Saturday, October 22, 2011

Insightful Views of Frodnonag on The American Dream

I often find myself in awe of the writing, perspicacity and insight of some commenters on the few news sites I frequent. The articles are usually good - and they ought to be, written as they are by professionals or academics. However, some comments can occasionally outshine the articles. Maybe these too are written by (retired or resting) journalists or academics, it's hard to say, being signed only by screen-name. Here's one such comment which impressed me - it's more of an essay really, written by one "Frodnonag". The very long comment is a two-parter, and appeared beneath the article linked below. I asked the commenter if he/she would allow me to use it on my blog...... He/she responded with:
Sure, glad to, it's a compliment.

Let me note that I'm not a historian- just a reader and observer of life in the U.S. for the past 60 years- and that everything I write is my opinion and that's all it is. Whether or not it carries any weight with facts or any other way is up to the reader, because I do not mean to say I have any real answers.
Part one interested me especially. I'm always keen to read views of "how we got here" by someone who has actually lived through a lot of the journey. This essay provides a personal view on the background of that mythical yet fascinating concept: "The American Dream". The second part of the comment/essay, relating to the Occupy Wall Street movement, and related issues, will follow, tomorrow:

COMMENT (Part 1)
Posted by Frodnonag
Oct 19 2011 - 10:43pm, at

Frodnonag commenting and expanding upon points arising from an article by Richard Gwyn: OWS ‘Angry Mob’ Suddenly Respectable

I see this American Dream in more than one way. On the coarsest level it is just a dream of an infinitely big pie divided up among into ever-enlarging slices for an ever-expanding number of never-satisfied individuals, a.k.a. consumers, or resource hogs. No one thinks that just because a pasture will support a cow it will automatically also support two or three or twenty cows, but here in the U.S. our "American Dream" tries to convince us of something very much like that. Clearly some of this originates from religious convictions during early settlement and the social meme of "manifest destiny" which I have always regarded as just a high-faluting and throughly dishonest variation on "I wants it... it's mine... I found it... nassty Hobbits want to take it from me. My Preciousss..." mentality of total entitlement and individualistic anti-social behavior over cooperative social behavior.

In fact, the frontier was first broached and settled by the outcasts, the weirdos, the rejects, the predators, the soldiers of fortune, and the slave masters, and less so by the saints and philosphers and educators- at first- since the demands of the New World made it mandatory that the early settlers have the ability to survive first of all, and if that worked out, as soon as possible there would be churches and then schools.

However, most early American pioneers must have had precious little time for the things most of us spend our days doing nowadays. Dawn to dark-thirty of hard work was the rule. And part of the American Dream, before it was even named, was the plan to work hard enough so that one day in the future one could sit back and watch other people work and rake in the wealth for you - that too is the American Dream: wealth through managing and/or exploiting unfairly the labor of others. It is a necessary system, I think, to have that; specialization, and division of labor and skills, that is - but has always been so prone to abuse by management/owners over workers.

Many years ago as a kid I had a recurring dream of some unknown but very real spot out in the West or western Midwest - for some reason I thought it was perhaps in Nebraska, for it was prairie/high plains/ big country without mountains, but not flat either, and someplace I had never been or seen, yet in these several dreams over the course of two or three yeares, I visited the place several times, and I always wondered if it existed.

Now I think that dream had something to do with the American Dream, which was a presence, almost palpable, to kids growing up in 1950's America, combined with a dream about the vanished, or vanishing, western frontier, the presence of which, especially throughout the first 300-400 years or so of North American settlement, up until the late 19th century, had a long and extremely profound psychological effect and is one of the main building blocks of anything we might call "American" about ourselves today.

The frontier, before the railroads in particular, and before telegraph and other forms of communication, was a place for seemingly infinite opportunities for fresh starts in life; or it was a refuge from the law or from enemies or from creditors, and until recent times remained in that role of refuge for many people, for all kinds of reasons.

As they used to say, a man could wear out four or five farms and still be young enough to go tear up a new piece of land and wear it out too. The sense of infinite and perennial resources they had then is understandable to anyone with an idea of the forest, fish, animal, and bird life on his continent - it was truly a cornucopia, and a land of plenty, in ways most of us today don't know. (Read Farley Mowat's "Sea of Slaughter" for a fascinating discussion of what happened to maritime resources early on due to European involvement in the New England and Maritimes and Banks regions - it's quite a shocking story, and a cautionary tale - or at least it should be.)

So the old belief in an ever available frontier with infinite resources of all kinds and always the chance for a second start, a new home, a move down the road - and the power of a man to make these decisions "for himself" - entirely, or at least mostly, on his own initiative.

It was capital - F Freedom to a much greater extent than was allowed in the Old Country.

That's the American Dream too, isn't it? Homesteading, or founding your own little Boonesborough even if it is just a shack on the edge of town with room for a couple of tomato plants - that's where it's at.

And for most Americans I think for a long time, hard work was the ticket to much success, although for many others, from the first days, it was not freedom but bondage, as the sturdy yeoman farmer, out of a George Caleb Bingham painting in my mind's eye, was relplaced by the mill hand and the sooty child picking slate from moving belts of coal and gazing at us in the future with holocaust eyes, as if to say, someone do something about this, for the love of God, please.

And yet, in many ways, we denied that plea and all the ones like it, and yet, the country did thrive and prosper, and grow like crazy, under robber baron management and slavery, for a long time, and because slavery and industrialization were both, on the whole, apparently creating societal improvements much more than societal harm, and were lucrative systems of exploiting various natural resources from furs to water power to timber to meat to minerals and so much more. Because of these factors, the harm being done to workers, to public health, and to the environment, were put under the rug, so to speak, as they still mostly are today, because they are a lot of trouble to deal with in a modern and enlightened scientific fashion. Therefore the state of denial is psychologically essential because a man has trouble when he knows that the thing he likes so much because it is good is also something which is slowly killing him, or his children, or his neighbors.

Better not to think about such things - and in the past, one could always move on down the valley or across the mountain, for the longest time.

The loss of that frontier changed the thing we like to call our American "character". As it was lost, we clung more and more to the mythical creations of the frontier, from the characters of Fenimore Cooper down to the ones of the TV westerns.

Now most westerns are supplanted by endless cop shows, most of them urban.
TV shows us how even in the past fifty to a hundred years we have become like more and more rats in a single cage. The Balkanization of the U.S.A.

In the city closest to me, due not to lack of space but the economic system, the poor people are crowded up and are shooting each other to death at a steady rate of several shootings per week, usually at least one daily, so as a war of attrition - of the people upon themselves - it may be worse than some of the stuff in the middle east, but "they gotsome crazy litle women there" so people keep on living there... that's the place I mean.

And I'm like "Dang, this is America? What th..?!?'" Like something Flaky Foont might come up with that he wants to go ask Mr. Natural about.

Goodnight. Obviously I am losing my mind once I mention Foont, that weirdo.... if I don't stop now I'll be telling a Fat Freddy's Cat story and that is to much to ask of such fine comments readers as yourselves.

Thank you, Frodnonag!

NOTE: For others, like me, who didn't recognise Flaky Foont or Mr. Natural or That Cat: the first two were cartoon characters of Robert Crumb; Fat Freddy's Cat was a creation of Gilbert Shelton.


Jefferson's Guardian said...

There are definitely people out there who "get it". There's a pent-up frustration with the whole unworkable system; unworkable for the vast majority, who are increasingly seeing their lives becoming no more than a tool for a small minority to live prosperously and like royalty. People like Frodnonag are able to see this, and to properly compare and contrast an American history that brought us to this point.

Like you, I've found that many times the comments are more insightful and inspiring than the article itself. We're all on a learning curve, as you know, and the experience tends to eventually find answers to those questions that stall our progress. Once settled, traction and a sure-footing is found, we're moving along as intended.

Thank you for sharing!

Wisewebwoman said...

Thanks for this T. A wonderful read, look forward to the next.

Twilight said...

Jefferson's Guardian ~~
I hope we are moving along, it does feel that way to me - now - whereas a year ago, it didn't, it all felt terribly stagnant then.
The light is dawning, very slowly, gradually, and, like the tide, once started sunrise never stops. I have to resort to nature to try to understand, because that's what we are all a part of. :-)

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ Glad you find it so - as I did.