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Duty or Achievement? An All-American Culture Clash

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Over the last several days, I have really been doubling down on my idea that all politics are rooted in economics. Focusing on the family, no pun intended, as this is the basic social unit of society, I believe that I have stumbled across something very interesting: while the modern American family takes many forms, changing from place to place and offering a broad spectrum of political views, it exists in what is essentially one of two categories. Each is a culture in and of itself, and therefore produces markedly different types of people.

The first, and most common throughout history, is neatly summed up by theoconservative Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, who was defeated in a historical landslide during his last reelection bid. It goes like this:

(The) whole idea of personal autonomy, well I don’t think most….hold that point of view. Some do. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low….There is no such society that I’m aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture. 

This is the culture of duty; not duty for the sake of a cherished value such as the welfare of a loved one or patriotic feeling toward a country. No, duty for nothing other than the sake of submission. It relies upon a system of beliefs in which the individual is nothing more than an end to the means of others. Personal rights and liberties are sometimes given lip service, but at the end of the day, they are nothing more than sweet talk used to temper the masses.

The culture of duty can be found, oddly enough, in many regions of the country whose inhabitants would proudly label themselves as supporters of everything that Santorum railed against. These regions, as I noted in my previous article, have America’s highest rates of social problems, ranging from out of wedlock births to low paying jobs. Life in these places often revolves around fundamentalist religion, with much of modern science being regarded as a horrific heresy.

The second, and most outwardly despised yet secretly envied, is crammed into a nutshell by hugely influential philosopher Ayn Rand:

(Altruism) has indoctrinated men with the idea that to value another human being is an act of selflessness, thus implying that a man can have no personal interest in others—that to value another means to sacrifice oneself—that any love, respect or admiration a man may feel for others is not and cannot be a source of his own enjoyment, but is a threat to his existence, a sacrificial blank check signed over to his loved ones.

Accept the fact that the achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness—not pain or mindless self-indulgence—is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values.

This is the culture of achievement; achievement not for the sake of crazed hedonism, but human productivity resulting in societal progression. It has been the source of everything that most hold dear about America, from the Constitution to pocket sized computers. Relying upon our capacity for rational thought, it opens doors numerous as the stars in the sky. It consists of a belief structure centered around self-empowerment, and can potentially lead to the highest pinnacle imaginable; realizing one’s own dreams.

Ironically, as I also noted in the above mentioned article, the culture of achievement is found overwhelmingly in states with leftish electoral leanings. These states do have more successful marriage rates, on average, and higher incomes, but increasingly bad climates for conducting business. Such a paradox means that companies are relocating to less expensive locales, many of which are in the beating heart of Dutyland; the South. There, this is making for a fascinating clash of norms and ideals. Hopefully Achievement World’s most beneficial aspects will rub off on it.

Regardless of one’s personal or political backgrounds, the culture in which the individual was raised is frequently the defining factor in that person’s life philosophy. An adherent to the duty mentality might choose to bear a child despite not even being able to get by so those within her circle of influence can be placated. The fact that any chance she might have had to get an education or build a career flies out the window matters not; her existence is not truly hers. Likewise, an achiever might opt to not sacrifice personal interests as a way of fitting in with a clique. Instead, the beat of one’s own drum is listened to, and a profound sense of happiness found.

American families are starkly divided into these two cultural categories now more than ever. Perhaps this is why politics has become so polarized over the last few decades. Ultimately, I believe that achievement will win out, as progress may be stymied, but never completely held back. Perhaps a few decades down the line, the culture of duty will have been thoroughly diluted through emigration or increased access to media outlets. If so, the future looks very bright.

This much is certain: only time will tell. 

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About Joseph F. Cotto

  • Arch Conservative

    “I do think that as the American economy grows more competitive, the culture of achievement will win out by default.”

    You do huh?

    You seeing what’s going on in Greece? That’s going to be pretty much the fate of every westernized nation eventually with the way things are going.

    With each passing year the American people become more dependent upon big brother and less dependent upon themselves. All the while we’re given a million and one reasons why this is a good thing from those on the left but yet each new year sees us with less freedom, less personal financial resources and less personal autonomy.

    Dreadful calling you naive was an understatement.

    Technology and globalization have ensured that the world going to shit will be kicked into warp speed.

  • Dr Dreadful,

    I would say that certain elements of both cultures can be found in any family, but in my experience, one or the other is always predominant. This is why trends of generational poverty and generational affluence are so frequent. Perhaps the surprisingly low level of social mobility in the United States can be seen as a result of these two cultures, along with the statistics I cited in the article. Double standards occur in any culture and any class. They are an unfortunate part of life, and one that I try to avoid whenever possible as I have experienced their effects firsthand, especially insofar as religion is concerned.

    I do think that as the American economy grows more competitive, the culture of achievement will win out by default. Tradition is one thing, and sometimes most beneficial, but when all is said and done, money talks and people walk. Those choosing not to walk will be relegated to the sub-labor class I wrote about the other day. Here, the culture of duty will undoubtedly flourish, but such a thing would be the result of a terrible financial climate. This, of course, goes back to my idea that all politics are rooted in economics.

  • Interesting but somewhat naive piece, Joseph. I don’t know whether the division is as clear-cut as you make out, and I think these two urges are present in all of us.

    There seems to be an innate double standard at work in most people. The idea of minding your own business, carrying on with life as you see fit, and letting others do the same, seems very appealing – until the “others” do something you don’t like. Then your instinct kicks in and tells you they need to be controlled.

    So I can’t see the cultures of either “duty” or “achievement” dwindling to nothing any time soon.