The phrase “the American Dream” was first formally coined in 1931, by historian James Truslow Adams, but many other historians claim the American Dream can be traced back to when America was first being colonized by Europeans in the 1600s, with many colonizers journeying to America in order to improve their economic outlook( The American Dream – A Webquest at the OS)(Historical/Cultural Timeline – 1600s). What is interesting to note about when the term “the American Dream” was first formally used is that at this time America was going through the Great Depression, and at a time when the American economy was at it’s arguably worst, all hope for socioeconomic improvement seems inevitable, and it is in that what the American Dream is founded on, the potential for great success only attainable in America when compared to other countries. Merriam-Webster today defines the American Dream as “a happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S. especially by working hard and becoming successful,”(Merriam-Webster). However, the American Dream, when first conceptualized in the 1930s, represented not only what is cited above but also as exactly what it claims to be, a simple hope for many Americans in that by working hard and putting their absolute all into what they do, they can achieve this idea of a happy life and become successful(Shiller, Robert J).
In direct spite of all the hope that resulted in this message, in the founding of the American Dream itself, it is apparent that in today’s world the American Dream is dying, if not already dead; it is becoming increasingly more difficult to succeed in a world where success is predetermined on factors outside of individual talent and intelligence alone. In the 1930’s at the peak of the Great Depression the American quality of living was so decimated, with an estimated 25 percent of Americans being jobless (Depression-Era Soup Kitchens), it became easy to aspire for a new life, to work so hard that there was nowhere to go but up, in fact, that was what did happen for many Americans as they joined the labor force(McArdle, Megan). Currently, the American Dream has perished as the room for an individual to grow and achieve success has been restricted by the passing of time and corresponding cut-off dates and a society that fails to nurture “practical” knowledge and individuality; all of these factors indicate one thing, the American society no longer provides equal opportunity. The American Dream can no longer lead to a successful and content life as many before have believed, what started as an aspiration now ends as just another empty daydream, and nothing more.
LACK OF OPPORTUNITIES DUE TO TIME
In this fast-paced world, time is of the absolute essence in achieving success, much less in achieving the American Dream. What people fail to realize though, is that timeframes and their corresponding cut-off dates are much more important in attaining this success and the overall American dream in that even the exact time someone is born, success can drift through their fingertips. Opportunities are generally given to people as time goes on, but as time has progressed these opportunities for success have all but been completely extinct, mostly due to the fact that more successful people get more opportunities, it’s become harder and harder to succeed just on hard work alone in America, and that’s why the American Dream is dead.
In a world where when it comes to opportunities timing is everything and cutoff dates are often chosen at random it’s no wonder that the American Dream is dead. Cutoff dates have led to the demise of the American Dream in that not all cut off dates provide equal opportunity for all, as evidenced by Gladwell and even myself. The downfall of the American Dream as a result of cutoff dates is indicated when Gladwell writes “If you make a decision about who is good and who is not good at an early age; if you separate the “talented” and the “untalented”; and if you provide the “talented” with a superior experience, then you’re going to end up giving a huge advantage to that small group of people… closest to the cutoff date,”(Gladwell, 25). What Gladwell is trying to convey here is that in using a singular cut off date, those who are not eligible for participation in the event because the cutoff date succeeds them get more of a chance to develop their skills in order to succeed compared to their peers. In this instance the cutoff date Gladwell was describing was age-related, but this statement can also be connected to experience and work-related cutoff dates. Cutoff dates have affected my success and demonstrated that the American Dream is dying in that cutoff dates are not equal to everyone, I once failed to publish an issue of the school paper because although I had not completed all my story assignments on time, despite working hard, simply because of a cutoff date, as a student I have always been told that working hard will make you successful, the very foundation of the American Dream, but never was I told that even if I worked hard but missed a cutoff would I fail. A simple question arises from this realization that cutoff dates can separate groups of potentially successful people into successful and unsuccessful groups, how can a person restricted by something as most basic as a single date, as a result of these cutoff dates, ever succeed in a world that offers more chance(s) to succeed to people whose qualities and actions can actually fit into the timeframe?
Another reason why the American Dream has died relating to a lack of opportunities is that as time goes on there are certain processes and laws instilled that negatively change, often times crippling a person’s success, whether this be from something such as a change in the value of currency, new hoops an aspiring doctor has to go through, and the more extensive process to immigrate to a new country. As time has progressed the way people have succeeded has changed, but yet consistently as the years and decades go by achieving success has become more difficult and taxing than ever before. The downfall of the American Dream as a result of “times changing” is here, “They were history’s gifts… and if extended to others, how many more would now live a life of fulfillment, in a beautiful house high on a hill,”(Gladwell, 285). From this, it is seen that it is history or time that opportunities are derived from and given, but as pointed out, the vast amount of opportunities given to someone as time goes on can disappear if only one’s timing is flawed. It is why toward the end of the above statement the question arises that if time had offered the same opportunities to those who were currently unsuccessful, would they also succeed? As time passes by those who wish to be successful and gives them little or a lack of opportunities, it is no wonder as to why the American Dream is dead. It’s a much different time than it was in the thirties, and that is why the American Dream has fizzled, as time goes on opportunities become few and far between and cutoff dates ever contribute to the dream’s demise, successful people who were driven by this dream are now lacking.
FAILURE TO PROMOTE “PRACTICAL” INTELLIGENCE
In a current society where it seems that knowledge is the key to achieving success and ultimately the American Dream, the failure to promote an individual’s practical intelligence when compared to their book smarts and overall astuteness. It is this failure by society to promote practical intelligence, something akin to craftiness and resourcefulness, that has brought about the dissolution of the American Dream, because in a country where intelligence is highly valued it takes true cunning and a certain practical intelligence, intelligence that is shaped in different contexts to most fulfill the need of that context; is needed to further succeed and achieve the American Dream. This lack of promotion of practical success was even observed by me most closely in a school environment, as a student I have always wished to know and study these practical forms of intelligence in that they help you adapt to certain situations and help you when you have no guidance other than your own mind, but in an American public school such as mine, I have observed that it is not practical intelligence they promote, but rather an analytical one. In one instance I specifically remember solving a math problem differently to my teacher, which represented my own practical intelligence in that I was able to adapt to a situation and do something that I deemed suitable and correct instead of following the normal or expected path to solving this problem. When I proceeded to show my teacher that I had found the same answer to the problem with my new method, she proceeded to deflate my practical intelligence instead of nurturing it when she told me never to use that new method again and follow only her own processes. It’s situations like these that fail to nurture practical intelligence, which leads to the overall death of the American Dream because people are no longer able to use their knowledge to adapt to all contexts, but rather are so ingrained into thinking one way that when asked to do something in order to succeed that is new to them, they choke up and fail, because they do not have the practical intelligence skills viable to produce the American Dream. Another example of society’s lack of nurturing toward practical intelligence vital to achieving the American Dream is “Alex Williams is better off than Katie Brindle because… but also because- and perhaps this is even more critical- the sense of entitlement as a result of having his practical knowledge abilities nurtured that he has been taught is an attitude perfectly suited to succeeding in the modern world,”(Gladwell, 108) and “They lacked something that could have been given to them if we’d only known they needed it: a community around them that prepared them properly for the world,”(Gladwell, 112). The sense of entitlement Gladwell describes is a direct effect of having one’s practical intelligence cultivated rather than stunted, because of this Alex Williams is better suited to achieve success than Katies Brindle. This directly contributes to the fact that the American Dream is now dead, it doesn’t matter that Katie Brindle is the type of person who can potentially embody a person who has achieved the American Dream, rising up with much less material wealth than Alex Williams, because her practical knowledge was not cultivated and nurtured to the same degree her analytical or logical intelligence, in comparison to Alex Williams she will not succeed to the same degree that the American Dream represents. In the second quote by Gladwell above it is represented that a community that nurtures a child’s practical intelligence will give the child the best chances of succeeding the American Dream and ultimately success itself. In not preparing a child’s practical intelligence skills to take on the world, society is failing them and leading the American Dream to the edge of extinction. It is for that reason why the American Dream is dying as a result of this failure, those who work hard will never achieve the American Dream unless they have both the analytical and practical intelligence skills.
Although the death of the American Dream has been evident for many years as represented by accredited sources such as Gladwell and The New York Times as the primary result of failure by society to stimulate it, many Americans and critics of this alike still argue that the American Dream is still alive today, while not in its’ full capacity, and that society itself has not failed the American Dream and turned it into a false hope, but has rather advanced it. Success in America seems like a given when comparing the value of currency around the world, considering that the United States dollar has one of the highest monetary values (meaning that the U.S. dollar is worth more than other forms of currency when you equate amounts), and that America is ranked eighteenth (The Heritage Foundation), out of over 180 countries/economies in the world, for economic freedom. This is where qualms come from when discussing the death of the American Dream, or lack thereof, while America or the United States does have one of the best economic freedom rates (especially among neighbor Mexico) that has nothing to do with how American society as a whole fails to nourish hopefuls, those who hold the American Dream very close to their heart, and instead leads these hopefuls into becoming skeptics and cynics.
Another element that critics of the American Dream’s death point out is that if the American Dream is dying, then why do people still immigrate to the United States in search of a better life? In American media today, especially after the inauguration of President Donald Trump and his later actions concerning Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the representation of immigrants in the United States has skyrocketed and has now shown everyday Americans just how many people are desperate for the American Dream, which is why Americans still argue today that the American Dream is alive and well. “Like so many other immigrants to America in those years, theirs was a leap of faith,”(Gladwell, 139). While this is all true in that people still continue to come to America in search of a better life and to fulfill American Dream, many of these immigrants will never earn the amount of success one reaches when they can say they have achieved the American Dream, these immigrants will be forced to settle into roles and jobs they might not be entirely happy with, but are still better than the conditions they lived in their home country. It’s naive to say that the American Dream is alive and well when America now has processes in place to make sure certain individuals never succeed, whether intentional or not. The American Dream was founded on the belief that with the freedom America provided one could make a success out of themselves, and as it is now evident that this foundation is no longer as concrete or equal as it seems, the American Dream is dead.
While the American Dream has been a source of inspiration for many Americans and has fueled Americans with the ambition to work hard in order to succeed for many years now, the American Dream is currently extinct, if not on the brink of death. As the changing times and lack of corresponding equal opportunities for all become ever more apparent, one of the final blows is being dealt unto the American Dream. A single date shouldn’t decide whether or not a person is able to attain the great success associated with the American Dream, and this is one of the key signs that the American Dream is not as it once was. In addition to this the failure of society to promote the development of practical intelligence in potential successful people contributes to the death of the American Dream in that in order to succeed in a world where intelligence is highly prized, one needs to be able to adapt and shape their cunning to maximize their benefits in the context of their surroundings. In today’s America, there is now no such thing as the American Dream, but rather a set society where exceeding beyond conception is no longer viable but a figment of an active and wistful imagination.
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