“The American dream is often a very private dream of being a star, the uniquely successful and admirable one, the one who stands out from the crowd of ordinary folk, who don’t know how. And since we have believed in that dream for a long time and worked very hard to make it come true, it is hard for us to give it up, even though it contradicts another dream that we have—that of living in a society that would really be worth living in.”
~Robert N. Bellah
If the American dream is happiness, prosperity and freedom, then I am living the dream… in Guatemala.
I first moved abroad just to try something new and different. To soak up a different culture. To improve my Spanish.
Soon after I arrived, I knew this would become a lifestyle for me. As much as I enjoy being an expat, I still appreciate the privilege that being American brings.
The longer I stay away, the less appealing it seems to go back. As a school teacher, the public education system is generally, utterly screwed up and not something I want to be a part of again. As a yoga instructor, the market is saturated with thousands of others like me. As an innocent bystander, I don’t want to be at the site of the next mass shooting.
Despite the attempted diplomacy of our president, the U.S. only seems to be getting more and more polarized. The two parties of our two-party system are paradoxically at odds and unable to compromise, while, at the same time, rather indistinguishable from one another. Powerful government figures, both Democrat and Republican, are bought and owned by corporate lobbyists and special interests groups.
This summer, I read a novel called Christian Nation, a fictional take on what could have happened if John McCain won the presidency in 2008 and then died, making Sarah Palin the president.
Although the book wasn’t that great (the premise was the best part), it did compel me to read Empire of Illusion: the End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by Chris Hedges. (The author of Christian Nation expressed gratitude for Hedges’ book in his acknowledgements.)
Empire of Illusion is divided into five parts: the illusions of literacy, love, wisdom, happiness and America. It’s a compelling, well-documented, depressing, honest look at our modern American culture. The author spends the entire book proving that:
“At no period in American history has our democracy been in such peril or the possibility of totalitarianism as real. Our way of life is over. Our profligate consumption is finished. Our children will never have the standard of living we had. This is the bleak future. This is reality. There is little President Obama can do to stop it.”
Here, I’ll share a few more favorite quotes from the book, along with some suggestions on how to face reality.
Happiness and success are not guaranteed. (Life isn’t fair.)
“Blind faith in illusions is our culture’s secular version of being born again. These illusions assure us that happiness and success is our birthright. They tell us that our catastrophic collapse is not permanent. They promise that pain and suffering can always be overcome by tapping into our hidden, inner strengths. They encourage us to bow down before the cult of the self.”
We need to quit buying the narratives we’re being sold. Quit watching “reality” TV and mainstream news media.
“Reality is complicated. Reality is boring. We are incapable or unwilling to handle its confusion. … We become trapped in the linguistic prison of incessant repetition. We are fed words and phrases like war on terror or pro-life or change, and within these narrow parameters, all complex thought, ambiguity, and self-criticism vanish.”
Do yoga and meditation; don’t be too New Agey. We do not create our own reality. Be discerning. Don’t believe everything you’re told.
“When opinions cannot be distinguished from facts, when there is no universal standard to determine truth in law, in science, in scholarship, or in reporting the events of the day, when the most valued skill is the ability to entertain, the world becomes a place where lies become true, where people can believe what they want to believe.”
The current system cannot solve the problems in the current system.
“Our power elite has a blind belief in a decaying political and financial system that has nurtured, enriched, and empowered it. But the elite cannot solve our problems. It has been trained only to find solutions, such as paying out trillions of dollars of taxpayer money to bail out banks and financial firms, to sustain a dead system.”
The American dream is not to live in fear of the next mass shooting.
The American dream is not to be consumed by worry and debt—student loans, mortgages, credit card balances, medical bills, insurance premiums, skyrocketing copays.
The American dream is not to eat, drink, and be made merry by corporations, faceless, super rich entities treated as people under the law.
America—as in the United States—seems to be less the land of the free and the home of the brave than the land of the free market and the home of homelessness next to ridiculous corporate wealth.
This is the American nightmare. When are we going to wake up?
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Ed: Catherine Monkman
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