The Problem with America


Ask anybody in this nation what the meaning of life is and, though the answers will vary, nine times out of ten, they won’t say, “To make money.” Why? Because we know better. Well, we supposedly know better.

 

Sure, on a conscious level, we all know greed is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, but on a subconscious level, most people in America (including myself) have been conditioned into thinking that making money IS very important, and that making the most amount of money possible is, indeed, the meaning of life.

 

This collective capitalistic mindset (one that values one’s actions solely in terms of maximizing profits and minimizing costs) basically arose from our nation’s distorted notion of the American Dream. Previous to the Eisenhower era, the American Dream was a very vague concept; every American had a slightly different interpretation of what getting the dream actually meant. After the start of the Cold War, however, the Eisenhower administration molded our culture’s conception of the American Dream in a way that would assist its political agendas. With the fear of the Soviets outracing America’s economy, the administration lead the public to believe that the American Dream was simply about making money—the more money you made, the bigger piece of the American Dream you could buy. If every American participated in a perpetual cycle of work and spend, the economy would rapidly grow to a point where the Soviets wouldn’t be able to keep up.

 

Such a politically warped notion of the American Dream may have been in America’s best interest during the Cold War (though saying so gives our government the benefit of the doubt); the problem, however, was that after the Soviet Union fell, the capitalistic mindset was so firmly ingrained into the American culture that it kept going in a never-ending cycle: work and spend and consume and work harder and spend more and consume more and work even harder, spend even more and so forth.

 

In fact, the cycle has become so absurd within the past fifteen to twenty years that it has begun to resort to very desperate and, oftentimes, downright evil measures to sustain itself. Perhaps the worst of these evils is the exploitation of laborers both on and off American soil. Whether it’s the sweatshop laborers working for a dollar an hour in the Third World, or the Latino immigrants working for minimum wage at the local McDonalds’ in the First World, nobody can deny that in order for our American Dream to come true, some poor unfortunate soul consequentially has to endure the American Nightmare. But the reality of the matter is that, without its steady supply of cheap foreign labor, the American economy would collapse. The very economic supremacy that defines what it means to be an American only exists because of non-American labor.

 

At the root of this American problem, is really a human problem. As a humanist, I believe that the majority of human beings are not inherently greedy; but I DO believe that we inherently fear nonconformity. In twenty-first century America, the adoption of a capitalistic mindset has become the norm; to NOT think in terms of profits and losses would be abnormal, even un-American.

 

America prides itself to be “the land of the free” but our freedom is an illusion, because, in our culture, nonconformity is perceived as unpatriotic. Sure, we Americans have the freedom to choose a “path less traveled,” as some college valedictorian would say in a commencement speech, but very few of us actually do. Why? Because the “path less traveled” is a path of filled with nonconformity and, in turn, alienation. Nobody likes to be alienated.

 

The truth is that the average American is the farthest thing from being a truly free human being. We mindlessly take part in the capitalistic machine because that’s what everybody else around us is doing, even though the machine is responsible for the exploitation of millions of poor Third World laborers and Latino immigrants. And we never do anything to reconcile such evils because doing so would be unpatriotic. The cultural fear prevalent during the Red Scare has spilled over into today’s post-Cold-War climate; the average twenty-first century American is simply afraid to speak out against capitalistic practices.

 

Now, does this American problem remind us of anything that happened in the past? Well, no, not overtly. But when have we seen an entire culture of people surrender their ability to think freely for the sake of conforming to the dominant mainstream mindset, even though this mindset was capable of doing some very evil things? Do the words Hitler and Final Solution ring a bell? After the world discovered that Hitler’s well-organized (not to mention extremely rationalized) government was responsible for the extermination of six million Jews, nobody ever thought something so evil could ever happen again. But, alas, something so evil is already happening again…in our very nation. And, just as the entire German culture had a part in Hitler’s scheme, so doesn’t the entire American culture. The evil coming out of America is not as apparent as the evil that came out of Germany in the 1930s. But it’s there—subtly, but surely. And it certainly wouldn’t be too bold of me to say that it’s much stronger.

 

What can we do? First of all…THINK. Sure, we may be innate conformists, but we are also innate freethinkers. The power to think freely is still within us, even though it may currently be in a state of hibernation. Our parents call us “unrealistic” when we graduate from college and hesitate selling our soul to some corporate bureaucracy, but we must understand that REALITY IS NOT CAPITALISM; and, better yet, AMERICA IS NOT CAPITALISM. Baby-boomers have raised us to think that if we’re not contributing to the economy in some meaningful way, then we’re not being good Americans. This is not true. Sure, we need to make ends meet financially, but living a good, meaningful life in America is not contingent on making the most amount of money possible and perpetuating an exploitive economy.

 

These words may sound foolish and naïve, but the only people who would call it such are those old American farts who are afraid to discover that their entire life of work and spend has been meaningless and absolutely detrimental to the human family. For all you younger people out there: don’t be fooled. There’s more to life in America than just capitalism. We can’t mistake the “real world” for the capitalistic world. Because if we do…it’s only a matter of time before the money-hungry beast becomes indomitable.

 

Disposable America

The following is a little something I wrote in response to somebody's blog on Myspace.com. The blog was about disposable America and the disregard the majority of capitalist Americans have for a piece of architecture that is cost-INeffective, which has led to a new real estate trend where builders are buying old (and usually historical) pieces of real estate only to raze the property and build something that will make them more money. In all, the trend is yet another illustration of how inhuman and insensitive the capitalistic ideaology can make people:

 

The problem is that Americans operate from a mindset that values good decisions as those that will make money and bad decisions as those that will lose money. We are so concerned about building the strongest economy possible that history and beauty and morals - anything the least bit human, really - only get in the way of achieving this end. This is why we don't see the real estate trend in Europe: because they aren't as diseased by this sick capitalist ideaology...well, not yet anyway. I would argue that, along with American globalization, the capitalist ideaology itself is spreading all around the world. When Bush says we're in Iraq to spread "liberty" and "democracy" what he really means is that we're there to spread the capitalist ideaology: one that sees financial gain as good and financial loss as evil.

 

The funny thing is that, if you read the Bible, it relentlessly talks about how people can't worship both God and money - you have to choose between one or the other. And for a nation where the majority of people supposedly worship God and supposedly live their life according to the Bible's teachings, it's almost baffling to see the extent to which people in this nation worship money, and I think this real estate trend is only proof of this. A piece of architecture is useful as long as it is making someone money: once it stops making money, it's disposable. Cost-effectiveness and good investments are becoming all that matters.

 

Excerpt from a related essay

It's sad, because America and its corporations have grown to a point where the only way to sustain their strength is by doing unhuman things, most of which are done in third world nations, but on our home soil as well. They get away with these things because, like you say, technically they're not responsible, even though they are responsible...which brings me to another point: America is all about technicality. Technicality has replaced moral values. Even though Shell was responsible for that massacre, on a technical level, it wasn't. A nation - heck, a WORLD - where technicality is all that matters is a very frightening world, but that's what the world is becoming today. Scary.

 

On the other hand, capitalism itself can be traced back to the flaw in human nature: Fear of chaos. In the capitalist's eyes, more money means more order and security. So I guess what I'm saying is that, if anything, we have to start understanding the flaw in human nature before we start addressing any other problems (social/political/economical and what have you). Below I pasted some remarks about Lord of the Flies that I really think relate to this issue:

 

"The flaw in society can be traced back to the flaw in human nature." - William Golding

 

LOF was written not long after the Holocaust and from what I remember hearing about the book when I read it in high school is that the Holocaust was really on Golding's mind while he was writing it. I'm starting to see the beast as the kind of FEAR that leads a culture to do something absurd, rash, atrocious...evil things. In the Holocaust's case, the BEAST was the fear of economic collapse in Germany. This allowed Hitler to a) become leader and b) gain so much power. Because people were so afraid of economic collapse that they just surrendered all their will and power to a man who at least appeared to have all the answers. But what's the point of being afraid of economic collapse? Not much. It's not like you would die from it...well, in most cases. So what I'm saying is that they were afraid of a BEAST that wasn't really something to be afraid of after all, but because they were afraid, they surrendered all their will and power to a man who was so sick that he thought killing six million jews was the answer to germany's problems. From what I remember about LOF, the deal is the same: that is, the boys are afraid of a "BEAST" that they really shouldn't be afraid of because it turns out to be something harmless. But before they realize it's harmless, their fear of the beast leads them to do some very evil (savage) things. In other words, their FEAR turns them into the very thing they're afraid of: the BEAST!!!

 

Parallels with today: Our fear of terrorism. The main reason why Bush got reelected, in my opinion, is because people were afraid of terrorism and Bush made it look like only he - and not Kerry - possessed the power to protect us.

 


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