In school, we learned all about “individualism” which according to Webster, is a doctrine where the interests of the individual are paramount, and the individual is totally self-reliant. I was taught this theory by way of understanding that those who went west (“Go West, Young Man!) were the living symbol of this theory, since they were supposedly self-reliant, made it on their own, and were self-made men. Except this never made any sense to me, because as a child I read the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and was aware that no one who went west “made it” on their own. Houses were collectively raised, crops were collectively brought in and help was there even if it was ten miles away. Yes, the Laura Ingalls Wilder books were a fiction, however, the fiction was based on facts. And, the facts proved this theory as a fiction. Read Laura’s autobiography Pioneer Girl which tells a much different story regarding the help that these pioneers gave each other.
So why is this myth so popular and enduring? My cynical thoughts on this are that it’s convenient to use as a way to insist that Americans historically “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” by themselves. However, even our first colonies were created by group effort – otherwise they all would have starved. Individualism is a lie of massive proportions as shown by our elected officials insistence that: education, health care and a living wage are not rights of citizens. They often insist that our ancestors were all self-made men, and in order for anyone to succeed, all we have to do, regardless of background, education or opportunities, is to work hard. That way, when people don’t make it, we can blame them.
Therefore, even though plenty of people work two jobs, it’s still their fault when they need government assistance. That way, we don’t have to have a conversation regarding the fact that low minimum wages are that no one can live on them, poor education, and lack of opportunities. This blame-game is used for a variety of problems. Welfare, food stamp and fuel assistance recipients can all be blamed, and that way we can avoid any conversations regarding why working people need so much help. Meanwhile, CEO pay has increased a staggering 340 times that of the average worker and the poor often pay federal taxes at a higher percent than the rich. Do you believe in individualism? Let me know in the comments below.