Can You Be Happy While Not Being Free?

Q: In your post “Life Affirming Ideas”… You discuss affirmations to work toward happiness as an end, but in your next post, “Americans Lowering the Bar on Themselves,” you present how America is tragically headed for difficult times.

So I must present this question to you: How can an individual seek out happiness under political and social strangulation, backed by the force of Government? Life affirming ideas and actions assume the ability to actually be free to achieve them!

A: Well, your question makes two points and assumes two things. One, you assume, we’re already living under a dictatorship. We’re actually not, at least not yet. A true dictatorship requires full restrictions on freedom of speech, determined by the party (or parties) in power.

Two, you’re assuming human beings cannot achieve any meaningful life goals in our present circumstance. I don’t think this second assumption is true, either. It is true that human beings cannot pursue rational values under a dictatorship. However, so long as free speech exists, one can promote or argue in favor of the right policies and ideas (or at least against the wrong ones). In America, we still have (essentially) freedom of speech. If the economy worsens, as it will on our current course, then free speech is eventually in danger, because the government will justify it as necessary for the ‘common welfare.’ At that point, one has several choices: Go underground, or give up. Going underground is not a happy choice, but it is one way to pursue values, even under the horror or terror of a dictatorship.

The apparatus for at least some restraints on free speech (probably by a series of executive orders) is already there for Obama, although he’d still have to get around some obstacles and might not want to spend the political capital to do so. We’ll just have to see. I’m not sure what restrictions on free speech would look like in America, especially with all the technical means of communication we presently have. I do know it could only happen if the economy becomes bad enough and people, as a result, become more fearful than ever and are willing to tolerate such outrages. Frankly, it’s inevitable without major course reversals in our present economic decline. I don’t assume freedom of speech would go down without a fight, although it would probably result in secession or other forms that the disintegration of a constitutional republic might take (yes, even in our lifetimes.)

The reason I’m still writing about life-affirming ideas and ways to be rationally happy is because those ideas are more needed than ever. People will not embrace freedom unless they first know how to rationally be happy. A lot of Americans are riddled with fear, not of anything in particular but of existence itself. This is why they’re empowering the government to become more authoritarian than ever. If being rationally happy is their goal, and they start to embrace an absence of freedom, then sooner or later they’re going to have to resolve the contradiction and decide. As you say, one cannot be unfree and happy, because happiness (rationally defined) requires self-initiative and self-responsibility. Mother Government will not allow this.

This is a battle and a struggle still taking place in America. In some form, it will always be taking place within human beings, regardless of the era or the political conditions under which one lives. Each and every individual human being, regardless of when or where he or she lives, must at some point decide for him- or herself: Do I want to be free, or not? Am I worthy of self-responsible living, or not?

You can’t say or imply, “We don’t have full freedom — and in fact we’re moving systematically towards a dictatorship.’ (True statement) And then conclude: ‘Therefore, there’s no point to identifying what’s required to live a happy and rational life.” In a sense, this is giving up. In effect it’s saying, “The dictators are making enough headway that there’s no point trying to be happy.” This way, they win for sure. Do you really want to roll over without a fight?

If freedom is to survive or flourish — in the United States or anywhere else — there have to be large numbers of people committed to happiness, rationally defined, and who want to attain it. This gives them something to lose when the dictators come in and say, “We’ll take care of you” or “We’ll take over for you.” (Two versions of the same thing, although most Americans in their naivetstill think there’s a difference.)

Dictators will never last for long, nor even gain a foothold, in a society with people who understand what happiness is, and what it should be. They’re gaining a foothold in today’s American society where too many people are looking externally for happiness. Like a bad joke, they seem to actually believe that government authorities can and will provide it for them. Only a state of profound metaphysical terror could lead one to think that somebody like Barack Obama (or any other contemporary politician) is able to protect them from anything.

While there’s still freedom of speech, and still possibly time to convince enough people that being happy requires self-responsibility — isn’t it worth a shot? I realize some will answer no, but my answer remains yes.


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