I decided to reread The Great Gatsby. It is available to the public as its copyright ended this year so I was able to download it from Project Gutenberg. I haven’t read it since high school, and I must say I did not understand the book at all when I originally read it. At the age of 24, the book resonates with me in ways I don’t think I could have ever comprehended in high school. I feel like I am in the thick of things in trying to pursue the American Dream. The last line in the book hit me hard. “So we beat on, boats against the current, Borne back ceaselessly into the past.” I think that the craziest thing about the book is that I have the same dream that Gatsby had in his day of 1922. I have been trying very hard to achieve financial success and get the girl that I have always wanted. The world seems to tell a nice guy like myself (and most everyone else) that he can get the girl when he is wealthy and has achieved educational and financial success. Only then will you be living the American Dream. Before then your eating hot dogs and flipping burgers.
Some things have changed since the time that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby. For one thing, women’s rights and the culture around women have changed significantly. I won’t go into how it changes the American dream but I think it’s worth mentioning. Fitzgerald also has his characters make racist comments that make me cringe today. Although, I wonder if that has gotten any better over the years. Another significant change is the internet. It’s something That Fitzgerald probably never imagined. Yet, through all the change the basic idea of chasing the American Dream remains. I wonder when we will finally give it up if we ever do. Eventually, I think we should give it up in seeking better dreams.
In some ways, the American Dream is still pursued because we still want the comforts and the ease of life that can be achieved through hard work and dedication. Of course, that isn’t all that the American Dream is about. Gatsby was able to be a millionaire but his home was rather empty without the love of his life, Daisy.
We still look for the praise of our people. We want what our friends and celebrities want. We seek acceptance and appreciation from the world. We want to be the hero in our story; the person that everyone writes and talks about. The problem with hero stories is that they are hierarchical. Only a few people are praised instead of the collective whole. Fitzgerald argues that this praise is more or less given than earned and that the hero was always destined to be the hero. You are just born with your superpowers. Gatsby tries to build a reputation, but in the end, it fails. When he makes it in life his time has passed and the world he dreamed of being accepted in has moved on without him. I think Fitzgerald is telling us that no matter how hard we try if we are not already living the American Dream we never will.
The American Dream talks of a clean slate in which no one is better than anyone else. Everyone can, by their ambition and creative power, design for themselves the life they always wanted. The problem is that people never start as equals. I love America and the idea of the social contract. The only problem is that I wasn’t there when the contract was made, and there are people now that benefit from that contract more than I do. We need a place for new social contracts. Even then though, the contracts would never be to our satisfaction as someone always ends up inheriting things and benefiting where others don’t. Until mankind treats their son like everyone else we will always face inequality. Until we give up having friends we will have inequality. The fight for equality is to destroy the human experience. Competition is in our very nature. Human beings only want equality when they have less. In this way, the American Dream fails. One can never rise higher than what the foundation allows. It is a fallacy to want to be the best unless you already are in a position to be the best. One must simply learn to find enough to survive with what they have. The alternative is war and killing the people that have it better in life. I don’t find this to be necessary today, just as it wasn’t necessary when we took the land of the Native Americans. I only find war necessary when basic needs of life are not able to be met because of oppression.
There is a limit to the joys of comfort and ease. A point when life is so easy that you make it harder just to escape the boredom. When you wish you were in hell you can assuredly say you have arrived in paradise. That’s why it doesn’t matter to be at the top. What is the dream then if not to make it to the top?
To have a dream realized is to wake up and wonder why you dreamed it in the first place. None of it makes sense in the end because we never knew what the point of life was to begin with. Life is a chaotic experience driven by a persistent unexplainable need to exist. God only knows why we want to keep going. Whether God knows it or not doesn’t matter for humanity because it has never bothered to tell us. When a religion can explain our existence without the use of an afterlife I will follow it full-heartedly. In the meantime, I’m left to dream of things that I decided were meaningful in my capacity for wonder.
I didn’t begin to truly pursue my dream until I headed to college. When I left home I had a couple of thousand dollars to my name that I had earned in high school. My parents didn’t pay for college and by the time I was 23 they weren’t paying for anything. I have worked ever since I started high school. There is nothing wrong with this. It has helped me become the person that I am today, and I am proud of who I have become. The problem is when I look around me and see the millionaires of the world. I start to chase their dreams when they were never my dreams to have. My biggest dream in life will simply be to live a life of comfort and moderate success. It isn’t so much that I can’t become a millionaire. There is even a chance I could become a billionaire but when I got there I wouldn’t fit in, and it wouldn’t have been worth the effort. I don’t want to live a lifestyle of a billionaire. I might appreciate being in the millions if only to live my middle-class life through investments.
My people are the middle class. I will forever be annoyed with how superfluously the rich spend their money and their supercilious mannerisms to everyone around them. Yet, my mind plays tricks on me because if I was offered a billion dollars I would take it without a second thought. I think it’s because we care more about luxury and ease than we care about friendships. Relationships will always come second to our survival and ease of life. Yet, once we have an ease of life, we yearn for intimacy, and to feel connected with people. It isn’t found at the parties full of people though. It’s back on the curb of the sidewalk that you sat throwing rocks with your buddy before getting on the bus. One day when I make my millions I hope I still live my life the same and go to the pond to throw rocks with my son, or swing on the swingset with my partner. My dream has always been middle-class. I think that is why I take so well to the idea of minimalism. There comes a point when you don’t need anything more to be happy.
There is nothing wrong with being middle-class. The problem is wanting to be something more than we are. We need to be okay with who we are. I am not saying we can’t hope to improve and be the best we can be. I am saying that all the dreams you can imagine can’t possibly all be attained in reality. Eventually, you have to pick. In my case, I still want to be middle class even if I were to become rich because of the other dreams I can pursue since I am not devoting all my time to work. There is a certain kind of peace when you set goals consistent with the course of your life. Now I feel a sense of passion to get the work done because it can be done.
I don’t think that the difference between the middle class and the rich is the same as the difference between the poor and the middle class. Certain things need to be achievable for all and one of those is education. A lack of opportunity for education is not a part of poor class culture. Minimalism even in its extreme to merit an impoverished lifestyle should be a choice rather than a circumstance. A lack of opportunity for education is a disease that we need to eradicate. The same goes for the basic needs of shelter, food, and water. Those things have to be met before anyone can even have a dream no matter how minimalistic. After that, I think capitalism should step in and people should pursue their comforts through the effort that they want to put in. In many ways, capitalism creates the poor class and so it should have rules to stop it from doing that. The people in the amazon were just fine until capitalists took much of their resources leaving the natives desperate to survive. We must still take care of nature and we must aim to provide for the survival and sustainability of all life. Only then should we seek comforts. Otherwise, those comforts will sting with the pains of our fellowmen and groan with our old Earth. I don’t think this problem will ever be fixed until education is accessible to all. The rich don’t care about taking from others and making them impoverished until the circumstances of the poor affect them directly. I think the root of the problem is education. Education allows the poor to speak up and fight back. It even gives a voice for Earth. We should do all we can to provide a voice for the oppressed.
In the end, my dream is to reach independence through a minimalistic lifestyle. I hope to develop great friendships and intimate relationships along the way but ultimately I just want to love myself and develop the deepest relationships with myself that I can. When I have extra time I hope to elevate the poor and educate so that while we may not live a life of luxury we can all at least enjoy the fullness of happiness that life has to offer. To our very capacity to wonder. That’s my dream. What’s yours?