When I read the news the other day that a terrible fire was started by pyrotechnics at a gender reveal party, I just shook my head and said, “Of course it did.” The fact that people thought it was a good idea to light off a “smoke-generating pyrotechnic device” in an area known for drybrush, during a month that has already been filled with devastating fires…well, it all seemed so perfectly American.
There are a few versions of this that we’ve all been through. Maybe it was the “Rules are there for others to follow, but don’t apply to me if I don’t get caught” excuse. Or the notion that “I’ll do what I want despite how other people are impacted.” Or it might have simply been the time honored “You can’t tell me what to do.” Regardless, it’s all part of the American sickness of individualism.
I’m not saying this kind of thing wouldn’t happen in another country, because it obviously does. What I am saying is that it always happens in this country. If it’s not a nearly 10,000-acre fire, it’s refusing to vaccinate your kids. If it’s not anti-vaxxer bullshit, it’s refusing to wear a mask during a pandemic. If it’s not being a maskhole, it’s irresponsibly partying like Burning Man wasn’t canceled. If it’s not Playa Dust mixed with COVID, it’s being at the world’s biggest motorcycle rally and forcing yourself to listen to Smashmouth, just to “own the libtards.”
The American obsession with individualism is quite literally killing us. Now I don’t mean individualism like wearing cool clothes or creating original art or getting voted “Most Unique” in the 1999 University City High School yearbook. (Surprise! That was me!) I mean individualism with regard to how we treat each other. I mean individualism vs. collectivism. I mean our social contract. I mean not being stupid assholes who would rather risk spreading a killer virus than wear a mask because they feel like it infringes on their personal freedom to be…well, stupid assholes.
Individualism is a perfectly beautiful thing, until it starts harming other people. And unfortunately, that’s been the case for a very long time in this country. We’ve been told for centuries that we’re losers if we can’t get rich on our own, and that needing assistance from the government makes us weak, and anybody can achieve their dreams if they just work hard enough.
And that garbage sentiment, those fundamental American lies have impacted our entire society. This dangerous ethos is the reason why we’re the only developed nation without universal health care. It’s why our education system is falling apart. It’s why politicians have gotten away with allowing the 400 richest families in America to pay a lower overall tax rate than the middle class. It’s why we’re still dealing with this crippling pandemic despite the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say we can have it under control in a matter of weeks if everyone just wore a mask.
When I was in Japan a few years back I was absolutely floored by the fact that people wear masks in public, not because they are afraid of getting sick, but because they don’t want to get anyone else sick. At the time I said to my buddy, that would never happen in the U.S. because we’re conditioned to only think about what’s good for ourselves and our family — damn everyone else. Seeing how COVID has proliferated, I was sadly very correct.
This obsession with only looking after ourselves, instead of thinking of the collective, has also allowed us to get completely played by outside influences. Part of the reason this country is so divided right now is because of the vast disinformation campaigns being spread by foreign troll farms. This isn’t conjecture or conspiracy theory. A 2019 Congressional report showed how Russian-backed internet trolls successfully spread false information, organized rallies and stoked racial tensions to help Donald Trump get elected.
The fierce individualism so cherished by our country has created a culture where people would rather feel they’re right because of a meme they saw on Facebook, than actually accept the authority of a professional or scientist. “Just because you’ve been studying infectious diseases for 40 years doesn’t mean you can tell me I need to wear a mask for a disease my friend from junior high says is a hoax.”
So not only is our addiction to individualism toxic, it’s very obviously being exploited and used against us. As we move into the final phase of this awful election cycle, please keep all this in mind. Realize that the only way we can survive as a nation, and a planet, is by thinking about what benefits the most people, not what feels fun, convenient or personally enriching, for ourselves at that particular moment.
Also, gender reveal parties are stupid.
Stuart Schuffman is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com and join his mailing list at http://bit.ly/BrokeAssList. His column appears every other Thursday. He is a guest columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner.