What’s the idea of “American”? We grow up with these notions of certain things being firmly American: apple pie, baseball, rock ‘n roll, the protestant work ethic, cars, the American Dream. Sometimes I wonder where it all comes from and why these pressures continue to mount on us today. When the first colonies were settled and people were trying to carve out their existence in the face of harsh weather, few supplies, and a native people who wanted to remain native, did those colonists ever look forward and wonder what life would be like on this continent in several hundred years? Did they realize how much of the land would be swallowed up and consumed with concrete? Did they realize that the people inhabiting the land would continue to carry on many of the ethics they started with?
Americans are known for their resourcefulness. The original colonists had to land on an unwelcoming beach and set up camp. They had to make do with what they had. Throughout the ages Americans have continued to be resourceful, making something functional out of available materials. It happened with the making of the Atomic bomb, and the great success of NASA in the sixties was based on this resourcefulness. It’s even glorified in the movie Apollo 13 when the engineers at NASA had to construct a new filter system using only the materials aboard the Apollo spacecraft.
Another American ideal is this American Dream. It’s kind of this loose idea of being able to make things better. It’s the idea that we have things better than our parents, and our children will have things even better than we will; upward mobility. I always wondered how such an upward spiral could continue indefinitely. The American Dream is this idea that if you want something, you can have it. It’s coupled with the protestant work ethic. Part of it involves having your own family, a wife, 2.3 kids, a dog, and a house with a white picket fence. I wonder how much of that has eroded away today. I’m not interested in a house with a white picket fence. Being successful and earning more that my parents did doesn’t entice me. I wonder if that’s what drives others in my generation. Some parts of the Dream continue, others linger. I wonder what will become of the ideal of a family. Can it survive this time of 50% divorce rates?
There are certain qualities that are intrinsically American. A swelling head of pride often exists around this country, and it’s humbling to think about what makes America America. It’s the land of opportunity, a land where all of us have come from somewhere else. Yet somehow a nationalistic pride develops and we somehow think we’re better than everyone else. We’re somehow better than other Americans. Racism seeps in. Or maybe it was there to begin with.
What I can’t help but ask is where will America be in another few hundred years? Will we have raped this poor wilderness into oblivion, the natural environment degraded to a point of loss? Will our love affair with the automobile and speed collide with the rising oil prices and lack of resources? What about the family? Will it still exist? Will Americans continue to be known for the resourcefulness and work ethic? Or will it all collapse. Will the American Dream become an American Nightmare? You can’t really wonder about where you’ll go unless you know where you’ve been.