Manifest Destiny vs Free Will: A Modern Discussion on Individualism
If there is one thing that we all truly love in this country undeniably, it’s our ability to acquire that which we wish. With the power in our hands, we believe we hold the world at our feet. Unfortunately we are greatly mistaken. We have obsessed over our mental appetite and desire as it sees fit, to where we know hold everything secondary – even parts of our own selves. We reject the desire to love others and be loved, the uncontrollable need for constancy, the ability to show flaws, the ability to effectively regulate our physical, mental and spiritual health. The reject the need to develop our relational health and hold our own minds as deities of which we give offerings to daily. Why do we do all this? one might ask. Is it nodding our hat to our own free will? Or diving into an ever descending pit of manifest destiny? Free will, the ability to choose whether or not to do good or bad, to hurt or to help, the ability to judge and organize information that our brains receive. How does this so often get confused with manifest destiny? The Rene Descartes “I think therefore I am” philosophy. Because I see it to be so, it is so. History has beyond humbled us, the present is making us submission and the future will make us slaves. To what? To satiating the insatiable appetite of the mind. Continuously attempting to satisfy the desires of the mind is as inappropriate and dysfunctional as taking ones biological desire to consume sugar and therefore eating sugar at a nonstop pace because of the over simplicity of the path. But just as Albert Einstein once said: “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Now besides asking whether or not anyone has ever seen the word “simpler” used in any context outside of this quote or not, the message is very poignant. The path in which we believe we have paved simpler, is in fact an aimless road in a large forest that we are traveling down.
Some, if not most simple parables are timeless. Take the Tower of Babble parable for starters. The idea that one can build item upon item, word on top of word, until the structure falls upon its own weight of useless value. Can we not hold this to be true with many aspects of relational counseling in response to the modern day relationship crises? There is a negative correlation between the development over time of modern day philosophy on how to hold the most healthy romantic relationship and the lifespan of romantic relationships. Now this is not to say that modern day relational philosophy is the cause of the goldfish like lifespan of modern American relations, but I think it could at least be held true that the philosophy is not helping. But do we stop in our tracks, dust ourselves off and try something different? I would argue that we hold more literature, novels, t.v. shows and elaborate and varied perspectives on relationship than any geographical location in any time in our world’s history; and yet we are the worst at making any of it come true. None-the-less this does not stop us from furthering pursuing “finding” the answer on how to create a perfect relationship. Is this not an example of a mental illness? An unhealthy thought process? A pathological problem? Than why do we allow for this to go on in relation to such a significant and essential part of the human life? In other cases we would quickly stop it, if not laugh at it.
Take for example a young boy pouring himself a glass of lemonade. He pours the water up to a little under the brim, he then begins to pour in the lemonade powder. He then takes a sip and his face scrunches up. It is too sweet! So what does he do? He pours more powder in. Then sips again. It is now even sweeter! He repeats this process three more times, getting madder and madder each time. He has oversaturated the lemonade with the powder. We see this example and immediately say: “he added way to much powder, he needs to dilute the juice with water.” Why can we not say our relational philosophy is out of control? Because in our minds we want to believe that we innately have the capacity to reach close to perfection, our mind desires perfection manifested and we encourage it! Each theory and subfield created is another cup of lemonade powder in our glass which has much needed dilution.
But what got us so self-righteous to begin with? The manifest destiny of the 19th century? The massacre of a whole population of people in order to expand one’s territory and power? The manifest destiny was never a success. Colonization was. We committed genocide on the natives and to this day they still feel it! Some of the worst conditions are experienced by these groups. Highest poverty levels, highest suicide levels, lowest education levels. While in the same breath the underlying sentiment is, “But maybe they really just are inferior to us?” We than developed our wealth on the back of the Africans. Enslaving a population and writing over it a declaration of independence? That all men are created equal? Creating a constitution that doesn’t consider the blacks fully human? And let it be clear, the blacks are definitely in the same group of peoples who suffer the worse in almost all categories. This is no coincidence; quite simply these are the only three groups that never chose to buy into the America ideal. This is what the manifest destiny brought us.
We continuously try and impose this concept on other countries and even ourselves and suffer the consequences time and time again. Nazi Germany, inspired directly by the KKK was ultimately defeated by the same country after we decided they were going too far. We have gone to war with the Middle East now for decades with not one victory and yet we continue to go even to this day.
But most intimately to our citizens even more than our own history and wars imposed on others is our modern individualism masquerading as an unadulterated expression of free will. We all aspire to have our own cars now. We all aspire to have our own property. Our own personal philosophies. Our own goals. Select all of our own relations. And whoever doesn’t reach such levels are considered “unenlightened”, “uncivil”, “unhealthy” and weak? What has this extremist philosophy done to us on individual levels? It has led us to be the most addicted nation in the world. Many will say: “well we should just make illegal weed, and keep crystal meth, cocaine, heroin and the like. Prescription medication is the answer.” Well by far we are more addicted to prescription medication than all illegal drugs combined! And what are the drugs primarily addressing? Depression and anxiety. We also have ranked the most depressed and anxiety having people in the world for the past 5 years or so.
And despite all of this, it is ok. The situations and actions themselves should be forgiven.
But matched under the guise of a manifest destiny of individualism is unforgivable. From my
understanding, prescription medication, though causing a positive result, has not significantly
decreased the number of depressed individuals in our country. And what do we do? Add more
lemonade powder to the glass. Create new types of pills. Create new diagnosis. At a certain
point we have to take a meditative step back and realize that if we were to discontinue all of
these words tomorrow, we would not crash and burn. In fact it’s probable that the opposite
might take off. We could ascend once again. Numerous studies have shown that not only are
we the most depressed nation in the country, but that poorer nations are much happier than
we are. Relationships last longer. Parents raise their kids together. What’s the difference? Well,
once you lose the ability to maintain independent thought what do you innately resort to? Depending on others. Their thoughts, their resources, through realities. You are forced
to develop patience, perseverance, gratefulness towards others. We take on less emotional,
financial and relational battles on our own. We become happier. No this is not an attempt to
create a new philosophical idea, but in a very Confucian way, just reminder us about the eternal
strength of resorting back to the old ways when needed.
Confucianism came in handy back then as it still can now be making a re-transference to
power and highest respect to the eldest of the society. Or in other words, tradition. Why is this
so significant? Well, if nothing else what seems to hold most true is the old saying: “Like father,
like son.” Most (male) abusers either were abused themselves or saw someone be abused. At
the same time you have the saying: “A boy can only truly learn to be a man from his father.”
Likewise single mothers, and teenage single mothers are known to root from the predecessor
being single (teenage) mothers themselves. And mothers graduating from college or at least
aspiring towards it is possibly the most powerful determining factor in whether or not the
daughter will go to college. That goes for both genders in fact. If you had parents that went to
college, than you chances of going to college (and graduating) increase 10 fold compared to
kids whose parents didn’t go to college. The children of rich parents have a 10 fold chances of being rich compared to children being poor. And children of poor parents have a tenfold chance of being poor. But this doesn’t only hold true for lifestyles, but belief systems as well. Children of slaves believe much more automatically that they are destined to be slaves. Children of free men believe much more that of course they are free, of course they are not free. Prejudices follow a similar trail. How can we have massive changes of opinions on social groups in our country over such a short period of time? And how can some cultures have conflicts that last centuries? The parents who open their minds to homosexual relationships raise kids who believe this is given and their children’s children even more so and so on. Children whose parents believed it was ok for women to work and go to school grow up believing the same. I grew up in a neighborhood where many races lived together and played together (and our parents to some extant). Now I live in a more segregated part of the state and literally cannot conceive how so much of the population finds embracing other ethnicities to be a challenge. And furthermore you can look at places in the Arabic world and places in Eastern Asia who despise their neighboring country for centuries and go to war. Trauma is passed down to the children. And so are views on gender roles in relationships. Accents. Interest in music. Children born into royalty can find comfort in ordering a troop to invade another territory, creating and enforcing laws, and trying their citizens as servants. While at the same time, a child of a peasant can find it difficult raising his voice too loudly about anything, much less ordering other people.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes is quoted saying: “No matter where we are, the shadow that trots behind us is definitely four-footed.” Just as animals, large parts of what makes us functional in this world is outside of our control (appetite, sexual urge, warmth, digestion, processing of emotions, staying safe, community etc…). And like animals, most of the rest is taught to us. Even more than animals. We increasingly have to develop complex systems of formal, institutionally education that last for long time periods. Including pre-school, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, graduate school, and school for a doctorate program, we as a society have asserted that going to 7 different institutions over roughly a 30 year period of time (roughly 1-2/3rds of one’s life) is ideal for best understanding and functioning in the world. Someone can go to the first 4 educational institutions (pre-school all the way through high school) and be seen still as “very uneducated”. God forbid someone only attend 3 different education institutions over a 9 year period. And someone with no formal education would never be looked at seriously in our society.
Conversely, if you were to go to a poorer nation. There is a significantly lower occurrence of dependence on educational institutions and correlatively a much lower expectation for it. I do not remember hearing anywhere though that this truly makes the societies people less humane or human. This does not lower their marriage rates, make them less capable fathers, or mothers, it does not make them worst neighborhoods, or warriors. They just don’t have beliefs built upon beliefs to establish complex ways of dealing with financial transactions, finding access to foods, establishing meticulous laws or living a lavish individual life. All the aforementioned in the previous sentence not being needed for survival as much as basic needs are. And still in fact, we have insane amounts of wealth inequality, the highest obesity and diabetes rates, and massive corruption. We murder more in war. We was billions if not trillions of dollars on things such as going through 3 smart phones in a 2 year period, of which each phone costs $100-400 dollars each. We spend tens of thousands of dollars more on bigger houses with unused rooms. We set up separate properties in different parts of the country for the few times we want to travel to a different location, as to not “embarrass” ourselves by asking someone there if we can stay the night.
It is very significant to point out that we are the richest nation in the world and define our value largely based on our material aspirations or ability to accrue materialistic things when needed. Second we praise those who create and provide these material things for us. Steve Jobs and Marc Zuckerberg, two modern-day giants are famous not for demonstrating bravery, demonstrating loyalty, nor for being great fathers. They are held above everyone because they provided to very cool technologies for us, the line of Apple Products and Facebook. The Walmart CEOs (and virtually all CEOs for that matter), despite their blatant greed, selfishness, slave labor giving, and non-altruistic ways or praised incessantly by our society. But of course they are, they are on Fortune 500. It’s not like there is a “Wisdom 500” that ranks fathers. A
“Bravery 500” that ranks soldiers who die for our country. There is not a “Servant 500” that praises the best teachers, politicians, law enforcement, criminal justice officers, or Pastors. There is Fortune 500. We can (and have) literally see a major tax evasion in the middle of a recession and see the richest companies unjustly over pay and underwork oversees citizens while removing jobs for our own country and while refusing to raise the minimum wage all the while of their local employees; and that (of course) would still not stop them for making the top 10 of Fortune 500.
At the same time you have whole societies who value love, compassion, unity, sacrifice, courage as the highest qualities one can have and we still would view the countries as “backwards”. Likewise, you have parents in our own country who hold the same values dear and maintain a marriage for themselves, their children, and their community and our country at large doesn’t look twice at them. In fact, despite the fact that we know that children have absolutely the worst outcomes if they are raised in a fatherless home, from a media to academic level we will hold this couple to be “stupid” if they were to stay together after too many arguments. A woman could divorce a man she’s with because she’s tired of him, or bored, or would rather focus on her career, even with a child and society will not condemn her at all. They may even praise her. Technologically speaking we can examine the human body and keep the individual person alive longer, but we are not capable of keeping him happier. Nor are we better at keeping him alive longer. And this is because despite all of our concern for material things that our minds manifest to desire and acquire, our survival needs always has the trump card. We do not become better at living, we become better at dreaming.
We focus our attention on the success of the minority (the richest, the inventor of electricity, the incredible revolutions) and we do so much to where we devalue the present, the average and all the people that fit into the category.