In recent times, American society has brought forth one of the most bizarre ideological aberrations that I’ve ever seen: the radical individualist. This person not only considers himself so special that he should have no obligations to anything greater than himself, but honestly believes that nothing greater than he even exists. Armed with his Ayn Rand books and subscription to Reason magazine, he stampedes onto our college campuses, onto our television screens and into our newspapers. He spreads a seductive creed that each of us has no ties binding us to others, and we can all simply do as we please while remaining entirely moral beings. They tell us, essentially, that no morality exists beyond the law, and that since the law orients itself towards individual freedom, we should treat the life of clubs, groups, parties, peoples, nations and creeds as nonexistent or irrelevant to us.
I don’t buy it, and I don’t think anyone else should either. For one thing, this violates every commandment of God’s Torah, but even on a secular level this kind of thinking simply kicks me in the gut. Every collective binds itself, after all, according to the rabbi and philosopher Jonathan Sacks, by two covenants: the covenant of faith, yes, of shared ideas and feelings, but also the covenant of fate – subjection to the same problems and boons, common conditions. While anyone can, if they so please, ignore the covenants of faith that make the world function all around them (such as the way I can trust that nobody will steal my belongings in the dining common when I go to get a drink), they have no such choice about the covenants of fate.
Besides, let us be frank. These so-called intellectuals have not barged into our collective conversation simply to make this most adolescent of abstract philosophical points. They have barged into our political conversation and attempted to fracture the American public, to atomize it, at exactly the time when we all need to stand together. As a matter of fact, it would bare saying to point out that most of these people either suffer extreme self-delusion or realize that they belong to a self-conscious movement driven by parties like the Koch Brothers and Fox News.
The economy remains the worst it has been in 40 years. Not many people can find work because jobs have been sent overseas to exploit cheap labor and a lack of environmental protections. Our wages continue to fall while our cost of living continues to rise, and a neo-feudal class of ultra-rich corporations successfully hold our government hostage, effectively vetoing any improvements we try to make. Here at the University of Massachusetts, tuition and fees continue to rise while the semester shortens and even the most meager of conveniences and services once available, such as trays in the dining commons or computer labs for printing homework, have slowly evaporated.
One cannot simply say, “I am not a UMass student,” when one attends residential classes at UMass. One cannot simply say, “I am not an American” when one lives in America and clearly lives subject to the living conditions of the United States government. One cannot say, “I am not a worker,” when one works for a living and suffers without the income of a job. If someone tries, he’s not only lying to himself but declining a moral duty.
When did we stop thinking that helping others in our conditions helps ourselves in the end? When did we stop thinking that we have a moral obligation to better the lives of others? When did we become so ignorant of such simple realities? In the words of Ben Franklin, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Yet, somehow people want us to believe that what defines America is in fact a steadfast refusal to take part in any life outside of one’s own private property and the quest to enlarge that property.
No, we shouldn’t wage class warfare, but the charges of “socialism” thrown around by revolutionary Randists have nothing to do with actual revolutionary Marxism. All anyone asks is that we help our fellow citizens. Rather than trying to lift our boat from the ocean’s surface with rocket jets, we should all work to create a rising tide that will lift all boats. Randists can throw economics and game theory at us, but real economics and real game theory acknowledge the real world, in which collective action problems often occur. Perfect competition doesn’t exist, and only the super-rich have perfect information. Sometimes, if we want to prosper, we have to work together.
Let’s not fall for it. Let’s work together, because together we will thrive.
Eli Gottlieb is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org