I don't contest that personal fulfillment is a reasonable and noble goal, nor that every individual ought to seek it for his own sake. Personal contentment is integral to functioning normally; I know from experience that being in an state of extended frustration, anger, and disillusionment is a sure-fire way to reduce your productivity level to zero, and to deprive you of desire, work ethic, stamina, and attention span. Happiness is not only a worthwhile goal, it's a necessity, if we want to move forward and do something positive with our lives.
But "happiness" has become another overused, trendy buzzword, a bit like "open-minded" (meaning liberal), or "complex" (meaning has a schizoid philosophy with irreconcilable components). Everywhere I turn, someone's talking about happiness being their ultimate goal in life. And while there's nothing inherently wrong with that statement, the fact that it's coming from so many idiots, losers, and neurotic, intellectual weenies makes me question the thought process behind it.
Amongst our ancestors, "happiness" would have referred to the sense of deep, sublimated fulfillment which was sought by so many of the geniuses whose achievements we celebrate. But it seems to me that modern folks use the term as a way of gaining self-validation without really doing anything to give them actual fulfillment. It's also a way of eliciting praise ("Well, as long as you're happy, that's what counts") without really doing anything praiseworthy. Thus, it also functions as a defense against criticism ("But I'm a happy drug addict!").
The happiness that people refer to now is that of a simple emotional state, not of anything that arises from doing something powerful and significant. And while there's nothing wrong with feeling a sense of simple joy, it's a pretty mediocre long-term goal, and it's not certainly something that guarantees a sustainable future for many generations to come. The dumbest of dogs are happy, but they rarely do anything that impresses us, and we'd hardly leave them to their own devices.
From a pragmatic standpoint, "happiness" functions as an excuse not to think about anything, not to notice any of the problems we're confronted with, not to address the possibility of personal sacrifice or anything else that might be painful, so that the wonders of life may be passed on to our descendants for millennia to come.
Frankly, though, we shouldn't expect anything but mediocrity from mediocre people. The reason this sort of shallow philosophy and contentment with mediocrity is a problem is that it's being practiced by bright people as well. In prior eras, it wasn't a problem that the plebian masses led simple lives, with little foresight or planning, because nobilities existed who managed the empires and ensured that everything functioned. But nowadays, there isn't any nobility, and those with the capacity to occupy that position aren't bothering to utilize their gifts. But the clever employment of positivistic concepts like "happiness" provides a convenient loophole for smart people to avoid taking on any of the difficult tasks which are necessary for the long-term survival of a society. Ironically, those of us who have plunged forward and begun to tackle more siginificant problems realize how fulfilling it is - far more fulfilling that any of the petty crap that most people limit themselves to. But since the first step toward that more noble happiness requires work, hard thought, and uncomfortable realizations, most find it easiest to remain in their blissfully ignorant bubbles of existence, whilst the world around them slowly breaks down.
March 6, 2006
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