«Στην εποχή μας, με την λανθασμένη αντίληψη του ανθρώπου ως ισοδύναμου με μια αριθμομηχανή προσκολλημένη στη μέτρηση κόστους και κέρδους, η οικονομία έχει έρθει να εξουσιάσει την πολιτική και τη ζωή μας. Βρισκόμαστε πλέον αντιμέτωποι με μια αφύσικη εμμονή υπέρ της ατομικότητας, με μια μονόπλευρη αφοσίωση στον πλούτο έναντι της δουλειάς και με μια αντικυβερνητική έχθρα. (…) Οι οικονομολόγοι και λοιποί πρωταγωνιστές αρχίζουν ν’αναζητούν εναλλακτικούς τρόπους αξιολόγησης της ζωής των ανθρώπων αλλά και αποτίμησης της επιτυχίας των εθνών. Επειδή πολλά από τα ερωτήματα που θίγουν είναι φιλοσοφικής φύσεως, κάποιες φωνές του παρελθόντος μπορούν να φανούν κατατοπιστικές. “
Αυτά γράφει στον πρόλογό της η Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, στο σύντομο άρθρο της με τίτλο « The Pursuit of Happiness. People who take part in their communities and governments are happier than those who don’t » που διαβάσαμε στη σελίδα Lapidarium notes και αναδημοσιεύουμε. Ένα μάθημα ιστορίας σαν απάντηση στην απαξιωμένη ιδέα του πολιτικού και της πολιτικής ζωής;
“Today, economics, with its misapprehension that human beings are cost/benefit calculating machines, has come to dominate our politics and our lives. We’re left with an unnatural obsession with individualism, a single-minded focus on wealth over work, and an anti-government animus. (…)
Economists and leaders have begun to search for alternative ways to value the lives of individuals and evaluate the success of nations. Since many of the questions they’re raising are philosophical, voices from the past may be helpful.
The Greeks, for instance, were very interested in well being. Aristotle thought happiness was the goal of human activity. For him, true happiness was something more than simply “Eat, drink, and be merry,” or even the honor of high position. Real satisfaction didn’t depend on the pleasures of the senses or what others thought of you. You could find genuine happiness only in a life of virtue and just actions. President Kennedy alluded to Aristotle when he defined happiness as “the full use of one’s talents along the lines of excellence.”
For the Greeks, excellence could be manifest only in a city or a community. Since human beings were political animals, the best way to exercise virtue and justice was within the institutions of a great city (the polis). Only beasts and gods could live alone. A solitary person was not fully human. In fact, the Greek word “idiot” means a private person, someone who is not engaged in public life. It was only in a fair and just society that can men and women could be fully human—and happy.
This is what the American Revolution was all about. Jefferson declared that the pursuit of happiness was an inalienable right, along with life and liberty. The story goes that Jefferson, on the advice of Benjamin Franklin, substituted the phrase “pursuit of happiness” for the word “property,” which was favored by George Mason. Franklin thought that “property” was too narrow a notion.
But what exactly did “happiness” mean to the colonists? It was a topic of lively discussion in pubs, public squares, broadsheets, and books. Was happiness individual prosperity, or something else?
Conservatives argue that the American Revolution exalted the individual. Certainly, the colonists didn’t want the British Crown telling them what to do. But the Revolution wasn’t just about getting the government out of people’s lives so the Founders could pursue their private desires.
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had nice houses. They could have enjoyed contented private lives. But it was not just about their property. They believed that you attained happiness, not merely through the goods you accumulated, or in your private life, but through the good that you did in public. People were happy when they controlled their destiny, when their voice was heard, when they participated in public events, when the government did not do things to them, or even for them, but with them.
The American revolutionaries wanted to have their voice heard and to participate in government. After all, their slogan was not “No taxation”—which is such a popular rallying cry today—but “No taxation without representation.” Representation was critical to happiness. The Founders’ long recitation of grievances set out the numerous ways in which they couldn’t control their destiny. They were subject to England, while they wished to be citizens of America. As citizens, they were able to take control of their government and create a just state where the rule of law was respected, domestic tranquility assured, and defense maintained.
As political animals, human beings need a city, a nation, in which to flourish. People can develop their talents only in society. The good society nurtures many talents, and the political system makes that possible by what it rewards and encourages. (…)
This brings me to jobs. After the crash of 2009, banks have been saved, corporations are prospering, and people are still unemployed. My father would have seen something wrong with this picture. He believed having a good job was the key to happiness. “The root problem,” he said, “is in the fact of dependency and uselessness itself. Unemployment means having nothing to do, which means nothing to do with the rest of us. To be without work, to be without use to one’s fellow citizens, is to be in truth the invisible man of whom Ralph Ellison wrote.” (…) “I helped to build this city. I am a participant in its great public ventures. I count.”
It’s not only through our jobs but through participating in public life that we help build the city. In fact, research shows that people who take part in political activities such as voting, advocating for laws, and helping to make government work for themselves and their community are happier than those who don’t. (…)”
— Kathleen Kennedy Townsend served as Maryland’s first woman lieutenant governor. She now works in finance in Washington, a member of the Kennedy family, The Pursuit of Happiness: What the Founders Meant—And Didn’t, The Atlantic, June 20, 2011