Dumping the American Dream
At one point Dowd quotes from Thorstein Veblen's The Instinct of Workmanship (1914), that "history records more frequent and more spectacular instances of the triumph of imbecile institutions over life and culture than of peoples who have by force of instinctive insight saved themselves alive out of a desperately precarious institutional situation." Dowd goes on to talk about the destruction of the environment and of our cities, stating that "growth for its own sake, production for its own sake, consumption for its own sake, and power for the sake of continuing the rest--these are the drives that have shaped the modern world, whose leader is presently the United States." He continues:
"We can seek to live at peace with our environment, our fellow human beings, and ourselves in an urban and industrial civilization. We can, but not so long as the bulk of Americans continue to strive for profit and power and an overflowing cornucopia of increasingly contrived and expensive consumer goods--strive as donkeys strive for carrots fixed beyond their noses. The bulk of Americans cannot achieve what they seek.
"The time has come to take thought, to reflect on what the genuine needs and pleasures of life are, and to find some symmetry between our ends and our means. Those ends are not mysterious, or the province of a few: we wish ourselves and our loved ones to eat well, to be comfortably clothed and housed, to learn through education what we can become and do, to be healthy, to enjoy nature and the works of the species; to have control over our lives. Each of these ends moves away from us, not closer, with each passing year. We count as our treasures what we have been socialized to count as treasures, though they defile our lives and make robots of us all: the automobile, the TV, the encapsulated suburban existence, the gleaming high buildings, the ever-rising GNP, 'fast' food. [To which we might add: the terrible legacy of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg--"heroes" only in an upside-down world.] We are moving in the wrong direction for human beings."
Nothing like telling it like it is, and I hope that the protesters on Wall St. and elsewhere understand that the proper goal for their movement is not extending the American Dream, but putting it to rest. As for Prof. Dowd: he is 92 years old and lives in Italy. Until very recently he was teaching classes on a p/t basis at the University of Modena. A truly great American figure, who understands what it means to live a genuine life.
(c)Morris Berman, 2011