Barack Obama has been busy denouncing traditional American values, using phrases like “they’ve never really worked.” He has touched on this topic many times and in many ways, but the underlying message is always the same. American individualism is bogus. America’s dizzying successes have not really been the result of individual effort. An individual is an integral part of a web and never can accomplish anything alone. Thus collectivism – collective thinking, collective action, collective production – under Obama’s benevolent guidance, is the only way to go. Hence Obama’s stated desire to be a “transformational President.”
Some folks beg to differ, including John Steinbeck.
Herewith some hard-hitting lines from Section 1, Chapter 13 of East of Eden, which I had reread recently and couldn’t put down, so brilliant a tome it is:
Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. … And then – [comes] the glory – so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man’s importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men.
I don’t know how it will be in the years to come. There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate other things we hold good. It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the4 complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass of collective production has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea G-d. This in my time is the danger. There is great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused.
At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?
Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extent it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.
And now the forces marshaled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by repressions, forced direction, and the stunning hammerblows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.
And this I believe: that the free exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory [of the free mind] can be killed, we are lost.
Thus a Nobelist who had to work hard for everything, to another Nobelist who has had everything handed to him, including the Prize.