You Made Me the Individual That I Am Today

Nevada Driving testA story the other day on National Public Radio’s morning show was on the US Republican party’s ongoing efforts to recruit more voters from the Latina/o community.

Give it a listen.

Daniel Garza, the executive director of the Libre Initiative (a non-profit funded by the politically conservative Koch brothers’ network), was quoted early on as saying the following:

If we’re going to promote self-reliance we need to back it up, and so it’s important that we be committed to lifting up each other, in a very real way…

And here’s what so interesting to me: a group promoting self-reliance, small government, and so-called free market ideals not only has a director who uses the pronoun “we” an awful lot but it’s also offering free drivers ed programs.

Now, there’s a curious contradiction here (sounds like socialism, no?), and I can see people on the left jumping all over this, but only if you think the rhetoric of self-reliance actually refers to autonomy — for only then would this initiative be judged hypocritical for falling well short of the goal of true self-reliance. If, instead, you see the self as a social phenomenon, through and through (just think for a minute about that old saying: “You made me what I am”) then, of course, there can’t be any individuality without an elaborate collaborative network stretching out all around you — such as free driver training programs for people who don’t speak English.

So if we start from this position — that group and individual are so inextricably linked that they’re actually co-constitutive — then we’d expect that, sooner or later, the rhetoric of self-reliance and free market would betray evidence of the large social investments needed to make people feel autonomous.

That it appears so nicely in Garza’s above quote is a little gift for the social theorist. The trick, though, is to find the evidence when it’s not so plainly stated.

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