Saturday, November 24, 2012

Bye, Bye American Dream?

Remember a couple decades or so ago there was a group of people who promoted the concept that God is dead? Well, of course, that is totally subjective and based on individual beliefs. Currently, there is a new belief system being put forth - the American Dream is dead!

Apparently 63% of college and university students in the U.S., according to recent surveys, believe the American Dream is dead. Unfortunately, I believe there is a large percentage of the high school population who share that belief system. And, to make it even worse, I believe there is a growing number of people in the 24 to 80+ year old bracket who are beginning to lean in that direction, too.

I was listening to several cable news commentators discussing this issue earlier today. There were a number of views expressed, but in general, I would have to say they agreed that the, so-called, American Dream is, indeed, dead. But, the discussions dug a little deeper into the subject and actually went to where my belief system rests.

THE American Dream

Yes! I do believe the American Dream is dead, but it's not "THE American Dream" that this country and republic was based on and founded on. No! The American Dream that is dead is the watered down, aberration that the current American Dream has become. Sure, the promise of a stable, good, well-paying, secure job with advancement opportunities, costly comprehensive health insurance, a great pension plan after 30 years or so, lots of vacation, paid holidays and personal/sick time, over-time pay or compensatory time off and other perks, is gone. The part of the dream that included a nice McMansion, with the picket fence, three car garage, at least three cars plus recreational toys like motor homes, boats, skimobiles, ATV's and multi-thousand dollar vacations, college educations for the kids, etc., etc. Yes! That American Dream is dead!

But, here's the funny thing. "THE American Dream," the dream that people braved sailing across wild oceans on small sailing ships for, leaving family and friends behind and risking everything, how little it might have been, to pursue, that dream, is still very much alive. That is the dream of opportunity. That is the dream that allows for the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As a matter of fact, there are probably more opportunities today than at any time in the history of this country. However, that's not the dream that today's young people and the disillusioned are looking for. It seems THE American Dream was only good enough for the hearty pioneers who came here to enjoy "personal freedom" and the opportunity to build whatever kind of life they wanted.

Did everyone succeed? Absolutely not, but that's how it should be. Freedom is about both the freedom to succeed and the freedom to fail. There were no safety nets. You were responsible for yourself and accountable to yourself. If you failed, you did whatever it took to pick yourself up and start again, using what you had learned from your failure to move forward. There were no unions, no unemployment insurance, no free clinics, no staying on a parent's health insurance until age 26, no government backed student loans that allowed forever to pay back the loans, no welfare programs, etc., etc. Actually, there were safety nets of a sort, but it wasn't the government who provided them, it was your family, your friends, your neighbors, your community and your church who would help folks to get a new start. It was an imperfect system, but it worked. That's the reason that within two and a half or three centuries America became the wealthiest, most powerful, most innovative, most advanced society on the face of the planet. Unfortunately, the version of the American Dream that's now dead is why we're in the economic downturn, untenable national debt and are slowly (and possibly accelerating) losing the admiration of the rest of the world.

Today, everyone seems to know that the government has a program to bail them out. A natural disaster comes along today and everyone immediately goes to the government's teat to feed off. We hear the phrase "federal funds" will be allocated to rebuild private homes, private businesses, carry people while they have no income, provide shelter, clothes, food, etc. Sure, many people have insurance, but apparently, not enough insurance. Now, here's the real point. Federal funds is a misnomer. The federal (or state and local for that matter) governments have NO FUNDS. These are taxpayer funds. Who are the taxpayers? You and me. Thus, those "federal funds" are YOUR money and MY money.

So, the government is taking from the haves and giving to the have nots. Excuse me, isn't that the story of Robin Hood who stole from the rich and gave to the poor? Who gave the government permission to take your money and my money and give it to individuals for their personal good. The government is about the common good, that's what we supposedly have our tax money taken from us for. So, we give money to these individuals and now we don't have money to fund the common welfare of the country, so the government has to borrow that money at higher and higher interest rates. Oh, yeah, and since the government has no funds of their own to repay these loans, who ends up holding the bag? You and me, of course.

So, here's the point. THE American Dream is STILL alive and well for anyone wanting to participate in it. But, THE American Dream doesn't provide for or give any guarantees. It only provides opportunities. Amazingly, the citizens of the U.S. are amazingly resilient and generous. Have you heard about all the people from across this country sending money, food, clothes and all kinds of other support to those impacted by Super Storm Sandy? The same thing happened with Katrina, Irene, the 9/11 tragedy and it's been that way since the beginning. Also, did you notice all the money, food, water, clothes and support we received from the rest of the world? Nothing! Nada! Zip! Yeah! Those are the same people we send our money and support to both from individuals and federal funds (that really are our money, not the government's).

The Whiners and Bitchers

I know life has been terribly uncomfortable and inconvenient for everyone effected by Sandy (and Irene, Katrina, etc.). But, it really bothered me to listen to all the whiners on the news sound bites wah-wahing and getting arrogant, indignant and angry because their power hadn't been restored, yet. I understand that they are insecure, uncomfortable, cold, hungry, displaced, frustrated, aggravated and a whole lot more. Who wouldn't be. 

But, wait a minute! Did any of them consider this was possibly the worst storm of it's kind in our history? Did any of them consider that there were eight million households and businesses in nearly half the states of this country without power? Did any of them consider that hundreds and maybe thousands of the people who were busting their asses to restore power everywhere at one time and provide emergency aid and assistance were coming from all over the country to assist them, in many cases, at their own expense and living in miserable accommodations and operating on minimal or no sleep and limited food resources? Did any of them consider many of those people who were busting their asses to restore power and other services had no power or services at their own homes and that their families were suffering from it all, too?

Ah, yes - I forgot, the American Dream as we seem to know it today is about everyone being entitled to whatever they want to bitch about it when they can't have it NOW. Hey, I didn't ask or tell any of those people to live in that area that has, since the beginning of time, been at risk from natural events such as this. The same is true for people who live in areas well-known for wild fires and mud slides. The same is true for people who live in areas known for serious earthquake activity on a fairly regular basis. No one made any of them live there. Those their choices and they need to accept the responsibility for those choices.

Ghost of THE American Dream

I find it interesting that there must be a different kind of people and mindset in the mid-west. The rivers flood, their crops are lost, their livestock is drowned, tornadoes come out of nowhere and wipe out towns and homes, but - for some reason, we seldom hear a lot of whining sound bites from them. They chose to live there. It's a way of life. They accept the risk. They accept their choice and responsibility. They know they either have to deal with it or leave. They simply do whatever it takes to regroup, support one another and get back to normal as soon as it's possible. Is it possible that these are the vestiges of the hearty pioneers who built this country and believed in THE original American Dream?

We, as a people, have milked this country and our fellow countrymen as far as we can. I believe we've reached the end of the rope. I totally believe THE American Dream our hearty pioneer great, great, great (add more greats) grand parents believed in and pursued is still alive and well. They believed in personal freedom. they lived life on their terms. They built their farms and businesses. They helped each other out when disasters struck. It wasn't easy and it was seldom fair, but life is not fair and never will be. Those who are self-made and successful - at whatever level they are comfortable at - deserve what they have earned and achieved. I feel bad for all of those who have suffered losses due to nature, but no one owes you anything. Deal with it. But, just remember, as a resilient and generous people, those of us who can send money, food, water, clothes, other support and volunteer our time to help YOU HELP YOURSELVES, we'll always be there. Just suck it up, appreciate it and deal with your own choices and take responsibility for them.

To be fair, there are lots and lots of the folks in the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states impacted by the recent super storm who are digging in, cleaning up and finding the resolve to start over again. I salute you and I support you. Make good decisions, Perhaps, since it's projected that due to the global climate changes we know are accelerating, where you have lived is very likely to be impacted again and again for an unknown period of the future. Nowmay be the time to relocate. But, if you choose to stay where you are, don't expect me to give my money to attempt to protect a geography that is constantly at risk for even worse forces of nature projected for the future. That's not my responsibility. You or the entire government cannot beat the forces of nature. Any fix is only temporary at best. THE American Dream is still yours just as it is for every college, university and high school student and everyone who has lost their jobs, homes and businesses.

Here are two pieces of advice. Remember, you can always learn something new and I'll gladly help anyone do that. If you give a person a fish, the person will eat for a day. If you teach a person to fish, they'll eat for a lifetime. Second, remember what Albert Einstein said, "if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten. He defines that as a form of insanity. No jobs when you get out of college? Be creative! Invent your own job. Create a business. EVERYONE can do something to be productive. Live in an area that is projected to be impacted again in the foreseeable future? It's time to move. It will be tough, inconvenient and unsettling. But you can do it. Bye, bye American Dream. Welcome back THE original American Dream.  


LaMarr Harding said...

1914 many large companies were broken up under anti-trust laws. 1930 banking regulations were legislated to prevent future financial crisis.1970 the great society was launched on the back of an unwarranted war. Reagan may go down in in history as the worst president in history for removing regulations. GWB as the dumbest president for resuming a war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was the Viet Nam that brought down the Soviet Union, and now us.

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Good points, LaMarr,

First, it's not my interest in making my blog a political debate. There are good guys and bad guys in all parts of society. Unfortunately, while a little greed is possibly a good thing, unbridled greed, with the addition of corruption, is never good at any level. Small businesses have traditionally been the backbone of our country and economy. However, there are some kinds of business that can only operate efficiently and cost effectively by Big Business like mass producing cars and trucks, airplanes, ships and so on. Every Big Business in this country began as the brain child of an individual who started a small business. The unfortunate thing is that as virtually any organization - business, religious, governmental, educational (I offer Penn State and the Jerry Sandusky issue as an example in this case) organization grows in size, more and more levels of bureaucracy are created, greater degrees of greed (monetary & power) grow and corruption slides right in. Then it becomes an issue of the Golden Rule - He/She who has the gold rules. This is not unique to the USA - it's as old as all human history.

It's far above my pay grade to determine who was a good leader/president or a bad one. As is said, history will make that determination. There are proponents and detractors of every leader who has ever been in a position of power in this country - governmental or otherwise. You say Reagan was bad and the next person says he is one of the best. I haven't seen the new Lincoln movie produced by Steven Spielberg, but, if the research to produce the screen play is honest and accurate, I expect to have some of my views about the man on the $5 bill jolted. George Washington wasn't the best candidate to be the first president - he was the ONLY candidate - he ran uncontested and I don't believe he really wanted the job in the first place. Obviously, neither did anyone else.

This is why I am an advocate of personal freedom and living free. I believe we are only free and living as we should be when we can be self-sufficient, self-governing and living our own dreams as we each individually have them. My dreams and lifestyle are uniquely my own. Yours are yours and so on. I do my best to be responsible for my own actions, not infringe on anyone else's property or life and be accountable. Believe me, I reached this point over a lifetime of mistakes, failures and, more or less, conforming to what we tend to consider - the mainstream. I can't change anyone else nor do I have the right to tell anyone what to do.

My point is that there is little you and I can personally do about the system we exist in other then leave this country if we think there is someplace better or just define personal freedom and our dreams for ourselves and live them as best we can. We just had an election and what I wanted to see was some kind of change - ANY kind of change. Nothing changed after the election. My vote didn't have any impact. So, I focus on the only thing I really have control over (more or less), my own life, and do my best to keep as much distance between myself and the uncontrollable "system." My point in this post was that too many people in this country seem to have reached a point of feeling let down because the golden goose isn't waiting for them after they graduate from college (it wasn't waiting for me when I graduated from college, either, but I really didn't expect it) and the people who are getting angry because they made choices that turned out to have a negative side and now they want someone else to fix their problems.

Thanks for your thoughts and have a terrific holiday season.