Some problems are individual, some are systemic, and solutions usually have to be tailored to this in order to be effective. In the US however, the myth of Individualism has led to a virtual disappearance (or failure to appear; I’m pleading historical ignorance) of systemic solutions. Virtually everything is now framed as an individualistic problem, to be solved by individuals in an individualistic manner.
Obesity pandemic? Prod and shame people into gym memberships and weight-watcher programs, rather than promote walkable/bikable infrastructure and eliminate food deserts.
High infant mortality rate? Show PSA’s about the effects on skipping your folate pills and not quitting smoking, rather than create outreach services that create a culture of caring about preventive health in the affected parts of the population.
Homelessness? Volunteer at/donate to the temporary homeless shelter. Don’t worry about creating systems that get people off the streets permanently, and prevent them from landing there in the first place.
Poor education? Take your kids out of school and homeschool them, or send them to private schools, rather than clamoring to get the public system fixed.
I think the most blatant example of this was the movie for which Sandra Bullock just won an Oscar: The Blind Side. Basically, it’s a movie about an individual black ghetto kid’s learning problems, poverty problems, etc. being solved by being adopted by a filthy rich white family. There were SO many problems with that movie, especially the racist tropes (right at the beginning you have the attributes of the ideal dude for a particular position in American Football described in a way I’ve previously heard people use to describe the ideally built race horse :-/), but the focus on the “feel good”, personalized solution to the problems of African American ghettos just felt like obscuring the problem rather than highlighting it; especially when at the end of the movie, they highlight another kid, who gets shot, and they basically imply that if only someone had adopted THAT kid, he’d wouldn’t have to die. So what? should all middle-class and rich whites volunteer to take away poor black kids from their families to raise them in a more “civilised” environment?
yeah, didn’t think so.
and not once in that entire movie were there any hints about helping kids from ghettos as a group, rather than in such a silly, individual matter. And that thing won Oscars, FFS!
Anyway, it’s not just America’s own problems that America is trying to solve in such an idiotic manner. All those Christian organizations that urge you to “adopt” a child somewhere in the Undeveloped World? Actual, physical adoption-runs on poor countries (The Haiti adoption-scandal, for example)? These are examples of individualistic attempts at solving systemic problems, and in this case they also result in rich-guilt being assuaged to the point where calls for real, developmental and structural, help are ignored, because you’ve already helped; and you helped a real human being with a name and everything, whereas the structural help is for faceless masses, and doesn’t come with a personal thank-you letter written in crayon.
I’ve actually once gotten into a pretty big argument with a woman who adopted a child from Peru. I was commenting on something else, and saying that foreign adoptions are iffy because they’re too likely to be scams of some sort, at which point this woman entered the conversation, and wrote a long starfart about how mean I was to accuse her (even though she wasn’t even in the conversation up till the starfart) of stealing her daughter, when in reality her family voluntarily gave her up to her because she could have a much better life in America!!
Yeah. Just how shitty does your situation have to be to willingly sell your child to some rich Americans, never to see her again? And wouldn’t it be actually better for everyone involved if help would allow the child to grow up with her family and still allow her to have a good life?
But of course these were questions that the woman took as personal attacks against her, and her own image of herself as a Good Samaritan. No talk about systemic problems, and about the pain it must have caused the Peruvian family were permitted, because they would tarnish the woman’s self-image.
Individualism, Take Two, a second look at this issue.