Most countries fall somewhere in the middle of the political or sociological spectrum, avoiding the extremes of pure individualism and pure collectivism. A purely individualistic society would be severely libertarian or anarchical, in which everyone would be out for himself and there would be no deference to or compromise with the government; indeed, there wouldn’t even be a functioning government.

So the US has some collectivist elements, since it’s a mix or democratic and republican principles. The US has a government that’s funded by taxes, which is already a relatively collectivist or socialist thing to do. But the American culture as a whole is far more individualistic than most other developed countries. This is due to the country’s history and founding.

My point was that this relative individualism accounts for the strange fact that the US has a mere two-party system. The libertarian, us-versus-them, everyone-out-for-themselves, pioneer mentality explains why American people as a whole would settle for such a system, as opposed to violently revolting because of its manifest absurdity. I’m not saying political change is impossible in the US, but centrists who are looking to broaden Americans’ perspective should appreciate the scale of the problem. The roots of individualism are deep in American culture and history.

The fact that it’s physically possible to see yellow rather than just red and blue doesn’t mean everyone can readily do so. Culture can be compared to tinted glasses. So if the American culture is more individualistic than collectivist or socialist, Americans may, in effect, be wearing tinted glasses that block out yellow. I’m talking about the culture as a whole. Obviously, some Americans may be socialists, centrists, or moderates. But they may not get much traction because American culture is predisposed to lurching into tribal extremes, to polarizing themselves and dividing into irreconcilable, warring parties, instead of thinking or caring about what’s best for the country or for future generations.

Another factor, for example, would be Fox News, talk radio, and the rest of American conservative media, which obviously have been polarizing the discourse for decades. But blaming these outlets for the result would be short-sighted, because we’d have to account for the American demand for such demagogues and hatemongers.

I’m Canadian and I can say this firsthand, since Sun Media tried to establish a Fox News-like news channel in Ontario and it didn’t stick. No one watched, because there was a lack of Canadian demand for that kind of extremist rhetoric and entertainment. Canadian culture is further to the left-wing, socialist, collectivist side of that spectrum. Canada had a completely different history and origin than the US, so Canadians have a much easier time valuing a welfare state and deferring to the government and to other authority figures. By contrast, because Americans are proud of having had to fight for their independence and because they fled Europe to protect their ways of life (such as their Puritanical form of worship), they put more value on the sovereignty of each individual.

Remember that Americans also fought a long cold war against the Soviet Union and thus demonized collectivism. But again, why did Americans fight that war even at the cost of nuclear Armageddon? To protect American values — of liberalism and individual liberty.

By the way, you might be interested in this article I wrote on centrism.

Knowledge condemns. Art redeems. I learned that as an artistic writer who did a doctorate in philosophy. We should try to see the dark comedy in all things.

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