During the hours of TV coverage from Boston, one of the images that prompted discussion was how could two young men who were "living the American Dream" turn to such violence. So what does the phrase "American Dream" mean? Apparently, whatever it means, the newscasters believed that living the American Dream would counter any negative actions against the American people, that living the American Dream, by definition, would rule out violence. Yet, if I remember correctly, several of the 9/11 terrorists also would have looked like they were living the American Dream with jobs, families, and homes in the suburbs.
So what does "living the American Dream" mean to you?
Has it changed so much that violence can reside under the new definition?
Has the very image of the American Dream lulled us into a false sense of safety?
Have we adopted a "one size fits all" attitude about the American culture, assuming that we are the pinnacle of cultural development?
Are there other images much stronger than the American Dream that can trump that image?
What do you think?

Tags: American, Boston, Dream, terrorist, violence

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Hi Ed. Thanks for this great post. I think this is a critical topic, especially as our culture seems to be perilously close to the brink of disintegration on many levels. The values which built this country--freedom, independence, hard work, and a pioneering spirit are still valuable—but I don't think the cultural container has evolved to sustain them. In contemporary culture, it's ingrained in children that they can (and must) get ahead because this is the "greatest country in the world"—but there is no room for failure, no allowance for getting knocked down, no tolerance for tears and for fears when one lacks the confidence to continue when the going gets tough. What if we taught our children in schools how to deal with failure to counterbalance the mandate to succeed at all costs?

Many of these ideas emerged for me when I read Glen Slater's article "A Psychology of Violence" in Spring Journal 81 where he outlines them very astutely. I interviewed Glen for Depth Insights radio when the Sandy Hook school shooting occurred (the link to listen is here if anyone is interested). Another author (and Alliance member) who talks beautifully and regularly about this topic of the American Dream and culture in general is Barry Spector in his book and blog of the same name, "Madness at the Gates of the City". Maybe Barry will see this and jump in. I would love to hear others' thoughts....

I think this question begs us to look at the shadow side of the American Dream, and moreover, how as a culture we fail to recognize the impact that shadow has in general. The American Dream signifies a certain level of material success, built on the shoulders of capitalism, with a cause and effect dynamic where when one wins, another loses. As I think about how we (as a species) can close the gap on this dichotomy, I can't seem to separate positive movement in this space from the much bigger quest of individuation, and other methods to facilitate a shift or transformation of consciousness.

I'm with you Beth but lost the thread (I will, of course, blame old age) in your last sentence. Would you mind amplifying?

What I'm trying to say is that achieving American Dream as it's currently defined and is manifested requires both winners and losers, and an 'us versus 'them' situation. The former, taking a cue from Shane's post is uncontrolled consumption (make more $, buy more things {homes, cars}, increase your status and power, etc) with an unbalanced distribution to offset the massive acqusitions. The latter is either you are living the AD or not . Again, pulling from Shane's post, I suppose, we're either in Neverland or Hades (I imagine those who use bombs to hurt people may be the 'losers' {read: not derogatory} in this equation). To balance out this polarity, in a lasting way, is for all of us to do the work to confront our own shadows, or to understand what is compelling us to use the AD, and its associated components ($$, power, material items, etc) in place of our hearts. Ed - your last quote about from Jung is both brilliant and terrifying. Yet, if we can hold this as truth and use as our lens, that would really be something....

Interesting quote from "Crime and the Soul" written by Jung in 1932/1933"

"Generally, however  criminals, men and women alike, betray a certain ambition to be respectable, and repeatedly emphasize their respectability...A very large number of criminals lead a thoroughly middle-class existence and commit their crimes, as it were, through their second selves. Few criminals succeed in attaining a complete severance between their liking for middle-class respectability, on the one hand, and their instinct for crime on the other." 

I found this interesting in that seemingly everyone who "knew" the younger brother saw him as an image of what we might call middle-class values, listed by Bonnie as the country's values. Was this a case of projection on our part? We need to believe that these are shared values by any American and certainly (affirming our American myth) the adopted values of someone "not from these parts" which have the power to overcome and erase any opposing value system? Especially if they have become a new American citizen?

Before we get too self-righteous, however, Jung goes on to write, "Far more crime, cruelty, and horror occur in the human soul than in the external world. The soul of the criminal, as manifested in his deeds, often affords an insight into the deepest psychological processes of humanity in general." Boy, I'm going to sleep better tonight with that thought on my mind!!!

This could be a huge topic, couldn’t it!?  From what I understand, the American Dream seems to be based in the belief that Americans, whether born here or emigrated, can work hard and become anything in the world we want to become; without limit and without exception.  “The sky's the limit,” and as the Moon landing and Hubble Telescope images show us, the sky is indeed limitless.  It's the land of the free and the home of the brave, so with enough courage and determination, you can make a million dollars and be happy.  And stay forever young in the process!  It can be a very seductive dream. 

Archetypally, isn’t it so much of what the Puer Eternis is about, too?  On a global scale, we are still just a young country, and as such it seems the Puer dominates much of our consciousness, including its innate disconnection to the material world (the Puer as something like Peter Pan is in Neverland (it never lands, is always in flight, without limits believing anything is possible).  So the strange relationship with the material world via the obesity epidemic, love of shopping, and incredible debt; the need for everything on a purely provisional basis and super-sized; and an inability to see things in a wise, meaningful manner are all pieces of the Puer (in the notoriously irresponsible side of the Archetype). 

But as for images stronger than the American Dream?  Well, first off, it’s hard to ignore the leading cause of death in this country is heart disease.  If we are with the Greeks in seeing the heart as the center of imagination (which makes complete sense to me), and heart disease is an epidemic in America, we have a country essentially filled with diseased imaginations.  That’s a potent image to me.  No wonder creatures like zombies and the evil dead are all the rage.  And no wonder we have epic sleep disorders with all this going on, since how do we dream the American Dream if our sleep and dream time is disordered? 

Another image, the one that actually first came to me when reading the original post, was that of Oppenheimer splitting the atom, and the subsequent dropping of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Whatever the American Dream may have been before that moment, we can only imagine how it changed in one instant.  I imagine everything changed in that instant, and consciousness has been altered tremendously for better and for worse by this event and all its repercussions.  That could easily be an entire topic on its own, but in the context of the American Dream, terrorism, and consciousness, it’s seems a major player.  I’m curious what others see? 



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