Why Ireland Is Better Than the United States: One Man’s Joy At Not Living Somewhere Slavishly Devoted To ‘The Individual’

After nearly three years of living in Ireland, the thrill and curiosity of not living in a superpower has dulled a bit, but still fascinates me. On a daily basis the need not to compete with everyone, and the need to assert dominance have been replaced with a much more humble worldview. But it struck me recently that, for me, the biggest change that I’ve noticed is how nice it is to live somewhere where the obsession over individual rights is not society’s dominant priority.

From its gun laws and healthcare centered on those who can afford it (rather than those who need it), to tax breaks overtly focused on making the rich richer, the United States’ “Pursuit of Happiness” doctrine has become the individual pursuit of as much money and possessions as possible. Full stop.

While the U.S. has long prided itself on being a land of rugged individualists, more and more that longing to go out and work hard to carve out a modest, but respectable, life for yourself has turned to petulant demands that individuals never be forced to sacrifice any of their hard-earned wealth in the name of the broader social good. Try getting one of the self-proclaimed one-percenters (America’s upper class) to willingly pay more tax for the sake of improving schools and public infrastructure. God forbid they kick in for healthcare for the underprivileged – which they’re already paying for in other, more expensive ways.

And the U.S. system seems rigged to perpetuate itself. Most Americans are not willing to do anything that might inhibit the endless acquisition of wealth, because, well, “Why tax the wealthy? That could be me. I could be rich one day”.

Admittedly this is all a big generalization. But, watching Irish and European reactions to the childish bickering that passes for politics and public discourse in the U.S., it’s hard not to compare the two sides of the Atlantic. Granted, in many ways Ireland (and much of Europe) now seem to aspire to the lofty heights of American individualism (yet another American export). But, overall, the Irish and European cultures seem to focus less on the individual and demonstrate systemic, institutional/cultural-level compassion for those in need more than in America.

Witness, the “concession” rates for plays, concerts and the like in many European countries. If you have no money in the U.S., it’s assumed that you’ve done something wrong, and, because you’ve not “worked hard enough” you don’t deserve to have any fun or entertainment. In Ireland, and many other European countries, venues offer a reduced ticket price (a “concession rate”) for people who are out of work, or significantly disadvantaged. And there seems to be no stigma attached to availing yourself of the rate if you are in truly in need.

When I ask ticket takers how often they think people take advantage of the rate who shouldn’t, abuse of the system seems such an alien concept that they were hard pressed to answer. And even if there were the occasional bit of cheating going on, they don’t believe that makes those who genuinely need the concession rate any less deserving.

It would be fine, if one man’s pursuit of “more” didn’t affect others. But it has a cumulative effect. Man’s competitive nature guarantees that in an individual-based society everyone eventually starts fighting for more and more. Pretty soon, whether you need a giant house or not, you aspire to one, because that’s what people do. And, somehow, if you don’t always want more, you are not, by God, trying hard enough (and aren’t one of us).

For immigrants the question of individual rights (and a focus on the individual and taking care of yourself) is crucial. It speaks to how much of a safety net you may/may not enjoy in your new home. Will you be required to pay for your own healthcare, retirement, and other “benefits? If the group covers you to some degree, do those benefits accrue immediately, and if not, how quickly do you become part of the group? Are you prepared to deal with that?

If you’ve lived your life in a society that has strong social protections, and a sense of the group looking out for individuals in need, are you strong enough to stand up for yourself in your new home? Will you demand things for yourself in the ways that are required in a society that is “all for one”? With all that it implies, are you truly prepared to elevate the rights of the individual above all others?

If you aren’t willing to make those sacrifices, it’s important to honestly assess whether you are willing to sacrifice those beliefs or change your fundamental nature when society demands it of you.

Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:

* Renting Abroad, Home Maintenance and Property Management in a Foreign Country

About Glenn Kaufmann

I'm an American freelance writer, photographer, and web publisher. I specialize in writing about travel, food, arts, and culture. I also write dramatic scripts for stage and screen. I'm based in Ireland.
This entry was posted in Dublin Life, Emigrant/Immigrant Life, Health Care, Immigration & Emigration, Irish Life & Society, Modern Life and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Why Ireland Is Better Than the United States: One Man’s Joy At Not Living Somewhere Slavishly Devoted To ‘The Individual’

  1. Oh my goodness, Glenn, you have hit the nail on the proverbial head. Every time I come to Ireland (once a year or every two years) I feel such a relief to be in a country that is not trying to be the biggest, the loudest, the strongest, etc. The US has lost it’s bearings, and most of our politicians are easily bought and sold. There are places in this county where community still matters, but it’s an uphill struggle. The worst part is that I can’t see how it can be corrected as long as money runs politics. When I’ve talked with our Irish friends they say that the crash of the Celtic Tiger was a good thing because it made the country wake up and see what they were losing in the pursuit of money. They say, “we lost the run of ourselves, and now we know what really matters.” I wish we could come to that realization in the US.

  2. Tommy Housworth says:

    Beautifully said, Glenn. On a day to day basis, I’d once have said that most Americans have (at least some of the) right priorities, but social media in particular has either shown a bright light on an ugly Americanism that has always been there, or perhaps it has perpetuated its growth. We seem to have chosen to define ourselves by political or religious affiliation over here, along with social strata (one that is growing wider in the extremes, it seems). Joy, it seems, is a commodity to be attained, not a philosophy for life.

    While I imagine we’re staying put, I will say I spent a week at a Buddhist monastery last fall, living off of the simplest forms of food, shelter, etc, and I was happier then than I ever am in Atlanta traffic, surfing Facebook, or wandering the grocery aisles. We’ve chosen to make life more complicated here, in the name of being #1 at everything, and I think we’re a quietly desperate, unhappier nation for it.

    Wish us luck. I know you have plenty of it over there. 😉

  3. Thomas says:

    Interesting viewpoint; Professor Hossein Askari of International Business and International Affairs at George Washington University – click link – http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/religion-and-beliefs/ireland-the-most-truly-muslim-country-in-the-world-1.1826354

  4. Thomas says:

    Goodest country..!? & low self-esteem – Simon Anholt, British independent policy advisor – click link – http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/irish-people-take-issue-with-topping-good-country-index-1.1844859

  5. kt92 says:

    Just wanted to comment and let you know this is precisely the point I was getting at in my critical comment of the five things you hate about Dublin. You have extremely accurately hit the nail on the head in this post. Many of the things you have written are word-for-word what I have said to others in conversations about the topic. I really couldn’t agree more.

  6. Can you tell us more about this? I’d love to find out some additional information.

  7. Josh says:

    Thank you for writing this, Glenn! I find myself also tired of living in a superpower. There’s so much competitiveness and this “macho” image that America is the best, biggest, and we plan to do anything to keep it that way. It seems to really blind our leaders and people to what is actually important. I appreciate your perspective. If only more Americans could “see the light”!

  8. Jonathan Nichols says:

    Are you people insane the country of Ireland is a wreck there’s an average of 150 natives leaving daily face reality you’re strong or intelligent enough to live in USA inferior countries and people makes you happy you should be ashamed to even speak of the greatest country in existence

  9. John Brown says:

    Greatest country where you get 10 -15 days holidays , Police are militarized
    house price in the maincities are crazy , eduacation and medical is expensive and guns are freely available to buyers thats debatable
    Maybe hard work being rewarded and a better climate in Cali and states
    and opportunities may swing it for some people but
    it’s far from as great as it once was never mind the greatest country on earth
    Some people who say this haven’t lived and worked abroad to compare for themselves,
    it depends on your personal circumstances not so much the country you live in excluding the extremes.

  10. Seth says:

    I have been working my way through these blog posts from the beninning and this one absolutely nails the thoughts I am having and pretty much sums up why I’d like to live somewhere else.

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