This is an incredibly important topic and I applaud Ken and Corey’s presentation of it. I began writing a reply when I first heard its original form, live, several weeks ago, but other priorities got the better of me. So, let me scribble my response here now, before I lose my train of thought a second time…
Corey brings up the topic of American gun culture and links it to individualism. A very powerful point. But I’d suggest that an additional important aspect of American individualism, historically, is Christianity. Combine these two dimensions, and we get an interesting insight into American individualism/exceptionalism.
I’m from Australia. The individualism dimension is lacking in Australian culture. Australia is nowhere near as Christian as the USA… indeed I’d suggest it is among the most secular cultures that exist. Furthermore, Australians don’t have the same sense that Americans have traditionally had, of fighting for their freedoms. Indeed, freedom has been squelched from Australian culture, from its inception. Today the absence of freedoms continues… gun ownership is strictly regulated, free speech exists in name only (so long as it does not become “inconvenient”), voting is compulsory, Australia does not have a bill of rights, regulation piled upon regulation, and so on and so on. Superficially, from the perspective of logos, Australian culture seems very similar to American culture. But in reality the two cultures are universes apart.
Integral to understand all cultures is imitation. Imitation manifests itself along a gradient, from rabid groupthink through to unity of higher purpose. A lot of people condemn America for rabid groupthink, but most of them don’t know what they’re talking about. Sure, groupthink plays a significant role in American culture, most evident at the extremes, like the NPC progressives and fascistic “anti-fascists” (Antifa). But until one explores the deepest nuances of what groupthink really implies, most people don’t have a clue, because they are speaking from within the cocoon of their own groupthink (Buddhists talk about “seeing the world from their own level”). Or to put it another way… you cannot rely on the dysfunctional narratives of a broken culture to explain Broken Culture.
Now for the crux of the point that I want to make. Why has Christianity been so important to American culture? I’m not a Christian, and I find the anthropocentric god of the Judeo-Christian religions “problematic”. Nonetheless, Christianity has provided a vital positive force in both Renaissance Europe and the founding of America. What was Christianity’s secret?
Communism and other religions do indeed talk about a higher purpose. As do other aggregations of society. Social obligation is fairly standard in almost any culture. But it generally expresses itself in the context of groupthink and the need to belong. Christianity is different, because it synthesizes a kind of individualism with higher purpose. The notion of Christian love enters the narrative. The courage to sacrifice for what you believe in. Does Hinduism do this? Maybe. But its historical context is different. Buddhism? Buddhism is more secular, less individualistic, and constrained by filial piety, though they still are inspired by love of truth. Could Hinduism (or even Buddhism) rise up as a religion of an advanced future? Maybe. Watch this space. Islam not. The European renaissance was inspired by something different. If some Middle-Eastern cultures have shown signs of advancement, as they have on occasion, that’s because they’ve piggybacked on Christian-European influences.
Bottom line… this all revolves around the problem of groupthink. Yes, other systems talk of higher purpose and social obligation. But Christianity synthesizes its higher purpose with individualism and the love of truth. I think that this is the distinction between Christianity/Hinduism and the rest. The individualism that has within it the cure for groupthink. Groupthink is the disease you get when imitation (knowing how to be) turns pathological. Christianity’s individualistic Jesus introduced a very different template for knowing how to be. Ultimately, this relates to the distinction between the cowardice of groupthink and the courage of higher purpose.
Groupthink is a very real problem. A large part of what we are witnessing in the messy politics of today is the battle between the groupthink of gullible progressivism versus the conservatism that has only recently begun to see through progressivism’s masquerade of moral superiority. Groupthink needs an antidote, and for Renaissance Europe and New-World America, Christianity met that need.
You don’t have to believe in Christianity, as I don’t, to respect that of all the movements and religions that exist today (with arguable exceptions among Eastern religions, eg, Hinduism), it is perhaps the single religion most aligned with life for a higher purpose. Life for a higher purpose is the antithesis of cowardly, approval-seeking groupthink. Courageous individualism based on moral foundations is a treasure that is missing in groupthink cultures. Directness, freedom, being intimidated by neither mobs nor fools. Never timid or shying from responsibility. Not unlike Jesus Christ.
Higher purpose? Some people might use the god-word, and we can respect them for that, given that all that anyone ever has are assumptions (guesses). But I’m happy, for the time-being, just sticking with my best guess of a living, interconnected universe… it’s all the higher purpose that I need.