Egoism For The Curious
"Chick tracts" are short evangelical gospel tracts, originally created and published by American publisher and religious cartoonist Jack T. Chick.
It's hard to imagine that any of these bizarre fables actually changed anyone's mind; they were mostly a way for evangelicals to convince themselves they were preaching God's word while taking on all the impersonal efficiency demanded by Mammon. Nearly all of them involved a fantasy drama of conversion to Christianity, in which the ordinary person seemed to have never even heard of Christian ideas but believes them on the spot ("Wow—you're saying Jesus Christ died for my sins? That's so cool!").
- Jack Chick Is Dead but His Horrible, Ridiculous Cartoons Will Never Die, Sam Kriss (Vice 2016)
Chick tracts are honestly one of my most read comics, only topped by xkcd. They're awful, vile, equal parts hate literature and fire-and-brimstone sermonizing. And I've read so many of them, because just as Kriss says,
[they] were entrancing precisely because they seemed so incapable of imagining anyone else's point of view, of even pretending to meet me halfway. They showed a complete, perfect secondary world, one that looked just like this one, but one in which people didn't behave like real people, or talk like them either ("Haw haw haw!"), which was swarming with actual demons, fanged, and ugly—and millions seemed to really think they were living in it.
My favourite tract, of course, is this one.
Because it's correct.
Political ideologies are actually a really boring subject - to learn about, discuss, and critique. I'm generally a person who's very interested in political theory, but even I can't stomach spending hours reading drivel that's either too terse in it's language to parse, or has a prose to flowery to understand, just so the people writing it can feel smarter than everyone else.
But not with Max Stirner.
Developed by an edgy, a-moralist German philosopher from the 18th century, "Egoism" is an ideology that emphasizes the individual over any other kind of guiding principle; that is, the individual should do as they please, not bound by any law or moral code. Social constructs like Christianity, nationalism, morality, capitalism, communism, and even society are called "phantasms", or as they are more commonly known, "spooks". This name comes from Stirner to describe the actions of these institutions as similar to that of ghosts. They are immaterial, but can still have an affect on, or even possess the individual.
"The Unique and Its Property" is a good book. Certainly better than the book about bread that Kropotkin wrote. Stirner uses straightforward, even fairly simple language, filled with passion and sarcasm, to express ideas that are difficult, though probably more in the fact that very few people would want to accept their implications.
Stirner argues that everyone is selfish and aims for their own goals, even the community only aims to benefit the community without regard to others. While those that have trapped themselves into following a "spook" are involuntary egoists only following a doctrine because they believe it is the right thing to do which makes them happy or fulfilled.
The difference between an unwilling and a willing egoist is that the former will be "possessed" by an empty idea and believe that they are fulfilling a higher cause, but usually being unaware that they are only fulfilling their own desires to be happy or secure. In contrast, the latter will be a person that is able to freely choose its actions, fully aware that they are only fulfilling individual desires.
I like Egoism for the same reason I like Chick tracts - the absolute absurdity of it. The difference, however, is that I can actually agree with Egoism on some basis.
I don't normally like apply labels to people (but mostly to myself) because I consider them to be a reductive way of describing things. But sometimes they're useful for when there isn't any time to (or I just don't want to) explain something properly, and slapping on a "well-defined"label is an easy solution.
In terms of political ideologies, I would be labelled closest as an Anarcho-Syndicalist, which means that I must obviously worship democracy as a method of organisation. And I do, to some extent, I've preached the magnificence of direct democracy on this site plenty of times.
But democracy is a spook and here's why.
Democracy does not as it promises, give everyone the right to influence the decisions affecting them, because a person who voted on the losing side had no influence on that decision. In a winner-take-all system there is no incentive to compensate or conciliate defeated minorities, who have been told, in effect, that not only are they not to get their way, they are also stigmatised as wrong. The unaccountable majority is arrogant; the defeated minority is resentful.
Preference varies in intensity, but consent does not. Where preference is more or less, consent is yes or no. The vote of a person who has only a slight preference for a candidate or measure counts the same as the vote of someone passionately opposed. A majority with slight preferences one way may outvote almost as many strong preferences the other way. To put it another way, the opportunity to influence a decision is not proportionate to one's legitimate interest in the outcome.
Democracy does not account for the individual, the "Unique". It is very spooky.
People claim that democracy promotes dialogue, but where is the dialogue about democracy itself? People are unaware that it's even possible to critique democracy, as if it's a done deal. We just take it for granted that somebody (Locke? Rousseau? Lincoln? Churchill?) has long since made out a strong case for democracy. They didn't, nobody ever did.
It really is not hard to poke holes in democracy, just turn on the news.
But is there anything better than democracy?
Fascism? Fuck no.
Egoism? No not really, it's too ill-defined, loose, and frankly, kinda stupid.
A society where everyone (not just a few people) is somehow magically maximising how pleased their Unique is, no matter what anyone else thinks or believes, would be more utopian than whatever the Anarchists have come up with.
But, the point is that there is a lot of merit in Egoism either way. An ideology whose existence it seems, is to do nothing but mock others and self-aggrandise, is important to finding the flaws of your own.
Before I go, one last person I want to mention is Diogenes, for obvious reasons.
Stirner explicitly praised Diogenes as a conscious Egoist in The Unique and Its Property.
What else was Diogenes of Sinope looking for if not the true enjoyment of life, which he found in having the least possible wants?
And any time I get to talk about that old public masturbating fart is a good time, so let's do some here. Here's one of my favourite stories about Diogenes from his Wikipedia page.
While Diogenes was relaxing in the morning sunlight, Alexander [the Great], thrilled to meet the famous philosopher, asked if there was any favour he might do for him. Diogenes replied, "Yes, stand out of my sunlight." Alexander then declared, "If I were not Alexander, then I should wish to be Diogenes." "If I were not Diogenes, I would still wish to be Diogenes," Diogenes replied.
This man is my hero.
In conclusion, calling everything a "spook" is the best thing since long, thin, un-sliced bread that's recently been submitted for Unesco heritage status.
If you are confused about all my references to Anarchism and don't know what it is, you can read my last post here ;)