Individualism and Selfishness are not Synonomous

I recently read an article by some pseudo-journalist discussing John Wayne’s symbolism of American “individualism”; the idea that each man is on his own, needs to solve his own problems, and shouldn’t rely on anybody else for personal happiness, emotional stability, or survival. The author (most likely male) talks about how classic Western movies so clearly represent the American spirit: those brave European Immigrants going out west, where no man has gone before, to seek a better life, a new future, and success. The point of the article is that as Americans, we should take on this “individualist” mentality, pull ourselves up by our own boot straps, quit asking people for help, etc. etc.

The author failed to mention the thousands and thousands of Native Americans brutally murdered to make the American West the “success” that it was. It also failed to mention the thousands of European Immigrants who died of a myriad of causes. It also failed to mention the dust bowl, the false promise the West actually was for thousands more people, or that the current Mid-West is facing huge environmental perils such as lack of water and humanly uninhabitable climates.

The author also failed to acknowledge that John Wayne’s characters were just that–characters, and those Western movies were, in fact, made in Hollywood and very barely based on any sense of actual history.

Despite all of these pretty obvious flaws with the author’s logic, the most disturbing part for me was his use of the word “individualism” to describe those Wild West cowboys and those “patriots” of today. When he says individualism, he means the concept of taking care of you and yours and feeling no sympathy for anybody else who suffers or struggles. He compares this type of self-serving “individualism” to communism, which is clearly the only alternative.

These “individualists” are all around us–the gun-hugging, welfare-hating, white guys we see with Bush bumper stickers still proudly displayed on their large and largely useless diesel trucks. These are also typically the same guys who are adamantly against gay marriage, legalization of drugs, Muslims, and abortion. Wait a second…those guys who are all about individualism want our governments to control who people can marry, what people can smoke, and what women do to their fetuses? It’s true. I know it sounds crazy, but a lot of times “patriots” contradict themselves.

Here’s the deal: you can be an individual and still be a compassion person. You can be an individual and sacrifice your own frivolous comforts to help provide another human being with enough food to eat. You can be a hard worker and willingly give some of your hard-earned money to those less fortunate. Being an individual in no means that you have to turn a blind eye to those in need. On the other hand individualism has to actually allow people to be individuals. Nobody should expect or demand that any other person conform to any set of social norms or expectations. Nobody should be judged for a tattooed face because to do so would be to judge individualism. I shouldn’t have to look a certain way to get a certain job because it’s my choice what color I die my hair. If you want a country based on individualism, you need a country that actually accepts individuals.

Sure, John Wayne makes the West look awesome, but you seriously want to live in a lawless town? I know Hollywood made that life look really cool and fun and awesome, but it really wasn’t. Hollywood makes everything look cool and fun and awesome–that’s what directors and producers and actors like John Wayne get paid millions of dollars to do.

For the love of Christ, what kind of human being uses Western Movies and an old actor as a logical defense for his political beliefs?


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. grandlarson
    Jun 12, 2012 @ 21:15:19

    I think you can be a political indiividualist (libertarian who wants the government to have a small role) but be a cultural communitarian. I would consider myself that sort of a thing.

    To go through your list, “These are also typically the same guys who are adamantly against gay marriage, legalization of drugs, Muslims, and abortion.” I would say I am against gay marriage but more on a cultural level, whereas the government can just stop being in the business of defining marriage at all (civil contracts for all). Go ahead and legalize pot, but not heroin please. Those people aren’t “free” to put whatever they want in their bodies for God’s sake, they HAVE to use it (I know because many of my friends from high school are junkies). Not a fan of Islam, but not everybody raised Muslim follows that faith closely, thankfully. Abortion, that’s not about your rights. It’s about the baby’s.

    Am I a bad human being?


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