Kamaria Porter | Monday, November 17, 2003
Whether from the puppets of mass media, the pages of elementary school textbooks or the White House press room, Americans have been and are being fed an outrageous lie: the myth of individualism. This myth takes various forms and assumes many guises, yet all its manifestations converge to one desired result: the sustained power for the ruling classes.The myth of individualism runs rampant and undetected in popular culture as the seemingly innocuous story of the American dream. In movies, television shows and literature, we find uplifting stories about how some poor wretch rose above his or her circumstances armed only with the tools of industry and persistence. Take the show “Biography” on A&E. It parades as a serious mini-documentary-show when, actually, it uplifts the exceptional class – CEOs, movie stars and millionaires. Every night, Americans tune in to this and other programs and swallow huge portions of the “rags to riches” abstraction. Additionally, this myth demonizes the poor and unemployed as lazy handout-grubbers who are not pulling their weight in society. Indoctrinated with lies, the “haves” view the “have-nots” with hardened hearts and disdain, while they continue accumulating wealth and possessions.Due to this pervading lie, people are also duped into believing class, race and gender issues are negligible. The ruling class gets away with containing people of color in hazardous urban areas filled with pollution, paying women less for their labor, and rewarding themselves with fiscal policies to boost business and its leaders. From a young age, elitist historical biases indoctrinate Americans into false individualistic ideology. Not only are certain events and communities completely absent from history books, but writers distort and manipulate the past in order to perpetuate individualist themes. Important historical movements are whittled down to the experience of one or two people and diverse groups are presented as static and monolithic. Take any mainstream presentation of African-American or Asian-American history. If their triumphs and struggles receive any attention, it is minimal and showcases homogeneous images. Remember when George W. Bush and company marketed the Iraq war to us? It seemed as though, aside from the ambiguous evildoers lurking everywhere, Saddam Hussein was the only person in Iraq. This slimming down of an entire country to one target seems to make bombing it not so bad. Politicians love the myth of individualism. Their rhetoric continually plays off the American dream fabrication to keep the working poor and financially destitute ignorant of the systemic causes ruining their lives, uses isolating language to make war sound benign and objectifies entire communities – global and local – to create and sustain blind support for the current U.S. regime. The worst consequence of this myth is that it discourages and marginalizes the use of collective action to effect social change. The media and education sources hide and spin the injustices of our world; thus, appropriate outrage is absent. People feel their only power exists in an isolated vacuum and refuse to collaborate or organize with like-minded folks enduring the same challenges. Unions and worker groups have become suspect in the current American imagination. Plus, people who exercise their most important rights by protesting injustice created by the ruling classes get classified as traitors. Basically, the masses feel organizing is dead and useless.Yet we could not be more wrong. How do you suppose the wealthy and powerful maintain and increase their spheres of influence? By organizing. Remember the 2000 election when Bush relied on his friends and family to steal the presidency through the courts? Or how companies concentrate power over the media in the hands of the few?I don’t even need to mention the trade agreements NAFTA and FTAA, elite organizing at its finest. FTAA – Free Trade Area of the Americas – allows deregulation, environmental endangerment and loss of laborer rights to expand from three to 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere. Parading as a positive global initiative, the policy will increase economic disparities and make investors and business owners in participating nations richer. That’s right; the ruling classes tell us that organizing will not improve our society – when it will – while they perversely use collective tactics to keep each other in power. Look to the past or the present – organizing is the key. Individual action will not allow for change on a mass scale. See a problem, join or start a movement to raise awareness. Stop looking for another Gandhi or Dr. King. Beyond being advocates of justice and non-violence, these men – like most effective leaders – were master coalition-builders and organizers. Let’s reclaim our traditions of mobilizing for change from the elite and rededicate organizing to the pursuit of equity.
Kamaria Porter, a sophomore history major, says, “What’s cooler than cool, ice-cold Keifer?” Keep your head up, kid. Kamaria Porter’s column appears every other Tuesday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.