The Lure of Ersatz Individualism

Tammy Davis

October 25, 2005

It was just a short paragraph buried in the middle of the Sports Section of the newspaper, but it caught my eye. Dennis “The Menace” Rodman was going to try and make a comeback. Well, I thought, the kulture freaks and herd mentalities will be whooping it up now.

I had hoped that Mr. Rodman, who was basketball’s bad boy supreme for the nineties, was permanently ensconced in retirement never to plague our lives again. But no siree! There he was pontificating on how he still felt he “had something to contribute.” He was working the publicity channels for some notice in hopes of getting an offer from a desperate NBA team. Apparently a life of nihilism in the Hollywood-Vegas underworld had worn a bit thin for Mr. Tatoo. He desired to bring his act once again to center stage and shake up the Puritans of America. “Wow,” gushed the groupies with neon hair and metal bugers hanging from their noses, all a glitter with admiration for their hero.

Admiration is not exactly what we bedrockers in the heartland felt, however. To us, it is depressing to have to endure cultural pygmies insulting our social mores and polluting the noble arena of sports. Rodman is not, as the media hype him, a unique and refreshing counter to bourgeois monotony. He is a grotesque, a carnival geek that symbolizes everything that is wrong with our society.

We traditionalists stood with Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon, when several years back he let an interviewer know precisely what he felt about Dennis: “He needs to be ignored, but the media can’t get enough of him. He’s influencing kids. He’s corrupting society, and we’re giving him the opportunity to do it. It’s disgusting.”

To those on the radical left, Rodman is not corrupting society at all. He is merely American individualism blooming. He and others of his ilk like Larry Flynt and Howard Stern are manifestations of the American credo, the liberals tell us. Defying cultural traditions requires a contrarian courage and the ability to march to the beat of one’s own drummer. It’s one of the measures of a man’s mettle.

On the contrary, this is not what individualism is about at all; this is “ersatz individualism.” True philosophical individualism has nothing to do with the crass defiance of common sense and decency that runs so abrasively through the hallucinatory veins of today’s culture. Individualism is not a call for license and heedlessly doing whatever your whimsical fancy drives you to do; it is a call for self-reliance. It is expressed through personal productivity and the full exposition of one’s abilities, not through compulsive weirdness in one’s style of living.

To dye one’s hair green, to wear rings in one’s nose and tongue, to spew out obscenities on public airways, to mock conventional sexual mores and extol kinky sadism — these acts of rebellion require nothing enduring. Any half-wit fool can partake in such dementia. But how many men possess the courage to build their lives from scratch with their own effort to a pinnacle of success in a free-market? How many men are willing to serve their fellows with heroism and steadfast trial and error in face of repeated setbacks? True individualism is running a supremely efficient factory, writing a lyric poem, earning one’s way in the world, and seeking truth for all. It lies in the capacity to take risks that build and advance rather than degrade.

Deviant radicals like Rodman, Flynt and Stern are not individualists. They are the talented but churlish aberrations of life that come out from under the rocks of a society in decline to vent whatever ideological derangements are in fashion (in this instance a blasé cynicism and hatred for truth and order instilled into them by modern intellectuals). Rodman and his ilk are lost humans with an animal’s lack of values caught up in trying to assuage the shallowness of their personalities through shocking behavior and foppish flights into the bizarre, while manipulating the social herd for recognition and publicity on the cheap. It is a sad commentary upon the irrationality of our times that so many media ignoramuses fawn over them so.

The groupies of Rodman and Stern readily gravitate to the ersatz individualism of their heroes because it offers them a form of distinction that they are unable to achieve in the free-market world of true individualism. Invariably they are the types that lack the attributes to make their own way in a capitalist world that places a premium on talent, brains, and creative risk taking, etc. Thus they choose weirdness as their means to gain distinction and express their individuality, for it is the only means that they possess. Those who are daring and confident of making their way in the world choose achievement as their means to gain distinction and express their individuality, for it is the only means that they can respect.

The true individualist seeks to affirm the glory of life, not to erode it. Consequently he finds himself deeply repulsed by the fatuous degradation and boorish behavior that comes disguised as “individualism” today.

Why such phony individualists prevail in our society is because we have allowed the liberals to define individualism, not as self-reliance, but as anarchical expressionism. True individualism, however, is not “doing your own thing.” It is “doing the right thing,” as Albert Jay Nock told us decades ago. It entails strength rather than strangeness, and compels a duty to natural law. The true individualist knows immediately what Francis Bacon meant when he said, “Nature, in order to be commanded, must be obeyed.”

True individualism requires the instillation of a common core of cultural values, or our species will revert to its barbaric beginnings. Such an instillation is what the persuasive institutions of society (family, school, and church) are all about. It is their role to teach to the young the basic code of ethics, decency, common sense and community spirit necessary for people to live together in a civilized gathering. The breakdown of cultural cohesiveness that is presently taking place in America is a result of these institutions defaulting on their responsibility.

Dennis Rodman, Larry Flynt, and Howard Stern are the inevitable spawn of a manic society that teaches its young to revere compulsive weirdness as admirable — frivolous difference as independence. Ours is a society that has adopted modern philosophy’s proclamation of moral-cultural relativism as the guideline of an enlightened, progressive people. As a result, we are now treated to the painting of murals with feces and crossdressing at posh gatherings as actual forms of accomplishment to be applauded.

But compulsive weirdness is not individualism. The former can be achieved by any bumptious mediocrity. The credo of America is the latter, and there are countless examples of inspiring men and women who have fulfilled it.

Great individualists abound throughout our history like Jefferson, Lee, Carnegie, Nightingale, Lindbergh, Earhart, and MacArthur; along with sports figures like Joe Dimaggio, Babe Didrikson, and Arnold Palmer; and movie idols like Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn, and Vivien Leigh. All were cardinal examples of fiercely independent men and women who thought for themselves and carved out lives of profound uniqueness without feeling the compulsion to mock the traditions and mores of their society. These men and women were all basic conservatives in a cultural context. Their uniqueness resulted not from crude eccentricity but from their vision, courage, and achievements. They would be looking down upon the Rodmans, Flynts, and Sterns of today’s America with more than just a bit of scorn.