Monday, October 11, 2010

The American Dream

The Washington Post has a story today titled "Beyond the Tea Party: What Americans Really Think of Government." That's kind of a big subject to attack in a single news article... the truth is that American opinion ranges far and wide. Frankly, that's part of the beauty of being in America. We have the freedom to speak, write and in any way proclaim whatever opinion suits our fancy.

I am a true, red-blooded American. I find it difficult to understand how someone can admire Che Guevara, Mao Tse-tung, Fidel Castro, Karl Marx, etc... But, clearly - there are those who do. In fact, there are many in charge today who admire these people.

There are also people who are true, red-blooded Americans who cannot understand how I admire people like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, John Adams, etc... for some, these people are simply dead, white men who hungered for power and encouraged the blight of slavery.

When you get down to the heart of the matter, however, things get a little more complicated. I don't admire our founding fathers because I think they were perfect men - or even that they set up our government exactly perfectly. They were, in all likelihood, like other men... flawed in many ways. I'm certain they all had things about them that, were I to know them today, I would find less than admirable. But the idea of freedom is something I cling to. And our founding fathers did give us that.

For centuries, the American dream has been one of freedom... people living in oppressed countries would travel far - and yes, sometimes even risk their lives - in order to participate in the great freedom experiment that is the United States of America. In 1931, James Truslow Adams defined the American dream as: that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

That dream, as defined, is one to which I subscribe. Freedom to be. Freedom to live... and to work to attain the lifestyle I choose. This is why I admire our founding fathers... this is why I value freedom over comfort and security. Without the freedom to live, to be ourselves, to achieve and realize our dreams, life becomes less meaningful.

Granted, our dreams must have meaning in order for their fulfillment to give our lives meaning... but this, too, is a personal choice. A cursory glance at the rich and famous shows us that fame and fortune do not a fulfilled life make. If we don't dream meaningful, we cannot be meaningful.

Freedom. Independence. Liberty. Self-government. Self-rule.

There are people who would argue that freedom is dangerous. People need to be protected from themselves. I've heard it said that "the masses are asses." And, okay, even the Bible says that people are like sheep - which is not exactly a ringing endorsement. Human nature being what it is, I'm certain that there will always be people who make poor choices and have horrible natural consequences while living in freedom.

But if we're going to truly consider this line of thinking... that people are not smart enough to rule themselves... then how smart is it for us to let people rule over us? Don't they succumb to the same human pitfalls?

Living in freedom, people exercise poor judgment and pay the price on an individual and family level. This is a horrible circumstance and cannot be ignored within the scope of this discussion. BUT... living without freedom is worse. The consequences are felt on a national level... as a whole collective.

Captivity. Confinement. Dependence. Vulnerability. Defenseless. Tyranny. Slavery.

Antonyms of freedom, all of them. If we no longer value freedom, this is what we have left. I'm not a fan of being vulnerable and defenseless... I refuse to be dependent on my government. I do not wish to be a slave to the state.

There are two sides to every coin. Heads... or tails.

The American dream isn't owning your own home. It's not a BMW or Mercedes Benz. It's not indulging your every whim on a moments notice. The American dream is freedom. If we've lost that, we've lost the very heart of America.

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