Next, what can be done about these associational difficulties? I can give only my own answer. I do not know what our attitude should be, but only what mine is! It is to have no part in any association whatsoever which takes actions implicating me, for which I am not ready and willing to accept personal responsibility.3
Put it this way: If I am opposed, for instance, to spoliation—legal plunder—I am not going to risk being reported in its favor. This is a matter having to do with morals, and moral responsibility is strictly a personal affair. In this and like areas, I prefer to speak for myself. I do not wish to carry the division-of-labor idea, the delegation of authority, to this untenable extreme.
One friend who shares these general criticisms objects to the course I have taken. He argues that he must remain in associations which persist in misrepresenting him in order to influence them for the better. If one accepts this view, how can he avoid “holing up” with every evil to be found, anywhere? How can one lend support to an agency which lies about his convictions and avoid living a lie in the process? If to stop such evil in others one has to indulge in evil, it seems evident that evil will soon become universal. The alternative? Stop lending a hand to the doing of evil! This at least has the virtue of lessening the evildoers by one. Furthermore, were there a record of the men who have wrought the greatest changes for good in the world, I am certain that the ones who acted on their own responsibility would top the ones who acted in committees.
How Associations May Help
Now the third question, “Is there a proper place for associational activity as relating to important public issues?” There is.
The bulk of activities conducted by many associations is as businesslike, as economical, as appropriate to the division-of-labor process, as is the organization of specialists to bake bread or to make automobiles. It is not this vast number of useful service activities that is in question.
The phase of committee activities which I see as the cause of so much mischief has to do with a technique, a plausible but insidious method by which reason and conscience—the repositories of such truths as we possess—are not only robbed of incentive for improvement but are actually used for fabrications, which are then represented as the convictions of persons who hold no such convictions. No better device for the promotion of socialism was ever invented!
It was noted above that not all bodies called committees are true committees, a true committee being an arrangement by which a number of persons bring forth a report consistent with what the majority is willing to state in concert. The true committee is part and parcel of the “majority is right” line of thought—or lack of thought.
The alternative arrangement, on occasion referred to as a committee, may include the same set of men. The distinction is that the responsibility and the authority for a study is vested not in the collective, the set of men, but in one person, preferably the one most skilled in the subject at issue. The others serve not as decision makers but as consultants. The one person exercises his own judgment as to the suggestions to be incorporated or omitted. The report is his and is presented as his, with such acknowledgments of assistance and concurrence as the facts warrant. In short, the responsibility for the study and the authority to conduct it are reposed where responsibility and authority are capable of being exercised—in an individual. This arrangement takes full advantage of the skills and specialties of all parties concerned. The tendency here is toward an intellectual leveling-up, whereas with the true committee the tendency is toward irresponsibility. The first principle of any successful organizational arrangement is: always keep responsibility and authority commensurate and in balance.
On occasion, associations are formed for a particular purpose and supported by those who are like-minded as to that purpose. As long as the associational activities are limited to the stated purpose and as long as the members remain like-minded, the danger of misrepresentation is removed.
It is the multipurposed association, the one that potentially may take a “position” on a variety of subjects, particularly subjects relating to the rights or the property of others—moral questions—where misrepresentation is not only possible but almost certain. Merely keep in mind the nature of a committee.
The remedy here, if a remedy can be put into effect, is for the association to quit taking “positions” except on such rare occasions as unanimous concurrence is manifest, or except as the exact and precise degree and extent of concurrence is represented. Were the whole truth told about the genesis of and the concurrence in most committee reports, their destiny would be the wastebasket.
The Strength of the Individual
The alternative to associational “positions” is individual membership positions, that is, using the associational facilities to service the members: provide headquarters and meeting rooms where members may assemble in free association, exchange ideas, take advantage of the knowledge of others, learn of each other’s experiences and thoughts. In addition, let the association be staffed with research experts and a competent secretariat, having on hand a working library and other aids to learning. Then, let the members speak or write or act as individual persons! Indeed, this is the real, high purpose of voluntary associations.
The practical as well as the ethical advantages of this suggested procedure may not at first be apparent. Imagine Patrick Henry having said:
“I move that this convention go on record as insisting that we prefer death to slavery.”
Now, suppose that the convention had adopted that motion. What would have been its force? Certainly almost nothing as compared to Patrick Henry’s ringing words:
“I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” (Italics mine)
This was not a case of Patrick Henry’s trying to decide for anyone else. His listeners were invited to consider only what he had decided for himself, and thus could weigh, more favorably, the merits of emulation. No convention, no association, no “decisions of men united in councils” could have said such a thing in the first place; and second, anything the members might have said in concert could not have matched the force of this personal declaration. Third, had the convention been represented in any such sentiments, it is likely that misrepresentations would have been involved.
A moment’s reflection on the words of wisdom that have come down to us throughout all history, the words and works that have had the power to live, the words and works around which we have molded much of our lives, must reveal that they are the words and works of persons—not of collectives or sets of men, not what men have uttered in concert, not the “decisions of men united in councils.”
In short, if advancement of what’s right is the objective, then the decision-of-men-united-in-council practice could well be abandoned on the basis of its impracticality—if for no higher reason, Conceded, it can do mischief; it is also an utter waste of time in the creative areas, that is, for the advancement of truth.
The reasons for the impracticality of this device in the creative areas seem clear. Each of us when seeking perfection, whether of the spirit, of the intellect, or of the body, looks not to his inferiors but to his betters, not to those who self-appoint themselves as his betters, but to those who, in his own humble judgment, are his betters. Experience has shown that such perfection as there is exists in individuals, not in the lowest common-denominator expressions of a collection of individuals. Perfection emerges with the clear expression of personal faiths—the truth as it is known, not with the confusing announcement of verbal amalgams—lies.
“… on that day began lies that caused the loss of millions of human beings and which continue their unhappy work to the present day.” The evidence, if fully assembled and correctly presented, would, no doubt, convincingly affirm Tolstoy’s observation. We have, in this process, the promoter of socialism and the enemy of peace.
How to stop this type of lie? It is simply a matter of personal determination and a resolve to act and speak in strict accord with one’s own inner, personal dictate of what is right—and for each of us to see to it that no other man or set of men is given our permission to represent us otherwise.