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The opposite of what we were

A philosophy teacher at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., Crispin Sartwell, wrote a piece for The Wall Street Journal recently in which he questioned whether self-reliance, long supposed to a keystone of good character and the motivating idea behind the United States of America, was now considered a mental illness.

“Western culture defines specific characteristics to fit the patriarchal ideal masculine construct,” Sartwell cites a committee of the American Psychological Association. “The socialization of masculine ideals starts at a young age and defines ideal masculinity as related to toughness, stoicism, heterosexism, self-sufficient attitudes and lack of emotional sensitivity and of connectedness.” And the APA says that among “components of traditional masculinity” is “self-reliance.”

That part of the Declaration of Independence that mentioned the pursuit of happiness no doubt took for granted that determining one’s own way in the world was fully a part of the pursuit. Taking an individually satisfying path is not at all like being among the group, in support of the group or in subservience to the group. That was a given. But no more.

Much of the new attitude, for instance, has been an attempt to get boys to act significantly less like boys, who are generally rebellious, often self-centered, sometimes aggressive and always clued-in to the happiness pursuit. Discipline, usually provided by parents, once civilized boys to a degree of toleration but hardly their independence.

Boys being boys is now a pathology to be treated. At one time women taught other women that avoiding dependency was critical.

“That relationship between freedom and self-reliance, many feminists – from Abigail Adams’s era through the 1970s – taught that women must become less dependent on men,” Sartwell wrote.

He also quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson from his 1841 essay titled “Self-Reliance:” “... We are become timorous, desponding whimperers. We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other.”

This from a man who never saw evidence of these truths from Facebook posts.

Being innovative with life itself, avoiding the temptation to view oneself as a victim of group discrimination, and not looking to coast through things like work, is essential and fiercely American. At least the America of its first two centuries.

The Democrats recent “Green New Deal” purports to do many unattractive things that, fortunately, are impossible, including largely ending air travel. It actually promises to provide “economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work.”

There is not enough money in the world to do that but even if there were, why would anyone choose to make those unwilling to work for a living economically secure? How is that a good thing for either the individual or the collective? We imagine there are days in the lives of most people, whether they are digging ditches or running billion dollar companies, when the worker inside them doesn’t feel like getting out of bed and the whole pursuit of happiness thing seems to lie more in sloth. But of course it doesn’t, as many lottery winners can attest.

There was a time when the Left celebrated the individual and workers but the new socialists in America are copying Stalin, with his rigid authoritarianism. As unforgiving as the Spanish Inquisition, they devour their own quite often.

We agree that everyone in this world is a sinner and that is a problem. But we had no idea that the use of blackface in the 1980s was apparently quite prevalent and thought hip at certain college parties. Now, 40 years later, it is an automatic disqualifier for public service regardless of the intent of the wearer. An accusation is as good as a guilty verdict, whether you are a U.S. Supreme Court nominee or a kid in a MAGA hat at the Lincoln Memorial. We are tribal members not individuals.

“America, for better and worse, has become something like the opposite of what it was,” Sartwell wrote.

Well, the direction many of the titans of our culture are pushing us in is surely away from who we were or, we think, who we should be. As imperfect as we have been, that old line about being the “last, best hope for the world” is still true, but it won’t be if we abandon our basic ideals. Let’s not become the inverse of America.