the european dream
February 8, 2010, 7:32 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

The American dream is only a dream after all.  I had a suspicion.  There were so many red flags chief among them grandiloquence, bombast:  if we keep telling ourselves we’re the best, then we’re the best.  Peddlers of the big lie everywhere:  that to tell monstrous falsehoods will breed credulity.

I stepped off the boat (actually it was a plane) over 12 years ago.  My first reactions were that it seemed … communist, incredibly.  I’ve never heard anyone else who has moved to the US describe it that way, but I hold firmly to the description.  Streets and buildings were shabby, shops forlorn, people up to their necks in groupthink speaking in clipped and thuggish phrases, options that initially seemed abundant proved narrow and restrictive, city centers were abandoned and shuttered on the weekends and evenings, a general joylessness pervaded, the design of products and streets and consumer goods was utilitarian at best.  No babushkas or bread lines but pretty much everything else you wouldn’t expect if you watch a sitcom or a hollywood movie.

Here is an excerpt from a review of Jeremy Rifkin’s book The European Dream written over six years ago.  Look at that list of quality of life indicators that Europeans enjoy:  longer life, less poverty, less crime, less suburbs, longer vacations, shorter commutes!  Why?  I must be policy and policy comes from ideas, so their ideas of living must be very different than ours.

I have written posts about the difference between continental and Anglo attitudes to living based on the writing of the English philosopher Simon Critchley.  (Essentially, the continental, or European, tradition is to use wisdom to look for better ways of living; and the Anglo way to merely search for and implement functional solutions.)  I think this is why Europe enjoys a better standard of living than us:  they use wisdom to secure a good life, we use technique to get ahead.

Everyone is talking about what we need to dig ourselves out of the messes we’re in.  I say we need good leaders.  I say we smoke out the ones who look merely for short term fixes, and replace them with ones who have broad and bold and daring visions of good living.  Either that or lobby the government for easy options for emigration.

Here is the excerpt:

The European Union’s GDP now rivals the United States’, making it the largest economy in the world. The EU is already the world’s leading exporter and largest internal trading market. Moreover, much of Europe enjoys a longer life span and greater literacy, and has less poverty and crime, less blight and sprawl, longer vacations, and shorter commutes to work than we do in the United States. When one considers what makes a people great and what constitutes a better way of life, observes Rifkin, Europe is beginning to surpass America.

More important, Europe has become a giant laboratory for rethinking humanity’s future. In many respects, the European Dream is the mirror opposite of the American Dream. While the American Dream emphasizes unrestrained economic growth, personal wealth, and the pursuit of individual self-interest, the European Dream focuses more on sustainable development, quality of life, and the nurturing of community.

We Americans live (and die) by the work ethic and the dictates of efficiency. Europeans place more of a premium on leisure and even idleness. America has always seen itself as a great melting pot. Europeans, instead, prefer to preserve their rich multicultural diversity. We believe in maintaining an unrivaled military presence in the world. Europeans, by contrast, emphasize cooperation and consensus over go-it-alone approaches to foreign policy.

All of this does not suggest that Europe has suddenly become a utopia. Its problems, Rifkin cautions, are complex and its weaknesses are glaringly transparent. And, of course, Europeans’ high-mindedness is often riddled with hypocrisy. The point, however, is not whether Europeans are living up to the dream they have for themselves. We have never fully lived up to the American Dream. Rather, what’s crucial, notes Rifkin, is that Europe is articulating a bold new vision for the future of humanity that differs in many of its most fundamental aspects from America’s.

–Jeremy Rifkin, The European Dream

author:  Jeremy Rifkin

Simon Critchley
book:  The European Dream, Rifkin

Continental Philosophy, Critchley
organization:  The Foundation on Economic Trends