Recently, as I was reading about a protest in Malaysia against a United Nation’s treaty on racial discrimination, I am reminded again of why America is the greatest and most moral country I have had the fortunate privilege of leaving Malaysia for.
“America is great because America is good” Alexis de Tocqueville writes— a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with.
I would add to Tocqueville’s observation that America is great because it exemplifies all the great ideas of Western Civilization, but with one additional aspect which most of Western history lacks. That aspect is the American ideals of individualism, demonstrated in her sanctity for individual rights. The protection of individual rights is the remarkable aspect of America and is what makes the American experiment fundamentally different from the rest of the world.
It is indeed different from my experience growing up in Malaysia because the concept of freedom and individual rights is detested in favor of collectivism through the bondage of social determinism. You see, I was born into an economically successful minority race in Malaysia (the same race as the infamous “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua), and hence my future was sealed. Racial politics argued that my race’s economic success were the results of our exploitation of the natives in Malaysia. That argument justified the subjugation of my life under racially discriminatory policies; officiated in law by the Malaysian government.
Social determinism claims that we are all a product of society. Since it is society which determines the course of a person’s life, it rejects the idea that personal accomplishments is connected to individual responsibility. Like others in Malaysia whom shared my race, we weren’t necessarily wealthy nor economically successful as the stereotype suggested. However, we were still subject to the discriminatory affirmative action laws in the name of “social justice”, going back to when the idea of “social justice” wasn’t even part of the popular American lexicon like it is today.
The injustice was so egregious in Malaysia that Thomas Sowell wrote about it in his book, “Affirmative Action Around the World”. For instance, because of my race, I wasn’t able to attend public university despite my outstanding academic achievements. For those like me who are discriminated against, our only means of attaining higher education in Malaysia was to fork out exorbitant amounts of money and pay for private colleges that caters to second class citizens like us.
It wasn’t until I attended a class in American History (in one of these private colleges) when I understood the meaning of liberty and the importance of individual rights. America’s founding in the spirit of individualism was unprecedented in human history and unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before.
“In America, I am to be judged as an individual” –imagined my idealistic 18 year old self, free from the predestined bondage to my race. America is exceptional because it is the land of personal freedom and responsibility, where my life is only limited by my own personal choices and actions.
The idea of individual rights — built upon the idea of individual responsibility — was contrary to the idea of social determinism which the Malaysian society was built upon. The repressive discriminatory legislation against the “wealthy Chinese” were justified on the basis that since the Malaysian Chinese were predominantly more successful, it is their race’s responsibility to take care of the poorer and “victimized” groups’ welfare. It’s the reason I am allegedly responsible for the poverty and pain of those I victimized with my “Chinese privilege”. My American History class taught me the opposite, for “all Men are created equal” and my life wouldn’t be bounded by the limits of my race if I were in America.
Clearly, America is great, no qualms about it. Suffice to say, I worked and saved up everything I could to make my voyage to America. Immigrating to America was worth all the effort and hoops I was made to jump through. It is a nation borne of individual liberty and man’s free will, not of social determinism. Culturally, the mere thought that a person’s fate was determined by external forces divorced from the individual’s own actions and choices is detested because America was the nation of the “self-made man”.
Unexpectedly, it seems the current American cultural climate is paradoxical to the idea of America as I remembered from my American History class. My understanding was that Americans strongly rejected the ideas of social determinism because it’s contrary to the American spirit of self-determined individualism. As I observe today, the opposite seems to be true. American society is shifting away from individualism towards the tribalism of collectivism. You can witness this tribalism through the popular emphasis on racial and class issues like “Black Lives Matters”, the rise of the alt-right, Harvard Asian student lawsuit, Latino Dreamer rights, etc.
This dreadful trend is mostly noticeable in the tendency of a person shifting blame to the wider social-political environment for their own personal failings and problems. This is a celebration of the victimhood mentality because the victims are entitled to the expiation of their victimhood from their “oppressor”. The justification behind America’s “social justice” is practically the same nightmare of social determinism that I wanted to escape Malaysia for, to begin with.
The bad news is, America is descending into a worse form of tribalism, namely that of biological determinism. If you ever wondered where today’s obsession with “race as a crucial part of a person’s identity” originated from, look no further because you can trace its roots to the idea of biological determinism.
Biological determinism, as the name infers, is the idea that a person’s thoughts and action are determined by the person’s biological makeup. It is the idea that a white person can’t help but act in accordance to his white race, an Asian to their Asian race, the African to his African ancestry and so on. It is perhaps the most unadulterated form of determinism, since an entity’s action is determined by the entity’s biological composition. Biological determinism sets the foundation for today’s identity politics.
The ideology of biological determinism is how the regressive haters of Western civilization belittle the achievements of Western history. By arguing against the self-determinism of an individuals’ free will, identity politics can section out a group of people and simply call that intersection “dead white males”. This work to discredit the individual accomplishments of great men like the American Founding Fathers, the Enlightenment thinkers and the Western philosophers whom inspired them. Without free will, man is essentially denigrated to the level of an animal and thus incapable of bettering themselves. This is the “Return of the Primitive” as noted by novelist Ayn Rand.
A lot of the misconception against “free will” began from a mistaken translation of the original phrase in Latin liberum arbitrium which actually translates as, “free judgment” (a subject for another essay). The reason why it is supremely important to unify the concept of human nature to the idea of free will is because as Ayn Rand stated — “Dictatorship and determinism are reciprocally reinforcing corollaries: if one seeks to enslave men, one has to destroy their reliance on the validity of their own judgments and choices”.
Determinism is a breeding ground for dictatorship because determinism naturally revokes a person’s autonomy, along with his individual liberty. If America is to remain free, her defiance against tyranny must be fought against the erosion of individual rights. The battle of ideas lies in defeating the corruption of America by leftist identity politics because the act of placing individuals into differing groups, clumps the individual onto a collective where it undermines the principles of individual rights.
Most damagingly, identity politics is contrary to the principles of individual freedom. Identity politics was the reason I was desperate to escape my situation in Malaysia and emigrate to America. I understood America to be a land where a person can forge his own destiny and not be bounded by his given group identity. It is the reason America is exceptional in it’s uniqueness. The principle of individual rights being paramount and protected in America is the virtue which makes America great to me.
In America, as I happily live my life as an individual with the liberty to exercise my free will, I am reminded often of how there is such a thing as greatness and goodness in this world — as Tocqueville stated. And as I celebrate Christmas this year, I shall also celebrate the greatness of America.
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