While the governmental structure of the United States sets an environment of individualism, even to the extent of allowing minors to legally emancipate themselves from abusive parents, does the American public share this attitude?
Age-old customs of certain ethnic groups promote clannish morality in which the family is held superior to the individual. Typically, this is associated with radical patriarchal beliefs and fundamentalist adherence to a religion. For instance, in many recently emigrated Latin American households, the father reigns supreme over not only his children, but his wife as well. There is no concept of egalitarian parenting, or females working as males do in order to earn a sufficient living. What the father figure says goes without question: from which extracurricular activities his son can engage in to the variety of foods that his daughter can prepare for dinner.
As the stifling norms of a variety of ancestral homelands melt into the deep pot of American culture, more individualistic views develop. This, perhaps, is why so many of those who leave home for employment or college at a relatively early age become quite secular and tolerant toward different types of people. When surrounded by a diverse crowd, one gains not only the ability to find a new perspective on interpersonal relationships, but a new perspective of self as well. This strips away traditional gender roles, political stances, and religious practices.
It can be said that the higher the earning power one attains, the greater chance he or she has of being an individualist. When self-reliance is achieved, the influence wielded by others diminishes significantly. Likewise, should one be in dire straits, then collectivism might appear viable. This is only natural as other people are pivotal in providing basic financial and emotional support. Without them, and their moral codes, there is no stability or care present, hence the popularity of cults and fundamentalist religions amongst the downtrodden.
No one can say for certain which percentage of the American public allows society to define them, rather than choosing to define society themselves. As I will outline during the weeks ahead, regional and ethnocultural factors are at play, but the role of economics cannot be understated.
Nonetheless, with so many leading their own lives while so many others allow their lives to be led, does the latter group ever come into conflict with the former? We will found out.