---The Obscure Penguin---
As I’ve lived in this American Dream I’ve come across extremes of rationalization about many things. We all rationalize a lot when it comes to the things we do. To maintain our place in the dream we will be forced to make decisions sometimes that will try our conscience. To be more specific, if we need to make and accumulate money, we may find it necessary to “lower our standards” and do things we wouldn’t ordinarily think of doing. All that depends on where we are in the dream in the first place.
If I’ve been financially supported my whole life, as most young people are, I might have to consider getting a job. I think most folks will agree that’s not a bad thing. I was at the supermarket the other day and I asked the young cashier how he was and he said “I’m thankful I have a job and I can’t wait to get off.” I suspect the second part of that answer is honesty and the first part may be honest, but also expected. He wanted to impress an old man with his attitude about work. The premium we put on work in the dream is not a bad thing. I was duly impressed by the young man’s attitude if not by his willingness to share it with a stranger. Not one to wear anything on my sleeve, personally, I tend to suspect an unsubtle statement like that masks an insecurity. For example, if someone says he’s the smartest guy in the room you tend to suspect he’s awfully insecure about it even if he is the smartest guy. It’s partly an old middle-class signal. You tend to portray yourself how you want others to perceive you. So you dress up to do ordinary things like shopping or traveling on a plane. A person who has no reason to impress, such as a very rich person, or a person with no money at all, can dress in dirty jeans and a t-shirt if she so wishes. Keep in mind, most of us do judge a book by its cover even if we’ve been told not to do that. So those middle-class people in the service industries, if they’re not wise, will indeed treat us differently depending on our appearance.
Getting back to that kid at the supermarket. He may not like the job at all. Having a job is great for many reasons, but having a job you hate might be necessary but could be soul-crushing. I happened again to catch Mike Judge’s Office Space on tv the other night. Must be the trillionth time but I never get bored with it because it is so TRUE about what it’s like to be in a job you detest. In fact, it may be one of the most important American films ever made about the American Dream. The kid at the supermarket may hate his job but he’s pressured by his family and his employer to “have a good attitude” about it. That means, however you feel, you need to say positive things about it. Having a good attitude frequently means lying but no one wants to run into a surly cashier. I’ve been a cashier. I know. You can be grappling with gut-wrenching personal problems while you’re checking someone out buying a single yogurt. Even though you’re not being rude the customer will ask you if it would be too difficult to smile. The customer should be thankful you don’t shove the yogurt down his yogurt hole.
However, your parents may be relatively well-off, meaning you’ve lived well yourself, meaning not just any job will do for you. You want a position where you will be respected for your lack of experience and not be expected to do much for the little money you’re getting paid, which is hardly reflective of your personal value. “I’m only here because I have to start somewhere before I get to where I think I should be, which is where I belong.” Such people have a much lower financial panic bar. That is, the thought of being forced to do anything because of economic worries might lead to suicidal thoughts, having to demean oneself, having to lose face, having to live below one’s personal expectations, well, it’s just not worth it! You get the impression the American Dream isn’t the same for everyone.
Let’s say you started off poor and through hard work you made a lot of money. That’s the American Dream in a nutshell for many. You have a business and you’re employing people. Your interpretation of the American Dream means if you have money you can tell other people, particularly those who depend on you for a job, how they should think about their job. Of course, it’s one thing to pay people for work. It’s another thing to demand they love it because they’re getting paid, especially if you’re an unpleasant person. Apparently, in your mind, having money justifies everything you do. That’s the American Dream for many. “If I have money I can do whatever I want to do, think whatever I want, and you know what you can do if you don’t like it.” For many folks having money equals having freedom. It’s hard to argue with that logic when you don’t have as much money or don’t seem to have as much freedom as someone who has a lot of money. I can’t respect the obvious comeback on that observation that having more money means having more complications, which in some circumstances means having less freedom. Anyone without money would gladly take the tradeoff to see for themselves. Having the resources to pay for a good lawyer is also part of the American Dream.
The American Constitution reminds us we are all born equal, with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It says a lot about freedom. It says nothing about money being the prerequisite. That just came about in the dream, apparently.
But here’s the really hard part of the dream. What if you’re getting paid to do things that compromise your conscience? For example, what if you’re getting paid by a health insurance company to find any reason whatsoever to not honor a claim? What if you’re getting paid by a large firm to gather personal data on people to be able to manipulate them? I can go on forever with this but I won’t because I know you all have personal experiences or fears about finding yourselves in positions where you have to rationalize doing something you know is morally or ethically wrong because you’re getting paid for it.
So when all is said and done, we’re living in a dream, where for many, the pursuit of money is considered the pursuit of freedom. Even if we don’t like what we’re doing, or even, God forbid, we’re asked to disavow our personal conscience to make that money, we should have a good attitude. We rationalize our compromised conscience by saying, “I’m doing it for my kids.”
Well, Nazis had kids too. I bet if Adolph Hitler had a kid, that kid might say, “No, Dad. I don’t want you to do that for me.”