Friday, January 20, 2017

The American Dream 
 I have been thinking about what a friend told me about his father and his uncles. They had fled a civil war in the Middle East when they were young men and, while they came away alive from the experiences in their home country, they bore serious emotional scars.
Most of them fared well in this country. They became business owners or professionals, they married and had children, they owned their own homes. Many people would say that they achieved the American Dream. But as my friend tells the story, they tended to be glum, depressive. Several had problems with substance abuse. Their marriages ended in divorce; their children too were mostly addicted to alcohol or drugs. They did not enjoy working in their businesses even when they were reasonably successful; their professions did not seem fulfilling. They were boring.
How shall we think about this? We can say that these men were ungrateful, self-indulgent whiners. They should cheer up and be grateful for what America allowed them to achieve--a standard of living that would never have been accessible to them in the country they came from.
 A somewhat less harsh form of this criticism might wish them some help with the damage done to their psyches in their native country and its brutal civil wars.
But perhaps we should pause a minute and consider more carefully what it means to achieve the American Dream. The most common idea considers the American Dream to be all about becoming a property owner, of making a good living, of owning personal property such as a house and cars, of being able to send their children to good schools where they could learn to make a good living, to own their houses and all that.
But is this too limited? What about love, close friends, work that excites and challenges, personal growth, acquiring new skills, new knowledge? A wise friend said to me once: "Earning a good living is not enough; you want a life that is meaningful."
But did these men not to have meaningful lives? They earned money in order to enable their children to have better lives. What could be better?
What makes human life meaningful is not easy to say. Different people may give different answers to the question about what makes life worth living. But is the life of the rich really the best life?
Consider this. All over the world there are religious persons who take a vow of poverty. Do they thereby foreclose the possibility of leading a meaningful life? Don't we rather want to say that religious persons lead good lives because they have found a cause to which to dedicate themselves completely? The daily trials and tribulations of our lives, the pressure of desires, hunger, fatigue do not affect them seriously because their days are dedicated to a greater cause, the worship of their deity.
I have talked before about the myths that Americans hear constantly and rehearse for others, about the blessing of capitalism, or that our political system is a democracy.
The myth of the American dream is another part of this mythology. But on examination it turns out to be dried up, impoverished. The good life is reduced to owning property.
All of this is very important at this moment when a new president promises to "make America great again." What does it take to make our country great? Must we have our names on everything we own? Must we have gold faucets in our bathrooms?
I would think that in a great America everyone would lead meaningful lives. Everyone would have access to education in the subjects that really fascinate them. Everyone would have a chance to be as good an athlete as they could. People would actively participate in the affairs of their neighborhood, in their schools and playgrounds. Instead of complaining about the failures of city government they would build small parks to enhance shared living spaces. Americans today are spectators of sports, of politics, of their neighbors lives. They depend on well-paid “experts” to tell them what to think and how to understand the events of this world. They consume information and understanding much like they consume food and drink.
We have become utterly dependent for almost everything we use. In a great America, everyone would once again be active, creative, inquisitive and thinking for themselves and sharing their ideas and their dreams with their neighbors regardless of how expensive their car is or their house. In a great America what matters is what we are devoted to, not what we earn.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Message for the new year 

Since the election of Donald Trump as president, there has been a great deal of soul-searching. A number of explanations of this unfortunate event are popular. Some people blame the schools for not teaching children how our democracy works. Others blame the media for misleading the public. Others again blame the voters for making a very unintelligent and uninformed choice.

These and other explanations ignore a very important fact about the American public. Americans live by a number of myths which are widely shared and never subjected to any critical scrutiny.  If the voters have proven ignorant in this election the ignorance is shared among all layers of the population and is supported and perpetrated by the media, by school teachers, and ministers.

No one wants to talk about capitalism. Creating jobs, for instance, was a big theme during the last electoral campaign. All candidates promised to create jobs. No one wanted to talk about why that was a necessity. Donald Trump blamed the export of jobs to Asia and has all kinds of remedies for that. But he did not want to talk about why jobs were exported to Asia. Nor did anybody mention, what should be common knowledge, that many manufacturing businesses are buying more and more robots that replace living workers. Why are they doing that? No one talks about that either.

The truth is that in our economic system profits are the main goal of all enterprises and making a profit is more important then treating good workers decently and preserving their jobs at  a good salary. Jobs get exported to Asia where wages are much much lower than here. Robots replace human beings because robots do not join unions, robots do not go on strike for higher wages or better working conditions. Buying robots increases profits and in our economic system profits come before people.

There is a problem about jobs and pay for the working and the middle class because corporations care more for profits than they care for people. Corporations do not  care more for profits because their managers are any greedier than the rest of us but because they work in a specific economic system which expects them to change well-paying jobs into jobs that pay really poorly, that anyone can do after half a day's training. That way the wage bill is lower and profits higher.

But nobody wants to talk about that. If anyone talks about capitalism they talk about its blessings, the newer and more powerful cell phones and all sorts of other gadgets which are making life easier - except if capital has taken your good job and converted it into one that barely keeps you alive.

For one group of Trump supporters - middle-aged white working-class men who have not gotten a decent raise in 20 years - their experience is totally incomprehensible as long as they're being told over and over again that the economic system is the best there is and is the source of their well-being. If the true nature of capitalism - its motto  " profits before people " - were better understood by the people who are its victims, they would not be as likely to be taken in by Trump’s promises.

But the mythology of the benign capitalist system goes hand-in-hand with another mythology, namely that the U.S. is a democracy.  In a democracy the people are the source and seat of power and they manage the government through the mechanism of periodic elections. But for the white working-class male who has been treated shabbily by the system for a long time that is again very confusing because if he has any  power to change his condition he has not noticed that.

 But, of course, the United States is not a democracy but an oligarchy run by the very rich and by the leaders of the economic system. They managed not only the government but also what everybody is told to believe every day. It is not surprising that the mythology of capitalism and democracy are so dominant.
That is just what a capitalist oligarchy wants everyone to believe.

 While freedom of the press is always in danger it still exists to a considerable extent. If you want to inform yourself and be able to see behind the “great blessings” of capitalism and the US democracy, here is a list all websites that I would recommend. They are more likely than the New York Times, or Washington Post to give you an honest account of our current condition:

Common Dreams Your daily news presented without concealing the problems of the existing institutions.

Democracy Now!
- Democracy Now! is an independent, global weekday news hour anchored by award-winning journalists Amy Goodman and Juan González.

The Guardian.  Latest US news, breaking news and current affairs coverage from

The Nation. The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States, and the most widely read weekly journal of progressive political and cultural news, opinion and analysis.

Truthout is a progressive news organization in the United States that operates a web site and distributes original political news articles, opinion pieces.

Look at any of these sources of news and you are less likely to be misled by the dominant myths of our society.