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It was brought up A LOT in English class this year and I wanted to know what you thought.

Hey Guys,
So the "What is the American Dream?" question was the theme to our English class this year, along with Transcendentalism. I wanted to know what you think the American Dream is and if it's old fashioned now. What makes the American Dream unique and unreachable in other countries? Is it an old immigrant saying now or do people still strive to come to American to achieve the impossible?
Personally I think that old American Dream- stability and living humbly- is outdated. Now everyone wants the biggest of everything- houses, cars, fame, and fortune. That's what the new American dream is, just to become famous. We see celebrities and icons 24/7 now thanks to the internet and they always look so happy and it makes us believe that we need all of that excess to be happy too. Is that what the American Dream has turned into? Someone needs to save this country.

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    Jun 21 2012: Cheyenne, thank you for asking this question. When thinking about the American culture, it's important to realize that we had already become the world's largest economy by around 1900. It's also important understand how much WW II changed not only the world but the USA as well. After WW II, most of the world used America as an economic crutch to survive. Most Americans think of the 1950's as our golden decade. Returning soldiers came home and soon afterwards built up rings of suburbs around major cities. Because of this trend, most Americans associate the American dream with 1950's decadence and suburban expansion.

    But the American dream is far, far older than that. It is rooted in our colonial and westward expansion eras, while the European Enlightenment was reaching its full strength. Reason and rationalism were and still are cherished values, social mobility became defined in terms of commerce, and the old aristocratic feudal order of Europe became irrelevant. All a person needed to do was be given the opportunity to carve out some virgin land, work hard, and build something productive out of it. Countries that hold on to their feudal hierarchies don't do as well. They tend to be deterministic rather than transcendentalist and end up as consumers rather than innovators.

    There is a rise in ostentatious living due to two-income households. The media parades those who gain their wealth overnight or inherited it (never earned it all). About 95% of people try to model that. They live beyond their means to maintain the appearance of wealth, and often have high incomes/high debt/low net worth, but aren't actually wealthy. When you read books like "The Millionaire Next Door", "Rich Dad/Poor Dad" and others related to personal finance, the truly wealthy gain wealth the old fashioned way, by being frugal, through savings and investment, and hard work. They work because they want to, not because they have to. That goal is still very much alive.
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    Jun 22 2012: I thought about your question for a while to come up with this answer. The only answer that I consistently come to is:
    The American Dream is about owning property

    I thought back to my era where you could own property but that was not enough so they developed condominiums that you could own your own apartment. And that land is not only the only thing you can own, but you can own houses, cars, boats, and the bigger is better. Family took a back seat as everyone wanted more stuff and more income was 'necessary' for more stuff.

    I think back to my parents generation after WWII. The American Dream was to own a house, maybe a car and start to raise a family. Family was important so a smaller house was OK because it meant that a parent could be available for parental duties.

    I think back to my grandparents generation when the government was still giving away land and property. My grandparents were farmers and had much land but little goods. They worked the land and kept the fruit of their toils. The government could not take it away from them. But the land was more important than goods. It was what sustained them.

    Back when the founding fathers began this country, property rights were established. They took land from the Native Americans and sold it or just plain gave it away. This was after conquering and subduing any opposition the Natives had to being treated this way.

    So from the very beginning the American Dream has been about owing land an property, Earn it any way you can. Even if you have to take it from someone else.
  • Jun 21 2012: In Goethe's "Faust", long story short, Faust makes a deal with the devil that, if Mephistopheles can show him a scenario for which Faust will say, "Yes, that's what I want! That is truly a life worth living!", then Faust loses his soul. Finally, Faust is shown a young couple just starting out; they have their own land that they can develop as they see fit. They can educate themselves and explore and improve their talents and bents, along with those of their children. They have the freedom and means for open-ended growth of their human souls. Faust says, yes, he'll take that; that is a life worth living. The devil says, "Tough", and grabs his soul. What Faust settled on, I think, was the original American dream. The means and freedom to develop ones soul to the maximum of its potential. It's not handed to us, it's not forced on us, but it is there, equally, for one and all. This dream is now lost on most people, but it is still there if one desires to pursue it.
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    Jun 21 2012: As a round eye I think in some senses you are correct, and write very good english. You can discount the hyperbole it is not relevant to most Americans.

    But by virtue of students staying here though the H-1B visa it appears that they prefer the U.S.? Although from what I read this is starting to change.

    I think the transcendental ideals are timeless and are what made the U.S. the biggest economy in the world. But as socialism has grown in the U.S. the goals that were integral to the culture have faded and started to become more like europe where the goal is to have more vacation time.

    China will become the biggest economy shortly. What is the Chinese dream?
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    Jun 22 2012: Perhaps we should establish what the American dream is. If it is as you say to achieve the impossible then we need to lower the goal. It is my impression that the American dream is, "that it is possible" to .... become president, become rich and famous, to have rights guarnteed by the Constitution, etc ... I am not sure aboiut the living humbly. You can dream of the material things that you mentioned .. as for the celebrities ... has this made them truly happy? The divorce rate is high, drugs, commitment to institutions, sucicide, enhancement surgery, no private life, etc ... Maybe they are on a giant ego trip that is mostly glitter and little substance.

    My American dream is different than yours, and yours different than others. I wanted to achieve to my potential and provide for my spouse and family. I have exceeded that dream.

    I think that we need to dream ... but we need to found that dream in reality. Of all the kids that play baseball in the world only a few will ever make it to the big leagues ... same for football, plays, chorus, band, or you name it ...

    The real dream begins with a solid education, hard work, and finding out who your and accepting your strengths and limitations and working to enhance and overcome them as much as possible.

    Never stop questioning. I hope that you achieve your deams what ever it may be.

    All the best. Bob
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    Jun 22 2012: If the American Dream is seen as the driving force behind the establishment of America then we must turn our attention back to the conception and the formative years of this once great nation. Simply put, for what were the Pilgrims looking when they left England to come to America? What was missing from life of the 100+ refugees aboard the Mayflower, what was their dream? Answer that and you will learn what was the American Dream.