The other day, as I was wandering through an IKEA store as family members were finishing up shopping, I saw a young white woman with a striking T-shirt. She wasn’t overtly pretty, nor was she ugly. She wasn’t skinny and she wasn’t fat. But during the five or six seconds we shared in the same section of the store, I could determine a few things about her. She was short and had made no attempt to flatter herself with her tightly-cropped black hair. She wore no makeup. She wore jeans and sneakers and some well-worn hooded sweatshirt, the kind the zips up the front. It was completely unzipped, which was why I was able to catch a glimpse of her T-shirt.
Like her, the T-shirt was counter-impressive and somewhat hard to look at. It read: ‘You only live once.’ Only, the words were stacked on top of one another. They were in all caps and rendered to appear three-dimensional and massive with Warhol-esque coloring effects. The first letter of each word, ‘YOLO’, formed a vertical line and were singled out in a kind of sickly pastel mauve.
Just an individualistic slogan on such a non-descript person!
I thought about it for a while and tried to imagine the nihilism one would need to promote the idea that you only live once. It’s as if once you die you have nothing left in this world and this world has nothing left for you. Now, I get it. The expression is meant to get you to do things. It’s an exhortation in the same vein as carpe diem, only it hangs death over your head like some draconian deadline. Knowing that you can drop dead at any moment can certainly act as an anti-procrastinator when it comes to checking off bucket lists. But what kind of life is that? And what kind of things can it motivate one to do? Such logic can justify almost anything. For example, when I was a freshman in college, there was a list floating around containing the five gloriously stupid things one had to do before graduating. After all, you only graduate once. Indeed, as a twenty-first century pop-culture mantra, ‘you only live once’ (otherwise known by its acronym ‘YOLO’—which in 2014 became a word according to the online edition of the Oxford Dictionary), has been used to justify hedonistic, irresponsible, or even downright dangerous behavior.
Despite originating in its present form in a 1774 Goethe play and being popularized in the following centuries by Johann Strauss, Jr. and Mae West, the expression has really taken off in recent years. According to Infogalactic:
In the early 21st century, the acronym “YOLO” and the phrase, “you only live once” became a staple of music and youth culture. The acronym has been a subject of graffiti, Twitter hashtags, pranks, tattoos, music, television shows, and merchandise.
The acronym was most popularized in the 21st century by rapper Drake, who planned to release a 2011 joint mixtape titled YOLO along with Rick Ross. To promote this mixtape, “YOLO” was mentioned prominently on several of their tracks such as “The Motto,” released on November 29, 2011, with the aim of promoting the tape. This use is said to have elevated the word into prominence and common colloquial use. In late 2012, Drake expressed a desire to obtain royalties for use of “YOLO” due to the proliferation of merchandise bearing the phrase and lyrics from his song, which have been commonly seen at stores such as Walgreens and Macy’s, but he does not own a trademark on the word.
“The Motto” is the typically depraved doggerel one would expect from rap or hip hop. Its lyrical content, such as it is, seems to celebrate greed, profanity, promiscuity, sexual deviancy, and living the high life with cool people. In fact, the song is so cool it even expresses a kind of boredom with being cool. (How cool is that!) In the parlance of a fallen world, “The Motto” is basically about not giving a fuck. You only live once, so you might as well live large. Check out the lyrics if you don’t believe me.
(By the way, when I first heard this song I thought perhaps there was a payoff in the end which might evoke a kind of revulsion to the nihilism championed so relentlessly in the song. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones does this sort of thing to beautiful effect. So does Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Unfortunately, “The Motto” lacks such sophistication. In an interview, Drake himself stated that YOLO was mostly about “living life to the fullest.” So not only is the song crude, perverted, and nihilistic, it’s also clichéd.)
But what got me thinking was how such an expression—and the mindset it encourages—exploits the profound sense of individualism that exists in most white populations. Essentially, it exalts the individual at the expense of everything else. The rhetorical “you” singles people out as discrete individuals, and the rest of the expression entreats (or perhaps threatens) individuals to act only as individuals because once you die, that is the end of the individual. In contrast, warning a cohesive group of people that individual members of that group live only once is hardly a way to influence that group, especially if that group is ancient and self-propagates. I’m sure that there are more Philadelphia Eagles fans in the world than there are Ainu in Japan or Zoroastrians in Iran, but these latter groups will have less time for self-centered, me-first, YOLO behavior because individualism is something they, as endangered groups, simply cannot afford. These are two extreme examples, true, but I would imagine that if you identify with any ancient group, whether it’s a race, a nation, an ethnicity, a religion, or even a longstanding philosophy, then your immediate response to “you only live once” is, “yes, but our group will live forever.” The very prophet of Christianity was himself a martyr, so it makes sense that true-believing Christians would reject such a crass call for individualism. Same for committed philosophers and scientists since what happened to Jesus, in effect, also happened to Socrates.
But the white race as a group? Here is where this sense of a communal identity is quite lacking (or, at best, tacit). We would expect this among the globalist Left which considers a threat any group that competes with their socialistic and conglomerate ideal for a non-white, mocha-brown humanity. But the Center and Right are also seeing their fair share of white racial tumbleweeds. It’s well and good that Marine Le Pen feels herself and other Frenchmen to be special because they are French. Among the European diaspora in places like North America however where Old World ethnicities have fallen by the wayside (and also where non-European races with higher fertility rates are demographically surging), having a communal sense about race will soon become a matter of survival. And mottos like YOLO work against this.
I understand that John Stuart Mill was hardly a man of the Right. His arguments, however, in favor of individualism in On Liberty in my opinion are impeccable. Here is one of my favorite passages:
But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.
He goes on to show how disparate notions may each contain an element of Truth, and only through freedom of expression can falsehoods be winnowed out and Truth emerge. Without such cognitive effort always being exerted upon the great issues and controversies of the day, populations will eventually submit to dominant opinions as dogma. They will grow weak and passive, and their minds will become, as Mill says, “bowed to the yoke.”
He defines a person of genius as someone who is
more individual than any other people—less capable, consequently, of fitting themselves, without hurtful compression, into any of the small number of moulds which society provides in order to save its members the trouble of forming their own character.
Without enough people like this who are willing to buck common opinions, according to Mill, civilizations will stagnate or decline.
So rejecting the YOLO mindset should not be seen as a complete rejection of individualism. As John Stuart Mill so eloquently demonstrates, civilizations must foster individualism in order to do great things. So, of course, individualism is important and valuable. But there is a rub. (There is always a rub.) Individualism becomes harmful or even poisonous when it usurps the communal ties which cohere a group of people. This may not have been much of an issue in Mill’s England of the nineteenth century. Indeed, Benthamites were probably not planning to outbreed and do in the Utilitarians. Wars start and wars end, and discontent simmers as it always does, but life still goes on, and for most people in Europe it was still pretty good most of the time, even if you had to bump shoulders with people who weren’t exactly like you. Even Cedric the Saxon married off his beautiful daughter to the son of a Norman (and wasn’t too upset over it). To Mill, it may have been inconceivable that such communal ties—among Western Europeans at least—could ever be permanently severed.
Fast forward a couple of centuries, and yes, well, it’s happening. And rampant individualism isn’t helping as more and more non-whites immigrate to white homelands, making white societies less and less cohesive and the white race less and less relevant. If white people ever care to regain the racial stability and, yes, supremacy, of John Stuart Mill’s day, then that pendulum of white individualism needs to start swinging back in the other direction. Whites need to once again start producing great things for themselves, great families, great fortunes, great institutions, and great works which will survive them and serve first and foremost future generations of whites. This, of course, means less YOLO and more WOLO, the idea that we only live once. We as in white people. That’s right. Imagine a world without white people. It could happen. It’s called White Genocide, and it’s a topic of frequent discussion on the Right. The liberal democracies in traditionally white nations which allow individualism to flourish will do nothing to stop non-whites from eventually gaining majorities, voting whites out of power, and then ultimately destroying them or breeding them out of existence. And once this process gains enough momentum in a nuclear world, there will be no going back.
Mill offers the China of his day as an example of a stagnant civilization: ancient and impressive, but lacking in the diversity of character required to make it great. So how’s that analogy working out today? Perhaps one could argue that Chinese society is still fairly stagnant and less dynamic when compared to the West. But is China committing demographic suicide like the West is? Is China emulating the West by inviting millions of blacks and browns into it borders in order to permanently change its culture and gene pool? Are the Chinese following Western individualism to the point of renouncing the reality of race and their own racial interests? No, they’re not. And, compared to whites in the West, the Chinese doing very well for it.
Looks like John Stuart Mill missed a thing or two while extoling the virtues of individualism, doesn’t it?
This all reminds me of great scene in the classic 1970s football movie North Dallas Forty. The head coach is explaining to his star quarterback why his key defensive player gets preferential treatment. “You put me on the headlines,” he says. “But he keeps me off the obituaries.” For many centuries, the YOLO mindset put white civilizations on the proverbial headlines of the world. And that truly is a beautiful thing. At the same time, however, we must always remember that it’s the WOLO mindset which will ultimately keep the white race off the obituaries. Despite the fact that you only live once.
On The Consolation of Philosophy
Remembering René Guénon:
November 15, 1886–January 7, 1951
Remembering Georges Sorel
(November 2, 1847–August 29, 1922)
The Ten Scariest Things in the World
The Union Jackal, October 2022
John Locke’s Blank Slate & the Unique Development of Children’s Literature in the West
What Is Philosophy?