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Awaking from the American Dream

Last update - Thursday, February 18, 2010, 14:32 By Tara Fannon

I have to be honest – hearing the words ‘in the current climate’ really irritates me! I know that times aren’t great. In fact they’re pretty bad – everyone knows it. And I know that the Government could be doing a much better job with regard to the economy.

But I still feel – based on what I read, hear, and see – that decisions made here in Ireland are largely contingent upon those made in the more powerful states around the globe, such as the US.
If I’m right about that, we can assume this is either out of political and economic savvy, or insecurity. In fairness to the Irish Government, it could be a little of both, but let’s just suppose for a moment that it’s based on insecurity alone.
It’s certainly not unheard of for different countries to do what they do because the US does it. It might be oversimplifying things, but many around the world do look to the US for guidance in good times and bad.
It’s also my home and I do love it, yet at the same time I wonder why some hold it in such high regard.
It is indeed a fantastic country with so much to offer, and you can make a great life for yourself there. But it depends on what one defines as ‘great’.
Working hard and rising through the ranks leads to success and affluence – this is the basic idea underpinning the ‘American Dream’. But for most a dream is all it is, as it’s rarely realised.
I suppose there was a time when the United States did represent greener pastures for so many people. Those days are long gone, but the essence of what they were and what they meant continues to permeate the core value system of all Americans.
We emphasise that having a particular type of lifestyle equates to success and happiness – but its one with standards that are in fact unattainable.
Most Americans find themselves conforming to rules of the game in order to make it. They do whatever it takes, they live beyond their means, and they run themselves into the ground.
Some Americans innovate by starting up online businesses or by returning to education to learn new sets of skills. Some innovate by setting up informal economies selling drugs, illegal firearms or stolen goods. Some withdraw completely, ending up in some log cabin in the middle of nowhere, or they give up, living on the streets and forced to beg, borrow or steal.
Then there are those who realise that the ‘American Dream’ is a farce and that the game is rigged from the outset. In this case, one might be driven to take on the system – as seen with the recent ‘tea party’ protests, for instance.
But pushing for such high standards under the guise of the ‘American Dream’ only masks the reality of what is an incredible amount of pressure on most individuals and families today.
What’s available, and who it’s available to, have changed dramatically in the US – yet still we operate with the belief that everyone has equal access to the means with which to achieve ‘success’.
Many Americans are being led down the garden path – some quite willingly. Instead, how about living a life with more time (the ‘Holy Grail’ for Americans today) and less financial pressure?
It might not be all that you want out of life, but it’s certainly a great place to start. Let that be a better goal to which we can aspire.

Tara Fannon is a Sociology student at UCD. Her column appears monthly in Metro Éireann

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