Saturday, January 29, 2005

Study Everything, Join Nothing

Chess player Don over at Man de la Maza wonders about the above motto given my recent joining of the group weblog, The Conservative Philosopher.

Have I violated my own admonition? Well, it depends on how broadly one takes 'join.' A while back, I joined a neighbor and some of his friends in helping him move furniture. Reasonably construed, the motto does not rule out that sort of thing. And being a fair and balanced guy, as everybody knows, I recently joined the Conservative Book Club to balance out my long-standing membership in the left-leaning and sex-saturated Quality Paperback Book Club. (It would be interesting to compare these two 'clubs' in terms of their target memberships -- but that's another post. En passant, I can't imagine ever running out of blog topics.)

And what if I join you for lunch, or join in a discussion in a chat room? A good while ago, the anonyblogger who ran The Will to Blog, but then recently lost the will to blog and deleted his site, opined that my motto ought to preclude my being a conservative. But surely one does not join a set of beliefs. One joins a political party, an organization, a church, and the like. Our anonyblogger might have been making the mistake of thinking that an independent thinker cannot arrive at any conclusions, for, if he did, then he would be joining something, and lose his independence.

In the context of Paul Brunton's thought, "Study everything, join nothing" means that one ought to beware of institutions and organizations with their tendency toward self-corruption and the corruption of their members. (The Catholic Church is a good recent example.) "Join nothing" means avoid group-think; avoid associations which will limit one's ability to think critically and independently; be your own man or woman; draw your identity from your own resources, and not from group membership. Be an individual, and not in the manner of those who want to be treated as individuals but expect to gain special privileges from membership in certain 'oppressed' or 'victimized' or 'disadvantaged' groups.

Be Emersonian, as Brunton was Emersonian:

"Who so would be a man must be a nonconformist."

"Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind."

"Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one one of its members."

"We must go alone."

"But your isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation."

(All from Emerson's essay, "Self-Reliance.")

In Brunton's mouth, the injunction means: study all the religions and political parties, but don't join any of them, on pain of losing one's independence.

Now let's apply this to my joining of the group weblog, TCP. It is not a religion, nor a political party, nor does it have a mission statement. It is completely non-coercive and no pressure will be placed on anyone to toe the party line: there is no party line. There is no agreement as to what conservatism is; that is something to be explored. Philosophers being what they are, much by way of consensus is not to be expected.

Note finally, that the motto is mine (by acceptance not by origin); it does to follow that it ought to be yours.