Summary: Before we can find solutions, or even slow the fall of the Republic, we need accurate diagnosis of what ails us. Facile answers point to evildoers, or flaws in the Constitution. Fix them and our awesomeness will be rewarded. But America’s weakness lies elsewhere, and can be seen by each of us when looking it the mirror.
Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
but in ourselves, that we are underlings.
— Cassius to Brutus, in Julius Caesar
“Hollywood’s Real Bias Is Conservative (But Not in the Way Liberals Often Say)“, Elias Isquith, The Atlantic, 9 January 2012 — “The political criticisms of Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, and The Dark Knight Rises stem from the fact that for Hollywood, history and ideology are second to business — and individualistic narratives sell.”
Isquith ends with an essential insight to understand America’s dysfunction:
It’s individuals, and individuals alone, who matter. In Zero Dark Thirty, an isolated, single-minded CIA agent — a loner that no one believes in—is the chief reason the butcher of 9/11 is lost to time at the bottom of the sea. In Lincoln, it’s only through the singular grace, wisdom, and humanity of the 16th president that the greatest evil in American history, an evil few but he sees with true clarity, is finally put to rest. And in The Dark Knight Rises, Gotham is saved by the orphan Bruce Wayne as the pariah Batman. These people do great things. And they do them alone.
This is Hollywood’s — and indeed, much of entertainment’s — enduring, conservative belief. But it’s less ideology than business imperative. Recall the feeling you had the last time you walked out of a really good blockbuster. You probably felt elated, invigorated, like you could master the world all by yourself. It’s a good feeling, and it’s happening right now at a theater near you.
But it’s not happening in a neighborhood near you. Nor in America. The 1% don’t rule as individuals, dressing in latex and swinging through the city. They recruit followers; their money is their superpower.
The 99% have numbers and great resources. Against them we are helpless as individuals. We have power only through collective action. But instead we’re fed dreams — as effective as drugs — of power as individuals, so that we remain helpless. As children we read of Tarzan (1912), Zoro (1919), The Lone Ranger (1933), and Batman (1939). As adults we are fed follies like those described by Charles A. Beard in Harper’s, December 1931: “The Myth of Rugged American Individualism“. More recent repackaging of this fantasy by Ayn Rand tells us to become Objectivist Übermensch.
So we dream of either being superheroes, or having superheroes fix our problems. Neither paint visions of a heroic future in which teams reform America. These seduce us from the real path to successful self-government, through the difficult work of organizing ourselves.
We see this self-crippling in the Bobbsey Twins on our political stage: the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements. The members of both resisted the natural process of discovering and training leaders, and by that diverting themselves off the mainline. The Tea Party becoming GOP shock troops; the OWS becoming street festivals. It’s the reasoning of children, preferring to be a gang instead of an organization.
As individuals we are dust in the wind. From School Boards to Congress, from the Pilgrims to the movements of tomorrow, the first step to gaining political effectiveness is organization. That means selecting leaders, giving them authority and holding them responsible. Our forefathers did this well; it’s how they built America.
- In May 1764 Samuel Adams took his first steps to end British rule in America (see here for details). That same year a small group of people in Boston formed the first of the Committees of Correspondence. The Revolution ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
- In 1774 Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush founded America’s first anti-slavery society. In 1868 we ratified the Fourteenth Amendment. In the mid-1960′s the great Civil Rights legislation ended the government-sponsored oppression of Blacks.
We can do equally great deeds in the future. We lack only the will to put aside the fantasies of children and act together as citizens.
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For More Information
Other posts about our fetish for individualism over collective action:
- Can Americans pull together? If not, why not?
- The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes
- Robocop is not a good role model for the youth of Detroit
Other posts about heroes:
- A philosophical basis for the Batman saga
- Sources of inspiration for America’s renewal — The Law of Equivalent Exchange
Hereos for a New Generation: Guitar Heroes