In which I write a Letter to Q on John Swansburg’s deconstruction of the “Self-Made Man:” it didn’t go nearly far enough.
dear Jian & Q,
I listened to the interview with John Swansburg concerning the “Self-Made Man” & it was as much interesting as it was disturbing.
John didn’t go far enough in deflating the myth.
To say that the “Self-Made Man” was more of a reality under Ben Franklin, as John suggested, is to assume that the category only applies to White Men, and that this is all that continues to matter today. It completely ignores all those who were enslaved, exploited, and colonized to produce this myth.
It is not just that “African Americans” and “women” have been “left out of the narrative,” as John suggests.
No, the myth of the “Self-Made Man” required the forced enslavement of Africans, the exploitation of women, the theft of land from indigeneous peoples, and the murder of those who resisted.
It is only because of these conditions of economic exploitation, colonization, murder, and slavery that capitalism was able to produce the conditions for the myth itself, in which, as John demonstrates, only a small percentage of privileged males of the white population were able to live off accumulated wealth exploited from others so as to enrich and enhance their personal lives.
The myth of the upwardly mobile is predicated upon, and is socioeconomically dependent upon, the violent economic exploitation of women, indigeneous peoples, and people of colour.