Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Happiness and Consumption

Happy is the man who, in the course of a complete life, has everything he desires, provided he desires nothing amiss. - St Augustine

Our forefathers pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to securing freedom from a tyrannical King George III and establishing a nation that acknowledges and upholds the inalienable rights of each individual to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Tragically, over the last 70 years or so, society has moved toward a wholesale rejection of the complexities of self-responsibility for the simplicity of having King Daddy III in DC making our decisions for us, telling us what will create the greatest degree of happiness for the majority of its subjects. Of course, to take away our inalienable rights, one of the things statists had to do was redefine “happiness,” which now means the fulfilling of our desires without any thought of an objective moral order that applies to the individual, as well as the state.

Just as our Supreme Court often prefers redefining our founding documents according to the latest social fads and political agendas to discovering original intent, and ruling accordingly, so the common citizen prefers his own definition of “happiness” over what the author’s intended.

Newsflash: They were not guaranteeing our rights to infantilism or making way for a parental (re: tyrannical) state.

When Jefferson and Co. wrote of “happiness,” they were referring to pursuing one’s own wellbeing--also referred to as a well-lived life--which, for them, required living virtuously. Therefore, in their minds, while pursuing happiness included seeking after material goods, it went much deeper because happiness depended upon our moral health.

Writing to James Monroe, James Madison expressed his concern about misinterpreting, “the pursuit of happiness” in its application to the interests of society at large (1786):

There is no maxim in my opinion which is more liable to be misapplied, and which therefore needs elucidation, than the current one that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong. Taking the word “interest” as synonymous with “ultimate happiness,” in which sense it is qualified with every necessary moral ingredient, the proposition is no doubt true. But taking it in its popular sense, as referring to the immediate augmentation of property and wealth, nothing can be more false.

Happiness and Consumption
For us moderns, however, happiness comes from consumption: in the purchasing of more and more possessions or in consuming our neighbor’s possessions via a confiscatory system of taxation. Moreover, because we no longer believe in a divinely ordained and objective moral order, there are no limitations that may be placed upon our pursuit of happiness. There is only one “sacred” standard: my desires. If my desires go unmet, I am unhappy. If I am unhappy, you—either as an individual or individuals collectively represented by the state—must take care to see that my desires are met. After all, such is my right as an American citizen!

This redefining of happiness has opened the doors for an epidemic of consumption: a societal outbreak of spiritual tuberculosis that is suffocating all possibility for true happiness for individuals and society. As long as we live our lives divorcing happiness from virtue, thinking only in terms of our present desires rather than a well-lived life before God, we will be consumed by death.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2016

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