We Americans love tall tales. In a sense, our whole country IS a tall tale. It’s a story about dreams coming true. One tall tale we tell ourselves is the story of the rugged individualist. You know him – he’s the white guy with a big idea. Give him ample freedom? He’ll deliver! Who will benefit from this delivery? Why, the white guy of course! Because that’s the whole point of democracy, isn’t it? To make rich white guys exponentially richer? Um, no, actually, it isn’t. And the rugged individualist isn’t the point of capitalism either. He’s its antithesis. The only place place rugged individualists actually exist is inside their own overheated heads. Stone cold fact: there is no such thing as a “rugged individualist”. There is only a sad but dangerous male fantasy.
It Takes A Village To Do Anything
No one makes it anywhere all by themselves. Even the greatest idea in the world will require other people to pull it off. The bigger the idea, the more people it will require. The guy who thought the big thought deserves extra compensation – no question. But the people manifesting the idea into reality (where the rest of us can “buy” it) – they deserve far, far more of the money than they presently get. Without them, that great idea is just another idea.
If everyone in the production chain immediately went on strike, the big idea guy would beg them start up again. He would be forced to make a more equitable deal with the “village of workers”. And, he would be forced to acknowledge that it does take more than them to do anything. It really and truly does take a village to do anything.
Bezos & Musk
Guys like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk drive that point home daily. Bezos had a virtual store idea that evolved into a whole sales platform. All very clever. Jeff deserves extra credit. But not the billions of dollars he claims are his. Jeff’s genius isn’t actually his sales platform, it’s our reluctance to stop giving him our money. Elon thinks he can treat his workers like shit and underpay them because, well, he’s Elon.
If everyone in the Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk production pipelines stopped producing whatever they produce, Jeff and Elon would have a problem that only they could solve – by finally being less greedy. And it should never be up to them to define their own greed. Why, that’s a stupid as letting racists decide whether or not they’re racist. How the hell would they know?
The only people with the proper perspective to say whether a person is being racist is that racist’s victim. The same applies to the greedy. All they can see is the money they’ve hoarded – money that isn’t theirs.
Faith, Bullshit & Pathogens
Where, oh where, did this madness come from? Partly from white, European arrogance. Having bludgeoned each other with their competing versions of Jesus, Christian Europe turned their blood lust on the Americas. They thought their superior faith and culture subdued the “natives”. Rubbish. It was European pathogens that did the dirty.
Imagine an alternate history where European pathogens don’t kill ninety percent of the native population. The Europeans – already weakened by months at sea – would have been slaughtered en masse before setting up any sort of “Virginia or Plymouth Colony”. Europe might never have established the foothold it did. There would have been no witch trials. No industrial-strength war or Manifest Destiny. Bison would still cover the American plains (as would a lot of other now extinct nature).
Imagine an alternate history without rugged individualists waving their dicks around.
Personally, I put a lot of blame on Ayn Rand, inventor (more or less – mostly less) of the libertarian ideal and the whole basis for the “rugged individualist”. I’m sorry, but anyone who thinks Ayn Rand can write is an idiot. I bet even her typing sucked. Her own life disproved her big idea: objectivism. If intense personal interest should always outweigh altruism then Ms. Rand should have died an anonymous, penniless pauper on the streets.
Instead, she died on Social Security.
Not exactly a rugged individualist. But – and this is an important distinction – she died a citizen in need. She died a human being in need and the social safety net – practical altruism – caught her. That’s great – and I mean it. First, because it helped someone who needed help. Second, because it proved that there’s no such thing as a “rugged individualist”.
They’re an American myth – and not one of our better ones either.