Wednesday, July 01, 2009

What is the American Dream?

The American dream might be no different than the general dreams of all humans everywhere.

Dear Mr. supposed philosopher, I have a generic, even cliche question: What is the American Dream? If you're so damn insightful, how come you don't answer stuff like that?

F.U. (in Arkansas)

Dear F.U. Arkie:

As an Okie, constantly bathed in the hot sunlight of Republican values, I've had too many opportunities to think of this, but have only now been prodded to write about it. The American dream might be no different than the general dreams of all humans everywhere.

People need shelter, clean air and water, sleep, good physical relationships (as in sex, exercise, etc.) with others. But if these needs could be taken away at any instant, then these would not be very satisfying. (We'd be living under constant threat.) So, a safe political system that gives security and order (as in rule of law, explicitly defined limits, stable govt. etc) is, in addition to these things, also highly desirable. In that case, people might choose to raise a family or join groups that value their work. In a capitalistic society (such as America's), work can be a contribution to the good of the country, at least if one sees that the labor or goods are valued by many people, or by significant people.

There are, of course, other more esoteric things that people might dream of having. Status in a society, responsibility, and the pursuit of knowledge are very rewarding, though some people cheat themselves by thinking such things are completely "phony" or "luxuries" of a life of excellence.

Art, music, and moving toward carefully nurtured peak experiences of life are also very important (such as long-term career goals). In the U.S. these things can be accomplished very easily with planning and patience. Other cultures are not so lucky, and can only dream of what Americans and other Western based free-market economy nations can provide their citizens.

We in the U.S. (and likewise other Western based free-market societies) have many good options for self-fulfillment, but there is probably one more component which is not so operant these days among consumer-oriented citizens: helping others fulfill themselves in all the ways just outlined. It turns out that this last part, helping others, is the only thing left at the end of life, when helping one's self no longer matters, or no longer even makes sense. So, unless that habit is nurtured earlier, through-out life, it likely will not suddenly appear at the end of life, and thus closing out the American dream in a meaningful way (via altruism) will probably not happen.

In conclusion, I think the American dream is actually the dream of all people everywhere to flourish and achieve their full excellence as human beings. Happily, this is quite easy to do in the United States of America.

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At 2:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eich: You're slipping, montgomery. This, and this alone, is the american dream.


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