4 min read

The Contradiction Living in the Hearts of Americans

From the American Dream, we’ve descended into childish wishful thinking
Sculpture of a baby sitting on an upturned hand - wishful thinking is the province of children
When everyone feels they belong on a pedestal | Image What a baby!

Greetings fellow travelers!

Do you remember a time when we still encouraged individuals to reach for big goals? A time when we admired people who took outsized risks and became successful?

I do, and it wasn’t all that long ago.

It surprises me, therefore, now being back in the U.S. after 25 years away, to see a cancerous growth spreading. I see it in institutions such as universities, legacy media, and the government, and in youths marinating in propaganda masquerading as entertainment.

The cancer is this: we’re greedier than ever, but no longer want to pay the price of our desires. We expect to reap the rewards without having to make the sacrifices that were once understood to be required.

And worst of all, we’ve developed the belief we’re entitled to be protected from the consequences of our actions.

When our actions are divorced from consequences

Some mistakes are more consequential than others, but when did we start to question that our actions have predictable consequences?

  • Take out loans to pay for college, only to be told you have to pay the money back upon graduating? It’s unfair to require students to honor their commitments, especially when doing so might cramp their lifestyles.
  • Work for a company that expects you to show up in person from time to time? It’s unfair to demand work in exchange for a paycheck when you’re so much more productive listening to music at home while scrolling TikTok.
  • Buy a house you can’t afford by exaggerating your income and then defaulting on the payments? It’s unfair to let a greedy bank repossess your home whether or not you pay the mortgage.
  • Eat whatever you want while enjoying a sedentary lifestyle only to find yourself overweight, out of shape, and pre-diabetic a mere decade later? It’s unfair to shame people about their bodies as if they had any control over their health.
  • Build upon the unprecedented positive shift in Americans’ attitudes toward same-sex marriage by peddling a bewildering array of ever-proliferating gender categories? It’s unfair not to publicly harass, shame, and cancel anyone who dares to assault us by questioning this week’s pronouns.
  • Drive while texting and speeding through that red light because you were late picking up your kids? It’s unfair to blame you for that accident when the other person clearly took no steps to get out of your way.
  • Smoke weed all day and dull the edges with Oxy and booze? It’s unfair to criticize our lifestyle choices; this is all legal now, so that means it must be good for you, right?
  • Max out your credit cards by eating out and going to concerts, while keeping the Amazon delivery fleet engaged? It’s unfair to expect you to save anything for retirement when you’re scraping by paycheck to paycheck.

I could go on, but perhaps it’s best to let you continue the list with the examples you’ve observed in your own lives.

Sculpture of a house on a grassy lawn
Do you dream of your own four walls? | Image heartless capitalist

And for all of you who are angry, because I’m both stereotyping and over-generalizing, you’re right, too. Correct me in the comments, but read on to complete the lesson.

Daydreams distinguished from wishful thinking

One way to make progress in life is to envision a better future. A happy state you wish to work towards.

Daydreaming used well motivates us to continue in tough times.

I will contrast this with wishful thinking: merely wanting something without any regard to consequences or reality.

  • I want to get good grades, but I don’t want to study. Surely I deserve to be valedictorian.
  • I want to have a lot of money, but working for pay is hard. Surely I deserve to be rich.
  • I want a house, and car, and material possessions. Surely it’s unfair that others have the trappings of success while I do not.
  • I want to be happy, but I am consumed with resentment and envy. Surely if I just stamp my foot and demand it, all good things will come to me.

Wishful thinking’s ugly companion — blame

All this would be bad enough, but America today is even more depraved in separating actions from consequences. We do this by laying the blame for every bad outcome on someone else. We see all we don’t like in life and look anywhere but within for the reasons.

“Surely, it’s because the system is rigged against me. I’m being oppressed!”

I used to think Dean Wormer’s admonition to Flounder in Animal House was the worst rebuke an adult could deliver to a recalcitrant child:

Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.

Turns out Dean Wormer had the right idea, but didn’t complete the thought.

You really see results, my dears, when you add unrealistic, selfish, and resentful.

Every parent disciplining a mulish child knows the dilemma. It hurts us as much as it hurts you. But it hurts you much more when we save ourselves the pain of ignoring your childish, destructive behavior.

Thus, I trust you’ll understand when I say we truly wish for you all to be well, but you’re the only ones who can do it.

Be well.

If you think S&M is an improvement on M&Ms, then you’ll enjoy further truth-telling in this style because I love to share the pain. Subscribe to the free weekly Klugne newsletter here.