Tuesday, November 02, 2010

What's happened to the American dream?

On this election day I cannot help but consider whether Arianna Huffington's "Third World America" book is more than just a warning.

Graphic from AStrangeLife
James Truslow Adams coined and defined the American Dream as:
The American Dream, that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of material plenty, though that has doubtlessly counted heavily. It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as a man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in the older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class.

Home ownership is sometimes used as a proxy for achieving the promised prosperity; ownership has been a status symbol separating the middle classes from the poor. Sometimes the Dream is identified with success in sports or how working class immigrants seek to join the American way of life.
Thus the American Dream isn't to be rich; it's to be middle class, relatively content, and with trust that the future will be equal or better for the offspring.

Not only has that trust eroded, it's being chipped away daily by greed, temptation, outright corruption, misdirection and obfuscation, and passivity.

Right now 2/3 of Americans believe that their children will be worse off than they are now.  Two-thirds! Yale's Jacob Hacker says that 40% of all household income gains over the last generation, from 1979 to 2007, went to the richest 1% of Americans. Consequently, as more and more wealth goes to the top, people in that group lose sight of the American Dream and use their wealth to buy politicians, lawyers and PR/Communication specialists to turn government into an instrument where they can have their way.

Consider this story by Kurt Kleiner in MIT's TechnologyReview:
Data-mining techniques reveal fake Twitter accounts that give the impression of a vast political movement.

Researchers have found evidence that political campaigns and special-interest groups are using scores of fake Twitter accounts to create the impression of broad grass-roots political expression. A team at Indiana University used data-mining and network-analysis techniques to detect the activity.

"We think this technique must be common," says Filippo Menczer, an associate professor at Indiana University and one of the principal investigators on the project. "Wherever there are lots of eyes looking at screens, spammers will be there; so why not with politics?"

The research effort is dubbed the Truthy project, a reference to comedian Stephen Colbert's coinage of the word "truthiness," or a belief held to be true regardless of facts or logic. The goal was to uncover organized propaganda or smear campaigns masquerading as a spontaneous outpouring of opinion on Twitter—a tactic known as fake grass roots, or "Astroturf."

Menczer says the research group uncovered a number of accounts sending out duplicate messages and also retweeting messages from the same few accounts in a closely connected network. For instance, two since-closed accounts, called @PeaceKaren_25 and @HopeMarie_25, sent out 20,000 similar tweets, most of them linking to, or promoting, the House minority leader John Boehner's website, gopleader.gov

In another case, 10 different accounts were used to send out thousands of posts, many of them duplicates slightly altered to avoid detection as spam. All of the tweets linked back to posts on a conservative website called Freedomist.com.
This is not atypical. It's just more sophisticated. Whatever it is, it's deceitful and corrupt, not public-spirited... and very likely to get worse.

James Gilligan, psychiatrist and author, said in his book "Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic:"
The main social and economic causes of violence are those that divide the population into the superior and the inferior, the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor.  The more highly unequal a society is, the higher its rates of violence.  A greater level of equality is essential in order to curb both interpersonal violence and collective political violence. 
Thus the ever-increasing prison population, the unintended but predictable consequence of income disparity, lack of trust and growing poverty. And the ever-increasing use of professional manipulators like Karl Rowe, Fred Malek, Carl Forti and other operatives and communicators Roger Ailes, Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh all of whom are now armed with unlimited and unidentified corporate contributions in almost unlimited amounts.  Very scary!

Awareness is the first condition of change, hence this message. Maybe we all should read Arianna Huffington's book.

And civility in incremental actions might be the next step.  President Obama said today that it was incumbent on all of us, when we feel it's appropriate, to "disagree without being disagreeable."

And John Stewart ran a whole rally last Saturday on the Washington, DC Mall predicated on that single point.