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What’s a Self-Made Individual?
by Tibor R. Machan

Whenever erudite critics of America’s social and political philosophy wish to make fun of it all, they mention the "self-made individual" (or, in older terminology, "man"). Recently one such critic recalled some quip that said, "How many people does it take to make a self-made man?" The point being, self-made individuals do not exist at all, everyone, in fact, develops by relying on innumerable others.
 
This criticism totally misses the point of what a self-made individual is supposed to be. No one who has any sense conceives of the self-made individual as some kind of hermit or someone who sprung to life on a desert island. Not even Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was hatched on his island and lived abandoned until Friday showed up. Crusoe was shipwrecked and only after that had to rely solely on himself for a while. (Defoe’s book was actually based on a true story, of the Scotsman named Alexander Selkirk [or Selcraig].) Clearly Crusoe had learned many skills from other people before he ended up having to fend for himself.
 
What a self-made individual is, however, has nothing to do with ending up all alone on a desert island. Nor does it have to do with someone who is anti-social, who distances himself or herself from all others, as the antagonistic caricatures would make it out. No, a self-made individual is one who thinks though the ideas and principles on which he or she bases his or he conduct before leaping to action. Self-made means not simply accepting what others tell one, not relying solely on the advice one gets from others in one’s community, including books, songs, poems, novels, etc., and so forth. Instead, the self-made individual, once reaching the age at which one can being to understand a thing or two, will actually get to think things through to make sure he or she has grasped what’s what.
 
Since the time or Aristotle the fact that many people simply accept what others tell them has been acknowledged. Slavish people existone need only pay attention to how a great many people make their decisions, how they follow almost blindly new fashions, prevailing views about what’s ethical or required by their religion, family, or the so called leaders of their ethnic or racial groups.

Self-made individuals associate with others thoughtfully, prudently, not recklessly. They do not by any means reject society but take part in it discriminately, on their own terms (tern which they often learned from others but didn’t accept blindly). When it is noted that self-made individuals don’t exist because they are often closely linked to others, it is completely overlooked that those others, too, needed to think things through carefully in order to provide good input.

There is simply no way to discard the fact that human beings are better off in life if they develop a facility and habit for understanding things for themselves, on their own initiative instead of blindly following others. That’s what’s meant by "the self-made individual"; furthermore, that is what those champion who regard such an individual as a good model to emulate (but not blindly!).

Why do we hear so much criticism and ridicule of the self-made individual? One reason is that people who would want to be leaders of others, people who like to rule others, people who want to impose ideas on others find the self-made individual an obstacle to their program. People who think for themselves do not fall for the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Jim Jones and similar charismatic figures who are eager to run the world for the rest of us. So they hope to demean the idea that we can think for ourselves and guide are lives pretty well without their intervention.

Whenever you hear someone put down the self-made individual, look out—you are likely hearing from a would-be tyrant.
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