Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Empire of the Pursuit of Happiness

The right to the pursuit of happiness is an idea that has captured the imagination of the rest of the world.

by Jack Wakeland

Mankind's liberty was established here, for the first time, in the United States of America. It was established at the height of the Age of Reason, following centuries of intellectual struggle to understand the nature and necessity of liberty and after ten years of political turmoil, six years of war, and eight more years of political re-organization.


Since our nation's founding, our government has strayed from its original mission of acting solely to secure individual rights. The mind can catalog the collapse of so many of the intellectual underpinnings of liberty and can count so many broken principles of proper government, it is easy to ignore the principle that still operates the best: the right to the pursuit of happiness.


The moral commitment to individual achievement, the need to be an independent self-sustaining entity, the idea that one's work ethic is a fundamental character trait, the virtue of making money and the need to turn a profit - along with the conviction that one can control the course of one's life, take pleasure in the pursuit of one's goals, rationally expect that one's focused productive efforts will meet success, and that life will be _fun_ - these are all hallmarks of egoism, the moral foundation of this right.


In the traditional, pre-industrial societies of the world, a businessman must ask the permission of all neighbors - especially his competitors - before undertaking a new venture. As a leader, maintaining the existing order of society is his fundamental duty. The status quo is a hard shell that economic and technological innovation must penetrate. There is little growth or change.


For the common man, traditional society is even more oppressive. Social relations are frozen. It is the function of those on the bottom of the social ladder to remain in their places and serve those over them. It is the fate of the sons of fishermen, cobblers, tenant farmers, and bakers to live their father's and grandfather's lives. It is the fate of the daughters to be sold into neighboring families to breed children, the cement that binds families into clans.


In advanced societies that have retrograded back towards the traditional collectivist order, businessmen step off of jets and ride elevators and meet in richly paneled boardrooms studded with the latest communications technology...and figure out how to push the company profits out of the management hierarchy, down to the workers, and out to the customers. Profits can go anywhere as long they don't return to the owners of the business.


In these retrograde societies it is not nice to let it show that one has accomplished more than one's neighbors. Modesty is one's place.


But in America - especially after the stockholder's rebellion of the '80s - business leaders do not regulate company profits to 'socialize welfare.' They seek the highest stakes for themselves and the greatest profits for their companies. For them, nothing is ever good enough. They push for constant improvement. Theirs is a society of change, upheaval, and $100-million executive bonuses.


In the middle levels of achievement, Americans work long hours and stockpile every article of luxury possible to themselves. They enjoy their luxuries and aren't shy about having them. They're mobile, changing jobs and cities as circumstances suit them. They move to warm sunny places. They find companions and make families for their own pleasure. Some are adaptable in their goals and some are not, but all know that they control the course of their own lives. In American, every man can be his own king, a successful, independent, happy king. That's the American Dream.

Because it's all around, we often don't stop to notice. Outside America, however, it is noticed.


There are several countries in Europe and a number of other small, beautiful places in the world that are as prosperous as the United States. There are many countries that have great prospects for rapid advancement and success, but nearly all of them are still poor, semi-traditional societies.

There is no where else on earth that quite has the 'feel' of America. The idea that it is okay to make money and to go out and get what you want - the acceptance of egoism - runs deeper here than anywhere on earth. The consequence - a feeling shared by a majority of people that life is open to them, that anything is possible, and that they're in the middle of getting where they want to go - is unique to America.

This feeling - an emotion some people call 'freedom,' but is actually happiness - has captured the imagination of the rest of the world. Because they can see that there is a way to reach it, people throughout the world want to have it, too.

In the brief span of sixty years this way of looking at the world has built an empire. It is the youngest, greatest, fastest growing empire in the history of man: the empire of the pursuit of happiness.

It is an empire unlike any that has ever existed. The empire does not acknowledge its influence by changing the political borders of the world, but by making the old borders irrelevant. The Army has been used to protect it, but the empire does not advance by force. Business and investment have pushed it forward, but the empire's "globalizing" business invasion is always just behind the advancing edge. It is spreading a common language, but English follows the advancing frontier.

The frontier of the American Empire is in the mind of every man and every woman in every country, who wants a better life, here, on this earth. The best among them look to our nation as proof that it is possible. America is taking over the countries of the world from the inside, one mind at a time.

America is a supernova. As it becomes hollow at its core, here in the United States, the empire expands like a shock wave moving across the surface of the earth. It moves with the speed of the imagination - an imagination captivated by the vision of a people exercising their right to the pursuit of happiness.


-- Jack Wakeland is an engineer in Chicago and frequent contributor to The Intellectual Activist and to TIA Daily.

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