American Myths

8 thoughts on “American Myths

  • September 4, 2005 at 5:00 pm

    Great essay. Thanks for linking to it. While I agree that it shows our hypocritical public persona as a nation, let’s never forget the scores of nameless, good people who are funding or volunteering aid–certainly that wasn’t the point of the article, but I would like to shout out to them as being examples of what America can be.

  • September 4, 2005 at 6:04 pm

    I agree, and your reminder is well-taken: the concluding paragraphs of Anne Rice’s NYT op-ed, where she indicts an uncaring America, seem to rather miss the mark, considering the unprecedented and massive outpouring of charity and aid from private citizens.

  • September 4, 2005 at 6:22 pm

    I agree with Joanna. I also disagree with Maria’s assessment of America’s lack of opportunity (I believe it was for a doctor or a president) for anyone who wasn’t born to someone already of this profession. That’s a gross and inaccurate oversimplification. I’ll concede that it’s obviously a more accessible path for those who were born to adults who were educated or were professionals, but it is by no means a requirement. Otherwise, the term FGCS would never have been coined.

  • September 4, 2005 at 8:02 pm

    In the comments, Jonathan Goodwin notes that the purpose of that remark was probably rhetorical amplification. I agree, but I somewhat disagree with his characterization of the remark as “bullshit,” for the very reasons Jonathan — and you, Michelle — point out: the popular American myth of the possibility of upward mobility for all is very far from the reality. I’m not saying that upward mobility doesn’t happen, and I think you and Jonathan are quite right on that count, Michelle. But the overwhelming majority of sociological evidence points to an increasing inequality of wealth in American society, and to a decreasing amount of upward social mobility. (The census data number-crunching that the folks at do is a good starting point for folks interested in these issues, and well worth the subscription price.) For that reason, I’m happy to grant Farrell her rhetorical amplification: while not literally true, I think it illuminates a larger, more important truth about the way Americans tell ourselves lies about mobility and stratification.

    And looking again at the comments thread over there, the quality of discourse seems to have plummeted: another unfortunately all-too-common characteristic of American discussions of socioeconomic class.

  • September 4, 2005 at 8:41 pm

    Yes, I noticed that the comment thread was punctuated with a few less than respectful exchanges.

    I understand your point abotu her rhetorical amplification of a problem that indeed does exist on some level, but I find myself still disagreeing with the distortion in order to make the argument that opportunity in the U.S. is a myth.

    Here’s what I think. It’s helpful for people to consider it on that level, to talk about the myth so that the problems can be put under the magnifying glass, dissected, discussed, and hopefully someday rectified in some small way, or a larger way. I also think that it’s harmful to send out messages that the opportunity to transcend one’s original social stratosphere is non-existent, that the teachings are all a lie, and that the supposed endless possibilities are no more.

    It’s not true and I see no real place for it in real life. But then again, that’s not real life. It’s discourse.

  • September 4, 2005 at 9:29 pm

    Gotcha. Tell me what you might think of characterizing our difference of opinion this way: you’re concerned that focusing the discussion on society’s structural inequalities can limit opportunities for individuals to achieve upward mobility via their own agency, while I’m concerned that focusing the discussion on individual agency can turn us away from remedying society’s structural inequalities that limit possibilities for upward mobility. In other words, we’re seeing the necessity for change in different places. Is that fair?

  • September 4, 2005 at 10:02 pm

    Absolutely fair. I tell my students when I think I know what they mean and throw it back at them, “don’t let me put words in your mouth,” but your words are quite apt, and I’ll take ’em.

    (Damn, why didn’t I say that…)

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