This is excerpted from Chapter 6 of my latest book: 101 Things to do Instead of College
Individualism is the act of thinking for yourself. It’s rooted in the most fundamental choice you’ve got:
The choice to pay attention or not.
There are approximately one thousand arguments against individualism — and every single one of them, without exception, is predicated upon a fraudulent premise.
That human beings are, for instance, essentially social doesn’t negate or nullify our individualistic nature.
True individualism is not “rugged” — and next time you hear that, dismiss it immediately for exactly what it is: a canard, if ever there was one.
Karl Marx saw humanity as an “organic whole,” and all the neo-Marxists like to use that phrase, pointing out simultaneously the obvious fact that “most humans grow up in families and live in societies.” All of which misses the point and does not render individualism void:
Individualism does not mean atomism.
Neither does it mean that humans are anti-social by nature.
Nor does individualism necessarily embrace self-destructive hedonism, or moral subjectivism, or moral relativism, or fleeting range-of-the-moment pleasures that are too short-sighted to consider long-term consequences — or any of the other adversary ethics that nullify human happiness over a lifespan.
Ultimately, the thing that grounds individualism in fact is that no one person can think for another:
Only the individual reasons.
Only the individual thinks.
Thought is the fundamental act of human will.
When you distill it down to its essence, the decision to pay attention or not is the choice that determines all your other choices because it’s what determines your thoughts.
For this reason it’s not an exaggeration to say that the locus of free will is in the choice to pay attention or not.
We are each defined by our actions, but our actions are defined by our thoughts.
The choice to focus your attention is the spark that shapes and determines everything else because that choice is what shapes your thinking patterns.
Thinking is the uniquely human method of survival.
Thinking is reasoning.
Reasoning is the power of the human brain to form connections and make distinctions — which is to say: reason is the human capacity to discover identity of things.
It is the process of learning the nature of reality. It is the process of learning what things are.
Recognizing this will take you far.
Reason is choice, said John Milton.
This insight — what it implies — is ultimately the thing that embeds individualism in fact.
Societies, communities, tribes, bands, and so forth — all are composed of individuals. But each of those individuals must perform alone, in the privacy of their own minds, the fundamental thing that shapes every subsequent thing:
Each individual must choose to focus the brain and pay attention, or not.
That is where the art of individualism begins, and ends.
That is the most essential choice you’ve got.