Sunday, October 16, 2016

The American Dream and its critics

Dear Hannah,

Because I was in college I've done several things I wouldn't do now, at the top of the list being a beer bong with more than seven types of hard liquor, voting as a Democrat, and reading Michael Moore.  The latter of these took place after I quit railing cocaine and picked up some Chomsky, and involved a too-long book about something like Oprah Winfrey becoming president.  It was titled Dude, Where's My Country? because it was written for idiots.  One of the chapters stuck with me more than the one about Oprah, however, and it had to do with the fraudulence of the American Dream.

Mike said, in short, that the American Dream was a cruel joke and that low taxation was the result of a delusion: that the only reason millions of Americans won't tax their neighbors to death had much less to do with their understanding of economics or even just fairness, and more to do with the idea that they might someday make it

The truth of the matter is that Michael Moore (God bless him) was partially right; but as liberals have a tendency to do, he wasn't right in the way that he wanted.  Nobody, since the beginning of the world, has ever said that a dream must come true; but they've always known that we had dreams, and that some dreams are more possible and helpful than others -- even if they never materialize.  And the American Dream in particular was never that you were guaranteed to make it or that everyone was likely to make it, but that you could possibly make it because nobody was physically or legally restraining you from making it.  Michael Moore (who happens to be filthy rich and fat and uninterested in sharing) said this was dangling a carrot in front of a horse. And in a certain sense he's right.  Many people and all horses have one thing in common, and that's that neither has the talent to start or run Walmart (although horses are more likely to have the work ethic).

But maybe the carrot was a dream in a different sense.  Maybe it was the idea that even if you never made it, you always had the possibility of changing things for yourself; that even if you really lacked the talent and the ideas to make yourself rich, you never felt restrained by a legal aristocracy or a corporate charter or a fiefdom of any sort; and that if you one day were to pack up your bags (or leave them all behind) and start a new life, you could do it in the blink of an eye.  The American Dream, in other words, was maybe even an unfounded hope in change itself; and the pursuit of happiness was exactly what it literally pretended to be -- not an arrival, but a pursuit.  America is different from all the countries that preceded it in this.  We are less tied to land than almost anyone before us.  We are less restricted to any kind of trade than almost any Englishman before us.  We are less restricted to any kind of religion than almost anyone before us.  And we are tied less (for better or for worse) to family than anyone before us.  We abandon and we're abandoned but we're unfettered.  The American Dream is a happiness as only a philosopher or a playboy could see it -- the almost unbridled ability to chase.

Those of us who complain loudest about the falsehood of the American Dream are often responsible for fostering the illusion in our children, and fostering it most predominantly in our little girls (see: Disney's Mulan or their sanctimonious Zootopia).  Without knowing who these kids are or what they're good at, without checking to see if Billy is stupid or Jennifer is weak, they fill kids full of a feeling that they can do anything without checking to see whether the children are even good at anything.  And the reason they do it is obvious.  Because you never really know what a child is going to grow up and do until he eventually grows up and does it.   

Even our liberals know, deep down, that it doesn't so much matter if 90% of our children dream impossible things and then screw it all up and come back to their teachers and say they'd been lied to.  They know that at the bottom of the matter, very few people get most of the things they want, and that what we said was really for the 10 or maybe even 5 percent of them really thinking things we'd never thought and capable of doing things we'd never done; the geniuses and transcenders and fighters and naturally born charismatics and masters of self, who yes needed coaching and teaching and books and examples, but more than any of this needed a) to think that success would be rewarded and b) that nobody was standing in the way.

Low taxation (of course) plays a part in this delusion we give to our children, that they're the people who'll keep an extra hundred thousand because they can do things.  But for the people responsible for doing the things that only geniuses and movers and shakers can do, can we ever really say that the delusion was a delusion?  And if they're carrying us further than we were ever personally capable of going ourselves, and giving us opportunities that never existed before, do we really care if the rest of us were "lied" to?  Limousine liberals such as Michael Moore, who won't share their money, tell us we have to share more.  They seem to have forgotten that when we join a company we never could have built, we're sharing more than just a profit.  We're participating in somebody else's dream, and reaping unprecedented benefits for sharing in it.

Your father,
-J

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