Friday, January 28, 2005

The American Dream

My strongest memory of life in America is not the convenience, nor the wealth, nor the conformity (per se). When I think of American life, I think of monotony. Most Americans live incredibly monotonous lives. They get up early, they shuffle off to boring jobs, they spend 8,9,10 or more hours doing meaningless routine tasks, they shuffle home, they turn on the tube, they zone out in TV virtual reality, they go to bed.

On weekends they mow the lawn or watch yet more TV or go to the movies... the few thrills they get in their lives are vicarious fictions. How do they do it? How does one sell insurance every damn day, year after year after year? How does a human being tolerate such an amazingly dull life? How do people survive at Wal-Mart or Barnes & Noble or a chicken plant for years... even decades?

We become what we habitually do. More than advertising, more than media influence, more than political power.. it is the mind-numbing monotony of work that has turned America into a nation of dull drones. How can you expect someone to spend 8+ hours a day punching a calculator and then suddenly transform into a sharp, critically thinking adult after work? The same can be said for people who spend most of their waking hours scanning groceries, programming computers, answering telephones, filing, typing, filling in forms, working on assembly lines, selling useless shit.

"Work is the single most oppressive reality we face"... that's my favorite Hakim Bey quote. It gets right to the heart of the matter... right at the big taboo that absolutely no one in public life will discuss. Forget Iraq and the Patriot Act... work is enslaving most Americans right now. Right now, most people are squandering their lives doing other people's work, sacrificing to make obscene profits for other people, grinding out long days for other people's agendas. Never do they question this. Never do they ask themselves what their lives mean or what freedom actually is or how they should align their vocation with their deepest principles. Like good drones they shuffle off to work and pat themselves on the back for being "responsible".

But I, like Thoreau, have a different definition of "responsible". It begins with the responsibility to live one's own life... not the life that's prescribed by one's authority figures and parents. It begins with the responsibility of identifying one's principles. It includes the responsibility of examining the nature of life and existence itself. It includes the responsibility of feeding, clothing, and housing oneself in a manner consistent with one's highest values. It means having the courage to risk for one's dreams rather than living from fear and conformity.

Unfortunately, I've seen the fate that awaits this vast majority of people who refuse to contemplate or reflect. I saw it too many times... in the ER, in the Cancer Ward, in Nursing Homes. These are the people who become bitter and broken in old age. These are the ones who will obsess over regrets. These are the ones who will discover, much too late, that money & status & conformity brought them nothing but an empty life. These are the ones who will sit with a young malcontent, like myself, and urge him... plead with him-- to "follow your dreams".

I've sat with so many. But harder still is it to sit with those who still have time but refuse to make use of it. "Maybe later, maybe later" they say; as they dig themselves ever deeper into monotony, debt, boredom and a wasted life.

One day, they tell me, they will retire. One day they will finally do what they really wanted to do. One day they will enjoy their life and follow their bliss. They call this fantasy "The American Dream". A dream, a delusion: that's all it will be for most.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Awesome post! I enjoyed reading it and hated for it to end. Posts like these keep bringing me back.