January 22, 2010

The American Dream?

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , — sbj @ 6:27 pm

Here is what I think… I think the American Dream has changed right under our noses, and most of us don’t even realize it.  We once lived in a land of universal opportunity, where anyone who was willing to do the work could make there way to prosperity…  The Great American Dream..

People can still be wildly successful, to be sure.  However, the idea that everyone who is willing to put in the work can be successful is simply a bygone reality, a theoretical remnant of the halcyon days of a nation still in its formative stages.

The dream is still there, but the focus has changed.  Instead of “everyone has a chance to make it” it is now “anyone has a chance to make it,” a subtle change in word, but much more substantive in nature. While it is still true that anyone who is in the right situation, has the right opportunities cross their path, or has the right particular skill set (in the right place and at the right time) can be remarkably successful; the same cannot be said of “everyone.” Other people, possessing the same skill set, the same (or an even stronger) work ethic etc. are not guaranteed (or even likely to enjoy) the same success in this modern America.

Although… perhaps… maybe we do know it, at least at a subconscious level.  For example, generally speaking – as a society -  when we define opportunity, we no longer tend to focus on the number of success stories, but rather the magnitude of our success stories.

“You can be rich/famous/powerful beyond your wildest dreams” would be accepted, by many, as a paraphrase for The American Dream.  I personally, however, just do not see that as being the same as “a land of opportunity for everyone.”  And that – the latter – to me, is what The American Dream really is.

*note: not literally everyone… I mean all those who are willing to put in the necessary work… I am not advocating equal prosperity for those who do not put out equal effort in any way*

Much of this, of course, is due to the changing landscape (literally) of the country.  A hundred and fifty years or so ago, a poor Irish kid (20′s) that immigrated away from famine to New York could head out west, homestead, and farm or ranch his/her way to success.  Generally speaking, opportunity like that no longer exists.

We are populated and settled to the point where a poor Irish kid in New York these days really doesn’t have anywhere to go to plant roots and establish him/herself.  You can still create success, but most opportunity is now intellectual or service oriented, and the ability to enter that space is limited by ones ability to get an education etc.  Not such an easy task for our young Irish protagonist.

However, regardless of why, I think the reality is that, currently, The American Dream… as it once was (in practice or, perhaps, just in my mind) is exactly that… a dream.  The American Reality, as it currently exists, is that class struggle and differentiation are continually increasing; and a big part of that is because we are defining ourselves by the magnitude of our successes rather than on the number of actual successes.

For a society, I do not believe that a smaller number of larger successes are better than a larger number of more modest successes.  And I fear, that if we do not wake up from our current “dream,” it will in fact become The Great American Nightmare…

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