Fear and Loathing in the American Dream

This essay acknowledges Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005), the founder of Gonzo Journalism who committed suicide. Thompson is credited with a writing style that probed for a deeper truth than did most journalists when he came on the scene in the years following Watergate. Another characteristic of Gonzo journalism was that the journalists could interject personal opinions and feelings into their writing. “What a fantastic monument to the better instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hand of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon.”[1]  Thompson obviously was no fan of Richard Nixon. Prior to Thompson, such subjective opinions would have been deemed unacceptable in a professional journalist.

Leaving Richard Nixon to the evaluation of later historians, we are more concerned with the state of America today. In search for that deeper truth, we begin with the book The European Dream (2004) by Jeremy Rifkin (b. 1945). In the book Rifkin is comparing the values of Europeans and Americans. “‘The American Dream puts an emphasis on economic growth, personal wealth and independence,’ he writes. ‘The new European Dream focuses more on sustainable development, quality of life, and interdependence.’”[2]  The contrast between the values of Americans and Europeans as characterized by Rifkin is striking.

We would like to explore two observations that we believe have profound implications for the future of the United States. First, Europe is clearly shifting to a different worldview than the U.S. and a healthier one if what Rifkin has observed is true. And secondly, and equally alarming, individual Americans themselves are becoming more dysfunctional. Fear is alive and well in the American psyche.

A good definition of worldview is that it consists of a person’s beliefs, attitudes and values. According to Rifkin, Americans are highly materialistic—they value economic growth and personal wealth. We would go further to say that the religion of America is Scientific Materialism. Many Americans believe they would be happy if they achieved “success” related to material wealth, and that America will be a “successful” nation if it has continuous economic growth. The third factor valued by Americans is independence. Not a negative value unless it means selfishness rather than freedom. This one is too ambiguous to accurately evaluate.

Now for the European worldview. They also want economic development, but it must be “sustainable.” In other words, it cannot be a development benefiting the current generation at the cost of future generations or the environment. Quality of life is a value for Europeans. This is a richer and more diverse definition of what constitutes “success” than is the American definition. In other words, economic success alone would not constitute “success” for a European as it does for two out of three of the American “values.” Finally, in contrast to Americans, Europeans recognize the interdependence of individuals and, we assume, nations of people. The profound principle of Oneness which sees all of Creation as being interdependent and interrelated is recognized in Europe.

In conclusion, we would have to say that Europeans show a more profound awareness of the nature of reality, a deeper understanding of what constitutes healthy human behavior and a greater compassion for future generations. In truth, all human beings on the planet need to arrive at a deeper understanding of why human beings behave the way that they do. The current direction of the inhabitants of the global village is clearly suicidal as human beings continue to destroy each other and the environment that sustains them. But at least the Europeans seem to have a better handle on the direction that a radical shift in worldview needs to go. So did Hunter S. Thompson.

A Reaction and a Response to Thompson’s Suicide

Reaction (Projection): Jon W. Nelson, Estes Park, “To the Point.” The Denver Post. March 6, 2005

“Why do you continue to glamorize a pathetic doper who threatened [a] passerby and took the coward’s way out of life? Write to us about heroes, sung and unsung, and spare us the details of Hunter S. Thompson’s blast into oblivion.”

Response: Lev Grossman. “Appreciation.” Time. March 7, 2005

“Thompson’s fearlessly subjective, expressive, propulsive journalistic style (in succeeding books like Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72) has been endlessly imitated but never equaled.”


Fear and Loathing in the American Dream

[1]     Quillen, Ed. “To write like Hunter S.” The Denver Post. February 22, 2005, page 7B.

[2]     Jahn, George. “Values drive growing European-U.S. divide.” The Denver Post. February 27, 2005.


Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.

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