Standing On Our Own Two Feet

Americans are rugged individualists. We rely on no one but ourselves. We want nobody “extra” in our lives. Everything we need we can get ourselves. We don’t want government interference in our lives, and especially don’t want the government stealing our hard-earned money. In fact, all government spending is just wasted money. The absolute last thing we want to do is support some lazy slacker who wants to spend his life sponging off the public. Most of the people who want to do that are people of color.

These are items of faith that inform the Republican religion, saying that everything the government can do we can do better ourselves.

It’s not remotely possible.

The great Republican belief
in rugged individuality
is a complete fiction.

During the early 1800s, after we had stolen the community land of the Indians and divided it among ourselves, there were, in fact, a few early arrivers on the prairie from the east who built their own homes there and lived quite independently and alone for several years. They were indeed rugged people. They made their own clothes, grew their own food, built their own house. My own ancestors, in fact, were among those people.

But of course, even those all-alone first dwellers on the prairie weren’t truly alone. They had family, neighbors, civic officials, and new people who arrived constantly. They relied on social contacts, on the tradesmen who traveled through with goods from the east, and various other travelers. And as more people arrived, they cooperated with others on tasks like constructing the buildings that new towns needed. Now and then they gathered to entertain themselves. Sunday church was an important social gathering, and was followed by a family dinner that often included guests. Yes, people were resourceful and skilled, but social life was of primary importance.

Nobody ever lived alone, not even in the Stone Age. We have always been a social species. During most of our 200,000-year existence as a species every single person was very important to the survival of the family and tribe, and the tribe protected and nurtured everyone, even the severely handicapped, even the ill and aged.

This Republican item of faith in individualism is not really what they say it is, because even believers are not at all by themselves against the world. What they really mean is that no one should get government help, under any circumstance, particularly people of color.

News flash for conservative white Republicans: We do not live all alone on the wide open prairie on Indian land. We do not make or grow everything we need. We cannot survive without the constant help of others, and many times the government is the only efficient provider of this help. We are all social animals, and we depend for our very lives on other people and on government, no matter what color we are.

News flash: We do not live alone.
We are social animals.
In the modern world 
sometimes we need
the things only government can provide.

Even more telling for the Republican world is the fact that almost none of us makes it through life without needing extra help at times. To assume that everyone who needs help—whether it be temporary help between jobs or permanent help from disabling injury—is less worthy than you, and therefore should be denied what they need, is gratuitous cruelty. It has never been the practice during our entire existence as humans. People need occasional help for all kinds of reasons, and virtually none of them involve personal shortcomings, let alone racial deficiencies.

Perhaps even more important than that is the fact that the most effective and economical way to help those who need it in the modern world is through the efficiency of the government. Many important things can only be done by the government. Any other arrangement would simply be grossly inefficient and stupid.

The great Republican belief in rugged individuality is a complete fiction. Community life is of primary importance to all of us, and there are many, many things that can only be done by the government.

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