A friend of a friend, who is studying art, needed to interview a professional artist for a class. I technically qualify, so I was happy to help.
One question was not at all about art, but rather about America. The student in question is Finnish, and asked me this: When asked about job opportunities in America, an american university professor who teaches graphic design in the UK mentioned the "american dream". He said that it is a common belief, that everyone is the architect of his own fortune and if you do not succeed you're just lazy. However, according to him, in reality most of your study opportunities and career success are tied on how much money you have. What are your thoughts on this?
This is what I wrote:Wow, that's a big question. How long do you have?
I live in a liberal part of the U.S. Here in the state of Washington, we just voted to legalize gay marriage and marijuana. Culturally this is a VERY different place than, say, Texas or Alabama.
I would say the notion you're describing is a core belief of American conservatism. A conservative relative of mine has repeatedly put it to me in pretty much exactly that way: "in America, if you work hard, you get ahead." It's not true at all, of course. We have terrible income inequality and not a lot of class mobility. I grew up comfortably middle-class and have had the luxury of doing what I want to do with my life as a result. Had I been born into poverty, I would, statistically speaking, most likely still be poor, and I would never have had the opportunity to pursue a dream the way I have. To me, that's scandalous. If it were up to me America would have a much better safety net, and thereby enable people to take risks and chase dreams without worrying that they might starve to death.
American conservatives like to claim they speak for America as a whole, but they're wrong, as we saw in the last election, in which conservative politicians and ideas got clobbered. Mitt Romney basically ran his presidential campaign on a version of the "everyone is the architect of his own fortune" line, and he lost badly to the first president ever to successfully pass some form of near-universal health care. I take that as an encouraging sign about where the country might be headed.
But it's always a fight against the rich assholes who want to tear up the social contract, and the gullible rubes who can't see through their smokescreen talk about "freedom."
(It's worth noting that American racial politics are mixed up in all this. "Lazy" is often code for "black." White southerners were all for an expansive social safety net until black people got legally guaranteed equal rights in the 60s, at which point they became terrified that "those people" were a bunch of lazy moochers who would take advantage of the system. Modern conservatives mostly deny that this is still what's going on, but look how deranged they are by the fact that the rest of us twice elected a black president.)