American Dream 2 Essay, Research Paper
The American Dream
Going, Going, Gone?
Has the American Dream turned into the American nightmare? The ideals stated in the Declaration of Independence, life, liberty and happiness, are no longer the ideals of today. Now, it is the pursuit of happiness that overshadows everything. Life and liberty are taken for granted. Americans today are constantly reminded and told how to pursue the dream . And more often than not, it is someone else s dream. The old-fashioned idea of a simple life with a decent house in a quiet neighborhood, with a steady job and a couple of healthy children is no longer enough. Today, both spouses must work so they can afford bigger houses, drive fancier cars, take better vacations and accumulate more things . Kids come along later, if financial security is more certain. Today s generation finds itself unable to duplicate or surpass their own parents standard of living. When and how did it all change?
Achieving the American dream dates back to the time when Christopher Columbus discovered America. Since then, there have been deals, agreements, treaties and even laws passed to reach the dream. During most of the 18th century, Great Britain ruled the area that was to become the United States. On July 4th, 1776, representatives of the American Colonies wrote and ratified the Declaration of Independence. This document declared freedom from British rule. The Declaration of Independence ranks as one of the greatest documents in human history, as well as the first step taken by Americans to achieve the American dream (World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 75-78). Independence Day is celebrated every July 4th to honor its great and meaningful background. The dream of religious freedom and economic independence was started when the fifty-six members of the Continental Congress signed their names for all the American people.
Following the Revolutionary War, Americans pursued the dream rather ineffectively. The new nation, without tradition or wealth, expanded almost in spite of itself as new frontiers and new settlements were made. Some measure of success was achieved and America s politics, economy and government stabilized as the nation grew. But by the middle of the 19th century, one issue stood out in opposition to the dream that all men were created equal slavery. This issue was so hotly contested that the nation was divided into two. Only eighty-five years after achieving independence, the nation fought against itself to either abolish or uphold slavery. Losing sight of the dream and what it meant, the four-year Civil War caused more casualties than all wars from the Revolution through Vietnam combined. When the war was finally over, America started on a period of great economic growth. As great wealth was accumulated by the cattle barons, the railroad companies and the industrial giants, most Americans did not succeed to anywhere near the same degree. American society was split into those with money and those without. The richest few achieved the dream of freedom, wealth and happiness, but left the vast majority in an almost hopeless state. For most, the hopes of reaching the American dream would remain just that a dream.
As the 20th century rolled along, so did the economy for a chosen few. But that all came toppling down in October of 1929 with the stock market crash. Many of the richest people, banks, factories and stores lost millions of dollars and left Americans jobless. The crash started the Great Depression. This was a worldwide business slump of the 1930s. The Depression ranked as the worst and longest period of high unemployment and business activity in modern times (World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 8, pp. 363-367). The dream needed help as most Americans depended on the government and charity to provide them with food and jobs. Many of the relief programs started by Franklin Roosevelt not only helped in the short term, but also laid the groundwork for the economic revival to come. In addition, the start of World War II sparked a great boom in manufacturing and jobs as the country produced weapons and machinery to fight the Nazis and the Japanese. The end of the war marked the beginning of the greatest period of American prosperity in history. The last half of the 20th century saw economic development, a fall in unemployment and accumulation of wealth by many, rather than the few. But with this prosperity came a desire to gather even more wealth and riches and leads us to the problem with the American dream today.
The developed United States consumes a disproportionate share of the world s resources, yet high and rising levels of consumption do not necessarily lead to greater satisfaction, security or well-being, even for affluent consumers (Goodwin, Ackerman, Kiron pg. 49). Things have come to a head by the end of the twentieth century: the mounting onslaught against the environment, the runaway decimation of species, the despoiling of the rain forests, the plunder of native cultures and the general toxic poisoning of the environment all point to an I don t care about anything else attitude today (Grosso, pg.5).
With all the advantages available today, isn t it strange that the things cited above are all negative? And it is no different in the business world either. Workers and families are falling into poverty at a fast rate. The gap between rich and poor is widening. College graduates today now earn more than 82% more than those who only finished high school do. One study reports that 40% of the population do not feel that they earn enough money and only one-third think that their financial future will improve. Such despair is in marked contrast to the optimism of the 1950s and 60s when parents expected their children to look forward to better lives than they had (Grosso, pg.2).
American families are also affected greatly by the extraordinary pressures put upon them to succeed financially. In order to purchase a second car, both spouses must hold a job, sometimes two. Advertisers keep hammering home the idea that we need SUVs, enclosed decks, in-ground pools and all the other symbols of the good life . Having both parents out of the house for most of the time leaves the children in a state where they attend a succession of day-car centers, pre-schools, afterschool care and other programs. Parents are forced to make good use of their quality time with their kids. And the desire to succeed in all things makes the quality time spent at soccer games, gymnastics, swimming lessons and the like. This leaves little space for any real quiet time among family members. Parents end up not knowing their children since they never spend time together. Children get the idea that they not only have to participate but also must succeed in all things. In cases where the parents are constantly working in order to keep up their level of financial security, kids can tend to drift into laziness, indifference and even crime. The economic gap, the reduction in family values and the stress of constantly having to chase the dream have made American society lose sight of the dream itself.
People today are so busy dreaming the American Dream, fantasizing about what they could be or have a right to be, that everyone loses sight of what is really important. Seeking the dream is a game. Achieving the dream is now not a goal, but a distant hope. Is there a solution to the problem? Of course there is, but it requires almost a complete turn-around from where we are today.
There are four major areas that need to be changed before Americans can get back on the track to achieving the dream. First, the consuming of more and more products must slow down. New and improved versions of everything we have are not necessary. In many cases, the old versions work just fine. Do we really need to have our ashes put into orbit when we die? Do we need to have Playstation, Sega and Nintendo all hooked up to our HDTV set with the DVD, VHS and satellite receiver at the same time?
We also need to stop killing the environment. Will the mountains of garbage we produce spill over into our cities and neighborhoods? They will if we do not stop abusing everything. Respect for land, animals, natural resources and human beings must be taught to children again and again so they don t think that this is the normal way of doing things.
Another area of concern is the workplace. Automation is a wonderful thing. But the stress and demands put on workers reduces them to the level of machines. People should not work at a company; they should work for a company. Management should recognize the contributions of employees and provide a stable, comfortable workplace that encourages employees to work hard but be rewarded for it. And they should be encouraged to care about the products, goods or services they make or provide, rather than just punching a time clock every day.
Finally, and most important, is the state of the American family. The model of two kids, a dog and a house in the suburbs may not be reachable for many Americans, but it can also be looked down upon by many that are pushed and driven to surpass it. What makes it sad is that while they are attempting to acquire even more wealth, status and power, they can lose sight of their marriage and their children. You often read of highly successful businessmen who state that they deserve their success because they work fifteen to twenty hours a day, six or seven days a week. What time does that leave for anything else?
In conclusion, I hope that there are many people in this country that want to focus on a reachable goal. A goal of being happy and content. A goal of getting what is important: a good education, good health, a happy home life, a job that you like. These are goals in themselves. If we continue to be bombarded by advertising, if we continue to believe that we always need more, the goal always stays just ahead of us and can never be reached. It is very hard to hit a moving target.
The ideals of freedom and happiness that started this country are something that everyone wants. Our history has been a roadmap for that. From the time of the Revolution until recently, Americans found themselves better off in each generation. But now, Americans can get wrapped up in the pursuit of the dream rather than the dream itself. And as the dream becomes a more expensive and unattainable goal, we must be concerned as to where it will eventually end. Will it still be good for Americans to dream, or will the nightmare overcome us? I do not know what will cause us to stop and make the changes I have stated above. I do know that it must happen so that all of our children and us can live happily and dream on and on.
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