Social Question

jazzjeppe's avatar

What is "The American Dream" and is it still on?

Asked by jazzjeppe (2598points) March 23rd, 2010

I had a very interesting discussion with an American friend about the American Dream. He explained it to me something like that every man has the opportunity and responsibility to achieve success alone. To make it short.

Is the American Dream the fundamental of the capitalist ideology in America? In my ears it sounds as if the American Dream is about financial success – earn lots of money and you are living the dream. But I also have a feeling that the Dream is unjust and unfair. Not everyone can achieve the financial success the Dream “talks” about. It all depends on things such as area of living, family history, social class, ethnicity, gender, health etc.

I have only studied American social studies for a month or so in Uni, but I remember a professor talking about this and he said something like: The American Dream doesn’t work. If it did USA wouldn’t be such a segregated country where the real workforce who built the country hasn’t received the credit it deserved.
Does he have a point?

I also feel that the American Dream is built on others burden. Back in history,it was the slave owners who became successful up on their high horses, but the slaves, the workers, got nothing. The successful today are kinda the same everywhere you go, even here in Sweden. High bank people in our biggest banks receive huge bonuses even in days like these – first they ask the state for help and then they pay out bonuses. Loan institutes make money on broke families who cannot keep their houses etc.
Is the American Dream only for those who don’t mind stepping on others, who are controlled by greed?

I might be mixing things up here and I know little about how it works, but I am very interested in US social studies and would love some feedback and lessons on the topic :) Most of all I want to come visit you!

Have a great day!

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21 Answers

TexasDude's avatar

To me, as an American, the American Dream is the ability to own my own piece of property and earn my own living as I please, and basically do what I want with my life freely and easily (within the confines of the law, and my own morality, of course).

This means that I should be able to earn money doing what I am good at, and use that money to purchase property and/or goods that I can further profit from and enjoy, without infringing upon the rights of others to do the same.

You mention that greed is a driving factor with many and has lead many folks to be stepped on by others, which is mostly true, but from my perspective, I don’t see the acquisition of wealth as having to be a zero-sum game, at least within my own personal conception of what the American Dream really is.

For example, the way in which I plan on fulfilling, to the best of my ability, my conception of the American Dream is to continue my education, eventually obtain a doctorate, teach history, and earn money in exchange for my teaching skills. I’ll use this money to hopefully buy what I’ve always wanted: a Victorian style house on a decent sized plot of land, as well as provide for my family, of course

All of this will be within my rights and nobody will be enslaved or held back in the process.

And please do visit the US. You seem like a friendly, thinking sort who would do well here.

jrpowell's avatar

I gave up on the American Dream. It is hard to make money without money. Some people can pull it off, but most can’t.

What hurts the most is when I realized that the person that we rent from owns every house on our block. I’m not joking. One person owns thirty houses around us. This is fucked up. Unless you are monumentally stupid and you are born into wealth you are set for life.

Shae's avatar

The American Dream is that Anyone can be anything they want, Not everyone.

There is no world where everyone gets what they want, but I’d rather live in one where you at least have the opportunity to try.

phillis's avatar

The joke is on the illegal aliens, as my husband will happily stand up and testify! In fact, he’s doing that very thing, first thing in the morning. No such dream exists here. You’ve only got two shots at making the kind of money that will give you a truly comfortable life. You can invent something clever and useful, or you can buy real estate.

If you don’t have money, you can’t make any. It’s as simple as that. It takes every dime just to make it to the next paycheck. The extremelyrare person will do great. As for the rest of us, we’re screwed, baby! Almost all of us are only illness away from total financial annihilation (the kind you don’t ever recover from). So, let’s just call it what it is.

I owe you an apology. I chose not to answer whether the American Dream is solely a financial one. Frankly, if you’re destitute here, little else matters. It affects your health, your home, your vehicles, your whole way of life. Sure, you can still say that if you are loved, you’re rich. But all the love in the world won’t keep you from losing everything you’ve ever worked your ass off to have. I just can’t bring myself to keep hope alive. It’s too damn painful.

12_func_multi_tool's avatar

Not money, not property, but the ability to act on whim, complete personal freedom. Doing as you wish when you want to. I’m stealing this from Joan Didion. Sorry Babe

JeffVader's avatar

The American dream is a fallacy & it always was. Its a system designed to keep the richest rich while exploiting those below. However, cunningly just enough people ‘make-it’ to convince the countless millions that they might too…. which they wont.

josie's avatar

The American Dream is real. But it is currently not in effect, because it was suspended by the American government and replaced by what I will call the Government Dream. The American dream is that you are free to live out your life by your own design, and achieve whatever success you are capable of. The Government Dream is that you can screw up royally, fail, and someone who is successful will be hijacked to fund your recovery.

majorrich's avatar

The American Dream, to me, is the freedom to do what you are capable of and to be rewarded for your effort. To own your own home and to provide for your family by the sweat of your brow and the strength of your back. (even while carrying the entire government health system on it) The dream is faded a bit, and maybe more than I think, but living the dream (dream being the operative word) is being able to do anything you can dream without having to answer to anyone, but also the freedom to fail on an epic scale. I am at a point where I feel my generation and the next may fall short of the dreams of our parents, but the dream is still there, waiting to be.

noyesa's avatar

@josie No, this is a social agreement that has been in existence for hundreds of years in many countries to equalize the standard of living. Nobody is completely of their own making but for some when they’re asked to contribute back to the system that made them they clam up and bitch about “earning your own way”. See, normally the wealthy in society accept that they are indebted to society for their good means and willingly contribute back. In any case, none of this has anything to do with the American dream, this is just your personal rhetoric about how society brutalizes the wealthy.

I think to most people the American Dream is the belief that our democratic government, which protects all its citizens as equals regardless of race and class, allows us to explore and experiment virtually without bound, such that we can live the life we want to live. We are free to do as we like, within the limit of the laws, without judgment by the government.

The American dream doesn’t just apply to the government though, but also to society—society doesn’t care who you are or where you came from, you’ll be allowed to fly as high as your wings will take you. Unfortunately that’s pretty far from the truth.

Our government has been rooting out discrimination within itself for a while now. It will be a while longer before society completely accepts these changes. There is still much discrimination, and although you won’t be discriminated against by the government, ethnicity and class are huge factors in how successful you are in financially in the US.

I think in the time and context of the American dream it existed, and I think in that same context it exists today. There is still plenty wrong with the US, but compared to almost any other country in the world the American dream holds. We’re more tolerant and hold more opportunity than virtually any other country, and there’s room for more at the table.

margot23annie's avatar

I don’t think you’d be happy here, coming from Sweden. Your mixed economy and Social Democracy is much more of a balanced way of life. You would miss the social safety net that you have there.

What you have learned about America is mostly true. There are some of us who still hold our dream of a humane and fair society, and work in our own ways to move the country in that direction. But we have a lot of opposition, so it can get us down. Having to endlessly keep up the fight is exhausting. The vested interests of huge corporations, the politicians they support, and the media outlets they own are pretty hard to fight against. The fight we just had over reforming our health insurance system is a good example of this.

. Our society is nearly split down the middle, with two opposing visions of what the dream should be. It wastes a lot of energy, keeps people upset, and leaves many people in bad situations which are hard for an individual to rise above. You are in a country that seems to have settled these questions, and can go on living and enjoying your lives. Those who are exceptional, imaginative and motivated can work harder and make more money, but they have to agree to pay higher taxes to keep your kind of society going. Most Americans don’t seem to see the value of that, hoping, pretending or striving, to be the winners that can forget about and look down on those who don’t make it the same way.

JeanPaulSartre's avatar

It used to be that Americans agreed on this dream, but disagreed on how to get there… now it seems that some would rather have a small very rich group and a very poor group… No American dream is available there.

njnyjobs's avatar

The American Dream is the ability to live your life the way you want it to be. It could be as simple as living in a manufactured home in the North Carolina high country ( for trout or hunting pheasants and deer) or as extravagant as a penthouse atop a highrise in NYC (while managing a Fortune 500 company). They key to achieving the American Dream rests solely on one’s personal outlook and contentment.

Stereotypically, the Dream has been one of being able to own a home, with a car in the garage and chicken in the pot. Most immigrants come to America looking for their bit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, things that may never be attainable in their motherland no matter what they do or how hard they do it.

Sadly, the American Dream will remain only as a dream for many who idealize the stereotypical hype and concept of this commercialized society.

cazzie's avatar

Prospero: Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158

wundayatta's avatar

The American Dream is a myth. It’s a story to keep people believing that greatness is possible. It’s a Cinderella story. It is a story for everybody, and it is designed to make people happy with their lot, because they know, if they work hard, they can attain greatness. Therefore, if they do not have greatness, it must be their own fault for not working hard.

cazzie's avatar

yeah… like I said….

njnyjobs's avatar

…myth, fallacy, real, social agreement, what have you…. it is what a person want’s to make of it. If you don’t believe it, then you have nothing to look forward to. If it’s real, it’s something you strive for. .. it is a dream… like having a dream girl or dream boy… if you don’t have one, you wouldn’t even know that it’s infront of you even it hit you on the head. . . . it may be generational or periodic as well, dynamic as your dream date may be

cazzie's avatar

How can I make this clear…... There is nothing ‘American’ about any dream. Not anymore. If you don’t agree…. please do some reading and travelling.

YARNLADY's avatar

The American Dream is real and has happened to each new generation. The reality is that American’s have one of the highest standards of living in the world, and those who moan and groan about ‘myth’ and ‘delusion’ should have to experience what it is like without the freedom to be what we want to be and the freedom to complain about it if we fail.

davidbetterman's avatar

The American Dream is quite real. It is the freedom to attack unjust laws without fear of being killed for it. It is the freedom to go out and make a bundle (anyone can, y’know) and buy all the trappings, and it is the freedom to just not take it anymore.
We have such freedom here as to allow us to dream in any direction conceivable.

The actual ”American Dream” had to do with a home, appliances, cars and chicken.

noyesa's avatar

@davidbetterman And the ability to buy a chicken, put it in your car, take it home and cook it on your appliance via freeway.

davidbetterman's avatar

@noyesa It isn’t really much, so far as dreams go. But I like it a lot and am pleased with my little piece of the dream!
It means you have a chance to succeed, and not merely make lots of money. But to truly succeed.

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