I know I have been absent, but I am trying to catch the last of the summer’s warmth and air. Today my inspiration comes from the Republican Party nominating convention. There’s plenty to write about, but I will focus on how the goings-on relate to my list of sustainability opposites. The pair I have selected is communitarian versus individualistic. I have recently written a couple of [posts](http://www.johnehrenfeld.com/2012/08/deluded-individualism.html) on this subject, but it is well worth adding to. There is a myriad of positions that were incorporated in all the rhetoric that is contrary to flourishing and, hence, to sustainability, but this one stands out. The primary message coming through beyond the misleading on straightforward lying about the Obama administration’s record is claiming that the central governing philosophy of Romney/Ryan is radical individualism.
David Brooks must have been connected to my brain as he wrote in his column today:
> The fact is our destinies are shaped by social forces much more than the current G.O.P. is willing to admit. The skills that enable people to flourish are not innate but constructed by circumstances. . . Today’s Republican Party may be able to perform useful tasks with its current hyperindividualistic mentality. But its commercial soul is too narrow. It won’t be a worthy governing party until it treads the course Lincoln trod: starting with individual ambition but ascending to a larger vision and creating a national environment that arouses ambition and nurtures success.
He also noted that Condoleeza Rice was the only speaker that used the words “we” and “us,” instead of “I’ and “me.” I have many differences in the way I think about governance but I cannot think of any more fundamental and impactful. Individualism at the extremes, found throughout the rhetoric at the convention and beyond, is as damaging an attitude and belief as any other I can think of. Many other pathological factors can be tied to this belief; materialism has many causes but can be traced to this. Smith’s self-interest has become interpreted as a form of individualism. I have noted several times that his original thinking equated “self-interest” with an empathetic model of human nature. The contrast cannot be more stark.
Communitarian beliefs stem from empathy as a ground for caring, acting out of one’s sense of others’ needs. But even if one takes a purely economistic view of humans as driven by greed and needs, there can be no denying the connections we have to others and the world. But somehow that is what has been showing up in the right-hand side of the political spectrum. The denial is present in the refusal to accept even the possibility of global warming and our role in it. The denial is present is the refusal to accept the reality of relationships as basic as family. Children are not the only people in our, or any other society, that cannot take care of themselves and absolutely need supporting people.
This mentality fails completely to accept limits, not limits in the ability of humans to be creative but limits in the material reality of the world. The planet is shared by 6 plus billion people. It has limited capacity to produce the resources needed to sustain life and culture. We all share it’s fruits. Every individual, of all colors and nationalities, shares one undeniable existential truth: no one born asked for that. Every newborn is exactly the same human being in his or her skin. Only their material and social contexts are different. One of the related tenets of the individualistic attitude is that every one has the right to strive for whatever they desire. It’s fine to talk about rights here, but this position is completely blind to the reality of the limits set on the ability to transcend one’s birth circumstances. The reality today is that the United States has the highest barriers to upward socio-economic mobility of any industrialized nation.
These are the same folks who always start talking about family values sooner or later in most conversation. It seems to me that they are speaking out of both sides of their mouths. Once again the ideology of individualism is blinding them to the facts of family whether one’s birth clan or the whole family of man. The same tycoons that support the cause of individualism boast about their sustainability efforts and commitments. Another contradiction. Flourishing is a condition that one attains where he or she is in tune, that is connected, to the rest of the world. The place and extent of influence of social institutions, like government, in society is always debatable, but the connectedness of human beings is not. Flourishing is always the result of a balance between the opposites. The rigidity of ideologies is always a barrier. We should rejoice, not bury, our connections to the the Earth and to the community of family, friends, and more.