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The Individual

September 30, 2015

Americans are endowed with inalienable rights: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This philosophy is the cornerstone on which our country was built. Many extol the virtues of the Constitution, but it is constructed around the notion that having the freedom to pursuit your own happiness, as long as it does not infringe on anyone else’s happiness, is essential to our success as a people and as a nation. Our founders had the good sense to see that multiple points of view are preferable to narrow vision and that strength comes from individuals united in purpose, not from individuals forced to comply. The strength of the individual is the strength of the whole. Conversely, the weakness of the individual is the weakness of the whole.

America values the individual above all else. Evidence is everywhere you look, from Caitlin Jenner to Donald Trump. America doesn’t care about anything unless there is a face, an individual to represent an issue. It is not enough to say Muslims are unjustly profiled; you must say that this 16-year-old Muslim named Ahmed was unjustly profiled. It is not enough to say the pharmaceutical industry has falsely inflated drug prices for years; you must say this misled entrepreneur Martin Shkreli has falsely inflated drug prices. Our heroes are mavericks and renegades. “Individuals”, we call them. Women who bucked the system and did things their own way, like Holly Golightly or Amelia Earhart or Harriet Tubman or Elizabeth Warren or Miley Cyrus. Men who say and do what they please, exuding confidence and taking control, like Donald Trump or Kanye West or Frank Sinatra or James Dean or Batman or Don Draper. We love and value unique, bold and hard-working Individuals. Our country was built by and for such Individuals.

While it is clear that America still values the individual above all else, our actions paint a very different picture. A society that values individuality would encourage different viewpoints, lifestyles and cultures. Differences of opinion would not be discouraged but explored. Compromise would not be regarded as sign of weakness but as a necessity needed to foster individuality and differences of thought. A society that values the individual would not be so anxious to be offended.

In America, differences of opinion are treated like unbreakable vows. One must never admit that someone might have a different view on things. We have created a culture where our politicians and public figures feel they have to twist word-pretzels and contort themselves into bizarre caricatures that border the uncanny valley in order to avoid appearing to have original thought. Public shaming has come roaring back into fashion, with the mob throwing hapless individuals in the digital stockade and pelting them with vicious slurs and misguided boycotts. Aberrant behavior that does not meet with the homogeneous hive mind’s approval will be shamed away, by destroying careers and lives. Individuals are celebrated and shamed in the same breath.

America has heeded the call of the Siren of Double-Standards. We still love Individuals, but only the ones that agree with our own narrow point of view. We have taken a country of vast open spaces and infinite potential and built walls and borders around it, suffocating possibility and undermining the very foundation on which our country was built: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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