The Myth of Rugged Individualism

In a previous post (How Obamacare Should Be Fixed), I alluded to the spirit of American individualism being the product of mythical thinking. Well, that mythical thinking is more famously called “rugged individualism” and it is a myth that permeates the fabric of our national identity so deeply that it endures unabated well into the young 21st Century.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a myth as “a commonly believed but false idea

Individualism is defined as “the idea that each person should think and act independently rather than depending on others

While I agree that people should think and act independently rather than depending on others, the myth of rugged individualism that continues to endure in this country does not stop at acting and thinking independently.

In the United States of America, “rugged individualism” translates to total self-reliance without collective assistance from other individuals, groups, or entities such as the government (local, state, or federal). It’s a laissez-faire attitude that conveys the notion that individuals can and should operate outside of a government that frankly cannot be trusted.

However, the notion that government cannot be trusted is itself somewhat fallacious and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Government is made up of people and belongs to the people. More accurately, government is a reflection of those who understand it and choose to be active participants in it.

Our system of government is organized as a constitutional republic, but is functionally a pluralistic democracy, or a system of government ruled through the interaction of many groups.

Our Congress and other politicos seldom listen to or respond to individuals unless said individual is powerfully wealthy and/or connected. However, they do respond to the much maligned (out of sincere ignorance) interest groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) or the AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons), who through the donations and contributions of their members finance the lobbyists who influence our politicians at the federal, state, and even local levels.

One voice backed by nothing but idealism, ideology, and grievance will never be as effective as millions of voices (and votes) backed by a pool of billions of dollars. As the late California politician Jesse Unruh once said, “money is the mother’s milk of politics”

Money and votes are what drive the political system, not ideology.

It should go without saying that no one builds success without some level of collective support. As an individual, it helps to have a rugged individualist mindset, but the saying that no man is an island is a salient point.

-The Rational Ram

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