For right now, we'll ignore the elephant in the room. There will be plenty to say about the passing of Justice Ginsburg, as well as the impending death of the United States in the days to come.
A few days ago now, Carrie over at the Turnips page made the observation, "We have become the country of "what's in it for me." Sickening and sad."
This has gotten me thinking once again. How did we ever reach this point? In most of our lifetimes, we can look at the concept of "rugged individualism" as it was posited by President Reagan. He sure loved to put on his "cowboy airs" and spend time riding horses in former California and chopping cords of wood, didn't he? But the concept is much older. Still Republican by birth, though.
Rugged individualism, derived from "individualism", is a term that indicates the ideal whereby an individual is totally self-reliant and independent from outside, usually state or government, assistance. While the term is often associated with the notion of laissez-faire and associated adherents it was actually coined by American President, Herbert Hoover, who presided over the emerging Great Depression.
But is this the real indication of America? I would think not. In fact, I can find many examples throughout history where that "rugged individualism" failed. Longtime readers of this blog can no doubt guess where I'm going next - but the founding of this nation illustrated again and again that our true strength comes from shared struggle, service, and sacrifice.
We all know of the hinge of the Revolution. It was one man - a Patriot from Boston named Paul Revere, that rode through the countryside at great risk to himself sounding the alarm.
Except of course, it didn't happen that way. Tear up that Longfellow poem - it's all wrong. While Paul was the leader of the effort, it didn't happen in a vacuum. Paul organized the message - confirmed it was received, dispatched a far less known "insurance" rider named William Dawes (who went a different way, just in case), and most important of all, knew where to go and who to talk to to raise the alarm. A lone rugged individual riding through a cold spring night screaming "The British Are Coming!" would have been quickly ignored as a loonie.
At Lexington Green, long celebrated as the "starting of the revolution"....we lost. Captain Parker and about 80 Lexington minutemen were outnumber by ten to one. They actually broke formation and started to disperse before that mysterious "first shot" was fired. In the ensuing chaos, eight minutemen were killed on the green. Being better trained, the Army re-grouped and marched on to Concord.
It was at Concord that "Rugged Individualism" was proven useless on that day. By then, the alarm system had worked, and four hundred minutemen were waiting for the army. As the army dispersed through town, they became outnumbered - and at the Old North Bridge, the colonists proved that they could do more as a group than any one of them could do alone.
That spirit of mutual cooperation was not lost on the Founding Fathers. The Declaration of Independence was a bold and unprecedented move, and they knew it. Win, and we have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as we see fit to define it. Lose, and die. It was that simple. Thomas Jefferson knew the risks, and he made sure all the signers knew it, too.
...And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
The elder statesman of the group, Ben Franklin, may or may not have made his famous statement when the document was adopted on July 2, 1776...but nevertheless, it further emphasized what was at stake.
By signing the Declaration of Independence, the delegates were putting their lives on the line. If they were to lose the war for independence, then the British government would execute them in a very painful and nasty way. Thus, although we do not know if Benjamin Franklin actually said, "we must all hang together, or ... we shall all hang separately," it is likely that that idea was in the minds of the delegates that day in July.
Throughout our history, it's been easy to see where we were stronger as a group. You can find your own pet examples with very little effort. Back to Herbert Hoover though - that "rugged individualism" he tried to foster wound up not working at all during the height of the Great Depression. Again, it was another Democrat, FDR, that slowly started to turn the tide. His reform and recovery programs are perhaps the very definition of strength in numbers, as well as steady national leadership with an actual goal in mind.
Imagine for just one minute, if another robber-baron had been elected to high office in 1932. The depression had already exposed the shortcomings of the system, designed to benefit the robber-barons and the elite of the first quarter of the 20th century.
It's curious - that "individualism / collective" divide has permeated much of American history. Let me ask - where do you live? I'll ask you to look up Bentley University on Google maps. Scroll south just a bit, and you'll see the neighborhood of Gardencrest - that's where I sit as I write this, and have lived here in the city for nearly 25 years now.
I have never lived in a rural setting, where my nearest neighbor was 3 miles away. I'm sure the culture is vastly different - and in a modern, urban, environment, I daresay it is impossible to embrace that 'rugged individual' spirit that is so near and dear to our differently-winged friends.
I've been thinking about this a lot of late - America was indeed founded on a spirit of cooperation, shared goals, similar ideals, and making sure those benefits extended to everybody. Somewhere along the way, we have become debased, and our founding ideals have been replaced by greed and ignorance.
"I've got mine, and screw everybody else" seems to be the guiding principle of the United States these days, from the Oval Office on down to your jerk neighbor that parks crooked and plays loud music every night. It's going to take more than one election to fix that.