Sunday, June 21, 2009

Thoughts On the American Dream - And a Father's Request for Commentary


"The American Dream is Alive..."


I once had a mentor who would use this as an opening line to his sales presentations. He continued by saying "and you can have it, if you just take the time to learn how to get it."

Realizing my time in Taiwan is coming to an end, I've been reflecting on what my life will be like when I return to the States. Having lived here a year, I am now somewhat of an "international citizen." So, that leaves me asking: What is the American Dream? Do I want part in it?

Recently, a Russian scholar predicted that there is "a high probability that the collapse of the United States will occur by 2010,” (FoxNews.com, 03/04/09). Talk about a welcome home party...

The scholar went on to say, "What's happened is the collapse of the American dream."

What is this thing called the American Dream? Is it different for everyone?

Writing this, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a Taiwanese student, early in my trip. "America is a place where you can be anything you want to!" He stated emphatically, and slightly distressed.

Is that the American Dream?

Freedom to choose your own destiny in life - like those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books I read as a kid? (Confession: I often cheated at those.)

I always heard the American Dream was "Man, Wife, 2.5 Kids and a Picket Fence." But frankly, that's not necessarily all that desirable to me. If that's the American Dream, I might just pass.

Wikipedia (yes, I wiki'd "American Dream") defines it as such:
A national ethos unique to the United States of America in which democratic ideals are perceived as a hope-filled view of the prosperity of its people... citizens of every rank feel that they can achieve a "better, richer, and happier life." The idea of the American Dream is rooted in the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence which states that "all men are created equal" and that they have "certain inalienable Rights" including "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Much more desirable, when worded that way, and much closer to the Taiwanese Student's notion of America.

Interestingly enough, however, the article goes on to say The American Dream has "been blamed for overinflated expectations of its people," and:
...has not historically helped the majority of minority race and lower class American citizens to gain a greater degree of social equality and influence. Instead, the American Dream has often been observed to sustain class differences in which well-positioned groups continue to be advantaged.

Well, if that's the truth behind the American Dream, I'm not sure I want it either.

Awhile back, my dad pointed me towards that quote by the Russian Scholar, and to a website which notes "A democracy is temporary in Nature."

The site went on to state that in the history of the world, the greatest Democracies have ran an average 200 year life-cycle:
  • From bondage to spiritual faith;
  • From spiritual faith to great courage;
  • From courage to liberty;
  • From liberty to abundance;
  • From abundance to complacency;
  • From complacency to apathy;
  • From apathy to dependence;
  • From dependence back into bondage.

My dad - a frequent reader of not just The Drift, but also its comments - shared these links with me in hopes of gleaning your opinions and input on all of this. He considers the community here to be globally diverse and well opinionated. (He also thinks you're all extremely bright and incredibly good looking...) So, in honor of Father's Day, I turn his request over to you:
  • Does this "cycle" ring true with you?
    • If so: Where in it do you feel America lies?

  • What is "The American Dream"? Is it something a Taiwanese National (or others) could(/should?) aspire to?

  • What will "the collapse" look like? What will have been its cause?
And (this one's completely for me) :
  • What should I do when I return home in September?
Thanks from both my dad and I in advance. Any other commentary welcomed gladly.

[Photo Credit: This Site, thanks to Google.]

15 comments:

Andhari said...

What do you think you wanna do when you get back? Particular job fields in mind? I'm sure it'll be a bit confusing, until know my life post graduation will surely be a mystery too.

2,5 kids and picket fence? I pass too. At least for now.

floreta said...

loving your posts lately at the drift. thanks. and happy father's day! what a great gift.

i think the definition of The American Dream as the "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is pretty spot on. in regards to lower class/minorities not getting an equal shot at it.. well that's called Social Darwinism and it's pretty much how America works unfortunately. The American Dream is by nature, a "survival of the fittest" phenomenon. Who can get to the top? I think in striving for this kind of "happiness" we lose touch of the happiness that is right in front of us. Because The American Dream is superficial (husband, wife, 2.5 kids, picket fence... don't forget the dog!!) and externally driven... but happiness needs to be touched upon from within. I think the concept of the "white picket fence" in regards to the American Dream came later, (i'm no historian but an [un?]educated guess would be from the 50s?).

Personally, I think The American Dream is an outdated concept so if the collapse in 2010 is of The American Dream, then I would welcome it.. given these definitions towards Social Darwinism and the "picket fence".. just not my style. The rest of the world is following suit.. I don't think it's uniquely American anymore, but it's not something I advocate. *shrugs* I think the dream needs to be redefined as does other social concepts. Maybe that is what is meant by a collapse.. a redefinition. A renewal.

As for the cycle, we're getting pretty close to the end cos it's been 200 years, if not more.. Don't know history well enough but I'm a firm believer that all things in life go through cycles.. Socio-political, economical, natural, etc. So I'm willing to bet he's more right than wrong..

Clarissa said...

At least you're realizing this and figuring out what you want and learned. Most people would have taken their time there for granted.

Chase said...

@Andhari, I don't know. haha. I may explore options on the drift as the time draws nearer. For now, any suggestions or input is welcomed!

@floreta, Gotta agree with you: Not my style. Never been much of one for Darwinism, social or otherwise. I guess it applies here, too. Maybe I'm more of a "First will be last and last will be first" guy. ;)

@Clarissa, Thanks for the encouragement :) I'm definitely striving to not waste my time here. "The Journey is the Destination," right? :)

thousandsofmiles said...

Chase, this is one of your best posts yet. Probably cause it's causing me to think about some important things. And it kinda hits close to home...though not geographically.

I guess 'the American Dream' to me, and to most Europeans, is what Wikipedia described it to be. In my own words, something like: Anyone (no matter how low, deep or deprived) can achieve great things, as long as they put their mind to it and fully go for it. Americans have a great measure of 'willpower'. Which sometimes even reaches beyond human logic. Take your country's aspirations to turn Iraq into a democracy. Beautiful dream, great plan. Though most Europeans wouldn't have gone out to chase after it and make it happen. Americans will often step out and chase after their dreams and see their hopes fulfilled, despite the critique and funny looks. And I think it's a great thing. Even if you fall flat on your face 9 out of 10 times, at least you will eventually find a way to reach your goal and be fully alive. Or even if you don't reach the goal that you first had in mind...along the way you will discover the real goal and become funny alive in that journey. Europeans are more likely to reason their way out of it and say "not gonna happen, so why even try?"

In that sense, I definitely think America is the 'Home of the brave'. Your country, generally, isn't afraid to dream. And I hope to be more like that too. Even if I have this down-to-earth Dutch blood running through my veins ;)

In the end there are probably as many 'American Dream' stories to be found in Holland or Asia as there are in the USA. But yea...somehow it still is a very American way of thinking. To me anyways.

As for the 2.5 kids and a picket fence. Totally part of my American Dream ;) Though maybe mine is a little more detailed and adventurous!

As to what this crisis and collapse is all about... check the blog post I wrote on October 16th.

As to your dad's theory of how certain seasons kinda follow one another...definitely makes senes to me! I actually liked that little list you posted. Interesting stuff.

And as to what you should do when you get home... Be adventurous. Figure out what makes your heart beat faster, your senses come alive, what gives you goosebumps. And go for it wholeheartedly, sticking very close to God and following the path He leads you on. Go on that adventure with Him, and don't let the mold of society hold you back. Dont go to school/get a certain job just because it's "how we do things" in this world. Be bold. Be free. Take flight.

Colin Biggers said...

good post chase!! for me being able to own my own business and pursue my dreams are the American dream! "the system", customer service, and non corrupt leaders! and i know there are some corrupt leaders here in america... but not anywhere close to the amount of corruption either in somolia, kenya, or north korea.... etc....

We are soooo lucky we can sleep at night and know that police will not come in and steal from us or even kill us! I got talking with a korean woman and she told me even amongst the recession how LUCKY we are to have this government and loving people around us! Now that got me thinking on different terms.... I now look at my old problems as blessings!

Being able to worship the God i love and not be killed for it, is the ultimate dream any christian could have! For us to worry is slapping God in the face! We must continue to have Faith in these hard times. God will bless us with favor when we do! Your true relationship with God shows through when you are going through an extreme time! Whether that extreme is good or bad... Its a constant test in what you truly put your faith in!

Chase I love you SOOO much and miss you SOOO much! When you come back home your relationship with God must be amazing!! Trust God with everything within you! look to him for everything!

Im praying for you daily!

-Colin

Readin said...

I believe the American dream comes in two flavors - achievement and contentment. What binds both to America is that they are both dreams of freedom.
On one hand you have the freedom to achieve whatever your potential may allow, not constrained by rules, social order or birth status. You have the freedom to achieve without being constrained by granted monopolies, government corruption and over-regulation.
On the other hand, you have the ability to find your house, picket fence, husband or wife and kids, and enjoy your life free from tyrants taxing you into poverty; free to keep the fruits of your labor, free to raise your children as you believe to be right and fee to spend your non-working hours however you want.

Both flavors face serious challenges in modern America, but both remain healthier in American than in most other places in the world.

I have to take issue with Wikipedia if it says the American dream "...has not historically helped the majority of minority race and lower class American citizens to gain a greater degree of social equality and influence." That is complete rubbish. It was the American dream that caused minorities to seek greater equality and influence. When MLK said "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'", it was the American dream that he was talking about, that all Americans would be free to reach their potential without being held back by government regulations that treat races differently. It was this same dream he spoke of when he said "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." It was the dream of living life free from government oppression and tyranny that he spoke of when he said "I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice."

If Wikipedia says "Instead, the American Dream has often been observed to sustain class differences in which well-positioned groups continue to be advantaged.", again I say "rubbish"! America allows great social mobility, with many rich people coming from poor families. See the statistics.

Where are we in the cycle? I think that we're not at any single spot, but we're probably centered on apathy right now. We're certainly complacent about our place in the world. And we're certainly in trouble in having become dependent on foreign creditors. We're becoming more and more dependent on government. But no one cares.

As for what to expect when you get back, I warn you that it may be much more difficult than you expect. Perhaps it won't be as tough for you as it was for me. From what I've gleaned, you perhaps have some advantages I did not. It sounds like you may know people in the US who also visited Taiwan. And certainly the internet has helped you keep in touch.

When I returned from Taiwan, I was out of place in a place that should have been home. In just a year, popular culture had changed. The topics of conversation were foreign to me. And what I did have to talk about - endlessly fascinating to me - was of no interest to anyone else. No matter what the subject, it seemed to me worth mentioning the contrast to how it was handled in Taiwan. But no one else cared, and they get sick of hearing about it. But then, Taiwan has been your whole life for a year - what else do you know? It can be a very difficult adjustment.

Readin said...

What should I do when I return home in September?

If you don't know what you will do when you return, why are you returning? ~~~~

Sebastian said...

Ach, a meaty one.

I won't go into it in too much detail -- I'd rather blog about it, when I turn my attention towards to political philosophy -- but, in essence, democratic republics don't go out with a bang.

It's a steady wave. America won't cease to exist, and it won't suddenly collapse. You only need to look at when Caesar crossed the Rubicon -- sure, it was significant, but for the general population _not much changed_.

The American Dream is just that for some people -- a dream. The American republic was based on Rome, and things weren't any more equal back then either.

Money's a tricky force to govern, and it's not going to get easier any time soon.

Fortunately, freedom of information means that the wheel of time might not repeat itself quite so prophetically in the future. We'll see, it'll be exciting to watch!

Chase said...

@Miles, You hit some great points! (I love your comment, thanks for spending time to write it all out) It's interesting you contrast European Mindset vs The American Way. hm...
I do think America's persistence in Iraq is a bit Colonizing like I mentioned in my last post, but we'll hope it's done with the best intentions. : )
And great point about the International ability of "The American Dream" ...I guess we just coined the phrase and marketed the heck out of it... though it can be found anywhere.

@Colin, thank you, brother, for the encouragement. I love having you drop by, and can't wait til we get to hang when I'm home.
I think the entrepenurial cord (or... we could say, triplecord ...) you struck rings true with the American Dream.
That, I'll admit, is a big one for me too.

@Readin, it's great to have you back on here, and thank you much for your input. Good words with the MLK quotes. How true. Though, I am not sure I'd go as far as complete rubbish. Minorities have made great progress, but, as the definition pointed out, it's the Majority of the minorities that are left behind.
And I think it goes beyond race, too. There are still "glass ceilings" in our corporate structures, and minority interest groups still have a ways to go in their sense of freedom.
But, that said, I think the "Power" of "the Dream" has been in the option to overcome...not in the guarantee.

Thanks, also, for the headsup on "reverse culture shock." I've been anticipating it for awhile. I hope it affects me, but for the better.

And to your second post: My commitment here is only for a year. I enjoy Taiwan, but don't want to do this forever, and I'm ready to force myself to find and take the next step in my life. I'm ready to be home (/back in the states), and I think I'll do better to find that step when I'm there.

@Seb, I think you nailed it comparing America to Rome. And Rome eventually fell. I admit it will be exciting - in some form - to watch. And I do believe that the Information Age will play a big role in it all... TWITTERREVOLUTION...orsomethinglikethat...

Sebastian said...

Yes, Rome fell, but we are talking in the same way that the British Empire fell -- it fell from grace, not from notoriety or strength.

Remember, the Roman empire eventually became the Byzantine Empire, which almost hung around until the first World War...!

But the Byzantine Empire itself ran until 1500AD or something -- the longest-running empire of all time... over 1000 years I think.

I'm not saying it was as successful as the America, but there is certainly hope for American yet...!

Don said...

Chase, I don't know how I missed this post... I must have been "busy" enjoying my vacation! Woo hoo!

I enjoyed the comments as well. Here's my nickle's worth:

* Does this "cycle" ring true with you?

Although the cycle does ring true, it smacks to me of the not-of-this-world Christian mindset that overly disses the present state of things.
o If so: Where in it do you feel America lies?

If I agreed with the scale/cycle, I would place the US towards the end of the cycle. But, although the paradigm is plausible, doesn't mean it's actual.

I'm reminded of an older Christian I met in the mid-80's. I was looking for the end-of-the-world, not just the end of the US. (This was based on it being close to 40 years since Israel was re-formed.)

This Christian lady pointed out to me two or three earlier historical predictions of "life-as-we-know-it-will-soon-end" that she had lived through.

If we can clearly picture it, it's not likely to happen. We're not that good. (And only God knows the end from the beginning.)

The dooms-day predictions of the US remind me of Mark Twain's quote, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

I have also watched death work on an individual. Things usually die a lot slower than one would expect. Organizations and nations are fairly resilient.

(Dooms-day predictions tend to cause one to retreat into a personal bubble: whether that is a Christian bubble or otherwise. "Feed you faith, not your fears." That's my motto.)

* What is "The American Dream"? Is it something a Taiwanese National (or others) could(/should?) aspire to?

I think Renee gave a wonderful reply to this. In the late 90's I took a college class called "Senior Seminar in Multi-culturalism." (This was not a class for senior citizens, but a class for seniors in college!)

The class, taught by a black professor at CSUF -- he and his siblings were proof of the American Dream -- was really a class on immigration to the US based on a book called, "Strangers to These Shores: Race and Ethnic Relations in the United States."

Most of us have opinions on the accessibility of economic and social mobility in the US, especially for minorities, but this sociological examination shows that the US has done an amazing job. Actually, it shows which groups did what and how long it took. The book is written from three sociological points of view, including class-struggle, so it's very well-balanced.

The American Dream (wiki-pedia and Renee) is alive and well. Immigrants line up (or jump over the line). The push and pull factors that would cause families to uproot and immigrate and stay, testifies to the health of the dream. It is worth aspiring to.

* What will "the collapse" look like? What will have been its cause?

If it happens in the next 50 years, it won't look like what we thought it would. We don't know how or when. How could we know why? (In the 70's a popular book was The Late Great Planet Earth. When I took Crisis Biology in the 70's, the outlook was bleak. Hey, almost 40 years later... we're here! And we still have oil.)

And (this one's completely for me) : * What should I do when I return home in September?

Listen for the still small voice that says, "This is the way, walk ye in it." (If you have the time and inclination What Color is Your Parachute is a great resource. It takes time, but it's premise is Biblical, and it's questions are practical. The book helped me find a path from Computer Systems Engineering to Special Education. The path you seek: like the future of the US, is unveiled a little bit at a time. Sorry, that's how it works. "The just shall live by faith." If you don't know what to do, then it's not time to decide. When it's time to decide, you'll know what to do. "Wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein." That promised path will unfold for you in the future, just as it has in the past. Be. Here. Now. ;-)

Another long answer, to some very good questions!

Peace, brother.

Don

On a Journey said...

"What should I do when I return home in September?"

maybe turn your blog into a book :)

then continue your travels stateside :)

Anonymous said...

I'm an immigrant from a rural town in a Spanish-speaking third-world country. My parents didn't go to college, or have a good job.
But I just got a full scholarship to Yale. Talk about the American Dream being dead.

Anonymous said...

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