In spending so much time floating around the internet, I repeatedly come across the idea that over the last few decades (or more) we have collectively 'lost' the "independent spirit" that 'won the west'. Articles and Pundits, Politicians and Commenters have seized on this idea like a lifeline, an explanation for all our ills.
A Holy Fact that we are somehow less than those idealized pioneers who crossed the plains seeking a better life, the glamorized cowboys, the Poly Express riders, and all the others who created this nation solely by their sweat of their brows and their plucky independence.
This rhetoric was in full view during the Bundy Ranch Standoff, with the Militia members (and Bundy himself) taking the role of "Heroic Americans reclaiming their birthright".
However, is that view really correct? Was that the driving force of the west, and did we REALLY loose it? to both questions, i answer a resounding no.
The summer before my Sr. Year of HS, My parents took me on a 2 week road trip through the northern mid west states. Wall Drug, Cody Wyoming, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Mt Rushmore, the Crazy Horse monument and elsewhere. Of course my mothers love of museums and historical sites came to the fore. In the museums, and the inevitable book purchases (fiction and non) i saw a different picture, learned a different story. It seemed to me, then and now, that the 'independent spirit' was more of an 'Interdependent' one.
So much of the settling of the west was a story of group effort, communalism, mutual support for mutual benefits... the single biggest influence on the western expansion was probably the Homestead Acts which were (grab onto your chairs folks) SOCIALIST ideas...you know, the federal gvmt buys something then gives it away...
however they WERE a prime motivator in the settling of the west.
Beyond that, individuals banded together, for the good of all, in wagon trains, towns, communities... the towns of the west were created for the purpose of mutual support. the 'individuals' recognized that their lives were improved with the support of other 'individuals'.
so much of the history of the west is a history of communal good. the water wars, the fight between ranchers and free range cattle herders, the state and local funding of railroads....
throughout our national history, communalism, interdependence has been a driving force. Ben Franklin, held up as an ideal of the "self made man" was a communalist at every stage of his life (just read his autobiography)... from reading groups, to lending libraries, to fire departments.... yes his version had an "individual" style of "buy ins".... but it still recognized the interdependence of humanity. A similar Idea to JFKs "a rising tide lifts all ships" Franklin wanted MORE educated and literate people so more people would read his newspapers.
one of our national quotes is "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately" What is this if not communalism?
Why is it that today, all we hear about is individualism... which seems like code speak for "i got mine, you can all go pound sand" or "ill take what i want and dont care if it hurts you"
while greed and selfishness has always been (and probably will always be) a part of human society, Was it and SHOULD it be something we hold as an ideal?
I say no. American history is chock full of stories about groups of people fighting against single greedy people who want to benefit off the sweat of others, and at almost every turn, Americans have resisted and smacked them down... until today.
Today we are stuck in a Gordon Gekko view of reality... "greed is good"... but its NOT! Greed, at least unfettered greed, is one of the basest and most destructive concepts in the human psyche... it destroys, devours, and debases the human spirit and soul for purely material benefits.