Most of us live in America. Usually grateful for the chance. But if someone not American were to ask, “How do you picture yourselves in the world?” what image might you use? I submit there may be only two from which to choose. As a great frontier OR as a small life raft.
Each image is somewhat fundamental to our perception of ourselves. But which is more valid? For generations — and now for ambitious capitalists and candidates — the frontier image perfectly captures the American cowboy spirit of rugged individualism. But then, as our world and its frontiers have shrunk, there are those like the President who talks about “we’re all in this together.” Together as in a stout little vessel struggling through an ocean of domestic and diplomatic crises as great if not greater than ever in our history.
No doubt about it. A frontier is the splashier of the two images. And it made sense for the first few hundred years. But now in a complex age of globalization, it’s hard to believe any one nation can ride alone tall-in-the-saddle. In the last 25 years, every act of terrorism, financial meltdown, and international competition has made even the cowboys on Wall Street and K Street realize, yes, “we’re all in this together.” Something like a life raft in which everyone survives best if everyone else does.
But wait! This image isn’t so very new and different after all. It was Benjamin Franklin who warned his ambitious fellow freedom fighters: “We must all hang together, or we will assuredly all hang separately.”
I’m guessing that, in their passionate rugged-individualism, some of our capitalists and candidates may have forgotten that piece of all-American advice.
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