Shall we all hang separately?
“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” Benjamin Franklin
There are two basic philosophies in this world: “We’re all in this together” versus “Every man for himself.” At various times, one or the other philosophy has prevailed.
One example of the first philosophy is Christianity. Early Christians sold their property, shared, and contributed to those in need. (Acts 2:44-45). Both Jesus and Paul used the image of the body to illustrate how Christians should work together. They knew f one suffered, they all suffered. (I Corinthians 12:15-27). Hoarding wealth and ignoring the needs of others is the exact opposite of what Christianity teaches. (Matthew 25:31-46).
The second philosophy is embodied by the teachings of Ayn Rand. Rand believed in what she called “enlightened self-interest,” which is actually selfishness. She even wrote a book called “The Virtue of Selfishness.” Several current Republican leaders have said they admire Rand’s philosophy. They seem to believe that the ultimate goal of life is to gain wealth, and if others suffer, too bad.
Three recent LVN columns, written by local and state-wide conservatives, illustrate this “Me first” philosophy. The first column (Chuck Muth, 5/17/17) seemed to celebrate failure. The point of the column was not just that we should learn from our mistakes, with which I agree. Muth’s point was that people should learn how to fail, like President Donald Trump, so they can become rich. To highlight this, Muth quoted Trump: “If ‘A’ students are considered the smartest people of all, why don’t they all become extremely wealthy entrepreneurs?”
Becoming educated in order to help others — nurses, teachers, social workers, etc. — is pointless, according to Muth. The only goal of education is to learn how to become a wealthy entrepreneur. This illustrates one Republican value, that achieving individual wealth is more important than serving others.
The second column (Tom Riggins, 5/26/17) then belittled college graduates, explaining that they’re not special, implying they somehow coasted through college and will now find out what “real” life is like. It seemed to imply that their achievements were meaningless unless they got some high-paying job as a result. Education for its own sake is useless.
From a young age, I wanted to go to college and knew my parents couldn’t pay for it. I worked hard in school and earned a four-year, full tuition scholarship. Failure wasn’t a beneficial goal. When I got to college, I worked part-time since I was responsible for my room and board, books, fees, and personal expenses. I also had to keep up my grades to maintain my scholarship.
I didn’t have the luxury of knowing my parents would bail me out if I failed. I also never wanted to become a wealthy entrepreneur. So according to these columnists, I was a loser who hadn’t learned about “real” life. I still felt pretty special when I got my degree.
I became a teacher and eventually was privileged to teach at the Douglas and Fallon campuses of Western Nevada College. My students worked hard in “real” life and in their classes. And if I had told them that to really learn a life experience, they should fail a few classes, they probably would have walked out on me.
The third column (Ron Knecht, 5/26/17) was an attack on unions. Unions were created by working people who realized there is strength in numbers. These people fought and died to gain such rights as the 8-hour workday, the 40-hour work week, workplace safety rules, paid sick leave, paid vacations, and other benefits workers take for granted today and many businesses would love to abolish. Conservatives like to pretend that workers would have achieved these rights individually, but that just isn’t true.
Liberals believe we should work together. We should extend opportunities and a helping hand to those who need it, through private charities and government programs, so everyone can reach their full potential.
Conservatives pretend they’re promoting rugged individualism but what they’re really promoting is selfishness. In 2002, John Kenneth Galbraith summarized it this way: “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
A week ago, we celebrated the 73rd anniversary of D-Day. If those troops had stayed isolated to protect themselves, D-Day would have failed. Now President Trump is isolating America by insulting our allies and cozying up to dictators. That doesn’t make America great. It makes us alone and irrelevant.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.