Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Nothing Comes From Nothing or The Self-Made Myth

In American conservative politics there is much talk of the self-made man.  (Why a man rather than a woman I will leave to the reader to consider.)  He is a prominent fixture in Randian storytelling, and is a defining trope of Republican rhetoric.  In America one need only guts and the sweat off their brow and they can be rich.  If for any reason the American Dream appears to have failed you it must be because you failed it, and in America we don't cotton to failures.

What is most innervating about such thinking to anyone other than the high-born, is its utter absurdity.  Factories don't run themselves, otherwise the threat of unions would hardly be a threat at all.  But even the lowly entrepreneur with a single great idea doesn't go it alone.  He or she will usually start out small with a minimal staff.  Each worker with a stake in the enterprise will put in their own thought and energy, casting their lot in with the founder in the shared risks of success or collapse.  Or so it used to be before the Too Big to Fail mentality in which the risk is now shifted to those at the bottom absorb the explosion of failure without reaping the benefits of success.

These are common complaints often repeated, but there is a larger flaw in the reasoning behind the self-made myth, less often revealed I believe than it should be.  Conservative values are above all touted as "family" values.  Beyond the anti-family stance this implies of liberal political values, it is an enormous contradiction of the self-made mythology that they would use to justify greed and selfishness.  For, if the self-made man is indeed a reality, his existence implies a total negation of the value of community, friends, and family.  If one man really can do it all with just a little hard work and patience then, unless everyone else in his community is also of the same metal the concept of community just got a lot smaller, perhaps by ninety-nine percent, which I think reveals neatly what they mean by community while at the same time justifying their hatred for the poor and indigent.

If there's no such thing as a free lunch, the self-made man is just as imaginary.  Nothing comes from nothing after all.

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