I had an interesting insight this morning. I don’t claim that this is in any way original or profound. However, I am still, in many ways, an African in my thinking, and so things like this tend to take a little while to sink in.
Americans (meaning USA’ians) have this conviction that they have the inalienable, God-given (ironically, even those that don’t believe in God) right to be happy. And this is interpreted in the narrowest possible terms, meaning “ME” and “NOW”. Now, clearly, not everyone is stupid, but these ideas seem to be so deeply installed in the psyche of people who have been raised steeped in this mindset that many folks don’t even question them.
Personally, I think that this idea that you have a right to be happy is hogwash. And I think that the idea that you have a right to *pursue* happiness (whatever that may end up meaning) is probably hogwash too, but I’ll have to think about that one a little more.
Anyways, this not-terribly-profound insight helped me understand, at least a little bit, why some folks can do certain things, and think that they are doing the “right” thing. In particular, it strikes me as being a significant contributor to the divorce rate in this country. Becase, after all, my personal happiness, and my being happy *right now*, is more important than any corporate happiness, any community stability, and more important than the fact that decisions will adversely affect people at least two generations in either direction, as well as a significant number of friends and acquaintances. This is how people can honestly believe that they have made a good decision, while doing things that are destructive, both to themselves, their family, and society as a whole, although, when observed with any degree of objectivity, can only be seen as being petty and selfish.
Further implications of this observation, in the context of our view of history, our reactions to the national security issue, and the way that we drive, for starters, are also very interesting, but I really need to get ready for work. Although, I suppose, my right to individual happiness suggests that I should just stay here and think deep thoughts.
But I’ll finish up with a quote from John Adams, which I think is very relevant. Adams said that the role of government is to “secure the maximum amount of happiness for the largest possible number of people.” Note that this is a very different thing from individual happiness, and that only 200 years of selfishness and misinterpretation can have turned it into that. Although, it’s moderately clear to me that if we work towards the happiness of everyone, the happiness of the individuals will unavoidably follow.
Hmm. Perhaps I’m a communist.