July 12, 2013

The American Dream Revisited

It's a cliche that defined a nation-- the American Dream. What did it mean? 
Some define it as the notion that anyone can attain success, fame and wealth through thrift and hard work. Wikipedia describes it as: 'a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work.' The idea of an American Dream seems nascent in the Declaration of Independence which claims the right of citizens to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We never hear of any other country having a national dream; it is a peculiarly American concept. Nor have other countries declared it a vital concern to 'pursue happiness,' as in some kind of national hedonism. And so it is, that Americans became dreamers, and pursued happiness with fervor. The 'dream'-- as amorphous as it is-- was highly attractive to waves of immigrants in the 20th century, and for a while, it certainly appeared as if anyone could make the dream a reality.

Then came the 'realistic '80s, followed by the industrial 'restructuring' of the '90s, and finally, the terror-laden start to the 21st century. Thru-out those last 30 years, the 'Dream' was steadily, and stealthily, morphing into a nightmarish reality. Today, many citizens have awakened to the cold fact that, actually, only 1% of the population enjoys the sought-after goodies promised in the old American Dream. For the other 99%, their standard of living has been steadily falling, by most economic measures, and their hopes of climbing out of their situation thru hard work are bleak at best. In one generation, the big Dream has become the disturbing nightmare.

The term 'the American Dream,' is now loaded with irony. Looking back, one can see that the ruling elite exploited the ideals embedded in the Dream to build their capitalist juggernauts, thru the willing laborers on their assembly lines, and the mass consumers of the endless products that rolled off those lines. They fostered the Dream, dangling it like ripe bait before the noses of those eager to acquire the accoutrements of the ultimate consumer society. In other words, it was always a dream, in the more literal sense. Sure, some people-- many, in fact-- did make it, especially in the early years when the whole economic cycle was in the ascendancy phase. But that success was part of the trap being set by the bankster elite.

From about the 1980s, actual wages of the 'working (middle) class' started declining, while 'down-sizing,' 'right-sizing,' 'off-shoring,' and other such buzz-words were seen more and more, as the de-industrializing of America was pursued by the multi-national corporations in the never-ending quest for share-holder profits. The response of most Americans was to work even harder, in a bid to revive the fading Dream.

Fast-forward to the year 2012, and we find that, while the official unemployment figure hovers around a very tolerable 7 – 9% range, the true statistic is in the 20 – 23% range. How do you work hard when you don't have a job to work at? At the same time, thanks to the 'mortgage bubble' bursting, millions of Americans have lost an essential component of the Dream-- which is their home. As a consequence of the 'banking crisis,' resulting from the mortgage crisis, American no longer have easy access to borrowed money-- another vital ingredient in fueling the Dream. The American Dream was predicated on vast sums of free-flowing money; when the river became a trickle, the Dream became a nightmare.

But, there's more irony to be mined from the metaphoric Dream. After the harsh economic wake-up, we can look back and see that this was not a regular dream; this one was engineered. It turns out the USA is built on numerous popular delusions; call them dreams, if you will. It starts right from the beginning, with the mythology of the founding fathers. Most Americans, of whatever persuasion, believe their country was established by fine, Christian gentlemen who drafted and signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In fact, all but two of the signatories were Freemasons, and Washington, Paine, and Franklin (among others, probably) were also Deists.

Now, Freemasons and Deists may believe in a 'god;' but it's certainly not the God of the Christian Bible. Their allegiance is to another god, one who opposes many of the principles found in the Bible. Their idea in establishing the USA was that it was to become, not the new Jerusalem, but the New Atlantis (or, in some sense, the New Babylon). The idea that the US is a Christian nation was simply part of that Dream, a part that was useful for a while, but that is now rapidly being deconstructed.

Another disposable part of the American Dream is the notion that this country has the ultimate, finest form of government on the planet. Other countries are ridden with corrupt and incompetent governments, but the USA enjoys freedom and democracy. (Wave the flag, here, you patriots!) The reality is dismally opposite this delusion. The US governance model is possibly the most corrupt in the world. Of course, the corrupt officials and the corrupt lobbyists all wear expensive suits, and speak with great assurance, in front of corrupt reporters working for corrupt news organizations. The whole US body politic is diseased from head to foot.

What else could one expect from the inherently flawed structure? Unlike most parliamentary systems, in the US republic, the various government departments (Health, Transportation, Defense, etc.) are under the authority of unelected officials who are appointed by the president. He can appoint anyone he can negotiate thru congressional hearings. And who are these 'secretaries' (as they are, curiously, called)? Why, they are typically CEOs from the very industries that they are now going to be regulating. And where do they go when they get 'retired' by the next administration? Why, back to the companies they were previously regulating. How convenient is that? What could possibly go wrong?

With the removal of spending restrictions on election campaigns, the door is wide open for abuse of the political system. Obviously, those with substantial financial resources will have a distinct advantage. Well, you figure, those with less money can solicit funds from supporters. Right; and donated funds always come with explicit or implicit strings attached. Once elected, the politician is now beholden to various interests who expect to get some benefits in return for their 'investment.'

In the 2012 presidential election, it is reported that each candidate spent in the ball-park of one billion dollars. This is insanity in the eyes of the rest of the world! No-one is going to spend a billion dollars of his own to run a campaign he might lose. So, the victor gets the presidency, and now has to please his big benefactors with legislation and perks commensurate with their generosity. But, they all wear expensive suits and speak eloquently about democracy in the greatest country on Earth. The 'beacon on a hill,' etc., etc. Essential buzz-phrases of the American Dream!

Despite the apparent awakening of thousands of 'Occupy' protesters in cities across the US, I wonder how many of them still subscribe to the malarky that the USA is the greatest democracy on Earth, and the epitome of human civilization? There are some beliefs that are just too ingrained in the psyche, having been insinuated there from the cradle to adulthood by brain-washed parents, teachers, pastors, and pundits.

The release of the 'Matrix' movie series has supplied new insight into the American Dream. An astute movie-viewer can see how the Matrix is an allegory for the mass delusions that keep a society enthralled and imprisoned. More particularly, how the USA is really a 'Matrix-nation,' built on a mythological past, sustained by the Oz-like illusions conjured up by the mass media who are the corporate hand-maids of the ruling plutocracy.

One suspects that, at some deep level, most Americans are dimly aware of their delusional dream state of existence. Yet a number of psychological factors combine to make most of the dreamers want to sustain the illusions, to remain in blissful slumber. Reversing Shakespeare, their fear is 'to awake, perchance to see reality.' Thus, sometime in the past few decades, the American Dream reached self-sustaining status.

However, just as every sleeper must eventually awaken, just as the only escape from a life-threatening nightmare is to wake up, so too, the American public is already being shaken from its increasingly fitful sleep, and it's not pleasant. While Hollywood rehashes old glory days, and the TV studios pump out mindless game-shows and artificial 'reality' shows, the truth on the ground is starting to seep into somnambulistic minds. Another neighbor desperately watches unemployment insurance benefits dwindle; another Iraq war vet takes his life; another family is sleeping in an old van; the cops needlessly beat and arrest another innocent citizen. And so it goes, every day incrementally worse than the day before. The all-American Dream is a full-blown nightmare.