Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Is "Individualism" Endemic to Any One Political View?

I was born in 1954, and can still remember how, around 1965, a teenage boy who let his hair grow long could be sent home from school by the vice-principal, or ostracized by his peers, despite his being an A student, a star athlete, a regular churchgoer. Choosing to flout society’s expectations had consequences. I wouldn’t think that anyone born after, say, 1960 (A quick check of Wikipedia tells me you were born in 1960 – you just made it!) would have any living memory of a time when the interests of society carried any significant weight in opposition to the interests of the individual.
We just don't have the same expectations as we had then. That's not the same as saying that expectations don't exist--which is surely a sweeping statement.

And yes, our expectations about individuals change--sometimes for the worse, and sometimes for the better. You get good developments, and bad, often at the same time.

That's not to say that you shouldn't have an opinion (I happen to think the boomers were kind of a narcissistic bunch--although I never had to worry about getting drafted into an elective war either), just that you should realize that societal changes and differing expectations are not the same as the Downfall of Everything. You take the bad with the good. (For instance, I'm glad that my mother was a reader of Dr. Spock. It's part of who she was, and that was a good thing.)

And by the way, over the course of history, a gesture like growing your hair long is not an exceptionally shocking act. It meant different things in different contexts--long hair had different meanings in Charles the 1st's England, the Post Civil War US, or the 1960's. In the 2000's it could mean something as innocuous as having a lifestyle involving hiking on weekends and working at a software company--not that you're a selfish person oblivious toward "the interests of society" (a statement that surely comes off as a pompous generalization).

Lastly, cases of obsessive attention to yourself as an individual, as opposed to awareness of "the interests of society," surely aren't restricted to what you might find among some liberals. What about the narcisism involved with Reagan and Thatcher's rise?:

Update: Now here's something from one of the original, excrable long haired people that Frum's reader is talking about:
[Todd] Rundgren's new album, "Arena" [has as its] subject matter, militarism and "what I saw as a loss of masculine integrity," he explained.

"The people who have been running the country are liars and cowards and hypocrites and perverts," he said. "And I wouldn't want all the rest of the men in the world to think that's how you succeed in life. Now that they are out of here, we have to ... reclaim what our traditional ideals were: You protect the weak, you bear up under the horrible burdens, and you seek the truth. ... You sacrifice for others."
Sounds not too far off from American traditional values to me--at least the ones that I was raised with. (I'm not saying that Todd Rundgren should be beatified by the pope any time soon, but he's certainly not All That's Wrong With America, as Frum's reader seems to imply.)

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