We think it is natural and right for the individual to be principally concerned with himself. We think that man, like the lower animals, is primarily motivated by considerations of self, but that rational man should be expected to exercise what is termed enlightened self-interest.
We oppose the tendency to meaningless selflessness in our present society. Self-sacrifice and self-denial are, in themselves, wrong unless they are motivated by a desire for some greater individual good. This does not mean that man should be unconcerned about the well-being of his fellow man. To the contrary, intelligent self-interest includes a concern for others. The individual should be willing to assist those less fortunate, for a society—and each individual in it—benefits from a concern for the welfare of all. We simply mean to emphasize that it is right and natural for the individual to be primarily concerned with himself, dedicated to his own interests, proud of his efforts and his accomplishments. Such dedication and pride are of definite benefit to both the individual and rest of society.
A Human and Humane Society
A society that emphasizes rational self-interest is not an impersonal one. Just the opposite. An emphasis on the intelligently self-dedicated individual produces both a more human and more humane social order. Moreover, these are the very qualities that our society is in greatest danger of losing.
As society becomes more complex, more structured and specialized, there is an increasing tendency to de-emphasize the personal, the individual and the human. Even as man's technology becomes automated, man himself runs the risk of becoming a depersonalized automaton. Pride in individual accomplishment becomes more difficult when he is a single cog in the machinery of mass production—and this is equally true whether he works on the assembly line in a factory or at a desk performing a repetitive, routine white-collar job.
He dresses the same as the man next to him, drives a similar car, lives in a similar house, watches the same television programs, smokes a similar cigarette and drinks similar beer. He enjoys a two-party political system, but both candidates run on similar platforms; he enjoys a free press, but is often given only one side of major local, national and international questions.
Mass communication and mass advertising produce in him the same interests, ideals, dreams, aspirations and brand images as in everyone else. And to make certain his opinion, likes and dislikes don't become too different from everyone else's, opinion polls on everything from political figures and important issues of the day to the popularity of TV shows and the products they sell inform him, down to a tenth of one percent, what his fellow Americans are thinking and doing.
Moreover, if his manner, morals, politics or religious beliefs are too different from the rest, he runs the risk of losing his job and being ostracized from his community.
His Social Security number is more important than his name, when he is applying for a job; the number on his credit card is more important than his reputation when he seeks credit in a restaurant or a department store. He is a number to the Internal Revenue Service when he pays his taxes; another number to the insurance company when he pays his premium or makes a claim; and still another number to the people who supply him with gas and electricity. It's a matter of little consequence, we suppose, and we don't doubt that the new system is more efficient (at least for AT&T), but since the telephone company began changing exchanges to numerals, we can't remember the phone numbers of any of our friends anymore.
An incident reported in The New Yorker several weeks ago illustrates just how far we've really gone in losing our identities in this numbers game: "A young lady from Boston recently joined the staff of the New York Hospital and was given a small blue identification card with her name and address on it. This proved of no help to her when she tried to cash her first paycheck at a bank, and since she had no drivers license, she was in danger of starving for lack of liquid funds. Then, resourcefully, she neatly printed six arbitrary numerals along the top of her identification card. After that, her checks were cashed without any ado, the bank tellers dutifully copying down the bogus numerals. She likes to think of her six figures being copied by the central bank clerk, punched into monster IBM machines and immortalized on magnetic tape."
Most of our mass communication, mass production, automation and numeralization serves worthwhile ends and makes possible the more effective operation of an ever more complicated economy and involved social structure. But to offset this depersonalizing process, we require a conscious emphasis on the individual that was never so necessary before. Now, as never before, we need to explore, reassess and revitalize those qualities that make us truly human, as well as truly individual, distinctive and different from one another.
The much discussed New Leisure, made possible by the shorter work week resulting from mass production and automation, must be used not only to escape the tedium of a routined existence, but to develop interests, avocations and personal potentialities that are otherwise stifled. Since this publication is devoted to such leisure-time living, it can play a significant part in exploring this increasingly important area of our existence and, most especially, in motivating its readers to personally examine and develop aspects of their individuality, interests, talents and activities perhaps previously dormant.
Any such development of our individualism is a personally rewarding experience certain to make each of us more truly human. It should also make us more humane, for an emphasis on one's own distinctive traits, interests and ideas ought to produce an appreciation of the individual differences in one's fellow men. By contrast, the do-gooder and the busybody are preoccupied with others—and are noted for their intolerance.
The Individual vs. The Group
It is essential that a free society continually reestablish and reemphasize the importance of each individual within it remembering that a society and its administrator government are only the means to an end, and not an end in themselves. The all-important end is, and must always be, the individual—his interests, his freedom and his happiness.
Group good should not be allowed to overshadow individual good. Group good should not become disembodied from individual good.
An overemphasis on a collective idea, ideal or ideology can give them an identity unrelated to the interests of the individual. And totalitarian control over the mind and body of man is most easily accomplished by stressing a depersonalized group: in a dictatorship the interests of the state are placed above those of the common citizen; the Inquisition would not have been possible without putting the concerns of the church ahead of those of the people; few of history's bloodiest wars would have been fought if the interest of the individuals involved had not been subordinated to those of the nation; religious bigotry and racial discrimination require our thinking in terms of groups rather than individuals; World Communism requires that its members dedicate themselves wholly, unquestioningly, unthinkingly to the good of the Party.
This is not to suggest that worthwhile ends may not also be served through group action and dedication, but when the group itself, or the ideal, or cause becomes more important than the individual members dedicated to it, as well as the individuals in society who may not be, then the scene is set for the perpetration of the most monstrous atrocities against mankind.
It is our further belief that the greatest benefits to society have come, throughout history, from individual effort. While group endeavor obviously has its place in society and an increasingly complex social order requires more joint effort than was necessary in simple times, the need for individual initiative and thought has also never been greater.
We suffer today from too much group-think and group action and too little individual endeavor. No council could have created Hamlet and the Mona Lisa could never have been painted by a committee. In science there is a virtue in joint effort that does not exist in art and literature, but even here the appearance of group productivity is deceiving. For while a complex scientific project, like the search for a cure for cancer or some aspect of the U.S. space program, may involve the energies of many men, a single mind must conceive the nature of the problem and a possible solution to then be explored by the research of many. Collective effort may have been required to build the atom bomb, but the formula E=mc2 came from a single genius—the technology of science depends upon group interaction, the inspiration of science depends upon the individual.
We do not mean to suggest that men are intellectual islands, for it is obvious that in most areas of endeavor, each man's effort is built upon the previous effort of others, but the greatest achievements, whether in art or science, have been produced by a solitary, dedicated, self-involved individual. "Eureka!" is an individual expletive.
It should also be clear that man must remain free if he is to continue to thus conceive and create, for history has proven, in every age and place, that the men most responsible for the world's progress are often ridiculed and derided by their fellow men and their contribution only perceived with the passage of time.