Friday, July 24, 2015

Pursuit of Happiness: Could this be dangerous?

We humans are a happy lot...not so much. When we look around we can see who is happy and who is not. My dogs are happy. We have four of them. Each one has its own kind of happiness. Some are happier than others. The least intelligent is much more happy than the smartest one. Animals have a simple happiness which humans cannot easily posses. We become gradually burdened down with this wonderful consciousness. This accumulation of all things human.

Most children are happy, sort of, say from toddler age to middle school. Adults, adolescents, various persons of deprived social status are happy periodically...when they are tipsy, or at a party, or engaged with their friends and social group. Some of us are not happy very much at all. In fact we are kind of negative. (This is a real dirty word. If you want to put someone down, just say they are negative...that'll fix 'em.)

Have you ever noticed that babies "learn" to be happy. At birth they mostly feel hunger, and pain but not much else for a while. Often though, they learn to laugh before they even learn a word, like "Mama". And the parents are so very delighted when baby does, that's a happy baby! These babies keep growing and they keep learning happiness, family, friends, toys, kittys, doggies, ice cream, candy. Wow this is fun! Its fun to play and mess with video games, this is the life. So baring tragedy, childhood is usually a very happy thing.

Then Mommy and Daddy say you have to go to school to get smart. Try to be at the head of the class. There's lots of competition so you have to study when you want to do other things like video games. So little irritations start popping up. You run into a bad bully at school, you have teachers who are strict and everything begins to tense up. Mommy insist that you join lots of extra curricular activities and the competition increases and the tension notches up. Uh oh, I'm not so happy about some of this! (I am beginning to learn unhappiness). Seems like the smarter we get the unhappier we get. Is it true that ignorance is bliss? Should we remain uneducated so we can have some happiness?

Knowledge is cumulative. When the child learns that some day he will die, that never leaves him. And when the teacher who is responsible teaches about how the environment is being destroyed and there are too many people in the world and that a very large number of people are very poor and do not have enough food, the knowledge of all these things begins to accumulate. If this little person who is in the process of becoming a mature person and a citizen of the world, does not close his eyes and his ears, he will learn a whole world of disturbing things which accumulate inside and it becomes a burden. He learns and is actually "taught" that there are a whole lot of people in the world who are "bad" and not to be trusted! We learn the fear which accompanies human intelligence.

So it becomes NORMAL and natural that fear builds up in a person and tends to destroy the happiness which was seemingly a birth right of childhood! We thought that the American Dream was a statement of substance: an inalienable right,", liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

This is when we learn to lie to as to preserve some of the happiness which was so delightful in our youth. We build fantasies and dreams. We convince ourselves that we can be happy in the future. We dream of the great things and fun thing we will do. "Not to worry, we can create some happiness and life will be good again." This can go on for a life time and we never realize that we are mostly living in the past on the great things we did and we are living in the future on the great things we will do and all the great things we will learn, and all the money we will make, then we will be happy! But we do not so much realize that the ONLY thing we actually have is now the eternal present. We tend to not live in today. Our mind is elsewhere. We are living on dreams.

Not saying that dreams are not good to have. Because a dream can never come true if one has never had a dream.

So the things we learn in life tend to be mostly the things which reduce our happiness, destroying the innocence of childhood, replacing it with the morbid reality of eventual death. When my father died, my sister Carolyn and I had to go through all the remaining possessions. Our brother Paul had been dead 23 years. Mother had been dead 7 years. What was left of our beautiful family was in boxes of photos and records. In the bottom of Dad's file cabinet I found a group of house plans. These house plans were all the homes they had ever built or dreamed of building. They were there in my hands. It included the plan of the last home. A thought took over my mind, here in my hands are all the dreams that my parents had ever had or would have. They are all gone...all spent.

Since we can't "unlearn" the things which destroy our happiness, perhaps we could learn how to be happy with a different focus. Joshua Foa Dienstag speaks of a "well educated conscience". Could we teach ourselves to be happy again? Perhaps American education; the philosophy of it, has emphasized the wrong thing. From grammar school through college education, the philosophy of education should be aimed at preparing human beings for life not just for being smart and making money. Perhaps our American "education" is deficient in ethics and soul. Its the greedy who wish to live in a world without ethics and compassion! At every level we should teach our next generations music, art, literature, theater, and philosophy. Being just a math whiz, or science and computer whiz is not near enough. A more responsible education can build a sense humor and a sense of heroism in the face of the reality of living the life of a human being who is conscious of the past, the present, and the future and all the frightening realities they contain. If the gift of consciousness makes it difficult to be happy, perhaps we should just accept that fact and be heroes; just laugh about it. Dienstag quotes Leopardi in saying, "laughter is no less proper and peculiar to man than reason is." He adds, "we(humans) do not only laugh out of pleasure, but just as often, out of pain". A heroic attitude about life can arise from what seem to be ashes when we think as Dienstag suggests when he quotes Rousseau's famous challenge,"Live, and be great and unhappy"!

Modern man has come to believe in a series of ideas as the way to live a happy life: a good education, obtaining wealth and possessions, and living in a political system which provides complete freedom. But it's obvious that we have not been successful; the pursuit of happiness as we have defined it isn't working. We've been ignoring some realities. Perhaps we can as individuals teach ourselves a focus which will bring the answer,"yes" to this question, "Is life worth living?".

Saturday, February 28, 2015


Here we sit early in the 21st century surveying the predicament of the human race. One could say that perhaps we have 10,000 times over the ability to solve problems than did our ancestors who were crossing the threshold from hunter gatherers to horticulture and animal husbandry. Today we can rely on thousands of years of progress in science, mathematics, and general knowledge to assist us in solving human problems. Yet the question persists, "with this increase in knowledge has there been progress in the character of human beings?

Our discouragement about this question is well founded and can be easily traced over the last few hundred years in which great catastrophes occurred initiated by humans. We passed through phases where various discoveries and dramatic jumps in knowledge and understanding brought a reservoir of optimism causing great expectations for mankind...only to have our hopes dashed with man-made interventions of suffering and death on a massive scale. And that loss not just of human loss but the entire planet upon which we live. Whats more the losses suffered and which now are occurring were and are exacerbated by the very forward leaps in science, technology, and knowledge which have always been interpreted as positive steps but have proved to create greater and greater destruction, loss of all forms of life and greater suffering. It appears that what we assumed were advances, what we considered to be human progress has not brought what we expected but the opposite!

History records what appeared to be break throughs and with them expectations of progress. For three fourths of recorded history nations ruled by monarchs were strongly influenced by religions, especially the Roman Church and Islam. Coming on the heels of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment in Europe, control of the state by the Church was gradually broken followed by the removal of the absolute power of kings. These events were precipitated by scientific discoveries and technological advances. These advances in philosophy, knowledge and science brought on the demand eventually for fundamental change in forms of government. Political power began shifting into the hands of citizens in the form of democracy. Did this "progress" improve the moral quality of human existence? ...more fairness, more justice, more ethical behavior? Was civilization on the way to becomeing utopian?

Eventually the clamor for democratic government modeled on the experiments of the Greeks and the Romans bore fruit. A republic was formed in America followed by a republic in France. Again the world began to think that great things were in store for humans at last with democratic government breaking out around the world. The American republic came to be known as "the great experiment in liberty". The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin was translated into many languages and was read through out the world and still is today. Americans more than any other peoples considered that their government, the United States was a model for all countries through out the world for good or ill. That belief still persists.

However when we look at the dark side of the same past several centuries we see an ever increasing scope in the use of war and violence between nations and at present the violence transcends national boundaries. This has been accompanied by periods of religious violence; the Spanish Inquisition, persecution of "infidel" Jews, burning hundreds of "witches", the 30 years war, the beheading of two monarchs: England and France, and the opening of the age of colonialism which accompanied by the beginning of massive exploitation of the worlds natural resources and the exploitation of humanity as virtual slaves or actual ones.

How have the nations of democracy fared? The democracy founded in England with Parliament was dissolved by Oliver Cromwell who became the Puritan dictator of England. The republic founded in America was soiled with the blight of human slavery and a civil war to free them and the ethnic cleansing of the natives of North America. The republic founded in France led eventually to the take over of Napoleon,the Napoleonic wars, and the seating of Napoleon as Emperor. All this gives credence to the question as to whether this "progress" was forward or backward.

The last half of the 19th century brought forth the establishment of the Industrial Revolution, first in England with the first "free trade" economy where human life young and old was worth a pittance and humans were but cogs on the wheels of industry to be ground into dust. The weak were rejected, ejected and forgotten. This industrial triumph was followed by a European arms race and the First World War in which more than 20 million solders lost their lives and the combined death toll for soldiers and civilians was about 40 million with no logical or discernible reason. At the end of WWI Germans were starving and no animals were left to plow the fields to grow food. This was followed by the Great World Wide Depression, the rise of the National Socialist Party in Germany and World War Two in which 50 million people lost their lives.

These are just facts...which could hardly be used to support the idea of "human progress".

To this present day we are overwhelmed by global problems of every sort from over population to over fishing the oceans to destruction of the worlds forests to turning the globe into a great receptacle of garbage and poisons of every description. The weight of a population of more than seven billion and the industry to supply them with their every desire has polluted the air, land and sea. We have global warming and radio active poisoning around the world: Chernobyl,Fukushima and other places including the US, Russia, Iraq and elsewhere.

Does this describe a world of rational beings?...who have the unique ability among other living things to anticipate the future...even predict it? Did we fail to see ahead or did we not give a shit because there were riches to be had? Is that what our American forefathers did when they took the land of North America as they wished , killing off the inhabitants and with the free labor of slaves proceeded to wring out the riches of the land?...lay the railroads, establish a moving frontier, build cities, ply the rivers, and provide "free" land for the homesteader? Is this the only way to provide jobs through exploitation? Rape the land and it inhabitants for a booming economy of lust for gold and land? Some would say these events of American history were in the mind of God in the form of "manifest destiny"?

Creating a man-made world filled with problems has been a tortuous journey and the path of least resistance. Will we abandon these problems to our mother the earth then fade away? When we consider our alter selves how does the scales of justice balance upon reflection? Is there actually any such thing as "human progress"? Have the recent centuries, millennia proved the expected progressive evolution of human character? The answer to these questions seems fearful and somber. Opening our eyes, seeing and contemplating the world as it has become...under the hand of man is the first step in becoming what we hope to be...facing the truth. If we care about the human race and the planet which produced us, we must learn from the past, anticipate a better future and be what we must be one day at a time. We must expect the best of our selves and of those around us. We have followed our alter selves too often.

"...Our knowledge is a torch of smoky pine
That lights the pathway but one step ahead
Across a void of mystery and dread..."