Conclusion for the American Dream

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Conclusion for the American Dream

This essay will provide a concluding analysis of the concept of the American Dream. It will discuss the evolving nature of this dream, its attainability in contemporary society, and how it reflects socio-economic changes. The piece will explore whether the American Dream still holds relevance today and how it varies across different demographics. At PapersOwl too, you can discover numerous free essay illustrations related to American Dream.

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‘The American Dream’ is the motto famous across the world which has brought people of all backgrounds to the United States in hopes of gaining their stake in this perpetuated American custom. The successes of the few who have worked hard, bought a house with a white picket fence, raised a family, and saved enough for retirement have always been advertised heavily ahead of other stories. What about those who have worked hard but have fallen short of achieving anything even close to resembling the American Dream? We hear those stories too, however, they are most often in the form of arrest reports and crime logs.

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The truth is, the American Dream is not only responsible for the fantastic success stories we love to reference, but it may also be liable for the incredible amount of crime the U.S. encounters annually. Steve Messner, a distinguished sociologist with the University at Albany, and Richard Rosenfeld, a seasoned criminologist at the University of Missouri, believe that America’s own pipedream is why the United States has such a higher crime rate than other similar nations.

What happens when you promise people everything, but give them very little? People become frustrated, angry, and stressed – they become strained! First introduced in 1938 by Robert Merton, anomie theory indirectly identified the ‘American Dream’ as the cause of crime in America by claiming “societies that place a high relative emphasis on goals (like monetary success) and a low relative emphasis on the norms or rules for goal achievement have higher crime rates”. While his theory was well received and certainly encompassed the vast majority of crime in the U.S., it lacked a certain depth. Building off of Merton, Messner and Rosenfeld directly attacked the ‘American Dream’ and continued further to show why exactly the U.S. is unlike other societies. Messner and Rosenfeld coauthor Crime and the American Dream, a book which attempts to provide a sociological explanation for crime in the U.S. by approaching the issue at the macro level.

The authors dive deep into American culture as well as its high-profile economy to make conclusions which apply to virtually all Americans. One of the major reasons the authors’ theory, institutional-anomie theory (IAT), has been so well-received is because of its unanimous application to all people in the United States. Because of its specificity towards the innate culture of the United States, this theory is not fully applicable elsewhere in the world. The crime rate within the United States has long been examined by professionals in various fields because of its uniquely high rates and trends. More specifically, many of attempted to uncover why crime in the United States is so much more significant than in other similar societies around the world. Messner and Rosenfeld attempt to identify this distinction and subsequently place focus on the innate, capitalistic culture of the United States as well as the economic dependence engrained in virtually all aspects of the society.

Their theory can be broken into two parts: the American Dream culture and the economic dependence of institutional structures in the United States. Before anything, the authors make it a point to identify and define “the American Dream as a commitment to the goal of material success, to be pursued by everyone in society, under conditions of open, individual competition”. It is important to note that the American Dream is forced upon everyone. They hypothesize that “the American Dream itself exerts pressures toward crime by fostering an anomic cultural environment, an environment in which people are encouraged to adopt an ‘anything goes’ mentality in the pursuit of personal goals that are often inherently elusive”. The perpetuated ‘you can accomplish anything if you work hard enough’ mentality that the United States feeds its people ultimately fails to acknowledge that the success rate of self-made, hardworking people is like a single drop in an ocean. However, the population which this theory is focused upon are those who have embraced the dream and fallen short.

Not only have some of these people fallen short, but many of taken it so seriously that they would do anything to achieve it. It is not necessarily their own fault though; American culture “encourages an exaggerated emphasis on monetary achievements while devaluing alternative criteria of success; it promotes a preoccupation with the realization of goals while deemphasizing the importance of the ways in which the goals are pursued”. They go on to further identify four distinctive values which comprise the American Dream: achievement, individualism, universalism, and the fetishism of money/materialism. In short, these four values combine to exert an incredible amount of pressure amongst individuals. The achievement orientation lays the foundation for the American dream by encouraging people to make something of themselves, to set goals, and to strive to reach them.

The authors note that the difference between the United States and other societies lies within an extreme competitive nature which is not seen elsewhere. Furthermore, “the failure to achieve readily equates with a failure to make any meaningful contribution to society at all”. Next, the individualistic aspect of the American Dream prescribes that everyone is on their own. Teamwork is discouraged and any shared efforts are considered falsely successful. The universalism of the American Dream is what really places an extraordinary amount of pressure on individuals. It is applied uniformly across everyone with no ability to ‘opt-out’. Finally, most significant to the United States, is the fetishism of money and value placed on materials. They identify money and the value of objects as the metric which everything is measured – especially ‘success’. One of the most important findings the authors present is that monetary success is inherently open-ended; it is never-ending; there is no final stopping point.

The other major half of Messner and Rosenfelds IAT is that “the anomic pressures of the American Dream are nourished and sustained by a distinctive institutional balance of power dominated by the economy”. In essence, they believe the social institutions responsible for controlling human behavior are not only interdependent, but also are all dominated by the economy. The four main institutions the authors discuss as being most important are: the political system, the family, the education system, and the economy. The economic dependence of the other three institutions “help create and sustain a social structure incapable of restraining criminogenic cultural pressures” (BOOK). For example, a poor, inner-city school does not have the resources needed to teach kids the skills they need to succeed. Or, the single mother who works two jobs is not able to spend enough time with their child in order to teach them acceptable behavior and punish deviant behavior. The failure of these basic institutions is due to the economic dominance unique to American society.

The result is a devaluation of noneconomic institutional functions and roles, a forced accommodation to economic requirements by other institutions, and the penetration of economic norms into other institutional domains. It stands that the baseline assumption of Messner and Rosenfelds IAT is that all people within the United States are pushed (both directly and indirectly) to achieve as much monetary success as possible with little regards on how to do so. To further convolute the acceptable ways of achieving success, the institutions responsible for regulating behavior are servient to the economy. The result is the formulation of “wants and desires that are difficult, if not impossible, to satisfy within the confines of legally permissible behavior”. To help illustrate their theory, the authors draw data from “international statistics on two of the most serious types of conventional crime: homicide and robbery”, and describe “the extent of white-collar crime in the United States”. They spend the majority of Chapter 2 providing figures which show the United States at the top of the leaderboard in reference to various felony crimes as compared to other similar, advanced nations.

Although they do a great job of providing evidence and examples of crime in the United States, very little of what they provide is directly related to the theory they propose. For example, the authors use an example of a Japanese exchange student who was (mistakenly) shot and killed in the United States. They point out that the Japanese people were appalled such an event took place based on the circumstances surrounding the homicide. They state, “an adequate explanation of gun-related violence must account for those qualities of the cultural ‘rules’ that make Americans unusually willing to deploy the means of final resort in dealing with perceived threats and interpersonal disputes”. Though this point certainly points out a cultural difference, it does very little to connect the major points in their theory. They continually push that “violent crime in the United States is more likely to assume a deadly form”, but really fail to make any connections. While their points may hold some substance in other discussions, they do not provide any actual evidence supporting their own theory.

We cannot deny that the United States’ social structure is distinguished from other advanced nations, however, we also cannot conclude that it is the best explanation for crime based off the data the authors provide. Furthermore, the majority of their evidence and examples are derived from inner-city, poor cities which have always had higher-than-average crime rates. These examples do little to explain crime in the rest of the United States. Under the heading “The Struggle for Institutional Control”, Messner and Rosenfeld finally attempt to correlate weak social institutions with higher crime rates – albeit briefly and rather weakly. One might suggest that their discussion surrounding failing social structures is comparable to the discussion of ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg’. It is difficult to determine which they argue results in the other: crime or weakened social institutions. Ultimately, we must acknowledge that Messner and Rosenfeld do not necessarily provide any specific connections which prove their theory. Instead, much of their discussion is simply that – a discussion.

Much of the data and conclusions they make are assumptions. Although, where they lack in quantitative evidence, they make up in innovation and complexity. What criticisms and praise do you have for the book? Does the work raise important questions? Is it inspirational and of special importance, is it potentially heuristic? One of the major criticisms of Crime and the American Dream is that there are very few, if any, reliable methods to test Institutional Anomie Theory. To test this theory, one would need to be able to quantitatively measure how much a person values monetary success. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide a concrete value to a person’s feelings or thoughts. The majority of data which the authors utilize are qualitative in nature.

Qualitative data helps to prove the extent of crime in the United States, however, it does not necessarily prove any connection between crime and the American Dream or between crime and an institutional structure depending on the economy. Overall, their book is explorative in nature and does little to prove their theory. Though, this does not mean that their theory holds no weight and should be disregarded. “information regarding criminal intent is not usually available from the data sources cited. Without more direct measures of American willingness to use deadly force while controlling for factors such as greater availability of firearms, this argument is not convincing.” CHANGE Assuming you’d like to write a book on the same or similar topic, what would you do differently in terms of material, analysis, content arrangement, format, etc.? 

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Conclusion For The American Dream. (2022, Mar 31). Retrieved from