Thursday, January 18, 2007

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.

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At 9:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Narcissists aren't independent at all, they are highly dependent. It isn't that they don't need other people they in fact, must have others to use to meet their needs to survive. They imagine themselves in control and are very adept at making those who they depend upon also believe that lie. A narcissists world of one in made up of himself and all those he has consumed and is in the process of consuming.

In fact, the U.S. has lost a great deal of its independence in recent years as we have become a nation that buys from other nations rather than manufacturing our own goods etc. In that sense of dependence upon other nations for our goods, I can see a relation to narcissism but not in what has always been our independent spirit.


At 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in England and I have to say I think most of Kathy's analysis with regard to the Welfare State mentality is correct.
Nevertheless, Thatcherism seemed to unleash the very worst in many people in this country. The idea of cascading wealth based on the American model never took off here - a few people made a lot of money and - well - kept it.
Maybe it's to do with child-rearing practices. According to surveys, most people in England still think it's OK to hit children.

At 11:47 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

I know little about Thatcher except that she is conservative. I grew up the daughter of an auto worker in a union town. We lived the exigencies of the economy. So, though politically liberal, we never wanted to see big business hurt. I don't view it as capitalism or socialism is good vs evil. I view it as steering the optimal course between the two extremes. You do need a safety net and management of the economy with incentives to keep all wealth from ending up in the hands of a few. But when you start making people dependent on handouts, you are no better than a drug pusher, robbing them of their self respect.

With Thatcher, the change was probably too abrupt in England. Also, we have a cultural thing about helping your neighbor, because that is how the West was settled. Everybody came to help raise a barn or put out a fire. They'd gang-up to harvest each farmer's fields as a team with a single machine. So, this aspect of our national character is due our history. And it naturally carries over into lending a hand whenever your neighbor needs help. You wouldn't expect to find this trait so much in Europe.

At 10:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy me again :)

"Me and my wife, we were living paycheck to paycheck, like most everybody else in New Orleans," Eric Dunbar, 54, said Saturday.

"I don't own a car. Me and my wife, we travel by bus, public transportation. The most money I ever have on me is $400. And that goes to pay the rent. And that $400 is between me and my wife.

Before the storm, when he and his wife estimated how much money they needed to flee the city, he was saddened by the reality that he could not come up with anywhere near the several thousand dollars he might need for a rental car and airfare."

"These people look at us and wonder why we stayed behind, said Carmita Stephens. Well, would they leave their grandparents and children behind? Look around and say, 'See you later'?" She gave a roll of the eyes behind the raised voice.

We had one vehicle. A truck. I wanted my family to be together. They all couldn't fit in the truck. We had to decide on leaving family members -- or staying."

At 10:41 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

I let this one through because it wasn't inappropriate. I am sorry to hear that and understand.

But how it relates, I do not see. I did not say that you should have left. So, why are you arguing with me about it?

I don't like being set up as straw man to defend what other people have said. So cut it out. Don't put other people's words in my mouth.

And who said anything about race? Only you, which is why your other comments got rejected. This blog is no place for racism in either direction.

Read what's there please. Disagree or agree as you please. But read what's there.

Your point here is true and understandable. I'd be the last person to blame you for staying. I think it was the right thing to do.

But I wasn't talking about staying. Read. I was talking about the helplessness we saw blasted all over our TV screens nonstop for days. Only IN NO. Like children.


Elsewhere, people were taking action to help themselves and their neighbor.

I gave other examples (including Europe and Kuwait where the people were RICH and just as helpless) of the same phenomenon. Read.

At 11:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But I wasn't talking about staying. Read. I was talking about the helplessness we saw blasted all over our TV screens nonstop for days. Only IN NO. Like children.

Why?" Kathy K

Because that's all the "fair and balanced" media showed. The Tell-lie-vision can't be trusted. It is controlled by the same types of people you talk about on here.

Here's an account I found after a few minutes research, by two Emergency medical workers from San Francisco who got trapped in New Orleans while attending a conference.

"What we witnessed, were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New Orleans.

The maintenance workers who used a forklift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers who rigged, nurtured, and kept the generators running... Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive.

Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, "stealing" boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hotwire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the city.

And the food-service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens, improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded."

But of course we never saw stories like these in the mainstream media. Hmmm I wonder why.

"I gave other examples (including Europe and Kuwait where the people were RICH and just as helpless) of the same phenomenon. Read."

Yes you did and I did not refer to them at all. I only referred to New Orleans in which poverty was a factor.

Are you putting words into my mouth now, and rebutting a straw man, by implying that I meant that you were only referring to the poor, when you made your point about nanny states? I did not say or imply that at all.

At 11:45 AM, Blogger Kathy said...

"The Tell-lie-vision can't be trusted."

Here I won't disagree with you. The media sell their product like novelists do, with conflict and drama. Stories like we saw drooling, excited reporters post from NO get them into the bigtime. That's just pursuing fame and fortune. They can paint a very false picture for self serving ends.

And, at least in the case of CNN, there is an undeniable political agenda as well - the never ending slanderous cliche of conservatives = "evil people who don't care about the poor." (You wouldn't dare characterize any other class of people that way without being labeled a bigot.) Hence their meme that "Nero in the White House is playing the guitar while NO floods."

But you can't have it both ways. The media are trustworthy or not, not just when they say something you like to hear.

Also you point out that it was the WORKING CLASS who were the heros. As in NY on 9/11 I might add. The WORKING CLASS. I am not at all surprised to hear of that. It supports my point. Working class white or black doesn't matter - what matters is that they are the WORKING CLASS. That's what the Kuwaitis weren't. So, it ain't poverty, it's a culture of dependence.

I supposed we won't agree on that, but it ain't a racial issue. Further into politics I do not wish to go in this blog, because it's OT.


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