Greetings SkyDancers. Like many of us over the past week or so, I’ve been kind of glum. I think more so than anything, my gloom has its roots in the senseless number of gun deaths occurring on a daily basis in America. A few have been shared here this week. These are a fraction of all the senseless deaths that occurred, some tragically due to negligence. My own position on gun control is total repeal of the 2nd Amendment. A rational examination of the 2nd Amendment from an historical/rhetorical perspective unequivocally insists individual gun ownership is not a natural right enshrined in the Constitution. I’ll refrain from lengthy argumentation at this time, but merely disclose my stance. Even if one takes an originalist interpretation from the opposite perspective, another primary consideration is the responsiveness of our primary governing document. I would submit the Constitution was created with the intent to conform to the generation it serves, and should be altered to meet the needs of that generation. I don’t think the Constitution meets our 21st Century needs, and the 2nd Amendment reflects one of those areas in need of modification. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the Constitutional creators believed individual gun ownership was a natural right. What matters is whether we, in the 21st century, find individual gun ownership a reasonable proposition. Obviously, my position is no. In my view, We the People needn’t sacrifice one more life to gun violence. We the People need not succumb to belligerent falsehood disguising itself as natural right.
The Brady Campaign launched a new initiative this week with the intent to empower Americans to speak out against the unconscionable level of gun violence in this country. It’s called Voices Against Violence, and it introduces an innovative new protest tool: the first voice petition. The VAV mission resonated with me:
We are the Voices Against Violence
We are the voice of the people, and we will no longer be silent as gun violence devastates our communities.
We know that an overwhelming majority of Americans support common sense gun laws that save lives. We know that millions share our dream for a safer nation. And we know that by acting responsibly – and by working together for a common purpose – we can make America the safer nation we all want.
Now is the time to raise our voices against gun violence and urge Congress to take action.
Every day we wait, another 90 Americans die from a bullet. We’ve had too many moments of silence. It’s time to make some noise.
Join the millions who want to end gun violence with the world’s first petition you sign with your voice.
Enough is Enough!
Singer Tony Bennett, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma in 1965, will perform at the “Realize the Dream” rally as part of the Voices Against Violence (VAV) campaign on Saturday, August 24th at the Lincoln Memorial. The rally is a part of the “National Action to Realize the Dream” march planned to continue the efforts begun 50 years ago when Dr. King gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.
I applaud Tony Bennett. Here he is voicing “If I Ruled the World.” I thought it fitting:
Until the 2nd Amendment is repealed, I’m all for much tighter gun control measures, including a national gun registry. I also support systematic firearms confiscation in certain cases – when an owner loses the right or is the subject of a restraining order. The NRA and its allies screech and howl about the dangers of a gun registry, but from a law enforcement perspective, I consider it essential, if only for law enforcement to be adequately prepared prior to responding to domestic violence situations, for instance.
Radicalized gun advocates like the NRA oppose the very idea of a gun registry as tyrannical, an abomination, yada yada yada. Ironically however, Buzz Feed recently revealed that a massive national gun registry has already been compiled without the consent of any on the “list.” It was compiled and is in active use by none other than the NRA:
The National Rifle Association has rallied gun owners — and raised tens of millions of dollars — campaigning against the threat of a national database of firearms or their owners.
But in fact, the sort of vast, secret database the NRA often warns of already exists, despite having been assembled largely without the knowledge or consent of gun owners. It is housed in the Virginia offices of the NRA itself. The country’s largest privately held database of current, former, and prospective gun owners is one of the powerful lobby’s secret weapons, expanding its influence well beyond its estimated 3 million members and bolstering its political supremacy.
As much as I’ve read about the NRA’s undue influence on public policy, I’ve never encountered an explanation that adequately explains their continued success. But this database is that missing piece. And it’s a frightening piece. Apparently, the efficacy of the NRA’s political machine is attributable to tactics similar to the success of Obama’s innovative presidential campaigns; tactics, incidentally, that I’ve admired. Unfortunately, that which can be applied for good can also be utilized for ill. It would seem the NRA excels in micro-targeting, the element that proved so successful for the Obama campaign:
…the NRA is using tools similar to those employed by the campaigns of its nemesis, President Barack Obama.
“There are certainly some parallels,” said Laura Quinn, CEO of Catalist, a data analysis firm used by Obama for America. “The NRA is not only able to understand people who their members are but also people who are not their members. The more data they have, the more it allows them to test different strategies and different messages on different people.”
“Part of the way they have gotten to a place where they are able to do what they do is through data,” Quinn said. “There is some irony.”
The vast size of the NRA’s database and its sophisticated methods of analyzing the public mood go a long way in explaining the organization’s enduring influence. Even in an age when opinion polls show gun control measures gaining in general popularity and when wealthy benefactors like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg are spending millions to counter the NRA’s lobbying and advertising budgets, the NRA has built-in advantages.
It would seem that the NRA’s violence-favoring-voice has many more octaves than I had ever imagined, though I should have guessed that it could target its pitch so precisely. The profit margins of the weapons manufacturing industry rely heavily upon the NRA’s vocality. Unfortunately, there is one voice against violence that will not be widely heard, in perhaps one of the perplexing ironies I’ve encountered in quite some time. I don’t have a reaction to it yet. I’m still processing:
Heading into the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Mother Jones reports the speech is effectively silenced by copyright and inaccessible in the public domain. Lauren Williams writes:
I have a dream that on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls as they watch the footage on TV of Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his famous words. I have a dream that on the red hills of Georgia, the great-grandsons of former slaves and the great-grandsons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood this week, open their MacBooks and pull up the seminal speech on the internet.
But that speech is not free, alas.
It will not be in the public domain until 2038, 70 years after King’s death. Until then, any commercial enterprises wishing to legally broadcast King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered August 28, 1963, on the National Mall, or reprint its words must pay a hefty fee. CBS and USA Today learned this the hard way in the 1990s, when both reached undisclosed settlements with King’s estate after using the speech without permission. Intellectual Properties Management, the King family business that works in conjunction with music company EMI Publishing to license King’s copyrighted image and works, did not respond to an inquiry from Mother Jones about the cost of hosting a video of the speech on our site.
Again, I’m not sure what to think of the King copyright situation. It doesn’t sit well with me. I’m conflicted. I would love to hear your thoughts on this, SkyDancers.
Some pretty disturbing, but unsurprising news coming from Fitzwalkerstan. Religious radicals are attempting to amend the Wisconsin State Constitution. Mind you, I’m not at all opposed to amending the state constitution. As a matter of fact, I think it deserves the same level of overhaul due the U.S. Constitution. But rather than a progressive enhancement of founding ideals, Right Wing Extremists are attempting to solidify a regressive religionist state. A few implications of the amendment:
- It could be invoked to give parents and guardians permission to rely on “faith” and “prayer” rather than carry out their duty to seek medical care for gravely ill children.
- It would allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense birth control, or allow religious employers to pay women less.
- It could allow state employees to refuse to marry couples if such a marriage would conflict with their religion — if the couple is inter-racial, for example.
- Theoretically, this bill could even allow priests to refuse to report child rape without penalty.
- It could allow children to opt out of bona fide schoolwork that conflicts with their religion (e.g., no more evolution!).
One would think this amendment might ruffle some feathers, instigate some bristling, or at the very least raise some eyebrows. From what I can glean, it has yet to receive much attention. My guess, and this is only a guess, is that Wisconsin is deeply divided at the moment. The most devastating divide isn’t between Left and Right. The Left appears to be consumed with consuming each other in true cannibalistic Tea Party fashion rather attending to the right wing political juggernaut which beards down upon them. “Divide and Conquer” has successfully divided and is effectively conquering Wisconsin.
While in all likelihood this amendment won’t get much traction immediately, I suspect it will slowly gain the kind of well-funded propagandist support that has dissolved Wisconsin’s Progressive legacy in nearly every other sphere of governance.
To conclude on a more positive note: Van Gogh magnified like a gazillion times. Very enjoyable.
And the very weird. From Open Culture: Technology transforms Van Gogh’s self-portrait into photograph.
What’s on your minds, this evening?
Upcoming in the Contemporary Arts arena is the Istanbul Biennial. It may be an interesting event to watch, so I thought a little background on events preceding it might be useful given the recent unrest in Turkey. Some general information about the event:
The Wikipedia entry looks like its mostly lifted from the History tab on the Biennial website (see below). Click on the Curator’s tab to learn more about 13th Biennial’s curator, Fulya Erdmeci, her name will come up in later links:
Koç Holding will come up from time to time as well. Here’s their Wikipedia entry:
From the New Contemporary Blog:
The 13th Istanbul Biennial will be held between September 14 and November 10, 2013, with Fulya Erdemci as the curator and Bige Örer as the director. This year’s conceptual framework takes its name from one of poet Lale Müldür’s books: “Mom, am I barbarian?” The focal point of the biennial – which is sponsored by Koç Holding, one of the biggest holdings of the country – will be the notion of the public domain as a political forum. (İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) had a sponsorship agreement with Koç Holding to support five editions of the Istanbul Biennial over ten years, from 2006 through 2016.) The fact that a biennial with the aim to bring urban transformation policies to the table is being sponsored by Koç Holding became a topic of discussion once the conceptual framework was revealed.
The New Contemporary article is a good read for background on the Turkish Summer, analogue of sorts to the Arab Spring. The Biennial protests staged by independent Turkish artists, immediately preceded the Gezi Park movement. While Gezi Park/Taksim Square quickly evolved and then escalated into something significantly more awesome, initially its agenda was the one articulated by the Biennial protestors. And the Gezi Park movement never seemed to lose the essential artistic aspect, the “sophisticated populism” that characterized the Biennial Resistance. With the added intensity of the Turkish government’s response to it, the Gezi movement morphed into a massive and severe indictment of Turkish governance. It is as if the entire nation convulsed in attempt to challenge the relevance of conservative governance for a nation grappling with modernity. But it was the Biennial protests, I think, that really set the stage for the “sophisticated populism” that energized Turkey.
I don’t know what I would call this other than “sophisticated populism.” It seems to be a similar spirit that energized the Gezi resistance:
The protestors wore t-shirts that said “Waiting for Barbarians,” turning their backs to show the writing, and read C. P. Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the barbarians.” The aim was to counter Lale Müldür’s poem “Mom, am I a barbarian?” with another poem. The aim of the group is to show the economic power domain of urban transformation, according to the written statement.
Fleshing out the Biennial protests a little further:
Although the events that transpired over the summer at Taksim Square are likely well known, I’m including a few summaries for those who may have not kept up with it. I didn’t keep on top of it as it unfolded, but will have my eye on Istanbul this fall to see how the Biennial pans out. The following is a brief retrospective.
The following is a good read, but I take issue with this frame:
If you have been reading international news about the protests that started in Istanbul and have spread across Turkey, you may be under the false impression that this is an ideological battle between a secular piece of society and an Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, sparked by an insignificant event, the occupation of a city park. But the role of space in these outbreaks cannot be underestimated. As part of a project that would pedestrianize Taksim, Istanbul’s main square, the adjacent Gezi Park was to be demolished to build an Ottoman-via-Las Vegas Mall. The protest was an effort to save a park by occupying that very park; it was not a symbolic or ideological demonstration like the Occupy Wall Street movements, but a primal struggle between human bodies and bulldozers, that made the political discourse all the more potent.
What happened at Gezi Park wasn’t so localized; it spread to rural areas with a broader agenda, and it activated women in particular.
David Giocacchini from the Penn Libraries compiled an “archival guide” for the Gezi Park demonstrations with some pretty striking photo and video:
The Penn Guide:
I include the Penn Guide and the following short documentaries because I’ve taken offense to the hyperbolic slinging of the term “police state” currently steamrolling the media in reference to the U.S government. Police state rhetoric more often than not derives from the fear-inducing fringe that can’t bear the idea of American espionage and can’t quite grasp that Freedom of the Press is like every other right – subject to restriction. Associating the American apparatus for handling crime-terrorism to a police state only demeans the experiences of people in legitimate struggle against an institutionally oppressive police state. Also, to stimulate thought on the proper parallels between liberty infringement – the right to peaceable assembly and, of course, free speech.
A short film produced by OccupyGezi:
The video embedded in the following link is a bit lengthy, but well worth watching. Note the gas mask graphic in the Roar editorial – probably one of the most striking images of political art I’ve seen in a long time. I’m struck by its “realistic symbolism.” By that I mean this isn’t metaphorical or hyperbolic imagery – wearing of gas masks was a reality for the Gezi Park protestors. There is brief mention in the video of how the movement embraced humor and its opponent’s critique as a tool of identity and resistance. I draw attention to it because I think it is another example of what I previously termed “sophisticated populism.”
Turkey has been home or host to some of the most sophisticated and oldest civilizations the world has ever known. Its unique geographical position facilitated an extraordinary tradition of multiculturalism all throughout ancient times. The Antikythera Device, for instance was probably derived and constructed in the great library city of Pergamum.
Whether it be known as Anatolia, Caria, Lycia, Lydia, the Land of the Hatti… what is now Turkey holds a special fascination for me. I find it ironic and a sad commentary that a land once the epicenter of global cross-culturalism is now on the vanguard of rejecting the predatory globalization which threatens all cultural heritage everywhere.
I’ll end with one final link that doesn’t speak to the events noted here directly, but is a marvelous illustration of Turkey’s current struggle to reach modernity – another irony given its ultra-sophisticated heritage in the Ancient world. The following is a Turkish film from 2011 and deserving as wide an audience as it can find entitled, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. It isn’t an American-paced movie by any stretch of the imagination. Appreciating it definitely requires patience. I watched it three times because of all that was woven into it. I’ll not say more than that for fear of spoiling the experience. Here’s the IMDb link for reference:
Last week, Huffpost reported on the latest developments in the apparent discovery of Mona Lisa’s grave. Pretty awesome if the tomb does indeed hold the remains of Lisa Gherandini. Perhaps even more exciting than finding Mona Lisa herself, are the forensic techniques employed to identify her:
For historical background on Lisa Gherandini, her husband Francesco del Giocondo, and their Florentine milieu, see the following Mona Lisa Foundation article. It is lengthy, but interesting for all the famous names woven into Lisa Gherandini’s family circle. Apparently, “Mona Lisa” was related to Amerigo Vespucci and may have been acquainted with Machiavelli:
Francesco [Lisa’s husband] also had a relative, Giannetto Giocondo, operating a branch of the family business in Lisbon. In turn, Giannetto had business dealings with Amerigo Vespucci, a relative of Agostino Vespucci, who was Machiavelli’s assistant. The Machiavelli and Gherardini families both came from the same parish: Santa Trinita. So between inter-marriages, family, business and political connections, it is not surprising that a lasting union between the Gherardini and del Giocondo families was arranged.
Arts news from elsewhere: In Scotland, the Edinburgh International Book Festival launched its 30th season coinciding with the Fringe, the alternative performance arts festival. This year it runs from the 2nd to the 26th. The Book Festival runs from the 10th-26th.
Sadly, now that the Fringe has grown so large, it might be experiencing some growing pains. Or maybe something else has happened to the great happening in Edinburgh.
Pippa Bailey’s article is embedded in the Guardian link, but I thought I’d just draw attention to it because I think her primary concerns hold relevance beyond the evolution of the Fringe:
Inserting a digression here on political theater and dramatic comedy… backing up to move forward… I found this in my stack of obscure things, and it seems fitting to mention it here in the context of creative theater…. it’s a spitting invective against plays, players and the role of the stage in society, published 1587, entitled A Mirror of Monsters.
The full title, entertaining in and of itself (edited for spelling):
A Mirrour of Monsters wherein is plainely described the manifold vices, & spotted enormities, that are caused by the infectious sight of playes, with the description of the subtile slights of Sathan, making him his instruments.
A couple of choice bits (edited for spelling):
Players are caterpillars and cankers that cleave to the branches of forward wits… What men are these? (nay rather monsters) that thus corrupt so sweet a soil: such are they, as in outward show seem painted sepluchres, but dig up their [deeds], and find nothing but a masse of rotting bones.
I’m rather partial to the word cleave because it denotes dual and diametrically opposed meanings. Depending on its usage it could mean “to stick” or “to split.” Another fragment:
They color their vanity with humanity: Some term them comedians, othersome players, many pleasers, but I monsters, and why monsters? Because under color of humanity, they present nothing but prodigious vanity. These are wells without water, dead branches fit for fuel, cockle amongst corn, unwholesome weeds, amongst sweet herbs, and finally, fiends that are crept into the world by stealth, and hold possession by subtile invasion.
Give me the unwholesome weeds any day. As to weeds, I encourage them in my garden. I even have pet weeds that overgrow the sidewalk to cushion my step. Who wants to walk on hard concrete? I took some snapshots of the darling masses which serve as my “walking weeds;” they make lovely patterns in between the cracks of the sidewalk. Here’s an engaging clump of variegated weeds that keep my foot steps cushy:
Meanwhile on the biodiversity front, another mirror of monsters…
33 undiscovered species of predatory ants surface in the New World. This new cache of ants will apparently give you the willies according to Jack Longino, the myrmecologist who has described them:
Their faces are broad shields, the eyes reduced to tiny points at the edges and the fierce jaws bristling with sharp teeth.
They look a little like the monster in ‘Alien.’ They’re horrifying to look at up close. That’s sort of what makes them fun.
NPR’s interview with Longino and some good photos of the ants:
100 new species of predatory beetle discovered in Tahiti:
And a new species of cave fish is found in Madagascar:
Of course nothing stimulates the appetite like ants, beetles, and fever-inducing cave fish…. and as it happens I’ve found a couple of really excellent recipes for the new variety of eggplant I’m growing in my garden. The fairy tales (pictured at left) are smaller than the classic eggplant, and they look a bit like the purple eggplants Tom Philpott uses in his Baba Ghanoush:
Apparently, fairy tales don’t need to be leached of bitterness like classics do, the skins are edible, and excellent for grilling. I haven’t tried it yet, but from what I understand, it’s super easy. Just slice them lengthwise in about 1/2″ strips, brush with oil and seasonings then grill on each side for one minute to one and a half minutes.
And now for something entirely unrelated, just because I dig it:
That’s what’s on my mind this afternoon, what’s on yours? Anybody have ideas for eggplant?
Greetings to all. Welcome to another episode of happiness! As with the first installment of meditations on happiness my goal here is not to insist upon conclusiveness from the conclusions I draw, but to encourage contemplation of American ideals and to revive the lost American ideal: happiness.
As a jumping point I refer to a contribution from one of our commenters, Ralph B., who posted a link last week that stimulated my thinking on the connection between happiness and the American Dream. Thank you, RB.
Here’s the link:
It wasn’t the subject of this article that struck me most. it was the substance. It was what the underlying assumptions had to say about the greater contemplative consciousness in America: What we Think and How we Think.
The premise of the article, from which all else proceeds:
Americans pride themselves on their intergenerational mobility. Our nation’s exceptionalism is organized around the American dream: No matter where you come from and no matter who your parents are, you can rise to the top of the economic ladder, so long as you are willing to commit yourself and work hard.
Its author, Cass R. Sunstein concludes that America has failed to aspire to its own ideal. If one accepts his premise – his description of the American Dream – then indeed, he is correct. What he does not seem to do is question the substance of our national aspiration by examining its essential elements: egalitarianism, avarice, ambition, and hard labor.
Sunstein’s encapsulation of the American Dream is a good one in terms of generally accepted “wisdom” or convention. Some permutation of it reiterates across spacious skies, perpetuates across amber waves of grain, scales purple mountain majesties, and cuts across the fruited plain – the American dream makes America beautiful, and it is emblematic of our exceptionalism. Politicians from every point along the political spectrum define the American Dream in much the same way as Sunstein has done here.
The American Dream as it is conceived today is also a fabrication, a mythos, and a distortion of founding ideals. In short, the American Dream is completely false. The purported ideal elevates our national identity and by extension, our personal identities. But given that ideal is a subversion, it facilitates our illusory elevation while simultaneously facilitating our gradual decline.
Perhaps the place to start is calling out the American Dream for what it is: It is the Protestant Work Ethic. The Protestant Work Ethic, however, was not a component in the attempt to secularize national values when devising the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. Another term for the Protestant Work Ethic is Puritan Austerity. Puritan Austerity is precisely what Enlightenment institutions intended to dispel. America was not founded as a Christian nation, but it was founded on secularized morals and values. The American Dream as we know it, however, does not a represent secularized morality intended to unite a diverse people as the Founding Fathers intended.
If we unpack the American Dream to reveal its inner layers, what we find are strata encoding not only what we think, but how we think. When we do peek through the surface, its inner sanctum looks a bit regressive for its vestigial religionist character. The American Dream may not articulate a specific God, but it it is upheld by a specific religious code – the Protestant Work Ethic.
Religious values and religious morals are embedded in the American Dream for the Protestant Work Ethic itself cannot be secularized. Hidden inside the Protestant Work Ethic is the old adage “Idle hands are the Devil’s playground.” Humanity is by nature evil, and humans will do evil if that impulse is not constantly controlled and incessantly put in check. Humanity must keep constant vigilance against the touch of Satan’s hands. If one can successfully keep pace against Satan’s influence, one will find reward both on Earth and in Heaven.
This is the conflation of idleness and sloth. The casting off of sloth (one of the deadly sins) implicitly manifests in the American Dream via the Protestant Work Ethic as “you can rise to the top of the income ladder, so long as you are willing to commit yourself and work hard.”
Sunstein’s take on the intergenerational aspect of the American Dream reveals another aspect about our general sense of the American Dream, perhaps one which goes unnoticed: how narrowly the American Dream is reduced to kin and region – in other words, how very tribal the American Dream really is. It is precisely the kind of tribalism that the Founders sought to prevent.
One subtle, but crucial omission from the American Dream is definitive identification of “common good” or “we the people” and what those phrases meant to the vision the founders had in mind for the new society to be created out of the Constitution. Herein lies the sham of the American Dream – “we the people” or “public liberty” was their vision of the American Dream. Yet, this notion is entirely absent or at best loosely implied in the general understanding of “if you work hard, you get ahead.” “If you work hard, you get ahead” also signifies a specific context: capitalism. Dakinikat recently wrote a wonderful piece on finding “we the people” within 21st century capitalism. It’s an excellent read. Her post is here:
I think the most sublime encapsulation of the genuine American Dream comes from the great erudite and mentor to every other leading thinker of the Founding Generation: James Wilson. From his Of Man, As a Member of Society:
When we say, that all men are created equal; we mean not to apply this equality to their virtues their talents, their dispositions, or their acquirements. In all these respects, there is, and it is fit for the great purposes of society that there should be, great inequality among men. In the moral and political as well as in the natural world, diversity forms an important part of beauty; and as of beauty, so of utility likewise. This social happiness, which arises from the friendly intercourse of good offices, could not be enjoyed, unless men were so framed and so disposed, as mutually to afford and to stand in need of service and assistance. hence the necessity not only of great variety, but even of great inequality in the talents of men, bodily as well as mental. Society supposes mutual dependence: mutual dependence supposes mutual wants: all the social exercises and enjoyments may be reduced to two heads – that of giving, and that of receiving: but these imply different aptitudes to give and receive.
In this passage Wilson describes the secular morality upon which the Constitution would function, the principles upon which it was designed. Note his recognition of diversity, the very diversity that capitalism exploits in its spirit of competition – in its Social Darwinism. But Wilson articulates a very different vision, one that connects happiness and diversity to equality and egalitarianism. In this scenario, “hard work” connotes a meaning not of working for individual success or achievement, but for the happiness of the whole. Individuality isn’t denied, rather it is fully recognized as a component of natural diversity. Moreover, thriving, diverse individualism is contingent upon others rather than solely on the self.
John Dickinson, writing in defense of the new Constitution expressed it this way in his Fabius Letters:
Humility and benevolence must take place of pride and overweening selfishness. Reason, rising above these mists, will then discover to us, that we cannot be true to ourselves, without being true to others – that to love our neighbors as ourselves, is to love ourselves in the best manner – that to give, is to gain – and, that we never consult our own happiness more effectually, than when we most endeavour to correspond with the divine designs, by communicating happiness, as much as we can, to our fellow-creatures.
Happiness and the American Dream from this Constitutional perspective strictly revolved around union and interdependence, not the individual “rugged” struggle implied in the American Dream of today. The true American Dream isn’t to work “hard” for personal gain; it is to work “together” to create a mutual space where all may prosper.
Locating the dream in monetary success is another slice of the faux-ideal I would consider rudely cut and a bit off the mark. Well, that’s an understatement. I’d consider it diametrically opposed to founding intent. One of the primary goals in creating a new government out of the ashes of the Articles of Confederation was addressing wealth inequality.
Again, the founding vision for the new society was not “if you work hard, you get ahead.” It was “if we work together we all get ahead.” The analogy from the Constitutional Convention was the short but stout pyramid, very wide at its base but not ascending to great height. By virtue of inherent diversity as described above by Wilson, individuals scaling to the highest rung was not the ideal. This original American Dream envisioned all individuals, each with varying abilities ascending the rungs of the prosperity ladder at varying levels, broadening prosperity rather than narrowing it.
Hence the Founder’s goals were to delimit wealth inequality in their own time, but also generationally, step by step (rung by rung), generation by generation through time. But the way to do that was not by valuing the top rung of prosperity; it was by valuing the many staggered rungs distributed horizontally. In other words, not desiring the top rung. As a matter of policy and governance, inhibiting wealth inequality meant curbing avarice and ambition.
In this way, decreasing inequality and increasing egalitarianism could be realized. Modest existence in order to sustain the masses was the American value. This value very specifically contradicts the capitalist value of unlimited wealth accumulation by individuals. Short” step” pyramids and tall, narrow pyramids are two distinct and mutually exclusive ideals. Today’s American Dream implies the latter and doesn’t even give lip service to the more authentic former ideal. Indeed, the capitalist ideal is generational only in terms of generating more wealth – unlimited wealth generation in the short term. The true American ideal is wealth generation for sustainability, frugality and modesty to preserve subsistence for all in both short and long terms.
While I can’t say I can precisely trace the degradation in the American Dream that took place between the Founding Generation and our own, I suspect Max Weber is a good start.
Weber coined the term “Protestant Work Ethic.” In The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism he claimed that the Founders possessed this eponymous ideal and engaged in explicitly capitalist pursuits. He asserts that they associated capitalism specifically with religion. Weber is an important figure in the history of ideas, but I disagree with his interpretation. The Founders weren’t capitalists. If anything they were an amalgamation of proto-capitalists and proto-socialists. The Constitution was imbued with a secular communitarian ideal which combined elements of what we now might call capitalism AND what we now might call socialism. What I think Weber does is he mythologizes proverbial frugality – the kind that might be found in Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac. Weber then translates this popularized “ideal” as Puritan Austerity. I question his entire thesis, but the main point here is his conceptualization of capitalism and American values.
Weber’s ideas were more influenced by 19th century economic development than by previous eras; in this regard his historicity isn’t so nifty. His time was the golden age of the robber barons. It seems to me Weber inaccurately attempts to define an ideological line of continuity between the Founders and the late 19th century. I respect Weber’s attempt, but I do think he draws incorrect conclusions about founding ideals. In my view, the 19th century largely re-worked and, quite frankly, undid the founding ideals that forged the nation. Neither unfettered capitalization nor massive industrialization were regarded as positives by 18th century standards. Jefferson, for instance, disliked industrialization. He lamented newly emerging factories especially in terms of their negative impacts on the citizenry as a society of individuals – in an individual’s ability to achieve personal sovereignty. Hamilton held the view that capitalism should primarily serve the interest of the government of the people rather than an individual’s personal interest.
I suspect, too, that the myth of the rugged individual — the noble-spirited “hard worker” evolved from three primary factors: 19th century institutionalized servitude that arose in response to capitalization and industrialization combined with the exploitation of the American frontier; and in the 20th century the rise of fascism, Cold War/Red Scare hysteria that transformed capitalists and capitalism into heroic antagonists battling “collectivist tyrant-dictators.”
This is only speculation on my part – matters to think on. It seems to me the myth of the rugged individual evolved out of the frontier experience, but not so much our historical experience, rather our fictional one. Westward Expansion marked the period when America developed its own distinct literature which is uniquely defined by rugged individualism. Although there are extraordinary letters, diaries, essays, and memoirs to be had from the 18th and 17th centuries, no colonial or uniquely American literary tradition evolved then. Even the most famous American novel depicting 17th century Puritanism, The Scarlet Letter, was published in 1850. Curiously enough, all its main characters are drawn with varying degrees of “rugged individualism.” It is more of a scathing commentary than an historical rendering, to be sure. Another thought on that point – the community isn’t the communitarian ideal expressed by the Constitutional defenders. The Puritanical community in the Scarlet Letter is quite plainly tyrannical.
And now for an abrupt halt. As this post has gotten quite long, perhaps this is a good place to pause for a segue-way into the next portion – the 20th century.
For now, perhaps we can focus on not taking the American Dream for granted. And maybe ways in which we might transform the American Dream into a more authentic aspiration which specifies happiness, genuine egalitarianism, and sustainability.
A couple of questions that I’m trying to answer:
Does the American Dream make sense?
Does it enhance happiness or does the American Dream today actually sabotage happiness?
Open Thread: Genuine Globalization: Wazia Dunia, Bats at St. Fagan’s, Hay-on-Wye, and Mother of God Loses a PinkyPosted: August 8, 2013
Peculiar news from faraway environs cheers my soul. In part, I like “every-now-and-again” updates from places I’ve been; in part because it keeps my vision of globalization alive.
My idea of globalization is one where individuals rather than corporations interact, where individuals move freely about the globe doing whatever it is that people do for enhancing quality and meaning in their lives.
I think this is imperative for the development of the mind. Nothing broadens the mind more than removing oneself from one’s own culture. In my view, doing so is one critical step in the development of empathy – the ability to view others (and what others value) from their own perspectives. In other words, to understand people as they understand themselves.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t value this idea, long before the term globalization pertaining to “free market” economics began seeping into our national vocabulary. I have a love-hate relationship with this term because for starters, I do not adhere to the economic rationale behind it. I find globalization as it has evolved more harmful than not to every corner of the world. Moreover, globalization divides people more than it unites which is antithetical to my own personal definition of globalization.
When I encounter discussions of globalization, a tiny bit of hope lodged somewhere in my being surfaces, spurred by my private vision of globalization where people engage with each other thereby dismantling walls of fear erected against those who are “different” or “foreign.” Something inside tells me globalization still means what I think it should mean, it simply hasn’t happened yet. Though in some sense, when I read about globalization I feel as if my vision of ubiquitous multicultural interaction has been pilfered. I feel robbed and hopeful both at the same time. A few “every-now-and-again” updates….
First, the Virgin Mary’s sundered digit:
Little wrenches my gut more than loss or damage to world cultural heritage. You’ll soon learn, good readers, this is a theme to which I will often return. In Florence, we have the humiliation, yet again, of an American boor unaware of how to properly conduct himself in the world. There’s a reason Americans are regarded with low esteem world wide – as arrogant “bulls in a china shop” with respect to etiquette, certainly, but here we have incomprehensible cloddery clearly manifesting itself. I cannot fathom why, if this person had legitimate purpose for measuring the statue, he did not contact the curatorial staff and simply inquire, “Hey. What’s the length of the Virgin’s pinky finger?” These are the moments I shake my bony little fists in the air and grumble, “What the hell is wrong with you people?”
On a more inspiring note: a small fire, and fifty small bats who will live happily ever after:
This story warms my heart. I’ve had the pleasure of strolling through St. Fagan’s; it’s charming. While the rescue of bats at St. Fagan’s may be entirely inconsequential to my life, I firmly believe human beings should frequently indulge in the inconsequential. It’s good for the spirit.
Background on St. Fagan’s:
A little bit on the little bat:
More on Wales: Hay-on-Wye, the Town of Books. It’s a little village on the border between England and Wales, crammed with art galleries and antiquarian bookshops. It boasts some good pubs, yet I think a pint in Hay is a little pricey. It hosts a massive literary festival, not a good time to go to Hay, they say, unless you plan to be there expressly for the book festival. It’s near impossible to find any vacancies at a bed and breakfast as these are usually booked a couple of years in advance. I didn’t visit during the festival, and I’d probably prefer Hay when it’s quiet, actually. Still, it’s a cool thing, an overview from the British Council:
What I didn’t know about Hay… and what I find absolutely exciting… and how I envision globalization…. is Hay’s sponsorship of the Storymoja Hay Festival in Nairobi, now in its fifth year. Apparently, I’ve been out of it. Last year, the Strorymoja Festival held its inaugural Wangari Maathai Lecture. This year’s festival happens in September:
Background on Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement:
News from my little spot on the globe: An unheard-of, never-before pattern has begun to emerge. I’ve lost two games of scrabble in the last two weeks against my weekly opponent and spousal unit, affectionately known as Minos by she-who-loves-him-most. In my own defense, I do recall one of my linked words was not properly scored, in which case the final score of 327-325 would have actually resulted in a tie, 327-327. For the record, he always keeps score.
And that’s all she wrote… 🙂
What’s happening in your part of the world?