VOLTAIRE'S BASTARDS -- THE DICTATORSHIP OF REASON IN THE WEST
19. Life in a Box -- Specialization and the Individual
Surely we live in the paradise of the individual. Proof enough lies all around us. The uniforms of class and function are dropping away. Libel and security laws aside, any man or woman may say what he or she wishes on any subject without fear of going to jail. We may dress as we wish; wear our hair short or long; engage in uncountable marital, sexual and sports activities, almost all of which are available to all people irrespective of background. Only a few bastions equipped with a peculiar combination of class and cost can resist parts of this general, populist flow. We may read information of all sorts and persuasions or travel around the world for almost nothing, just to see for ourselves what once we had to learn from narrow public sources, which usually passed on their own unverifiable prejudices.
And yet, what is real individualism in the contemporary secular state? If it is self- gratification, then this is a golden era, If it has to do with personal public commitment, then we are witnessing the death of the individual and living in an age of unparalleled conformism. Specialization and professionalism have provided the great innovations in social structure during the Age of Reason, But they have not created the bonds necessary for public cooperation. Instead they have served to build defensive cells in which the individual is locked.
Much of modern individualism has been confined to superficial and personal matters. Our dentist, for example, leans over us, his skin tanned from a trip to some southern island, his teeth perfectly white, his shirt open two buttons to reveal a gold chain, his hair permed into perfect curls, his second or third wife waiting at home for their evening out in a nouvelle cuisine restaurant. On his tongue there is talk of wine vintages, tennis and squash. No doubt his car has some fast form and has been imported from another country, Or it has a tough town-and- country appearance, which indicates that he owns a weekend place. Can this possibly be the same blacksmith who pulled teeth in his spare time a few centuries ago? Or the lugubrious, black-suited pain inflictor satirized in Daumier's drawings? Or even the figure of fun joked about by Wilde? Or by Shaw? "'Wretched, bankrupt ivory snatcher ... gum architect. It's your business to hurt people."  No. This is modern man: the individualist in quest of inner peace and happiness.
The dominant mythology of the West to all intents and purposes remains the American dream. "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Life and liberty having been assured, the contemporary middleclass individual concentrates on the pursuit of happiness. Now we may divorce with facility or, for that matter, not marry at all but live in couples outside religious and civil law. No longer respecting hypocritical public decorum, we can see naked bodies entwined on the advertising pages of mainstream magazines, as well as in various stages of copulation in mainstream films. By simply reaching a little higher on any magazine rack, we can buy concentrated sex images. For that matter, we can walk through a door in any city and pay a small sum to see females or males or both acting out live intercourse.
Less than fifty years ago, an actress was considered "not good enough" to marry a middle- class son. His family would have cut him off if he tried. She was considered little more than a prostitute. Clothed while on stage or film, once off she removed them too easily. Now middle-class parents are thrilled if their daughter goes to acting school. They don't seem to mind if she later appears on the screen, naked or in sex scenes. provided this exposure takes place in a serious movie.
Equally, an army officer would have refused an accountant as his son-in-law less than half a century ago. Now he would welcome him into the family. Knowing how not to contribute to the financing of the public weal has become a generally accepted virtue of individualism.
This widespread freedom of choice is the product of reason's victory over arbitrary social values. The individual has been allowed out of his socially constructed cage. That, at least, is the contemporary myth. What is not clear, however, is what that liberation has to do with the fulfillment of individualism. The lessons of history seem relatively clear. Societies on the rise are simple, unadorned and relatively uncompromising. Those on the decline are given to open-mindedness, self-indulgence and the baroque. The Romans of the republic and early empire were farmers with well-defined duties and a simple way of life. The early Americans were good country gentlemen, unadorned except for their imaginations and their willingness to work. The leadership of such societies generally reflects these unpretentious characteristics. George Washington is the most famous modern example. Even in his own time he was presented as a latter-day Cincinnatus. the early Roman leader who served selflessly and then gave up power to return to his fields. But long before Washington there had been men like Henri IV -- the first of the great modern kings -- who in the early 1600s swept away protocol, ornament and grandeur. This he extended to refusing to bathe. It was Henri who wrote to his mistress -- "Don't bathe. I'm coming home." These' nascent, healthy societies are invariably imbued with a self-righteousness which is often tied to religious and moral inflexibility. And their mythologies of simplicity and goodness invariably turn a blind 'eye to political realities. The Romans and Americans, for example, were driven by military expansion and a slave-based economy. Nevertheless, such people tend to succeed and with success comes a comfort which in turn allows for greater ornament and self-indulgence. Who could blame them? And if that is degeneracy, well, societies are made to come and go. One can only hope that they will be allowed to go gently by the new tribe, which will inevitably appear to fill the void left by the old one's loss of ambition and self-restraint.
It doesn't take much effort to argue that we in the West show all these signs of indolent degeneracy and are therefore prime candidates for replacement. However, it is not clear that what we now think of as individualism is entirely an expression of self-satisfied self- indulgence. After all, our idea of the individual was formed by several centuries of struggle between the arbitrary powers of Church and State on the one hand and the disciples of reason on the other. The product -- the citizen of the late twentieth century -- bears little resemblance to the degenerate Roman or the degenerate eighteenth-century European aristocrat. Surely the dentist just described, with his harmless indulgences, is not our equivalent of a Neronic pleasure seeker. Surely the modern citizen's devotion to the virtues of superficial individualism is not of great importance. These pleasures are mere artifice.
The real state of individual development in our society can be seen in the way the citizen operates when faced by the structures of power. For example, an individual's willingness not to conform can best be measured when nonconformism threatens his life or that of his family, friends or other citizens. Fortunately we don't have many opportunities for that sort of test. On the other hand, we are measured every day by our responses to questions which have to do with such things as personal income, careers and public policy. A Civilization which claims to have been constructed upon the foundation of the participating individual citizen will stand or fall on our detailed reaction to these questions.
Thomas Mann set out the two sides of this argument perfectly in The Magic Mountain. To be an individualist, "one had at least to recognize the difference between morality and blessedness."  An individual is someone who takes upon himself an understanding of what is moral and who monitors his own conduct. A man who depends upon blessedness is one who relies upon God and his representatives to define morality and to enforce it. He is a child of God -- a ward who would not dream of claiming personal responsibility. The individual is more like a child who has grown up and left home. More dramatically put, man killed God in order to replace him. Either that or, having killed God, man was obliged to fill the resulting void. In either case he assumed the powers of moral judgment previously limited to divinities.
But none of the individual freedoms so prized by the dentist seem relevant to the citizen assuming God's role of judgment; that is, the role previously played by God's personal representatives on earth -- the churches and the divine monarchs. The powers involved are practical and real. The only question is who will seize them. He who does so determines the shape of the life that others will enjoy or endure. The supreme act of individualism in a rational society should be for each citizen, in concert with the others, to seize those powers in order to exercise them for the common good. The supreme abrogation of individualism is for the citizen to be out buying a BMW while someone else is exercising his or her power of judgment. Those rights and privileges so cherished by the dentist seem to indicate a charming state of blessedness normally associated with earlier societies governed through divinity-directed mechanisms.
Just how confused we are over what we mean by individualism can most easily be seen by looking at the West from the outside. Buddhist societies are horrified by a great deal in the West, but the element which horrifies them most is our obsession with ourselves as a subject of unending interest. By their standards nothing could be unhealthier than a guilt- hidden, self-obsessed, proselytizing white male or female, selling God or democracy or liberalism or capitalism with insistent superior modesty. It is clear to the Buddhist that this individual understands neither herself nor his place. He is ill at ease in his role; mal dans sa peau; a hypocrite taking out her frustrations on the world.
As for the contemporary liberated Westerner, who thinks himself relaxed, friendly, open, in tune with himself and eager to be in tune with others -- he comes across as even more revolting. He suffers from the same confused superiority as his guilt-ridden predecessor but has further confused himself by pretending that he doesn't feel superior. While the Westerner does not see or consciously understand this, the outsider sees it immediately. The Westerner's inability to mind his own business shows a lack of civilization. Among his most unacceptable characteristics is a determination to reveal what he thinks of as himself -- his marriages, divorces and children; his feelings and loves. The European likes to think of that as an American characteristic, but the difference between the continents is merely one of degrees. Any man or woman produced by the Judeo-Christian tradition is dying to confess -- unasked, if necessary. What the Buddhist seeks in the individual is, first, that he understands he is part of a whole and therefore of limited interest as a part and, second, to the extent that he tries to deal with the problem of his personal existence, he does so in a private manner. The individual who appears to sail upon calm waters is a man of quality. Any storms he battles within are his own business.
Of what, then, does Western individualism consist? There was a vision, in the nineteenth century, of the individualist as one who acted alone. He had to do so within the constraints of a well-organized society. Even the most anti-restraint of thinkers -- John Stuart Mill -- put it that "the liberty of the individual must be thus far limited, he must not make himself a nuisance to other people." 
But if the constraints of nineteenth-century Western civilization did put him in danger of causing a nuisance, he could simply go, or be sent, to the frontiers of North and South America or to Australasia. There he could give almost free rein to his individual liberty by engaging in a concretely existential life. If that sort of freedom was too extreme, there were still the endless sectors of the empires, where a man could go without cutting his ties to his own society while still freeing himself to varying degrees from that society's constraints. Those who wished maximum freedom could have themselves sent to the very edges of the empires -- as factors of the Hudson's Bay Company or district commissioners in the southern Sudan, for example -- where there would not be another Westerner within weeks of travel. Rimbaud fled Paris and poetry for an isolated Abyssinian trading post, where his chief business was rifles and slaves. This personal freedom killed him, as it did many others. In his case the weapon was disease, which was a more common danger for such people than violence. Those who wished to be at a nuisance-free distance and yet avoid too much individuality might go to a frontier regiment like the Rajputs in northern India or to the Legion in Algeria. There they would be released from the control of British and French society but restrained by regimental structure.
Even without leaving the West, a man eager for individual action could find room for manoeuvre within the rough structures which stretched beyond nineteenth-century middle- class society. In the slums, hospitals or factories, men from suffocating backgrounds could struggle against evil or good as if they were at war. By the 1920s, the worst of these rough patches were gone and the individual's scope of action was seriously limited. In a stable, middle-class society, restraint was highly prized. Curiously enough, this meant that, with even the smallest unrestrained act, a man could make a nuisance of himself and thus appear to be an individual.
That is one explanation for the rise of artistic individualism -- a form of existentialism which did not necessarily mean leaving your country, although it often did involve moving to the margins of society. The prototypes were Byron and Shelley, who lied in marital disorder across Europe, calling for political revolution along the way. Lermontov was another early model -- exiled to the Caucasus, where he fought frontier wars, wrote against the central powers he hated and engaged in private duels. Victor Hugo was a later and grander example, leaving France in protest and refusing to return as long as Louis-Napoleon was on the throne. These acts required a certain courage, a certain conviction, a degree of personal inner resolve. In many cases they approached the individualism of the frontiersman.
But today's individualism can't really be compared to all this existential activity. Is there a relationship between the frontiersman and the self-pampering modern dentist? Between the French Legionnaire and the downhill-skiing Porsche driver? Between the responsible citizen of a secular democracy and the executive cocaine sniffer? All these people were and are engaged in a form of defiance. But there does not appear to be much room for comparison. The phenomena belong to separate worlds.
The "individual" is an old idea. But "individualism," as it began to take form in the early nineteenth century, was a new expression of great hope. Since ordinary people still retained a memory of the positive side of the Middle Ages -- of the gilds with their mixture of craftsmanship and social responsibility -- it was as if the new individualists were assuming the old responsibilities of the citizen. The memory of the responsible, professional gild member carried within it a still-older memory -- that of the citizen in the Greek city-state. The Athenian citizen -- the idealized individual -- had remained a semimythological role model for the citizen throughout Western history.
In fact, this continuity was an illusion. It had been destroyed when the power of the gilds and of the burghers and their towns was swept away by the wars of religion and replaced by the rise of the kings with their absolute, national powers. What survived was the idea of professionalism. The kingdoms of Europe were full of officially accredited professionals. However, their role was legitimized not by their competence but by an irrational power structure -- a pyramid with God and the king at the top.
That is why the idea of professionalism, as it reappeared in the armies of conquering reason, was so intimately linked to the idea that men existed in their own right, not thanks to the licence of some arbitrary power. This applied as much to army officers and public servants as it did to traders and manufacturers. The contribution that they made to society via their professionalism was an assertion of their possession of reason. And to possess reason was to be a responsible individual.
The rise of the professional was therefore intimately linked -- throughout the Industrial Revolution, the accompanying explosion of inventions and the growth of the middle classes -- with Western man's assertion that he was a responsible individual. He was responsible to the degree that he was competent. Thus the value of individualism was pegged to the soaring value of specialization. By becoming better at what he did, each man believed that he was increasing his control over his own existence. He was building his personal empire of responsibility. This was both the measure of his worth and the sum of his contribution to society as a whole.
The assumption seemed to be that this new professionalism would lead to bodies of expertise joining together in a sort of populist meritocracy. The first large-scale manifestation of this idea came in the 1920s, in a horribly twisted form, with the rise of corporatism, which then turned into Fascism. This should have been interpreted as confirmation that the historic line from Athens and the gilds was nothing more than myth. The events of the 1920s and 1930s were not isolated incidents. Corporatism reappeared in the 1960s in such places as the British union movement, the American business group known as the Round Table and its imitative Canadian equivalent, the Business Council on National Issues. The last two can claim to have set much of their countries' contemporary economic and social agendas. The banding together of citizens into interest groups becomes corporatist, that is to say dangerous, only when the interest group loses its specific focus and seeks to override the democratic system. In the case of the British unions and the North American business councils, their every intervention into public affairs has been intended to undermine the democratic participation of individual citizens.
These three examples are part of a growing trend. They also demonstrate one of the wars in which the real effect of increasing professionalism has been to isolate the individual. The professional did indeed find that he could build his personal empire; but curiously enough, the more expert he became, the more his empire shrank. As this happened the individual found himself in an increasingly contradictory position. On the one hand, because he was a virtually all powerful retainer of information, expertise and responsibility over a tiny area, his cooperation was essential to others who, although within his general discipline, were themselves experts in other tiny areas. Obviously the cooperation of the whole group, with each other and with society as a whole, was also essential to the general population. On the other hand, as these tiny areas of absolute responsibility proliferated, each individual was more securely locked in his confining cell of expertise. Inevitably he became increasingly powerless in society as a whole. The philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had thought they were building the foundations for a civilization of Renaissance individuals. The result has been the exact opposite.
While our mythology suggests that society is like a tree with the ripening fruits of professional individualism growing thick upon it, a more accurate image would show a maze of corridors, blocked by endless locked doors, each one leading in or out of a small cell.
This confusion is hardly surprising. Although the roots of our problem go back four centuries, it was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that all the relevant terms which describe the situation came into being or, pushed by changing structures, took on their current meanings. To specialize, for example, was an old verb which had traditionally been used in the way we now use to highlight. Only in 1855 did it come to rest on its modern meaning -- to make narrower and more intensive. As part of this change, the word specialization had been coined in 1843 by John Stuart Mill and specialist by Herbert Spencer in 1856. 
The realization that knowledge and expertise, as applied by rational societies, undermined the individual instead of reinforcing him, began to dawn on people the moment this professional ethic formally entered the language. Spontaneously, yet more new words began to appear in order to provide a language for protest. Individualisme, the most important of these, appeared first in French, then in English. At its heart was a refusal of the burgeoning vocabulary that surrounded and imprisoned the professional. Individualism was created around the principle of a self-centred feeling or conduct. In other words, the conviction grew that the only way to develop individual qualities was to reject society.
The words of Charles Bonnet, who first identified the modern individual with his invention of the term individualite in 1760, show to what extent the purpose of individualism in a rational society was from the very beginning, social refusal and self-indulgence: "I am a being who feels and is intelligent; it is in the nature of all feeling and intelligent beings to wish to feel or to exist agreeably, and to wish to love oneself." 
In other words, if participating in society involves the emasculation of the individual, then individualism has no option but to base itself on the abdication of responsibility. Faced by the power of a whole civilization bound up in structure, the true individual flees. He refuses the rational dream of a world in which each man is an expert and therefore only part of a man. What he resents is not so much that he has been turned into a cell in the social body. Rather, he finds it unacceptable that each cell has little knowledge of the whole and therefore little influence over its workings. Judge Learned Hand, then a Harvard graduating student, spoke of this modern malaise to his classmates on their convocation day in 1893:
Hand spent his life on the bench attempting to bring his assumption of morality and common sense to hear on his judgments. He wanted to link his own specialization to the outer world. For that he was respected and treated as the greatest magistrate in America. He was not, however, named to the Supreme Court. It could he argued that, despite the best will in the world from those who are in what we call positions of responsibility, the system invariably manages not to reward those who succeed in communicating between boxes without respecting established structure.
While Judge Hand and a few other exceptional men have appealed to the citizen to reach beyond the limitations that society imposes, it is hardly realistic to expect each citizen to maintain such a level of individualism. The problem is the same as that created by the exceptional public standards which Jefferson set. In the best of all possible worlds, every man and woman will try to attain them, But to pretend that we shall all succeed would he pure hypocrisy.
The more understandable and common reaction of the citizen-expert is defensive. He attempts to turn his prison cell into a fortress by raising and thickening the walls, This padded box may be a cell, but it is also a link within some larger process and is therefore essential. He alone understands and controls the workings of his own box. His power as an individual consists of the ability to withhold his knowledge of cooperation. In other words, "information" is the currency of a society built upon systems. Once a man has given out his information, he has spent his capital. He therefore doles it out with care. He trades his information for that of others. When threatened, he refuses cooperation -- for example, by exaggerating difficulties or inventing them or moving slowly or offering misleading information. The only real power of expertise lies in retention. The more self-confident the individual, the less likely he has been to choose an isolated and well-defended box. Even so, as Marshall McLuhan put it: "The expert, as such, is full of insecurity. That is why he specializes in order to obtain some degree of confidence." 
One of the specialist's most successful discoveries was that he could easily defend his territory by the simple development of a specialized language incomprehensible to nonexperts. The explosion in terminology over the last fifty years has left the languages of the West reeling. There is a general mistaken belief that these words have come largely from the English-language pool. This has permitted many people to attribute the breakdown of general communications in their societies to the imperial domination of English or, inversely, to the inability of such languages as German, French and Spanish to modernize.
But the expert-inspired explosion in vocabulary has happened to an equal degree in every Western language. The social sciences alone have flooded French, German, Italian, and, of course, English, with countless dialects. Subject after subject and profession after profession have now had the general understanding of their functions ripped out of the public's hands by the experts.
The example of philosophy actually verges on comedy. Socrates, Descartes, Bacon, Locke and Voltaire did not write in a specialized dialect. They wrote in basic Greek, French and English and they wrote for the general reader of their day. Their language is clear, eloquent and often both moving and amusing. The contemporary philosopher does not write in the basic language of our day. He is not accessible to the public. Stranger still, even the contemporary interpreter of earlier philosophy writes in inaccessible dialect. This means that almost anyone with a decent pre-university-level education can still pick up Bacon or Descartes, Voltaire or Locke and read them with both ease and pleasure. Yet even a university graduate is hard pressed to make his way through interpretations of these same thinkers by leading contemporary intellectuals such as Stuart Hampshire. Why, then, would anyone bother trying to read these modern obscurings of the original clarity? The answer is that contemporary universities use these interpretations as the expert's road into the original. The dead philosophers are thus treated as if they were amateurs, in need of expert explanation and protection.
The new specialized terminology amounts to a serious attack on language as a tool of common understanding. Certainly today, the walls between the boxes of expertise continue to grow thicker. The dialects of political science and sociology, for example, are increasingly incomprehensible to each other, even though they are examining identical areas. It is doubtful whether they have any separate existence one from the other. In fact, it is doubtful whether either of them exists at all as a real subject of expertise. However, they have occupied traditional areas of popular concern and set about walling off these areas from each other and, of course, from the public. The wall between these two false sciences and that of the economists is thicker still. The architect and the art historian each uses a dialect so distant that the lack of common systems of argument suggests they are separated from each other, to say nothing of from the economist, not by a dialectical difference but by different languages. And yet St. Peter's was built by painters.
An expert in one language, a German anthropologist, for example, is in many ways better equipped to communicate with the equivalent French anthropologist than with a German MBA. At first glance this might suggest that some wonderful international language is developing. Not at all. These new dialects are not healthy additions to any of our languages. They are rhetoric used to obscure understanding. If ever international integration raises the specter of specialist competition, they will obscure their language further in order to prevent that kind of communication.
The expert argues that none of this is so. He claims that his expanded language has paralleled an expanded understanding in his area. But this understanding is limited precisely to fellow experts in that area. Ten geographers who think the world is flat will tend to reinforce each other's errors. If they have a private dialect in which to do this, it becomes impossible for outsiders to disagree with them. Only a sailor can set them straight. The last person they want to meet is someone who, freed from the constraints of expertise, has sailed around the world.
The purpose of language is communication. It has no other reason for existence. A great civilization is one in which there is a rich texture and breadth and ease to that communication. When language begins to prevent communication, that civilization has entered into serious degeneracy.
The primary instigators of obstruction are the very people who should have been devoted to the increasing of communications -- the professors. They have turned their universities into temples of expertise, pandering to modern society's weakness for exclusivity. Maurice Strong has gone so far as to say that "the inter-disciplinary, linear, synthesis abilities are better outside of universities than in." The American historian William Polk believes that universities should now be called multiversities, because their training is at the heart of what divides society rather than seeking to unite it.  They -- the custodians of the Western, intellectual tradition -- now devote themselves to the prevention of integrated thought. Because professors both train society's youth and catalogue current events -- whether political, artistic or financial -- they have become the official guardians of the boxes in which the educated live.
This obsession with expertise is such that the discussion of public affairs on a reasonable level is now almost impossible. If an engineer who builds bridges doesn't want interference from outside his domain, and a nuclear engineer feels the same about his responsibilities, then neither is likely to question the other's judgment. They know precisely how questions from any nonexpert would be treated by an expert -- the same way they themselves would.
Their standard procedure when faced by outside questioning is to avoid answering and instead to discourage, even to frighten off the questioner, by implying that he is uninformed, inaccurate, superficial and, invariably, overexcited. If the questioner has some hierarchical power, the expert may feel obliged to answer with greater care. For example, he may release a minimum amount of information in heavy dialect and accompany it with apologies for the complexity, thus suggesting that the questioner is not competent to understand anything more. And if the questioner must be answered. but need not be respected -- a journalist, for example, or a politician -- the expert may release a flood of incomprehensible data, thus drowning out debate while pretending to be cooperative. And even if someone does manage to penetrate the confusion of material, he will be obliged to argue against the expert in a context of such complexity that the public, to whom he is 'supposed to be communicating understanding, will quickly lose interest. In other words, by drawing the persistent outsider into his box, the expert will have rendered him powerless.
The contempt for the citizen which all of this self-defence through exclusivity shows is muted by the fact that the expert is himself a citizen. He or she considers it his right to treat his own area of expertise as exclusive territory. That, he believes, is what makes him an individual.
What is more, he knows that only the greater middle classes are divided up and isolated in boxes of specialization. The mass of the citizenry is not. He also knows that the mass, although no longer a lumpen proletariat or even an old-fashioned working class, is nevertheless caught up in work and family. These tens of millions of people maintain a tradition of belief in the good intentions of their rational elites. This is the result, in part, of the simple reality that most people do not have the time to seriously question their experts. Even if they find the time, they are not equipped with either the obscure vocabulary or an understanding of the obscure structures necessary to do so successfully. And even if they do persist, the rhetorical replies of expertise can only be taken as reassurance.
The experts exploit this trust with the active cynicism of frightened men. What frightens them is, in part, their own loss of individualism as a result of being caught up in the structures of rational society. The mass of the population, while not directly imprisoned by these structures, is entirely dependent upon the resulting manner in which society runs. There is also a relatively small percentage of the population that is rich enough to stay on the outside, along with the less powerful and the less educated. To the extent that they need or want things from society, even they are dependent. But it is the great middle classes who are trapped entirely within -- the upper middle, middle middle, and lower middle. They are the functioning elite and yet must work for their living. They are the great creation of the Age of Reason and even where they do not constitute a majority, they dominate Western society. They are prisoners of their own expertise and as a result have been slipping into an ever more inarticulate state when it comes to their role as individual citizens.
During working hours a man's obligations to his employment function force him to restrain his views on this, his area of expertise. He is also silent on other people's areas of expertise. After all, the aim of structure is smooth functioning, not public criticism. And the expert's desire not to be criticized by those outside his box restrains him in turn from criticizing them. When he leaves his office/function at the end of the day, he is theoretically free. In reality, were he to engage in independent public comment on his area of expertise, while on his own time, he would find himself in serious trouble with the system that employs him. Such comment would be considered a form of treason. In many cases, his contractual employment conditions specifically prevent him from off-hours independent involvement in his area of expertise. His employer has the exclusive use of his knowledge. In effect, the employed expert has no individual rights over his own competence, except that of changing employers. This could hardly be considered an important right, particularly since any attempts to speak out as an individual expert will saddle him with a reputation as a difficult individual, making it virtually impossible to find employment elsewhere.
What we have, then, is an educated, reasonably prosperous, responsibly employed middle class that is virtually censored or self-censored when it comes to most of the responsibilities of the individual citizen. The obvious exception to this is the right to cast a secret ballot. On the other hand, the breakdown of society's traditional limitations -- including most integrated religious and social beliefs -- leaves all the members of this enormous middle class at liberty to use their free time however they wish, providing they don't interfere with the functioning of the system. They are also absolutely free to spend their money on whatever they want, again providing they do not challenge structures.
The obvious solution for the middle classes has been to deal with the terrible frustrations of their silent, controlled, boxed-up real lives by spending their spare time and money as steam-release devices -- that is, to compensate for a relevant straitjacket with irrelevant freedoms. This is what we now call individualism -- an immersion in the imaginary waters of self-gratification.
But for today's middle classes, more than frustration is at stake. Their need is also to forget that the individual's real powers have been castrated by his or her own expertise. This amnesia can only be produced by pretending that superficial expressions of individualism mean something.
Under the old despotic regimes, substantive nonconformism was treated as an attack on the interests of the regime. It was a capital crime. In the democratic nations of the twentieth century there aren't many capital crimes. Instead, substantive nonconformity is treated as irresponsible and unprofessional -- forms of conduct in which no responsible citizen would wish to engage. To do so would be to endanger a safe position inside a box. But the middle-class male and now the middle-class female are products of an educational and social system which tells them that a successful life requires the penetration of an expert's box and the occupation of as much space as possible within and for as long a period of time as possible. Sensibly enough, few would risk losing that. This fear of acting in an irresponsible manner has struck a death blow to public debate among educated citizens.
Superficial nonconformism, on the other hand, leaves our rational structures indifferent. Questions of moral action and of physical appearance are increasingly irrelevant; they are categorized either as justified self-expression or conversely as suitable subjects for agitated public debate. In either case they are harmless vents. With this victory of nonsubstantive nonconformism, the citizen-expert becomes a schizophrenic -- docile, diligent and controlling within his box; once out of it, as relaxed and original as possible, sometimes argumentative, sometimes fun loving and inevitably in search of happiness. At least, that is the theory.
The word happiness abounded in the early discourses on reason. Perhaps the most important invocations of it came in the American Declaration of Independence. We know what the author meant when he wrote "that [all men] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." These are ideas which Jefferson expanded on again and again over the next forty-five years.
And he was not alone. Rarely has a word spread with greater speed from philosopher to philosopher. As God slowly died, crucified on the structural cross of the rational state, so happiness rose to become one of the new deities in a civilization that was converting to unconscious secular polytheism.
But today's meaning of the word happiness bears no relationship to Jefferson's. Or to that of the other rational leaders. Their happiness was primarily a pursuit of basic material comfort -- although not in the modern, gratuitous sense. For them, "material" referred to the practical establishment of a well-organized, prosperous society. Jefferson was writing for men still struggling against an untamed continent -- men with a clear memory of the material want and religious oppression they had escaped in Europe. His Declaration implied that, by establishing stable and organized well-being, they would also be creating rational contentment. Happiness was a simile for weal -- as in the public weal, as in le bien public.
The sources from which he and others drew when they wrote of happiness were perfectly clear. There was Montesquieu, for example, with his Lettres Persanes in 1721, "Every man is capable of helping another man, but he must resemble the gods if he is to contribute to the happiness of a whole society." A quarter century before the American Revolution, Voltaire in his poem on the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, one of the turning points in Western beliefs, wrote, "And you will create out of this fatal chaos of disaster for every man a general happiness."  As tens of thousands lay dying, it is unlikely that he was referring to a future filled with powdered wigs and court balls, any more than with hot tubs, and squash courts. The point of Voltaire's argument was not the individual's' inalienable right to wear jeans.
Jefferson was still dwelling on the subject almost a half century after writing the Declaration of Independence. In 1823 he wrote to Coray, one of the great experts on ancient Greece and a promoter of modern Greek liberty: "The equal rights of man, and the happiness of every individual, are now acknowledged to be the only legitimate objects of government."
For "happiness" we might exchange "general well-being," meaning material sufficiency, freedom from despotic control and the right to such things as education. He goes on to say that '''the only device" by which equal rights and happiness can be "secured [is] government by the people, acting not in person, but by representatives chosen by themselves."  Happiness was a material and moral need, not a perpetual Victorian Christmas in the company of one's analyst. In 1825 Noah Webster published his first American dictionary. His definition of happiness began: "the agreeable sensations which spring from the enjoyment of good." Clearly, this is not a reference to the padded, formfitting knee pads for the sensitive gardener which are called HAPPINEES. 
And yet the HAPPINEES company is closer to today's meaning than is anything written by Jefferson or Voltaire. Witness the arguments of Charles Murray, the influential American economist of the New Right. In the context of a discussion on "the pursuit of happiness and good government," he uses the need for happiness as an argument to decrease the role of government." Up to now [success in social policy] has been to lift people above the poverty level or to increase equality. What we are really after [today] is an approach that will enable people to pursue happiness."  The word has been changed so dramatically from the intentions of Montesquieu and Jefferson that it now means exactly the opposite. Murray's vision of happiness is identical to that of an aging courtesan in the late eighteenth century. Today happiness has more to do with personality than with the state of man. In fact, the pursuit of happiness has become an escape from the state of man, just as individualism has abandoned power and left it to be gathered up by the structures of modern society, while the individual retreats into the indulgent pleasures of personality. The first desire of modern individualism is to give an impression of choice and of daring. Thus men and women hope truly to express themselves through such soft notions as life- style and self-fulfillment. This personal indulgence is impregnated by myths and verbiage and even clothing which hark back to the great romantic rebels of the last two centuries.
Almost all the early rebel models -- Goethe, Byron, Constant, Lermontov -- are still on active service. The mystics -- from Blake to Nietzsche -- have never been so busy. And their more or less existential descendants offer a full range of emotive refusals, from Rimbaud, Lawrence of Arabia, D'Annunzio, Eva Peron, Garbo and Hemingway to Boris Vian, James Dean, Che Guevara, Gerard Philipe and Marilyn Monroe. Each of them supports a variation on our different individualist styles. Most died young, thereby preserving their physical beauty. They were also, therefore, martyrs in some way, thus establishing their credentials as uncompromising individuals. Some lived longer and, as a result, were forced into alcoholism, withdrawal or eventual suicide.
These romantic victims -- the Heroes of individualism -- exude an ethos of rebellion. And yet, when you look at the contemporary lifestyles which are built on that rebellious mythology, you discover that they are profoundly conformist.
Take, as a minor example, an advertisement designed to sell a watch called Rado. The ad shows a tall, elegant man in a dark suit, staring confidently and seductively out at the reader.  Around him are life-size, white plaster casts of other men. They are like a background of ghosts. The text reads:
You examine the photo. The real man doesn't look particularly interesting, He looks exactly like the plaster molds, as if they were taken from his body. You examine the blowup of the watch, It looks perfectly all right; like any old good, solid timepiece. You would have trouble picking it out in a crowd of watches. The point is not that the ad contains a lie or uses false advertising. It's just that the words are in direct contradiction to the image. And the contradiction is not hidden, It is both obvious and essential to the advertisement.
No mistake has been made. Nor is this an exception. Nor a gimmick. It simply reflects individualism as a dream versus conformism as a reality. We have taken that ability of little boys -- to lie in bed pretending we are pirates -- and we have turned it into a formal part of adult society.
The modern intellectual tends to dismiss advertising and popular culture as either self- evident cynical manipulation or as simply irrelevant in comparison to such important ideas as the market economy or Marxism or democracy. But in this society you cannot dismiss what people wear, what they eat, what they do with their time or what they spend billions of dollars on. Advertising has grown from marginal hucksterism into the most sustained and cash-rich form of communication.
For decades there has been an all-out war between two soft drinks of almost identical taste -- Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola. Hundreds of millions have been sunk into financing this war. More important, billions have been spent by the public on one or the other of the products. Both drinks lay claim to the same properties -- youth, freedom, physical exploits, having fun and getting girls or, conversely, getting boys. In many parts of the Third World, they also possess the properties necessary to help political freedom defeat dictatorship. Coke, in particular, has become a minor idol which promises freedom, money and escape to big- time individualism in the West.
Clearly we are not talking about soft drinks. We are dealing here with what people want to believe about themselves. After all, you can scarcely claim to possess freedom of spirit and existential individualism on the grounds that you consume the same soft drink as three billion other people. This is conformism, not nonconformism.
The same could be said about the millions of McDonald's hamburgers eaten daily around the world. Clearly, this modern success story has nothing to do with selling the best hamburger. One look at the thin, grayish patties is enough to eliminate that possibility. One taste confirms that the meat is almost indistinguishable from the soft, innocuous bun and gooey ketchup. Sweetness seems to run each of these elements together. This is not a good hamburger. For that matter, McDonald's isn't even about people choosing the hamburger they like best. The corporation's approach has never seemed to involve winning the public through the mechanism of choice. Mac McDonald himself made it clear that he was removing freedom of choice: "if you gave people a choice, there would be chaos." 
And yet at some level, conscious or unconscious, people are convinced that by going to McDonald's they are demonstrating a sort of individualism -- an individualism which turns its back on middle-class social convention by going out and eating a Big Mac. They don't have to dress up or eat decent, let alone good, food or, indeed, eat off plates or clear the table or wash dishes or deal with some snooty waiter or make conversation or sit up straight or sit still. They don't even have to sit down. Eating a McDonald's and drinking a Coke is an act of nonconformity and tens of millions of people are doing exactly that every day.
Blue jeans epitomize this idea of nonconforming individualism through absolute and massive conformity. The history of denim trousers is impeccable. Not only were they originally worn as tough work clothes, but the last of the Western mythological individualists -- the cowboys -- adopted them as their working uniform. The coarse cloth and the dark blue colour accurately reflect traditional, basic working-class apparel, so that somehow jeans stand as the frontier individualist's answer to the class-action approach of socialism or Communism. The moment a few of the martyred modern Heroes -- James Dean, for example -- began to wear them, they were effortlessly transformed into the uniform of rebellious middle-class youth.
Jeans became a symbol of nonconformity. To wear them was not to wear suits and ties and dresses; not to work in offices or fight in armies. To wear jeans was to rebel. And when that rebellion petered out in the early seventies, jeans as a revolutionary symbol survived. The beleaguered elites had already recognized that simply by slipping into these magic pants, they too could appear nonconformist. Suddenly everyone -- prime ministers, cabinet secretaries and ministers, company presidents, opera stars -- was walking around in jeans. Jimmy Carter was the first American president to join in by using them as a symbol of his personality. Jacques Chirac, conservative, tough technocrat and twice prime minister of France, was photographed for Paris-Match as he lounged outside his chateau in jeans. It was as if he had only two outfits: the serial gray suit and serial jeans.
The fact that by then more people were wearing jeans than suits seemed to have no effect on the mythology attached to one or the other. The rich, with their sense of irony -- or lack of it -- began to wear denim with mink. Or denim to drive their Rolls. Somehow it was less elitist if the owner of a hundred-thousand-dollar car drove it in twenty-dollar, working-class trousers.
At some point these innocuous trousers passed from being the great symbol of nonconformism to the greatest available symbol of faceless conformity. The suit and tie had never achieved such levels of uniformity. They had only been required for certain economic and social functions. And the suits themselves had differed from class to class and country to country. But blue jeans became the symbol of absolute conformity, irrespective of class and country. They also became a paradise for the advertiser, who could appeal to any dream of nonconformity, any dream at all, and still sell the same old goods.
The Italian Forenza jeans, for example, advertise theirs as "BASHED DAMAGED and otherwise made to look beautiful." The photo shows a beautiful, delicate girl dressed in worn, faded, shapeless jeans. The traditional image from which this borrows is no longer the cowboy, but the hobo or the garbageman from the days before municipal uniforms were issued. The large French bank, Banque Nationale de Paris, offers a special account to children -- a "Jeans Savings Account." What could be more conforming than a savings account? In a wonderful deformation of thirty years of social history, they advertise this account with a photo of a young boy dressed above the waist as an executive and below the waist in jeans. There are Calvin Klein jeans sold via campaigns which target homosexuals. Esprit jeans advertises with separate photos of two young women. One is agreeably dumpy. The other is serenely Bergmanesque. Beneath the dumpy girl are the words "Cara Schanche, Berkeley, California, Age: 23, English Literature Student, Part- time Waitress, Anti-Racism Activist, Beginning Windsurfer, Friend of Dalai Lama." Beneath the photo of the leaner woman are the words "Ariel O'Donnell, San Francisco, Age: 21, Waitress/Bartender, Nonprofessional AIDS Educator, Cyclist, Art Restoration Student, Anglophile, Neo-Feminist." The two descriptions assemble an eclectic collection of fashionable, humanitarian and original activities in order to create an impression of individualism. There are also Buffalo jeans for sadomasochists. Since the Buffalo ads involve such things as bound women in denim, the buyer has the choice of identifying either with the girl delighting in punishment or with the invisible knot-expert punisher who is presumably male and presumably also wearing jeans. As for the original Levi's jeans, inside these a man or a woman can settle for being a plain individualist, without intellectual or psychiatric labels.
Even the silliest phenomena take on relevance when they reach such economic and social proportions. The sellers of life-styles have thought a great deal about the conformity- nonconformity contradiction in their products. Esprit jeans have turned this problem into a sublime new interpretation of individualism. Their advertisements have included the following philosophical statement:
Rarely has the modern idea of nonconformity through aggressive conformity been better expressed. One only regrets the absence of an industrial award for sophistry.
This confusion is not, of course, limited to jeans. Even charity has become fashion. The standard phrase "'the charity of your choice" has increasingly become the charity of the year. Tragic causes now sweep rapidly across nations and continents, capturing universal attention for a few weeks or months.
While the plight of the boat people was tearing at the heartstrings of the West, people could think of nothing else. That problem was not solved. Nor did the flow of refugees stop. But neither can such massive waves of emotion hover endlessly over a single tragedy. Fashion and style are always on the move. To pause is to invite choice. And choice, as Mac McDonald pointed out, produces confusion. So we moved relentlessly on, leaving the boat people in our wake in order to worry ourselves deeply over the plight of the starving Ethiopians. They are still starving, but we shifted focus to the AIDS victims, as star- studded benefits caught our attention. This was briefly interrupted by massive concern for the Kurdish people, who have been suffering for a century and continue to suffer. Our conforming generosity has already moved on.
Tourism has become perhaps the most popular means for individuals to give themselves the sensation that they have stepped outside the norm, while continuing to move within it. The international circuit of airplanes, hotels, ruins, folk dances, exotic foods and native clothes has indeed created a planetary Disneyland of sanitized exoticism. In Hawaii the Hyatt Regency Waikoloa has been built On a moonscape of black lava rock at a cost of $360 million.  This luxury hotel of 1,241 rooms is, in fact, devoted to the existential act. Once the guests have been taken to their rooms by boat, with a captain pretending to steer them through the lagoon while the hull is actually running on wheels in an underwater groove, they may pay for a safari to shoot boar or pheasants, to go formula car racing, to dine in a former palace, to helicopter into a volcano's mouth or simply to a secluded point for a champagne picnic, to swim (by appointment) with the hotel's dolphins or indeed to do almost anything exotic they have ever dreamed of.
The hotel owners have correctly identified a widespread and desperate need of people to experience unstructured excitement at almost any cost, providing it is organized and the responsibility is taken by the organizer. This may at first appear to be a fantasy land, hut it is also the inevitable marriage between Disneyland and Jean Genet's bordello in The Balcony. It is the logical child of the Club Meds, spas and package tours. It is also the perfect metaphor for modern individualism.
One of the few radical things the modern middle-class male or female can do without reference to social structure is alter his or her own body. A recent study indicates that 54 percent of American men and 75 percent of women are obsessed with their physical appearance.  More to the point, they are ready to change it radically, as various studies and polls indicate. For example:
Given the money and the time, they can easily change seven of the above nine elements. Many of them already have. We are dealing here not with simple middle-class hysteria and self-indulgence. To change your own body, particularly to change fixed features by lopping off noses, planting balding scalps or sucking out cellulite, is to engage in a supremely individualistic act. The fact that it will neither satisfy the individual nor have any important effect on the attitudes of others is not particularly relevant. What is fascinating is the degree to which the human has turned in upon himself in search of some individual power.
The act of altering the fixed character of our body (as opposed to disguising it) belongs to the same family of action as suicide. There is a school of thought which considers suicide the supreme individual act. To decide on a button nose in place of something aquiline is obviously a less extreme statement, but it leads in the same direction. It is also a spin-off of the technical advances of reason. The same doctor who, thanks to a century of medical advances, can now reconstruct a burnt face or erase a harelip will probably be rewarded with a great deal more money if he chooses instead to satisfy the endless dreams of altered bodies.
The human, like the rat, will adapt to any circumstance and always responds to experiment. For the first time in history, we are able to experiment with our own bodies. Equally, for the first time in history, sex has been separated from its function, thanks to a myriad of birth control methods. This has made copulation another safe area for the individual to express his independence outside the structure. The explosion in venereal diseases, including AIDS, is a separate issue. After all, sexual experiments have no effect on administrative systems, apart from extra financial costs. Even the most extreme experiment -- the change of sex -- can take place without a person's career necessarily being adversely affected. What is interesting about the sexual explosion is not that society permits so much, but that so many human expectations and so much human energy should have been crowded into this area in search of a satisfaction denied in the public domain.
And for all of our romantic and erotic concentration, it isn't clear, by any means, that there are more orgasms per capita today than three hundred or six hundred years ago. After all, most people used to marry in their early-to-midteens and so got an early start when the sex drive is usually at its maximum. Also, rational society has bred an emotional-physical condition called stress, which has become one of the principal characteristics of people who occupy what are called positions of responsibility. That is, people who occupy boxes within structures. It could be argued that stress is caused neither by work nor by imaginary responsibility, but first by the loss of control over one's own actions, which comes from becoming part of the structure, and second from the strain of creating and maintaining a defence of secrecy around oneself, and third from the constant strain of trying to imagine what the secretive people in the adjoining boxes will do next. Studies show that stress is one of the main causes of impotence. Given the size of the modern middle classes and their entrapment within structures, it's fair to ask whether there isn't more talk about sex than there are orgasms.
A few things are certain. The variety of sexual partners has grown in comparison to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but probably not in comparison to the seventeenth and eighteenth. Public references to sex have certainly increased. Above all, however, it is the dream which has grown -- the dream of potency, of copulation, of mastery, of passion and, of course, of love, of possession, of eternal idylls. These have swelled in the imagination, in conversation and in public images as if there were no limit to the percentage of available space they might take up.
Only so much can be done with real sexual organs. And, apart from the probability that more women get more out of the act today than used to be the norm, the death of God didn't change those organs. Nor did the Reformation. Nor the conversion of the Roman Empire. But the imagination, once focused in that direction, has endless possibilities. A great deal of our imagination used to be consumed by our involvement in religious and social structures. Most of that is free today to concentrate on individual self-gratification. This does not mean that the romantic dream is new, any more than fantasies of sexual satisfaction or even pornography are new. They have always been around. But not in such quantities.
It wasn't until Pompeii was excavated in the eighteenth century and the licentious paintings in it uncovered that the idea of pornography began to gather impetus. The word itself did not appear until the mid-nineteenth century.  In English, pornographer appeared in 1850, pornography in 1864 and pornographic in 1880 -- that is, simultaneously with the words specialization and specialist, as well as individualism and individualist. In the fifteenth century, there had been an Italian satirist who verged on the edge of pornography called Pietro Aretino. Cleland had published his more titillating than explicit Fanny Hill in 1748. Restif de La Bretonne had wandered through the low life of eighteenth-century Paris, churning out racy novels. And Casanova's eighteenth-century memoirs began appearing in the marketplace in 1826, almost three decades after his death. But all four men were pioneers. There was not much actual pornography around until the nineteenth century.
Abruptly the full imagination was focused on the sexual act, the sizes involved, its sounds, effects, quantities and importance. Specialist literature blossomed. The Lustful Turk (1828), Rosa Fielding, or, A Victim of Lust (1876), The Amatory Experiences of a Surgeon (1881) and late in the century an astonishing eleven-volume memoir, The Secret Life.  These and a flood of other books rose until they forced open the doors of legal restraint in the twentieth century. The moment sex was formally recognized in the public domain as an unrestricted private act, it was clear that the interests of the power structure and those of the individual had been separated. This should be hailed as a victory for private rights. But it could also be identified as the moment when the public structures realized that power could be maintained without regulating private behaviour.
In the Middle Ages man dreamed endlessly about turning base metals into gold and paintings into eternal images. But the energy he has put into imagining the orgasm during the last hundred years overshadows these other dreams. If Marx were functioning today, he would have been hard put to avoid saying that imaginary sex is the opiate of the people.
All around us there are illustrations of both soft and hard pornography: suggestive advertising, serious films and novels with obligatory carnal scenes, how-to books for better sex or more love or longer love and sexual fulfillment, books on finding the right partner through an evaluation of physical types or by colour charts or celestial analysis. Popular mythology has it that in the new, careful age of AIDS all of this is passe. But any cursory survey of films, magazines and books suggests that, as the fear of real sex grows, so does the use of suggestive images.
The idea underlying such endless discussion and dreaming about the physical act is that sexual expertise confers worldliness and is therefore part of becoming an affirmed individual. This is a curious suggestion. After all, large parts of the Third World are fined with teenage girls and boys who are great professional experts in sex. And their expertise is taken as proof of their lack of independence. What's more, outside the Western middle classes, sexual relationships have much more to do with a lack of individual affirmation than the contrary. History tells us that it is, above all, an area for manipulation and control. The middle-class Westerner can argue that the sexual revolution has ended this, but from there to believing that sexual independence is a leading indicator in the affirmation of the individual owes more to romantic comedy than to the real world. Perhaps the oddest part of our notion is the idea that sexual experience or expertise brings worldliness. Sex is many things -- a need, a desire, an emotion, a release -- but it has nothing to do with worldly sophistication, character building or even existential action.
Sex, in general, is more of an obstacle than anything else for those who wish to free themselves and act as individuals. It can not be a coincidence that most of the martyred existential heroes, in whom rational society has invested its dream of individualism, appear to have been asexual or to have led disastrous sex lives. At first glance this doesn't seem to fit with our sexual obsession. But then we aren't dealing with a successful affirmation of responsible individualism in the real world. We are creating private dreams which compensate for the fracturing of the individual and the castration of his or her power in public life.
Marshall McLuhan was convinced that one of the explanations for the rise of violence in our society was "the loss of private identity which has come rather suddenly upon Western man. [It] has produced a deep anger at this rip-off of his private self." The rip-off he was referring to has nothing to do with private enterprise versus government or the private self versus government or the private self versus private enterprise. Rather it is the product of a general structural phenomenon which affects every area.
But does the anger which McLuhan describes come from the loss of private identity or from that of public identity? He seemed to believe it came from the latter." There are thus two kinds of violence relating to the same situation: first, the kind that comes from the unimportance of everybody; and second, the kind that comes from the impulse to restore one's private meaning by acts of violence."  The first example refers to the loss of a public identity -- that is, the loss of real individual powers. The second fits the category of obsessional sex dreams and material self-gratification. Violence is an attempt to make a public statement with private means. It has always been a sign of frustration over public impotence.
Personal crimes have been rising steadily throughout the West. Sexual abuse of children, rape, wife beating -- all seem to be on the increase. Only a small part of this is due to more effective reporting systems.
A recent poll of American university males revealed that 51 percent would rape a woman if they thought they could get away with it.  There are a number of possible explanations. One is that the average middle-class, twenty-year-old male has already had his personality fractured and recompacted in preparation for his insertion into the structure. He is constantly told that he is lucky to be free and privileged. He is surrounded by images and words which encourage him to believe himself masterly in matters of the body and capable of great seductive acts. He knows in his heart that he is unlikely to be either masterly or a Casanova. On top of that, he now also knows that the woman's expectations should be satisfied. In truth, he does not even believe himself capable of handling his own. No wonder rape looms as a simple expression of a private, unfettered individuality. Most banal of all, it becomes a way to avenge himself upon the system.
There is little to envy in the woman's position either. For perhaps the first time in history, she has a general sense of herself as an individual apart from men. This self-confidence gives her drive and makes her want to succeed. As a result she is eager to join the system. She does not have a clear idea of what it will do to her. Her focus is on her own past and on what men did to women -- not on the male structure and what it does to men. Her enthusiasm makes her work harder and usually do a better job than the equivalent male. As a result the talented female tends to become an effective defender of the system which has so emasculated the male and which, therefore, was indirectly responsible for his resistance to strengthening the role of women.
At the same time the younger woman increasingly looks upon the younger male as an ally. Like him she has been exposed to the endless rhetoric about a new deal between the sexes. And there are concrete signs of improvement to support that rhetoric. But what is actually taking place is a meeting between a scarred, starved and brutalized male veteran of rational warfare and an untried, idealistic, gung-ho female volunteer.
The rapist's anger is part of the same problem as that of the face-lift and the suicide. His violence is directed against someone else, but in committing it he risks himself. And risking the self is the last cry of the individual. In that sense he is not very different from the Western political terrorist. They both destroy and, having risked themselves, expect to be destroyed in turn.
A first wave of nihilists, anarchists and revolutionaries appeared in the second half of the nineteenth century. When Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and his wife were shot in 1914, there had already been, since 1900, a bevy of political assassinations in the West -- four kings, one queen, a crown prince, a Russian grand duke, three presidents and six prime ministers.
The literature and gossip of the day were filled with talk of these young men -- more often than not, middle class and educated -- who felt obliged to kill and almost inevitably to die themselves. When Archduke Ferdinand drove down the quai in Sarajevo, a team of six assassins were waiting, spread out over a distance of 350 metres in the crowd. Almost all of them were under-age students. All carried. bombs and pistols and, equally important, cyanide to kill themselves immediately after firing. The first lost his nerve as the procession went by; as did the second. The third threw a bomb which wounded twelve people but missed the Archduke. In the ensuing chaos, the last three fled. It was only much later in the day that an accident of fate or stupidity caused the Archduke's car to turn off the official route, where it became blocked by the crowds on a side street. Gavrilo Princip, one of the three assassins who had fled, was moping in a cafe with his girlfriend when the limousine ground to a halt outside. He leapt to his feet, rushed out, put his hand over his eyes, turned his head away, and fired two shots in the general direction of Ferdinand and his wife. Both were fatal. He then tried to swallow his cyanide but got only enough down to make himself sick. He was captured, tried, and, being too young to hang, was imprisoned. He died of consumption and gangrene in an Austrian jail in 1917.
Princip was from a simple background, of limited intelligence, physically weak, ugly and short. He seems to have concentrated all his resentments in his nationalism. The terrorist group he belonged to was painfully amateurish. Their adventures involved carrying the weapons and bombs across country by train in a clunking suitcase, which was then discovered in Sarajevo by a hotel maid cleaning under one of their beds. Their incompetence, however, was matched by that of the local military commander. Finally, Ferdinand's self-pride and his image of himself as a generous reformer led him to refuse adequate protection.
The most interesting of the six terrorists was also the youngest, Vaso Cubrilovic. Second in the line of assassins on the quai, he had lost his nerve at the last moment, panicked no doubt by the first assassin's failure to throw his bomb. Cubrilovic in turn failed to throw his or to fire his pistol in spite of a clear target. He was later identified, captured, tried and, being a teenager, was jailed rather than executed. After the war, he was freed. He went On to become a revolutionary leader, an associate of Tito and an historian. He survived the guerrilla fighting of World War II to become one of Tito's ministers. In the late 1980s, he was still alive -- the last of the six men who had, in a sense, brought the old world and its civilization to an end.
During a conversation in Belgrade in 1987, I asked him what he felt about the unprecedented violence which had been released by the assassination of Ferdinand. This tiny man in his nineties, shrunken, almost translucent in a heavy, dark ministerial suit, brushed the question aside: "I am an historian. There are no ifs in history. Only what happened. What didn't happen. The assassination was a reflection of our situation. Peace was impossible." 
He went on to describe politics as being dominated by three types -- the rare great leader; the idealist who fails; and the opportunistic or narrowly motivated men who dominate. Cubrilovic and his five young friends on the quai fell into the category of failed idealists. He saw Tito as a rare, great leader. But the satisfaction he felt over the creation of Yugoslavia seemed to have been largely wiped away by the rise to power of the third type -- the technocrats and opportunists. For him such people represented the inevitable complications of living in society. That is, as a terrorist turned politician and minister, he looked upon these tens of thousands of successful administrators as the result of having built a country. Already he could sense the fabric of Yugoslavia pulling apart, because those who now held power had no agenda except structure. And yet, behind his considered reflections on seventy years of history, he spoke as if he had never recovered from that instant as a young terrorist on the quai in Sarajevo, when he had neither fired at the Archduke nor killed himself and so had failed to seize the great moment of his own individualism.
The terrorist is certainly the closest thing to an individual that this century has produced. Whatever organization he may belong to, in a single moment he must act, both alone and in an absolute manner. The politics of the West cause us to dwell on those terrorists who rise out of the Third World. Far more interesting, from our point of view, are those who rise out of the Western middle classes and thus completely cut their ties with the tattered remnants of Christian society. More to the point, they cut their ties with reason and with the structure it has created. Their supremely irrational act is not aimed so much at changing the world as it is at freeing themselves from it.
There were great debates among pre-World War I terrorists over what to do if innocent people strayed into the line of fire between themselves and a presidential target or if a wife and child unexpectedly went along for the ride in the carriage of their father, the prince -- the carriage into which a bomb was to be thrown. Should the terrorists fire away and lob the bombs and damn the details in the name of justice? Or should they spare the innocent, thus inevitably sparing the guilty also? The very fact that they were asking such questions indicates that their principal concern was not the effect this assassination might have on the world, but rather the effect it would have on their own moral status. Whether they themselves died was not of great importance. What counted was properly defining their true nature as moral individuals before seriously thinking about killing and being killed.
Andre Malraux opened Man's Fate with an image of the terrorist as the quintessential seeker of autonomy from mankind. In complete darkness a young terrorist creeps through the bedroom of his victim, who is sleeping on his back under a mosquito net. The terrorist plunges his knife through the netting and deep into the man's chest, pinning him to the mattress. The man wakes in panic and agony. He struggles or convulses around the blade, which is held down by the terrorist's full weight. During this struggle the terrorist feels the human spirit of the victim rising through the wound, up the shaft of the knife, and into his own hands, arms and body. He is like Dracula, drinking strength from the blood or life force of his victim. The question of the fight for social justice, which brought him into the room to kill, has disappeared. It is a supremely egotistical act.
The Oswalds, Baader-Meinhoffs and Actions Directs of the last few decades are very like this young terrorist. If anything, they have been even less effective as social or political revolutionaries than the early terrorists. Max Frerot, the leading killer of Action Direct, is a good example of this. By 1986 everyone else in his revolutionary group had been captured. Frerot alone was left to wander, somehow untouchable, through the denseness of Paris and Lyon and other French cities. His ability to bomb and to shoot was heightened by this isolation.
The lone, unattached assassin is almost .invisible in a structured society. Thus Frerot could goon killing. But each savage act seemed less oriented than the last. Random action is the sign of a smart terrorist. But his acts appeared to be the fruit of random thinking. Why was he killing these people? What were his aims? His strategy was not convincing on even the most basic level of social destabilization. The impression left was more that of a lonely man desperate to complete his individuality through a final act of self-immolation. And so his attacks were not more and more pertinent to his cause, but more and more daring, with himself increasingly at risk. If there were any doubt about whether his motivations were political or personal, the discovery of the remarkably indiscreet diary he kept, setting down names, places, dates and detailed descriptions of his operations, eliminated the political. In the end he failed even as a martyr. He was simply captured and has now been integrated back into the structure through the application of legal and bureaucratic rules. That is a far worse punishment than whatever sentence he may serve.
As an old man Malraux argued that terrorists had changed during his lifetime." They have become quite logical people, while the terrorists I knew were closer to the Russian nihilists; that is to say, basically metaphysicians."  But have they changed or have they simply, like any nihilist, adapted to the society in which they operate? The revolutionaries of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, like those of today, sought to destroy structure and reason. But in the nineteenth century this violent refusal by "individualists" to cooperate was more intuitive than carefully thought out. They had only early indications of what the forces of structure and reason contained and of the effect they would eventually have on society.
Today the situation is clear from their point of view: if you wish to destroy structure and reason, you must operate with logic and science. But if you are unfortunate enough to personally survive these killing attacks, then, like Gavrilo Princip, you are little better than a failed metaphysician. Whether they chain you up in an Austrian jail until you rot to death or commit you to a model modern prison for reeducation is irrelevant. In both cases you have ceased to exist as an individual, ceased to exist more completely than if you had never attempted to break away in order to assert your existence.
Look, for example, at the assassins of the cabinet minister Pierre Laporte in Montreal in 1970. So long as they held him captive, their Own faces unknown, they were more than individuals. They were potential gods, holding in their hands the power of life or death. The moment they used that power in the purest existential way by killing him, and then were captured and put on trial -- the whole configuration changed. The strangling of a plump, aging male cannot be, with hindsight, an Heroic act, particularly when the terrorists are young and strong. Now, decades later, they seem an even more motley, pitiful crew, like accidental leftovers of a cataclysmic but pointless act.
From the point of view of the terrorist, the only importance of the godly act is its effect on the one who carries it out. That effect -- the establishment of perfect individualism -- is only activated if he completes the act by committing suicide. If his victim dies and he lives, he is no more consequential a man than someone who kills in a hit-and-run accident and is then charged with manslaughter.
Few people aspire to acts of individualism sanctified by violence. The more common approaches to self-definition are less risky. The acquisition of material wealth, for example. The theory is that the greater a person's wealth, the more freedom he will have to act as he wishes. He becomes an individual by purchasing his freedom. However, the system usually requires an enormous and prolonged sacrifice of personal freedom -- that is, a structured career -- before delivering this material independence. The limitations involved are daily, yearly; in fact, they usually last a good thirty years. The whole idea of individualism as a function of wealth therefore rests upon a catch-22. That's why the middle-class Westerner has dressed material goods and personal pleasures in the mythological cloak of individualism. These are the small rewards he or she receives during decades of sacrifice. This is also one of the explanations for the importance that retirement has taken on in Western society. It isn't simply that we are going to live longer. The prison of the system leaves us to conclude that the reward of freedom lies ahead, always ahead.
Yet few of us seem convinced by the liberating powers of wealth or by the promise of a freer future once we have ceased sacrificing our lives. Instead, every social measuring device indicates that the level of personal anxiety and stress has been steadily rising. We seek relief through a growing array of irrational devices. The old religions have seen at least a superficial revival. People have also turned to psychiatrists, gurus, fundamentalist churches, Zen Buddhism, mind-emptying exercises, yoga and a growing selection of social drugs, both prescribable and illegal.
There can be no doubt that the road which Zen Buddhism offers out of the prison of reason is far superior to alternatives such as self-actualization (the combination of more money and increased spirituality), bioenergetics, colour therapy, getting in touch with your anima, massage to release emotional trauma fossilized in the body or Iyengar Yoga.  But none of these, including Zen, offer either practical reforms or revolutionary changes for the society we live in. Instead they offer temporary escape routes. After all, no matter what happens, sixty million Frenchmen or Englishmen are not going to become Zen Buddhists or even seek truth through an analyst. Instead, the fractured individual offers himself or herself periodic tranquilizers to take the mind off the realities of the imprisoning system.
In total contradiction to all this, the citizen expects his political leaders to take no tranquilizers. The explanation for this projected puritanism may lie in our Judea-Christian origins. If we are obliged to suffer the profound and invisible travails of life, then a sacrificial lamb must be found who will visibly suffer. Or perhaps it is our revenge on the system. Political leaders are theoretically in charge of it and since we cannot punish abstract structures, why not punish those who appear to run them? Or perhaps we are attempting to give some importance to the crumbs that we now call individualism by refusing them to those we elect. Or perhaps it is sheer hypocrisy -- by refusing to those who lead us the sort of life we claim for ourselves, we avoid the embarrassment of a mirror image in the public place.
In any case, these leaders quickly learn that, in return for whatever latitude they can develop in policy-making by manipulating the system, they must conform absolutely to a personal, public image which is extraordinarily strict and narrow. They look out from their presidential or prime ministerial or ministerial offices at a population which may say whatever it wishes on private matters, divorce as often as choice and finances permit, sleep with as many people of the opposite sex, the same sex, or both, as desire can realize, use drugs, dress up to their heart's content, collect expensive wines and eat in showy restaurants, just for starters. These acts may all be meaningless and superficial, but they are the modern version of happiness. And this happiness is specifically prohibited to the public figure.
He or she is expected to be heterosexual, married, faithful to wife or husband, modest in dress and speech, restrained in drink, a pure abstainer from drugs, driver of a nondescript sort of car. He or she should not be seen to waste money on fancy food. A public that finds personal sustenance from an unending dream of luxury is pleased to learn that its leader comes home from the office, so to speak, and just loves to relax by going into the kitchen and scrambling some eggs for the family. Needless to say, such an icon must incarnate an unending list of Boy-Scout or Girl-Guide qualities, from not having cheated at school to never swearing.
In a society whose structures are amoral and whose citizens are theoretically liberated, the political leader has become the repository, or rather the depository, of the old middle-class values. Of course, no one really fulfills any of these conditions. Anyone who did would probably be incapable of doing the job. Instead, they must deform their character sufficiently to give a false public impression of what it is. Falsification becomes an essential talent for the elected, and eagerness to be duped a characteristic for the citizen. This also suggests that only people with severely deformed characters will be able to rise to high office. The system can't help but reward those whose prime talents are acting and punish those who are straightforward.
In 1987 President Reagan twice failed to nominate successfully a justice to the Supreme Court. The second candidate -- Professor Douglas Ginsburg of the Harvard Law School -- was accused, during the confirmation hearings, of having taken a few puffs of marijuana in his distant past. This simply meant that he had acted in conformity with the majority of his generation. But by virtue of the position for which he was nominated, this banal and common event became a heinous weakness. Professor Ginsburg was abruptly reduced to defending himself with such infantile statements as: "To the best of my recollection, once as a college student in the 60's, and then on a few occasions in the 70's, I used marijuana. That is the only drug I ever used. I have not used it since. It was a mistake and 1regret it." 
What the Professor meant was that smoking marijuana had been a mistake in the context of getting this job. If the citizenry sincerely expected Douglas Ginsburg to regret his past puffs, they would have to regret sincerely their own past and present licentiousness. Clearly they don't. There was no sign during the Ginsburg confirmation of nationwide regret. The same hypocrisy was demonstrated over such things as Willy Brandt's girlfriends, Lyndon Johnson's swearing, Cecil Parkinson's pregnant mistress and Roy Jenkins's taste for Bordeaux.
There was a time when the populace had little choice but to bask in the reflection of the mythological free and easy lives led by their kings and nobles. Now those who have replaced the kings must bask in the shadow of the theoretically nonconformist lives led by a good part of their population. That, at any rate, is the theory. The reality is elsewhere.
This is an age of great conformity. It is difficult to find another period of such absolute conformism in the history of Western civilization. The citizens are so completely locked inside their boxes of expertise that they are effectively excluded from open public debate. We have disguised this truth by redefining individualism as an agreeable devotion to style and personal emotions. We project ourselves, as if in a romantic dream, against a backdrop of martyred existential outsiders. And in the absence of practical levers of power, we have convinced ourselves that these images are real. Film, television and magazines have given these outsiders a concrete. form. We know them. We know them well, these blond men who lead the Bedouin against the Turks, these actresses who sleep with presidents and die, these poets who run off to deal in slaves in Ethiopia, these beauties who marry dictators and speak for the poor. We have seen them a thousand times on the screen. We know what they wear. We know the definition of their chest muscles, the depth of their cleavage. We know the sound of their voices.
Unfortunately, they bear no resemblance to the real outsiders from whom these images are freely drawn. The real men were more often short, without well-defined muscles, often running to fat like Bonaparte; the real women sallow and confused behind makeup and furs. They most definitely were not wearing jeans. But, in any case, we don't actually want to meet the real outsider, determined as we are to hide from our own conformism. We wish to dream about him or her as if dreaming about ourselves. Their presence would make that impossible.
Our paradise of the individual is dependent upon carefully maintained illusions. So long as real power remains in the rational structures of our society, only dreaming allows the citizen to remain sane. Even if there were a real and generalized desire among the population, to drift away like Rimbaud, it wouldn't work. Ethiopia has enough trouble supporting its own population and the slave trade has been in difficulty for decades.