“Smoke on the Water” was a 1970s hit song from the band Deep Purple. According to tale, they were just minding their own business (a personal favorite phrase of mine) when they saw a warehouse catch on fire and the lake nearby also appeared to be on fire. Often the most iconic hits come from everyday observations.
Some of you may have caught the news over the weekend that a Trump boat rally on Lake Travis (near Austin, Tx) went horribly awry. Several boats capsized and a few people wound up in the hospital. One is still there with a broken back. Fortunately, no one perished, but a whole lot of people came out a little worse for wear.
The initial reaction for most of us was to snicker. This is the schaudenfreude I mentioned in an earlier post. For those unfamiliar, schaudenfreude is a German word without a literal English translation. The closest anyone has ever come is “shameful joy.” Leave it to the Germans to develop an entire intricately designed glossary of terms for pain.
However, the reports from residents there is chilling to say the least. According to one resident, the wind before that day had not exceeded ten MPH (or knots). So, there were no considerable waves on the water as some naturally assumed when hearing the news. So, you might ask what caused all of the damage. That’s a fair question.
According to the resident, owners of the boats were driving them too fast and too close to other vessels. This caused the higher waves and caused some of the smaller vessels to capsize. Apparently, even when first responders were out on the water attempting to rescue victims in the water, some vessels continued to speed past them quickly. Obviously, this caused the situation to get worse.
I can think of nothing more fitting to describe a group of people than this whole situation. It encapsulates everything that is wrong with our society. No, this is not an indictment of all Trump voters. I know plenty of good people that are Trump voters. However, the entire movement is starting to have a cultish feel to it. The end result is almost a toxic individualism. This isn’t a phrase I’ve seen before, but it’s definitely a thing.
So, what is toxic individualism? In short, it is when the balance between the individual and the collective swings way too far in the way of the individual. This will always be a battle in American culture. Other cultures have more of a collective mindset. What is good for the majority is good for me. If a program or action will help the majority then my life will be better even if I don’t directly benefit.
The American mindset is almost exactly the opposite. What’s in it for me? If I don’t get something out of it then I don’t want anyone else to have it. Share it fairly, but don’t take a slice of my pie. I got mine. Go get yours. A certain amount of individualism is a good thing. Capitalism certainly has it’s good points. It rewards drive. It rewards innovation. It rewards a certain amount of greed. So, a balance is certainly welcome. However, toxic levels threaten to rip society apart at the seams.
In the backdrop of all of this is the use of “socialism” as a cudgel against any systemic change in society. We can’t have universal health care. That’s socialized medicine. We can’t have free tuition. That’s socialism. We can’t have a universal basic income. That’s socialism. I’m not saying I want any of these ideas necessarily. Yet, I want to evaluate them on their own merits and not push them away because they sound socialistic.
Much of western Europe is socialistic. They seem to be doing fine. In some areas like education, health, and levels of poverty they are doing better than fine. They also seem to be doing much better in crime rates. Sure, much of that can be attributed to gun culture, but a lot of it is just a different mindset. We want what’s ours whether anyone else gets hurt or not. I fully admit that I act in selfish ways every now and then. I think all of us do.
Those folks on Lake Travis just happened to provide a perfect illustration for what happens when we do what we want to do and disregard the rest. Certainly, we can avoid labels as much as possible. I certainly paint Trump supporters with a broader brush than I probably should. Maybe that’s my failing. Yet, it was difficult not to snicker. The English teacher in me was flooded with imagery, irony, and satire all at the same time. Laughing is okay once we determine everyone is actually okay, but here’s hoping that those involved actually learn something from this.