June 30, 2012 in slideshow
Thanks, to Tom, Beth, and Mella for a very informative and thought provoking discussion of the American Dream – and thanks to all of you who were there to participate. (And were it not for the generosity of the Good Work Collective and Aromas, the evening would be far less enjoyable).
Stay tuned for a soon-to-be-posted video of the event! Meanwhile, here is a recap of the evening. The discussion has begin on the Facebook page as well, but feel free to respond on this post also (I believe Mella is more accessible for follow-up on the website than on the Facebook page.)
Tom Gordon started off with, ”What was the American Dream.” Early America was influenced by several streams of thought: The Greek ideal of heroism, individualism, and reputation; the Christian ideal of self-sacrifice, humility, and community; and the relatively new rise of utilitarianism. The early settlers in America brought with them all three of these influences. As one might imagine, they sometimes clashed, and sometimes blended together.
In addition, John Locke had been promoting the equality of all mankind, and the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property” as a way to break down the social and economic stratification that had been happening in England. The new American ideal of ”life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” in this context, could have meant a number of things.
The early Christian settlers arrived in America to be free from tyrannical religious oppression. The English peasantry, arrived to be free from the aristocratic control of land and resources. A third group, 104 young men, arrived to be free From any restraints. The first group wanted to be free to worship God, the second to be free to move up the social stratus, the third to be free to do, and I quote Beth, ”Whatever the hell they want.”
What should we be free from? What should we be free to do? Who defines the happiness we all have the right to pursue?
“It is notable that examples of rights come to mind much easier than examples of responsibilities.” – Tom Gordon
“Rome made great progress over the centuries of accumulating wealth and stuff. At that point, they stopped pointing their armies outward in plunder and began pointing them inward to protect and consume them. America is doing much the same. We have arrived. We have acquired. And we have indulged.” – Tom Gordon
Mella McCormick picked up with the current state of the American Dream, noting that 1) we clearly equate success with money and “things,” and 2) that has not brought us happiness, at least as revealed in multiple studies around the world. It is the “ineffable” things – relationships, contemplation, relaxation, community – that seem to correlate most directly with that elusive things we call happiness. In some worldwide studies, Denmark rises to the top (in the Happiness Planet Index, Costa Rica shines).
“For Aristotle, happiness is not a feeling or an emotion. It is not anything like what we think of today as happiness. His idea of happiness was an activity. The pursuit of contemplation, both alone and in groups. Aristotle’s idea of pursuing happiness would be encouraging intellectual discourse.” - Mella McCormick
“It turns out that *how* you spend your money occasionally can bring happiness. Specifically when it is on “pro-social spending.”- Mella McCormick
“The American Dream is an opportunity for us to define ourselves. Our status lies in our things.” – Mella McCormick
Beth Milligan talked about where the American Dream is going. If trends continue, the future is not as bright as it once was. She talked about “a looming malaise” because of environmental issues, overpopulation, inequity, our national direction, and similar problems. We have lost our sense of identity, and are floundering to make good long-term decisions, choosing instead to indulge ourselves now. All is not lost: Beth notes a solution can be found in the realm of spirituality, which she defined as a sense of purpose, of identity, and of connection.
“The availability of such a variety of music, movies, TV shows, consumer goods and the like gives us the ability to create the reality that we want. We can even pick our news of preference. In pursuing the American Dream, we have lost community.” - Beth Milligan
“The recent resurgence in interest in vampires is that it has a lot to do with the general anxiety we feel as a culture. At this moment in our history, and our planet’s history, I think we all feel we’re living in a precarious present. This interest in vampires is a safe way to explore the dangerous, anxious state of life. It’s mysterious, and titillating, and at the same time it’s not real. It gives us a chance to feel scared while knowing it’s all a fantasy.” - Beth Milligan, referring to a recent interview with Elizabeth Kostova, author of “The Historian”
“In spite of all the failings, I think that redefining the American Dream can give us something worthwhile to aspire to.” – Beth Milligan