It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

I’ve long been struck by how so much of right-wing ideology boils down to “I had to suffer, so other people should have to suffer, too.”

One more product of the individualist ideology furiously propagated by promoters of capitalism, although ideas never flow in only one direction. Some of us, faced with injustice, react in a human way (well, in a way in which we wish humans would react) by reacting to a lack of fairness by vowing to do something so that others aren’t so adversely affected.

It is no news flash to note that under capitalism we live in highly competitive societies, encouraging people in countless ways to stomp on others for personal gain, whether on the job or in various aspects of our personal lives. The individualist ideology underlying that encourages those who have reached some measure of success to believe they did it all on their own. All the more so is that the case in the business world, where entrepreneurs are supposed to have single-handedly built successful enterprises.

To be sure, individual talent does play a role; the point here isn’t to deny that individuals can, and do, create. But your average society has educational systems, infrastructure and social programs. Success certainly rests on these social goods, social goods often, dare we say, supplied by the very governments that individualist, capitalist ideology insists we recoil from in horror. The successful capitalist has tapped into those social goods, even before we get to the government subsidies and other goodies handed out to larger corporations.

It is a small step to extend this celebration of individuality, conveniently shorn of its social underpinning, to a climb up a corporate ladder or success in attaining and retaining a stable job with a reasonable wage. “I worked hard to be here,” the right-winger says. In many cases, that is surely so. But did that person truly do it all on his or her effort, outside of external factors? Surely not. More likely than not, that person grew up in a locality with a strong school system and could acquire a solid education. Perhaps that person is White, and thus didn’t face the multifaceted discrimination a Black, Latinx or Indigenous person would have.

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Pete Dolack writes the Systemic Disorder blog and has been an activist with several groups. His first book, It’s Not Over: Learning From the Socialist Experiment, is available from Zero Books and his second book, What Do We Need Bosses For?, is forthcoming from Autonomedia.

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