Lucky for us the framers of the U.S. Constitution put happiness right near the top of the list, just under life and liberty. Had that not been the case, most of us would be in dead-end jobs we hate, buried in debt, beholden to others, taking anti-depressants and complaining most of the time. OK, I’m being sarcastic, I apologize. My sponsor at Sarcastics Anonymous will now call and insist I come to a meeting and be sincere.
Seriously though, folks, this happiness thing has gotten all out of whack. Somewhere along the line western civilization made a big mistake and equated happiness with the accumulation of money. It all began with earth ownership, the curious idea that the very ground we walk on can be possessed. This idea is so entirely foolish that it’s hard to believe that an entire civilization is based upon it, yet it constitutes a belief so deeply embedded in our culture that the alternative is unthinkable.
Author Daniel Quinn’s “Beyond Civilization” notes that every past civilization holding to such belief becomes highly stratified into powerful upper and powerless lower classes, and ultimately collapses. He makes the argument that historically, only tribal social structures endure for tens of thousands of years. Tribal structure ensures that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not bound by wealth or poverty, that all members share equally in bounty and sacrifice, no person is discarded and food, shelter and lifelong care are provided. The downside, of course, is no Donald Trump.
So here we are, fighting constantly about economic winners and losers, the completely predictable result of a belief system built on self-serving greed justified by a pseudo-scientific economic Darwinism invented a long time ago by rich-white-guys in Europe. Now I know there are those who will say that without the wealthy we’d have no jobs, and in our particular system that’s true. We could, should we wish to indulge our sarcasm, call them “trickle down” jobs;” as wealth accumulates, a person wants to accumulate more and exploits the labor of other people to accomplish it. The pseudo-scientific rich-white-guys called it capitalism.
The problem is that our particular system is failing, and is doomed to failure. As the wealthy accumulate more (and that wealth comes from the pockets of others) and the poor have less, society will disintegrate, and already is. Given the earth’s growing population, diminishing resources, technology powered by polluting fossil fuels or radioactivity, and a globalized economy unable to support both haves and have-nots at the same time, you can see the problem. Or maybe you think this situation is just fine.
Others have written and talked about this. Karl Marx, another European white-guy, advocated an alternative to capitalism to prevent the conflict between haves and have-nots. We all know how that turned out: communism produced a powerful political class of haves and a vast number of working have-nots, and then it collapsed.
Ultimately, the pursuit of happiness is a spiritual issue of ethics, aspirations, morals, behavior and each individual finding a place in society. In a tribe, one is born into that place, and has that place for life. In this civilization, we must find an empty seat to fill, build a new seat entirely or just walk away from it all.