To pursue happiness
America. It is a beautiful landscape. A place of hope so wondrous that it haunts the dreams of those living under the whip of oppression. It beckons with a seductive voice to the poorest of the poor, and promises an eternity of relief. What is the spell of this magical place? What turns these rolling hills and golden plains into an ideology that has captivated the world? It is the pursuit of happiness.
We call it an inalienable right in our constitution. We think of it as our privilege which every free man participates in. Regardless of what we have named it, it is the greatest flaw of the American people. In calling it an inalienable right, we endow ourselves with unlimited access to pleasure. We justify our constant consumption, like a lower class man eating at a buffet line, returning for the fourth and fifth serving, since he paid for it, and wants to get his money’s worth. So we justify our vices, taking servings of liberty in the form of cheapening food and rotting morals. We return repeatedly, in the name of liberty and justice, to the whorehouse on Fifth avenue. Consumption is the manifestation of the pursuit of happiness. But Lady Liberty never promised us happiness, only the pursuit of it.
Those who sought it seldom found it. Happiness was a promise that drove America insane. We sold our souls to taste this promise, to have its scent unfurl in our nostrils like smoke from a backyard barbecue on a hot summer’s eve. It blinded us, reminding us with billboards and ad-space that we were inadequate, and with a smiling, blonde model, we were told that three easy payments of nineteen dollars would bring us that much closer. That blonde model on the billboard, by the way, usually hit fifty like a drunk driver hits fifty, screaming, out of control, and about to die. We never found it. Generations lived and died, some went to war, while others bought toaster ovens and microwaves to build the quintessential suburban experience. None of them ever found the promise that Lady Liberty whispered.
Improvement is merely an addiction. We sleep on soft beds because our fragile backs cannot handle the solid ground. But we aspire for even softer beds, from which we will never be able to return to our once-soft beds. We eat bread and water, but we drool over four course gourmet meals that spoil our tongues. We continually want something better, which once we taste, will never be able to return from. But in this rapid ascension, we forget the most basic element of life. Merely living. Luxury is the heroin of our generation.
We have mastered the art of living. Death has become a sour aftertaste to our powerful civilization, disease is only a memory. At funerals, we weep not so much because this person had died, but because Death is still around, and we dislike Death as much as we dislike that awkward cousin Ernie. But in surpassing the art of living, we have forgotten the simplicities.
I can’t help but to think about how America was founded as an experiment. Suppose a group of people gathered together, and were told that they could have anything and everything they wanted? What would happen? America. It became the power of the world, because everyone wanted what they had. As soon as the farmer in southeastern China got a radio and heard about the abundance of America, his heart longed for the red, white, and blue. This experiment grew out of control. The suburban American kid who wants a two hundred dollar pair of Nikes, gets one as soon as the poor Vietnamese boy in the factory finishes weaving the final seam. America has its knee on the throat of the world. And as that poor Vietnamese boy polishes the final touches on that basketball shoe, he wonders where it’s headed, and if he’ll ever have the chance to tell some other kid to make him shoes.
The pursuit of happiness is not a lie. We were guaranteed a pursuit, and like a high speed car chase, sirens blaring, guns blasting, we had our way. The wreckage of the American identity is all that remains. We pursued the hell out of our happiness. But we were not happy. In the shadow of a giant golden M and a greedy clown, we lie intoxicated, sugar seeping out of every pore in our body. We watch the economy tank as we pay our final dollars to health insurance companies that are larger than life. We have had everything we could ever have wanted, and at some point, we wondered if we were on the right track. For a moment, we paused before shoveling the cheap burger into our mouths, and tried to imagine what life would be like if we denied ourselves. But our attention span wasn’t that long, and the commercial on the radio had ended, so we returned to chewing and listening to a song spewed from a machine.
At some point, you and I will see that we will never be satisfied. We will never be content. Pleasure will never replace pain, and death takes us all. Lady Liberty will smile upon the day that we learn to embrace pain, and chuckle at a promise of pleasure, like it was a childish joke. Because on that day, we will truly be free. Liberty comes to those who seek, but what do we seek? Do we seek to bind ourselves to yet another addiction of momentary mindlessness with thirty second commercials? Do we seek liberty in the form of Tylenol and red wine? The labors of America’s forefathers were acts of asceticism, rather than gluttony. They were Patriarchs, not pussies. We are America, home of the brave, land of the free. We are citizens of an idea, not a continent. This is the promise of liberty:
Never be complete.