In America, it seems success is judged solely on our productivity and our net worth
Having a conversation about what one “does” in life (in America) always boils down to money. When talking to a stranger, a friend, a roommate, a lover, a brother, a sister, and even a child, what you do correlates to what you make doing it. American values at its finest. It’s America’s favorite show: Your Life as a Dollar Sign.
I have been asked many times, “what do you study” or what do you do?” At first, I was happy to give honest answers. “I study history and literature” and “I work odd jobs” were my answers. Now, it seems that these answers illicit the look of surprise or smiling contempt.
When I was asked by a fellow student about what I studied and what I did for money, the reaction in his eyes was what one would expect to see from a bad hot-sauce enema. It was an immediate widening of the eyes, followed by a patronizing grin. The kind of look a snotty relative would give after they figured out you didn’t believe in God. The reaction was followed by a solemn, “Oh, okay.” Condescension can be an art-form, especially when wrapped in subtlety.
Indeed, there is a wide mindset in America when it comes to “what you do.” In this country, your life only becomes valuable if “what you do” makes you lots of money. When people ask “what do you study”, they ask it to learn the types of jobs you seek. More often or not, judgement is passed on those who don’t engage in practical jobs which focus on either technical or monetary skill.
Writers, artists, musicians, and any non-business passion seekers are generally frowned upon. Your worth to America is based on your willingness to become a millionaire. You are always judged based on your monetary value, not your creative values. Some manage to break this mold and become successful. But again, success is judged in how much someone earns, not how good of a person they are or how beautiful their creativity can be.
Even those we call “successes” in the arts, are judged based on how much they sell and how much they get paid doing so. They are only a success based on the money and fame they earn, rather than the heart and intelligence of the art itself. America’s money culture corrupts every facet of life. Everything becomes a business deal.
Artists and gonzo personalities feel that their art is unappreciated. Many people unfortunately do not appreciate these things or understand them. Far too often America uses a Donald Trump instead of a David Foster Wallace as their scale for value. Too often, the American Dream is defined by your ability to be part of the machine, rather than your ability to live free.
We are always told to follow our passions, and chase our dreams. Yet, if these dreams do not fit into a practical money making machine, then you are deemed a failure. Success does not equal talent, but how much you can profit from said talent. Many of us have no talent and make huge profits anyway. The American Dream is twisted these days.
Everything is an “investment.” You are an investment, like notes in a bank account. The question arises; why does profit drive our value? When will there be a day when capital gain is merely an option, rather than the given rule? We need a cultural shift in America. They problem stems from what the established culture values, which generally surrounds a profit motive. Not everything should be judged by money. Sometimes, movements are important. We need a movement, not of markets, but of hearts and minds.
There is more to life than the dollar. Sometimes being rich in the mind is more essential than being rich in the wallet. The American Dream should be much more than making a buck.