Redefining the American Dream

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

When I was in Philippines in 2005, I asked one of my Filipino friends about his future plans and goals in life. He replied that he wants to have a nice house, good family, well paid job and a branded car. Her response surprised me. There are three reasons for this: My Nepalese friends also have the same wishes and dreams, so did the guys that I talked with during my stay in India. These people were from various religions and backgrounds - Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sheikh. These youths also came from various economic classes: rich, upper middle class, middle class, lower middle class and poor. However, they all had and have similar aspirations despite what route they want to take to achieve their dreams.

In 2007, I came to U.S.A and talked to my American friends about why they go to college and what they want in their life. They also shared similar views. I told them that in the corner of poor countries like Nepal, or in emerging countries like India or in developing countries like Philippines they all have similar goals. And one of my friends goes: "Yeah it is called the American Dream. I had never heard of this phrase before. However, even when I was a kid, I did know that in the U.S everybody has a car, house, well paid job and all other small amenities that will keep them happy.

I started to find articles on American Dream in the summer of 2008. The article found on the website of the Library of Congress is most meaningful and interesting for me. Here is the excerpt:

"The term was first used by James Truslow Adams in his book The Epic of America which was written in 1931. He states: "The American Dream is 'that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.' It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. 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 to 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".

Here is the other excerpt that I really like: "In the United States' Declaration of Independence, our founding fathers: "...held certain truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." I think these are the most noble ideas humanity can ever come up with. I sometime wonder what would have happened to the world if this would have been exported to the whole world rather than just materialistic interpretation of the American dream.

It is undeniable that U.S.A exported the materialistic interpretation of American dream to the world and now we can find Americans all over the world in the sense that there are lots of people now living to achieve similar quality of life. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, capitalism flourished more than ever; countries like China, India and Brazil enabled more people to achieve American dream. Unfortunately, in these same countries we can find comparatively more denizens living under the poverty line and the gap between haves and have-nots is increasing.

Yes, it is true that because of capitalization lots of people got out of poverty and moved to middle class. However, the inconvenient truth is that the world welcomed lot of people too and lot of them are in poverty. The New York Times reported on Aug 26, 2008: "In India, the number of people below the $1.25 a day poverty line increased to 455 million in 2005 from 420 million people in 1981".

My grandfather used to say that poverty leads to violence. After the cold war, we did not have major wars but we did see many ethnic wars and a few are still going.

One of the other reasons why American dream got exported so fast was because of technology and communications. However, it has not been able to export equality, liberty, rule of law and the idea of undeniable rights comparatively well as it exported the materialistic interpretation of American dream. People break rules, discriminate and exploit others to turn their dreams into reality. China stands as profound evidence; they exploit their own people and the world's natural resources to achieve their version of the American Dream.

In addition with all these problems, the American dream did allow lots of people to use more resources and waste more than before. This all harmed the environment and the damages caused are almost irreversible. In the long run, the exportation of materialistic interpretation of an American Dream will do less good to the world and to the U.S itself than we would like to.

The challenge that the U.S and the world faces now should provoke and persuade the U.S to take this as an opportunity to lead the world in a new direction. It should export the American Dream in the way its founding fathers would have like it to. I also wish certain features should also be incorporated in this American Dream - an individual should have sense of community and should be environment friendly.