“Individualism and Collectivism,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
The United States is said to be the land of promise, the land of opportunity, and the place for individual ideas, imitative, and accomplishment. One might say that the society in this country was founded upon the individual making his way on his or her own. Whether it was the Puritans, the Pilgrims, the pioneers, or the waves or immigrant groups that came to these shores to seek their fortunes—whether Italians, Irish, Jewish people, or Hispanics Africans and Asians—the model in this country was that you can make it on your own since everybody has an equal chance.
This particular idea or notion did have greater validity in the past when the society in America was more undeveloped, open and, in a word, there were more opportunities. At one point in our country, anyone who applied to law school, even Columbia Law School, was accepted. Today, there is very great and intense competition for admission to top universities and colleges. In fact, up to the end of the 19th century, an eighth grade education, and then later, a high school education, was more than sufficient for most people to make their way in life.
The world, however, has vastly changed and I think the idea that if you don’t make it is your own fault is outdated. Our present society is based on international corporate power and wealth. It is increasingly difficult for the individual to gain a foothold in our system without a great deal of financial help from his family. One might say that we have become a “class-ridden and class-driven society.” It is extremely unfair to expect a person without a great deal of family means to have the same opportunities and chances as the one with the wealthy background.
The fact of the matter is that we are no longer a 19th century log cabin country and society. The days when the harder you worked, the more fruits you gained, is not a viable model any more. It is extremely unjust to blame the person who is attempting without help, by working hard to advance themselves, and to say that either that person lacks ability, has not worked hard enough, or cannot compete. I think that persons who say and maintain that are either without experience or wish to pat themselves on the back at the expense of the less fortunate members of our society who struggle and are engaged in basic economic survival.
Perhaps the better system would be for the less financially backed member of our system to be given a bit of encouragement and help and not to be told that if you haven’t made or don’t make it, it is your own fault. The days of the open range are long gone and the days of becoming president and rising from poverty are long one. The myth of individualism that is propagandized to our people, is, to put it bluntly, something of a falsehood.