The concept of the American Dream is one that I have always thought to be universal and defined simply as the opportunity that everyone in this country shares regardless of their skin color, their country of origin, their gender, their educational background or their family connections – everyone – has the opportunity through hard work, perseverance, ingenuity, luck and intelligence to obtain economic independence and affluence. I believed that the American Dream was symbolic of what our great country really was at its heart – a meritocracy – throwing off the burdens of classism and royalty which did, and to some measure still does, make the United State economically more powerful than its European parents.
If I have learned nothing else from blogging, I have learned to question all things I previously held as “universal.” An interchange I had recently with a series of educated, enlightened and smart folk I respect makes me pause and wonder if any universal beliefs still exist. It started with a “social media” posting of a joke by one of my respected friends:
”A public union employee, a tea party activist, and a CEO are sitting at a table with a plate of a dozen cookies in the middle of it. The CEO takes 11 of the cookies, turns to the tea partier and says, ‘Watch out for that union guy. He wants a piece of your cookie.’” (Stolen from a Newspaper Guild steward and friend) [Note, you can make this a Wisconsin-specific joke by changing cookies to slices-'o-cheese].
I clearly got his point and clearly did not agree. For some reason, it has now evidently become criminal, unseemly and vile to succeed in life and to be rewarded for your efforts of hard work. This ran so counter to my belief that this is a great country because ANYONE can succeed with a combination of intelligence, hard work and good luck that I retorted with a twist on the joke of my own:
“A worker was sweating over a tray of cookies that they had baked when a state worker came in and took most of the cookies as taxes, fees and dues before the worker could even sell or eat them. The state worker handed the cookies over to a union boss who took a few and donated the rest to several Democratic candidates.”
The vitrolic responses to this on a public forum surprised me, though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Simply as an example:
“Actually I come from the working class, and Geoff has no idea of what he speaks. If he wants to know what pressure and hard work is, he should try bringing up three kids as a single mother from a poor family. It’s the rich who have every priviledge and often inherit their fortunes who are parasitic of our work, in my view.”
Another parable was thrown into the mix as a further condenmation of the evils of capitalism:
“Let’s say you have 100 people lined up for 100 cookies. The very first guy (definitely a guy) takes 35 of the cookies for himself. By the time the first 10 people have passed by the cookie plate, 73 of the cookies are gone, leaving 27 cookies to divide among the remaining 90 people. By the time the next 10 people pass the cookie plate, there are only 15 cookies to divide among the remaining 80 people. And so on, until you have about 50 people forced to divide up the very last cookie”
Again, I missed the point of this – evidently this person thinks that the American Dream was written by Lenin (not of the Beatles) and Marx more than a century ago – “Each citizen works to their ability and takes based on their need.” According to this philosophy, there need be no connection between work effort, efficiency and compensation. I drafted my own little parable in response:
“Of course the first person studied really hard and got a number of degrees and then worked their tail off to learn how to run the business and proved that they could make difficult decisions under pressure while the last 50 people skipped school to party, didn’t think they needed to work and slept until all of the cookies had been passed out.”
Many of my friends evidently believe my defense of my view of the American Dream makes me a very evil person. I was told that I have no idea what it is like to have nothing, to work for a living, to be part of the poor and downtrodden. I was told that it is the birthright of all Americans to share equally in the American Dream – if some have worked harder, longer and more effeciently then there will simply be more for all of us to share. Really?
I come from a working class family. I put myself through a private college working full time and with no family or other help. I put myself through a UC law school working full time with no family or other help. During school I worked as a busboy, telemarketer, a 411 operator, Disney jungle cruise driver, a stand up comic, shrink wrapped educational flash cards and wrote computer user manuals. I raised three young boys by myself while working as a partner in a law firm before I met the love of my life seven years ago. I do know of what I speak and consider myself a part of the American Dream. I do not suffer well those that think they are owed by the government simply because they have blessed the earth with their presence.