Writing for the last two weeks has been like pulling teeth. Today, I think I figured out why. Because I write scifi, writing requires a certain hopefulness on my part, a belief in a far future that could have colonization of planets and technology beyond our wildest dreams. I have to be able to “see” it.
As the days and weeks trudge on in American life, I am less hopeful, and that future looks less possible than it did only a few months ago. It’s literally become painful to write because it feels like I’m writing about Santa Claus, which as we all know was totally true until we were around ten. Then, we learned the bitter truth.
I feel like that again.
We’ve all heard the corny stories of the American Dream. It was sold to us as schoolchildren every day. It was part of the curriculum we studied. It was part of the lessons of your Sunday school class. It was everywhere you looked, just like Santa Claus.
Put simply, it was the belief that everyone deserved the chance at prosperity, that no one should ever be held back for the things they couldn’t help. In my childhood, it went a step further, I think. I heard things like “In a country with our resources, no one should be hungry or not have clean water.” It was a common litany, yet as I’ve grown up it hasn’t held true. It isn’t a real thing.
My family was nowhere near wealthy, but I grew up with a certain amount of privilege. It was a privilege that I was keenly aware of early on. In the small, Southern town where I grew up there were two sides. A railroad track ran through town and seemed to be an unofficial demarcation of where Black and White were to be separated.
On the one side, you could drive through on any given Sunday and see neat little box houses with neat little lawns being mowed. On the other, you saw old, rundown homes that were barely holding their own, relics of a sharecropping past.
Early on, I recognized this for what it was; it was not an accident. Two sides of town don’t just happen. They are agreed upon by everyone, and they are economically and socially enforced. Even as a child, I understood that anyone who had the chance would live in a neat, little box house on a nice, quiet street, and own a riding lawnmower for Sundays. It was a great life for any five year old child, so who wouldn’t want that? Therefore, there had to be a reason that there were two sides of town, because this was America and everyone should have the dream. Right?
Yet, everyone didn’t have it, and, as I’ve matured and traveled and lived, I haven’t had it since then either. Life has been a struggle that seemed to get harder with each year that has passed.
The hazy, middle class dream
I don’t even have a unique story. It’s the same story told all over America. That prosperous dream was a story told to us by our families, in hopes that we would attain it, as they had. The trouble with that is that our parents didn’t attain it by accident anymore than my hometown segregated its people without a reason.
Those who did reach that middle class status didn’t reach the middle class in a bubble. There were economic forces at play, the rise of the auto industry, regulations and deregulation as time went by that shaped markets, and, of course, technology that changed and morphed to what it is today. Our mistake was in believing that the American dream was something individually attainable.
In fact, without the right set of circumstances, it’s as possible as … well, Santa Claus.The choices we make as a country define our circumstances and what is possible. For whatever reason, we are choosing badly. We’ve demonized science and scientific discovery, and we’ve stopped investing in technology. We’ve stopped learning about anything, including how our own government is supposed to work. As a nation, we seem to have agreed that being smart is bad, that unity and kindness equate with being “PC”, and we seem to have fallen back on old habits of segregating according to skin tone or religion.
Santa isn’t real.
And, it’s time to just realize it. It’s a tradition and a story. The American Dream is something to work for, but it doesn’t just happen to you the day you wake up “made in America”. It’s a choice we all have to make together, and, if we don’t all have it, then that was a choice, too.
BTW, Yeah, that’s my title. Eat that O’Reilly.