Americans for generations have been raised with the mantra that we
can grow up to be anything we want to be, achieve anything we can
imagine. How many of us believe the message? Dream big. It is a
fundamental ideology of unbounded opportunity underscoring our
drive to succeed. Yet for many Americans the reality, no matter how
hard they try, is far from the visions of glory, the unattainable
dream of rags to riches that leaves them feeling like failures.
To understand this ideology and its effect on society, Lawrence
E. Mitchell instructs us to look at the myth of individualism that
pervades our laws, our social thought, our institutions, and our
philosophies. It is the touchstone of our national debates on
welfare reform, salary equity, FDA regulations, and a criminal
defendant's right to a fair trial-and it even infiltrates our
private lives every time we argue about the division of household
chores or television time. In Stacked Deck, Mitchell shows us how
this artificial reality buries the way we truly live.
Mitchell uses examples drawn from history, politics, law, and
culture to show how our singular concern with fairness has
diminished our sense of vulnerability, so that our ideas of
justice, equality, and efficiency are modeled on the capabilities
of the strongest in society. Large scale examples-such as blue
collar layoffs and corporate downsizing, natural disasters and
catastrophic illnesses-illustrate the rickety bridge between
comfort and disaster. We must be reminded that we are all
vulnerable to the forces of economics, society, politics, and
nature. Thus, Mitchell proposes, those who start out at the top
tend to stay there, just as the weak tend to remainweak.
Stacked Deck does more than outline this problem of American
selfishness; it proposes a solution that is nothing less than a
massive reconception of the way we relate to one another. Mitchell
retains what is productive about the myth of the self-reliant
individual, while asserting what is necessary to restore a sense of
community. He suggests a sweeping intellectual recovery of fairness
available to all levels of American society, thereby reclaiming our
true sense of responsibility to others in society.
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