Friday, October 29, 2004
The USA's Declaration of Independence is widely admired as a political statement. Its most memorable sentence is, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
It is a thoroughly admirable sentiment, apart from that final phrase, "the pursuit of happiness". Was there ever a more ridiculous political aspiration? Or potentially a more damaging one?
'Fulfilment' would have been a better word than happiness, since it expresses a more realistic and ultimately more satisfying aspiration. Happiness exists only in relation to other emotional states, hence the paradox; if we were permanently happy, we would not be happy. True happiness is something we experience at best only fleetingly. Its elusiveness means it is something no political system can meaningfully guarantee. And if capturing this butterfly becomes our overriding goal in life, we end up in a futile pursuit of more and more stimulation and excitement.
Joan Bakewell's column in today's Guardian was ostensibly about a lost recipe for stuffed marrows, but actually mourned this "plaintive search for the ever more outrageous, the further extremes of enjoyment." She did, however, point out that, as we get older, "thankfully the taste for excitement does die away."
That is some consolation. Nevertheless, the futility and hedonism of 'the pursuit of happiness' is at the root of the spiritual void in western societies and will be our undoing.
Any chance of a constitutional amendment?
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