This is the manifesto of enlightened individualism.
The mindsets and attitudes of enlightened individualism are crucial aspect for personal development and self-empowerment.
These mindsets are central to being a high-value man/woman, an effective power-aware operator, and a man with high odds of achieves goals, freedom, and success.
The enlightened individualist is also the eagle we talk about on TPM, and the blue ocean fish who transcends the small ponds.
This is a deep article requiring some hours.
Bookmark it, get back to it at your own time, and internalize it properly.
TPM community also contributed and expanded this article.
- 10 Commandments
- 1. It’s Me, First, Before & Above Any Group
- 2. I Put My Interests Before Groups
- 3. I Put My Interests Before Random People (no fandom)
- 4. I Put Myself Above Any Man-Made Product
- 5. I Put Myself Above Man-Made Institutions
- 6. I’m A Human, And No Other Human Is Above Me
- 7. I Only Attach & Invest Into What I Can Control
- 8. I Choose Myself Before Any Values
- 9. My Judging Criteria Come Before External Criteria
- 10. I Expect Little From The World, & Demand Lots From Myself
- How Enlightened Individualism Empowers You
- Dangers of Group Dynamics
- When Evolution Turns Maladaptive
- Individualism & Other Schools of Thoughts
- How to Be An Empowered Individualist
- 1. Start From Narcissism
- 2. Move to “Enlightened Narcissism”
- 3. Start From Cynicism
- 4. Move to “Enlightened Cynicism”
- 5. Accept Your Selfish Drives: They’re Potentially Good
- 6. Learn to Be Comfortable Alone
- 7. Experience & Join the Most Disparate Groups
- 8. Assess Characters: Leaders & Members
- 9. Quit All Groups That Limit Your Individual Power
- 10. Focus on Self-Development
- 11. Cut Out (Mass) Media Consumption
- 12. Move to “Enlightened Belonging”
- 13. Ruthlessly Focus on Maximum Impact Area
- The Hero’s Journey
Enlightened individualism is a borderless and timeless mindset and approach to life that focuses on the self, on individual goals and objective, and on the agency and power of individual humans
Enlightened individualism puts the individual before and above collectivist constructs such as groups, races, genders, nations, entities, and ideologies.
And especially so when the collectivist, supra-individual constructs turn disempowering, which, as we shall see, often do.
In psychological terms, we might define “enlightened individualism” as a personality trait because its mindsets and beliefs lead to predictable -and empowering- thought patterns, behaviors, life choices, and life paths.
There are three undercurrents to an individual-first approach:
- Focus on the self: puts himself, his unalienable individual rights and, when appropriate, his self-interest, before groups and (collectivist) ideals. The focus on the self includes zeroing in on one’s own goals and objectives
- Salience of the self: considers himself, and demands to be considered, as an individual first and foremost, rather than a “cog in a bigger wheel”, whether that wheel is an actual group, or a mental representation
- Salience on individuals when dealing with others: approaches and deals with others as individuals first and foremost, rather than members of groups
So, how does an enlightned individualist think?
This chapter shows you how.
1. It’s Me, First, Before & Above Any Group
Enlightned individualists see themselves as individuals first and foremost.
They might love the various groups they’re part of, but their group belonging but do not define them.
instead, the enlightened individualist self-defines himself based on his individual beliefs, values, and actions.
A cascade of empowering attitudes, beliefs and mindsets ensue from this core mindset, including:
- Individual responsibility: I am responsible for what happens in my life
- Individual accountability: I answer for myself, and never for others
- Individual independence: whatever my race/country/gender does, it says nothing of me as an individual
- Personal power: whatever my background or group belonging, I can transcend it
- Personal agency: provided that I am a generally value-adding individual, I maintain independence from external pressures and coercion, free to pursue my will, interests, and values
Of course, external power dynamics and constraints can sometimes decrease personal agency.
And sometimes, it might be a strategic good choice to subserve or follow -for a while, at least-.
However, that takes nothing away from the mindset and approach. Even when the individual can’t actualize his individual free will and power, the mindset still maintains the right to personal agency.
Slave belonging is the subordination of the self to a group
The opposite of the enlightened approach, the subordination of the self to a group, is a form of “self-slavery”.
Slaves don’t own themselves, and someone who puts the group before himself doesn’t fully own himself either.
As we shall see, the enslavement of the self is not just bad for the individual, but can be instrumental for evil against other individuals as well (“idealistic evil”, spiral of silences, etc. etc.).
2. I Put My Interests Before Groups
There is a danger of mis-reading this law.
To some it might sound selfish and ahole-like.
To me, the opposite is true, because any pro-social act must be borne out of the ability and power to be selfish.
If not, you are just being prey of social coercion, social pressure, or manipulation.
Or being a sheep.
Once you’re capable of selfishness, comfortable with it, and not afraid of following through, then you can choose to serve whatever other bigger cause you choose to serve.
That’s the crucial difference: the enlightened individualist chooses if, when, and what cause, group, or ideal to serve, rather than having someone else foist them upon him, or manipulate him into believing that he owes the group any sacrifice.
3. I Put My Interests Before Random People (no fandom)
This law might seem obvious on the surface.
Yet, most people don’t even realize they’re putting themselves last. In good part, it’s because they confuse what “random people” really mean.
Random people are anyone with whom you don’t have a significant, two-way street relationship based on emotional affection, or based on value-exchange.
When you follow this rule, you zero in on your lire and goals and your life, and you are infinitely more likely to achieve your goals, add value to the people around you, and enjoy a good life.
And the opposite is true, of course.
Failure of The Law: Celebrating Di Caprio’s Oscar
I don’t watch or follow who won what prize.
But I did find out when Di Caprio won an Oscar.
Because “fans” went crazy when Di Capio “finally” had won an oscar. We can guess they also got personally disappointed and disturbed when he didn’t win.
These fans are unlikely to succeed in life because they focus on other people’s life, rather than their own.
No Fandom: Your focus Is On Yourself
This approach protects you against fandom and time-waste, and helps you stay focused on your goals, your life, your achievements, and your enjoyment.
Your life and your accomplishments are full-time jobs.
And it doesn’t leave much free time to watch other people live their life.
At least, that’s the mindset of the enlightned individualist.
Focus on the self includes:
- No watching sports: do sport yourself instead
- Reading about “transfers” and “rumors”: the fan equivalent of gossiping
- No gossiping: wasting time on other people’s lives rather than yours
- No pedestalizing: including pics with celebs, which almost automatically puts you in the “less than” position
4. I Put Myself Above Any Man-Made Product
Enlightened individualists put the self before any product, object, or fetish.
Failing this law is the equivalent of “pedestalizing objects”.
When you “must” have a certain product or brand, you position yourself below that brand, and you send a disempowering message to the only brand that should matter: you.
The enlightened individualist looks beyond products’ hype, and goes to the source.
And he sees two man-made sources of fetishism:
- the marketing/manipulation concocted by other men
- the social dynamics leading to the over-evaluation of objects
And since the enlightened individualist believes that neither markets nor society are any better than he is, he doesn’t fall for it.
And especially so when the exchange is more about hype, than quality -think of athlete-endorsed sneakers that are made out of plastic-.
It doesn’t mean that the enlightened individualist doesn’t care about appearance or status, or that he’s “against brands”.
He probably loves some brands, and he uses some of them because he knows they have real social significance.
But he puts himself first, and sees products as (interchangeable) tools to achieve goals or increase his well-being. They’re means to an end, and not ends in themselves.
And of cousrse he’d never stand in a queue, waiting to buy:
Failure of The Law: Wasting Own Time to Own Things
Queueing to buy is the equivalent of saying “an object is worth more than my time is”
4.2. I’m Above Objects = No Fetishism, No Memorabilia Collections
Craving possession beyond practical use is a form of fetishism.
Fetishism is defined on Wikipedia as “an object believed to have supernatural powers, or a human-made object that has power over others”.
Obviously, enlightened individuals aren’t too keen on giving things that much power.
Collecting things, memorabilia, or even art can be considered a form of fetishism.
When overdone, it gives way too much power and attention to things. Things that are usually inconsequential to your goals, life, or to simply living a good life.
So the enlightened individualist isn’t big into collecting things.
This is not to say you can’t enjoy things, products, or art.
As a matter of fact, you should enjoy them.
It simply means that you don’t make owning and collecting things your life priority. Your priority is on yourself, and you’re bigger than any object.
5. I Put Myself Above Man-Made Institutions
This same attitude applies to institutions.
Ivy League universities, big-name employers, Nobel prizes, Oscars… Much of their power comes from misplaced trust in what has become a brand, and taken life on its own.
The enlightened individualist looks beyond the facade though, and behind the facade of any institution, company, government, university, or award, there are other humans.
And, as humans, they are no better than he is.
As per group dynamics, the people behind the institutions are not above pettiness, personal biases, politics, and politically-driven choices.
So the enlightened individualist thinks: if they’re not above bias and politics, and no better than I am… How can they properly assess me?
And why should their judgment carry any major weight?
This is not to say of course that awards, Harvard, or Goldman Sachs on your CV mean nothing: their effects are very real. And they do say something.
But the enlightened individualist adds a caveat: many other times, they say little, and they say little about what I truly value.
Finally, enlightened individualists who put their own judging criteria first are not personally defined by the presence or absence of a big name institution or award.
When you feel defined by a brand, you are owned by a brand
Failure of the Law: Housebroken In Golden Jail
I respect a guy with a big-name university, award, or employer.
But from my point of view, it’s also the sign that he “plays it within the system”. A system he hasn’t shaped.
He’s not a trailblazer, and he’s not on a personal path to finding his own unique voice.
There is a reason why Nassim Taleb calls employees “housebroken dogs”
Still, if he’s cool with the socially laid-out path, great!
But many are just following the mainstream path because of what others deem as “good”.
Such as, he’s following a path based on other people’s criteria.
There are advantagse to following what society deems as the “good” path.
But also disadvantages, which include some loss of individualism, and some limitations on your individual freedom of action and expression.
After all, anyone who’s been hired at Google needs to put up with Google’s notorious social determinism, and virtue signaling:
Read more here, and keep on reading for one example of the “nobel prize trap”.
5.3. Do You Come Before Law & Commandments, Too? Yes, But Be Strategic About It
The legal and religious systems are also man-made systems.
So the enlightened individual feels that if law or commandments forbid or coerces a behavior to which he feels entitled to, then it’s fair for him to break the law.
And especially so if the behavior doesn’t really hurt anyone.
The enlightened individualist is still free to still consider himself a law-abiding or religious person. By putting his values, logic, and critical thinking first, he maintains the freedom to reject some rules, while accepting the general validity of a legal system or of a religious belief
Of course, breaking the law can have some negative repercussions, so the enlightened individualist might strategically obey, or he might choose to operate in less risky but higher freedom legal grey areas.
If the enlightened individual is a believer, he might respect the church as an institution and respect some good pastors, but he ultimately puts his relationship to God above the church, which is a man-made institution.
Sharing Power With Creators
If they’re believers, enlightened individualists believe that God empowered them to decide, believe, and act as they please.
And they don’t entertain the types of Gods with unlimited power over them.
Moby Dick’s symbolism can be seen as the (individual) empowerment of man against nature, fate, or even vis-a-vis a God that no more dictates everything of man’s life.
If they are creationists, they ascribe to the notion that even though God might have created humans, it also empowered them to choose.
Frictions between individual empowerment and creators can also exist between worldly creators: parents and children.
Some cultures -and parents- place on their children an obligation to provide for them in old age, or even to finance them with their income as soon as they hit working age.
Don’t let the blood ties fool you!
These cultures and parents’ mindsets that “I have done you, and now you must serve me” is nothing short of an owner-serf dynamic.
Enlightened individualists might still respect and love parents with an owner attitude. They might even want to provide for them. But they sure as hell reject the obligation, as well as the servitude and subordination.
They’re now their own individuals, with their inalienable power to chose and do as they please. “I hope you can accept that”, they tell their parents, with the tone you reserve for your best “take it or leave it” offers.
6. I’m A Human, And No Other Human Is Above Me
This law is deep.
Being “above” doesn’t mean of course that nobody is better at something, or more skilled at something.
Of course someone is more knowledgeable or skilled at something.
This line means that, as a whole, nobody is worth more as a human being and that you’re as worthy as a human being as anyone else.
6.2. Homo sum, nihil humani a me alienum puto
This is a Latin sentence that stuck with me for its power ever since I was a kid.
Roughly translated, it means something like:
I’m a human, and nothing concerning humans can be alien to me
You being a human, you are part of the human collective, which transcends any larger collective entity (groups).
It’s very equalitarian, but in a very empowering way.
It means that as a human, you are automatically part of all human magnificence, everything that the species has done and will ever do. And as a human just like any other human, it also means that “whatever great things any man does, you can do as well”.
And albeit the more pessimistic view is that you’re also part of the crappiest things humanity has done -see Eckardt Tolle-, the empowering message is that the choice is yours.
You’re all of it, and not bound by negativity and positivity. So why would you choose to perpetuate the negative?
The choice is yours.
As an enlightened individualist, you can -and, we might say, are responsible– for choosing the positive impact (thanks to Stef for this correction).
See this concept in Steve Job’s famous quote:
Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs was an individualist.
He believed in his personal power, and with that mindset, he actualized it.
Failure of The Law: “can you imagine flying a plane”?
Un-enlightened guy: can you imagine flying a plane, how crazy that would be?
Enlightened guy: yeah, I can, I think it’s totally doable, and would actually be fun
I remember a colleague with a trying question: would you rather fly a plane by yourself with 3 days to learn, or full of people with one week to learn?
More than the question, it was how he asked, that was telling.
He asked it as if whatever you chose, you were f*cked. He spoke as if flying a plane was this crazy impossible thing.
6.3. Mindset: If Someone Can, So Can I
Me, I felt that flying a plane was relatively easy.
If it wasn’t, then planes would be crashing left and right. Since they don’t, it means that it’s a safe process that anyone can do.
And my point of view was: if those guys who walk out of the cockpit can, then chances are that I can do it too.
And indeed, I didn’t land a plane (yet), but flying is easier than driving a stick shift car:
Walking on the moon in 1969, launching a billion-dollar company, pioneering a new social sciences field like power dynamics, or simply having a wonderful life… These are also all things that the enlightened individualist believes are within his reach.
6.4. The Empowered, Antifragile Sense of Limitlessness
This mindset can be extended indefinitely, into any human endeavor, and turned antifragile.
Of course someone can do something you can’t, but your mindset is that if you’d work hard on it, you can at least significantly reduce the gap.
Or you could have done that at your prime, or at least reached your personal best.
Or you could have done the same if you were born with the same physical or mental traits. And that’s what really matters.
Ultimately, the real test of a good or successful life is not what you were born with, but what you do with it.
That mindset allows you to admire great success from others, while also feeling on par with it.
Failure of The Law: The “Slave Mindset”
To believe that an entity or individual is more valuable than you are because of a higher rank or title they possess, or because of some external markers of success
Who is most likely to become, or to remain, a slave?
It’s the individual who beleives that someone else, or the “owner”, is inherently more vlauable, of course.
The slave mindset has both a personal value point of view, and an emotional point of view.
From a personal value point of view, some people feel “less of” if their title is “less of” or if they are “less of” based on some external marker of success -say, “amount of money one posses”, or “size of muscles”-.
And from an emotional point of view, some people project their identities onto those who are above them.
So feel “represented” by their group-leader, president, prime minister, or CEO. They feel great and proud when they think “their” leader is good, and feel bad and personally diminished when they feel their president is poor.
That is a very disempowering attitude because you are giving (emotional) power and control to an external individual.
Call it a “slave identity”.
What’s the enlightned individualistic approach here?
Of course, the enlightened individual believes that nobody is inherently more valuable than he is based on rank, and that only he can represent himself.
The boss, president, or CEO, might be good or bad, but he is simply a man, and he has no special power to represent or speak for him.
As a rule of thumb, the farther away someone is, the less the enlightened individualist feels represented by him.
Because of the “proximity rule”.
More on that later.
7. I Only Attach & Invest Into What I Can Control
The enlightened individualist only invests and emotionally attaches onto:
- What he can control and/or
- What gives value back
Failure of The Law: Sports Fans
Fandom to any sports team means to “attach and invest without returns and control”.
You give your emotional attachment to some external entity, and you get nothing back. Actually, you get something: personal dependence on that external entity.
I speak from experience.
I used to get so distraught when “my team” or “my sports guy” would lose.
That’s disempowering because it invests -and partially “fuses” as we shall see- your ego onto groups and entities that are outside you, that you have no control over, and that, importantly, do nothing for you whether they win or lose.
From a value exchange point of view, it’s a sucker’s trade. And from a mental and personal power point of view, it’s very disempowering.
Women, who tend to be more pragmatic, also tend to take points off from men who are too into sports. And especially so if it comes at the cost of personal focus and success.
I like this example from “Beautiful Girls”:
Him: So, what part of Chicago are you from
Her: You know Chicago?
Him: Yeah, I know like Soldier’s Field
Her: It’s a football field (nervous laughter saying “you’re a total douche”)
On average, the enlightned individual level of investment depends on:
- Closeness: How close you are to the group
- Personal power: How influential you are in the group
- Returns: How influential the group is to your well being and/or goals
The first two relate to control and power, while the latter relates to “value-exchange accounting”.
With the sports team example, if fandom is based on city, it can add some value by facilitating social relationships -albeit few high-quality people are big fans-.
On the other hand, you still have little influence on the team, and the team itself does little for you.
Focus on what you control & get: no pedestalizing
One of the consequences of failing to follow this rule includes men pedestalizing women.
The pedestalizer has little control of the pedestalized person, and is getting back far less than what he gives.
For that reason, the enlightened individualist tends to be immune from pedestalizing.
8. I Choose Myself Before Any Values
The enlightned individualist doesn’t follow any carved in stone set of rules, laws, or values.
Often, that includes self-written rules and values.
That can sound strange, I guess.
After all, self-help gurus tells us to write down our values and live by them, right?
The issue with that is that life and reality are complex and fluid.
So, eventually, you will almost invariably find yourself in a position to either compromise your effectiveness to adhere to a set of rules, or compromise your self-esteem and self-image while you break your own rules.
And that’s when the mental shenanigans to salvage your self-image begin (AKA “self-manipulation, “rationalization” and “cognitive dissonance”).
Plus, as we will see, values lend themselves all too well to all sorts of manipulation, distortions, and arm twisting.
What’s the alternative?
Again, we go back to you.
You, and ideally you as a generally value-adding individual is the foundation, and not any “rules”, “laws”, or written values.
How you express yourself as a goal-striving individual and/or a “force for good” varies depending on people you interact with, situations, and goals.
You become fluid, just like the world is.
Machiavellian Benefits: Higher Congruence
Machiavellian individuals don’t self-manipulate and experience little dissonance (Christie and Geis, 1970).
Because they don’t bind themselves with externally-imposed ethical and moral rules.
With this mindset, you can have the same mental resilience of high Machs even while being a generally value-adding individual.
9. My Judging Criteria Come Before External Criteria
Enlightened individualists choose their judging criteria and prioritize them.
That stands in opposition to most people, who inherit their judging criteria from society, or from some influential other.
And that can easily place them in the child role of judge power dynamics.
This law doesn’t say “external criteria don’t matter”.
That would be the good old -and often weak and hollow- “I don’t care what others think”. And that is more often a defensive reaction to the emotional pain of negative judgment than true self-empowerment.
External criteria do matter to personal success and life’s satisfaction because we can’t succeed in society without also looking at society’s criteria.
The difference is that if the external criteria don’t serve to pursue your goals, then, contrary to most others, the enlightened individualist is able to ignore them.
And because he puts his own criteria first, the enlightened individualist is able to keep high self-esteem in spite of negative external judgments.
For an example, read this forum entry:
9.2. I Judge Others With My Criteria, As Individuals
Many people assign values to individuals based on external criteria.
Those external criteria include group of belonging, ranks, and titles.
“Ranks” and titles include:
- Prime minister
- “Head of… “
- Professor emeritus
Ranks are invested of power by the group of people within society, group, or organization, that respects and recognize those ranks.
Once a group of people starts assigning power and authority based on rank, the “ranks” tend to take life on their own.
And people start respecting, admiring, and looking at the rank, rather than the individual.
Ranks and titles can often become a game of power within society.
In Germany, for example, people love to preface their names with all the ranks they can get:
And that’s when I got to know that my neighbor, writing from her personal email, was a “dip.”, “ing.”, and “female architect”. Good to know.
Something similar happens when someone belongs to a certain group that, for some reason or another, has become synonymous with exclusivity or high value.
The group then becomes a form of personal title and people look at the title first, instead of the individual first.
That includes being a Harvard alumnus, a mensa member, or, these days, it might even mean being a member of the SEAL special ops.
The enlightened individualist does not necessarily reject the rank, and does not necessarily discount belonging to any elite group.
That would be childish rebellion.
As a matter of fact, he often respects the people who achieved a certain position in life.
But, crucially, the enlightened individualist does not consider anyone superior to him simply because they have a certain title. The enlightened individualist thinks he is capable of achieving any title as well. So, to decide how much respect to award to someone the enlightened individualist looks at the individual behind the title, and is not swayed by the man-made construct of title or “group exclusivity”.
10. I Expect Little From The World, & Demand Lots From Myself
The enlightend individualist thinks “my life, my responsibility”.
And he seems himself as the main agent responsible for doing or achieving whatever he wants to achieve.
Diverging Life Paths: Poors VS Rich
This is an often-overlooked mindset aspect of financial success.
And you can trace it back to how people look at success:
- Is success and personal well-being mostly socially-driven, or mostly self-driven?
the more someone expects society, the government, or institutions to be the conduit of personal success and well-being, the more they expect and complain, and the poorer they are.
In my opinion, this is why southern Italy and socialist-infused regions are poorer: the culture is to hold the government responsible for the economical well-being of people. It’s about demanding help from the state, expecting it… And complain when it’s not forthcoming.
The opposite approach, to demand from oneself, leads to more active, driven, successful, and self-empowered citizens.
That’s why countries with a capitalist and “self-made man ethos” tend to be richer.
By focusing on himself and his own personal power and agency, the enlightened individualist belongs to the second group, of course.
Self-Focus Over Group-Focus
This concept overlaps with the locus of control, but it’s more about self-focus, or group focus.
The proof that the two concepts are different is that even successful and driven men with an internal locus of control can fall for the group focus.
Seen an example here:
Failure of The Law: Going Down With The (Social) Ship
Listen to Michael Franzese, a successful, driven, and smart businessman:
Michael: I have a pessimistic view of where America is heading. I fear for my kids how America is going to look like, I really do
Tyrus: Unfortunately I agree with you. It’s already over. China won.
Michael and Tyrus’ pessimism and fears all stem from an exaggerated group-focus. They give too much power to larger group-entities, and too little credit to individuals.
Why should you be so afraid about what “America” does?
And particularly, what it does “against China?”.
Whichever loosely connect economic group you might be part of has little bearing on what you do as an individual.
As long as commerce among individuals remains a staple of human life as it’s always been… You can thrive anywhere.
Even if things get really bad in whichever place you’re at, humans are mobile and can simply move somewhere else. Or they can stay, and be the catalyst for the turnaround, why not.
The point is: options abound for the enlightened individualist because he believes in himself and puts the onus of success on himself.
Once you internalize the mindset that you can succeed independently of your country or group, you’re more optimistic, more empowered, and far more likely to succeed.
Read more later on “social complainers” and “social philosophers”.
10.2. Expect Little From Politicians, Demand Much From Yourself
Enlightened individualists are too busy on themselves to get deep into politics.
It’s not because they don’t think politics is important, or because they don’t think politicians can make a difference -of course they might-.
But the enlightened individualist cannot invest too much time discussing politics because he feels that the biggest difference he can make is by working on his life, and his projects.
Wasting too much time on politicians’ agenda subordinates you to politicians.
It indirectly says that you don’t believe you can make a difference, and that the little you can do, is by discussing other people telling you how they are going to make a difference.
As much as he doesn’t worry the country/government can ruin him, the enlightened individualist also doesn’t expect any politician to revolutionize his life.
You should know why now: because he feels that he is the only one who is responsible for making changes in his life.
Of course, this excludes all enlightened individualists who work in politics or who made political influence their goal.
Also on the topic, see:
How Enlightened Individualism Empowers You
We saw some of the advantages already.
But for clarity, let’s list them here:
1. Superior Approach For Personal Success
You are far more likely to succeed at anything you do when you focus on yourself first and take responsibility for your results as an individual.
2. Higher Life Effectiveness
Enlightened individualism cuts out major sources of time waste from your life, and redirects them where they make the biggest impact: on yourself, your plans, and your goals.
Focus: what makes a difference for you, and where you can make a difference on
The efficiency-minded individualist also narrows his focus to what makes a difference only, and to what he can make a difference on.
When he’s on a goal-oriented journey, he does little philosophy, theology, news, and opinions (unless he’s an opinionist paid to distract others, that is). Nothing comes out of those except warm air.
Instead, he focuses strictly on what yields the most practical outcomes. He also generally sticks to his area of growing expertise. That’s, after all, where he can make a difference, where he wields the most power, and where he profits the most.
That approach makes him highly efficient, and efficiency is power.
3. Superior Approach For Life Satisfaction
When you link your ego, pride, self-esteem and happiness to some external sources, you make yourself dependent on those external sources.
When you focus on yourself first, you take back control of how you (decide to) feel.
That means that your self-esteem is self-generated, and this is a necessary step for developing an antifragile ego.
4. Higher Social Effectiveness (Through Better Individuals’ Assessments)
There are two ways of accurately assessing people (Cronbach, 1955):
- Via a solid grasp of general human psychology
- By focusing on the individual, and how he differs from the rest
One is not always and necessarily better than the other.
For example, Christie and Gleis showed that Machiavellians assess people more accurately by assigning to the individual the unflattering tendencies of the human species -from general to individual-.
However, low Machiavellians better adapt their assessment to individuals -importantly, they were less overall accurate because they underestimated people’s general Machiavellianism-.
Balancing Naive Optimism & Predatory Cynicism
In a way, both groups fell short.
The high Machs make out people to be too untrustworthy, and might miss out on some win-win opportunities and relationships -call it the “cynic trap“-.
The low Machs make out people to be too trustworthy, and might be exploited for it -call it the “naive trap”-.
The enlightened individualist strikes the perfect balance.
By looking at the individual first he avoids the problem of over-generalizing from population to individual.
And with power intelligence and general, population-level psychological awareness, he combines the best of both worlds for the highest levels of accuracy.
In short, the enlightened individualist has the potential to be far more accurate at assessing people.
And that’s an important aspect of social and life success.
5. Higher Social Power
When you believe in your core that you’re as valuable as anyone else -or more-, you grow more socially resilient.
Add to that the belief that your criteria come before external criteria, and you become impervious to negative judgment (judge power dynamics).
6. Transcend Family & Background
Individualists believe individuals to be “bigger” than any circumstance or background.
Included in the background are:
- Family of origin
- Location of origin / childhood
- Socio-economic conditions
- History of abuse
- University attended
Failure of Collectivism: The “Family” Trap
I remember once sitting with a group of people that, me excluded, you could define as “life winners”.
As the alcohol started flowing, one lady not so humbly bragged about her father’s team being awarded a noble prize.
She was proud, while also feeling the pressure to achieve something similar.
The guy to her side got pensive, and then finally started gushing.
And I couldn’t believe my ears.
I was shocked this otherwise smart and self-development-focused guy was feeling inadequate because of his humble family of origin.
Not only I felt that was extremely disempowering, but it was also very offensive to his parents who raised him, cared for him, and provided for him.
How would an enlightened individualist react to that “look at my background” story?
He would have drawn the following conclusions:
- The lady’s dad is probably a very good scientist, but the award doesn’t say much about him as a man
- It says little about her skills as a scientist
- It says nothing about me
Indeed, if anything, an enlightened individualist feels that a humble background says even better things about high achievers.
7. Thrive When Groups Fail
As social animals we have this tendency:
- We feel empowered when our group does well
- We feel powerless when our group falters
Today, as society has grown beyond our ability to personally assess it, we mostly use media news to assess how “our group” is doing -and the media tends to be negatively biased-.
Feelings, beliefs, and actions follow from how we feel our group is doing.
See again “law #10”.
8. Transcending Genders: The Power of Fluidity
Genders are one of the most significant groups windividuals belong to.
There are several ways in which: the gender constructs can potentially interfere with individual’s empowerment
- Manipulation: as in “a real man would do this”, hence you must do this if you want to be a real man
- Pressure to conform: social forces apply pressure on individuals to conform to whatever culture designates as “masculine” or “feminine”.
- Self-pressure: based on what society, parents, or themselves feel it means to be “masculine” or “feminine”, many individuals pressure themselves into behaviors and roles that make them unhappy -and no more effective-
Now, don’t get me wrong: since what people think does matter, it’s usually a good idea not to stray too far from what society deems as either masculine or feminine.
See for example Clinton’s failure, partially due to her lack of femininity.
And for dating success, it’s all also a good idea to possess -or to be able to display- certain typically feminine or masculine traits.
However, beyond that level of effectiveness, for most adjusted folks, gender constructs can quickly become a constrictive cage.
Plenty of pundits today leverage that internal pressure to conform to school others on “how to be a man”. It’s an effective sell, since most men feel that pressure to “prove” their masculinity.
The enlightened individualist takes a different approach.
He pays limited attention to the various “men are from mars” types of books.
Albeit he’s fully aware that genders do are different, he is also aware that, on many crucial traits, the variance is huge.
And he is aware that high-quality men and high-quality women are more similar to each other than they are to low-quality individuals of the same gender.
The enlightened individualist also pays little attention to the pundits teaching others “how to be a man” or, popular these days, “how an independent woman should be”.
Of course, the enlightened indiviualist sees no reason why he should listen to anyone else teaching him how he should be.
And, his ego not invested in either masculinity or femininity, he has nothing to prove to anyone, and is free to do his thing.
The enlightened individualist moves fluidly and chooses behavior based on what’s effective, rather than what’s “typically masculine” or “typically feminine”.
And, ultimately, that makes him far more effective in life.
I know for example that several women have in good part enjoyed my company thanks to an overall high confidence and high power behavior while still being able to emphatically bond and connect like few other men can.
9. You Become A Hardened Target (Manipulation-Resistant)
Putting yourself first immunizes you against 90% of manipulation attempts.
Manipulation is defined as “advancing the interests of the manipulator, while coming at a cost for the manipulator’s target(s)”.
But when you look at the world from a value-exchange point of view and what’s in it for you, most manipulation attempts suddenly become crystal clear.
As a matter of fact, some manipulations start to sound ludicruous:
- Swearing allegiance to the flag? = I gain nothing, the political leadership does
- “You don’t need a man” = dubious gains for me, but she gains with less competition
- “I’ve done this just for you” = I gain nothing with that info, but he gains social credit
About that last one, enlightened individualism also protects you against white-knighting and providing for value-taking women.
Also read “female domestication”:
And also see “manipulative negotiations“.
9.2. Hardened Target Against Con Artists
Says psychologist Maria Konnikova of Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme:
It was an affinity scheme, it was insidery. We have to take care of each
other; he’s one of us.”
Madoff is far from alone.
Con artists often use communities (…) The authority we grant someone comes often as more of an afterthought than anything else, by virtue of their belonging to the exact right groupKonnikova, 2016
An individualist would have been more likely to look at Madoff twice as suspiciously when he tried to leverage his “Jewishness”.
10. Everyone Gains: The Social Benefits
Albeit “individualism” sounds selfish, enlightened individualism is far more pro-social than strong group-belonging is.
Some of the social benefits include:
Meritocracy is based on individual skills and ability, which is what enlightened individualism focuses on.
Everyone gains with meritocracy because society becomes more effective.
- Fewer victims
A society with more enlightened individuals is a society with fewer people to exploit and take advantage of.
And as Stef reminds us, fewer people with a victim mentality.
- More social cohesion / less racism
Xenophobia comes natural to our species, says Jared Diamond.
And you are NOT going to cure that with political correctness.
Enlightened individualism instead does the trick.
Much of racism is based on inferring and extrapolating group properties onto the individual.
The enlightened individualist does not deny that at group level there might be differences -read on-, but by putting the individual first, the enlightened individualist tends to be less prone to racism.
- Less virtue-signaling
Virtue-signaling might not exact the highest cost on society, but it does cost something nonetheless.
In a world of enlightened individualists, a good chunk of virtue signaling cease to exist.
For example, it’s ludicrous for enlightened individualists to “support women-led businesses”, because they’d rather look at the individual merit of each business.
Read more here.
And an enlightened individualist wouldn’t go to a “minority” and say “I support you” because he believes the individual always has the power to be the exception.
Read more here.
Dangers of Group Dynamics
Enlightened individualism contrasts to having one’s ego “fused”, or overly-invested, with groups and external entities and constructs.
First, a due clarification:
Cooperation of individuals in what we may refer to as “groups” is what makes the human race so successful.
Even from an individual perspective, groups and inter-individual collaboration is how we extend our reach and power.
However, as enlightened individuals, there are some downsides, pitfalls, and risks that we must be aware of.
Among the dangers of groups:
1. Group Coercion Limits Your Freedom
Coercion, in its different forms, is quite common in groups.
- Tribes dynamics and rites of passages seek to pre-plan your life path
And with the rosy and romanticized view of tribe belonging often comes the glorification and romanticization of the “rites of passage” to turn boys into men.
Albeit tribes and rites of passages are not per se any bad and do have some good aspects, little attention is given to how tribe dynamics and rites of passages often turn coercive and repressive.
And, when not outright repressive, almost always freedom-limiting.
Besides the fact that some rites of passages are an excuse to haze and harass younger men, enlightened individualists reject the externally mandated criteria of “how to become a man”, when to become a man”, or “what it means to be a man” (also: in the Sambia tribe, male on male fellation is part of the right of passage, swallowing mandatory).
The enlightened individualist, of course, decides that for himself.
Furthermore, the enlightened individualist has outgrown the tribalist ethos.
A rite of passage to make you feel like a man?
Going back to the tribe so you can feel homely?
Appealing, somehow, but that’s not the answer.
No thanks, the enlightened individualist steps forward into the future and makes the world his oyster.
- Pressure to toe the line
Many groups oppose members who think and act differently.
Those members decrease group uniformity and, potentially, cohesion.
That is especially bad for the leader, since he loses power over the group.
That’s why many groups pressure individuals to “toe the line”.
- Pressure to keep you in the group
Baumeister says that groups, and most of all idealistic groups, tend to place a heavy stigma on people who leave the group.
People who leave the group represent a big threat: they show there is another and different way. Maybe a better one. So they must be scorned and cut off.
That’s why most groups discourage other possible solutions and worldviews while talking up the group’s only “right way”.
- Pressure to subordinate personal interests for the group (or, often, its leaders)
There is often an inherent conflict of interest between what’s good for the group, and what’s good for the individual.
So the group seeks to pressure, coerce, or manipulate the individual into giving up more of his individual pie in favor of the group’s pie.
You can see that more in detail workplace environments:
Governments can also coerce their citzens.
In some ways, paying taxes is a form of group coercion, albeit we can argue that there are benefits to the individual as well.
However, some other forms of government coercion can include extremely high risks for the individual, with little to no upsides.
Military draft during most wars is an example.
Says Steven Pinker:
Of course it is genuinely admirable for one individual to sacrifice his or her interests for those of many individuals. It’s quite another thing when a person is forced to make the supreme sacrifice for the benefit of a charismatic leader, a square of cloth, or colors on a map. Nor is it sweet and right to clasp death in order to prevent a province from seceding, expand a sphere of influence, or carry out an irredentist crusade.
Well said, Mr. Pinker.
An enlightened individualist couldn’t agree more.
- Collectivist values and ideals to curtail individual freedom
To subordinate the individual’s interest to the group, the group upholds what are potentially manipulative value.
These values and social norms are put in place to limit individuals’ freedom in favor of the group.
Some of these values include:
- Women who sleep around are slutty
- “Real men” commit / provide
- “Real men” defend their group / country
- “Good women” put their children before themselves
Notice that those values and social norms can come at a cost for the individual, but they most often benefit society.
Attention: those values are not always and necessarily bad. But it’s good to be aware of them, and it’s good to be aware of the potential limitations they place on you.
The enlightened individualist certainly is very aware of those dynamics, and decides for himself when and how to embrace those values.
Watch Out For Public Profession & Private Defection
Also, be aware of the manipulative game of “professing in public, defecting in private”.
The game is simple: people publicly espouse and encourage high values for others to follow, while privately they break those values.
Many politicians for example profess values such as patriotism, marriage, or sobriety. But it’s all to be seen whether they’re always faithful, sober, or put the country’s interest before their own.
2. The Group’s Demand For Loyalty Trump Values (& Your Interests)
Most groups bosses demand loyalty, we know that.
But, funny enough, even most group members internalize that they are due loyalty.
Robert Jackall’s landmark study of corporate ethics for example found that most managers believe that it is fundamentally wrong to go against your boss.
Baumeister says that whistle-blowers are rare and often condemned, even when there were good ethical and moral reasons to speak up.
And most women know that filing a sexual harassment complaint is still a political landmine and a potential career-ender. Even some pro-feminist career advisers recommend against it.
Finally, from a purely Machiavellian and self-interested point of view, the demands of loyalty to the group, company, or boss, can turn very costly to the individual.
At that point, you gotta ask yourself: what am I staying in this group for?
That’s a quote an individualist would utter
3. Truth Dies at The Group’s Hand Stack
We all self-deceive.
Yet, depending as well on the individual, there are some more or less strong barriers to self-deception (Kunda, Z. 1990).
Groups, however, are very effective at self-deception because they can support each other’s (false) beliefs.
Individuals in groups pressure one another to “remain true” to the group values and to align to “what everyone else says”.
Funny enough, “what everyone else says” is often what people think the group approves and values, with the result being a mildly schizophrenic environment built on compliance, lies, and deception (in exchange for acceptance).
This dynamic overlaps with the “spiral of silence“, a socially repressive dynamic that does not exist in individuals.
The theory explains that individuals might disagree or harbor doubts about what the group is doing, but they keep quiet in fear of losing status and acceptance.
In sum, as long as the group doesn’t strongly encourage dissension and individual differences, the ultimate price of group belonging for un-enlightened individuals are truth, personal integrity, and personal freedom.
4. Group’s Echo Chambers Make You Miserable
Some groups coalesce around a specific issue, topic, or goal.
These groups filter the news for their members, letting in only a small portion of the world’s events -a portion that usually confirms a certain worldview-.
This leads to an echo chamber.
In echo chambers, the issue(s) the group cares about are almost always blown out of proportion, and often distorted. As a consequence, members see the world as far worse than it actually is.
That way, even issues that might have been (somewhat) true to begin with, end up being distorted and over-weighted to a point where they become untrue.
So, for example, it might be true that:
- White men commit most of the mass shootings and serial killing
- Black men on average commit more crimes in some countries
- Powerful people steal more than powerless ones
- Men do more wars (but build more)
- Women would start fewer wars (but don’t advance civilization nearly as much)
All those above points might be true.
But first, tell you little about individuals within those groups. And second, they tell you nothing about what really matters to your personal success as an individual.
But when you’re in an echo chamber that is racist, misogynist, communist, or misandrist, the above points all get blown out of proportion.
You get angry, spiteful, and over-worried about issues that don’t even matter to your life.
Being part of a “black lives matter” echo chamber its black members might really believe that traffic stops are one of the highest dangers in their lives.
The issue with that is not just that you get angrier and worried for nothing, but also that your overly-negative mindsets turn into reality (self-fulfilling prophecy).
For a case study on this tendency, see:
5. Leaders Can Have A Vested Interest in Manipulating Members
In many cases, the interests between leaders and followers diverge.
For example, leaders gain when individuals grow dependent on the group.
This is also true outside of groups when crooked leaders (feign to) represent higher collective ideals.
A real-life example is Don King.
Don King talked up his support of the “black community”, self-framed as pro-group, and leveraged those higher ideals to prey on both Mohammad Ali and Tyson.
Now, again, it’s not necessarily wrong to support the black community -and it actually be a laudable and value-adding effort-.
But be careful that it doesn’t turn into “us against them”, and always ask yourself “who is asking, and how is he gaining/losing?”.
Says Maria Konnikova of con artists and cult leaders:
Con artists, at their best and worst, give us meaning. We fall for them because it would make our lives better if the reality they proposed were indeed true. They give us a sense of purpose, of value, of direction.Konnikova, 2006
The best way to avoid those leaders who do not have our best interests in mind?
Find your own answers, find your own meaning.
7. Groups Enable Idealistic Evil
Idealistic evil is evil committed by extremists in the belief they are doing something right.
Whether these “leaders” are consciously manipulating others -and themselves- or really believe in their philosophies is a moot point.
What is not a moot point is that in groups with an “us vs them’ dynamic people tend to look to the members with the firmest sense of hatred for support and guidance.
Idealistic evil, says Baumeister, is inherently group-dependent.
One reason for the importance of groups in idealistic evil is the power of the group to support its high, broad ideals. Abstract conceptions of how things ought to be gain social reality from the mere fact of being shared by a group.Baumeister, 1997
Without group context, those ideals would seem crazy to an individual.
And without a group around him, a hate-mongering “charismatic leader” would call for prompt lock-up of a public enemy.
But put that nutjob and his ideals at the helm a group of un-enlightened individuals, and they become real, true, and anger and violence-worthy.
8. Groups Provide A Drug-Like Crutch to Failing Individuals
Many failing or lost individuals need to go through self-development.
The danger is that the people who need help or guidance the most are also the most likely to be manipulated and taken astray by poor leaders and groups.
As we said before, bad leaders seek personal power and followers’ obedience by selling meaning, and hope.
And who’s more likely to buy that?
The hopeless, of course.
Lost kid: (smoking a joint)
Nazi recruiter: This is what the jews and the communists want you to do to keep you docile
Lost kid: (joins nazi group instead of working on himself to improve his life)
The above is how recruitment to most extremist, insular, and anger-fueled echo chambers looks like.
The group is sexy to lost and failing individuals because it provides a crutch.
The group provides a sense of belonging, a sense of direction, some meaning, and a false sense of self-development.
When groups become a crutch, men use them to feel good about themselves in a dynamic that is similar to drug addiction.
Collectivist Failure Example: Winning Through The Group (Rather Than The Self)
When the group or higher entity becomes a crutch, the “accomplishments” of the group are co-opted by the individual.
The group accomplishemtns serve to make-up for a lack of personal accomplishments, so that the individual can generate good feelings -and maybe some self-esteem-, via the group.
In the red pill article we used this example:
This commenter was glad that a man beat a woman because he projected his identity onto the collective of “manhood”.
In social exchange parlance, he is “credit leeching”, seizing credits he doesn’t have.
In psychological terms, it’s a form of ego projection, or “identity leeching” through ego-fusion.
He fused his ego with the male-gender group, and hitch-hiked (leeching) on that male win against a woman to feel good about himself.
Little does it matter that on a good day he wouldn’t beat a single female runner.
Instead, the enlightened individual sees no value or honor in what your group does.
When a man brags that “men built society”, he is actually right. But the most relevant question is always: what have you done, as an individual?
When you acquire your good feelings through the group, you stay stuck with a fragile ego.
And second, you squander resources you could use on yourself, for true self-development.
8.2. Group Success Removes Personal Agency: No Drive to Personal Improvement
Paradoxically, the better the group/drug performs, the more the individual loses himself.
He gets his emotional fix, he starts becoming more and more ego-involved with the group (ego-fusion), and it becomes a slippery slope.
9. The “US VS Them Trap” Comes Natural to Groups
One of the most powerful and universal human tendencies is to identify with a group of people, and to square off against rival groups.Baumeister, 1997
Indeed, the discontinuity effect sanctions that groups are more competitive, antagonist, and exploitive towards each other than individuals are towards other individuals, a finding that has been confirmed over and over (Wildschut et al., 2003).
Even individuals tend to be more antagonistic towards groups (Hoyle, 1989).
Moreover, there is the good/bad dynamic, whereby people think that their group is good. And if we are good, then that other group must be evil.
It’s interesting in this sense that some think we’ve come a long way since people used to look at “other” races so negatively.
But that’s a false step forward. Because until group-belonging is ditched in favor of individual enlightenment there will always be a group to be suspicious of.
Case in point, a survey shows how the old disapproval of interracial marriages has been replaced (or compounded) by the newly minted political divide:
In a country where political parties both largely agree on a large set of foundational values, you can find high-quality individuals who vote Republicans and there are high-quality individuals who vote Democrats.
It’s about the individual, not the party. But group dynamics fog people’s minds to this obvious fact.
Collectivist Failure Example: Parochial “US VS Them” & Chinese Threat
I like the guys from Charisma on Command.
They’re generally smart, logical, and value-adding social and world analysts.
Yet, when groups are overly salient, even they fall for the “us VS them” mentality.
As an example:
Charlie: (talking about China’s future troubles) We’re gonna be OK in America, it’s just not their century
Can you see how twisted that logic is?
You’re gonna be OK in America because China will fail?
That is parochial, small-minded, and even the symptom of a major scarcity mindset, whereby to have a good life, someone else has to have it bad.
As Robert Sapolsky says, “It’s problematic when non–zero sum games are viewed as zero-sum”, because you can turn win-win into lose-lose.
If the same approach was applied to individuals, you’d think the guy was either nuts, weak, or unnecessarily mean.
Just imagine the following:
Charlie: (talking about Lucio as an individual competitor) Lucio is doing poorly, good for me and Ben
Of course, the fact that this approach is common and accepted means nothing to the enlightened individualist, who still considers it toxic, and disempowering.
9.2. The Higher The Group Pride, The Higher the Hatred
Of course, one might say “I’m proud of being part of X, but that doesn’t mean I am against those other groups”.
Except, it rarely works that way.
Says psychologist Baumeister:
Racial pride and feelings of superiority seem to go with violence toward others, and this is apparently true of both blacks and whites. Perhaps it is merely one of the sadder, uglier signs that basic human nature is the same in whites and blacks.Baumeister, 1997
If you gotta be proud, then “being proud of being you” is actually better than “proud for being part of X group”.
Enlightned War Hero: Hugh Thompson Ends the My Lay Massacre
Let’s finally get to a positive example.
Hugh Thompson and his crew reached My Lay while the US army’s massacre against civilians was underway.
With the horrors of the war the ingroups and outgroups of “Vietnamese” and “Americans” couldn’t be more strongly divided.
Add the personal risks of going aginst “your own group”, and we can quickly see how it would have taken a real enlightned hero to soar higher, and take action.
That’s what Thomson did.
As per Wikipedia’ article, “Thompson landed, and told his crew that if the soldiers shot at the villagers while he was trying to get them out of the bunker, then they were to open fire on the soldiers”.
Thomson radioed about the massacre several times, but nothing was done to put an end to it.
As Thomson pushed for an investigation, all officers responsible for the massacre were either acquitted or pardoned.
Thomson was was condemned and ostracized by many individuals in the United States military and government, including several senators. One senator attempted to have him court-martialed.
A good chunk of the American civilian population wasn’t any better. Thomson received death threats over the phone, and dead and mutilated animals on his porch (!!).
And that should tell you a lot about the possible dangers and toxicity of group dynamics.
Hugh Thomson turned against his own ingroup to uphold the universal values of human dignity. In return, he faced expected backlash from the angry mob of slaves. Thomson is one of the few true “war heroes”, as well as a hero of enlightened individualism.
10. Groups Shield Pussies & Take Out The Worst From Individuals
The “diffusion of responsibility” (Darley & Latane, 1968) facilitates aggression and general poor behavior from groups.
In simple terms, individuals acting within groups feel less responsible for their actions and “freer” to engage in aggression, or violence.
In that sense, groups provide the cover that allows individuals to unleash their worst.
To mimic a quote in the “Start Here” page, we might say that:
Groups is where weak individuals go to unleash the dark side that they don’t have the courage to share as individuals
11. Groups Foster Social Climbing
Social climbing is an almost inescapable group dynamic.
People have an inborn tendency to want power and status.
And since few people are power intelligent to acquire status in the most effective way, they end up acting like crabs in a bucket, trying to climb up by using others as social pegs.
We wrote plenty on social climbing here:
11.2. When Status Spurs Violence
The need for status within groups can also give rise to violence that wouldn’t exist without the group.
Concern over the opinions of others is often a driving factor in violent, aggressive, or other evil behavior.Baumeister, 1997
Audiences lend social reality to events. If no one else knows, you can pretend it never happened (Toch, 1993). Self-esteem can bounce back, but people are very concerned with what other people think of them.
12. Groups Generate False Values (That Likely Harm You As An Individual)
Group values that are sometimes meaningless and sometimes harmful include:
Most governments apparatuses encourage at least some patriotism.
But some countries need more patriotism than others.
Countries with bigger armies or with more frequent wars for example need more money and cannon fodder, so they push harder on the patriotic manipulation.
To this end, some countries use what I call the “empire ethos”.
The empire ethos gives good feelings -the pride of being part of the empire-, for more practical goods, like tax receipts, political support, or military service.
In brief, how do you justify this:
Well, it starts early.
There are practical individual advantages to being part of an empire, a military superpower or, generally, a strong country/group.
But it’s a tiny percentage of the citizenship that disproportionately enjoy those advantages -leaders, military top brass, and defense contractors-.
The costs instead are borne by all taxpayers. The citizens pay their slice, but get the crumbles of the pie. And “patriotic feelings” are supposed to make up for that imbalance.
One might say that good feelings also matter.
True. But as we’ve seen, it’s disempowering to project your ego and to tie your self-esteem to a flag or country.
So you’re most likely better off distancing yourself from the jingoism.
- Proselytizing / convincing others
Some groups, often religions, make “convincing others” a value to uphold.
Some religions even say, or at least have been interpreted as saying, that the task of every religious person is to convert others, or to kill them.
I’m sure you can see what makes that a bad value.
But even in its milder forms, such as associating only with people within your group, is going to disempower you and put you at a competitive disadvantage.
- Belonging pride (example: “gay pride”)
Pride for what you haven’t chosen is a BS value.
It distracts you from true self-development, and from seeking pride in what should really matter: what you’ve chosen, done, or become.
Gay pride has thrived so far because it’s a huge PC no-no to call it for what it is: nonsense.
The enlightened individualist sees no value, no honor, and nothing inherently good -or bad- about being gay -or hetero-: those weren’t traits you worked on. You can’t claim any “pride” on them.
- Group cronyism
You’ve probably heard this one:
There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other womenMadeleine Albright
That’s a quote from Madeleine Albright, during an official ceremony.
Not only it hasn’t been met with the disgust it deserves, but it’s been embraced by influential feminists and it’s become a slogan.
The value of supporting group members independently of their merits is obviously anti-meritocratic.
And, the enlightened individualist would add, also tribalist, and backward.
Often, it’s also:
- Manipulative, as it’s an indirect way of asking for support (see video above)
- Disempowering, by fostering a victim mentality (“we’re so disadvantaged, we need each other’s support”)
- Offensive, as the female enlightened individualist wants to advance on her merit, and resents free handouts “because she’s a woman”.
13. When You Ego-Fuse, You Lose
Ego fusion is the ultimate state of group dependence.
With ego fusion, the individual’s ego overlaps with the group.
Ego-fusion differs in intensity, but every time you emotionally invest in a group, you’re also at least partially ego-fusing.
At low levels of ego fusion, it’s not the end of the world. At high levels, you’re giving up yourself.
Good Groups, Bad Groups
What groups are “good for you” is relative, and up to you to decide.
However, some general criteria include groups that:
- You have chosen: rather than foisted upon you by chance or others’ decision
- Add concrete value: the value-exchange point of view
- Lets you develop as an independent individual: including as an independent thinker
Of course, this is also relative, and there are grey areas as well.
But, as we say often here, the grey area is not infinitely elastic.
In general, the enlightened individualist does not self-identify or ego-invest with:
- Most groups you entered “by default”: there is no merit in being part of a group that was assigned to you either randomness, or by someone else
- “Race”: comes laden with racial tensions that you truly don’t need
- Gender: it’s not antifragile, and recently laden with anger and poor self-help
- Sexual orientation: see “gay pride”
- Background: blue blood, poor or rich, conservative or liberal family… It doesn’t matter. It’s what you do, not what those before you did, or were
- Groups & leaders demanding loyalty: demanding “loyalty” without giving something back is immoral. Treat it as such, and vote with your feet
- Appealing to higher ideals: too many ideals means the leader is setting up an exchange that requires you to give up both pragmatism, and critical thinking. It’s time for you to turn up the cynicism
- Ideology-based groups: frame themselves about truth and self-development, but they’re often the opposite. As a rule of thumb, if they have a set of rules or belief you need to abide to, it’s a red flag.
Groups that encourage group think, sell a doctrine, and make you dependent rather than independent tend to be poor groups.
And, to keep it simply:
- All groups that take more than they give
- All groups that limit your personal power and freedom
When Evolution Turns Maladaptive
Evolution wired us into giving up the self for external, larger entities that includ groups, and abstract ideals.
Men, even more so than women, are both wired, and more socially pressured, into self-sacrifice for external entities.
Those drives are not bad per se, and can lead to value-adding and win-win service to the greater good, to a group, or even to a family/woman.
However, they all also offer hooks for manipulation, and they all can turn self-defeating, certainly for the individual, and potentially even for society.
Just two examples:
Governments Co-Opt Men’s Drive to Defend The Tribe
Men have an inherent drive to form groups and scan for threats (McDonald et al., 2012).
You could say that’s a potentially good thing.
Especially useful during our evolution.
But apply it to modernity, and it’s been misused more times than we can count.
For example, patriotism leveraged by governments and the military offer men a sucker’s trade.
And it’s particularly during times of war that the sucker trade sucks.
See this example from “Born on the Fourth of July”:
The marine leverages several “higher ideals” that are appealing to men:
- Warrior in group’s defense (“when our country called us”)
- Loyalty (“we have always come”)
- Being a “real man” -a very effective “hook” to influence or manipulate men-
- Belonging in an exclusive group
- Winning (“we never lost a war”)
Some men who didn’t learn how to develop emotional attachment in life can also find war, famines, disasters and other extreme situations appealing.
Take this kid’s attitude described by Deborah Tannen:
A man who was sent to Vietnam because of an error gave this as the reason he did not try to set the record straight and go home: “I found out I belonged in Vietnam,” he said. “The bonding of men at war was the strongest thing I’d felt in my life.”
That sense of excitement, glory, and of brotherhood at the prospect of war is a relatively common phenomenon for some men (Brown, 1991).
And I say that as a man who for a long time -and still- has strongly felt that “pull”.
But the enlightened individual takes a moment and asks himself: “wait a second. Who am I fighting here? Who and what am I fighting for? And for what and for whom am I risking my own life?”
Albeit Mohammad Ali had his own issues with tribalism and calling white people “his enemy”, he did have an enlightened individualist approach to the war:
Charismatic Leaders Co-Opt “Loyalty” For Own Power
Most men also have an intrisic drive to follow charismatic men.
Call that mix of charismatic man and appeal to higher ideals the “great man” approach to leadership.
We could make the case that it’s a good thing that many men want to follow a charismatic leader.
The world needs team members, after all.
But of course, that drive to follow charismatic men can also make us obedient pawns in the hands of a self-interested, narcissistic leader.
The “great man” approach to leadership has some proven dark underbelly indeed.
Christie and Geis found out that highly Machiavellian men are more likely to become leaders within groups, and Laslam noted that the “great man leadership” benefits the leader first and foremost.
We only need to look at history to see it in effect.
Almost all fascist leaders went for the “great man” leadership.
We could go back in history to the usual Hitlers and Mussolinis, but there are also plenty of modern examples.
Please approach this example apolitically -this website has no left-wing sympathies- and focus on the power dynamics instead:
Trump: as the scout laws say, a scout is trustworthy and loyal. We could use some loyalty today (loyalty to whom?)
Boy scouts: (as shown in full-length videos) USA! USA! USA!
By now you might have realized this: the enlightened individualistic approach immunizes you to the “great man” allure.
Why should he be compelled to follow and support him no matter what, when the enlightened individualist sees the “great man” on top as no better than he is. And that allows him to see his requests for loyalty and patriotism as manipulative ruses to further his own agenda.
Solution: Enlightened Individualism
The solution is not to ditch all higher ideals, reject all leaders, or turn ourselves into 100% selfish operators.
Enlightened individualism is about taking the best of both worlds: collaboration, worthy ideals, and individual pursuits of personal success.
It allows us to make the most out of groups and collaboration, to develop human relationships and win-win exchanges. And it also protects our downside risks against manipulators, abusers, and value-takers.
We’ll learn how to become an enlightened individualist soon.
First, let’s review some similar and overlapping philosophies.
Individualism & Other Schools of Thoughts
Some constructs that overlap or feed into enlightned individualism include:
Enlightenment & Humanism
Humanism is foundational to enlightned individualism.
Says Pinker in “Enlightenment Now“:
Humanism, which privileges the well-being of individual men, women, and children over the glory of the tribe, race, nation, or religion. It is individuals, not groups, who are sentient—who feel pleasure and pain, fulfillment and anguish.
Pinker goes on to describe humanism as opposed to green movements that want to subordinate men to the environment, or to animalist movement that frame humans as the aggressors and “invaders”.
Enlightned individualists agree.
The enlightened individualist develops analytical processes that go under the umbrellas of logic, reason, and the scientific method.
They are all barriers against the pitfalls of group oppression, faith, dogmas, loyalty, authority, charisma, or mysticism.
The enlightened individualist sympathizes with libertarianism and its thirst for individual freedom.
Libertarians are among the few to recognize the true government power dynamics, with their potentially coercive, value-taking, and manipulative over-reaches -some of which we’ve discussed here as part of group dynamics-.
So albeit the enlightened individualist might or might not agree with the liberal anarchist choice -I personally don’t- he generally supports power checks and balances, and prefers a generally permissive, freedom-abundant legal system.
Personal responsibility (from conservatism)
Right-wing movements focus on individual agency and responsibility.
Without denying the role of culture and background, the individualist agrees that, ultimately, we must always go back to the individual.
But while some right-wing focus on culpability, the enlightened individual sees it as empowerment.
The individual focus is because they see in themselves -and in others- the power to decide, change, and affect their world.
As Stef points out, the enlightened individualist can, and often has, political ideas and opinions.
But he rarely subordinates to a specific party.
Keep in mind that political parties are not above the group dynamics we described thus far, and often morph into ideologies and echo chambers.
If the enlightened individualist joins a political party as an activist, he maintains his critical thinking and intellectual independence from the various politburos.
Similar to utilitarianism, enlightened individuals look at “value-exchange accounting” and what maximizes individual well-being.
The difference is in the boundaries they set.
By putting individuals and their basic rights first, individualists couldn’t care less if the total pleasure of the group comes at an unacceptably high cost to the self.
Pragmatism: Where’s The Value?
The enlightened individualist has a pragmatic approach to mediates betwee the world, and his personal goals and interests.
He feels that asking “what’s in it for me” is a fair way of approaching exchanges. And when the answer to “what’s in it for me” is “not much”, he feels not that he is being cynic or unfair, but that the request is manipulative and unfair.
And for the sake of clarity, this doesn’t mean that the enlightened individualist only takes action when he will materially gain. Nothing could be further from the truth.
But it does mean that he approaches the world with that question, and that protects him from manipulation and abuse.
The enlightened individualist decides when to give without taking, he’s not manipulated into it.
By placing individual merits above all else, meritocracy well-aligns with enlightened individualism.
Enlightened individualists who are more economically aware also tend to believe that the best way to maximize value for everyone is through meritocracy that rewards capable, skilled, and value-adding individuals.
Meritocracy stands in contrast to the various calls of supporting this or that group.
Some exceptions can always apply.
“Supporting locals”, for example, is often good for the individual because of the proximity rule. And it’s a fair choice to pay a premium price for a locally-made product -personally, I love to “support locals” when it comes to quality food or skilled handcraft-.
However, many “calls for group-based support” are often either virtue-signaling, or covert attempts to distort the market in favor of those who add less value.
Some affirmative legislation or government intervention to “protect” this or that group are also sometimes market distortions that come at everyone’s cost.
Ultimately, exceptions to meritocracy for the enlightened individualist are based on individual and personal like/dislikes, or quality of service, and not on group affiliation.
Individualists recognize that capitalism harnesses the power of collaboration, while encouraging individualistic pursuits of success.
The “magic” of capitalism is that, through voluntary exchange, people benefit others by benefiting themselves.
Such as, capitalism allows for win-win while leveraging human’s darker drives and motives (note: regulations and legal system also help to keep those selfish drives within win-win exchanges, or to remove the most predatory players).
Enlightened individualists reject communism -unless it’s voluntary communism in a community of free-choosing individuals-.
By putting the collective first and by giving all the power to a small circle of technocrats, communism is in natural antithesis to enlightened individualism (plus: what goes against human nature doesn’t work well).
Individualists are also suspicious of high levels of socialism and redistributions, as they can suffocate individual pursuits, and turn into politicians’ power tools for acquiring and keeping power -money for votes-.
Individualism is Not…
To avoid confusion:
1. It’s not unrestrained or selfish individualism
As a social species our well being, in large part, depends on others.
The enlightened individual knows that, respects that, and supports civic values and collaboration among unrelated individuals.
Enlightened individualists might even decide to put their own life at risk.
It’s just very unlikely that it’s going to be for someone else’s war, oil, glory, or bankrupt ideals.
Instead, valuing their own life and time, they carefully choose what’s worth their support.
2. It’s not “acceptance of selfishness”
Social success is based on value exchange, not unrestrained selfishenss.
Enlightened individualists are shrewd social operators, and they tend to look out for, and avoid, overly selfish individuals.
3. It’s not bashing, ignoring, or feeling ashamed for one’s background
Bashing, swearing off, or being ashamed of one’s background is fake individualism.
It’s the equivalent of rebelling against the judge authority: it seems empowered, but it stems from dependency.
Enlightened individualists are not defined by their background, so they feel no need to bash it, or to take distance.
I like Madonna’s example here.
We both come from “Abruzzo”, a rural region with no limelights.
Madonna refused to visit or acknowledge her background in fear and shame of what it said about her.
Me, I’m glad I grew up in the green.
But overall, it just doesn’t define me, so I feel no need to either distance myself, or boast about it.
4. It’s not about refusing any “sense of belonging”
Some enlightened individualists were idealists to begin with.
And they neither support nor are very comfortable with endless cynicism.
They’re also happy to be part of groups and to feel a sense of belonging.
They just do so more critically, and while maintaining their individuality.
5. It’s not about endless pragmatism, rationality, and rejection of all feelings and romance
There is no contradiction between high romance and high individualism.
As a matter of fact, there might be a positive correlation.
Romance and relationships are highly relevant to the self.
We can extend “romance” to include all dionysiac expressions of irrationality, as well as all types of emotion-based relationships.
The enlightened individualists enjoy the greatness of humans beyond themselves. So they value other humans, and human connections.
6. It’s not about avoiding higher ideals
Not all ideals per se are necessarily wrong or bad.
It’s about which ideals, and how are they used.
Indeed, ideals such as individual freedoms, self-development, and self-expression underpin enlightened individualism.
6.2. You can use higher ideals to influence others
What’s potentially harmful, is is also potentially highly effective
The enlightened individualist can strategically leverage intrinsic motivation and idealism to achieve certain goals.
As a matter of fact, we might argue that one of the tasks of good leadership is to create a “sense of us”, which is a non-pragmatic, a higher ideal.
As we’ve mentioned, it’s not that all ideals are bad, and leveraging a feeling of in-group bonding can be a good thing for the leader, as well as for the group members.
Similarly, remember that you can leverage group-related bonding to facilitate the achievement of your personal goals, including your social and relationship goals.
Many people are more comfortable with those whom they feel as “in-group”, so it’s actually a very smart strategy to frame you two as similar -or “in the same group”-.
7. It’s not about “suspending judgment”
“Not judging others”, “we’re all the same”, or “never apply general tendencies to decision making” are meaningless values.
Inborn differences, obviously, are real.
And some of these inborn differences are relevant to and within different groups.
But the enlightened individualist considers a crucial variable that seems to escape most people these days, and that is “variance”.
Such as, how individuals differ from other individuals within their groups.
As a rule of thumb, the higher the variance, the less you can assume population-level traits to individuals.
In some groups though, the variance around some relevant traits is low.
Or, at least, you can find some important commonalities within the group.
In those cases, it’s safer to pass group-level judgments onto individuals. And to start from certain assumptions of what an individual might be like can make sense, and make you more effective in life.
Also, in cases when we’re not dealing with individuals, but only with groups, it can make sense to group bigger, high-variance groups together.
Gender is a good example: there is huge variance within genders.
Yet, because of the biological differences, it can be a rational and valid approach to discuss gender-level differences or tendencies. And especially so when related to biological differences.
In short: the enlightened individualist puts the individual first once they meet one, but that doesn’t mean they ignore the group of belonging. And especially not when the group of belonging can provide valid information about someone.
7.2. It’s not about ignoring groups and group-level traits (immigration policy)
Some political pundits might warp enlightend individualism for political agendas.
For example, they might say that it’s a moral duty to allow free immigration, and that we cannot forbid individuals from entering a country because group-level stereotypes do not determine individual behavior.
That is partially true.
But unluckily, that is exactly a case where looking at the group might tell you little about the individuals, but still make sense from a policy perspective when applied to large numbers.
Remember: the enlightened individual is a realist, and he recognizes groups can differ, and culture has an impact.
Some cultures and religions make it more unlikely for individuals to integrate, and it can be fair to curb immigration for group-level concerns.
8. It’s not about “going it at alone”
People and relationships empower.
And they’re also one of the most important factor in what psychologist Martin Seligman calls a “good life”
The enlightned individualist cares and takes care about his social relationships.
9. It’s not about bashing those who self-sacrifice
Some examples here negatively framed individuals who sacrificed personal interests for ideals.
But the enlightened individual actually likes idealists and sometimes even admires them.
Their beef is more with the people who manipulate them.
In many ways, this article is written for those souls striving for more than just themselves: so that they don’t get duped into fighting and investing for what’s not worth fighting for.
In a way, this whole website is for them.
How to Be An Empowered Individualist
1. Start From Narcissism
Craik Malkin, psychologist and author of “Rethinking Narcissism” says that a touch of narcissism, let’s say from 4 to 6 on a 1 to 10 scale, is good.
He says that:
The vast majority of healthy people do feel a little special, even if only privately. They are more optimistic, happier and more consistently confident than people on the lower end of the scale.
For our purposes, you can go higher on that scale as long as you’ll be able to move past it, and add the crucial mindsets we talk about here.
The required development is similar to the “divine child” in the popular self-development book “King, Warrior, Magician, Lover“.
The divine child harbors full confidence in his infinite individual rights and potential.
Go back to that Steve Jobs’ quote: the world is made by people that are no smarter than you.
Albeit that by itself might not classify as narcissism, it signals some strong belief in one’s own power and abilities. It’s like going back to that divine child with infinite possibilities of changing the world.
Note: you might already be past this stage, and high self-esteem folks might not need it.
2. Move to “Enlightened Narcissism”
To become a king, the divine child must first avoid the pitfalls of high narcissism.
Moore and Gilette say that the divine child must be careful not to become a “high-chair tyrant”. And he avoids the pitfall by learning that the people and the world do not exist to serve and glorify him.
In TPM’s parlance, we’d say that he must:
- Move past entitlement mentality
- Learn the social exchange rule, and that to get, he must focus on giving
- Develop an antifragile ego
- Become a man worthy of being a leader
- … Plus all the mindsets and strategies we talk about here
Also, check out “reflecting on mortality“.
Albert Bernstein, Ph.D. and clinical psychologist, makes a similar point.
He says that narcissists go places… As long as they grow and as long as they learn social skills, politics, persuasion and, as well, the value of hard work.
I quote him:
The narcissist who drops being special and instead works his ass off to become special, those are the narcissists who succeed.Bernstein, 2000
Becoming a successful narcissist means retaining the high self-esteem, and individualism… While otherwise moving past narcissism.
Let’s call that new stage “enlightned narcisssism”.
“Enlightened narcissism” is less about feeling (special), and more about doing (things that actually do make you special).
3. Start From Cynicism
Same as above.
Starting from cynicism will cure many of the sheep’s pitfalls, as well as protecting you from manipulation and the most harmful pulls of idealism.
Same movie as the manipulative marine earlier.
This time, see how a cynic avoids the pitfall:
Idealist: this is our chance to do something, to be part of history. Communism is moving in everywhere
Cynic: oh yeah sure Ronnie, where, I don’t see them. I’m gonna take care of number one
However, the “cynic cure” comes with its own side effects.
As much as Tom Cruise was a naive man, I wouldn’t consider his friend a “great guy” and neither would I want him as a friend.
To avoid the overly cynic, selfish, and nihilist pitfalls, you’ll move to:
4. Move to “Enlightened Cynicism”
In this stage:
You’re still aware of manipulation, power dynamics, and people’s darker motives.
And you have a healthy, skeptical approach that wonders about second motives and people’s veracity.
However, you’re also aware of the magnificence of human beings, as well as how great it is to build good relationships with them.
You know that relationships carry some dangers -and you take protective measures-, but that they are also some of the things that make life worth living.
You know that collaboration is risky, but also that it’s human collaboration that truly changes the world.
5. Accept Your Selfish Drives: They’re Potentially Good
Selfishness in the right doses is good and healthy.
Collaboration developed because it proved good for the individuals who collaborated for win-win (Ridley, 1996).
Hence, collaboration and selflness are born and rooted in self-interest.
Some argue there is no altruism without self-interest. But the main point for us is that it’s possible, and very common, to be value-givers while being self-interested.
As a matter of fact, giving value while pursuing self-interest is one of the main goals of high-quality individuals.
Selfishness-shaming is also a corrupt -or even manipulative- value.
Don’t fall for it: selfishness can often -and often is- channeled into win-win far more easily than selflessness is.
Also read Peter’s great take on it:
6. Learn to Be Comfortable Alone
In the male dating advice there is a concept called “neediness”.
Neediness relates to “needing” a woman and/or to being emotionally rewarded and validated by a woman.
It’s a good concept, and the exact same applies to groups.
The best way to enter groups and collaborate with others is doing so from a place of no-neediness, and high value.
And to find your high-value you, you might have to learn to walk alone first.
Quoting this webiste:
You will never find your unique voice if all you do is singing someone else’s tune
Social Nihilistc Starting Point: You’re Alone
Similar to narcissism and cynicism, it might be helpful to start from a mild form of nihilism.
In this case, to accept that you’re ultimately on your own, that people are self-interested, and that your own family would leave you within the right circumstances.
7. Experience & Join the Most Disparate Groups
Enter different groups, pick-up some interests, socialize with random people, and approach them with an open mind and a learner’s mindset.
Once you’ve been part of different groups you will realize that all have:
- Some good things
- Some limitations and none of them can -or should- be your “be all, end all”
- Deep similarities: humans are similar no matter what group they belong to, including deep similarities between genders, “races”, nationalities, etc. (also see: moving beyond intercultural communication)
Once you experience, realize, and internalize the above 3 truths, both jingoistic pride and out-group debasement will start sounding petty and narrow-minded.
That’s when you start becoming a member of the human race, a humanist, and a higher-flying eagle.
7.2. Work On An Open Mind
A part of me hates the “open mind” mantra as it’s often associated not to a true open mind, but to left-wing, socialist ideals.
Yet, it might be true that conservatives tend to be more close-minded when it comes to groups and belonging.
BUT, “open mind” is apolitical.
And it is an important aspect of enlightened individualism.
When you’re open-minded you’re more open to considering the limitations of your group, as well as seeing the merits, the beauty, and the advantages of any other group -including the one that “your” group is often pitched against-.
Open-mindedness also shows in abundance mentality.
Since they feel they can move or join any group as they please, enlightened individualists see other groups’ success as more opportunities for them.
Small-minded individuals instead, invested in a specific group and with a more fixed worldview, feel that other people’s success threatens them.
Albeit “open mind” might largely be genetic, much can be done to increase it, for example:
7.3. Gain Perspective: Put Things in Larger Contexts
Many higher ideals derive much of their power from the “infinity trap”.
But when we realize how meaningless “infinity” is, and that life is about constant motion, many of our emotional investments lose power.
Going to war for a border dispute, or keeping the “empire” united loses meaning when you realize borders are constantly shifting.
History as a discipline offers many of these lessons.
When you travel, do some tours to learn the history of the place you’re visiting.
You will soon realize that humans have been moving and roaming around from the beginning of time. Hence, all geography-based groups, “race” and “lineage” will start making little sense.
And that’s one big step towards open-mindedness.
It can also help to put yourself in perspective, which is also helpful to escpae the narcissist trap.
7.4. Don’t Allow Others to “Group You”
Many seek to put you into a collectivist box.
Say, for example, “the Italian guy”, or “the black guy”, or “the conservative guy”.
And when you allow them to put you in a collectivst box, they will pass group-level traits, generalizations, and stereotypes onto you.
It’s not that these people are mean, it’s just that they don’t know any better.
And it’s easier for them to “label” you, rather than learn about you as an individual, or deal with the unknonw that you represent.
The enlightend individualist is not cool with that, and takes steps to avoid it.
See Power University for more details.
8. Assess Characters: Leaders & Members
Assessing characters well is foundational to a happy and succesful life.
And it’s also foundational to decide which group deserves your membership.
You want to look both at the leader(s), and the group members.
Some good questions to assess leaders:
- How is he as a person?
- What is he trying to achieve, and where do our interests diverge?
- What does he ask, and what does he give?
If he promotes ideologies or worldviews, ask what his biases might be.
If he tells you, how you ought to behave, ask yourself “does he walk the talk”? And “does he have skin in the game”?
For example, when politicians send men to war, none go to war themselves, and almost none have children in active engagement.
That’s no skin in the game, which is a major red flag of a sucker’s trade.
You can also apply the same principles for marketers and sellers: did they walk the talk, or did they achieve success selling others how to be successful (paradox of practice, see example)?
Properly assessing authority can be a moral obligation for the enlightened individualist.
Quoting from the “Start Here” page:
The worst cases of “following orders” without questioning authority slaughtered millions. The best cases, only killed their souls.
Also, look at the people around you.
Is it a group of smart self-starters, independent thinkers, and high-value folks going places?
Or is it a bunch of mindless sheep?
You might also apply the same analysis of “group members” to whole societies, and see if the beaten path fits your mold.
Great pic, but don’t misread it: there is nothing inherently wrong with following society’s most common path. But if it’s not to the individualist’s liking, he steps aside.
8.2. Quit Groups With Poor Leaders
If the leader is a poor leader, leave the group.
If you quit, maybe take some of the good guys with you, it’s a win-win, plus a win for society.
If you’re not in the position to leave or take over, you gotta play Machiavellian. Don’t show any sign of rebellion, but mentally disengage, and pursue your interests.
In some cases, active resistance might be called for.
One the best best representations of enlightend individualism
Bucking and fighting groups or leaders can be costly to you, so you must think it over, and you might want to include the ethics and morals of not taking action.
Assessing authority is different than “rebelling” -often a child-like reaction to a judge role– or “undermining the leader” -often a bad political strategy-.
Assessing authority means that you are also open to accepting value-adding authority, leadership, or mentorship.
And if you reject it, you better proceed smartly and strategically.
9. Quit All Groups That Limit Your Individual Power
In general, quit all value-taking groups, and disavow all leaders that don’t directly contribute to your well-being.
I’d like to focus on one case study because of how comon it is:
9.2. Quit “Social Complainers” (Feminized Society & Patriarchal Society)
Enlightned individualist don’t pay much attention to social trends and “cultural zeitgeist”.
And least of all, they waste their time fighting against it.
- His time is valuable
- It’s high investment, little returns (chances of making a difference are slim)
- He’d have to join movements that often act as echo chambers, with plenty of bitter members (scratch with the turkeys)
- Cultural trends don’t really change people’s psychology all that much
- Cultural trends don’t really impact you all that much.
Remember, the enlightened individualist sees himself bigger than groups, culture, or socially mandated values.
The enlightened individualist believes that, even if society was really stacked against him, he can still be the exception.
And that is wholly up to him.
So rather than changing society, difficult and with little returns, he works on himself.
The Modern Social Complainers
Social complainers vary with time.
Today, many of them in the West happen to be lined around gender camps.
Male-only “self-help” complains of “femininized society” -or “gynocentric society”, to sound more erudite-.
Feminist movements are the same of course, and complain about the “patriarchy”.
Those echo chambers might (both) be (somewhat) right.
After all, the TPM community saw elements of a “feminized society” and this website showed that many men gain when women are marginalized -see workplace gender conflict and gender conflict-.
But that’s not the point.
The issue with those approaches is that they over-focus on society.
And social complainers ignore individual power, as well as the inter-individual relationships that have little to do with “society”.
Of course society does have some repercussion on the individual -and on you-. Yet, how much society affects you largely depends on your individual mindsets, attitude, and skills.
Yes, society might espouse this or that value you disagree with.
You can find your own enclave.
After all, in the middle of the most repressive patriarchies, women managed to have men bend over backward for them.
And in the middle of the most matriarchal societies, plenty of men thrived and acquired power.
So quit the social complainer groups, and focus on being a thriving individual.
And as a general mindset: focus less on the rules, and more on being the exception to those rules.
Some more categories of individuals who are too focused on the social dimension to the detriment of the empowered self include:
The Social Complotists
Social complotists (mis)interpret all major events as manipulated by some mysterious power that be behind the scenes, almost always to the detriment of the masses.
The disempowering frame is that the complotist, and you, are almost always part of that credulous, powerless mass.
Personally, I think that not all complotist theories are the same. Some are more credible than others but, as a rule of thumb, most complotists you meet in your everyday life are not very logical, informed, or power-aware to add real value.
More important than what I think though is how the enlightened individual generally approaches complots. And whether or not the enlightened pays attention or believes in complot theories he is not bothered or disempowered by them.
Because the enlightened individualist believes that he can always carve out his niche of power and he can always find a way to achieve his goals.
And even if he can’t, his focus is not on the stories, or even realities of the complot, but in what he can do as an individual.
The Social Philosophers
These guys love to discuss larger social trends.
In our current era, they like to discuss about the rise of China, the “death of the West”, or the cyclical trends of how civilizations rise and fall -and somehow, it always seems like we’re on a downward trajectory-.
These discussions often are based on little or no evidence (low in science) and little or no observation (2/3 of the knowledge pillars are missing).
Depending on who you’re talking to, they can also be opinions of rather misinformed and historically ignorant folks, making their theories and “predictions” utterly meaningless.
And as Steven Pinker said: “The one prediction coming out of futurology that is undoubtedly correct is that in the future, today’s futurologists, will look silly”.
In any case, the enlightened individualist is not too stoked, afraid, or engrossed by social philosophies and predictions.
Again, he believes he can succeed and meet his own goals independently of what society does. And to ensure that he succeeds, he knows better than getting lost and disempowered by the predictions of gloom and doom.
10. Focus on Self-Development
Enlightened individualism is a journey of self-development.
The focus is on the self.
Once you develop the self, then you can join any group you want, and you’ll be able to contribute some real value. And you’ll find out that you most often end up leading those groups.
With plenty of bias, TPM believes that this website’s approach is particularly helpful.
11. Cut Out (Mass) Media Consumption
In simple terms, the agenda setting theory says that:
Media chooses for you what’s relevant and important to pay attention to.
I find the theory to be an accurate description of how things work.
To quip a popular trope of the early 2020s, it doesn’t even matter whether news are “fake” or not. All kinds of media decide for you what you should be paying attention to, and what you should not be paying attention to.
And guess what’s not high in the list of priorities? You! The media is about taking time away from yourself, to distribute to all kinds of random things.
All kinds of random things that, icing on the cake, are irrelevantly low proximity to you (see later).
And of course, enlightened individualists are not cool with that.
By putting themselves first, enlightened individualists naturally avoid wasting too much time on random news.
And when it comes to deciding what’s important, enlightened individualists decide for themselves what they should pay attention to, and what’s worth spending time and (emotional) resources on.
Refuse Having an Opinion
From a Machiavellian power-perspective, there is no unbiased information.
Everyone has an agenda they want to push on you, and the spin they put on events reflects their agenda.
Discussing events is rarely in the service of exchanging opinions or, God forbid, reaching the truth. Discussions are but a battleground for control.
What do they want to control?
Well, one, the narrative of “what things mean” (frame).
And then, of course, you.
Every pundit and everyone with an opinion wants to recruit you. They want you to agree with them, follow their doctrine, follow them or, worse, follow (or hate) whoever it is they like (or don’t like).
And what’s in it for you?
But it’s hard for many to not have an opinion.
So they get suckered into news that has no relevance to them, wasting time developing opinions of things that they aren’t going to influence anyway.
If you can’t avoid bein shovered information your way, avoid having an opinion.
Unplug From the “Endless Outrage Machine”
A very popular theme around news is outrage
Outrage is a power game, it’s a way of saying “look at me, I matter”.
But it’s useless.
Here are some enlightened examples of outrage reframing:
- Police shoots a man who happened to be black? Tragic, but I don’t know the whole story
- How bad is it the UK left the EU, who they think they are? I’m not sure it’s “bad”, and I don’t have time to develop an informed opinion
- How much does the government suck to force us to wear masks? Indeed I hate coercion, but I’d rather talk about where we can move next
In short: things happen. And they always will. Refuse getting dragged into debates as if they were all-important to your life, because they often aren’t.
Instead, suspend opinion on everything that is of no immediate relevance to you, and focus on yourself.
Pull, Don’t Push
The simple solution?
Switch all “push” media and mass media off, and limit your intake of media to “pull”.
“Pull” means that you decide where, when, and if you look up for information.
For example, good “pull” means that you sometimes go online to a few selected magazines that you trust for rational and balanced reporting, see if there is anything you’re interested in, and then go back to your real life.
Since media focuses on threats and continuously seeks sensationalism, mass media consumers also tend to be neurotics, with an external locus of control, who live in fear.
They are “low-power”, “high-emotional involvement”, the worst quadrant:
Example: Pushing War News
Push and pull apply beyond mass media.
There is plenty of “push” in the digital world and in modern smartphones.
I’m updating this article as my newly bought Pixel started pushing news on me.
The latest one was on the Israeli and Palestinian war.
My answer to the “Israeli war” push notification?
“F*ck that!”, while I immediately deactivate the annoying service.
And not because I’m indifferent to people’s suffering, but because… What am I gonna do about it from my room?
This situation is low proximity to me (see later).
To me, it feels both useless and wrong to consume media about wars if I’m not gonna do anything about it.
It’s almost immoral.
As enlightened individualists, we must focus on what we can do something about.
As a matter of fact, passively consuming media is a selfish act of time waste.
The most ethical thing you can do in life is to focus on what you can have a positive impact on.
And the more Palestinians and Israelis read an article like this, the less they’ll be to want to fight that war.
Your Enlightned Agenda Setting
You don’t need anyone to set your agenda of what’s important.
Here’s a sample outline of “enlightened agenda setting” for you:
- Yourself (self-development, health, what makes you happy, etc. etc.)
- Your goals
- Your relationships with real people in your life
This is connected to “I put my interests before that of random people & things”.
At the core, consuming media means that random events and people are more important than you are.
This dynamic is painfully evident with celebs news and updates, where you are taking time away from your life, to give it to some random people you don’t even know.
Enlightened individualists don’t spend time updating themselves on what the latest celeb is up to. Instead, enlightened individualists use mass media and social time to work on their life, and to develop real relationships with real people they actually know.
12. Move to “Enlightened Belonging”
Here’s the great part:
Enlightened individualism is not about swearing off “belonging”, groups, ideals, or emotional investment in others.
Once you learn to be part of groups without investing your ego in them, you are free to enjoy the sense of belonging -and even pride-.
You might call this switching “going from ego-fusion to an enlightened belonging”.
In simpler terms, we might call it “cool belonging” -as opposed to “hot”-.
Rather than being “proud of being part of X, which defines me”, you are “happy of being part of X, while maintaining my individuality and rationality”.
Enlightened belonging also avoids the “us Vs them’ trap.
It’s a “pride” that says “I’m part of this group, and I’m proud of it because we’re great and I love these people, and what we stand for. Maybe you guys from that other group can also be cool. I hope so”.
12.2. … Dribbling All of Enlightenment Impostors
Some leaders or public figure co-opt enlightened ideals.
They take what sounds like enlightned ideals, and put them into the service of parochialism:
Jocko Willink: Look, when I served in the military, I served alongside every race, every color, every creed, with men and women from the most diverse imaginable socio-economic background from all over the country, and we in the military set those differences aside…
It might seem like an invite to “soar higher”.
But it’s not.
It’s a fake call to enlightenment.
It’s about enticing you outside certain groups, only to join another individual-repressive, individual-castrating group.
Just keep on listening a few more seconds to that video, and see what’s in store for you.
13. Ruthlessly Focus on Maximum Impact Area
Let’s quickly introduce a few related concepts now:
13.2. Apply the “Gravitational Law”
The importance and relevance of an event or individual to you is inversely proportional to its value and distance
In simpler words: the closer and more valuable someone or something is to you, the more relevant it is.
The farther removed and valueless it is, the less relevant it is.
There are two related concepts in the gravitational law: the distance (proximity law), and the potential value to you (related to value accounting).
Both are important, but proximity is often more important, and where people stumble most often (see mass media, fandom, sports fan, etc.).
Read here how to apply the proximity law to your social strategy.
Let’s take a previous example now, the “slave mindset” as related to ranks and hierarchies, and let’s filter it through “gravitational law” to see how the enlightened individualist adapts.
Your immediate boss is high proximity.
So if your immediate boss is a bad human being, that does have an impact on you and you do have an impact on him.
Furthermore, staying under a bad boss does say something about you, since high-quality folks who demand a lot from the people around them wouldn’t stay long under poor bosses.
So, in this case, the enlightened individualist expands effort to change the situation, or remove himself from the situation.
And once he finds a good boss, it’s not a case of identity projection anymore if he feels good about his boss because he has personal agency and he made it happen.
But if your elected prime minister is poor, carry on because unless you’re in politics, he’s low proximity, you had little agency on his election, and what he says or does say nothing about you.
Alternatively, if you want to affect political change, then you must change your life focus, and go into politics.
13.3. For Personal Effectiveness Focus on “High Mutual Pull”
Relevant to the gravitational law are the concepts of personal agency and personal affect:
- Personal agency: this is your personal “gravitational pull”, your power to change the situation for the better. Higher proximity usually means higher personal power to change things
- Personal affect: this is the gravitational’s pull effect from others, the power of the situation to change you, including emotionally, and to positively “move” you. Higher proximity usually means higher personal affect
Your personal interests and passions are also part of your personal affects, since you’re more sensitive there.
For maximum effect the enlightened individualist zeroes in on the overlap between what he’s affected by, and what he can affect:
Please note that albeit what’s closer is easier to affect, this is not to say you must necessarily ignore all events and people that are not physically close to you.
Quite the opposite, actually. It means that if an event is important to you, but you’re not close enough to affect change, then you must rise up to the challenge.
Either get closer, or find a way to increase your personal power to affect change.
By only investing in what matters to you, and what you have control on, you increase personal power, returns, and efficiency.
The focus on gravitational together with the quest for the continuous betterment of life is how the greatest individuals of all time advanced our civilization.
13.4. For Life Success, Focus on “Maximum Impact Area”
Finally, to maximize the chances of life success, you can add a third element when deciding what to focus on:
What others also care about.
As per social exchange, when you can give others what they want, you can also ask for equal value back.
This third element adds the second “win” to the first, more selfish “win”, to realize” win-win”.
In simple terms, we can consider noise and distraction that we need to ruthlessly cut out, everything that falls outside of these three spheres:
- What you can change
- What you want to change
- What people want to have changed
What is inside, is what changes the world for the better.
The Hero’s Journey
As we’ve seen, enlightened individualism is a journey.
Some of the paradigm shifts might require leaving comfortable and familiar small ponds and going through challenging life experiences.
There are also some mentally taxing dichotomies to negotiate -cynic pragmatism VS idealism- and some challenging personality paths to complete -from “me, me, me narcissism” to validation-independent antifragile ego-.
After all, enlightened individualism offers not easy answers and a list of rules, but a mindset and personality to grow into.
And that’s always a more challenging task.
In a way, enlightened individualism is a hero journey of self-development.
The various psychological crutches are there to tempt you into an easier path.
But if you want to make it to hero level, you must remain steadfast in your focus on self-empowerment.
The path might also be a case of what we sometimes refer to as a “peak without a mountain”, a journey rather than a destination.
Luckily, the journey is often its own reward.
And no matter how far you reach, every single step is a step forward.
Joining the Eagles
This website uses the allegory of “flying with the eagles”, rather than “scratching with the turkeys”.
And we invite readers to soar with the eagles.
The englightned individualist is an eagle.
The eagle-individualist, self-reliant and demanding more of himself, steps outside of the fray, and looks at everything from a higher vantage position.
In Nietzche’s philosophy, the enlightened individualist is the true “ubermensch”, moving fluidly, free, fierce, and unrestrained through space and time.
And in relation to the “big fish – small pond trap“, the enlightened individualist is the fish who escapes the small ponds, and feels at home in the blue ocean.
The free fish in the blue ocean is the aquatic equivalent of the eagle in the sky.
And now, congratulations, you’ve done until here.
The next step is on you.
Are you ready to soar?