Early in this course, Professor Nauman stated, “The worth of every human is in the measure of their thoughtful self-cultivation.” This resonated with my beliefs that I had a duty to society to learn and think in order to be an active member of society. Likewise, it parallelled advice of self-love: “you must learn to love yourself, to love someone else.” Impressed, I sent the quote to my dad who replied with: “So a self-absorbed narcissist who invests only in himself is worth more than a citizen selflessly dedicated to community service?” My dad’s reply confused me. Parts of his argument are blown out of proportion, but over the course of this class, and the further defining of ambition I have come to understand that my dad’s opinion is a product of political structures where equitable distribution is little to non-existent.
Ambition, similar to self-cultivation, is internally focused in its primary stages but community-focused in its ends – or at least that’s what I believe and that what John Adams said was the intention. In 1777, during the time of the American Declaration of Independence, John Adams, a founding father of the United States said, “Ambition in a republic, is a great Virtue, for it is nothing more than a Desire, to serve the public, to promote the happiness of people, to increase the wealth, the grandeur and prosperity of the community. Thus, Ambition is but another name for Public Virtue and Public Spirit” (National Archives). This is what was promised in the creation of the United States. Ambition to increase wealth to promote happiness and prosperity in the community is a false promise that has embedded itself in the fallacies of trickle-down economics and economic models like the Kuznets Curve.
Trickle-down economics asks for the reduction of tax on corporations because, in theory, then wealth can be flexibly distributed to the company workers. The theory explains that while the tops accrue wealth, the condition of inequality and wealth disparity is only temporary because later this wealth will trick down. Likewise, the Kuznets Curve (below) illustrates that as income per capita increases, inequality will rise and then eventually fall again.
These conditions apparently are not the case as 1% of the world population owns more wealth than 99% of the world population’s wealth put together. When is the trickle going to happen?! I’m sure my father would ask the same thing. This all relates to thoughtful self-cultivation because the connections that I see, either in my naivety or hopefulness, between personal investment and community investment has only been a false promise in the past. Rather personal investment has been narcissistic and self-consumed and has led instead to the deterioration of communities, both human and environmental.
On the other hand, maybe my dad is not cynical because of the structures whose promises are smoke and mirrors. Maybe he’s just cynical – I’ll ask and get back to you.