Islands and Beaches

A Fragmentary Digression on Individualism, Freedom, Necessity, and Utopia.



Individualism is a key part of reactionary dogma.  It is relentlessly fetishized by the right, by libertarians, by conservatives, by the YouTube ‘rationals’ and ‘sceptics’, etc.

Murray Rothbard, Austrian School dogmatist and founder of right-libertarianism in America, gave “individual human beings act” as the foundation of his entire philosophical system.  But, aside from the question of whether or not one can logically derive from it what Rothbard does, what does this mean? What can it possibly mean? Apart from anything else, what even is an individual?  The concept, at least in the way that it is asserted by bourgeois ideology, is not supported by the evidence. 

Not only is no man an island, but it appears that people are actually more like beaches. 

A beach is a liminal zone.  Liminality is its essence. It is defined by its lack of definition.  It is sometimes long and sometimes short, depending on the time of day, and the time of year.  Its very nature as a location is that it lies at the edge of the entire concept of location.  It is undeniably a place, but a place at the outermost reach of two different ways of measuring, experiencing, conceptualising location.  It is a place where one kind of human idea of place ends and another begins. It is a place where different kinds of mapping space begin and end.  It is a place with huge, variant, but overlapping significance to both human and physical geography.

It is a place conceivable in different ways.  Even within one language, it will take on very different connotations depending on whether we choose the words ‘beach’ or ‘coast’ or ‘shore’…  Its quiddity lies in its lack of fixity.  It will move, creeping inwards across the land, and yet never arriving anywhere because it always brings itself with it.  A beach is a constantly moving interplay of sand and temperature; of gravity pulling and pushing on waves that crash and recede, which slowly grind rocks into sand, sand that is then shaped into dunes and flats by the waves.  And the patterns change day by day, hour by hour.  Sand is the result of a process of slow erosion; temperature is always fluctuating.  Both have an independent essence which may be measured, but we inevitably bring subjectivity in measurements.  As we know, the act of measuring something changes it.

At a different phenomenological level, a beach is a site of joy or melancholy, or even war, depending upon history, context, the given moment, the quality of the light, the culture that sees it.  A beach means something very different to an island hunter-gatherer looking out from the forest and a European colonialist wading ashore.

There is, of course, such a thing as determinism acting on beaches.  Some things are determined. The existence of the beach itself is determined by material realities which are accidents of history, natural or sometimes social, but no less real for that. 

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