Reality of the American material dream

Ensuring Socio-economic Justice

Tahir Mustafa

Rabi' al-Thani 16, 1431 2010-04-01

Special Reports

by Tahir Mustafa (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 2, Rabi' al-Thani, 1431)

America’s material-driven lifestyle has finally caught up with it. The US is not only going bankrupt but many of its youth — its future — are going nuts because of the pressures of life. Five times as many high school and college students are dealing with anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses as youth of the same age who were studied in the Great Depression era, according to a study released last January. While no direct or definitive correlation has been established, a number of health professionals speculate that a popular culture increasingly focused on the external — wealth, looks, lifestyle and status based on job, size of one’s house, and the type of car one drives — has contributed to the increase in mental health problems. It is the same lifestyle the US is pushing in other societies, especially Muslim ones, that unless checked, will lead to the same disastrous consequences that youth in the US face.

These are not allegations made by America-haters or people who “hate America’s freedoms”, in the infamous words of George Bush. Led by Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University and the study’s lead author, researchers at five universities analyzed the responses of 77,576 high school or college students who, from 1938 through 2007, took the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, or MMPI. The study found that five times as many students in 2007 surpassed thresholds in one or more mental health categories, compared with those who did so in 1938. The results are to be published in the Clinical Psychology Review.

In some categories, the increase was even greater — with six times as many scoring high in two areas:

1. hypomania: a measure of anxiety and unrealistic optimism

(from 5% of students in 1938 to 31% in 2007);

2. depression: (from 1% to 6%).

Professor Twenge suggests that the most recent study numbers may even be under-reported because many students taking antidepressants and other psychotropic medications that help alleviate symptoms the survey asked about, may not have reported them. The study also showed increases in “psychopathic deviation,” which is loosely related to psychopathic behaviour in a milder form. It is defined as having trouble with authority and feeling as though the rules don’t apply to you. The percentage of young people who scored high in this category increased from 5% in 1938 to 24% in 2007. American youth are not the only ones suffering from such mental disorder. This disease is widespread in the US. American elites, especially Zionist neo-cons and their allies, believe they are above the law and that the world was created for their benefit alone. Others must do as they are told. It might be worth doing a study of the US neo-cons to examine their mental health. The results will certainly be fascinating.

Twenge is not new to such study. In 2006, she documented the influence of pop culture pressures on young people’s mental health in her book, Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before. Several studies also have confirmed the growing interest in being rich, with 77% of those questioned for UCLA’s 2008 national survey of college freshmen saying it was “essential” or “very important” to be financially well off. In the US, virtually every college student wants to be the next Bill Gates. While nobody likes to be poor, the Americans’ obsession with being rich is driven by the artificially imposed lifestyle in which there is relentless propaganda to buy more, and to acquire a more expensive car or house. These are equated with bringing happiness but for the vast majority it remains elusive. In fact, repeated studies have shown that material acquisitions bring only short-term happiness and long-term pain. Media propaganda by the corporate elites for their products make people feel inadequate directing them to “fix it” by buying more.

Helga Dittmar, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Brighton in England, calls “compulsive buying” an addiction that we all indulge in occasionally but especially the super-rich that consider it as “entertainment”. She says, like other addictions, it carries very serious consequences. “It can lead to severe financial debt, breakdown of relationships and families, and impairment at work and at home.” Dr David G. Myers, Hope College psychologist, noted “Our becoming much better off over the last four decades has not been accompanied by one iota of increased subjective well-being,” (American Psychologist, Vol. 55, No.1). Happiness levels in most Western countries such as Denmark have remained virtually the same despite income levels increasing considerably over the last 50 years.

Pursuit of materialism has had another negative effect: divorce rates in most Western societies have skyrocketed. In the US for instance, marriage is far less common with many people preferring to live in what is called common law relationship. Ignoring its negative consequences for women that must bear the burden of separation and looking after children, in the unlikely event of couples getting married, divorce rates now touch 45% and in states like California, it is more than 60%. Single parenthood has become acceptable, even celebrated without taking into account its negative consequences, especially for women. For instance, US Justice Department statistics reveal that more than 73% of people in US prisons are from broken families — single parents, often mothers.

Those chasing the “American Dream”, meaning acquiring more and more wealth, should pause and consider whether people in the US are any happier than they are in other societies. “Affluenza”, the word coined by sociologists to describe the tendency to always want what you do not have and to be someone you are not (Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, or whatever) leads to increase in violence, depression, youth suicides and drug abuse, and is usually accompanied by mental illnesses. True happiness comes with the dhikr of Allah (swt) “Verily, in the conscientizing of Allah do hearts find contentment” (13:28).

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