[Excerpt] “It’s called the American Dream,” George Carlin lamented shortly before his death, “because you have to be asleep to believe it.” Too bad for the rest of us that George and his signature satire haven’t been around for the wake-up call of the current market meltdown. After all, George Carlin knew something about the dangers of addiction from first hand experience. He understood earlier than most that the debt fueled consumptive frenzy that has gripped the American psyche for the past two decades was a nightmare in the making—a seductive, twisted and commercially conjured version of the American Dream that now threatens our environmental, individual and civic health.
The United States is the quintessential trading nation and for the past quarter century we have worshiped the “free” market as an ideology rather than for what it is—a natural product of human social evolution and a set of economic tools with which to construct a just and equitable society. Under the spell of this ideology and the false promise of instant riches the America’s immigrant values of thrift, prudence and community concern—traditionally the foundation of the Dream—have been hijacked by an all-consuming self-interest. The astonishing appetite of the American consumer now determines some seventy percent of all economic activity in the US. And yet in this land of opportunity and material comfort—where we enjoy the 12-inch dinner plate, the 32-ounce soda, and the 64-inch TV screen—more and more citizens feel time starved, overworked and burdened by debt. Epidemic rates of obesity, anxiety, depression and family dysfunction are accepted as the norm.
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