Thursday, March 16, 2017

The American Dream

Welcome friends!

I have to say one good thing about having a conservative like Donald Trump in the White House is that some of us are hearing a lot more from the conservative man and woman in the street now than previously.  I think in the recent past they must have been hanging out mostly in their own alternative fact universe of wacky radio shows, tacky and casual with the truth supermarket tabloids, and insane conspiracy theory websites.  I remember they were responsible for a great deal of ugliness, hatred, turmoil, and violence in my youth but recently not so much.  I thought maybe they had fallen into a great hole in the ground or gone somewhere. Kind of hard to engage with people when one can’t find them or anyway is unwilling to go where they reside.  I’ve always heard plenty from professional conservative pundits and spokespeople and so on but as I’ve explained many times in this blog those people talk such transparent rot one never knows what they really think about anything.  I always sort of wished I knew what the people who listen to such people thought they were hearing but honestly I just don’t know too many conservatives.  But they’re all coming out of the woodwork now aren’t they?  Ever time I glance at an online news comment stream there they are trying their best to explain their warped, incoherent, contradictory, horrifying worldview to the rest of us.  Fired up I suppose by having gotten their man in the White House and having taken control of both houses of Congress as well as the Supreme Court.  I suppose it is a bit disgusting in many ways but from a purely intellectual standpoint there are some interesting bits.  One interesting bit for me is that the recent debate on national health care policy has reminded me we have some pretty fundamental disagreements about what American is or should be all about. Let’s take a moment to consider the issue.

The American Dream.  We all hear about it from time to time.  But what the heck is it?  Well, I don’t know.  I think it’s different things to different people.  I’ve gradually come to understand that for many if not most conservatives it’s basically the dream of getting very rich.  I suppose one might say that version of the American Dream is largely indistinguishable from the corresponding Chinese Dream, Russian Dream, Iranian Dream, or the Name Just About Any Other Place You Damn Well Like Dream.  People do tend to like money don’t they?  If anything makes it peculiarly American in the eyes of conservatives I’m guessing it probably involves the mechanics of the thing.  Something along the line that people in other countries may dream about getting rich but they have all manner of socialistic constraints on either the likelihood of that actually happening or the level of wealth they can realistically expect to attain.  I mean there’s rich and then there’s stinking rich.  The story I presume is that only in the USA can an average schmo realistically become stinking rich.  I don’t know about the factual basis of this idea.  Maybe the USA is indeed the easiest place for an average schmo to become fabulously wealthy and maybe it isn’t.  Doesn’t really matter.  In this post I’m interested more in values, goals, and objectives.

I can’t say I’ve ever had that particular dream myself.  I grew up in the sort of middle class neighborhood that was once associated with mainstream small town life in the USA.  Modest single family homes.  Small yards.  Sidewalks.  People walking dogs.  Kids riding bikes.  That sort of thing.  Whenever I heard the expression the American Dream I naturally tended to think of an idealized version of the life I was living myself.  The things that came to mind were things like no war, no crime or not much anyway, no abiding religious, racial, cultural, or other enmities, no desperately poor people starving on one’s doorstep, no lords and ladies swanning about in golden palaces.  Just modest working folk doing their best to get along with one another and living a more or less simple and comfortable life.  I certainly always understood the ability to earn a relatively decent living was part of the picture but although money was involved it certainly wasn’t the whole story.  Looking at it now I’m guessing my dream was probably not very different from the dreams of liberals and leftists everywhere in the world.  What did I suppose was so American about it?  I don’t know.  I suppose again it must have involved the mechanics of the thing.  The story would be that many people might have such a dream but here in the USA we have a little insight into how to actually pull it off.  Maybe it’s true and maybe not.  Again, that’s not my focus in this post.

It took me some time to fully appreciate that we citizens of the USA didn’t really all share the same dream.  It took me even longer to realize my dream might very well be inconsistent with the dreams of others.  What I conceived of as a world in which everyone would be happy and secure is a world that those whose objective in life is to become fabulously wealthy might very well consider a hell on earth.  And conversely trying to facilitate some people becoming fabulously wealthy consistent with the dreams of others might very well prevent the wold of my dreams from materializing.  I understand some people feel these dreams are not in conflict and that the way of life I knew in my youth in fact depended on the drive and ambition of those pursuing fabulous wealth and living in golden palaces in neighborhoods other than my own.  Maybe.  It would be convenient if that were the case would it not?  But I suspect that proposed resolution may be in the nature of a pipe dream.  If current policy discussions are any indication it seems to me we often have a conflict between facilitating the accumulation of vast wealth and trying to ensure everyone in our society does well enough.  Consider the health care issue.  Do we tax each other and particularly the wealthy who can most afford it to provide health care to the poor or do we provide tax cuts particularly to the wealthy and allow the poor to drop dead on the pavement if that’s what they chose to do?  The two dreams I just described seem to me to suggest different resolutions.  Certainly seems like a conflict.  Philosophically it seems difficult to avoid the conclusion that such a conflict is inevitable at some point.  If one puts the highest priority on accumulating personal wealth and puts no limit on the wealth one desires to accumulate will it not always be the case that money wasted on the needs of others will appear at some point to be an impediment to one’s happiness?

I suppose this may simply be a matter on which we must agree to disagree.  But I am a liberal or course so let me speak out for my team.  The dream that motivates conservatives is anti-social and perverse.  Mankind is a social animal.  Ultimately we all owe our riches and even our continued existence to the good wishes of our fellow men and women.  A successful human society will strive to make everyone reasonably happy and the citizens of such a society will for their part try to exercise some control over their perceived needs and desires to render assistance to their fellows palatable and possible.  The core values of conservatism based on materialism and unlimited greed are not natural to the human species.  They corrupt whatever they touch.  We should remain human.  Let us dream the Human Dream together.