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News Link • Philosophy: Collectivism

The Exorcism of Collectivism


Have you ever found yourself living out an expected role scripted by those around you? Whether it's a family member, partner, social clique, work rival, or boss, we have a tendency to subsume other people's scripts for us if reinforced by expectations long enough.

You dress very finely and people call you a snob so you begin to perform like one. If enough voices box you into performing a perceived role, you tend to adopt some of its ways.

The drug addict, if told enough times and set up to play the role of the anti-social screw-up, will often become as such.

The type-A businessperson finds himself becoming cold, greedy, and slippery as people's vocal and nonverbal perceptions of his role subconsciously influence the way he acts out his persona.

These great (or grating) expectations can cause burdensome conflict and bitterness in our lives, particularly at the cultural-political level.

People tend to move in groupthink. That's the norm, the baseline modus operandi of our species.

The groups we form tend to give us a sense of transcendence—that is, a feeling of being able to become something bigger than ourselves—as we adopt the same thought patterns, angers, passions, hates, rituals, rhetoric, and enemies of a common body.

Acting as groups—whether it's Marxism, racial identity, or a libertarian sect—has a way of giving us a peace and order and mission in life. It's our "old time religion," you can say. After all, "religion" comes from the root Latin term "to bind together."

Culture, be it a nation or a drinking buddy clique, is the way we act out our religion, our "binding" together. Our group cultures never find such ecstasy as when we find a person—usually someone who doesn't perform a script we approve for them—to expel or wage war against. Expelling a misfit, stubborn devil's advocate, or ideological turncoat rallies and unifies our passion-driven shared beliefs and acts to the point where we become as one body eliminating the toxin for our health.

Our culture creates violent, self-fulfilling systemic purging. Desensitized sex workers, greedy tax evaders, drug pushing gunslingers don't just pop up in a vacuum. They are symptoms of cycles of collectivist group purges. Yes, they are ultimately responsible for the actions they take, make no mistake, but when we treat people as "Other" we create the monsters for which we were looking.

We need those monsters.

The cold-eyed prostitute is out there so that we are here, no where near her lot in life. The gun-trading dealer is who he is so we can measure our own socially-approved markers of respectability against his contrast. I'm exploitative, but not like him. The billionaire finds more and more cunning ways to shelter his money and game our culture's tax and regulation system so we can feel comparatively honest, selfless team players.

Where do we learn our collective cultural values? From the stories we tell. That's what education and mass media and art provide: stories that reinforce collectivism as the way of the world; we should pick a side, play by the rules of the game, and battle for supremacy over other rival groups. Forever, apparently.

Nightly news reports of another successful drug bust in a rejected part of town are supposed to remind us: play by the rules our collective has designed or else you will receive violence and expulsion. You will become an Other.

There's a bug in the script though. A counter-cultural force has emerged in history that produces counter-stories that are slowly eroding our dominant collectivist notions of the world. These stories leave their fingerprints on our social norms and desires regardless of our awareness of them and regardless of how collectivist groups fraudulently misappropriate them for their own violent campaigns. These stories are good news for all misfits, indeed, all persons looking for the courage to reject the lie of the crowd that is collectivism.

I call it the personhood revolution and its founder is Jesus of Nazareth.

Beyond just rhetoric, Jesus performed his aesthetic of personhood. He created a subversive viral bug in our old collectivist system that reversed the mainstream script: when your group is threatened or stressed, find a common enemy and expel him. Blame him. Dehumanize her. Kill it.

In the new script Jesus invited all of us to perform, he first openly admits that he's a total imitator himself. He doesn't set himself up as the originator of anything but points all of his ideas back to his dad, God. He then asks listeners to imitate his imitation of God—one of mercy, not sacrifice—thereby finding transcendence outside of our collectivist violent purging.

In this performative context, the eyewitness accounts of Jesus's mission are freshly astonishing. One such example is the story of the Demoniac of Gerasa.

A literary analysis shows us the breakthrough taking place in the narrative. Whether every element is literal or not is beyond the scope of this discussion. What's in view for our literary analysis is what the narrative is doing symbolically to its audience—steeped even more than we are in a culture in which collectivist violence was sacred.

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