02/19/2014 09:41 am ET Updated Apr 21, 2014

$port$ Talk

While watching TV coverage of Sochi last week, I heard one of the commentators wonder how an Olympic athlete who wasn't competing in any other sport besides ice hockey could ever derive satisfaction. Why, she asked incredulously, participate in something that had no real commercial potential? Her partner in the exchange didn't dispute her assertion or even pause before accepting it outright, which pretty much implied that playing any sport which didn't result in a related career was a wasted one.

That shocked me. Certainly there's a market out there for professional lugers or people who macramé curling stone cozies?

What the hell happened to this country? Ever since Americans were officially transformed from citizens to consumers (there's footage from the Eisenhower era I discovered during some trip down a YouTube wormhole, in which a bespectacled cabinet official informs the assembled press of that very intention) the starch has gone out of the part of the American dream that says a person can be anything they want if they try hard enough. That still may be true, but the dangling carrot used to motivate hard workin' folks has morphed from simple pride into a dollar bill. "Dangling" and "morph" in the same sentence. Somebody pay me.

Obviously, in our unfettered capitalist society, money is the lingua franca and if you no speak it you no matter.

But whatever became of the sentiment which touted being happy for happiness' sake? Being the best street-sweeper you can be? Being the best soda jerk? Being the best mailman, plumber, meter maid, advertising exec, housewife, househusband all for the sake of just being really good at what they do? One of the negatives of living in our bling-addicted society is the replacement of that simple pride in a job well done with a commercial identity that, in the end, devalues both the act and the person. It makes it seem like everything needs to have marketability or it's not worth a damn.

When the sports commentator made her statement, I thought of all those generations of Americans who imbued their perhaps not-so-glamorous jobs with metaphysical value before having their citizenship replaced with consumership, only to then feel like schmucks who wasted their lives in pursuit of something which didn't pay big bucks. But just because not all athletes end up with trophies on their mantles (or end up with mantles) means they've embarked on a mistaken pursuit. Nor the people who write books to enlighten rather than to fatten their wallets. Or artists who paint even though they fall short of Thomas Kinkade levels of pecuniary prosperity. One doesn't have to land a seat on ESPN to have had a worthwhile experience talking sports with other like-minded mooks. Singers never have to win Grammys, actors never have to win Oscars (or even Emmys, dammit), journalists never have to win Pulitzers to derive pleasure and meaning from the acts themselves.

It feels like there's a certain desperation to the assertion that everything has a price, or should. It's a kind of whipped obeisance to an ideology which, while never saying it outright, aims to have everybody under its spell (or it's thumb).

This isn't meant to suggest that the capitalism thing is intrinsically bad or that people shouldn't consume or they shouldn't get insanely remunerated for having special abilities or any other sentiment which might raise the hackles of those naturally inclined (or paid to be inclined) to be aggressively opposed to anything an avowed liberal would posit, even something which echoes the kind of values about which conservatives used to rhapsodize: where boy scouts escort the elderly across streets for free and sports heroes simply loved the game, not what the game bought them.

Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, but that's something I enjoy with no expectation of payment. However, if you'd like to scale said mountain, there's a small fee.