9/28/13

Bill Watterson's Guide to the American Dream

Monday’s post was an exploration of connections - we detailed Daisy’s contributions to The Great Gatsby (very few, it turned out); we addressed literacy through a Solomon Eagle quote; we even threw in one of Wendell Berry’s angsty thoughts on civilization. And a deeper look at Wendell Berry’s thoughts regarding human (and animal) happiness drives today’s post. These thoughts were originally explored in one of his most important personal essays, "An Entrance to the Woods" –

"A man cannot despair if he can imagine a better life, and if he can enact something of its possibility. It is only when I am ensnarled in the meaningless ordeals and the ordeals of meaninglessness, of which our public and political life is now so productive, that I lose the awareness of something better, and feel the despair of having come to the dead end of possibility."

Berry’s argument is easy to understand; as civilization forces increasingly trivial goals and possibilities – “the meaningless ordeals and the ordeals of meaninglessness” – happiness becomes increasingly difficult to attain, having been replaced by “the despair of having come to the dead end of possibility.”

It may be interesting and worthwhile to relate this sentiment to our notion of the American Dream. The American Dream is really in the business of enactment; in America, people supposedly have a greater chance of realizing their imagined “better life”. An immigrant with dreams of riches, respect, and social advancement may pursue the American Dream in hopes of such enactment.

Yet, in the end, one must recognize that the American Dream is exactly as advertised – it is a dream. Once a person fully realizes a better life, he has no use for dreams; he cannot imagine a better life; he would despair, and one facet of the Dream – happiness – may never be achieved. Maybe this is the true "dead end of possibility".

So perhaps the meaningless ordeals that Berry so despises are welcome distractions from the problem of material comfort. As we step closer to fully realizing the American Dream, we continually create obstacles that prevent full attainment, and thus prolong our experience. As always, the cliché holds true – it is the journey that matters, not the destination.

Of course, perhaps all of this thinking is garbage; the American Dream may merely be a cultural relic that we hold closely to validate our collective egotism.  Or maybe the American Dream is limited to material concerns, and doesn't promote happiness. Regardless, here is your Calvin and Hobbes:


No comments: