Is The American Dream A Sham?
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Episode 25: Is The American Dream A Sham? | Richard Rorty on American Pragmatism
Written by: Matt Reichle
Created & Directed by: Jared Bauer
Narrator: Nathan Lowe
Animation Producer: MB X. McClain
Original Music & Sound by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Academic Consultant: Mia Wood
Producer & Additional Artwork by: Jacob S. Salamon
Is The American Dream A Sham?
Apple pies, a white picket fence, a mortgage, 1.5 kids, a sizeable salary, the promise of middle class stability… The American dream is a belief in upward mobility—where if you work hard enough you can achieve to your ability—it is a trust in the land of opportunity and that the world that we live in can get better.
But is the American dream over?
Many pessimists declare that the dream is just an illusion—that we live in a time when institutional racism, gratuitous violence, the glass ceiling, and the corporatization of the country make it impossible for progressive change.
But for American Pragmatist Richard Rorty—the American dream is far from over.
As the first philosophy to originate in the United States, pragmatism has a distinct American… flavor. Popularized in the late nineteenth century by Charles Saunders Peirce [pronounced like you’d say “hearse”], William James, and John Dewey, pragmatists are concerned with usefulness and practicality.
A statement is true if it works for you; if it’s beneficial, profitable, and feasible for you then it is consistent with the precepts of pragmatism.
Theorizing about the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin is fine and well, but it doesn’t help your stock portfolio.
In his book Achieving Our Country Rorty asks if national pride is good for America—if the myth of the American dream, of a story that we repeatedly tell ourselves about America, is a good myth to continue. Understood from the perspective of pragmatism, the question: “is the American dream a sham?” depends on your situation. Those that feel like they have access to the American dream might answer “no” while those that feel disenfranchised might answer “yes.”
Even if past horrors cast a shadow on the American dream—it shouldn’t be a reason to shut down the possibility of hope for a better future—rather the past should guide us in understanding how to navigate social relations to bring about positive change in line with the American dream.
For Rorty, American pride doesn’t have to be synonymous with a caricature of Americanism—it doesn’t have to be the banal sort of rallying cry for the four “F’s”: football, freedom, fornication and beer. American pride is about more than fanaticism and chauvinism—it is about a belief in democracy and hope.
If American pragmatism is a philosophy that purports to deal in functionality and clarity, then perhaps it is important to ask: what is the cash value of the American dream?