In about a month My Not So Humble Wife and I will be taking a big step and moving into our own place. I know this doesn’t sound like much, but we’ve been living with our current roommates (who are fantastic guys) for the better part of a decade now, and we have never lived on our own together (does that make any sense?). At any rate, it will be a big change for us, but a good one, and one I feel ready for, despite the fact that I’ve never lived without a roommate and/or fewer than three family members at once.
While I was talking about it with a friend at lunch the other day, I realized why I’m so excited about this move. What it really comes down to is that we’re finally going to capture a little slice of the American Dream. Sure we won’t own our own home, but I think the American Dream is more basic than that, more primal. I think it all comes down to autonomy.
When you go all the way back to the beginning, the American Dream was about owning land. Even if it was just a small piece of land, it was still yours, to do with as you please, and no lord or master to tell you otherwise. Coming out of an age of feudalism and many countries that still operated along socioeconomic systems that were barely removed from feudalism despite the Black Death, this was no small thing; it was everything. It was, quite literally, the American Dream.
As the country became more urbanized and people moved into the cities, owning your own business became the new aspiration. But why? More often than not you would have to work the same long hours for little money, and the only difference from being a laborer was that you couldn’t just pick up in the middle of the night and leave if things went sideways. But what you did have was self-determination. You were your own boss. In an age when the bosses made all the rules, this was no small thing; it was everything. It was, quite literally, the American Dream.
Fast forward a ways to when the cities started pushing out into the suburbs. The single family home, the fenced yard, the 2.5 kids and a car in the garage (the car, not the kids), all of this was what people longed for. Even if it meant you had to be away from home longer because you had a commute, and there was always the terrible traffic to consider, and maybe you didn’t get to know your neighbors as well, it was all worth it in the end. Why? Because your space was yours. Every house a castle, and every man a king. In a time when radio and television were bringing the world into your living room, this was no small thing; it was everything. It was, quite literally, the American Dream.
And so it goes. America has always been a culture that values the individual. There are other countries, like Japan, that have cultures prioritizing the community over the individual, and those are fine cultures, but they are not ours. The American Dream is and always has been about self-reliance, self-ownership, and self-discovery. Autonomy is at the heart of who we are, what we believe, and what we desire, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Even when we form, join, or participate in communities, it is as individuals coming together, not communities deigning to acknowledge the individual from time to time.
And so at last we will be starting down the road of that American Dream, together.