Painting of the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution

January 12, 2018 Brad Johnson 0Comment

Collectivist thought is a stain on any society.

Boxes are a common thing in today’s world. When I first came down to school at the University of Cincinnati from Findlay, OH (home of Dietsch’s ice cream, Marathon Petroleum, and a certain polarizing quarterback in the Steel City), I encountered a strange phenomenon. Upon meeting a new face, one of the first things asked of me was where I attended high school. My answer, being not one near Southwest Ohio (let alone Cincinnati itself), largely ended that part of the conversation. But for others from the area, it usually sparked a particular interest, and sometimes lengthy conversation about mutual connections here or there. To Cincinnatians, where you went to high school matters, perhaps even more than which chili spaghetti chain you prefer or which side of the Crosstown Shootout you root for. But none of those really tell you much about the individual in front of you, nor of what they value.

To be fair, it offers many a dose of familiarity to an otherwise unfamiliar situation. However, where one went to high school has only a minute effect (if even that) on what actually makes an individual who they really are as a person: that which lies between one’s ears. The tendency to “judge a book by its cover” is a part of human nature, and is thus often used when deciding between those we like and don’t like. But when used as a political heuristic, it is increasingly damaging. It is reminiscent of Rousseauian thought when arbitrary characteristics control our social alignment. Rather than being against an idea, individuals rally against an “other.” This is exactly what Rousseau espoused in Revolutionary France, and it resulted in the large-scale destruction of French society and the chaotic reign of the masses.

Early this week, the Democratic Party tweeted out an article titled “US sees surge in women interested in running for office.” Accompanying it was the below commentary:

The findings of the article are actually a welcome sight. As the son of a woman who ran for office, won, and continues to hold such office, a world with more women like her in the public square is one to be desired. However, It is not her gender that makes her qualified to be in the position she is, but rather the years of dedication to work, passion for the area in which she focuses, and principles which govern her conduct. As we all should be aware, those who lack integrity or principle transcend characteristics such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or economic status. Scoundrels exist in all walks of life.

“The problem with the Democratic Party’s tweet is that it synonymizes virtue with certain physical characteristics.”

Virtuous people should be sought after for public office. The problem with the Democratic Party’s tweet is that it synonymizes virtue with certain physical characteristics. But no more does one’s sexual orientation define all that encompasses their individuality than does a company’s logo define how they operate. The same goes for all of the aforementioned characteristics, as well as those not listed.

Today, more than most (but perhaps not all) of America’s history, collectivist thought is more than just an aspect of human nature to be overcome. It has become a political playbook by which we govern. Just as we are a nation of laws, not men, our politics should be one of ideas, and not men. But with a politics of men comes tribalism. And with tribalism comes a focus on the collective rather than the individual, as well as a devotion to identity over principle. Our elected officials are merely a reflection of their electorate. If voters are willing to accept a subversion of virtue, then their representatives will be ones capable of carrying it out.

When individuals place more weight on characteristics with which they identify, values and philosophies are relegated. Those who benefit from this warped prioritization are individuals like Al Franken, Tim Murphy, John Conyers, Duncan Hunter, and Corrine Brown. Collectivism of all stripes does exactly that in valuing body over mind. Some collective thinking, like Cincinnatians’ focus on high schools or that found in sports, are benign. But when physical attributes subvert the cerebral ones in something as critical as our politics, we get a society that judges not based on the content of one’s character, but on the basis of those physical characteristics. As we approach the holiday that bears his name, it is important to recognize that thinking like this is insulting to Martin Luther King, Jr. and everything he fought for.

Follow this author on Twitter: @bradjCincy

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