Richard Kronenfeld
Adult Ba'al Teshuvah Ph.D. Physicist

Collectivism and Cruelty

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One of the most thought-provoking episodes of the original Star Trek television series that ran in the late 1960s was one entitled “The Enemy Within” in which a transporter malfunction (activating itself while unattended) caused the Starship Enterprise commander, Captain James Kirk, ably portrayed by William Shatner, to be duplicated as identical twin beings, one bearing all his good qualities and the other all his bad qualities. The result is that the “good” Captain Kirk is benevolent but unable to make decisions because he agonizes over the effects each option may have on others, while the “bad” Captain Kirk is malicious but has no difficulty making decisions because he doesn’t care about consequences. Ultimately the two Kirks agree both are needed, and Chief Engineer Scott runs the transporter in reverse to reunite them. The viewer is left with the point that it takes all aspects of human nature, good and bad, to make a leader. (Incidentally, the episode’s writer, Richard Matheson, was inspired by “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”)

I bring up this episode because it illustrates what commentators have determined, that the strength of collectivism in its varied forms (Marxism, socialism, fascism) is its appeal to both sides of human nature. On one hand it evokes an idyllic vision of a society in which everyone helps one another and everyone’s needs are satisfied in an egalitarian manner. On the other hand, it appeals to the human trait of coveting what others have. Coveting leads to getting what others have the easy way: why work hard for your wants when you can use the taxation power of government to take it away from the “haves”? This trait is so pervasive that the Tenth Commandment forbids it. The Objective Standard provides a more formal, antiseptic definition:

“Individualism is the idea that the individual’s life belongs to him and that he has an inalienable right to live it as he sees fit, to act on his own judgment, to keep and use the product of his effort, and to pursue the values of his choosing. It’s the idea that the individual is sovereign, an end in himself, and the fundamental unit of moral concern. This is the ideal that the American Founders set forth and sought to establish when they drafted the Declaration and the Constitution and created a country in which the individual’s rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness were to be recognized and protected.

“Collectivism is the idea that the individual’s life belongs not to him but to the group or society of which he is merely a part, that he has no rights, and that he must sacrifice his values and goals for the group’s ‘greater good.’ According to collectivism, the group or society is the basic unit of moral concern, and the individual is of value only insofar as he serves the group. As one advocate of this idea puts it: ‘Man has no rights except those which society permits him to enjoy. From the day of his birth until the day of his death society allows him to enjoy certain so-called rights and deprives him of others; not . . . because society desires especially to favor or oppress the individual, but because its own preservation, welfare, and happiness are the prime considerations.’” [A. Maurice Low, “What is Socialism? III: An Explanation of ‘The Rights’ Men Enjoy in a State of Civilized Society,” The North American Review, vol. 197, no. 688 (March 1913), p. 406.]

How does all this relate to cruelty? To begin, the Marxist strain of collectivism in particular teaches the “masses” that the capitalistic rulers of society are exploiting them, so they have the right to expropriate what was taken from them. (This is a distorted view of “capitalism,” insofar as a market economy channels human greed into an acceptable channel, in which to make one’s living requires producing goods or providing services that other people are willing to pay for. In other words, I satisfy my needs by satisfying your needs.) Inevitably, such teaching incites the “have-nots” toward predation – theft, robbery, rioting, looting, and so on. It is well established in biology that predators commit acts of cruelty, not by premeditation but by instinct. I well remember when, as a substitute teacher in a high school biology class, I showed a video about predators which depicted such horrific acts as a killer whale bouncing a terrified baby seal up in the air before devouring it; a doe bends down to sip water from a muddy stream and is pulled underwater by a hippopotamus; and a troop of chimpanzees take positions to drive a monkey brachiating through the trees into the hands of a waiting chimp. The monkey screams, and the next scene shows the apes feasting on bloody meat. (Incidentally, radical environmentalists who believe planet Earth would be better off if humans became extinct should take note of what happens and will continue to happen whether we’re around or not.) A less graphic version of this process takes place in human society: according to Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, his followers are bidden to isolate, to demonize, and to accuse their opponents of doing what the Alinskyites are doing. From these precepts comes today’s cancel culture. And in keeping with the converse to the Talmudic insight that those who are merciful to the cruel will be cruel to the merciful, the collectivists show great sympathy for criminals, whom they see as victims of society, and so they promote no-cash bail, reducing felony charges to misdemeanors, and plea-bargaining down to minimal sentences, so the predators are turned loose to commit further offenses.

On another front, the Left is hostile to Judeo-Christian religion, because it emphasizes the value of the individual, so as to derive seemingly sadistic pleasure from forcing people to violate their religious convictions. Whether it takes the form of pressuring Catholic hospitals and physicians to perform abortions or lose Federal funding, or compelling Yeshiva University to officially recognize an LGBTQ club, or suing bakers and florists for refusing to create their wares for same-sex weddings, our American collectivists are following in the footsteps of their Communist and Nazi co-religionists. (I use the term “co-religionists” because, as is well known, secular ideologies function as a substitute for real religion.) Cruelty in other contexts will appear in a forthcoming post about censorship in science and its consequences.

Ultimately, we must judge the self-appointed paragons of compassion by their actions, not by their honeyed words.

About the Author
I'm a native New Yorker (Brooklyn, to be precise) transplanted to the desert as a teen-ager. I hold a Ph.D in Physics from Stanford and have taught mathematics and physics at the high school, community college, and university level. I'm an adult ba'al teshuvah and label myself as centrist Orthodox and a Religious Zionist along the lines of OU, Yeshiva University, and Mizrachi.
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