New Posts on Wednesdays and Saturdays -- er generally

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Illusion of Rugged Individualism


Here he comes walking down the road and we all know everything will be okay because he's here to fix it. The mythology of the West, personified more often in media than history, still inspires many today to think that is the way to get things done.

The concept of this rugged individual solving the problems for the rest of us seems to be one of the key illusions of our country-- and maybe a lot of mankind. Although it might seem aimed at only one way of thinking, it actually can influence two diametrically different viewpoints.

We need a hero to solve our problems as he leads us to a victory. Elect the right person and sit back to applaud (or throw stones depending).

Or it's us who are the heroes and government just gets in our way. In this thinking most (at least economic) laws or regulations only impede the many rugged individualists who will fix the economy through their independence.

Inside, most of us do know that people have to work together to get anything done. We recognize that even if there was a time where you could shoot your way out of problems, it's long since past (and likely never really existed). We also know Superman is fiction. But this mythology of the rugged individualist is still one that people buy into whether they translate that into almost no government or that superhero leader.

Here's the thing. The mythology didn't even work in the Old West. Most people, at least in the beginning, came West on wagon trains with leaders. Once they got out here, they built towns where they quickly made laws and set up governments. The alternative would be to see the bad apples in their midst take everything from everyone else. Working alone we are easy prey. Standing together, we are formidable.

Even a barn was most often built in a barn raising where cooperation got it done faster than rugged individualism. People traded labor for jobs done which is basically what taxation is intended to be today. (Unfortunately we are now paying 25% of our shared labor just to pay the interest on a debt that neither political party wants to take credit for increasing).

Sure, the West had heroic individuals like John Muir who traveled alone to explore; but when he wanted to preserve something like Yosemite, he had to get others to cooperate. You could get to the West by yourself, but when you got there, you had to set up societies and at that point, government became a factor. Government should not be seen as the bad guy but the tool of the people. When it fails in that, it's time to redo government, not throw it out totally.

In Wallace Stegner's The Sound of Mountain Water he says it well when he refers to the west as "the native home of hope."
"When it fully learns that cooperation, not rugged individualism is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery."
I believe it's what it still takes today. I also believe that expecting any hero to come riding into town and fixing it all, whatever party they originate from, is kidding ourselves and a damaging illusion.

15 comments:

Paul said...

Barack Obama please take note ! Good post !

Rain said...

I don't think it's him who has the problem but the people who expected him to fix it all and when he didn't got mad. It is like I always said about GW Bush, it wasn't him I blamed so much as those who supported him. It's us sitting back and expecting one person to do it all. BUT the alternative is those who say government gets in the way of the individual and we don't need government. What we do need is cooperation and people working together to make government what it was intended to be.

Right now with the current Supreme Court putting itself above both other branches of government and historic precedent, it won't be easy.

Kay Dennison said...

Beautifully said!!!!! And I agree on Obama -- everyone wanted him to be the the Black Messiah but he was/is not. He can't do a damned thing without Congress' support.
And now, the Supreme Court -- the alleged protector of the Constitution -- has sold us out.

I'm trying to decide whether to head north or south to ask for political asylum.

Peggy said...

We do all need to work together to fix the mess we are in now. . Doing things the "Chicago Way" is not what I want in Government(and I'm from Chicago)
Good post Rain like usual. We need to support our President and he needs to work for us!
Have a good weekend my friend!

Paul said...

Obama is learning about political reality now. Theory is one thing-practice is often quite another thing. He wanted to be President and now that he is he has to endure the consequences good or bad...

Curious said...

"Obama gave the answer to why it was a 50-state strategy. It was to be the president of all the people. He wants to work for those who voted against him and those who voted for and supported him. He does not see one part of the country as the only thing that matters. He doesn't see us as red and blue but as the United States. He said he will tell us the truth about things and will work to make us all strong again. I believe him and I cried again."

Those are your words. A few days after winning, his given reason for not cooperating with the other party was "I won."
Do you now think he is working for ALL the people Rain?

Rain said...

I am not sorry I voted for him, Curious. Not at all every time I hear anything from McCain or Palin, but I have said here in the blog that I am reserving judgment on whether he will be a good president. He has let me down by not supporting a public option, by not undoing the unfairness of blocking gay marriage, by not ending don't ask don't tell.

I was concerned as soon as I saw his economic team that he wasn't going to be what I had hoped. This won't be the first time if that proves to be true. This year will tell the story. I might not even vote for him next time if he proves to be just another politician. although that would depend on who the republicans put up.

Sometimes we think someone is one way but find out to our disappointment they are not. I remember in 2000 when McCain was running and I thought about changing my registration to be able to vote for him in the primary (in oregon if you are registered as an independent, you cannot vote in any primaries). By the time the primary had come, he was out; so it didn't happen but he wasn't who I thought he was. I really thought he was that different kind of politician back then. I don't now.

Politics to me is very disillusioning which is why I am not writing about it in here for awhile. Sometimes I get tempted like by the Supreme Court decision but what good does it do? It just riles us all up and for what? I want to concentrate on things I think can matter and right now that is looking at illusions and more are coming.

We are bottle feeding a calf whose mother so thoroughly rejected it that we couldn't even figure out who she was. I worry that the calf won't make it. I took some pictures for the blogs when the illusions are over but won't put that in here now and if the calf dies, i might not do it at all. I really believe we need to concentrate on being positive. We cannot vote on anything until November. Right now we have nothing we can do but bitch. I hear plenty of that for all the good it does.

Rain said...

and as for whether he's working for all the people. I think they actually all think they do that. I think Bush thought he was doing that and probably Obama thinks he is too. They do what they think is best and think those who disagree just don't understand. Nobody though can really work for us all because we have such diverse desires. How do you work to benefit the richest of the rich while you also help the poorest of the poor? It's always a compromise. He probably thinks he is.

But I am doing what I said-- reserving judgment; however, from the time he picked Geithner and Summers (foxes guarding the chickenhouse), I have had concerns about who he's trying to help the most. He has ignored many of the people who helped elect him, like the gays, and he probably assumes he has their vote anyway. Well he might get a surprise in 2012. I just hope the Republican put up a viable choice this time. It won't be Palin for someone like me.

I wish (as I have said many times) that a viable third party would arise, one that is fiscally conservative and socially liberal. It doesn't seem it can and we are locked into these two parties that neither one do what they say they will.

Peggy said...

Right now, i am hoping for a viable third party too. OMG, we are on the same side!

Rain said...

AND if I didn't make that clear enough, right now he's a disappointment to me.

INCIDENTALLY, despite what some think, I am not a liberal. I am in the great unwashed middle. I don't favor wars with no purpose. I do favor a strong military. I don't want there to be torture because from everything i hear it doesn't work as much as because it's immoral. I believe in gun rights but not to own military type assault rifles. I believe in choice for abortion but not the whole length of a pregnancy. I believe in strong, enforced borders. I also believe in the death penalty for certain crimes. I think the government should not spend more than it can afford but it should raise taxes when it wants something that it doesn't have the money for (or cut something else). I believe some people need help and so am fine with welfare and medicaid but it should be for those who cannot work. I believe in work ethics. I believe strongly in gay marriage and think it's not the government's business to interfere in people's personal lives. I believe in strong education systems that let anybody with a B average and good deportment to go to college with minimal expense. I believe we have to use our sense on the environment and not protect every three toed rat. I believe in hunting responsibly. Basically I fit neither party but always choose the closest to my thinking rather than one that totally suits me. I thought Obama would be better than it appears he is but I know he's not up for reelection just yet and so for now I am reserving that judgment. Maybe he'll yet surprise me. I hope so. It could be he got elected into an office he's not really up to but I blame Republicans for that as much as Democrats. When they put up Palin they lost anybody in the middle and only had their hardcore base left. Even then, they nearly beat him. Some of that though was racism. I don't believe it's done yet in this country.

Rain said...

I also think (since I am writing rants) that people would be ahead to skip the media news programs right now and read newspapers. The radio and TV are all about causing upset, no matter which station you listen or watch. To me you can get the info online from an assortment of newspapers (yes I read Drudge and newsmax but not going as far as breitbart or worldnetdaily except once in a great great while). This is a very disappointing time and no matter what your political agenda, it's upsetting. I don't think that is healthy. We can vote in November and then again in two years. I will be back to politics when it makes a difference otherwise, it's time to look for good sunsets and today head for the beach to watch a storm! I advise the same thing. I wish you all could pet a calf's head, one that is trying to survive under bad circumstances with no mama. It puts a lot of things in perspective.

Rain said...

Incidentally I don't think health care for all is a partisan issue but instead should be a humanitarian one that brings together people from both parties. I have mentioned before that my brother was diagnosed with a deadly type of prostate cancer from a routine screening he got because he gets his health care from the VA. He got the care he needed which included chemotherapy and surgery and is alive today because of that care. He didn't have insurance nor could he, as a mechanic and operator of his own small garage, have afforded insurance. Nobody should die from things that can be treated and prevented like say high blood pressure. Our system right now is heartless and I don't see that's a conservative or liberal issue but just one that if we are human, we can put ourselves in the position of others and see that fearing no health care, being forced to only get emergency care in an ER (which would have left him dead today) is not what Americans should tolerate for any of us. this should not be an issue of the left or right and it's not our primary responsibility to make sure insurance companies maintain high profits but that Americans can get care when they need it before it's the last rites.

Parapluie said...

Wow,
This post and the comments have covered Rain's stand completely. It is repetative of so many other posts but here it is all in one. Good job.
Now lets get on with more illusions and the mending of the spirit through nature photographs.
As for my opinion: Real change in history has not come all at once. Leaders who try it are short lived and often fail. I believe Obama's primary direction has not changed and he has only made painfully slight impact. I certainly retain some hope that his changes will snowball but am not very optomistic that he can pull it off in two consecutive terms.

Fran aka Redondowriter said...

Very thoughtful post. That old John Wayne was sure a conservative himself, wasn't he?

I want Obama to succeed so much, but things are looking pretty grim for him and his administration right now.

I'm trying to be positive, I really am.

Annotated Margins said...

My life changed when I realized that all my heroes were either morons, media-spun fakes, or drug addicts—and that sometimes the calvary shows up shooting first, only to ask the wrong questions after the melee.