Discuss culture, living, traveling, relocating, dating or anything related to North America. For those looking to relocate within the US or Canada, discuss your experiences and pros/cons of each domestic region.
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The American Dream
What kind of place is America in 2011? Sadly, it is one giant sea of conformity. If you traveled across the United States 40 or 50 years ago, you would encounter a vast array of cultures and you would meet a wonderful mix of people. But today America is slowly but surely becoming standardized. It seems like wherever you go you will find a Wal-Mart and a McDonaldâ€™s. Thanks to Hollywood and the mass media, people all over the country dress the same and look the same and talk the same. Sure there are various subcultures out there, but even many of those subcultures are virtually the same on one coast as they are on the other. The things that gave flavor to our local communities are dying off in favor of greater conformity and greater profit. Today, most retail stores and most restaurants are corporate owned. Most small businesses that attempt to go up against the Wal-Marts, the Targets, the Burger Kings or the Home Depots of the world have already been stomped out of existence or are in the process of being stomped out of existence. Eventually, if we are not careful, corporate conformity is going to dominate everything from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Some may view this as â€œprogressâ€, but is this really what the American Dream is supposed to be all about? Is this really the â€œAmericaâ€ that we want to pass down to future generations?
Our society has become so homogenized that we donâ€™t really question it anymore. We all watch American Idol, we all buy the same boring looking cars we see advertised on television and we all buy the same mass-produced corporate products down at Costco.
For many Americans, doing something â€œexoticâ€ means going out to Applebeeâ€™s on Friday night.
If you are under 40 years of age and you have never been out of the country you should really make it a point to do that. Today there are millions upon millions of young Americans that have no idea what â€œanother cultureâ€ even looks like. All they know is how America does things and they have been taught that the American way of doing things is always the best.
Sadly, sometimes we think our way is so superior that it should be forced upon the rest of the world.
When this nation was founded, our founding fathers were extremely suspicious of large concentrations of power. Corporations did not dominate early America. Instead, millions of individuals and small businesses worked together to make this country great. Back in those days a â€œfamily storeâ€ could be started without fear that a corporate giant like Wal-Mart would come waltzing in to crush it.
When Wal-Marts started to spread across the United States, almost everyone loved them. The prices were lower, the selection was much greater and Wal-Mart brought jobs to the community.
When I would visit family or friends they would always excitedly talk about the new Wal-Mart that was going up somewhere nearby. They saw Wal-Mart as a sign of progress and something that would make their lives better.
Unfortunately, we now know that all of that corporate conformity comes at a very high price.
When Wal-Mart moves into a community, often dozens of local businesses canâ€™t compete and are forced to close.
Wal-Mart does bring jobs, but they are really crappy jobs. A very, very small percentage of Wal-Mart jobs will even come close to enabling someone to support a family.
But Wal-Mart is making a ton of money. So where does all of that money go?
It goes out of the local community and into the pockets of the Wal-Mart shareholders.
Wal-Mart is like a giant vacuum cleaner. It sucks the wealth out of our local communities and it transfers it into the hands of the very wealthy.
But donâ€™t all of the products sold at Wal-Mart support American businesses and American jobs?
Just go into a Wal-Mart some time and start picking up products. You will notice that the vast majority of them are made outside of the United States.
Americans love to buy stuff made in China. And the big corporations love that because they are more than happy to pay slave labor wages to workers in places like China and India.
But I donâ€™t want to just pick on Wal-Mart. The vast majority of our retail establishments are now owned by huge corporations. They all crush small businesses and they all suck wealth out of our local communities.
Most of us have enjoyed the â€œlow, low pricesâ€ that the mega-corporations have brought in, but as inflation has gone up faster than our wages, large numbers of Americans have had to go into debt in order to enjoy all of these cheap products.
Today, what the average American family owes is equivalent to 136% of what an average American family makes each year.
We have a national addiction to debt. To the corporations and the banks we are viewed as â€œconsumersâ€ and the goal is to drain as much money out of us as possible. They want us to be completely dependent on them so that we will be snared in the trap of â€œconsumerismâ€ forever.
The fact that corporations have become so dominant in our society is a huge reason why wealth has become so concentrated at the top. Today, the bottom 50 percent of all Americans own just 2.5% of the wealth. In a true capitalist society this would not happen because individuals and small businesses would be able to compete fairly in the marketplace and would be thriving.
But unfortunately, our system greatly favors giant corporations today. In fact, what we have in our country today is much more aptly called â€œcorporatismâ€ rather than â€œcapitalismâ€. The vast majority of Americans work for either a giant corporation or for the government. We even teach our children that they should go to college and study hard so that they can â€œget a jobâ€ rather than telling them that they should endeavor to â€œstart a businessâ€ someday.
If nothing changes, wealth and power will continue to become even more concentrated in the hands of the few. Meanwhile, America will just continue to become a giant sea of corporate conformity and a very boring place.
â€œAmerica 2011″ is not nearly as interesting as America was 50 years ago. We are becoming defined by our greedy corporate overlords. We just blindly conform and we let others do our thinking for us.
If our founding fathers could see us today, they would be absolutely horrified.
"The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and stoic philosopher, 121-180 A.D.
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I think there are 2 sides to this coin:
1. Yes, America has been and continues to be homogenized. Unfortunately, some of this mass culture makes past the US borders and the same trend, to a lessor extent is affecting the developed and much of the developing world. Thus, traveling across the US or overseas is not as exotic as it once was. Don't forget, the Internet has played a big role as well. Young people around the world exchange and share information. Everything kinda gets blended together into a generic mass youth culture.
2. However, if I had the choice of being born today or late 40s (right after WWII), I would probably chose the former. In the 50s, you could get into real trouble and have your life ruined for being suspected of being a communist or gay. The government covered up Vietnam. Thus, the powers that be were not necessarily more benevolent back then. At the personal level, I tend to get bored easy and people today have endless lifestyle choices, especially if they are financially secure. Back in the 50s, people all did watch the same things and listen to the same music. There just were not many choices. Blacks were separated from whites and had their own subculture which was pure and largely unexposed to larger society. In spite of what many say about government and drug companies conspiring to control us and kill us plus all the unhealthy food out there, the fact is, life quality can be much better if you have sufficient finances and use all the available resources. Life expectancy continues to rise both in the States and much of the foreign world. The growth in number of centenarians is growing exponentially and is expected to continue doing so. Cars are a lot better. Home entertainment much richer and more diverse. The air is cleaner. Infinite information has become available in every house for around a dollar a day. Today, we can store our photos, documents, spreadsheets, videos, etc., into one tiny box.
3. All-in-all, today's America (and world) is very different than that from half a century ago or so. In some ways, it is much worse. But in other ways, it is infinitely better. If time travel was possible the way geographic travel is, I would love to travel to the 40s/50s/60s etc. for a nice trip, but just a trip. I can't imagine life without today's convenience, entertainment, and infinite information.
Spot on article. When I was a teenager you could tell a lot about an American by the way he dressed, acted, by the bumperstickers on his car, etc. There was indeed a lot of individuality. Now, especially post-9/11, the U.S. has become the new USSR. Truth is not allowed to be spoken, only in whispers to carefully selected friends. The conformity is stifling and so is the general level of ignorance and intolerance. And a lot of misdirected anger and hatred is also just below the surface.
I grew up during the Cold War era. Back then there was no Internet (we used dial-up BBS), very limited cable TV selections, and you were either anti-communist or a communist sympathizer/traitor. People were far more engaged in world events back then because of the global struggle vs. the Soviet Bloc. US navy recruiters were known to use cheap sex in the Philippines as means of getting young men to sign up. The national guard service tried to recruit me on multiple occasions. ;p
In the 1980s we shopped at Gemco, Fedco, K-Mart, and later Price Club. Anyone remember Skaags?
Today we shop at Target, Walmart/Sams Club, and Costco. The store names may have changed but it's pretty much still the same old stuff. Oh and, instead of communists, we have terrorists today.
My local Flea market has low low prices too. Tools there are cheap and its local family owned. People should wake up and choose places like that.
Yes many of the mom and pops are gone and they are gone because we all collectively chose it.
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