Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Wake up to see the dream

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-11-15

Harvard Business School Prof John Quelch’s notes on "Selling out the American Dream" (2008-11-06) has been in the back of my mind.  He says "Americans need a refresher course on the American dream". He accuses politicians of all sides of hijacking the "American Dream" and reframing it in material terms, rather than using the original intent, which has a sting in the tail I’ll come to later.

He accuses marketers who have exploited this reframing, and the irresponsible borrowers who have been less inconvenienced by the financial woes than the responsible non-borrowers who have to pay to patch everything up.

But underpinning the collapse of the housing bubble is a demand-side problem—the American Dream—that has been hijacked in countless political speeches from an embodiment of America’s core values into a crass appeal to materialism and easy gratification… Too many Americans have been expressing the Dream through the acquisition of stuff.

Quelch obviously has no time for Bush’s post-Word-Trade-Centre call for people to show their patriotism by shopping!

The same sort of hijacking has happened here in Australia, although the dreams were different (don’t ask me how – it’s way too noumenal).

So here is Quelch’s quick historical note:

As defined by historian James Truslow Adams, who spoke first of the American Dream in his 1931 book The Epic of America: "It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

"Recognized for what they are…. recognized for what they are… recognized for what they are."

Interesting… as well as the obviously "seeing worthiness in a fellow of poor material worth" interpretation, I must wonder if there is also the "seeing the rich who have deep pockets and shallow souls, uncaring of the damage they cause to others, as subhuman" interpretation.

It’s time for our society to have a long hard look at itself, with all those who have allowed themselves to be infected by affluenza, and the politicians who have cultured the infection, recognizing what they really are, admitting it to themselves, and to everybody else.  That’s a start.

We need to get politicians capable of framing better metrics for measuring the worth of individuals and societies, not in the dollars we have relative to the next person, but in the dignity we have and grant, individually and collectively.  We need leaders who will help us refocus on what really matters, otherwise our society is like a marriage with constant sex and no love.

I’d love to see people of influence on TV, and people at home prompted by the TV, to attempt an answer a very simple question, one impossible to answer, but absolutely necessary to struggle with.  Socrates knew this, we’ve forgotten.

How do you live a good life?


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