non serviam #1
- [What Egoism means]
By asserting oneself – by insurrection – one is an egoist, one who puts himself first. For the next issue of “non serviam”, #1, I would therefore appreciate articles about “what egoism means” in general. Both questions of the type “is hedonism the real egoism”, and articles pondering the status of egoism in ethics are appreciated. Psychological angles of attack are also appreciated.
Dissenting from this theme, I have a long and well-written article from Ken Knudson which I intend to publish in full. Given the length of it, it will be sent as a serial. It will also be available on the ftp site in not too long a time. I have, on the version here, left the page numberings for easier access to footnotes.
I asked about “what egoism means”. I should perhaps also have asked what egoism does not mean. For there are a lot of misconceptions about what egoism is. Religious literature incessantly warns us not to think about our own best interest, but the interest of the heavenly, of Man, and of just about everything else. But seldom is there found any advise to follow exactly this own interest. Why then these warnings against self interest, on and on, again and again? Surely not to counter any opposing system of ideas. For there have been close to none. What then is left to counter but – the individual himself! But to counter the individual is not a position that looks very good, so it has to be disguised, disguised as an attack on some “Deep Evil” lurking in self interest – in egoism. So the common view of egoism is far from formed by observation of actual egoists, but by propaganda in its disfavor. I will now list what I consider the types most typically mistaken for egoists, both by critics of egoism and by “egoists”:
The Psychopath: The psychopath is characterized by a tendency of always being in the right and of manipulating others. He typically takes little heed of the interests of people he confronts. The reasoning displayed by those who identify psychopaths with egoists are usually of the type “He does not care for others – thus he must care only for himself …”, which sets up a dichotomy without any basis in reality. Identifying an individual pursuing his own interests with a psychopath is a powerful means of keeping individuals “in line”.
The Ego-booster: Somewhat related to the psychopath, in that he tries to make himself “big” in the eyes of others often at the expense of some third person. But the Ego-Booster cares a lot about the judgement of others. In fact – he depends on it. Getting approval from other people dominates his way of life. His focus is not on himself, but on something else – his self image.
The Materialist: The glutton, the carelessly promiscuous and the one who spends all his time gathering possessions is often seen as the egoist by people who have seen through the traps above. A friend of mine wrote in his thesis on Stirner that these were “vulgar egoists”. They sure enough care for their own interests. But they only care for part of their own interest, giving in to some urge to dominate them. They either care only for the taste in their mouths right-here-right-now, or for the feelings in other parts. They do not satisfy the whole chap, as Stirner wrote.
The Idealist: Not too typical, but still – important. Can range from the proponent of Fichte’s Absolute or Transcendental Ego, to the person who has as his sole goal in this life to spread his own ideas. The first of these is not a proper egoist in that the “I” he is talking about is not the personal, individual “I” but – an abstraction, the mere idea of an ego. The latter is just the materialist mentality let loose in the realm of ideas.>
The Formal Egoist: The formal egoist is perhaps the most elusively like to the proper egoist. For the formal egoist knows that an egoist looks to the satisfaction of the whole chap. Actually the formal egoist can know more about egoism than the egoist himself. For the formal egoist really wants to be an egoist – and he follows the recipe he has found to the last little detail, and sets out to find even new nuances. There is only one thing missing, and that is his realization that there is no recipe. Egoism is not a religious or ideological system to be followed by duty, but simply the being and awareness of oneself.
It is important to see that the different conceptions of egoism depend strongly on what is put into the concept of an “ego”. Which ego is then “the true one”? Is it the Bodily Ego, the Empirical Ego, the Self Image, the Creative Ego, the Teleological Ego, the Will … ? I will return to this in the next issue of non serviam, #2.
Again, it is identified with hedonism or eudaimonism, or epicureanism, philosophies that teach that the attainment of pleasure or happiness or advantage, whichever you may choose to phrase it, is the rule of life.
Modern egoism, as propounded by Stirner and Nietzsche, and expounded by Ibsen, Shaw and others, is all these; but it is more. It is the realization by the individual that he is an individual; that, as far as he is concerned, he is the only individual.
For each one of us stands alone in the midst of a universe. He is surrounded by sights and sounds which he interprets as exterior to himself, although all he knows of them are the impressions on his retina and ear drums and other organs of sense. The universe for him is measured by these sensations; they are, for him, the universe. Some of them he interprets as denoting other individuals, whom he conceives as more or less like himself. But none of these is himself. He stands apart. His consciousness, and the desires and gratifications that enter into it, is a thing unique; no other can enter into it.
However near and dear to you may be your wife, children, friends, they are not you; they are outside of you. You are forever alone. Your thoughts and emotions are yours alone. There is no other who experiences your thoughts or your feelings.
No doubt it gives you pleasure when others think as you do, and Inform you of it through language; or when others enjoy the same things that you do. Moreover, quite apart from their enjoying the same things that you enjoy, it gives you pleasure to see them enjoy themselves in any way. Such gratification to the individual is the pleasure of sympathy, one of the most acute pleasures possible for most people.
According to your sympathy, you will take pleasure in your own happiness or in the happiness of other people; but it is always your own happiness you seek. The most profound egoist may be the most complete altruist; but he knows that his altruism is, at the bottom, nothing but self-indulgence.
But egoism is more than this. It is the realization by the individual that he is above all institutions and all formulas; that they exist only so far as he chooses to make them his own by accepting them.
When you see clearly that you are the measure of the universe, that everything that exists exists for you only so far as it is reflected in your own consciousness, you become a new man; you see everything by a new light: you stand on a height and feel the fresh air blowing on your face; and find new strength and glory in it.
Whatever gods you worship, you realize that they are your gods, the product of your own mind, terrible or amiable, as you may choose to depict them. You hold them in your hand, and play with them, as a child with its paper dolls; for you have learned not to fear them, that they are but the “imaginations of your heart.”
All the ideals which men generally think are realities, you have learned to see through; you have learned that they are your ideals. Whether you have originated them, which is unlikely, or have accepted somebody else’s ideals, makes no difference. They are your ideals just so far as you accept them. The priest is reverend only so far as you reverence him. If you cease to reverence him, he is no longer reverend for you. You have power to make and unmake priests as easily as you can make and unmake gods. You are the one of whom the poet tells, who stands unmoved, though the universe fall in fragments about you.
And all the other ideals by which men are moved, to which men are enslaved, for which men afflict themselves, have no power over you; you are no longer afraid of them, for you know them to be your own ideals, made in your own mind, for your own pleasure, to be changed or ignored, just as you choose to change or ignore them. They are your own little pets, to be played with, not to be feared.
“The State” or “The Government” is idealized by the many as a thing above them, to be reverenced and feared. They call it “My Country,” and if you utter the magic words, they will rush to kill their friends, whom they would not injure by so much as a pin scratch, if they were not intoxicated and blinded by their ideal. Most men are deprived of their reason under the influence of their ideals. Moved by the ideal of “religion” or “patriotism” or “morality,” they fly at each others’ throats – they, who are otherwise often the gentlest of men! But their ideals are for them like the “fixed ideas” of lunatics. They become irrational and irresponsible under the influence of their ideals. They will not only destroy others, but they will quite sink their own interests, and rush madly to destroy themselves as a sacrifice to the all-devouring ideal. Curious, is it not, to one who looks on with a philosophical mind?
But the egoist has no ideals, for the knowledge that his ideals are only his ideals, frees him from their domination. He acts for his own interest, not for the interest of ideals. He will neither hang a man nor whip a child in the interest of “morality,” if it is disagreeable to him to do so.
He has no reverence for “The State.” He knows that “The Government” is but a set of men, mostly as big fools as he is himself, many of them bigger. If the State does things that benefit him, he will support it; if it attacks him and encroaches on his liberty, he will evade it by any means in his power, if he is not strong enough to withstand it. He is a man without a country.
“The Flag,” that most men adore, as men always adore symbols, worshipping the symbol more than the principle it is supposed to set forth, is for the egoist but a rather inharmonious piece of patch-work; and anybody may walk on it or spit on it if they will, without exciting his emotion any more than if it were a tarpaulin that they walked upon or .spat upon. The principles that it symbolizes, he will maintain as far as it seems to his advantage to maintain them; but if the principles require him to kill people or be killed himself, you will have to demonstrate to him just what benefit he will gain by killing or being killed, before you can persuade him to uphold them.
When the judge enters court in his toggery, (judges and ministers and professors know the value of toggery in impressing the populace) the egoist is unterrified. He has not even any respect for “The Law.” If the law happens to be to his advantage, he will avail himself of it; if it invades his liberty he will transgress it as far as he thinks it wise to do so. But he has no regard for it as a thing supernal. It is to him the clumsy creation of them who still “sit in darkness.”
Nor does he bow the knee to Morality – Sacred Morality! Some of its precepts he may accept, if he chooses to do so; but you cannot scare him off by telling him it is not “right.” He usually prefers not to kill or steal; but if he must kill or steal to save himself, he will do it with a good heart, and without any qualms of “conscience.” And “morality” will never persuade him to injure others when it is of no advantage to himself. He will not be found among a band of “white caps,” flogging and burning poor devils, because their actions do not conform to the dictates of “morality,” though they have injured none by such actions; nor will he have any hand in persecuting helpless girls, and throwing them out into the street, when he has received no ill at their hands.
To his friends – to those who deserve the truth from him, – he will tell the truth; but you cannot force the truth from him because he is “afraid to tell a lie.” He has no fear, not even of perjury, for he knows that oaths are but devices to enslave the mind by an appeal to supernatural fears.
And for all the other small, tenuous ideals, with which we have fettered our minds and to which we have shrunk our petty lives; they are for the egoist as though they were not.
“Filial love and respect” he will give to his parents if they have earned it by deserving it. If they have beaten him in infancy, and scorned him in childhood, and domineered over him in maturity, he may possibly love them in spite of maltreatment; but if they have alienated his affection, they will not reawaken it by an appeal to “duty.”
In brief, egoism in its modern interpretation, is the antithesis, not of altruism, but of idealism. The ordinary man – the idealist – subordinates his interests to the interests of his ideals, and usually suffers for it. The egoist is fooled by no ideals: he discards them or uses them, as may suit his own interest. If he likes to be altruistic, he will sacrifice himself for others; but only because he likes to do so; he demands no gratitude nor glory in return.
A NOTE TO READERS
I make no claims to originality in these pages. Most of what I have to say has been said before and much better. The economics is taken primarily from the writings of Pierre- Joseph Proudhon, William B. Greene, and Benjamin R. Tucker. The philosophy from Max Stirner, Tucker again, and, to a lesser extent, James L. Walker.
I hope you won’t be put off by my clumsy prose. I’m a scientist by trade, not a professional writer. I implore you, therefore, not to mistake style for content. If you want both the content and good style may I suggest Tucker’s “Instead of a Book”. Unfortunately, this volume has been out of print since 1897, but the better libraries – especially those in the United States – should have it. If you can read French, I recommend the economic writings of Proudhon. “General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century” is particularly good and has been translated into English by the American individualist, John Beverley Robinson. (Freedom Press, 1923). Also in English is Tucker’s translation of one of Proudhon’s earliest works, the well-known “What is Property?”. This book is not as good as the “General Idea” book, but it has the advantage of being currently available in paperback in both languages. A word of warning: unless you are thoroughly familiar with Proudhon, I would not recommend the popular Macmillan “Papermac” edition of “Selected Writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon”; they seem to have been selected with irrelevance as their only criterion. Like so many other great writers, Proudhon suffers tremendously when quoted out of context and this particular edition gives, on average, less than a page per selection. Better to read his worst book completely than to be misled by disconnected excerpts like these. Finally the individualist philosophy, egoism, is best found in Max Stirner’s “The Ego and His Own”. This book suffers somewhat from a very difficult style (which wasn’t aided by Stirner’s wariness of the Prussian censor), but if you can get through his obscure references and biblical quotes, I think you will find the task worth the effort.
- Ken Knudson
- Geneva, Switzerland
- March, 1971
COMMUNISM: FOR THE COMMON GOOD
- “Communism is a 9 letter word used by inferior magicians with the wrong alchemical formula for transforming earth into gold.”
- – Allen Ginsberg
“Wichita Vortex Sutra”
What is the nature of these differences? Perhaps the most concise answer to this question came in 1906 from a veritable expert on the subject: Joseph Stalin. He wrote in “Anarchism or Socialism?” that there were essentially three main accusations which (communist) anarchists leveled against Marxism:
- that the Marxists aren’t really communists because they would “preserve the two institutions which constitute the foundation of [the capitalist] system: representative government and wage labour”; 
- that the Marxists “are not revolutionaries”, “repudiate violent revolution”, and “want to establish Socialism only by means of ballot papers”; 
- that the Marxists “actually want to establish not the dictatorship of the proletariat, but their own dictatorship over the proletariat.” 
Stalin goes on to quote Marx and Engels to “prove” that “everything the anarchists say on this subject is either the result of stupidity, or despicable slander.”  Today the anarchists have the advantage of history on their side to show just who was slandering whom. I won’t insult the reader’s intelligence by pointing out how all three objections to Marxism were sustained by Uncle Joe himself a few decades later.
But let us look at these three accusations from another point of view. Aren’t the communist-anarchists simply saying in their holier-than-thou attitude, “I’m more communist than you, I’m more revolutionary than you, I’m more consistent
- “Whoever is a complete person does not need – to be an authority!”
The False Principle of Our Education