THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

One of the stated goals in the preamble to the Constitution is “to promote the general welfare.” Proponents of social justice will maintain that the burgeoning infrastructure of the federal government is crafted to do just that. It should be remembered, however, that the spirit behind the secession movement that birthed our nation is, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, the inalienable right of  “the pursuit of happiness.” The sister rights, as I’m sure you recall, are life and liberty. Our forefathers were smart. Nowhere is equality of wealth, power, or even the elusive-to-define happiness addressed—and for good reason: it is unattainable and, I contend, not desirable.

People are diverse. They have different personalities, aspirations, work ethics, intellects—the list goes on and on. While every right-thinking citizen would wish no one to suffer the misfortunes of ill health, poverty or starvation, and would agree that a safety net or hand up is a hallmark of a compassionate society for those that fall on hard times through no fault of their own, I see the liberal and conservative elements of our society differing significantly on matters of degree. Liberals, by dint of a philosophical viewpoint that appears to feel that the financial inequities in the world, and our country in particular, are so great (and much of it “ill-gotten”), desire a large redistribution of this wealth through an aggressive implementation of taxation and social programs. I’ve addressed in part the outcome of such a paradigm in my prior rant. Conservatives largely feel government has grown too large and intrusive and is interfering with the economy and accumulation of wealth, also known as productivity, and encouraging a climate of dependency and entitlement.

As with most dichotomies, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, although that middle can be vast, and the means of reaching the “truth,” nebulous. So I can only address the issue by exposing the values that turned me from young, idealistic liberal to pragmatic conservative. In the transition, however, I haven’t lost my idealism; far from it, I feel it is strengthened. It’s just assumed a different form. It has morphed from a concern for the individual to a concern for his or her values.

The founders built a wildly successful nation on an experiment in meritocracy that has had no equal in the history of mankind. Its ascent has been astoundingly fast, and, I’m afraid, its descent may be as rapid. It was based on values of liberty, a belief in a higher power, and a philosophy of hard work and self-sufficiency. It was sustained by a desire to help one’s neighbor, also known as charity, and an equally strong aversion to receiving it which was seen as failure. Look around the world now. In Greece, the government said it’s running out of money and must reduce salaries. Did the people say, “Oh, I guess we’ve taken too much from the till; we must work harder”? No, riots occurred. In France, the government said the workers could no longer retire at 60—the age was raised to 62. Did the people say, “Oh, perhaps a guarantee of such early retirement was too exorbitant a gift to expect relative to our productivity”? No, they rioted. Here in California, as the state teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, the voters have re-elected the same people whose policies have brought us to the edge. It is noteworthy that large segments of the population are on the government payroll or dole, and unions remain a powerful lobby. One may argue that a substantial part of the failure of this system is due to government waste and corruption but, if anything, it only reinforces my argument.

Granted, there have been some dramatic and welcome social gains in the centuries since out forefathers’ time. I’m not recommending a return to the evils of slavery, institutionalized racism, and second-class citizenship for our women. But “throwing the baby out with the bath water” isn’t the way to perpetuate the success of the greatest social experiment the world has known. To do this, we have to re-examine our values, and our family structure. I believe that, fundamentally, we have to “down-size.”

I’m not sure if we have it in us. I hope and pray that we do.

Next: On family and “down-sizing”

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