The most important thing to understand here is that the sanctity of the individual is the most universal and comprehensive — you could even say collective — way of thinking about political and economic systems because everyone is an individual. Some people would want to scream “Libertarian”, but some libertarians seem more concerned with the sanctity of only a single individual, themselves. Here, I mean all individuals. The sanctity of the individual is not a conservative or a liberal position. It’s a fundamentally human perspective, and a check against the excesses of either the right or the left if they start getting power mad and straying closer to authoritarianism. You can’t be an authoritarian over someone who you want to have all the rights and privileges of an individual.
I don’t want to argue about libertarianism, and there are multiple strains of it from the left to the right, from abolishing capitalism to embracing free market capitalism. I’m just saying I’m not the conservative variety of American libertarian the left is thinking of when they spit out the word with conviction that they are addressing the enemy. I mean, don’t own property, don’t have a financial portfolio, and otherwise have no reason to be a member of the “keep off of my grass” club. There’s that brand of libertarianism that is, if we were to be honest about it, for the rich.
The abolition of slavery asserted the right of every individual to be free, independent, and the master of himself, so to speak. Note that while we heavily focus on America having slavery, the fact that it was abolished within the first hundred years of the country’s independence is somehow completely forgotten. And so you can easily see how the liberated individual is a progressive notion. However, having lived in China, I can say via direct observation that a communist society, which on paper is supposed to free people from the bonds of labor under capitalism, has its own social stratification; and however noble the system of governance sounds, someone’s running it and has leagues more power than those toiling in faux equality below.
I never believed in royalty, not for a second. This individualist trend is strong in American rhetoric. When I was teaching at a university in a small city in China, I explained to my students that if Obama walked into KFC, he would wait in line to order food, just like everyone else. You need to know that where I lived there was only one Western restaurant – KFC. The one phrase that I clearly remember from my years of speaking Chinese is bié chāduì which means don’t cut in line. Cutting in line was a national pastime, and anyone who thought they belonged to a higher station felt justified in cutting in front of someone less significant, and that often included wàiguó rén or foreigners such as myself. I needed this phrase almost daily, sometimes multiple times a day.
Back to the libertarians. A kid I went to school with, now an adult libertarian, argued with me about his opposition to raising minimum wage. That’s a separate issue I’m not going to get into here. However, it’s a typical libertarian stance. Why should I have to pay more than what people are willing to work for? And why should I have to pay taxes? It’s an infringement on my liberty, etc. And the issue I would have here is that they would have people working for them for wages where those individuals would never have the wherewithal to achieve the station in life of their employer. And the kid I went to school with, well, we went to a public school, but he didn’t want to have to pay taxes to fund such schools anymore. Once he’d crossed that bridge, he didn’t give a crap about anyone else being able to cross it. The sanctity of the individual includes all other individuals, and is not a selfish and self-serving perspective. It is not my sanctity over yours. My sanctity and yours, as individuals, are one and the same. If I want it for me, I want it for you. It’s the sanctity of the universal individual.
There may be some economic problems with raising wages, and I’m not fan of paying taxes, but it’s not out of pure, unbridled selfishness. Who likes paying over 30% of their income in taxes, while also paying off student loans?! I feel like I was paying more than my share. I don’t even like the idea that one is born a citizen of a country, and an eventual, inevitable, employee and taxpayer. I don’t like that the work week is 5 days a week. I think it should be 4 days with 3 off – an exponential difference – so people have time to improve or enjoy their lives. The problem with the long work weeks and being born a citizen is in both cases you belong to other people. You may be a citizen of a country, but there are just ordinary people running it, in which case you belong to a country in name, but to a group of ordinary people in reality.
I always hated the idea of the draft. Why should I risk my life, and kill, for some other guy so he can get richer or more powerful? Sometimes you need to defend your country from invasion, and that’s different, and yet who defends it for whom? Some are exempt from the front line. And whose schemes got us into the mess in the first place?
A president is just another guy who puts his pants on one leg at a time, and craps and farts on a regular basis. These days it’s not even the best man that beats out everyone else to get to the oval office. We now have our own effectual royal families: the Bushes and the Clintons. Clearly the younger Bush was not qualified to be a president, and his taking the office was the same as having the offspring of a King of England become the eventual king. The whole reason for founding America was upended when the Crown Prince George W. ascended to the throne. The idea that anyone can become president in America is a cruel joke in 2021, but the ideal is American to the core.
Currently I live in a country that is a “Kingdom”. There is a king, and the newest one is not as popular as the former by a considerable margin. There are laws in place so that you can’t criticize this king, or his business ventures, or you get awarded a vacation in prison. Like presidents, I just see kings as other mortals, though with enormous delusions of grandeur. But don’t worry, I do NOT get involved in the local politics in this country at all. I don’t spout off about it. It’s not my place. And I barely hint at American politics anymore because they are so toxic that you get radiation poisoning just by approaching them.
And I also know that if things were a bit different, I could have been born into royalty, or riches, or be a senator’s son with silver spoon in hand. And in that case, I’d probably believe I deserved it, that I was inherently that much better than others, and would probably struggle with corruption. That’s just human nature. But I have the short end of the stick, and I just know that these leaders are just other wankers, no better or worse than the common lot.
I told my wife the other day that I have no role models. It’s true. Who can I model myself after as an artist? My favorite artists are Vincent Van Gogh and Francis Bacon. If we wanted to include old masters I might have to throw in someone like Caravaggio. So, we have a guy who cut off part of his ear; a guy who spent virtually every night in the pub, and, uh, well, you’ll have to look into Bacon’s rather sordid private life; and a guy who murdered someone else.
I have no religion, belief system, no group allegiance, and basically subscribe to nothing in particular. I don’t even work in one artistic style or medium. But I rather think this is a strength. Those seem like handicaps to me. It’s attractive, I suppose, to have a belief system with all the answers already written out for you. But, again, I know those answers were just written by other people, and I can write my own answers. Why not?
I thoroughly reject the current belief systems about art and reality that are being promulgated by the media, the ruling class, and academia. And most of this hinges on their infringement on the sanctity of the individual and the sanctity of art. I’ve dealt with this elsewhere, but you’ve doubtlessly heard that “all art is political”. Well, this is supposed to seem so noble and progressive, because it means that art must work for righteous causes and the artist should be an activist for change. But it also subordinates art to whichever political agenda, which is reactionary, and can be a tool for authoritarianism. It allows politicians, or political activists, to rule over art.
And there are a lot of notions that for the common good, a certain group of people in which I find myself should be sidelined for the foreseeable future in order to make up for past inequities, or for the wrongdoings of the ruling elite of centuries ago who happened to share my rough biological traits. And this is just another infringement on the sanctity of the individual.
If anyone tells you that in your lifetime – your one and only appearance on the stage of being – you need to be sidelined for the greater good (which includes their personal benefit), they are the wrinkle that needs to be smoothed out, not you. It is one thing to curb the astronomical lead of the richest and most powerful: it’s another to seek to punish average citizens with barriers and impediments to make up for the astronomical lead of the richest and most powerful of past generations.
Occasionally I get comments on my blog where someone assumes to have won the argument by trotting out that I am a “middle-aged white male”. Never mind that this is a faceplant because it’s the logical fallacy of the ad hominem attack (attacking a person rather than their argument]. You see, I am wrong because of this fact of my biology. I’ve also been told that as an artist I am “irrelevant” because of my biology, unless, of course, I focus my art on deconstructing my biology. This is yet another affront to the sanctity of the individual. There is no noble and progressive way to suppress people or shut them down.
You can tell if the right or the left are getting greedy with power and slipping into authoritarianism when they seek to curtail the right of free speech. For all practical purposes, to do so is enormously effective for whoever is in power to shut up all opposition. In that case, the underdog never wants free speech to be eradicated, otherwise he or she can’t contest abuses of power. Free speech is in everyone’s best interest, unless, of course, someone wants an unfair advantage and to lord over others.
And this is a very strong inclination in people whatever their political stripe. Even in the must humble business, you may see a manager presume to be universally above the workers he overseas, and then of course he will defer to upper management, and fear the boss. Bullshit, all of it. The boss is a pud-whacker.
I did some temp work after getting my MFA – where I learned that because of my DNA I didn’t deserve to be a successful artist in this lifetime – and I was promoted from working in the warehouse, to being the courier, to working as a marketing assistant. Well, the guy who I was replacing as the assistant, who himself was moving into being the company artist (I wasn’t even considered for such a position), cornered me in the gym and told me not to associate with the guys from the warehouse anymore. I was F’ing pissed off he was interrupting my set, but also, of course, found his argument utterly disgusting. No, I wasn’t going to prance around like I was better than the guys in the warehouse.
So, you can see I have that sort of defiant, American, working class attitude about power and whatnot. But if someone’s a good boss or manager, and I’ve had some good ones [including, as it happens, a couple black ones], than there’s no problem. For me a job is a contract to do this or that for whatever the wage, and it should be mutually beneficial under the circumstances (even if a bit cosmically jacked), but everyone involved should treat everyone else with mutual respect, at least so long as everyone’s competent and honest.
Self realization should not be reserved for the few at the top. And it isn’t really, because reality doesn’t believe in our systems of power. Sometimes the spoiled kids are weak because they don’t have to do what they don’t want to, and they don’t develop patience or self-control. Sometimes you learn from being in a situation you don’t want to be in. My first year teaching in China got off to a very bad start, including being assigned an absolutely horrendous and filthy apartment. Oh, people said, “This is China”, and I said, “well, can I have an apartment as nice as the one opposite me in the same building?” I would have left on the next plane if I had the money to do it. I didn’t. So I had to live in the shittiest apartment I’d ever set foot in, and teach little brats for peanuts. However, it was an extremely rich and rewarding experience overall. I had to immerse myself in the culture and environment. I had to speak Chinese just to get food. The menus didn’t have English, and sometimes I just pointed and prayed (inevitably ending up with chicken’s feet).
To truly appreciate the sanctity of the individual, it is necessary to appreciate that of everyone else, and it is also intolerable to subordinate or oppress people. War is an abomination. If you think someone else’s life needs to be hampered for your personal benefit, you’ve got one foot in the middle ages.
It’s a good litmus test, as well as being essential to human fulfillment. When a political party, or movement, or whatever group seeks to curtail or suppress the rights of other individuals, even for ostensibly righteous causes, it’s not in the name of progress, but hunkering down in a less evolved and more selfish mindset.