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A Peculiar Sickness

John A. Burtka IV on Individualism in America & Its Cure

While reclining at my desk after a day's work, I caught myself singing along to Frank Sinatra's 1969 sensation, "My Way." As I mouthed each line of the song, I realized that many of our contemporary woes—spiritual isolation, social alienation, and cultural fragmentation—have their root, not exclusively in technology, social media, or the millennial generation, but much farther back in our American tradition.

The song, which, I admit, conjures up a sense of mutual triumph in Sinatra's rugged individualism and worldly success, memorializes an egotistical creed:

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has . . .

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