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‘Falling Apart at the Seams’: Senator Murphy Warns Against Individualism at IOP Forum

The John F. Kennedy Forum in the Harvard Kennedy School hosts the Institute of Politics' regular events. U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-C.T.) called on policymakers to focus on the common good during an IOP forum on Monday.
The John F. Kennedy Forum in the Harvard Kennedy School hosts the Institute of Politics' regular events. U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-C.T.) called on policymakers to focus on the common good during an IOP forum on Monday. By Julian J. Giordano
By Samuel A. Church and Caitlyn C. Kukulowicz, Contributing Writers

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-C.T.) discussed the dangers of prioritizing individualism ahead of the common good at a Harvard Institute of Politics forum on Monday.

Moderated by IOP Director Setti D. Warren, the event featured Murphy and Richard J. Weissbourd, a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Harvard Kennedy School.

Last April, Murphy and Richard jointly penned a piece in TIME Magazine arguing against the over-prioritization of individualism.

During the event, Murphy called on policymakers to focus on “prioritizing the common good,” attributing compounding crises of mental health, addiction, and violence to the “hyperindividualism that has overtaken the country.”

“A lot of us have this sense that this country, in some ways, is falling apart at the seams,” Murphy said. “It’s reached the point where I don’t think it’s sufficient for people in my job to just adjust the dials of public policy on the existing machine.”

Weissbourd added that this hyperindividualism was the natural result of the lack of a “shared reality,” suggesting that the path forward should involve more robust “social infrastructure.”

“Every branch of government can do something to reduce isolation and to connect people to each other,” he said.

Murphy also cited the “commoditization of everything in our society” as a reason “why we have become more individualistic and less concerned with the common good.”

In particular, he pointed to the stratifications within the airline industry that allow people to “pay to consort with only people of your income bracket.”

“There’s now three different lines at TSA,” Murphy said. “There’s four different sections on the airplane.”

“And that makes us feel as if the only thing that defines us is the amount of money that we have to be able to pay for experience — rather than experiencing things together,” he added.

Murphy stressed the connections between hyperindividualism and hot button political issues like gun control.

Despite momentum toward gun control following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, the Senate failed to pass a background check bill in 2013.

“We were just mortified by the fact that Sandy Hook didn’t change anything,” Murphy said. “We realized that’s not how politics works, right?”

“There’s no epiphanies in American politics,” he said. “You have the power. You either have it or you don’t.”

During the event, Murphy also emphasized the need for the U.S. to have a coherent border policy as a “multicultural society.”

The U.S. must “have a real rule of law when it comes to how you become an American, when you become a member of our community,” he said.

Murphy criticized some of his colleagues for keeping controversial — yet resolvable — issues like the border “as an open sore, politically.”

At the conclusion of the event, Murphy urged his fellow legislators to take action in support of Ukraine amid the ongoing war following Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022.

“Ukraine won’t survive from now until November,” Murphy said.

Murphy commended bipartisan efforts to aid Israel’s fight against Hamas.

“There are all sorts of non-state actors that want to harm us,” he said. “If Hamas was to get away with this and exist as a military entity on Israel’s border — that’s not good for Israel, that’s not good for the United States.”

Still, he said the situation in Gaza has “gotten so out of control,” urging Israel “to stop this military campaign for a period of time” to allow for humanitarian aid.

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