Personal Responsibility

The American Dream rests on a series of myths or fantasies, some more true than others. Free enterprise, social mobility, the business mogul as a rebellious hero, work hard and get ahead, we’re all in this together as a vast middle-class, etc. Unfortunately, it’s often a long, painful process learning that there’ isn’t a common good after everything you’re taught in school about our sacred republic that promotes the “general Welfare”.

As an internet sleuth I was delighted to find a fascinating article that helps explain how and why we became such a hyper-individualistic society.

Our story starts in 1971, with an ad created by the anti-litter organisation: Keep America Beautiful. The ad is known as The Crying Indian. It won many awards, but it is based on many duplicities, and its intentions, in retrospect, are sinister.

The seemingly independent KAB aired the highly praised commercial of the romanticized Indian with deep respect and connection to nature. Now, KAB at the time consisted of Coca-Cola, the Dixie Cup Company, and was founded by the Owens-Illinois Glass Company in 1953. Knowing what companies were behind the Crying Indian ad makes you think about their intentions, doesn’t it? They certainly weren’t concerned about random people littering.

Going further, the Crying Indian ad does not represent KAB’s approval and love for the environmental movement, but their fear of it. Moreover, the insidious part was when they had the fake Native American actor, announce: “People start pollution. People can stop it.”

Right. Because you and I are the ones packaging everything in cheap, disposable, plastic crap, belching smog into the atmosphere and pumping effluent into our rivers. By making you feel guilty for pollution, the industry deflects blame from itself. The deceptive messaging the ad started is now ingrained in our psyche. They made individuals feel guilty and responsible for the pollution. They laid the foundation for deflecting the question of responsibility away from corporations. They placed the blame in the arena of individual action.

It’s just you.

So do better.

And by the way, buy more crap, artfully marketed as environmentally friendly, while you’re at it.

The pandemic further demonstrated that the idea of a common good is a myth. Instead of a robust public health response we were encouraged to engage in sanitary theatre, get vaccinated and make personal risk assessments. A million and counting Americans have lost their lives, but it’s really about your personal responsibility.

And now the US proxy-war against Russia in Ukraine has sent world-wide supply chains into a tizzy after our feral elite assured us that outsourcing all kinds of products and systems was the efficient way to organize our economy. The upshot is that capitalism-read neoliberalism-in advanced economies is at real risk of not delivering on its promise of provisioning at least adequately for the majority of people, particularly those who work.

Gig work, housing insecurity, medical debt, and student loan debt are all common experiences for people in the U.S. Now, to add insult to injury, the system said to be so superior can’t even keep little babies fed. Skyrocketing prices and food shortages are already looming, and are likely to become worse in the coming months. At present, many parents across the U.S. are running from store to store in search of baby formula and finding only empty shelves.

Every once in a while one of our feral elite gives the game away in an unguarded moment as W. demonstrated last week.

This week it was the Boot’s turn. Sitting down on CBS’s “Face the Nation” transportation secretary and billionaire darling Pete Buttigieg addressed the infant formula shortage that’s sent parents around the United States scrambling to find some way to feed their babies. Asked about the sluggish federal response to a crisis regulators were informed about as far back as October, Buttigieg absolved the Biden administration through a little bit of neoliberal sleight of hand.

“Let’s be very clear,” he said. “This is a capitalist country. The government does not make baby formula, nor should it. Companies make formula.”

Think about it. Buttigieg is basically suggesting there are simply some lines too sacred to be crossed even in a crisis–in this case, the government directly producing baby formula. It’s not just that in a capitalist system, according to Buttigieg, the government does not make baby formula; it’s that it should not.

Again, it’s on you. Mom’s–why aren’t you breastfeeding, dammit?

Neoliberal capitalism creates all these crises but levels of indoctrination are so high that very few people make the connections. Even as the quality of life diminishes in a myriad of ways, there is little  improvement in the willingness to reject the American Dream and its many lies. The cognitive dissonance required to face these many predicaments is too great for many people to experience, even as their expectations of basics such as a steady supply of infant formula crumble around them.

Personal responsibility is one of those things that sounds appropriate. I mean who the fuck doesn’t want people to take personal responsibility for their actions? But as an operating system for a country of 300 million it sucks. Going further, this line of thinking is morally bankrupt. Ultimately it’s the reasoning and logic of neoliberalism. Remember what Margaret Thatcher said? “There is no society, only individuals and their families.” Furthermore, “there is no alternative”.

It’s pretty obvious that individual responsibility, like the ideology of neoliberalism, is useful in that it can explain so much social injustice and apparent cruelty as inevitable in the ark of progress, and that to attempt to change it would cause more harm than good. That it provides justification to the free activities of the wealthy and their corporations is just a happy coincidence.

William Butler Yeats put it well:

We have fed the heart on fantasies

The heart has grown brutal from the fare

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