Is the “American Dream” realistically attainable? Meaning “every” American can get there?
Is it even what we should be dreaming about?
(What the hell?) Of course it is. You just have to work hard for it.
I perfer the “Panamanian Dream” where I’m lying in my speedo like a beached whale next to the splashing surf of the ocean…being served pina coladas with little pink umbrellas…by a nubile 18 year old campesina…with the faint sounds of the steel drums and smell of coconut oil…
Wait, no, I want the “American Dream” where I have to work really hard for a greedy prick boss to afford the mortgage on my split-level suburban shithouse with my pill-eating wife and my mallrat teenagers and the fucking dog. Maybe, if I’m a good little corporate-wage slave, I can suck off the boss and get a weeks vacation!! Yippy!
Good question Justin.
“(What the hell?) Of course it is. You just have to work hard for it.”
What the hell? Of course it’s NOT! All due respect to you Paul, but that is the most ignorant thing I’ve heard all week. A large and growing percentage of the people in this country are poor. They barely are able to pay their bills and take care of their families each month. MANY of these people work their butts off – they might even be working two or three jobs. The notion of the “American Dream” is like a slap in the face. Refer to Dos Peros’ comment above.
And no, it’s not what we should be dreaming of. It’s an old-fashioned notion that’s used to fuel our capitalist economy. If people stop believing that they will someday be economically endowed, the corporations and prick bosses and greedy assholes of the world, who benefit most from capitalism, will not be able to pull in 6 or 7 figures every year. Therefore, we are all supposed to be good little worker bees who have faith that someday it will all pay off. Dreams based on money will go unfulfilled for a majority of Americans, and everyone knows that.
The American Dream is more appropriate if we are talking about people from other countries who want to come here because they will be able to make more money here than in their countries. They are happy to have our shit jobs because theirs are even shittier. It’s all relative.
“Of course it is. You just have to work hard for it.”
It would be more accurate to say that you have to work hard and smart, and not make bad life choices, such as having children in your teens or without a responsible spouse, or taking up crack, or dropping out of high school. And you have to have some luck – if your spouse steals all the money and blows it in Vegas, it may set you back 10 years. Pick up a community college catalog, and it’s pretty easy to come up with a career path that could get you $30k a year on a 2 year degree. Not enough to put you on easy street, but with 2 incomes, enough for a mortgage on a small home of your own in most of the country.
I grew up poor. I didn’t really realize it, because I wasn’t taught that I was poor. I wore clothes my mother bought at garage sales. Worked on a farm. I think the most allowance I ever got was 75 cents every week, maybe. Didn’t get a car until I was 17, and it was about $800, most of it mine. Closest neighbor was over a mile away.
I read a lot, because Dad had a lot of books. Got pretty good at math. Actually, I got pretty good at plenty of things, but math (and later, computers) just ended up being the one that stuck out. I never smoked. I never took drugs. I never drank, outside of a beer or two at parties. I never got into a gang (unless you count Boy Scouts). I never ran around having unprotected sex. I never got overweight. And I never met a kid I grew up with there that was raised generally like me, avoided all the dumb stuff, and still ended up poor, unless they had some really bad luck – and then our community would help them out.
So I’m sitting here with two bachelor’s degrees, all my college textbooks (preferred not to sell them back), no college debt, no credit card debt, a security clearance, and a high-tech job at a company I co-founded, where I stand to make a good deal of money, and mostly doing stuff I enjoy.
Telling me back then, that the American dream was impossible, Meredith? THAT would’ve been the slap in the face.
I think you need to appreciate your position as well Paul. A kid from a farm is not going to have to deal with the stressors of a kid living in an urban setting. You should be proud of where you are and where you’re going, but to a lot of young people in the US, that dream seems like something they’ll never get, hard work or not.
You’re also in a very small subset having never taken a puff, never done drugs and never had unprotected sex. Again, maybe this had more to do with your environment and upbrining than anything that America had to offer.
Also, two people making 30K a year can buy a small house, yes. A very small house in a not very good neighborhood. And their kids will go to not very good public schools and be exposed to all the things that Paul seemed to have avoided.
Again, that doesn’t seem like the American Dream to me, if there even is such a thing. I think more than anything, the American Dream has to do with luck and an attitude of never say die. I meet so many people who don’t have a entrepreneurial bone in their body, which is fine, but they will most likely never get to a place where they think they’ve achieved the American Dream. And even if you do, 90% of all businesses fail in the first year. That leaves a wide swath of people who are trying to get there, but probably never will because it’s too financially risky for them to do so.
Just food for thought.
“unless they had some really bad luck – and then our community would help them out.”
That is exactly what a lot of people don’t have – communities that would help them out. It sounds like you grew up in a pretty conservative, old-fashioned community. I wonder if you had many temptations to use drugs or get involved in crime. In many communities in this country, children are bombarded with negative role-models and negative behavior. Having positive things in their lives is the exception rather than the rule.
I know I am being harsh with you, but it sounds like you grew up in a poor, white, farming community in a small town. Your dad HAD books for you to read – not guns and drugs, and I’m guessing that your parents were good to you and taught you how to make good choices. I’m guessing you had many positive role models. Even though you were monetarily poor, you were rich in a lot of other ways. You had opportunities that many children in this country just don’t have – not even close. Your comments cause me to think that you haven’t had much exposure to people who came from backgrounds that were different from yours, or if you have, it hasn’t really scratched the surface. Or, you just won’t see what’s in front of you – telling yourself that no matter how sad their stories are, it must have been something they did to deserve their situation. They just should have resisted all the pressures around them, and because they didn’t, it’s just too bad for them.
I’m assuming a lot, I know, but that is what makes me think you’re ignorant – not stupid, but unaware of the realities that different people have to face each day, assuming that everyone could have and should have done as well as you did.
I have worked with indigent communities for long enough to recognize that there are a lot of squandered opportunities, but there are just as many people who would absolutely take advantage of an opportunity, if they could only find or make one.
Yes, yes, I’m blessed, fine. Light a candle for me, yay.
(Btw, we had guns, too. Went target shooting every so often.)
Here’s the thing. If someone is aware enough of their world to even have an American dream – heck, it doesn’t even have to be specifically American – then chances are extremely high that they are aware of it because they are aware of someone who made it. -That’s- their role model. So that problem is solved.
The next problem is whether their role model of choice shares skills in common with them. Maybe I want to be like David Robinson, but I simply don’t have the knack of handling a basketball or playing the piano. The problem is finding the thing people are good at. Very, very, very, very few people are born with no talent whatsoever. It’s mostly a matter of time, and a matter of looking. (Of working hard.)
The next problem is finding a role model who’s a bit more compatible with those talents, and who’s a bit more accessible than David Robinson. For that – sure, fine. That can be hard. Not every kid gets to have parents, or foster parents, or grandparents, or aunts and uncles, or neighbors, or bigger siblings, or teachers, or coaches… but damn, you know, -most- of them do. Part of my first comment was motivated by my audience, mind you. If you could read it, then that implies you have a lot of opportunity.
Yet another problem, though – and the one that really torques me off – is when I put myself in the mindset of someone with nothing (easy for me to do), who’s getting fired up to do something grand, and is looking around, and seeing that materials are available, and is thinking to himself, yeah, I think I can do this, first step is A, second step is B, third step is… I think I could have this accomplished in a few days or weeks or years or whatever… this is gonna be so cool….
And then before step one is done, some killjoy comes along and says I’ll have pricks for bosses and that I should stop believing I’ll be economically endowed and everyone knows that I’ll probably fail and in the end all I can really hope for is a tiny house with a big mortgage, so I may as well pour myself one, toke up, find some cheap flooze, and not bother, because no matter how hard I try, someone else is gonna crap on it.
QUIT TELLING PEOPLE IT’S ALWAYS SOMEONE ELSE’S FAULT.
Hey Paul, I agree with you. I was just being my usual smart ass self. It sounds likes like you grew up in culturally & socially rich environment, like I did, in a farm community. While you may have monetarily poor, you were being instilled with resources to be successful in the world, like I was.
The problem that Meredith highlights is not an economic one, but a cultural/societal one. The American Dream may not exist for the young black urban core, because that dream has been stuffed out by their leaders who prefer victimology. It has also been snuffed out by their cultural leaders who refuse to take responsibility for the societal effect. It has also been snuffed out by corporate america who makes money off it.
My mother ran a program for several years of taking poor, mostly black innercity kids to our farm. There needs to be more of that and MAYBE the American Dream can be rekindled.
but, there are a lot of prick bosses out there….including myself if you can imagine…
What Dos said.
The kids I used to work, for the most part, had NO real person to hold up as a role model. Famous sports stars don’t count. Most kids need a real person, who interacts with them on a consistent basis, for there to be positive effects. Some kids are more self-motivated, and they end up doing well despite their terrible backgrounds, but most kids need more guidance.
Even though I agree that it’s mostly a social/cultural issue, that is almost always coupled with lower SES.
Paul, the problem I have with your opinion in the first place is that it has to be about blame or fault. It doesn’t have to be anybody’s fault. I always used to tell the kids I worked with that eventually (around the age of 18-21, or maybe sooner), no one is going to give a damn that they were abused or neglected, so they are eventually going to have to stop making excuses and start making things happen for themselves because no one is going to do it for them. That’s hard to tell a kid who, at age 10, was abandoned by his crack-head family and had to fend for himself for 6 months. It’s also hard to tell that to two girls who had been severely sexually and physically abused by almost every man in their family. I could go on and on. The point is that people do, in the end, have to take responsibility for themselves, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need help, and it doesn’t mean that they aren’t having a really, really, really hard time.
I do agree with you that no one should be telling kids that they’ll end up with a mean boss, a mortgage, debt, etc. I recently got a little too negative about adult life when talking with my boyfriend’s little brother, who is almost 17. My boyfriend pointed out to me that I was being shitty for telling him my tales of woe (like I have it so bad anyway), and he was right. Some things we need to keep to ourselves so that we don’t ruin the hopes of the young.
Meredith: that it’s not always about fault or blame is exactly my point. Maybe you weren’t about to head in that direction at first, and if so, I’m sorry for misreading your course. Trouble is, I’m come to expect that course. Nearly every time I hear someone say the American Dream is unattainable, I hear them lay on the next point – that they’re being kept systematically out of the American Dream by corporations, or whites, or blacks, or men, or women, or Jews, or Christians, or foreigners.
A 10-year-old who was able to fend for 6 months has some visible talent right there. A kid who was repeatedly abused probably has talent, as all humans do. I don’t mean to tell you how to do what you’ve been doing, but from where I stand, it sounds like both need to be taught that quickly, before they are ruined by the memory of their past indignity. And telling them your life sucked too may actually help, believe it or not, particularly if they view you as a success. (“If she can make it out okay, maybe I can too…”)
If “a rough life” is relative, then so is a success. If people can’t dig themselves all the way out of whatever hole they’re in, maybe they can at least get closer to the top. I see a lot of Americans content not to be millionaires so long they can just make life better for their kids, and to me, that’s just the American Dream being taken at a nice, slow pace.
The thing is, even in socialist countires the poor can raise themselves up to be rich, but the truth that is out there, and no one acknowledges is that it is absolutely impossible for everyone to achieve the American dream. There are some people that have better capabilities, and others that have better opportunities, but some people have neither of those. Not EVERYONE has the same chance at the dream. That equity does not exist. There are huge differences between small farming communities, and the minority poor areas of the cities. The son of a crack whore, who looks up to the local drug dealer cuz he has a nice car, has little or no chance at this dream, or breaking out of the cycle of poverty that has been created in this country. More people are slipping down than are climbing up.
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