May 27

The American Dream–The Idea and the Reality

Earlier today, I started reading The Tao of Writing by Ralph L Wahlstrom. I’m about a third of the way through it right now. Thus far, and I don’t expect this to change very much, the book is half philosophy, half how-to-write book. It argues that the way writing is traditionally taught in schools (Strict grammatical rules, having to outline, five paragraph essays, writing in a strict beginning-to-end style–essentially, focusing on the form and structure instead of the expression of ideas) sets people up for failure, and that just brainstorming and letting ideas flow will yield, if not a masterpiece of writing, at least a start from which a good idea can probably be pulled and expanded on.

But the writing technique part isn’t the most interesting part of what I’ve read thus far. No, that’s this passage about 10% of the way through the book on the Kindle Edition:

“[The Brazilian literary activist] Paulo Friere saw that illiteracy prevented the Brazilian peasants from being heard, from having a voice in the politics, economy, and culture of their country. When he began his literacy circles in which indigenous peasants learned to read and write through pictures and music, through their own culture, his success so frightened the Brazilian oligarchy that he was exiled. Freire discovered that literacy and culture, when taken together, are a power, liberating force. They can free a people politically, and they can free each of us from the bonds that hold us so rigidly in place.”

This got me thinking about the US and its treatment of the poor (And the young, for that matter. I like to imagine that today’s “Oh shut up you complain about money yet have NO problem buying that IPHONE!” had a rough equivalent ~70 years ago of “Oh stop complaining you had NO problem saving up and buying that fancy REFRIGERATOR of yours!”, such is the necesity of some kind of connected device nowadays). For as much as people like to peddle “The American Dream” and “You can be anything you want as long as you work hard for it” and so on, the fact is that you can do everything right and still have nothing to show for it at the end of the day. It’s also a fact that resources are easier for some to come by than for others. For me, “self-enrichment resources” like books (Such as The Tao of Writing!) are pretty easy to come by. Heck, a branch of my workplace has a local Toastmasters group if I ever feel like working on my public speaking/leadership skills! But for others, especially people living in poor areas that may not have easy access to, EG, a library, it’s a lot harder. And it’s not just a matter of lack of motivation. It’s a matter of, if you will, “The American oligarchy” making it as hard as possible for poor people to rise above what others see as “their station” in life.

Part of it is we have this tendency to romanticize suffering and toil as a part of said American Dream, and think everyone should suffer as we suffered. “*I” worked two jobs all my life, I don’t see why *those people* can’t *also* work two jobs, they must just not WANT IT enough!” for instance. Ignoring the fact that even finding two jobs that can work around one another’s schedule isn’t easy even for someone like myself, why should anyone *have* to work two jobs just to survive? Just because I did?

We claim that we want people to help themselves, then try to make it impossible for them to actually do so, by doing things like cutting education funding, funding to public libraries, and so on. And it sucks.

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