Before reading: The following is not intended as a criticism of the wing of anarchism known as Individualist Anarchism. Individualist anarchists favor the individual over government, which is different from favoring them over society. Individualist anarchists did not label themselves as such until after the generation of other anarchist "sects". I generally consider myself as not subscribing to any one of the anarchist sects and find the growing schism among us disturbing.
How Individualism Destroys Individuality
Sociology teaches us that human beings think in symbols. Without the symbols to represent our perceived reality we are incapable of sane thought. The way we see the world is affected by the symbols we create. The structure of our language, a collection of symbols, would imply that individualism creates individuality. Shouldn’t a philosophy centered on the individual promote his or her individual strengths? But this is not what we see in reality. Individualism leads not to the promotion of individuality, but rather to its obstruction.
Individualism truly implies putting the needs of the individual ahead of the needs of society. There is nothing apparently wrong with this philosophy. It would, after all, be unsuitable to the individual if he or she must give up rights, privileges, or powers for the good of society. But there is a darker side to this viewpoint. To put the needs of the one ahead of the needs of the many is to make everybody’s goal one of self promotion. Inevitably, some will be better at this than others. For this reason, some will end up with power and others will not. In the absence of a contradictory philosophy, power becomes more concentrated in the hands of those who can obtain it from others. Even as the power becomes more concentrated, some will still be more efficient than others and the concentration will increase exponentially. This will continue until it reaches a point where individual efficiency fluctuates more than the difference in individual power.
If somebody believes in individualism he will more efficiently serve this philosophy by protecting his own powers. A loss of power is a loss of individual needs, so an individual will best serve himself if he makes sure there is no loss of power. To protect this power, he will create safeguards for his power. To obtain power others will then have to meet these barriers. The hurdles will inherently limit the choices of an individual. To pass through these barriers, people will need to present certain standards and requirements that prove their competency. The individual will best serve his own interests if he attempts to present these standards.
As power becomes more concentrated, barriers become more numerous. This forces groups to adapt more specifically if they wish to obtain more strength. Needless to say, the individual’s choices are restricted by these walls. Inevitably, the more a person desires to benefit himself, the more specific his characteristics must be. Personal preferences are discarded in the quest for individual strength. Diversity necessarily drops under such conditions and individuality is reduced. People’s abilities are ultimately held back, unexecuted, latent.
Ironically, a mindset placing personal gain first reduces personal options. The ideal society in which people are free to many options is one with very few barriers and thus lacking a great deal of individualism. To take on a viewpoint placing the needs of society higher will therefore benefit not only the human species itself, but the choices of the individual.