The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

ON INDIVIDUALITY

The Fairly Intelligent Fly”

 

A large spider in an old house built a beautiful web in which to catch flies. Every time a fly landed on the web and was entangled in it the spider devoured him, so that when another fly came along he would think the web was a safe and quiet place in which to rest. One day a fairly intelligent fly buzzed around above the web so long without lighting that the spider appeared and said, “Come on down.” But the fly was too clever for him and said, “I never light where I don’t see other flies and I don’t see any other flies in your house.” So he flew away until he came to a place where there were a great many other flies. He was about to settle down among them when a bee buzzed up and said, “Hold it, stupid, that’s flypaper. All those flies are trapped.” “Don’t be silly,” said the fly, “they’re dancing.” So he settled down and became stuck to the flypaper with all the other flies.

Moral: There is no safety in numbers, or in anything else.

-James Thurber

Fables For Our Time”

When I first read this story many years ago, I immediately thought of a lecture that mom would deliver if I wanted to do something that was childishly stupid. (I provided her ample opportunity to pull out her oratory skills and deliver her polemic). The lecture was brief.

If your friends all jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge would you want to do that?”

Point taken – score one for mom. The fact that everyone in my peer group was doing something was not sufficient validation that I should also engage in the activity. As children we have a desire to “fit in” and be a part of the group. To our young minds, there is security in doing something that we know everyone else is doing.

But we grow up, hopefully. We begin understanding that even if the majority of people act in a certain way that doesn’t mean that behavior is right – or at least right for us. If we give up our right to hold on to our individuality, we have given up our life.

When the television show, “The Outer Limits” was in its second incarnation, I remember one episode in particular. (Sorry, I don’t remember the episode’s title).

The story dealt with a young boy and his family who lived in the egalitarian society into which the world had evolved. It was an idyllic place – everyone being equal and all. The young man came to the attention of the state because he really didn’t fit into this utopian world. There were reports that he far outdistanced his schoolmates in his intelligence. This, of course, was disruptive to a world in which everyone was – or were supposed to be – equal.

So the state administered a test to the young man to determine if he was brighter than the norm that the state had established. The test was administered after he had been given a drug so that he had to answer the questions truthfully and to the best of his ability.

Sadly for the young man, the test proved that his level of intelligence far exceeded the level the state had determined was acceptable. As a result, the state did its duty on behalf of all its citizens – and euthanized him.

Imagine a world that had not been touched by the likes of Leonardo daVinci, Emily Dickinson, Galileo, Alfred Hitchcock, Einstein, Mother Teresa, Elias Howe, Marie Curie, Steve Jobs – well the list goes on and on. People who took a different tack, defied the norm and who changed the world. Imagine a world in which their creativity and vision were repressed or destroyed. Imagine the world of George Orwell’s, “1984.”

Although it is currently the “politically correct” view to proclaim everyone’s equality, there is something important that we should remember.

The individuality that is lost may be your own.

 

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