November 7, 2014

citizen | The American Dream in Organized Crime

Is it really November?  So much has happened this year that I couldn't even contain it in any way on this blog.  Since my last post I've become a very happily married woman (more details on the wedding and the actually being married soon, but in summary: it's the best)

But this post is actually about the American Dream.  I decided to subscribe to the NewYorker magazine way back at the start of medical school so that I would continue to have SOME input of information that did not involve medicine directly.  So I have been getting the magazine in the mail (and now on my ipad) for almost 6 years.  Each week, I look forward to seeing the art on the covers and to what stories are inside.

However, similar to my blogging, my reading of current events has really dropped off a steep cliff the past 6 months and there is a big stack of new yorkers sitting under our coffee table staring me down as I walk by every day.  I have been on a bit of a minimalist kick (also more on this soon) lately and was trying to get rid of papers and finally picked up this stack of magazines, fully expecting to just toss them right into the recycling bin.  But then I remembered all the reasons I love the newyorker, and now 4 hours later, thoughts spinning in my head about everything from what  makes a dancer to garbage collection in Egypt, I have some thoughts for us about the American Dream.

Reading an article by Gladwell about organized crime in America throughout the ages, he touches on this fascinating concept by Robert K Merton, a sociologist responsible for the term "self-fulfilling prophesy":  responses to the pressure American Society places on improvement, becoming better off in our society in every possible way than the preceding generation:

response 1: conformity, the most common, this is accepting both the goal of the American Dream, and the means to achieve it (work hard and you'll get far)

response 2: ritualism, reject the goal of the American Dream completely, but accept the means (working hard for its own good), Gladwell cites the Amish and Quakers as examples

response 3: rebellion:, reject both and do your own thing (think the hippi movement of the 60s, F society and F working hard)

response 4: innovation, ascribing to the goal, but not being able to reach it through commonly accepted means and therefore finding alternative means to reach the goal.  This is where Gladwell discusses organized crime fitting in to the picture.  Organized crime as a way to provide for future generations, because schooling and so-called white collar jobs with promotion are not readily available.  This is not a rejection of society, but working very hard - in a very different way - to join society's upper echelons.

As my new husband I figure out our next steps and our take on the American dream, these different ways of thinking about goals have piqued my interest.  I don't see us rejecting society and going to live in the woods, but some of our life goals are mostly for the ritualism - tending our garden, for example, with no real end goal, just an embracing of the means as something that gives us joy. Others we do completely rebel against - like commuting to work by car.  We reject the whole culture of car commuting (even though occasionally we are forced into it).  I like to think that in general, we are innovating our own way into a partnership of equals, two full-time working partners trying to create a home and family, setting some of our own rules as we go, but with the full intention to be purposeful, productive members of society.

Question:  What in your life is pure ritualism, what do you reject completely, what do you approach as an innovator? Do you wish you could make any changes to these approaches?

"the early settlers and founding fathers... ignored,
circumvented, or stretched the law when it stood in the way
of America's destiny and their own..."
- Daniel Bell, sociologist

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