One of the least talked-about aspects of the original American spirit is that of solidarity. In fact, when is solidarity ever spoken about in the national discourse? When do we talk about our obligation to each other? I find this to be deeply troubling, as my previous writing has indicated.
Solidarity, for my purposes here, is the idea of “we’re all in this together.” It is not a communistic idea of group ownership of property, necessarily. In fact, I’m a big proponent of private property. I like to think of myself as rather well-read, and it seems totally incoherent to talk about the real world as though it is a conceivable goal, at least for the near future, for everyone to own property in common (or even for smaller groups to do so, in my opinion). However, it is conversely a mistake to pretend that people, especially in our growing world population and economies, are capable of being “self-made” and to act as though we are capable of being totally independent. Not only is this a mistake, but it is a lie. It is a heinous lie that, if we are not careful, will tear us apart.
Virtually anyone who exists in a Western culture (and a growing number of Eastern cultures) is dependent upon the work of other people. I am dependent upon farmers, the grocery store, bankers, my employer, etc. Without these people (and scores and scores of other categories), I could not live in this society. I mean that in an absolute way. We cannot live in this society without one another. It is the division of labor that has brought us to this point, and without it, our way of life would perish. Even disregarding our moral imperative to our brothers and sisters throughout the world, it is in my own self-interest to ensure the safety and stability of my neighbors, my countrymen, and my fellow members of the international community. I stand to gain from this selfishly.
For this reason, we create systems that fight poverty, defend each other from enemies, and guarantee health care for as many people as possible (we do other things as well, obviously, and we ought to do more). However, the problem begins when we begin to withdraw from our obligation to our country. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that my tax contribution is a drop in the bucket. In fact, it is far less than a drop in the bucket. So why should I contribute? I will selfishly gain more if I do not. This argument is surprisingly popular, even if it is only usually hidden under the guise of people pretending to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
If people do not contribute to society, society has an obligation to coerce a person to contribute. That is why we have the IRS. That is why we have a justice system. It is a moral good to contribute. It is a societal good. It is a necessity. This is why we need to realign our priorities to people. If people were our real priority, and not money, we would find ourselves with, in fact, more money. As Franklin D. Roosevelt taught us, caring for other people is good for me too.