This is a really excellent piece: kudos! I have had similar thoughts for a long time, being long-in-the-tooth enough to remember Woodstock and the Summer of 69. And I have often thought that Social Democracy never took root in the USA as opposed to Europe for precisely the same reasons as you enumerate — basically, what I have been calling “possessive individualism” or, in the vernacular, “Get yours before someone else does.” The reason I remain a fan, if a critical one, of John Dewey is that he understands individualism to be impossible without a social dimension. The “atomic individualism” of American libertarianism pretty much ignores the interplay between the social and the individual, and as a result tries to argue that a collection of ruthlessly self-interested atomic individuals can, by way of a magical, mystical invisible hand, generate a functional economic/social order. And they say that social democrats like me are naive???

It is, however, a bit dispiriting that “Woodstock Nation” after the concert and the inconsequential decade of the 1970s, pretty much signed on to the Reaganite version of possessive, acquisitive individualism. I think that there was something missing in Woodstock libertarianism that is present in European Social Democracies (however stressed they may be at the moment), that accounts for this. After the festival was over…..well, everyone went home. Woodstock was meant to be temporary. But the European Social Democracies developed a sense that the kind of non-pecuniary “deep play” that makes life livable needs to be nurtured on an everyday basis, baked into the practices and sensibility of ordinary life. Play, leisure, doing something not for the payoff but because it is good in itself, is just as important as the work that allos this to emerge. Inhabitants of the USA seem unable to comprehend this idea. “Play” in US culture is by definition not deep. The production-consumption cycle is: play is what you do when not doing the work you are supposed to be doing. Perhaps this is why America’s key contribution to human civilization has to be its music. It is a respite from the omnium bellum contra omnes that is the core of possessive individualism. You can zone out to Miles, Nirvana, or Erik Satie (as I am doing right now). But when the lady stops singing and the band packs up, it’s over.

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Writer, philosopher, information technologist,guitarist, neurotic, polite radical, avid and indiscriminate reader, Episcopalian, trans woman.

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