from the world's big
Why the original meaning of the American Dream is unrecognizable today
What is the American Dream? The ever-changing definition of it might surprise you nearly as much as what it used to mean.
The concept of the American Dream has been well known for some time. Notions of a new world, different than the old one, were invoked by the founding fathers. The idea of a new world where anything was possible was used more than a century ago to encourage immigration. Politicians reference it constantly on the campaign trail. Indeed, the American Dream has a long intellectual history that permeates the national character.
But what is it exactly?
It may surprise you to learn that the phrase “American Dream” has only been around since 1931. Coined by James Truslow Adams in his history The Epic of America, the phrase originally referred to a “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement... It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and recognized by others for what they are.”
If it seems to you like that definition, one of pure idealism, is slightly different than the one we use today, you’re right. The concept of the American Dream has changed several times since then. Each change in the popular conception of the American Dream reveals the aspirations of the generation that lived it and the problems they faced.
How has it changed since then?
During the economic doldrums of the Great Depression the phrase “American Dream” most often appeared on advertisements for plays, books, articles, and other intellectual goods. It did not refer to material success, but to the ideals Mr. Adams elaborated on.
Even after WWII, the idea was still, generally, idealistic. The Chaplin of the U.S. Senate stated the dream consisted of “Religious liberty to worship God according to the dictates of one’s own conscience and equal opportunity for all men.” Dr. King referenced it during his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, saying that his dream of equality was “deeply rooted in the American Dream.”
Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, directly references the equality of opportunity and social standing that Adams had mentioned in the 1930s. (Getty Images)
Despite the surplus of idealistic notions, the idea of the American Dream as a materialist one began to take hold in the 1950s. The G.I. bill made home ownership and a college education possible for millions of veterans, television started pushing the ideals of suburban living, and an ever-rising standard of living promoted consumerism in a feedback loop. The move towards materialism was so great then that economist John Kenneth Galbraith feared that American values had begun to decay.
An image of 1950s suburbia with a new car, pre-fab house and all. It can be easy to understand why the children of the Great Depression might be interested in pursuing this kind of life. It would take less than 15 years for another generation to start to rebel against it. (Getty Images)
However, it still wasn’t until the '70s and '80s that advertisements started cropping up that utilized the American Dream as a selling point. Real estate advertising especially hammered home the point that the American Dream had something to do with material wealth and owning a place of your own, for obvious reasons. This idea remains popular, with president George W. Bush signing The American Dream Downpayment Assistance Act to promote homeownership.
This trend towards seeing the dream as a material one has only intensified. Today, Forbes has an American Dream Index that measures purely economic data and makes no mention of the original concepts behind the American Dream as it was viewed in the 1930s.
The ever-changing notion of the American Dream is, in a way, in line with all of these definitions. The idea of a country where you can dream for more and reach higher than the last generation could is a common thread in all of these eras. It is the goal which changes, though in many ways it may be that it was only being identified more clearly.
The idea of the American Dream also has facsimiles around the world. In Australia, there is the Australian Dream of homeownership bringing security. Chairman Xi Jinping of The People’s Republic of China has promoted the Chinese Dream, which has many similarities to the American one.
Even if nobody is quite sure as to what it is, the concept of the American Dream remains well known all over the world. The ever-changing definition reflects an ever-changing country. How will it continue to change as new generations take over? Will it continue to represent shared ideals as we move forward, or will our increased polarization lead to a variety of American Dreams replacing the old one? The only thing that is certain is that a new dream is going to arrive sooner or later.
Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.