Is an Individualistic Society Narcissistic? Think Again.
You often hear that a society that values individualism is narcissistic. This is ideology of European socialists, statists, whose philosophy subsumes the individual into the collective.
It's one of their indictments of the Evil Capitalist Entity Across the Sea, the United States, the home of individual liberty and rugged individualism.
I'm most amazed when I hear Americans swallow that one without examining it first. It's sloppy thinking to confuse individualism with selfishness. They are not the same thing at all.
It is true that in America, individual rights and liberties reign. The state never trumps them. Our most socialist politicians wouldn't dream of nationalizing industry and labor, wouldn't dream of specifying labor contracts by law or subsidizing industry. We have an intelligentsia, but this is still a pretty classless society, where who your Daddy was doesn't matter and the elites don't constitute a ruling class that the rest of us just follow.
Our individualism makes us renowned for our self-reliance and can-do attitude.
But socialists say that we are thus made a narcissistic society, a dog-eat-dog society, with no solidarity, where it's every man for himself and nobody cares for their neighbor or the poor.
One wonders if those who say this have ever been to the United States! To see how wrong this idea is, all you need do is look at American society and see how it actually behaves.
Okay, the streets of New York City could make you wonder a bit, but the United States isn't New York City. Few Europeans have ventured more than 17 miles inland here.
Actually, the results of our individualism are the exact opposite of what they claim. It makes us MORE caring about our neighbor. And not with just lip service.
Hurricane Katrina serves as a good example.
Inside the city of New Orleans, a huge percentage of the people were unemployed and living on the Welfare State. In other words, New Orleans was an island of socialism here in the US.
They reacted to the disaster like dependent people everywhere react to one. They reacted like people in socialist countries do. We even saw this reaction in the First Gulf War among the wealthy Kuwaitis, who lived unemployed on a huge monthly government handout from national oil revenues.
What was their reaction? Nothing. They reacted like children.
What do children do in a disaster? They sit there, sucking their thumbs and looking for some grown-up to come and take care of things. They're just children, you know. It never enters their heads that they should do anything. What could they do? It never occurs to them to ask themselves what they might do, because it never occurs to them that they CAN do anything.
So, maybe the kid next door is stuck under a fallen tree. Will a child think to go over and try to find some way to help him? No. That's for Mommy or Daddy to do. Why aren't Mommy and Daddy here already? Why aren't they taking care of me?
See what I mean? That's the danger of a Nanny State. It makes people helpless.
That's what people in New Orleans did. It was pathetic to watch. They just sat there and whined that the Nanny State wasn't right there to help them. They didn't lift a finger to help themselves or their neighbor. That isn't because they're bad people. It's because they have been nannied like children and have taken on that character.
In contrast, outside of New Orleans, throughout the rest of Louisiana and Mississippi, you saw typical Americans being typical Americans. They were doing what they could for themselves, and they were helping their neighbors. I love the guy whole stole a boat and saved about 100 people from their rooftops.
Our individualism makes us see a job that needs to be done and view it as up to us to do it.
Before the storm even hit, countless numbers of people in Texas were already loading trucks at their churches and schools to take to the people of Louisiana. Nobody told them to: they just shut down their businesses, went home, and started doing it. They didn't sit back and wait for Uncle Sam or anybody else to do it.
If that isn't social solidarity, I don't know what is.
During the East Coast Blackout a few years back - no looting anywhere in the United States. But there was looting in Canada. Apparently even our crooks pitch in and lend a hand at a time like that.
Quite a few years ago, I was in a bus accident in Italy, and immediately after I got my breath back, the other American I was with and I got up and went around to each of the other passengers to see if anyone was hurt and to spread an air of calm. We did that because it needed to be done, and since we were lifeguards, we thought we may well be the only ones who knew first aid and how to keep people calm.
It was no big deal. One lady had scratched herself on the nose with her ring, and that was it. But the Europeans on that bus gaped at us. We found this mysterious, having no idea why. Finally, a Brit made a little speech in which he said he was truly in awe of the way we Americans just took charge of the situation at a moment like that.
We still didn't get it, so we just looked at him like, "What are you talking about?" We didn't boss anybody around or anything. We just made sure everyone was all right and talked calmly to a group of people who had just been through a terrifying experience we were all lucky to survive.
In fact, the first thing I said was a just a joke: "Boy, someone here sure has a charmed existence" (because it was a miracle we hand't gone off a cliff). You know - just calming people out of a catatonic state.
As yet, we had no idea that no European would have done that, that they would have sat there and waited for some authority figure, the police perhaps, to come and take care of them.
Which would have been dangerous, because that bus was crosswise on the wrong side of a divided highway with traffic coming around a curve at it. We had to judge when it safe to exit the bus and then get away from it ASAP. We couldn't wait for someone to come and tell us what to do.
So, not that we Americans have no bad qualities, but our rugged individualism isn't one of them. It bears fruit in what's best about us.
What's more, Americans are by far the most generous people in the world, giving far more privately than Europeans do. Even through our government we give more if you count it all, like the direct food shipments, emergency aid delivered by military assets, development aid, debt forgiveness, the AIDS initiative, and so on. And all but the poor pay taxes here. In Europe, most of the people voting for those 40-70% tax rates don't pay taxes, or if they do, they get more back annually through social services. That isn't "generosity" when it's someone else's money you're being so "generous" with.
So, our individualism doesn't make us selfish or cold-hearted at all. And that actually stands to reason if you think twice.
In a society where the individual actually ceases to exist as an individual and becomes but cog in machine known as the collective, there are no clear personal boundaries, as their are no clear personal boundaries between a narcissist and those he treats as objects.
You can walk down the streets of Paris and see the homeless everywhere, begging for food. Nobody looks at them. Everyone ignores them and keeps on walking by. That's socialist "solidarity." Taking care of them is somebody else's job.
And a few years ago 15,000 French perished in a mere heat wave, so that everyone in the hospitals and other public facilities could take their August vacations on time.
Because, you see, when loving thy neighbor is somebody else's job, it's nobody's job.
I'd be the last to deny that our media don't try to incite narcissism through ad campaigns and entertainment. But our social structure and form of government don't do that.