Wednesday, September 14, 2005

What is Wrong with our Nation, Part Two: Concept of Individualism and The American Dream

Dear Reader, I was going to start this second installment of what is wrong with our country from the Nixon administration on. It’s a good idea. BUT (yes, you knew that “big” “butt” was on the way didn’t you, you brilliant, brilliant soul!) I am finding my time is being squashed and battered around by homework and grading papers. *sigh* I still plan on doing this, but as some good research on specifics are needed--it will have to wait. I will not, however, allow you to go away empty handed and with a low heart. Before we get started, let me quickly address my brilliant reader, Bit Jockey, who wanted me not to ignore the “Bush” problem, while looking at what is wrong with our country. Here is a portion of what Bit Jockey said:
You have brought up a very interesting point that I must differ with slightly. While Bush (or any president) is just one man, and while the president is laden with all the consequences of the previous administrations, it is the president’s responsibility to lead the country in a direction that appears to be best for our country in both the short and long terms. And while any president is burdened with these shackles at the beginning of their term, it is generally only a re-elected president, one that is serving their second consecutive term, which may find themselves dealing with the consequences of their own actions. This is what I see today. Bush, a second-term president, is feeling the effects of poor decisions made early in his tenure. I am sure that part of the poor federal response to the Katrina disaster is the lack of manpower, equipment and supplies, which are currently being utilized in other parts of the world to support a bad decision made years ago.”
Take heart dear reader, I agree with you 100%. You will get no arguments from me! Actually, I see Bush as the epitome of what is wrong with this country—the true incarnation of all the problems rolled up into one neat, but frightening, package. But is getting rid of Bush going to solve our problems? If we impeach the bastard, who will take his place? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? That is right, Dick Chaney and may I just say, while doing my valley girl best: Oh My God! But let me get to the topic of the day. There are two philosophical issues that I wish to bring up: Individualism (the concept of) and “The American Dream”—these are definitely two things that are seriously wrong with our country! Let’s start with individualism first—the concept, how it works with the “American Dream” bullshit we have heard since our birth and how it works against citizen’s interests in general. We love to think of ourselves as being an “individual.” I wear different fashions than you. My thoughts are important to me. I am special, unique and there is no one like me in the whole wide world. I can be and do anything I want. Now, I know you have heard these phrases before, from your teachers, to parents to big brother – yes, big brother! You know what I am talking about: BIG BROTHER. The concept of individualism is a relatively new concept, believe it or not. It was basically developed (in the way we define it today) during the Enlightenment by such folks as Rousseau (you misogynistic pig), Locke, Hume, Mills, and all those enlightenment folks pushing the “Social Contract.” Feudalism was dying and with it came a new class of merchants and the middle class who were demanding political and social equality with the aristocrats. Let’s face it, they were making a crap load of money and wanted their “special interests” recognized. Something had to be done, the more this new class of people demanded political rights, the more unstable their political environment became. Without going into mass details, the concept of individualism came out of this development and basically was defined as it is defined today: a uniquely stand alone person with individual rights who is responsible for their own actions. On the surface this looks good and it sounded good to those workers and peasants who, at one time, worked under the feudal system with no rights or individual privileges. People loved the concept and they still do. The problem is, however, along with the rights of individual freedom came the ability of the state (also a new concept) to wipe their hands clean and clear of any real responsibility to the majority of the population. I say majority here because the small minority (the upper classes) still had their interests protected and represented because it is “they” who put the leader, or president, or state administration, into power. They flipped the bill and demanded in return “favors.” The average Joe, not rich, continued to be ignored, but now there was nowhere to go for help. This pissed people off and so the welfare state was invented to appease the masses but soon, even this concept was slowly chipped away at until we have the world, in our specific case the United States, we have today. Individualism is problematic because it is very contagious as a concept. I love it; you love it (I know you do dear reader). It sounds great on paper but what we sacrifice is the concept that “it takes a village.” If you don’t believe me then just look, if you will, at what happened with Katrina and those folks who did not or could not evacuate. Let’s examine a comment I received from a post I wrote called: “Katrina, Race, Poverty and GW Bush Asleep at the Guitar” by Babs RN:
“It all comes down to Survival Of The Fittest, also as much a part of nature as a hurricane is. Learned Helplessness breeds genuine helplessness or at least a deficiency in motivation to change one's situation. There are many, many people who came from poverty and made something of themselves and they didn't get that way by screaming at cameras to help them...or by refusing to get out of harm's way. They surely didn't get that way by openly criticizing or shooting at those who are working to give them a hand. I do not feel the least bit sorry for those left behind who refuse to do anything themselves to better their situations. The ones I feel for are the ones who have lost everything they have worked for - as well as the means to begin to rebuild anytime soon.”
Here is a reader, and I welcome all readers, but know I might use your comment to prove a point. Where was I? Oh, yes . . . here is a reader who has bought into not only the “American Dream” rhetoric but also individualism. Babs RN feels no remorse for those who did not “try” to make their lives better and who did not leave when asked. How does she know that these people did not try? She is assuming and she is hinging on the concepts of the “American Dream,” and individualism. It is the concept of individualism that allowed the local and federal governments, as well as a community of citizens, to leave the area without taking even a moment to think about helping those who may not have had to money to leave (although I am assuming that there are also folks out there who did stay to help others or who tried to help others get out—yet this is a small percentage of folks). Individualism says that we are responsible for our own fate—that no one else needs to concern themselves with our welfare. I am not saying that we should take “full responsibility” for everyone’s actions here--what I am saying is, and implying is, the simple, humanistic and (thank you) spiritual advice that states we should treat our neighbor as we, ourselves, would like to be treated. I am shot on the street and no one stops to help me—this is not only the fear of getting “involved,” it is also the reality of absolute individualism. Yet, sometimes (often) people work their asses off and are not able to dig themselves out of that damn ditch or get themselves out of dodge! Why? Because we have unequal opportunities in the country. For example, the “state” is required to offer free education, but our schools are still essentially segregated and the education you find a Black or Latino school is not the same education you find in the suburbs of middle class America (the United States ranks lowest in educational test scores in compared to the other “developed” nations)—for more information, read: The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America by Jonathan Kozol. We have unequal opportunities in this country. The assumption that each of us has the same opportunity to realize the “American Dream” is nothing but a bloody myth propagated by a government and capitalistic big business to keep us quietly working (the concept of individualism also works to keep us separated in such a way as to prevent factions from coming together and creating a civil society that would challenge practices of government). Furthermore, poverty levels have increased since President Bush has taken office (See the “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2004” official report). And there you have it dear reader. Under the guise of individualism and the “American Dream” we are kept separated, concern ourselves only with ourselves while citing the “American Dream” rhetoric to explain why it is a person’s fault for not achieving more in a country that offers unequal opportunities for people. It is, dear reader, simply a pack of lies. William James said it well: “Where would any of us be, were there no one willing to know us as we really are or ready to repay us for our insight by making recognizant return? We ought, all of us, to realize each other in this intense, pathetic, and important way.” –From “What Makes Life Significant” Please stay tuned for the next part in this series to be posted soon. Rebecca aka Harpowoman

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