Monday, June 15, 2015

Independence? That's middle class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.

- George Bernard Shaw

One of the things that is often quite front-and-center when it comes to the current Republican talking points is the myth of the self-made man, which seriously rejected the notion that "it takes a village to raise a child" and cheered the idea the "I built that." It was the idea of independence - especially against the federal government - that made a Nevada rancher's self-initiated stand-off with federal officials into a short-lived hero. It is the idea of independence that keeps electing Republicans who apparently have a mission in stripping apart government, and then complaining that it isn't functioning properly.

Conversely, it is this idea of independence that casts people who are - for whatever reason - dependent upon government assistance as "unworthy," bringing about the language of "makers vs. takers" and one that seeks to castigate the poor through unnecessary drug testing, seek to humiliate single mothers, and curtail the independence of people's use of welfare (among  many others).

It is this idea of independence that brings people to politically cut off their nose to spite their face. It is a form of independence that seeks to cut funding for expansions to "Obamacare", despite such cuts deeply affecting opponents of Obama and the Democratic Party. It is a form of independence that opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership, despite it being popular to many Republicans, merely because Obama supports it (even as almost all Congressional Democrats oppose it). It is a form of independence that opposes same-sex marriage, because... "reasons" (despite it being an increase in independent choices to get into that social institution).

This idea of independence also embodies a shallow form of patriotism, bordering on nationalism, with debates over whether a presidential candidate wore a flag pin, over whether Obama castigated a Marine corporal for wearing a flag pin upside down, or whether Palin won her debate because she wore a bigger flag pin. Or even if the flag pin is worn correctly! Seriously, all this focus on flag pins - in some strange linkage with independence and the greatness of the US - reminds me of these panels from the graphic novel Pyongyang:

Seriously, the importance of flag pins shouldn't be associated with the idea of independence. It should (and is) associated with those nations that seek to implement patriotism-through-spectacle.

So, is it like GB Shaw said? Is independence a "middle class blasphemy"? Well, I would argue that it can turn into one, and without robust social institutions to push back against the conformist nature of human beings, what may start off as independence in deed may easily turn into independence as a necessary part of daily rhetoric in order to show dependent allegiance to a larger identity.

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