This year’s presidential primary season has been a doozy so far. There’s a lot I could say about it (and plenty of people have, from every side) but the one thing I want to focus on is the concept of “we”.
I don’t think Americans think much about “we” anymore. I don’t think we operate from a perspective of what’s good for society very often. I think there’s a lot of people who don’t even accept the concept of society; rather, they think America is soley a large group of individuals. I understand the appeal of certain aspects of that point of view. People are individuals. People have different needs and wants; happiness is very subjective and “the pursuit of happiness” is pretty foundational to our country.
But there is also something called “the common good”, which includes the recognition that taking care of certain things collectively helps us all. For example, everyone benefits from clean air. Now, depending on where you live, your air might be — at least seemingly — clean enough. Certainly cleaner than in, say, parts of China where children are getting lung cancer and so on. But, while we are a long way from China, air moves. Air pollution moves. We may not be walking around in a literal smog, but we are impacted: China’s Air Pollution Is Blowing Into the United States, Study Finds. So, while this is reaching beyond our borders, it is a good example of a common good: if China improves its air quality, we benefit.
Individualism absolutely has its place and is to be valued. But I think in recent years we’ve done a good exploration of the pros and cons of favoring individual preferences over the needs and benefits of the group and it is time to swing back a bit.