Excessive Individualistic Culture?

As usual David Brooks of the New York Times and PBS Newshour spurred this post by his words below

This is a hard, exhausting time. But it’s also a pivot point. An idealistic generation is rising on the scene hungering to fill the spiritual vacuum their parents left them. There is a palpable desire for solidarity, to shake off an excessively individualistic culture.

For those who don’t know him David usually champions a conservative agenda. Usually, but not during the last three and a half years. It seems he has almost given up the conservative label ever meaning anything again. I have talked about my personal frustration with that several times on RJsCorner. When the Republican Party moved into the camp of this extreme narcissist, moderate Republicans, of which I occasionally claim to be one, came to feel like a people orphaned. There is nowhere to turn for leadership. The Republicans in Congress joined lock-step into a despotic view of America. I’m not sure anyone can explain how that happened?

All the above is worth saying but it is not really the main topic for today’s post. That topic is “Individualistic Culture”. To me, that means people are primarily focused on self and have very little left over for community or common good. “It’s all about ME and nothing much else matters…”

Have we come to a place in our existence where “we” doesn’t exist anymore? I just won’t accept that possibility but many others are claiming just that. Excessive individualistic culture was something the Alex De Touqueville noted about Americans when he visited our country in 1834. His main description in his now famous book Democracy In America was that we were consumed with self. I have that phrase on the side of my µRV as shown here.

I guess we have always been living in the perpetual utterance of self-applause. We think of ourselves first and foremost. But, the level that it seems to be now is downright frightening! We Americans have a lot to be proud of given our short existence as a country. We are a mere 250 or so years old, whereas countries like China have existed for ten times that long. I see more and more that older countries are looking at us as a possible flash-in-the-pan. That is we sprung up quickly and died off before we could claim maturity. If that comes to be the case I think a good portion of that will be because we never melded as a community of people as most other countries in history have.

If only we could get over the idea that we are exceptional and therefore take no guidance from others. The other is that we need to re-learn the lesson that “we” not “me” is the higher priority. I know the pendulum swings between the extremes of life, and we are obviously on the severe right side. Maybe when we are back to the middle our view of our place in life will start to shift toward one of empathy and the common good.

2 comments

  1. The reluctance of some to make the small sacrifice of wearing a mask has certainly brought this topic closer to the surface (and makes very clear to me how excessive our individualism has become). A few more or less random and unresolved thoughts: “Rugged Individualism” seems to be a foundational element of our culture. It is manifested in the fear (and hypocrisy) of someone else ‘getting something for nothing’. It’s behind the knee-jerk reaction that socialism in any degree or form is unequivocally bad and totally unacceptable (which, for example, is the root cause of our paralysis in resolving health care, IMO). To me, individualism has increased since the Reagan years, starting with the premise that “government IS the problem…” To cite a few examples (disclosure: impressions from a potentially faulty memory), reductions in spending on social programs leading to increases in homelessness, the privatization of student loans, and the demise of labor unions all had their roots in the Reagan years. Our consumer economy is certainly part of the issue – but is it a cause or a symptom, or both? The pervasiveness and degree of excessive individualism make it a tough nut to crack.

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    • I pretty much see it the same way. It seems I am always blaming Reagan for our problems today, But that was the beginning of the right-wing mantra, wasn’t it? The total irony of the “something for nothing” is that the Evangelicals are a major part of right-wing theology and their fundamental belief is that their salvation is a total gift of God and nothing is required but to say the right words! So, their “something for nothing” does not apply to them, I guess.

      I can see the implosion of the radical-right/GOP soon after Trump leaves the Oval Office. The pendulum does indeed swing. Let’s hope it stays on the left for forty years as it did on the right.

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