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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Individualism: What it doesn’t mean

    To a British person, it would seem strange that a nation was once so entirely terrified of communism. To an American, it doesn’t even need explanation. Nobody glorifies individualism more than America.

    Of course, individuality is not a bad thing. It’s a marvelous thing. But somewhere along the line, independence kind of stopped meaning “”free”” and began to mean “”to each his own,”” “”caveat emptor,”” “”I’m not responsible for you.””

    And that is not only a bad thing; it’s stupid, too. No matter what we tell ourselves, we are affected by others, and their actions affect us.

    For example, I often hear smokers explaining their choice to smoke by saying, “”Well, it’s my business, and it’s my body. If I want to give myself lung cancer, that’s my choice, and I should be able to do it.””

    I agree smokers should smoke if they want to. But they shouldn’t delude themselves that it’s nobody’s business but their own.

    We don’t have socialized medicine here, but our health care fates are still intertwined, thanks to the extended tendrils of health insurance companies. So, if a smoker gets lung cancer, the cost of his or her treatment affects the payments of everyone else who belongs to the same provider.

    From another point of view, Big Tobacco gains more money and power for every pack of cigarettes that a smoker buys. I’m not an economist, but I think if people stopped buying cigarettes, they’d stop selling cigarettes. So, by smoking, each individual is perpetuating its existence.

    I don’t mean to single out smokers here. The same logic holds true for heart disease and fatty foods, or for any other choice a person can make. The grade you get in each class you are taking affects the curve, affecting everyone else’s grade and the grading standards your professor will use next year.

    Everything that we do contributes to the culture we share, rippling through history.

    A lot of people our age don’t care about government, either. They say their vote hardly matters in electing officials to office – and so many decisions these days are made by appointed officials who aren’t even elected at all, like the decisions of the military commanders in Iraq. They say the government doesn’t represent them, so they choose to be individuals, operating on their own.

    But this is also wrong. We may not have technical control over the internal happenings of government, but the culture we help create does dictate what will and won’t happen. Quite simply, politicians want to be re-elected. Nobody in power will pass a law that zero percent of the population wants. And nobody will keep a law that nobody abides by.

    The 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition, was passed because the prevailing culture simply rejected the law, like a body rejects a foreign organ. American people refused to abide by the law in such great numbers that it became almost impossible to fight the organized crime rings that provided them with illegal alcohol.

    Everyone who visited a speakeasy didn’t lobby Congress to repeal the law, because they didn’t have to. The social problems created by the cumulative effect of their actions were so great that activists began lobbying for its repeal. In the end, because of the personal choices of millions of individuals, it became in the government’s best interests to repeal the law.

    It’s easier not to accept the significance of our actions, though. It’s a lot easier to justify selfishness by calling it laudable individualism. It’s a lot easier not to care about anyone or anything else than yourself when you persuade yourself that you don’t have any effect on other people.

    As some of us graduate, and others begin to consider our career choices, the effect that our decisions will have on everyone else is something to consider. Perhaps our decisions will have a negative effect on the world around us. Perhaps they will be beneficial. But we can’t doubt that we will have an effect.

    Truly, none of us is an island.

    Lillie Kilburn is a psychology sophomore. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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