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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Progress in the Pursuit of Happiness?
Perhaps it is one of those rare moments in the recording of history when the stars are in near perfect alignment.  An expression of the American mind identifies certain self-evident truths, that all men are created equal and possess the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  But an uncharted course in self-government requires the flexibility of experimentation.

A consensus of the educated, most respected citizenry concludes that individual pursuits are limited, doomed to failure, absent a social compact for collective, shared responsibility.  But while severing ties with the mother country, the citizenry agree to adopt its proven economic model, over objection that the system flows from principles adverse to liberty.  The greatest good for the greatest number under man’s creation produces enviable physical results.  Prosperity abounds in a land of plenty.

The individual’s happiness is indeed plentiful.  He celebrates success with a triumphant display of material conquest.  Not satisfied, he is further inspired to consolidate and advance his control over a larger portion of the bounty.  Neglecting the notion of a social conscience, he conspires to perpetuate his gains, assuring aristocratic privilege and hereditary status among those subsequent generations who will possess more than they earn.   He validates his actions by the blessings of a divine providence.  The anointment process is complete.

Since protecting the status quo is all that is required, why would the successful individual welcome a suggestion of meddling interference with the order of a wholly rational universe?  He deftly uses the mechanism of obstruction, seemingly mistaken for legitimate conservative values.  But his actions expose the popular myth that business success is a guarantee of civic virtue.  While his material position has not been harmed, his moral prestige is gone.

Some say the successful individual has manipulated the system for his own advantage.  Of course, this would serve to over-simplify the complicated dynamics of the historical process.  While the methods employed are sometimes questionable, unscrupulous and dishonest, they are not illegal.  But it is difficult to escape the conclusion that while it may be a simplification, it is not a falsification.  A man proves by his deeds according to the laws of human nature that the greatest number is typically the number one.

Meanwhile, the masses of the unknown, who comprise the vital base from whence the strength of the nation derives, complete this picture. The newcomer especially is no less energetic, industrious or talented. Attracted to the table by a promise of reward for an honest day’s work, he learns that a feast has been served previously and all that remain are crumbs. His opportunity effectively foreclosed, the newcomer is not likely to achieve a comparable level of success or prosperity by a reasonable measure.

At the crossroads the great crisis comes into view. The ordinary citizen reflects how the loudest yelps for liberty may have been heard among the drivers of the African slave --- amid a similar call today for less government from he who would monopolize economic opportunity. In reclaiming a fair shot at the American Dream for future generations of the unborn, the stakes could not be higher. This great crisis may only signal the next important step forward --- progress in the pursuit of happiness. Or perhaps the task of completing our great unfinished business is destined to be mankind’s final stand.

The successful individual marvels at the folly of an ordinary citizen to believe that a society is capable of change to reach new heights in both moral and material progress.  He deploys a campaign of fear to distort the message.  He rues an ordinary citizen’s determination, which is sustained by the search for truth as an imperative duty.  That search views the twin pillars of reason (science and materialism) and faith (spirituality and duty) as coefficients, working together, in the promotion of human welfare and the quest for progress.

The ordinary citizen has no army but is an apostle of enlightenment.  His path embraces the symbol of hope, and the principles of balance and harmony within nature’s law.  He respects property, but he understands that the creature of man’s making must be the servant and not the master of the man who made it.  And he knows that the ultimate reward of a richer, fuller existence contemplates the discharge of a duty of service which is faith in action.  It is marked by adherence to an incorruptible, disinterested ethical obligation that distinguishes the unselfish citizen from the mere hoarder of gold.

Nothing real can be owned.  Nothing gained, withheld. In the end, we take nothing home --- the place where forgiveness begins.  While it is not ours to judge, sharing and giving back hardly bring to the table any new ideas.

-Michael D'Angelo