Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

American individualism contributes to class division and prevents collective contribution

Rachel Choi
Illustration by Rachel Choi.

As privileged communities in America continue to advance, class division increases and the collective consciousness is further disrupted. The narrative of the strong, independent individual has been driven into the backbone of American society. Unfortunately, this foundational narrative is a cultural myth designed to reinforce an inequitable system, not challenge it.  

The American system encourages isolation in many ways, economic isolation being the major obstacle in my life that has contributed to disconnect from my community. I’ve faced barriers within education, travel, and even connecting with peers due to a lack of economic support. For me, entering the social sphere meant getting a job as soon as possible so I could not only afford to engage with my peers and friends, but contribute to the support that my family was isolated from.

Many upper class Americans feed off of the idea that the world is meant to be every man for themselves. They then shame those who cannot climb the economic ladder as easily, often claiming that they have only themselves to blame.

With the increasingly divided class system in the U.S., the rooted structure of individualism continues to fuel self preservation. This is specifically seen in workplace practices, where cutting out competition encourages the cut-throat approach to personal gain and general lack of empathy within corporate America. 

The “American dream” reinforces the concept that any one person positioned at the bottom of society can eventually rise through the ranks based on the fruits of their own labor and determination. This narrative, bolstered by capitalism, has instilled an unhealthy American work culture that emphasizes individual success over collective growth—it’s more than individual, it’s selfish

I realized at a young age that there was a system that controlled our way of life, and that this system did not work for my low income family. Maintaining a job was essential, because for our family, if one parent lost a job, that could mean skipping a meal or losing our home. Growing up keenly aware of economic restraints, I understood that, financially speaking, we were on our own. Despite having emotional support from family and community, there was only so much available to be given within the constraints of a capitalist system that functions to increase the wealth of the upper class through the growing struggles of the lower class. 

The financial issues that my family faced were not our fault, they were the product of a system that contributes to exasperating poverty and oppression for the lower class. Through the lens of the “American Dream,” my parents would be driven to work harder or get a job. But this rhetoric oversimplifies the extenuating circumstances that prevent acquiring such a job, like the access to higher education, debilitating medical and mental challenges, lack of child care, and more.

The traditional work environment is built around an unhealthy workaholic culture, structured by a five day, 40-hour work week. This structure enforces an intense work grind that prioritizes profitable productivity over genuine growth. In contrast, communities uplift each other to work harder, prioritizing growth over progress. 

To have food, water, and shelter, necessities of life, it is up to the individual to find a job, or get an education, with little to no systemic support. Not only is this a difficult task, but the individual is then meant to make a successful career out of their experience, and if they can’t, they are labeled a failure. 

Often in America, these “failures” in the eyes of the upper class are also told that they deserve their place in the lower class. This is seen through the response to homelessness, in which people are labeled as lazy”, and told that their situation is their own fault. Despite this being not an individual issue, but more an issue where the government is not providing realistic housing solutions, society has been conditioned to view houseless people as less-than. 

The isolation of people without homes continues as some states maintain anti-panhandling laws, preventing these individuals from seeking help on the street. In some cities, they also charge them for trespassing when sleeping or even just staying in a public area for too long. This is an example of America ignoring vulnerable members of society and further enforcing individualism.

You have to do whatever it takes to grab hold of success, and if you couldn’t achieve the unachievable, it’s your fault for not trying hard enough.

This mindset can be harmful to both individuals and society, and its influence is embedded throughout systems and social behavior. 

When it comes to unfair wages, unhealthy working conditions, and crippling job security, working hard is only enough to break even. But workers are fighting for change, seen in the recent Amazon, UAW, and SAG-AFTRA strikes. These strikes are an example of not only how the system needs to change, but also how working together and finding a strong community makes change actually happen. Workers have been forced to submit to unfair work environments that do not provide sustainable support financially or emotionally.

The government enforces these structures by keeping citizens divided through class systems. The upper and middle class of America has been conditioned to remove empathy from conversations involving people facing poverty in the lower class, which prevents interconnectivity between different communities. A substantial lack of welfare programs like universal healthcare and low income housing are examples of an uninvolved government, despite having the means and resources to accommodate those struggling.

Our current economic and workplace systems are cut-throat, first come first serve, and only serve a select few, as seen through the funneling of wealth to the rich opposed to sharing wealth evenly among the working class.

The problem with individualism is that it not only isolates us and creates an atmosphere of economic pressure, but it also contributes to social disconnect, preventing vulnerable communities from experiencing the societal change they crave. Community can be found through reliable emotional connections with friends and family, as well as large scale movements and government support programs. Community is important and necessary for humans to function no matter the scale.

Shortening the work week and distributing hours is one way in which individuals can have more time outside of work with the community, and would also encourage a positive mindset around taking time off.

It’s important to understand that the working class feels the brunt of the economic pressure of individualism. Labor unions offer a possibility of job security and support that is not guaranteed in an inequitable system.

By shifting the focus from the self and looking at life through the lens of empathy, collective change is possible. Community goes beyond simply living more selflessly, it is taking account of what one has to give and what the collective needs, then making sure everyone is taken care of.

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About the Contributor
Sydney Thomas-Arnold
Sydney Thomas-Arnold, Staff Writer
Sydney Thomas-Arnold (she/her) is a freshman journalism and anthropology/sociology student from Houston, Texas. Sydney hopes to eventually go into the field to study different cultures and document human experiences & lifestyles. When not writing for the Beacon, Sydney enjoys reading and listening to music.

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