Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Are Americans Giving Up on the Notion of the American Dream?

A few weeks ago NPR's Talk of the Nation show produced an interesting report about the American Dream: More Americans Giving Up on the American Dream.  Both the primary guest and the two callers made for an illuminating segment.

First, LA Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez discussed the role the illusion of the American Dream plays in maintaining social stability.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Well, I mean, if you imagine sort of freedom being sort of the ideological force behind the American experiment and democracy, lets say its the operating system, then the source of the glue, the social cohesion is that dream.  It's what really - as if we're - whatever indignities we may be suffering at any given moment, we'll put it aside.  We won't resort to violence. We won't give up hope.  We won't, sort of, lead to the behavior that'll shatter a society because we hope that things will get better.

The great diversity of this country has always struggled with, we could've done worse over time if people hadn't had that sense of moving forward.  I think it's that - it's the one thing that takes this hyper-individualism, these millions of competing separate dreams and puts them together in a collective enterprise.  It is, as I see it, the glue - and it is really odd, actually, when you think about it, this amazing nation, this extraordinary powerful nation that rests upon this nebulous, ephemeral notion that things will get better, whatever that means.

The role the illusion of the American Dream plays sounds similar to the role of the promise of higher education.  This promise of upward mobility in the future as a result of hard work and "doing everything right" prevents the proletariat class from rioting in the streets like they do in France when the government threatens to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.  Perhaps if you are part of the French wealthy class, you don't mess with the French proletariat because you know that they aren't as stupid and as gullible as the Americans and that they have it within themselves to rise up and cut your head off.

Supposedly, studies show that Americans who are more highly-educated, or at least those who are doing well, think that the American Dream is still alive.  However, the callers to this show seemed to contradict that.

Wendy (caller): I think I feel more akin to the children of the '60s and the great disillusionment they wound up having with the kind of flower child movement than people in my own generation because I did all of the right things.  I worked in high school.  I went to college.  I worked hard.  I made great grades.  I got full scholarships.  And I am 35 years old and not able to find employment where I can afford to pay my mortgage.  So it's very like, I feel very disillusioned with America and the American ideals where you almost feel lost and like you grew up in a culture where you were just kind of fed a load of malarkey and lied to.  It's almost like when you find out that Santa Claus doesn't really exist.
Santa Claus doesn't exist? That realization reminds me of what law students must feel when they realize that they've been duped by the ABA and the law schools' fraudulent employment statistics and that the big law jobs and even mere entry-level shit-law jobs don't exist for them.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: She's getting at the heart of it, the disillusionment, the sense of being lied to, the sense that it doesn't pay to play - what she said - do the right things.  And what do people do when the feel that it no longer pays off to do the right thing?  They no longer do the right thing.  And those are the type of behaviors, the type of sort of angry voting, the type of - sort of dismantling the system you don't - no longer believe in.  This is precisely pointing to the potential dangers when enough people don't believe.
When people no longer have an American Dream to believe in, when they no longer believe in economic mobility and meritocracy, do they riot like Frenchmen?

The next caller also graduated from college and reported that he earned more money before he dropped $30,000 on higher education.

KEVIN: Hi.  I just wanted to make a quick comment.  I graduated about a year and a half from college, so the dream is kind of going away for me.  I havent been able to find work.  I'm, like, I've been married for a little over a year.  I'd like to be able to have kids, pass the dream onto them but it's, like I said, without being able to even afford to have kids, it just seems harder and harder.

CONAN: And so, would you - do you have faith that with hard work, if you can find it, things will be better for you and your kids?

KEVIN: I'm hoping so I work everyday to find a job, but I made more money 10 years ago before I even went to college.  It's like I make less money now than after I spent $30,000 on college.

Yes, Virginia.  If you've been to college and were unable to find a job in your field and are now worse off than you were before (saddled with student loan debt), the American Dream is in fact dead for you.

7 comments:

Nando said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acLW1vFO-2Q

George Carlin said it best: "They call it the American Dream, 'cause you have to be asleep to believe it."

Its main purpose is to keep the lumpenproletariat in their place. The over-educated working class is not even aware of their status. After all, they are convinced that they are part of "the middle class."

Yes, you, with your $40K "adult" job and $135K in student loans, are part of the middle class. Yeah, and Salma Hayek just rolled over and asked me to go back to sleep.

Critick said...

I would equate this situation as a Der Untergang des Abendlandes rather than just the US.

The reason people believe this "decline" is happening is because the mechanisms that created wealth and entropy among our middle class are being deliberately abandoned. The effects are that it will very quickly return us to the penury.

The general attitude about education has spawned a army of anti-intellectual, "airheads," with empty college degrees. When I say "empty," I mean that if you have ever gone into the average university classroom, you won't find a rational discussion or dialog about the matter at hand. Oh no. You will find contemptuous children that stare at you with empty eyes. They have no interest in being there.

To them, philosophy or learning about what makes good government is far less important than who wins American idol. I am not saying people should be experts on these matters. Simply that they have the ability to critically think about issues posed to them in the marketplace of ideas. That only requires a small base of knowledge and some common sense.

Without a basic education and seeing value in it, that opens us up to demagoguery and the worst sort of snake oil politics.

How this all ties into our law school dilemma is that the gate-keeping functions promulgated by the AbA, kept a dam on the sea of lawyers. Now that is obviously cracking and the floodgates are open. The ABA's function was to maintain high quality applicants to the profession by keeping people out (i.e. bar exams and not approving TTTT shitholes). They have failed to keep unworthy applicants out now because schools see easy federal money and a profit motive. I'm sure they get some kind of windfall from all this misery.

All this free-for- all does is it depreciates the value of our education$. In my view there is no reason why we need so many law schools. A good chunk of the JD holders who have recently graduated do not have what it takes to be a lawyer. Sadly, lemmings will continue to apply in record numbers (LSAT stats ^). They will continue to apply to TTTT/TTT shitholes and get worthless degrees. Then you have a mess in the thousands of disgruntled JD holders. What do we do with them now?

Critick said...

I would equate this situation as a Der Untergang des Abendlandes rather than just the US.

The reason people believe this "decline" is happening is because the mechanisms that created wealth and entropy among our middle class are being deliberately abandoned. The effects are that it will very quickly return us to the penury.

The general attitude about education has spawned a army of anti-intellectual, "airheads," with empty college degrees. When I say "empty," I mean that if you have ever gone into the average university classroom, you won't find a rational discussion or dialog about the matter at hand. Oh no. You will find contemptuous children that stare at you with empty eyes. They have no interest in being there.

To them, philosophy or learning about what makes good government is far less important than who wins American idol. I am not saying people should be experts on these matters. Simply that they have the ability to critically think about issues posed to them in the marketplace of ideas. That only requires a small base of knowledge and some common sense.

Without a basic education and seeing value in it, that opens us up to demagoguery and the worst sort of snake oil politics.

How this all ties into our law school dilemma is that the gate-keeping functions promulgated by the AbA, kept a dam on the sea of lawyers. Now that is obviously cracking and the floodgates are open. The ABA's function was to maintain high quality applicants to the profession by keeping people out (i.e. bar exams and not approving TTTT shitholes). They have failed to keep unworthy applicants out now because schools see easy federal money and a profit motive. I'm sure they get some kind of windfall from all this misery.

All this free-for- all does is it depreciates the value of our education$. In my view there is no reason why we need so many law schools. A good chunk of the JD holders who have recently graduated do not have what it takes to be a lawyer. Sadly, lemmings will continue to apply in record numbers (LSAT stats ^). They will continue to apply to TTTT/TTT shitholes and get worthless degrees. Then you have a mess in the thousands of disgruntled JD holders. What do we do with them now?

BL1Y said...

I think it's more that the American Dream is changing.

For previous generations it's always been about getting one step ahead of your parents financially. Own a home if your parents rented, get a better education than your parents, move one step higher on the management ladder.

But, I think many members of Gens X and Y have seen how meaningless many of our parents' jobs are and we want to go a step up in a different way. We want a meaningful job. And, I think with things like iTunes, Print on Demand books, blogs, etc, there's a lot of opportunity for people to strike out on their own with little or no capital.

Anonymous said...

The American Dream for most was actually freedom. When the hordes came through Ellis Island or on the boats from Cuba, they were looking for a fresh start not handouts.

Now, after generations of brainwashing Americans have become whiny, spoiled and entitled. Corporations have severed the social compact and are pitting Americans against workers in third world sweatshops, but out politicians are concerned with THEIR pet causes e.g. health care.

The American Dream is to be free to live your life and make your own decisions for your own family. It does not include buying a bunch of crap made in China. It does mean buying a house that you cannot afford or free healthcare.

It means you can vote, grow your own food, start a company, write a book, volunteer for the homeless or go to law school.

It does not guarantee anything, least of all entitlements. We have lost our independence and pioneer spirit and are trapped by our TVs, computers and handheld devices. We cannot read maps and must rely on GPS. We take meds to get through the day and think someone should pay for everything.

Wake up people, we are still free. Live smart, live frugally. The idea that we need to own a home to be living our dreams is a crude fallacy.

JDpainterguy said...

"Without a basic education and seeing value in it, that opens us up to demagoguery and the worst sort of snake oil politics."

Can we also say Alexis De Tocqueville?

But wow Critick! Thanks, and Amen.You nailed it.
Your comments reming me of the late Alan Bloom's book-the Closing of the American Mind.


BY the way, I love good movie reviews--especially funny ones. I seriously was motivated enough to write one after seeing Stephen King's "The Langoliers" on TV not too long ago.
But maybe I watch too much TV. There has to be a happy medium.

Anonymous said...

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