Collective is not always the best. The appreciative word for performing alone is solitude. On the negative side, there is loneliness and, e. g. „being on your own“.
In German, you also have the particular expression „Alleingang“, which has, I guess for historical reasons, a negative bearing. The word is mostly used about a country – when a country is acting independently of other countries. A recent example would be Sweden’s Corona policy.
On the collective side, you find many positive expressions. Words like company, group, society, union, and collective are all positive. But language also suggests negative ways of being many, like gang and mass.
Hoping to escape loneliness, you can join a mass. The Dutch psychologist Mattias Desmet presents a theory on this in his book „The Psychological Origins of Authoritarianism“ (2022).
Briefly paraphrased, Desmet thinks proliferating loneliness leads people to seek “company” by joining a common movement. One recent example would be the Corona alarm movement (my wording). He compares this movement to communism/Stalinism in USSR and to Nazi Germany and refers to the German-born political philosopher Hannah Arendt. He points to the difference between a „classical dictatorship“ and a dictatorship based on mass formation. A classical dictator eases oppression when opposition ceases, whereas mass formation is never satisfied. Rather, mass formation turns more predatory (my wording) if there is no longer opposition. When there is no more opposition to attack, the movement attacks its followers. This will go on until the dictator dies, as in the case Stalin, or till the movement “burns out”.
Desmet finds that about 10 percent of the population remains thinking independently even if surrounded by a mass formation.
A tiny minority
One independent thinker is the American political scientist, John Mearsheimer. He does not hold Russia responsible for the war in Ukraine. Among the scholars and commentators on foreign policy, Mearsheimer is not absolutely alone, but according to himself, he belongs to „a tiny minority“.
In my opinion, you can appreciate liberalism without being totalitarian on its behalf. You can tolerate, accept and even appreciate that other societies follow a different course. Neither for the sake of other countries‘ citizens nor to get rid of an ideological competitor on the planet, should you impose liberalism wherever you see a chance.
From Mearsheimer, I have also picked up an interesting detail. According to him, Ukraine was encouraged by the UK premier Boris Johnson, and behind him the US president Joe Biden, not to give in when Russia stood before Kyiv earlier this year. About the situation now, in November 2022, Mearsheimer says: „We are screwed“ (interview with the UK media outlet Unherd 29.11.2022). Both sides are deeply dedicated to the war, and Mearsheimer, like any informed person trying to imagine a peace scenario, just can’t bring the pieces together.
Two others, also informed persons, are Peter Hitchens (UK) and Gabriele Krone-Schmalz (Germany). They are journalists/authors and have expressed relatively brave opinions on the Russia-West connection. Hitchens says that „we are partly responsible“ for the war. Krone-Schmalz wrote a book about the „arrogance of the West“ and the importance of understanding Russia in 2015. But at the same time Hitchens says that the Russian invasion is „barbarian“ and Krone-Schmalz, although seemingly accepting Russia’s threat – to enforce some change in Ukrainian policy – will not see the invasion as understandable. She distinguishes sharply between understanding in the cognitive sense, and „understandable“ in the moral sense. In my opinion, those commentators turn „polytheistic“ instead of (each) figuring out one consistent view. Mr. Mearsheimer, however, says plainly that the West, in particular the US, is responsible.
Love and War
If there is no scenario for peace, unfortunately there are plenty of scenarios for how the war can escalate. The war, as it is now, is much a “war of restraint”. The list of civilian harm and military destruction each side could impose on the other, but doesn’t now, can be made quite long. There is territorial restraint (direct confrontation only inside Ukraine), there is restraint regarding the form of participation (sanctions, money, and weapons, but no soldiers from the West), and, of course, the type of weapons used (conventional).
Mearsheimer said in the interview referred to above, that he could not understand why people seem so little afraid of a nuclear war. “There will be no more London”, he reminded his audience, while sitting in London, “if we go into a full thermonuclear war”.
Mearsheimer also says he is glad he was born in a liberal society. The more you love what you have, the more cautious you will be about taking a deadly risk. Risk is not only about the risk of losing; it is also about winning at too high a price.
Artwork of the fortnight
Also in a group, you can be alone. You are alone in a group that has no sense of individuality.