Individualism Is A Myth — No One Is Completely Self-Sufficient

by Kristen Mae
Originally Published: 
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One of the common themes of right-leaning conservatives who preach “freedom” and “liberty” is that everyone should worry only about themselves — we should all be completely self-sufficient. “You worry about you, and I’ll worry about me!” they sneer, or “If you want to succeed, you gotta put in your own hard work!”

The implication is that they themselves rely on themselves and no one else. Everything they’ve ever earned is a result of their own blood, sweat, and tears.

Looking at the statistics on these things tells us that this literally cannot be true. Stats on those receiving government entitlements are pretty evenly spread among Democrats and Republicans. Conservatives are more likely to be in favor of handouts to big business in the form of tax breaks and government bailouts in slagging economies, believing those handouts benefit everyone because they “trickle down” to the average worker and consumer. (They don’t.)

But do go on preaching about how dirty liberals just want a free lunch.

No One Is Completely Self-Sufficient

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The point is, this idea of complete self-sufficiency is not based in reality. It’s literally impossible to be totally self-reliant as an individual. Even people who deliberately separate themselves from larger national social structures to form communes depend on one another and take on specific roles to fill various communal needs.

Throughout human history, humans have relied upon one another to survive and thrive. In fact, the reason we are here is because our ancestors cooperated with one another. Evidence found in the bones of early human remains demonstrate a cooperation among human animals that didn’t exist in other species. Broken and healed foot bones from 36,000 years ago tell a story of a young person who was cared for and nursed back to health by his community. This kind of bone break in any other animal would have been a death sentence.

Humans are different though. We have survived because we help the weakest among us. We compete, yes, that too — survival of the fittest has certainly played a part in our evolution, as with all other species. But part of that “fittest” thing is the effectiveness with which early human groups were able to cooperate with one another in order to keep each other alive so they could procreate and birth the next generation. The extraordinary level of cooperation we developed as a species is unique to us.

Orphaned children would be taken in by an adoptive family. Communities joined together to care for their elderly. Hunting expeditions fed far more than just those individuals who succeeded in bringing down prey. We even (in theory) cooperate to stop the spread of disease. Once humans realized that contact spreads disease, they introduced the idea of quarantine. This is an idea that only works with whole-community buy-in.

We Still Rely On Each Other And Larger Social Welfare Systems

In modern times, humans still work together to build a society in which as many people as possible have the opportunity to be sheltered, fed, clothed, educated, and healthy. Or … that is supposed to be the goal. From public education to a national highway system to fire departments to public parks to a subsidised agriculture industry to a social security system that cares for our aging population, the government is understood to be responsible for meeting a certain number of baseline needs for its citizens.

We can argue about how wide of a safety net we expect the government to throw, and how they’ll go about accomplishing it, but this idea of total self-sufficiency perpetuated by the right is simply a tool used to label liberals as “moochers.”

And yet the right pedals it as if it’s as obvious as adding two and two. Any suggestion of social welfare is labeled “communism.” They conveniently ignore the social welfare systems that are already in place and have become such a fixture in our lives that they’re taken for granted.

Even the vast majority of conservatives want to keep social security, though this flies in the face of their narrative about self-sufficiency. Why rely on the government to dole out disability benefits, survivor benefits, or even retirement benefits to people? Isn’t it everyone’s individual responsibility to plan for their own future? Don’t people have, like, family to support them or something?

The majority of conservatives also want to keep the public education system. How to run it is a separate argument, but most agree that this form of social welfare benefits society as a whole. And yet, if you believe in “rugged individualism,” shouldn’t you believe it’s everyone’s own responsibility to provide their kids’ education? Conservatives also like the tax breaks that come with being a parent. But if they believe in individualism, shouldn’t it be everyone’s own responsibility to pay for their own kid? Why should non-parents have to subsidize parents with their taxes?

Bring up a nationalized healthcare system, and these folks will give themselves a coronary. Pay for someone else’s healthcare? The horror!! (Of course, the irony here is that they are already paying for other people’s healthcare. Everyone who has health insurance is doing this, because that’s literally how insurance works.) These days, Americans even balk at the idea of communal quarantine to stave off the spread of disease. Are we de-evolving??

If You Ever Go Out In Public, You Rely On Social Cooperation

As TikToker @focusedoninfinity so eloquently explains, we all rely on others, both directly and indirectly, every single day. Unless a person is willing to go live in the woods and create everything they use from scratch and generate their own electricity and school their own kids and never use a public park and manage every bit of their own healthcare, they rely on others. We all rely an intricate system of government programs to keep the society we live in organized, educated, healthy, productive, and safe.

Every time someone stops at a stoplight rather than plowing forward and crashing into you; every time you put your child on a school bus to school; every time you call the police or fire department; every time you play at a park or swim at a beach with a lifeguard or roller skate on a sidewalk, you’re relying on the contributions of others to make your life better.

In fact, in the United States and other developed countries, the reason the standard of living is so high is because the government provides so much. The difference is, in countries besides the United States, most people understand and appreciate this interdependent relationship.

So, by all means, go ahead and argue about how best to achieve a system that uplifts as many people as possible in order to increase our overall standard of living. But let’s stop with this bullshit myth about American “rugged individualism.” It doesn’t exist.

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