Friday, March 14, 2008

American Dreamer

And now, a few words from our sponsor…

The definition of the American Dream has changed. It used to be a rather simple goal and based on what much of the rest of the world’s residents had to look forward to, a lofty one indeed. In a nutshell, if one worked hard, one could achieve prosperity regardless of class, ethnicity or legacy. It is usually manifested in homeownership and generally by achieving more than your parents did. Up until the cultural revolution that began in the 60s, that was pretty much it. Get an education, get a good job, work hard and retire in relative comfort. Of course that dream remains for a great many, but for many more it has evolved to mean much more.

Relative comfort cannot be achieved on a modest income, it would appear. Not because a modest income is not enough to be happy, but because of what that comfort is relative to. Simply owning a home (paid-off at some point) is no longer enough. Just being able to afford the day-to-day expenses of life with a little left over for a vacation or dinner out once in a while has become passé. No, to be relatively comfortable today, once must achieve more than just the basics… one must amass wealth. The American Dream has morphed; it now encompasses far more than just comfort, relatively speaking. One must have or live like they have wealth.

In the eyes of too many, driving a late model Toyota does not denote success. That designation is now reserved for the proud owner of a brand new Lexus, BMW or Mercedes. Even a Cadillac or a Lincoln doesn’t quite reach the strata of today’s American Dream, realized. It takes more, however, a slightly used Escalade certainly indicates we are on the right path. It’s not even as much about earning money and creating wealth as it is about spending it, whether we actually have it yet or not. It’s not as much about working our way to where we want to be, it’s about buying it now and paying for it later. Equating wealth with happiness has never enjoyed so much validation and the once vibrant middle class is taking it in the shorts.

While it is difficult to pinpoint one event or movement that brought about this paradigm shift, there are a number of factors that perpetuate it. The consumerism that has marked the years since World War II is perhaps the easiest target, but consumerism alone does not lead to opulence. Coming with the United States’ rise to hegemony is a personalization of the national fortitude. We have become financially arrogant not just at the national level on the world stage, but on a personal level as well. Then there is a political ideology of entitlement for the have-nots and exclusivity for the haves - often existing side-by-side in the same party. In the meantime, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

And the American Dream continues to grow. It has been corrupted - hijacked as it were by those who have it and aren’t willing to give any of it up and by those who don’t and won’t be satisfied until they have it - all of it. The Dream has become an entitlement - right up there with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The pursuit has become a destination with readily identifiable signs as to what extent it has been realized. And the debate still rages on: Can money buy happiness? Is the American Dream for sale? The answer is yes, but not for money. It is the same as it has always been. Get an education, get a good job and most importantly, work hard. Do all that and it won’t matter how much money you make, you will have found that the American Dream is still alive and within the reach of anyone.

13 comments:

Saur♥Kraut said...

Oh so VERY true. Nicely written. ;o)

Ellen said...

Somehow we get caught up in all the STUFF the American Dream offers.... or at least what we deem the dream to be. Only too bad that we need to make scads of money just to pay the normal bills today.

I make far more money than my parents ever made, yet I still struggle to keep up with the utilities, mortgage and grocery bill..... and I don't even live in a McMansion. My house is the size of a cottage. Yet.... it's my cottage, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm just grateful that my American Dream leaves me content. As far as the generation behind me? Best of luck to them... the struggle will be even harder with the rising costs of "just gettin along".

As always... very well put into perspective by you. I read through some back posts to catch up, and wonder why I don't make time to drop by more often. Oh, yeah, that's right... keeping up with the dream keeps me working 6 to 7 days a week......

kenju said...

As my old professor would say,
"Clear, concise and concrete. You relly know how to sum it up for us, Mike. Another good one.

Theo said...

i'm done with dreaming. i'm going straight for VISIONS!

well written.

Mamacita (Mamacita) said...

This entire post is excellent, and the last two sentences are jewels.

I'm here from Michele's. 'Allo.

kenju said...

Michele sent me back; I always agree with Mamacita and she is very right on this one!

gautami tripathy said...

Dreams, American or otherwise keep us going. However, a few go overboard! We just a blance.

Great post!

Michele sent me here today!

burntofferings said...

There is so much of a similarity for the 'Great Australian Dream' as well...

Here from Michele's this afternoon, first time in such a long time...

Carmi said...

Nicely put. Somewhere along the way, the so-called American Dream (funny, in that I'm Canadian, and we don't really subscribe to the term, but it casts a shadow over us nonetheless) was twisted away from its original, simple definition.

Come to think of it, most icons of modern-day culture have been similarly perverted. But that's a story for another time.

It's often been said that the evolving economy has squeezed the middle class beyond its ability to sustain itself. The social welfare state hands a standard of living to those too poor to do for themselves, while the super-rich do just fine on their own, helped along by a tax structure that barely reflects their elevated ability to pay.

It's the poor middle class, too rich for a handout and too poor to easily afford to fund society's machine, that gets to have the air let out of its dream balloon.

Our kids have often asked us the rich-poor question at bedtime. The fact that we always have full tummies, a nice (albeit non-McMansion) house and enough money to do the day-to-day things they enjoy doing means we're rich beyond words.

That and we have our health. Which is the only dream I ever want to have insofar as my family is concerned.

Thanks for your erudite examination of an issue that matters to us all no matter where we live.

Michele says hi, btw!

Snaggle Tooth said...

Hmmm... Even with the hard work these days, without a supporting economy, progressing to feel ya "made it" is unlikely. Hitting the lottery is the new dream-

~Easy said...

I find that I have to periodically remind myself that I made some conscious decisions that brought me to where I am today. Money is nice, but it's never been a driving force for me. Same with the "stuff".

The important thing is sitting in my back yard, watching the kids play.

Don said...

Wow! Excellent post. Very good.

~A~ said...

Hi, Michele sent me. And I could not agree more. :)