Am I Now in the Wrong World?


I just saw an ad for an article in The Atlantic titled “The Myth of Pulling Yourself Up by Your Bootstraps,” with a subtext saying “It’s time to challenge our country’s dangerous obsession with self-reliance.” I don’t have a subscription, so I don’t know what the article actually says but is the ad a description of where we are?

I don’t think it was ever a myth during my working career but I have little doubt it can quickly be made one by the socialist-oriented government we now have. I don’t think it was a myth because I did exactly that. I started with nothing, had a marriage in which we reared three children, all are college graduates without debt to be repaid or forgiven, none of whom has succumbed to the use of illegal drugs or committed crimes, and all are living productive lives not dependent on government largesse. They are self-reliant individuals and family members who love and care for each other.

Now, that is not to say it works that way for all. I have seen numerous reports of individuals who inherit fortunes and proceed to lose it all and become dependent on other methods to make it through life. And I don’t even have the words to describe what it means to make one’s way in the manner of a Hunter Biden. There might even be some things there worth an article in The Atlantic. Of course, there are those between these extremes, many of whom lose the ability to be self-reliant through misfortune, frequently not of their own doing.

But none of this justifies calling the possible achievements of a self-made person a myth. And how does self-reliance get to be an obsession?

Sometimes I’m not sure what world I am living in.

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  1. DaveSchmidt Coolidge

    Buckpasser (View Comment):

    Why rely on yourself when daddy government will support you or people will give you some “mythical” reparations.

    With all the gender shuffling going on, perhaps I should claim my true identity is Obama’s Julia.  

    • #31
  2. DaveSchmidt Coolidge

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Just so you know, you did not write that post. Public funding for the internet infrastructure and government permission for all the companies who built and sold the components in your computer and its software, all public funding for your education… Your illusions about cognitive autonomy are why we had a J6 insurrection, and have no guaranteed health care, income disparity, racism, and climate change. And Liz Warren, me, and all the rest of America will also be the real owners of your mandated apology after the coming arrests…

    Okay Okay!

    Let me have it on the record that I am already apologizing!


    An apology is never enough. 

    • #32
  3. TBA Coolidge

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    but suddenly means “I owe nothing to anyone and I did it all by myself.” (I don’t know anyone who claims to have “pulled himself up by his own bootstraps” who ever fails to acknowledge the spectrum of support he received once he decided to put his foot on the bottom rung of the ladder.)

    My experience is that those who are most emblematic of “pulled myself up by my own bootstraps” (or “self-made” I suppose might be similar) are the quickest to acknowledge how much they owe to family, to friends, to mentors, to encouragers, and others.

    They also will talk about the times they crashed and burned and had to start over. 

    • #33
  4. TBA Coolidge

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson: I just saw an ad for an article in The Atlantic titled The Myth of Pulling Yourself Up by Your Bootstraps with a subtext saying It’s time to challenge our country’s dangerous obsession with self-reliance.

    Adam Carolla has been ranting against this for at least a decade. He made the observation that when he was growing up, a father and son would be walking down the street and a well-to-do member of the community would drive by in his expensive car. The father would tell the son, one day, if you work hard and apply yourself, that too can be yours. Now, in the same situation, the father will disparage the rich man and complain how it’s unfair that he has that car and that they don’t.

    A loser isn’t really losing if he believes all the winners are cheating. 

    • #34
  5. Flicker Coolidge

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    I can’t read the whole Atlantic article either. But I see the author references Alissa Quart who has–apparently–written the book on the bootstrap myth. So I looked her up. She has a current article in, the whole of which I can’t read either, but here’s the first paragraph (emphasis added):

    To get your work boots on your feet 200 or so years ago, you would stand up and grab two small leather flaps on the sides, known as bootstraps, and pull the boot up. From this everyday activity, the idiom “to pull yourself up by your bootstraps” was born-and with it, a torturous myth that true success meant getting ahead on only your energy and steam, without help from your family, government, or community. While it was initially understood to be an absurdity, over time it became a phrase that millions of people take seriously. The phrase is now, arguably, the basis of the American Dream and its embrace of an individualism that shades into a brittle self-sufficiency.

    If ever there were a bastardization of, or myth regarding, what it means to “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,” there it is. (I like how she squeezes the word “government” in there, between “family” and “community.”

    If the author Alissa Quart is correct that “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” comes from using the flaps on the sides (cowboy boots sometimes have finger openings near the tops for the same purpose) to put on your boots (by the way, not at all limited to work boots), she seems to be missing the most obvious reading – if you used such things it meant you didn’t have a valet to help you put on your boots. You had to put on your own boots. You weren’t born rich. Rich people had staff (a valet) to help them get dressed. The opposite of “He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.” Has the author never seen a period movie set in an English country house?

    That’s funny.  When I was introduced to the expression “pulling himself up by his own bootstraps” it had to do with lifting oneself off the floor and into the air by pulling himself up by his own bootstraps.  In other words, doing the impossible by one’s own exertion.  I don’t think it really has anything to pulling on one’s own boots.

    • #35
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