Condemned to Individuality

The pendulum swings back toward the herd

In The Joyous Science, Nietzsche points out that for most of human history it was not a pleasure but a punishment to be alone, to signify being an individual. “Free thinking was regarded as inherently disquieting.” To act independently, to go against the herd was immoral; the more a person went along with the herd, the less they harmed the herd, the less of an individual they were, the more moral they were considered.

Morality is the standards we use for the preservation of our communities. These are often based in error and invention, rather than truth, but they survive because we survive, and our survival as a community, as a species, is ascribed to those errors and inventions, whether true or not. There are different moralities because the conditions of survival for communities vary.

One of the most common (and powerful) survival strategies for a community is censorship; anything critical of the community, or its standards, must be censored and condemned. The Catholic Church, for example, had its Index Librorum Prohibitorum, its list of banned books that threatened the morality (and survival) of the community. Books by astronomers, philosophers, and even translators of the Bible were on the list. In modern times, novels by D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, and Henry Miller were banned from publication in both the US and the UK as immoral works of art. The Nazis burned books by Jewish writers, philosophers, and scientists as “degenerate.” The Soviet Union saw writers as “engineers of human souls” and had an official soviet writers union that dictated what and what couldn’t be written about.

Anything that threatened the community was censored as a threat to the survival of the community; truth was not the standard but the belief in the errors and inventions that had allowed the community to survive.

Modernism in art was the great flowering of the individual. Novels like Ulysses and Tropic of Cancer focused on individual consciousness, individual beliefs, and the artist as a freedom fighters against the erroneous and constricting beliefs of the herd. These works of art were censored and condemned by the gatekeepers of the time, but no one remembers the gatekeepers now and these works of art have become part of the toolbox of liberation for those who want to become individuals and embrace the flowering of their own individuality.

Social media also held out the promise of liberation from herd thinking. The gatekeepers had no control and everyone on the planet could express their ideas and opinions freely and in an open source sense be criticized or congratulated for these opinions.

Unfortunately, what we learned is that given the chance to express their individual opinions, a lot of people have nothing to express but hate and stupidity.

In 2021, the pendulum is swinging back the other way toward the herd and censorship. Social media companies have become the de facto priests of culture, dictating what opinions are acceptable to the survival of the herd (or in their case, what will increase their profits as they continue to mine our individual data), while censoring opinions that go against the prevailing herd morality of our times, liberal woke identity politics. Once again, free thinking is regarded as disquieting and must be stamped out. Individuality, skepticism toward authority, free thinking, all are threats to the survival of the woke herd and so will be censored and deplatformed.

Your morality will be judged on how much you conform to Twitter, Facebook, Google, Apple, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Hollywood. Heretics will be cancelled from the culture. Even as we’re locked up and alone due to a pandemic, being alone is condemned as a punishment and not a pleasure. Although I can’t imagine anyone considering Zoom calls a pleasure and personally I’d rather just be left alone at this point. But if I choose to express my approval of individuality, of free thinking, of immoral separation from the herd, well, you know what will happen. Fortunately, I’m a nobody, with little or no influence on anyone except myself.

Nietzsche: “To be alone, to feel separate, neither to obey nor to rule, to signify individuality — that was not a pleasure but a punishment; one was condemned to ‘individuality.’”

So, obey the social media overlords and embrace the herd morality. Join Twitter “Birdwatch” and become an enforcer for the mob. Rat out the individuals who refuse to conform. Our survival as a species depends on your obedience. Or so they will tell us.

Until the next swing of the pendulum…

Writing. Literature. Philosophy. Culture. Ph.D. University of Arizona. Author of The Kingdom of Absurdities and other novels. BTC/ETH: brucegatenby.crypto

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