The Bastardization of American Individualism

Greetings my fellow Americans! Those taught about American Individualism, gain a form of American history which was not propagandized to highlight and accentuate her evils. They will appreciate that philosophy of “rugged individualism” and its importance in the founding and burgeoning of the United States as a bastion of civilized freedom and liberty. Like any society comprised of fallen, imperfect humans, the U.S.A. has not achieved (nor will it ever achieve) the utopian apex which has been incessantly intellectualized by her critics.

However, we have come closer (despite claims of those critics to the contrary) to providing equality of opportunity for all people to pursue happiness than any other organization in history. Ironically, the freedom to pursue individual aspirations of her citizenry (and those who emigrated here seeking similar opportunity) had proven to be the tie that bound those in their respective States to a national Constitution and set of principles, based on mutual respect for the rights of others to pursue their own aspirations, which created the strongest and most vibrant society and civilization to have ever existed on Earth.

A new brand of individualism has taken hold in the U.S. It is rooted in a premise that the rights of the Self usurp those of all other Selves; more specifically, how the Self feels about a situation matters, and it matters more than the intent of the other Selves to induce those feelings and/or produce a situation which the Self has imagined could result that has triggered those feelings. In the cases of desirable feelings, the Self believes it is entitled to act upon those feelings, regardless of the consequences to anyone else; for those which are undesirable, uncomfortable, or otherwise negative, the Self likewise believes it is entitled to not experience such feelings, and that society has a responsibility to deal with those situations and other Selves to the satisfaction of the dispositively perturbed Self. Sadly, this brand of individualism threatens to completely disintegrate the very society and civilization which has thrived under the previous brand.

If the rights of the individual are fundamental to both ways of being in the world, why do the practices of each produce such dramatically different results? In some ways the answer to this is obvious, but may be more obscure in others.

Let’s take a slightly deeper dive into the notion of rugged individualism. Rush Limbaugh was famous for often using this as a distinguishing characteristic of American greatness, so I’ll use his interpretation: the willingness and resolve to take personal responsibility for making one’s life turn out as one would like. For most of its lifetime, the United States has afforded the most individuals with such an ambition the best statutory environment for realizing it, both in the self-pursuit and in the consideration of others in likewise pursuit. Inherent in this arena of relative freedom and liberty were the recognition that all men and women are prone to put their own concerns ahead of others, and that some level of self-discipline on the part of the majority of the whole is required. And belief in a supreme Creator, or at least tacit acknowledgment of Man’s inability to complete explain the world around him, largely served as the basis for that self-discipline.

American Individualism

Contrast this with the seemingly more prevalent brand today—let’s call it pure selfish individualism, and define it as follows: the belief that one is entitled to submit to one’s feelings whenever and wherever one experiences these, and without regard to others, and that others are responsible for making one’s life turn out as one would like. This belief appears to be rooted primarily in the notion of endemic unfairness, in that others have undeservedly benefitted from situations which one either did not benefit at all or came at a cost to that individual.

As we unpack these further, some additional interesting dichotomies within these worldviews arise, especially as regards the individual and his/her relationship to the rest of society. To quote John Donne, “No man is an island.” This is true for people ascribing to both of these types of individualism; what is ironic is that the rugged individual tends to be more aware of it than those in the latter camp. For many of those others, their “individualism” tends to be premised on the notion that they belong a group (or class) of individuals who have been slighted or wronged, and are due societal (and monetary) compensation; for perhaps even more, they have never been taught how to overcome their inherent, broken selfishness, and believe that the world truly does revolve around them, and don’t realize that they actually need to care about the well-being of anyone else to survive in this world, let alone thrive or achieve any lofty ambition.

This bastardization of the notion of individuality is a microcosm of the co-opting of our language and dumbing down of our society which permeates our 21st-Century culture. It enables the likes of Joe Biden, and others, to use words like rights, “my body my choice” and even America in speeches, and elicit diametrically opposed thoughts and feelings in an audience of people ostensibly sharing a common nationality, heritage, and patriotism. It is becoming increasingly clear that we no longer embody shared meanings of the notions of what has made America great. Whether we can truly reconcile and reunite is the next big question.

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1 thought on “The Bastardization of American Individualism”

  1. “For many of those others, their “individualism” tends to be premised on the notion that they belong a group (or class) of individuals who have been slighted or wronged, and are due societal (and monetary) compensation;”

    Hey, I’m left-handed and have been discriminated against and forced to live in a backwards world thus causing much distress throughout my life – Little is designed where the label can be read when held in the left hand. Go ahead and look at stuff by using your left hand – it’s all upside down ! Such is the agony of life.

    Where’s My compensation for My pain ? 😉


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