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Core Reflection Essay

1493 words - 6 pages

The traditional American Dream is rooted in the principles that every American should have the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Overtime, people began to focus their attention more on the pursuit of happiness and the ways Americans have been pursuing happiness has changed. The rise of big business in the nineteenth to twentieth century, started the shift towards Americans trying to gain happiness through material goods. From there, numerous factors such as psychology, political movements, the media, and technology have fueled this rapid development of a materialistic culture. Now, we live in a country were people do not work to provide the necessities of life, but ...view middle of the document...

Through various levels of social control, the Progressives tried to provide the working class a pathway to the middle class. By creating initiatives to impose middle class values on them, the Progressives were perpetuating the idea that to be happy you must not only have access to education, safe work environments, and entertainment, but also own material things to serve as a symbol of your social economic status.1 This push for people to conform to the social norms and keep up with everyone else put further emphasis on the idea that acquiring more and more things will make you happy. This idea was only further perpetuated by two men whose ideas were a part of shaping the debates of the twentieth century.
The work of Charles Darwin and Karl Marx provides a new layer of understanding about the reconstruction of this component of the American Dream. Darwin’s theory of “natural selection” explains that all life, human or animal, survive by means of physical process alone. This concept then led to another idea known as Social Darwinism which is the idea that certain social groups are above others. These ideas caused Americans to have a more materialistic view of human life. Marx, who was greatly influenced by Darwin, developed the theory of dialectical materialism. His theory is that political and historical events result from conflict between social forces and are interpretable as a cycle of struggles. Marx attributes this conflict to peoples material needs. Darwin and Marx are especially important as they influenced B.F. Skinner, a psychologist who developed the idea of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is the changing of behavior by the use of reinforcement which is given after the desired response. He developed this idea from the work of Ivan Pavlov who developed the idea of classical conditioning. This is where one takes an instinctual process and associates it with something else. Although these scientists and their theories seem irrelevant to the understanding of this new construction of the American dream, they have actually played a critical role in the consumer culture that has developed and exists today. For in the 1920s, a psychologist brought these conditioning ideas to Madison Avenue so that they could be incorporated into media and advertising. Now, big business could market their products in a way that they believed would manipulate or control their customers.2
In the 1950’s, there is a both a baby boom and a consumer boom. At this time the economy is growing steadily, suburbia is expanding, and the middle class has enlarged greatly. New developments in technology occurred, and now there were a variety of household appliances, toys, and televisions to be had. As the television replaced radio, Americans were being exposed to a new slue of advertisements and the constant emphasis on middle class values. People were being taught to enjoy the middle class value and there was a change from people saving to spending.3...

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