Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Culture: Bridled Individualism vs. Unrestrained Altruism

Consider the following quote from the speech given last night by Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for US Senate from Illinois:

For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we're all connected as one people. If there is a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for their prescription drugs, and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandparent. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It is that fundamental belief, it is that fundamental belief, I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family. [link]
So we have the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness "alongside" the "fundamental" moral duty to be thy brother's keeper and a false charge that this country is imprisoning whole American families without the benefit of the constitutional protections for the accused.

This speech was certainly audacious, but it is not hopeful. Its favorable reception indicates that a significant part of the population thinks that life is a hospital and that the able must sacrifice to sustain it. Where is the line drawn? At what point does our famous individualism mean we can stop being our bother's keeper and have the freedom to live our own lives? Is the line drawn at 40, 50, 60, or 70 percent (if not more) of our incomes and time? How can anyone say with a straight face that they respect individualism as they do everything in their power to circumvent it? If we are not free to keep the fruits of our labors and if we are not free to refuse the burden of keeping every man, woman and child, we are not free. This was not a speech in defense of freedom--it was a speech in attack against it, yet I guarantee you most pundits will miss the point.

This (and the other speeches I've heard thus far) indicate that the choice in this election will be between the religious dogmatism of the right and the socialistic skepticism of the left. This is where we are at until we advance Objectivism to the point where it can play a real role in shaping our public debate.

I wonder why people don't get it. A people who can not articulate a definition for their freedom nor recognize the encroachments against it are doomed to loose that freedom.

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