Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The American Mystique

Betty Friedan, in her 1960's classic _The Feminine Mystique_, describes a problem by which women would not speak of "the problem that has no name." Women, Friedan found, had all the modern comforts of home- the washing machine, the floor waxer, the white picket fence, and yet they were unhappy. "Is this all?" they asked. In 2010 America, we might speak of an American Mystique, which in no way demeans the still prevalent Feminine Mystique but expands her core concept.

There are many ranks of happiness and yet the United States never breaks the Top 10. This is despite the fact that we consume most of the world's resources, have the largest economy on Earth, are in fact the most secure nation from foreign threat, and seldom go hungry, never without clothes, and very few of us go without homes (though a few too many still frankly but that is a post for another day).

We live in a world in which we are personally miserable, and yet we are told that we are happy, told that we should be happy. Just as Friedan found with women, if we are unhappy we think that something must be wrong with us. We frequently hear how heavily medicated we are as a society, and yet we think of this as a simple hormone or chemical imbalance- a medical illness. We do not admit to our friends that we are unhappy unless it is in a medical sense. We dare not consider that this is a social illness, a sickness in our society, because the ramifications of that might be too grave, might require too much action on our parts.

We consume billions of dollars worth of legal drugs (Prozac, lithium, Viagra, etc.) and blood-covered illegal ones (cocaine, marijuana, crystal meth, crack etc). Yet, we are still unhappy. We have Targets and Wal-Marts, untold wealth, and yet we are unhappy. We have one car per person, one cell phone per person and yet we are miserable. We are the most religious industrialized nation on Earth with the highest levels of church attendance in the "First World," and yet we are miserable. There is something wrong in America today, and just as women had to come out to the streets to declare themselves feminists to begin to save themselves from the spiritual death imposed by "society," so too must we come out as Americanists to save ourselves from spiritual death. This is not patriotism. This is love for our ourselves. This is the Philos, the Brotherly Love, which motivated the founding of my city- Philadelphia, a city which demonstrates how clearly our society has gone awry.

Once we become better and happier people, we can actually be better citizens in the world, citizens who help others to happiness rather than, as we often do, helping them into more misery- as we have done in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Haiti, Colombia, etc. We cannot impose happiness anymore than we can impose freedom and yet we try to? Why? Deep down we act out because we can't act in. We live and feel powerless, miserable despite being told we have it all, despite being told we live in "the greatest nation on Earth," the "freest nation Earth." We must save ourselves from spiritual death or else we will surely face true death, of our spirit, of our nation, of ourselves.