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I’ve found myself struggling to engage with the people in this world as of late. Part of it, I believe, is connected to the seasonal depression I’m certainly experiencing, which is compounded by my usual onslaught of depression and anxiety. Another part of it, I believe, is attributed to my sense that no one is really interested in one another and what they have to say anymore — at least, that’s how it feels. And this feeling isn’t anything new. It’s just a bit more apparent with the veil of falseness in day-to-day interactions lifted, as everyone is a bit more fed up with pretending, allowing their true colors to bubble at the surface of their plaintive expressions and interactions with others.
We are such an individualistic society, the philosophy of individualism embedded into our everyday approach to life, as it became a core American ideology in the 19th century. Individualism is a “political and social philosophy that emphasizes the moral worth of the individual,” according to Britannica. And particularly for America, individualism was associated with traditional American values like personal freedom, capitalism and limited government. There’s an unmitigated love of enterprise — and especially exclusive possession, which is a point of pride for Americans. And while the ideology of individualism makes sense and is promising to support a progressive future for Americans as human beings, our need to possess and control poses a challenge. As such, American individualism as an ideology facilitates injustice, according to University of Washington political science Professor Jack Turner, author of “American Individualism and Structural Injustice: Tocqueville, Gender, and Race.”
“To preserve his faith that his fate lies entirely in his own hands, he blinds himself to the ways social structure constrains personal freedom and independence; the individualist also construes the unjust benefits of social privilege (like those accompanying whiteness and maleness in Jacksonian America) as products of personal ingenuity and character,” Turner wrote.
Now, this is a key component to understanding how this country came to hold the values and attitudes it does today, as well as why we as Americans are continuing to feed into the culture wars of our time. Individualism is simultaneously liberating and constricting, a contradiction in and of itself, but an ideology from which a large part of American identity is constructed from.
It’s no secret that the heteronormative white male is the most privileged identity in the United States. Simply based on the fact that heteronormative white men have had the most power for the longest amount of time in this country and the states within it. Because of that, they’ve been afforded the privilege to create the structure of society as we know it, creating the rules that others must follow and abide by. Now, the nation — and Iowa — are passing laws banning the teaching of “divisive concepts,” concepts only concerned particularly divisive by those who are white and uncomfortable coming to terms with the raw truth of history and their ancestors’ actions — and how those actions inform the very system we struggle to live in today, constantly at war with each other over our varying ideologies and values.
There’s also this idea of American exceptionalism, which posits America above all other nations, morally, politically and socially. It’s an idea we constructed to make ourselves feel better about our actions, while also blinding us from the true reality of our behavior and actions, which make us no different than any other well-developed country, except for the fact that we have the highest incarceration rate in the world and we spend the most on our military defense. We were no different than other countries that have engaged in racism over the years but our superiority complex during World War II complicated things because we were fighting an enemy that was racist. And as such, racism became unacceptable — superficially. And ever since then, “a strange kind of historical amnesia has obscured the American lineage of this white-nationalist ideology,” The Atlantic reports.
With that, this tweet from prolific writer Boze Herrington describes the current conundrum we as a nation seem to be facing (with Iowa as no exception, considering the bill that passed last year, prohibiting the teaching of so-called “divisive concepts,” including pretty much anything that puts white people at risk of feeling uncomfortable, such as discussion of racism and injustice):
“This compulsion to sanitize the past, to sanitize the world, is one of the overlooked roots of white nationalism. We want to seal ourselves away from the experiences of others because we fear what they might say to us. We want reality to be pastel-hued and instagram-filtered,” Herrington tweeted.
So, I leave you with this question: What do you truly value as a human being in this world?
Nichole Shaw is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: email@example.com