew is. Someone who is not part of the Jewish people is
not a Jew.”
Yes, being Jewish might be a “group
identity.” But Jews are individuals first, Jewish second. People can
choose to be part of a “group,” but they’re still individuals making
individual choices. An individual has no innate collective identity, unless he
chooses one, and then it is not “innate.” There is nothing in any
person’s genes or physical makeup that determines the content of his mind. Groups
or collectives don’t think. One can choose to join a mob or a political party
or a fraternity and the like, but this is making an individual choice. No one
is destined to be drawn inexorably or helplessly into an imaginary gestalt,
however benign or malevolent it might be.
Regardless of one’s circumstances, the
element of volition and choice is ever present in any individual, regardless of
the circumstances of his birth. One can be born into a Jewish family, a Muslim
family, a Catholic one, even an atheist one, a Zulu tribe, and so on, and be
raised in strict accordance with the dogma or tenets, traditions, or beliefs shared
by that group. At any point in one’s life, one still has the capability of
questioning whether what one is taught is true or false. If one has the
courage, or the curiosity, one can step outside of one’s “group,” and
observe it from the outside. Groups are not necessarily unbreakable chains or boast
of “force fields” that prevent one from leaving them.
Tabula
rasa
,
a Roman Latin term for “clean slate,” is an all- important ingredient
in this issue. One can write one’s own slate, or let others write it. One can
form one’s own independent mind, or allow others to determine what is in it and
therefore make one dependent. It’s that simple.
Claiming that one is born anything but tabula rasa is to utter a fallacy, to
make oneself a prisoner of circumstances and irrelevancies.
The same truth applies to race. One’s skin
color or facial features do not determine the content of one’s mind, no more
than do one’s limbs or body weight. Claiming that one has been born
“black” or Hispanic or Chinese, and so is unable to change how one
thinks, is to surrender to determinism, to accept a fate worse than death,
which is to say that one is the helpless pawn of forces beyond one’s control. Then,
if one commits a crime – or achieves an admirable value or accomplishes a
rational success – one can indulge in the double-edged luxury of claiming: I
couldn’t help it, I’m black (or white, or Asian). This is robbing Peter – you – to pay tribute to a tribe of
anonymous, undifferentiated Pauls, who had nothing to do with your crime or
your achievement, and who may even claim it. You steal from yourself to give to
strangers. Group think is altruist. You sacrifice your own identity and pride
to and for the group.
Communists can change their minds (even if
they were born as “red diaper babies”), and become neoconservatives, vociferously
excoriating Communism but not enthralled with capitalism, or are inarticulate
in stating what they are for.
Christians can convert to Islam, or to Buddhism, or become Moonies, or
Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Mormons – or vice versa – or become founding members of
the Front for Free Range Poultry committed to acts of terror on Tyson and
Perdue chicken farms, or even join an actual domestic terrorist group.
Children raised in strict or lax religious
households can abandon religion all together or switch to another, more
earnest-sounding creed. Children born into a family of Progressives or
Democrats or Republicans can, when their store of knowledge is sufficient,
switch politics and become opponents of their parents’ political beliefs and
convictions. Children’s minds are subjected to or immersed in the practice and
doctrine of a creed, and really have no means to defend themselves. So they may
simply grow to adulthood not questioning anything. They will think: I must be a
Jew, or a Christian, or a Muslim, because no man is an island, I must have been
born a Jew, Christian, Muslim, or a black, and so I am but a cipher of that
group. I cannot take credit or be indicted, one way or another.
That way he can convince himself there is
no other alternative, and can consciously or unconsciously disavow
responsibility for his own actions or the criminal actions committed by members
of his “group.”
But, regardless of the rationality or
irrationality of the creed or of one’s choice, choosing to remain
“Jewish” or “Christian” is an act of volition.
One can choose not to choose. This is the most serious, damning, and perilous
condition. It, too, is an act of volition. This is the more common decision
most men make when it comes to politics or a system of ethics or a morality.
For one reason or another, it is an act of mental stagnation, of not wanting to
bother to think, of being comfortable in a state of mental arrest. Such men are
satisfied with the inert, unchallenged contents of their minds, letting the
slate written by others remain uncorrected. The basic reasons for refusing to
think are either fear or being content with being a mental dullard. Ayn Rand,
the novelist/philosopher, called this “second-handedness.”
When an individual will question his
“received wisdom” depends on his courage and determination to know
the truth for better or for worse, and having had developed a disposition to
investigate other answers to “life’s questions.” Again, it is a
matter of choosing to think. Some people don’t begin to question what they
believe until some stage or point in their adulthood. Others begin in their
teens or early adulthood. Very few individuals are willing to perform a volte-face in their premises and world
views once they have reached or passed the age of fifty. They become dependent
on a lifelong store of knowledge which they cannot validate or be certain is
true or not. They become defensive when it is questioned and hostile to anyone
who seems to contradict it or who seems to be a reproach to their life-long
held values.
Habits are not necessarily a bad thing.
Choosing to think is a good habit. Choosing not to think, as John Galt, the
philosopher-inventor in Rand’s novel, Atlas
Shrugged
, said to the world, is tantamount to the notion of Original Sin.
Thinking is man’s
only basic virtue, from which all the others proceed. And his basic vice, the
source of all his evils, is that nameless act which all of you practice, but
struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of
one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to
see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of unfocusing your
mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment—on the
unstated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it,
that A will not be A so long as you do not pronounce the verdict “It is.”
Non-thinking is an act of annihilation, a wish to negate existence, an attempt
to wipe out reality. But existence exists; reality is not to be wiped out, it
will merely wipe out the wiper. By refusing to say “It is,” you are refusing to
say “I am.” By suspending your judgment, you are negating your person.
The negation can be compartmentalized. An
individual can be rational “to a fault” in his career and elsewhere
in his life, but still claim that he is either an inseparable member of his
group (a race or a religion or a political cause), or even a superb example of
his group. (See my column, “The
Origins of Modern Black Collectivism
” for W.E.B. Du Bois’s early promulgating
the notion of a black “Talented Tenth” who would lead, presumably,
the “Untalented Ninety Percent,” of blacks out of poverty and discrimination
by that other enemy group, whites.)
Groups can be persecuted (as Jews have been
for millennia), or Christians slaughtered (as they are now in the Mideast).
Centuries ago Catholic France persecuted French Protestants. The Cambodian
intelligentsia was sent to the “killing fields” by another group, Pol
Pot’s Communists. Stalin, a Georgian Russian, targeted the relatively
prosperous Kulaks in Russia for extermination. Instances of one group
destroying or persecuting another are legion in human history. The most
notorious one in the present, targeted for death, submission, or slavery, are
non-Muslim “infidels,” regardless of their race, color, gender, or
creed (e.g., Sunni Muslims are battling Shi’ite Muslims, the one group
regarding the other as heretical “infidels”). 
Groups do exist, but they must be defined
by a common thread or denominator of choices made by those who elect – or by default
or without thought – to “belong” to them, and by what things are
chosen by those who wish to  “belong” to any specific group. Hassidic
Jews are a distinct group of Jews. The Mennonites differ from the Amish.
Catholics who prefer masses said in Latin disparage Catholics who prefer masses
said in English. The differences between groups are endless.  But what members of these groups all have in
common is that it is a consequence of individual volition and choice (but not
necessarily of thought).
I might, as Rand did herself, call myself a
radical for capitalism. But that is a conscious choice. I was not born tabula rasa except that laissez-faire was already written on it.
That never happened. It wasn’t in my genes or in my race, I wasn’t fated to
become one. After years of observing men’s behavior in politics and economics
and social relationships, I wrote that
myself.

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2 Comments

  1. Michael Neibel

    "I cannot take credit or be indicted, one way or another."

    That's profound. I've had many in my circle of family and associates express exasperation with the progressives inability to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. When I explain that it's not surprising at all if you understand the principle behind it. It is just the flip side of the coin "You didn't build that. somebody else made that happen."

    For if you are not responsible for the good outcomes of your actions, the things you create and build, then in logic and justice you can't be responsible for the bad outcomes like the things you damage and destroy.

    Sometimes I get understanding responses but other times I get an understanding but quizzical look as if they are asking "But Mike, what good does it do to know this? How does knowing this change anything." That saddens me.

  2. Michael Neibel

    The word When is supposed to be Then.

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