Culture Knowledge Center:
is Western Culture? Reason
Introduction and definition
Hero of Humanity is the Individual
Reason or Submission
Individualism means emphasis on the individual
person. Western cultures embrace of individualism stems from
its embrace of reason because,
as we shall see, the individual and only the individual
has the ability to reason.
of Humanity is
A group of people does not have the ability to reason, strictly
speaking. Only the individuals comprising the group do because all
perception and thought takes place within the individual mind. There
is no group brain.
A group of people, for example, may create something new. However,
since a group is merely a sum of individuals, what the group produces
is ultimately the result of individual reason and judgment. For
example, the television is considered a group invention. And it
is true that no single person invented it, but this does not change
the fact that it resulted from the contributions of individuals,
not a faceless collective.
Also, when a person uses ideas and achievements of others to create
something new, something above and beyond what already exists, the
creation is the persons own individual accomplishment, a result
of his or her own initiative, effort, ingenuity and reasonnot
that of his or her predecessors. The light bulb, for example, is
Thomas Edisons achievement, and his alone, because he
brought it into existence, even though others before him invented
glass, a screw base, etc.
Everything that makes human life secure and enjoyablefrom
achievements in medicine, music and engineering to breakthroughs
in transportation, literature and governmentwas ultimately
the creation or discovery of one: the individual using his
or her power of reason. The individual, therefore, is the hero of
The individual, with his or her power of reason, can gain knowledge,
competency, self-reliance and self-respect through his or her own
effort and self-development. In other words, the individual can
achieve independence; he or she need not have a fundamental dependence
on others, including God, for survival and well-being.
Achieving independence does not require that one live alone, say,
on a self-sustaining farm. A person has much to gain, such as knowledge
and trade, from living in society. Rather, being independent requires
that one think for oneself and pay ones own way through life
by working productively.
By definition, being independent rules out acting as a parasite,
such as engaging in crime or, as a normal course of living, relying
on private charity or government welfare.
To have the faculty of reason implies that one has free will. Thinking
is an act of choice; it is not automatic or instinctive. It is initiated
and sustained by ones own volition. A person has the choice
to think, to question, to judge, to fully focus on reality or
to coast mindlessly and then, by default, become a mere product
of his or her genes and social influences.
For example, a person can be raised by racist parents and come to
personally adopt their irrational views. This person, however, especially
by the time he reaches adulthood, can choose to think about and
question the truthfulness of his bigoted views and reject these
views, even if this process is difficult. If he does not question
his views and remains a racist then this, too, is his choice.
The individual, therefore, is not just capable of being independent.
The individual is independent in the sense that what he believes
and doesin other words, who he isis ultimately
a product of his own choice. As a result, the individual is self-responsible,
the master of his own destiny and, in a word, sovereign.
Non-Western culture rejects individualism.
It holds that all achievement is ultimately a gift from God or/and
a product of the groupnot a result of the individual and his
or her reason, volition
In other words, nonwestern culture may hold that God controls, and
is responsible for, everythingincluding the individual and
whatever he or she may achieve.
It may also hold that the individual is merely a feeble, dependent
and expendable fragment or cell of the group. And the group (such
as society, the state, the class, the tribe) is regarded as a super-organism
that is somehow apart from and superior to the sum of its individual
members. Consequently, according to this view, any and all achievement
is the achievement of the group, that is, of a faceless collective.
Therefore, God or/and the group, not the individual,
is considered sovereign and the primary value in nonwestern culture.
Consequently, the individual in nonwestern culture is viewed as
having relevance and value only insofar as he knows his placethat
is, only insofar as he submits to, depends on and serves the will
of God or/and the group.
Islam, for example, literally means to submit. And communism
and socialism, with commune and social meaning "group,"
are based on the primacy of the group and the subjugation of the
individual to it.
In nonwestern culture, submitting and surrendering oneself to the
will of God or/and the group has nearly irresistible appeal because
reason is devalued in the culture.
This causes the individual to believe that reasonhis own independent
ability to grasp knowledge and truthis inadequate to provide
the guidance that his life and well-being require.
This leaves the individual feeling helpless, like a bird without
wings, and desperate for anyone to tell him what to believe and
do. As a result, the individual freely subjugates himself to the
will of God or/and the group since they, not the individual, are
viewed as powerful and efficacious.
It is unnatural
for the individual to be weak, submissive and dependent. Now is
the time for the world to embrace the ideal of individualism by
recognizing that it is proper for the individual to be rational,
strong, independent, heroic and, in essence, the source of all achievement
Go to Happiness
Rand, For the New Intellectual; For the New Intellectual
(New York, Signet, 1982) p14 paperback.
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