American Character and The Struggle for Individualism


CHARACTER OF AMERICA
By: Paul Dewitt Goree ©2010 Las Vegas, Nevada

The question of character is brought to my attention, and I stumble to find significant reference. My stumbling is not due to poor character, rather an affirmation of individualism. As an American, we have been condition to a set of empowering words: Liberty, Individualism, Freedom, Natural Right, Open Society and Freedom of existence. It goes without stating that all of these words detail the American archetype. A closer look at the originators of these terms provides a clearer perspective, of the double sword nature of these terms, hence characteristics.

One of the primary contributors of this self liberating orientation was Thomas Hobbes. Ironically Hobbes expressed the notion of “natural rights”, but advocated total sovereignty control. The absolute control Hobbes advocated was in understanding, that if each individual has a natural right to all of the environment around them, then each has an equal right to protect the possessions which each accumulated, in whatever manner they found fit. The phase “Dog Eat Dog world” is an understatement, referring to Hobbes. In order to have PEACE and CIVILITY among the society, order had to be established. This order is in actuality a waiver of one’s individual rights, to the collective effort.

Hobbes believed that only the sovereignty could provide social order, through absolutely authority. These concepts fueled many disputes in England. A separation of the church and sovereignty authority began to boil resulting in a witch hunt of Parliament in 1666. When Parliament was restored, King Charles II, made an active attempt to end all ATHEISM within England, and thus prohibited Hobbes from any future publishing. Hobbes greatest work, LEVANITHAN (1651) states the following:
“…Nature hath made man so equal in the faculties of body and mind…Not so. Considerable as that one man can there upon claim to himself any benefit to…Which another may not pretend as well, as his…So that in the nature of man, we find 3 principal causes of quarrel. First competition, secondary difference and thirdly, Glory…It is manifested that during time men live without common power
To keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called WAR, and such. A war as is of everyman against every man. To this war every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust…So we look towards a solution by which man can be “drawn to an agreement” and this
Is a social contract…?” (Levanithan)

The core essence of our American ideology is very much present in Hobbes theory of natural rights. The pivotal basis is the construction of a social contract by the individual persons. The individual thus is an independent factor of which its total existence is socially involved. It seems logical that the waiver of one’s natural rights for social order and PEACE would be the order of affaires. However this is not the case and thus social discourse is always upon us. This simple acceptance of a social order is the cause of chaos, especially in the United States. We Americans have prided ourselves on our individualism, by which we are granted the liberty to be, think, express, and believe in whatever we find sensible. This is purely a subjective culture. Yet order is in effect.

To better understand social order, I look towards what some term the decay of American Character. It is often stated that Americans are slowing losing their character and thus their existence in the nature of the social world. From radio personalities to independent political party leaders, the urgent attention given to character has prompted many to look at America as a weakening force. I beg to differ. First character, and it’s relevance to America can best be found in our individual natural. As an individual American, I can start to question my own character, knowing it is a fraction of the total American. Thus the characteristics that embody me, also in essences embody the nation as a whole. This equation is true for all Americans. Thus our total is a combined individual effort. Our power is only effective in a unified manner. Our weaknesses are thus too of this nature.

Another sociologist who focuses on the natural rights vs. collective rights is Michael Foucault. Foucault details the combined individual intent in his work, Madness and Civilization, The Birth of the Clinic, Discipline and Punish. Foucault details what is termed, The Panopticon which automatizes and disindividualizes power. Power has its principle not so much in a person as in a certain concerted distribution of bodies.

Foucault and Hobbes, provide ample support that the individual in society is powerless and susceptible to chaos. Currently America is in a recessive displacement, caused by the declining economy. It is more important now than ever, that we concentrate and revitalize those primary factors of our strengths. I came across author and public speaker Rolfe Carawan work, “The Character Revolution: Restoring America’s Soul”.

Carawan details the failed character of America, and contributes it to each individual. Each individual that tries to met the bar of good character, contributes to the strength of America. Interestingly Carawan provides a vivid example of a past power society, that dissolved into the faded memories of historians, for it had lost its character. This power society was ROMAN. The only parallel thought is that, society can fall apart, and sociologist and authors such as Carawan, point out the variables by which this occurs.

I like Carawan book, because in his explanation of developing character. He brings up a never published work of Benjamin Franklin titled, “The Art of Virtue”. Like Carawan I couldn’t agree more, that Benjamin Franklin is the total embodiment of American character. Franklin understood precarious nature of “unalienable rights”. For Franklin these unalienable rights had a boarder context, which was based on moral. As with Hobbes, Franklin detailed a society engrossed in its natural rights and a society of compromised rights. Franklin confirmed that the assurance of society is only possible with an individual’s attendances to law, which is derived from the individual liberty and becomes the security of his happiness.

Franklin was influenced by the life of Jesus and the works of Aristotle, who philosophized about the elements that constituted a “good life-righteously lived”. Aristotle detailed the 3 natures of man: body, soul and spirit.

Aristotle 3 natures parallel Franklins religious perspective, whereby the bible states in Genesis 2:7…”Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living being.” The correlation of the body being the physical element, the spirit being the breath of life breathed into the body, and the soul which is the conscious combined experience, noted as the soul. Franklin was very religious and held to fundamental elements of his religion. Franklin thus dedicated himself to personal character development, which is the end result of our American character. Franklin intent was not as purposeful as it may seem. He was concerned with ethical, moral and righteous behavior of himself and his fellow men.

Franklins work, “The Art of Virtue” is concrete in establishing a pronounced character. I personally followed and self participated with Carawar as he detailed exercises that conditioned the character. Comparing it to an athletic work out, the “Art of Virtue” is a powerful self re-examination book. It doesn’t seek to empower, but instead just introduce the ideal of CHARACTER. What is your character profile? By answering the question one finds out a wealth of knowledge about themselves and their direct interpersonal relationships. Thus with this knowledge a REVOLUTION is declared by the self, upon which virtuous living is the end result. I like many American, easily became caught up with the ills of society (drugs, low self esteem, sheep behavior, drifter). And without disrespect to any individual person, I proclaimed my actions as my individual will and liberty thus to do so. As long as my behavior was not harmful to another or intrude upon another’s will. I had no problem with common use of drugs and all the indirect off springs of such behavior. So engrossed with my liberated self destructive nature, I never once thought about how my actions, in effect were a fraction of a combined effort. The effort is based on nationalism for me. Also included in that equation was my watered down faith. Earlier I mentioned the ideal of Liberty being a double edge sword. From my own experience I can contest to it.

Knowing and learning from my past, I know that a little faith is all that’s needed to start re-acquisition of the spirit (which I commonly refer to as the breath of God within me). From my own experience, I can detail some common core qualities that are the essence of our Americanism. Like Franklin I find myself intentionally attempting to balance my wrong deeds of doing, with righteousness. I believe like many Americans, it is our intention to do right at all times. This factor creates as sense of resiliency. It is my personal belief that Americans have a strong sense of resiliency, allowing us to regain ourselves from the every pressing nature of mal endeavors. When I compare my theory of thought with Franklins “Art of Virtue” I see the common thread of accordance.

Benjamin Franklin detailed 13 virtues in the “Art of Virtue”:
Temperance, Industry, Tranquility, Silence, Sincerity, Chastity
Order, Justice, Humility, Resolution, Moderation, Frugality, Cleanliness

As suggested by Carawan, and as done by Franklin himself: for 13 weeks (Feb 2010-May 2010) I tracked my attention and intent of the above virtues. I reflected a lot on my full understanding of each virtue and what it meant to me. I sort to readjust for lack of strength in any particular virtue, and mostly sought to establish these virtues into my daily ordeal of living. As of today, I am still in the process. Character development is an endless affair of intentional thought and conscious effort. The only thing I would add to Franklin’s 13 virtues is Spirituality. For Franklin this was a natural given.

I am still in process of strengthening my character and self. As it goes, the dilemma is prone to be distracted and criticized by those who chose to “independently “ live as to the freedom prescribed to them, as warranted. At no time can I place upon another, my values and purposefully intent. However I can openly detail the balancing of my behavior, and establish the very purposefully declaration of my intent. There is a lot to be said for role modeling. It’s is not a factor of intentionally setting an example, but rather a pure nature subsidy that encourages other. So with this mind frame, I have established that I declare a character revolution on myself. The revolution will be to strengthen my virtue and moral character. It is understood that this revolution has to take place within the social society, for that is where it is manifested. The problem with my theory is how to avoid external persuasion.

All the good intent in the universe can not deter the mal intent of one influence. Carawan provides a vivid example with basketball player, Len Bias. Bias was second pick in the 1986 NBA draft and was on his way to a successful career with the Boston Celtics. Yet the engraved character development, necessary to accomplish such a task, did not prevent him from consequential behavior, resulting in his death.
How to over-come consequential influences? As stated earlier with Foucault theory, numbers have power. In this instance association is imperative. I recall reading Napoleon Hills work, “Think and Become Rich” (1937). Hill was contracted by Andrew Carnegie, to provide some sociological explanation as to Carnegie and associates great wealth. Hills profound research informed Carnegie, that the primary factor to the wealth of him and his associates was the common factor of their association. This spouted into other areas of their lives. But because they associated with one another, they concentrated their efforts into a powerful force, which seemed invincible. Likewise Foucault suggests strength in numbers. The sphere of influence is so over powering that it is difficult to be controlled by the individual.

With the understanding of this dynamic, Franklin details the INTERNALIZED INVISIBLE SOUL. Franklin suggested that habits took the advantage of inattention. It is easy to be distracted and thus susceptible to external influences and desires. Franklin stated, “…the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous, was not sufficient to prevent our slipping…” Thus it was important to be conscious of the invisible factors of influence more so than the visible ones. Using myself as example, I visibly consciously became aware as my intent to discontinue the use of narcotics and have some moderate success with such intentions, as long as I constantly remain aware of this intent. The intent becomes visible through overt means. One such mean is association of which a contributed ideology of liberty is associated with our Americanism and becomes an invisible factor. These suggest that my intent to not participate in any particular behavior is done so on my own individual stance.

That is one of the primary fruit of Americanism, each is and has an individual right of expression. Yet when I wavier a portion of that right, it seems colossal because it is a direct opposite character cue. Fortunately for me, the majority of the society tend to believe and wavier their right to participate in the use of narcotics, primarily due to the deathly possible consequence. Imagine the confederacy soldiers and loyal Southern supporters, who after the Civil War had to subscribe to the Reconstruction law. Where do the advantages of inattention exist? What are the internalized invisible factors we can notice that rise alertness.

Today terrorism is a tragic reality. We, American have to be stronger than ever before. Being strong implies concentrating and focusing our intended effort towards virtuous behavior, attending to our individual moral, which diverts to the collective social. We must utilize our number to re-enforce stupendous behavior, the echoes good human intent. We must not rely too loosely on the benefits of liberty, and must consciously attend to any variances or absolutes of it. We must in essence internalize the endeavors of Benjamin Franklin, who simply sought to live peacefully and righteously under an umbrella of Liberty, Democracy and Freedom. This blog entry is in sequence of entries, openly discussing the perils of our current American society. I started out with the Introduction of The Amero. Then detail the factors of Tier benefits and what it suggests about our nation. I have also detailed Social Democracy as it heads for the United States. The purpose of my intent is to get others to offer their opinions or experience on the subject, which is dear to all of us: the continuance of our Americanism.

REFERENCES:
Carawan, Rolfe The Character Revolution: Restoring America’s Soul
Seattle: Life Matters Press, 1994.

Hobbes, Thomas Levanithan
New York: Penguin Classic, 1985

Soros, George The Bubble of American Supremacy
London: The Orion Publishing Group Ltd, 2004.

Mortimer J. Adler, “Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy”
http://www.advocateenterprise.org

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One thought on “American Character and The Struggle for Individualism

  1. Pingback: American Character « Paulgoree’s Weblog

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