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The Shrewd Capitalist and The Two-Sided Coin

If the American Dream means having your needs met, then why wouldn't people cheat the system?

I've been thinking a lot lately about the American Dream, especially since I've heard more than a few people on both sides of the aisle suggest that it's in danger this coming election. I know that once upon a time it meant that anyone, regardless of circumstance or background, could apply themselves, work hard, and become a success. As I got older, I began to understand how much external factors - such as time and luck - really played a significant role, but the underlying idea was still the same.

Work hard. Become a success.

Somehow, as a lot of ideas do, the American Dream became less about the becoming and more about the destination. It was no longer about being a person of character who achieves a goal, it was about achieving the goal, period. Myopia set in; ends became more than means, and soon enough, people were cheating the system to get their desired outcome.

Now, it could be argued, the American Dream is to be without want.

It's what drives lottery sales. It's what compels many new entrepreneurs. It's what most average working people shoot for with regards to retirement.

And it can kill our country if we don't change.

Here's what tickles me, though: we have system cheaters on both sides. It's funny that what one person would call a shrewd capitalist, another would call a money-hungry, greedy CEO. And what some people would call a low-down, lazy welfare cheat, others would call a shrewd capitalist.

After all, if the point of the game is to be without want, isn't abusing the welfare system the quickest way to win?

If the point of the game is to be without want, doesn't it make sense to cut corners, push back against regulation, cook the books and still collect massive bonus payouts?

Thinking about it, I've come to the conclusion that the American Dream was never intended for everyone. It wasn't a one-size fits all proposition in the way that many of us assumed. While the whole country can benefit from someone attaining that dream, it's not an inalienable right for all of us to possess it ourselves. And if we're honest, we'll admit it.

Heck, if we're being honest, we understand that the American Dream isn't for the selfish; it's not for the stunted in character nor the narrow of vision. The American Dream is a shared ideal, a community longing, and thus those who partake in it understand the value of that shared hope: how, when a person pursues his or her dream, it involves and inspires others to do the same.

Yet somehow, the selfish have taken the dream for themselves. They've robbed the community of our nation by making it purely individual, making it entirely about themselves. That's why robber barons have no moral qualms about lavish bonuses, or welfare freeloaders about waving their iPhones around at the grocery store; the system exists to serve them, to better them, to cater to their needs.

After all, if they're smart enough to know how to work the system, don't they deserve to reap the spoils?

Like a lot of things this election season, the two sides have more in common than we realize. It's merely ideological blindness, or inattentiveness to reality that keeps us from seeing that what is being presented as two distinct political directions are actually two sides to the same coin. As my friend Jeff told me recently, you can change the mask, but if you don't change the philosophical core, you've made no progress.

So pick a mask. It doesn't matter. On either side you have people taking an ideal and turning it into a destructive path.

Which means at our core, we're in trouble.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Paul L. Dragu October 19, 2012 at 10:27 PM
"At our core, we're in trouble." I think you hit the nail on the head. I think the initial American dream was to have life, liberty and the opportunity to pursue happiness without the interference or the fear of a State entity, nor a ceiling to potential. But all that was the surface over a foundation that was built on Judeo-Christian values. When those are gone, when we teach graduate students that truth is relative and there is no absolute, what consequences or convictions do they have to stop them from cheating others and the system? There is nothing more important than the beliefs one has.
Clint Watson October 20, 2012 at 12:22 PM
I agree 100% Paul. Well said. Also, great article Jason. I've never really thought about the two sides of the coin in this way. Thank you so much for sharing!
Karsten Torch October 20, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Jason, once again, good job. You hit it dead center. The problem as I see it is we as a country have confused entitlements with rights. Rights are supposed to be something that can't be taken away from us. The right to free speech. The right to carry. The right to vote. This does not mean that anybody owes us these things. We are not owed the podium from which to make that free speech. We are not owed the firearm that we are to carry. In my opinion, you are not owed anything somebody must give you. And especially if that gift must first originate with somebody else. The right to healthcare, which isn't really a basic, published right, but OK, is not the same as a right to free healthcare. The right to be able to succeed in this country is not the same and the right to succeed at any and all costs, at the expense of others. Until we learn to differentiate between rights and entitlements, you're right, at our core, we're in trouble.
Jason Brooks October 20, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Thanks to each of you for the comments. I'm glad the point came across as I intended; sometimes, you just never know how people will take things...

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