This weekend I caught part of C-SPAN’s Book TV where E.J. Dionne was speaking about his latest, Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent . He introduced me to a new term: Hyperindividualism. I had to go look it up. According to Wiktionary:
(sociology) A tendency for people to act in a highly individual way, without regard to society.
Is there a chance that election of Barack Obama, combined with financial meltdown, will start turning us away from the hyper-individualism of recent years?
What’s hyper-individualism? Like pornography, you can recognize it when you see it. Lifestyle choices such as picking a gas-guzzling SUV to reach a suburban McMansion so big you rarely visit all the rooms. Headphones and solo video games in place of group activities. Disdaining civic life or responsibilities. Chronically shopping ’til you drop. Needlessly running up credit card balances. And economically, consistently wanting more, more, more.
And there’s the lurking, mega-issue of our time: climate change. Carbon levels in the atmosphere are rising even more rapidly than the Nobel Prize-winning International Panel on Climate Change’s already alarming projections of 2007. Per capita, we Americans are world leaders in throwing tons of waste into the fragile ecosystem of earth. The only conceivable cures include rapid energy savings, radically reduced driving, regional and home-grown foods, more compact communities. Climate dictates we get “back together again,” purposefully recovering from the Bush administration’s shameful dereliction.
So is there any alternative to purposeful change, relinquishing our profligate lifestyles, abandoning our hyper-individualism, learning to pull together as we’ve not done since World War II? Economist Paul Romer famously declared: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” My bet is that Obama will agree–and move accordingly.
Wow. Wrong on all counts!
But that’s not what I wanted to talk about here. Rachel Lucas had an interesting excerpt from Paul Ryan in her most recent post. Ryan was commenting on Obama’s declaration that, if you’d built a business, you hadn’t really done it, it was due to other people:
Every now and then, [Obama] pierces the veil. He’s usually pretty coy about his ideology, but he lets the veil slip from time to time…His straw man argument is this ridiculous caricature where he’s trying to say if you want any security in life, you stick with me. If you go with these Republicans, they’re going to feed you to the wolves because they believe in some Hobbesian state of nature, and it’s one or the other which is complete bunk, absolutely ridiculous. But it seems to be the only way he thinks he can make his case. He’s deluded himself into thinking that his so-called enemies are these crazy individualists who believe in some dog-eat-dog society when what he’s really doing is basically attacking people like entrepreneurs and stacking up a list of scapegoats to blame for his failures.
His comments seem to derive from a naive vision of a government-centered society and a government-directed economy. It stems from an idea that the nucleus of society and the economy is government not the people…It is antithetical to the American idea….
[…]How does building roads and bridges justify Obamacare? If you like the GI Bill therefore we must go along with socialized medicine. It’s a strange leap that he takes…To me it’s the laziest form of a debate to affix views to your opponent that they do not have so you can demonize them and defeat them and win the debate by default.
But it illustrates the conflict of ideologies starkly, the conflict “between those to whom personal liberty is important, and those to whom liberty is not only inconsequential, but to whom personal liberty is a deadly threat.”
UPDATE – inspired by a comment: