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An elder’s observation of the American Dream

By Brian Holden - posted Tuesday, 13 November 2012


Poking its longish nose out about 10 cars away from my 1997 Magna in the mall's car park was a vehicle that can only be described as bizarre. I had a careful look at this thing. The interior seemed to be only a little bigger than that of a Holden Commodore. The unusual length of the car was due to the long bonnet and boot. I wondered why any culture would produce such a vehicle with so much chunky chrome-plated metal at front and rear. And then there were those tailfins!

When I got home I Googled "Cadillac", and identified the car as 1959 vintage. I explored a bit further and found that in 1968, over 200,000 new Cadillacs were sold on the home market. Engine capacity eventually went up to 8.2 litres. Could such an object be both conceived and executed only in the USA? Afterall, large a vehicle as it is, all the material in a Rolls-Royce seems to have a function. With the wisdom of an elder, I will now put forward my opinion.

The reason that the shockingly inefficient 'Caddies' of the 50s, 60s and 70s were such big sellers was that there were a lot of Americans who wanted to feel to be bigger Americans. They had an image of themselves as being participants in the American Dream. However, for them it was only a type of consolation prize, because what the world understands the term "The American Dream" to mean is to be unhampered in realizing one's true potential.

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Base emotions easily override noble aspirations. To many the dream is not to be become a spiritually enriched person in a land of natural abundance and in a society which respects freedom of speech, but to own bigger and better - and when that is achieved, to own bigger and better still. Hence the absurd 1959 Cadillac - both a badge and a toy for those who seem to have forgotten (if they ever understood in the first place) what those who came by the Mayflower were dreaming about.

"Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness"

So they said in 1787. But the pursuit of happiness is, like religion, open to interpretation. As technology evolved, the market place got bigger and brighter, and the masses associated happiness with buying stuff.

This is a tragedy. It is not until one enters the twilight years before realising just how significant a tragedy it is. In the wisdom that finally arrives with old age, one becomes aware that buying what you didn't need leads to little, if any, real happiness. It is a tragedy for the planet that the same mistake already made by millions will be repeated by millions more.

What are we observing when we observe America? We are observing normal human behaviour in an unusual circumstance. The huge social structure that has evolved into today's America has simply exposed an aspect of human behaviour which we would not know was there inside most of us awaiting release - unless there was an America.

Now the emerging middle class in China are dreaming the American Dream. The people of Mongolia and Ethiopia and Colombia wish they were in a position to dare to dream the American Dream. There can be no doubt that if in the same position, over 90% of Australia's population would live exactly the way over 90% of Americans live (or wished they lived).

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The American Dream is not only to consume, but to be evermore creative so as to be able to consume more. America has the importance it has, not only because of its inventiveness, but also because there are 311 million Americans (that is a population size surpassed only by China and India)

My father had a book on American history printed about 1885. I will never forget a prediction made in the closing paragraph: "There is no reason to believe that the population of this country will not reach 200 million by the end of the next century". By the end of the century it was 300 million.

Many thousands of acres of potential food-producing soil are built over each year as if there is an inexhaustible supply. This destructive attitude is able to be maintained by the Americans farmers' innovative management of what productive land there is still being able to provide the people with more food than they need (but not more food than they can eat).

How much longer? We, who have not the capacity to consume materials and energy on such a vast scale, must simply observe and learn as if watching an experiment unfold in a laboratory.

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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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