Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Federalist No. 10: Unalianable rights -The Pursuit of Happiness

We all want to be happy. With the exception of maybe angst-ridden emo teenagers, no one goes thru life wishing they were sadder or more depressed. The question is, what does it take to be happy?

The answer is simple, tho many people have a difficult time understanding its significance or how to apply it. The answer is: you have to find happiness for yourself. We all have different wants and desires. We all have different values and priorities. We all have different ideas about what will make us happy.

Nowadays, the right to pursue happiness is confused with a right to happiness. The problem with this is a few things. First and foremost, while the former exists, the latter does not. Second, for something that is supposedly unalienable (cannot be bought, transferred, sold, or given away), this so-called "right to happiness" is not much of a guarantee. Remember that the right to life boils down to the right to experience life -the good and the bad. As a natural part of our existence, we will go thru moments of pain, suffering, depression, sadness, sorrow, and discouragement. We will not always be happy, either as a result of our own bad choices, or the bad choices of others. A third problem is that too often those who confuse the real right to pursue happiness with the imagined right to be happy take such a right to mean "their right to force you and me to make sure they are happy and content in life". Which really is just a justification for slavery. These individuals confuse the means with the ends, or use the philosophy that because happiness is supposedly an "unalienable right", then the ends justify the means.

So what is the pursuit of happiness, if not a guarantee that we will be happy? Benjamin Franklin said "The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself." There a various understandings by conservatives of the term happiness and how it relates to property, and what the Founding Fathers meant by it, and while those are undeniable facts of history, for the sake of argument I will use the term as most people, liberal and conservative, do: the opportunity to make ones dreams come true, or ambitions realized; the ability to pursue a course or occupation that is conducive to one's individual's happiness.

"Among these unalienable rights, as proclaimed in that great document [The Declaration of Independence], is the right of men to pursue their happiness, by which is meant the right to pursue any lawful business or vocation, in any manner not inconsistent with the equal rights of others, which may increase their prosperity or develop their faculties, so as to give to them their highest enjoyment. The common business and callings of life, the ordinary trades and pursuits, which are innocuous in themselves, and have been followed in all communities from time immemorial, must therefore be free in this country to all alike upon the same conditions. The right to pursue them, without let or hindrance, except that which is applied to all persons of the same age, sex, and condition, is a distinguishing privilege of citizens of the United States, and an essential element of that freedom which they claim as their birthright. It has been well said that 'THE PROPERTY WHICH EVERY MAN HAS IN HIS OWN LABOR, AS IT IS THE ORIGINAL FOUNDATION OF ALL OTHER PROPERTY, SO IT IS THE MOST SACRED AND INVIOLABLE." Butchers' Union Co. v.Crescent City CO., 111 U.S. 746 (1884)

This seems simple enough: what a man can do, without encroaching on the unalienable rights of others, to further his own enjoyment of and happiness in life, a man has an unalienable right TO DO.

What does that say about arguments for welfare, minimum wage, or even gay marriage, that make the case that the recipients of such benefits have a "right to pursue happiness?" While it is true (as the poor man, the working man, and the gay man ALL have the same God-given rights as you or I), it does not mean that such, in their pursuit to make themselves happy, can then force us to accommodate their whims and fancies because of their inherent desire to be happy. "That property which a man has honestly acquired he retains full control of, subject to these limitations...that he shall not use it to his neighbor's injury, and that does not mean that he must use it for his neighbor's benefit". Budd v. People of State of New York, 143 U.S. 517 (1892) We all have the unalienable right to pursue a path we believe conducive to our individual happiness: not force others to run down that path for us and make us happy. This means that when we elect to follow a course that we perceive will lead us to happiness, and discover on the way that it is, in fact, unconducive to that happiness, we change course, or find a different path. Never can the pursuit of happiness be used as a bludgeon to force people to do what will make us happy.

How does the government secure such rights? By giving us rights to property, and by allowing us to do what manner of work that a man can profit from (provided it isnt illegal or infringes on the rights of others). In short, sustaining the free market system. What a man works for with his own two hands is his and his alone, and cannot be taken by force except as the public need AND use will dictate, or as punishment for a crime. If you are unhappy with your lot in life, CHANGE IT! You are free to experience life; you are free to choose. These freedoms, combined with the freedom to pursue happiness, give you all the tools you need to find that place in the universe where you are content. But true happiness will only occur when YOU work for it in your own life.

This is not a guarantee. Some of us will find the happiness we are searching for right off the bat. For others it will take some trial and error. Sadly, there are quite a few who may never obtain the happiness they seek, but in their pursuit they may find a better happiness than what they had before. But if we are to be happy, we must first pursue happiness. We may not, from time to time, be able to find the object of our pursuit, but we will never find happiness if we are not allowed to pursue it in the first place. It is only by the pursuit of happiness that we can hope to ever find it. Our government exists to ensure that we can pursue it.

We just have to catch it for ourselves.

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