Illustration: Joe Mortis
Life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That famous phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence belies the cornerstone of the founding of America.
But is the "pursuit of Happiness" part wrecking the country today? Kurt Andersen of The New York Times opines how American individualism - undoubtedly the source of the country's greatest achievements, can also spell its downfall:
then came the late 1960s, and over the next two decades American individualism was fully unleashed. A kind of tacit grand bargain was forged between the counterculture and the establishment, between the forever-young and the moneyed.
Going forward, the youthful masses of every age would be permitted as never before to indulge their self-expressive and hedonistic impulses. But capitalists in return would be unshackled as well, free to indulge their own animal spirits with fewer and fewer fetters in the forms of regulation, taxes or social opprobrium.
“Do your own thing” is not so different than “every man for himself.” If it feels good, do it, whether that means smoking weed and watching porn and never wearing a necktie, retiring at 50 with a six-figure public pension and refusing modest gun regulation, or moving your factories overseas and letting commercial banks become financial speculators. The self-absorbed “Me” Decade, having expanded during the ’80s and ’90s from personal life to encompass the political economy, will soon be the “Me” Half-Century.
Some folk still do not understand the difference between self interest and selfishness. Don't let those people sour you on the vast majority of humanity.(even the capitalists)
In England, at the time, many professions were controlled by Guilds. If you wanted to be a shoemaker, for example, you couldn't just set up shop. You needed to be a member of the Shoemaker's Guild, and rise through their ranks as an apprentice, then only with their permission, could you go into business for yourself.
These guilds were notoriously corrupt. They demanded extortionate fees at every turn, and those in charge exacted bribes. In many cases, you had to be sponsored into a guild by a family member.
In the language of the time, one's "pursuit" was one's occupation. Thus the argument is made that the "pursuit of happiness" could be translated into more modern language as "career of preference". In the minds of the authors, this phrase conveys that everyone should be permitted to engage in whatever means of craft or employment they wish, and has little to do with a freedom to engage in any activity they like, as long as it makes them happy.