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(1,598 posts)
Mon Mar 16, 2020, 12:24 PM Mar 2020

Does crisis reveal a flaw in our national character?

Greg Reynders, 62, bought 250 rounds of ammunition on Saturday, the most an indoor gun range in St. Louis would allow in the wake of increasing demand.

"They were completely out of the cheaper bulk ammunition," Reynders said. He also bought a 9mm handgun to protect himself in case someone tries to steal his groceries if there are further supply shortages.

"Right now, local stores have light supplies of toilet paper, water and things like that," Reynders said. "But if they don't restock as fast as people want, my main concern is somebody coming up to me as I walk out of Target and trying to take what I purchased."

WTF!?! This, and so many similar accounts, makes me think that a moment long overdue has finally arrived.

At a moment of national--indeed global--crisis, Reynders's attitude is a reflection of a dilemma inherent in dogmatic conservative ideology which maintains the primacy of states' rights and denigrates “big gubmint.” This dilemma is rooted in a fundamental, longstanding flaw in conservative political thought, e.g., a rejection of what some of us learned as the "supremacy clause," the supremacy of federal laws. The rejection is sustained by corollary notions of unrestrained “liberty” and individual “freedom,” and such "hands off" notions extend into their social and economic ideologies and bolster the assertions of ideologues (Limbaugh, Hannity, Bannon, Jones, etc.) that we must fear the "Deep State," and must "deconstruct the administrative state."

This brings me to Meghan O’Rourke’s thoughtful article (Atlantic) which was insightful in every way. [link:http://www.theatlantic.com/feed/author/meghan-orourke/|

O'Rourke's article also has me thinking. She offers an insightful critique about how the nation’s culture of individualism and self-reliance is—suddenly—inconsistent with the need for a functional, other-oriented, “we”-oriented communitarian perspective in response to a shared crisis. I won't argue with that!

However, her references to "individual responsibility" may be overstating the actual case--and certainly so these days. I get what she means--lord knows this concept is long-embedded in historical, sociological, and anthropological thinking! Indeed, de Tocqueville aside, our own native-born Fredrick Turner’s mid-1890s “frontier thesis” rationalized and glorified "rugged individualism" and how westward expansion and living on the frontier necessitated taking care of one's self (number one); in context one cannot fault Turner, for it is our propensity to construct our own understandings and meanings, and Turner’s ideas made sense and were quite seductive during a peak-point of US (WASP) nationalism, genocidal actions at home, imperialism abroad, and the broader Euro/American idea of the “White man’s burden.” Trump's "America First" tripe harnesses this idealized notion, and millions cling to it today, as then; his conman strategy tantamount to a patent medicine man selling snake oil in the late-1800s].

We need to rethink this myth of individual responsibility--especially the latter part. I would argue that the element of responsibility should be stripped altogether from any discussion of the American character, particularly discussions of the present (although interdependence was certainly a condition of life in the past, perhaps more so than independence). In any case, I would argue that the notion of individual responsibility is patently oxymoronic; that is to say, narcissism, greed, and selfish thought and behavior is categorically NOT responsible—and never has been, and that there is no justification for it, past or present.

This is a moment for national soul-searching. History has ruptured; we must reconceptualize who and what we are. To an alarming extent, responsibility has fled, if it even ever existed at all. The ascendance of gun culture and its virulent (pun intended) assault on and influence over our national character is symptomatic of the absence of the responsibility that, as we were told in 9th grade Civics, is attendant with individual rights.

People arming themselves and rationalizing shooting someone out of their individual fear that some other person might take their asswipe suggests that the moment for soul-searching is long overdue.

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(12,051 posts)
1. Unfortunately, the people whose philosophy is "I've got mine and fuck you" don't
Mon Mar 16, 2020, 12:31 PM
Mar 2020

go in for soul-searching.


(1,598 posts)
3. Indeed, I am preaching to a friendly choir here. Perhaps this is more suitable for another site. n/t
Mon Mar 16, 2020, 12:56 PM
Mar 2020


(20,206 posts)
2. Not one flaw, but certainly oceans of selfishness, greed, larceny, vandalism, theft, dishonesty...
Mon Mar 16, 2020, 12:38 PM
Mar 2020

The entire concept of a national character is absurd: we're animals, and not altogether rational ones.

Response to slumcamper (Original post)

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