The Honorable Mr. Nevels, Hawaiian judge, delivered this address before the Junior Chamber of Commerce. It later appeared as a guest editorial in the Hilo (Hawaii) Tribune Herald of January 25, 1959.
It is remarkable that the Junior Chamber of Commerce has the courage to continue year by year to honor individuals. The very concept of extracting from the mass an individual thought, idea, or man is becoming more and more unpalatable in our world. "Individualism" has become in our day almost a dirty word. We have seen the spectacle of the masses, I may even say, the mob, for all intents and purposes, taking over. It is in this respect that the Jaycees are actually going against the current and, I must say, a pleasing sight it is!
We have all lately suffered earaches listening to this socialist pap from the so-called experts, judges, teachers, children, from psychiatrists, sociologists, and other technocrats that we must "learn to get along with one another." To these people and their slavish followers the greatest achievement apparently is to be a cog in the social wheel; the greatest attainment is to fit in. All this is really semantics because what they really mean is this—don’t bother me, don’t upset the apple cart, don’t be unpredictable. My, what a dull society we have conceived; what a trivial and headless bunch we have nurtured. The vast majority of us get up, go to work, come home, and drop off to sleep watching some near-moron over the television name that tune. We endure life; we don’t live it. We do as little work as possible, often because we recognize innately that it’s really not very important or very useful work. In order to keep us at these often dull and unsatisfying tasks, we have to be bribed frequently with pay raises, honors, and platitudes. We must continually be impressed by people telling us what an important thing we are doing in order merely to keep from going mad. This ego inflation sometimes even makes us believe that what we are doing is essential, is important, is something to warrant greater pay and privilege. And thus we become greedy and we demand more and more and more.
A Materialistic Void
And yet this merry-go-round provides us material plenty. Most all of us have our 3,200 calories a day and more. We drive around in monstrous automobiles and spend many of our working hours planning what we shall do with our leisure. We are really fine folk. We have become persuaded. We have given to all without discrimination the vote and the capacity to rule us. We salve our consciences without trouble by giving a pittance for charity—or more if we have a guilty conscience—and let the rest of the world go by. We damn the politicians and cluck our gums when the inevitable frivolity and stupidity manifests itself. We dwell in a perfection of neon signs and sexy television commercials which flatter our base judgment and grant our desire to be anonymous. Now, where has this primrose path led us?
We are confronted by the delightful spectacle of having a Gargantuan government—or really a series of governments, one tumbling over the other. These governments perform all manner of ego-satisfying tasks, many of which are unessential and some of which are even harmful. But by whetting our appetites for more and more, these governments grow grander and bigger and more terrifying. We are millions of little dogs chasing our tails. I learned a couple of days ago that we have finally reached the fantastic folly of having one out of every six persons employed in the United States working for the governments. And these do not include the military services and those receiving public assistance. We now have for every nine workers two people on the public payroll. And is this ratio growing smaller? This bureaucratic army in our midst has developed into a self-perpetuating Frankenstein that regulates us to oblivion, taxes us limp, and robs us of our individualism.
I resent this. I abhor it. I rebel against it.
Fortunately, I am not alone. Thank the Lord there are a few people yet who put stock in the individual. There are a few people yet who can say no. The real individualist doesn’t do this for the effect. He does it because he can think. He is not doing it merely to be obstreperous, nor for the publicity effect which is usually adverse anyway; but he does it because he has a conscience and realizes that it is not necessarily true that the majority is always right.
An Indictment of Our Times
If this sounds like an indictment of our times, let me assure you it is just that. However, I am gratified that there are a few organizations which still recognize individuality and still praise it. And I can feel no more comfortable any place than in these surroundings to issue my heartfelt plea for the appreciation, on the part of those of us who can still think, for that individual. We have merely to look back in any stage of history to discern that it was great or foolish only insofar as it produced great or foolish citizens. Outstanding leaders, whether they are great or infamous, are the only measure that we have or will ever have in appraising an era. For the leaders, in a very real sense, represent the greatness of their people—as Winston Churchill did in the England of 1940, as Abraham Lincoln did in the 1860′s.
I ask that you examine the state of affairs in which we dwell. Have we become suffocated by that noxious miasma so ridiculing the egoist, the individualist, and the leader that we have become gluttons for extinction?
I say there is yet hope. I say that there are trainable people among us. I say there is some remnant of the desire of liberty and freedom and achievement, some courage yet remaining to decry the thought of insured security; some place yet there are the makings of a race who can conscientiously assume leadership without either apologizing for it or doing so for self-aggrandizement. I think there remain within the airless cocoon we have created still some individualists.