Join a Group to be an Individual

Black Panthers

To be an individual, you have to be a unique member of a group. This is why we cannot underestimate the psychological, intellectual, and ethical importance of group membership.

This is easy for me to swallow because I spent a chunk of my life playing the oboe in orchestras, but it’s true for all individuals. Liberals get this wrong because they confuse individuality with indeterminacy. So they’ll tell you that you can reclaim your individuality by not being a member of anything. But really, when you aren’t a member of anything, you are nothing. You are indeterminate. You are a floating nothing. You may be a potential a lot of things, but you are an actual nothing.

People will say, “I should be able to quit anything I’m a member of”, but that’s still not how this works because group integrity may depend on your membership. In this way, other people’s individuality, which they get through being a unique member of the group, shouldn’t be hostage to your subjective whim.

That’s why we don’t make citizenship optional and why I don’t mind mandating Union membership.

However, to ensure individual freedom, groups have to have the inner dynamics of institutions of freedom rather than institutions of oppression. (By the way, Black people in the US have the option to hop from oppressive group to oppressive group to oppressive group, that’s not freedom. Quitting your job with your racist boss to work for Uber isn’t freedom.) Folks who believe that choice = freedom won’t account how an arranged marriage, if the partners understand the freedom that belongs to marriage, is better than two people choosing to hold each other hostage with the threat of abandonment.

This is also an important reason why, if we are serious about individual freedom, we need to get serious about turning institutions of oppression into institutions of freedom, because the liberal illusion that we can be free without any institutions is a recipe for immiserated atoms.

(By the way, remember I said a UNIQUE member of the group. There needs to be differentiation among the group, but even section string players differentiate themselves by being the kind of players who can play perfectly in tune with each other, which is very, very hard.)

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