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Is It Time To Replace The American Dream?

Today's youth find little value in the caricature of human nature as rational, calculating and utilitarian. They prefer to think of human nature as empathic.

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The new sensibilities of the younger generation are beginning to usher in a different idea about human nature and the dream that accompanies it. Today's youth find little value in the Enlightenment caricature of human nature as rational, calculating, detached, and utilitarian. They prefer to think of human nature as empathic, mindful, engaged, and driven by the intrinsic value and interconnectedness of life. Homo sapien is being eclipsed by homo empathicus, as they shift their horizon from national markets and nation-state borders to a global economy and a planetary community. Even their preferred indicators of economic progress are shifting, from the crude calculation of gross domestic product and per-capita income to more sensitive social indicators -- like health and longevity, social equality, safe communities, clean environment, etc. -- that measure the well-being of the broader community.

If we listen very closely, we can hear the whisper of a new dream in the making, one based on what youth around the world are beginning to call "quality of life". In this new world, the American Dream seems almost provincial, even quaint, and entirely unsuited for a generation that is beginning to extend its empathic sensibility beyond national identities, to include the whole of humanity and the entirety of the planet as their extended community. If the American Dream served as the gold standard for the era of national markets and nation-state governments, the dream of "quality of life" becomes the standard for the emerging biosphere era.

In this new, more expansive human setting, libertarian cries and tea party bravado suddenly seem far less significant. The assumptions about human nature and the meaning of the human journey that are bound up with the conventional American Dream, which motivate much of the current political brouhaha, are more like a faint echo of the past than a clarion call for the future. The empathic civilization looms on the horizon.