Jefferson did not define what constitutes “happiness”. Consistent with his vision of individual liberty, he purposefully left this as the responsibility of each person. Individual happiness is not a political matter. It is not something that governments should prescribe, nor is it something that others should define for us. It is a matter of personal conscience and mission. It is precisely the kind of matter that our other social institutions, such as families and churches, should aid each of us in defining without leaning on any political mandate.
Yet despite not defining happiness, and despite excluding it from the domain of government to prescribe or to provide, Jefferson included “the pursuit of happiness” as a linchpin in our national vision. This implies that it has tremendous significance.
It does. Life requires meaning and motivation to serve as a frame of reference for all action, or else there would be no action. Why would anyone do anything at all if there is no purpose? Jefferson knew that dissertations about revolutions, rights, and constitutions are pointless if life itself has no meaning. The Declaration would have been just airy poetry if it wasn’t anchored to something transcendent.
Jefferson did not define what happiness should be for each person, because defining meaning for others is an impossible task and trying to do so violates the very essence of freedom. But his inclusion of the phrase “pursuit of happiness” with the other unalienable rights is a clear assertion that pursuing meaning is as fundamental to humanity as is life and liberty.
Jefferson rightly understood that the political and the metaphysical must at some point intersect, because the meaning of life and the proper structure of government are necessarily entangled. That is why the unusual phrase “the pursuit of happiness” is the Rosetta Stone of the Declaration and the foundation of the concept of America.
The Declaration is not a metaphysical document, except for that one phrase, but that one phrase is more than sufficient to establish the basis for an enduring politics of peace and non-coercion. The phrase does not express a religious truth, but it grants freedom for all spiritual pursuits. It does not express a psychological truth, but it grants freedom for all intellectual pursuits. It does not express a transcendent truth, but it grants freedom for the pursuit of meaning and purpose.
Three months ago, Dr. John Ioannidis of Stanford University predicted dire social consequences if states enforced social distancing measures to curb a virus scientists didn’t yet understand.
“I feel extremely sad that my predictions were verified,” Ioannidis said in a recent interview with Greek media.
“There are already more than 50 studies that have presented results on how many people in different countries and locations have developed antibodies to the virus,” Ioannidis, a Greek-American physician, told Greek Reporter. “Of course none of these studies are perfect, but cumulatively they provide useful composite evidence. A very crude estimate might suggest that about 150-300 million or more people have already been infected around the world, far more than the 10 million documented cases.”
Ioannidis said medical data suggest the fatality risk is far lower than earlier estimates had led policymakers to believe and “is almost 0%” for individuals under 45 years old. The median fatality rate is roughly 0.25 percent, however, because the risk “escalates substantially” for individuals over 85 and can be as high as 25 percent for debilitated people in nursing homes.
“The death rate in a given country depends a lot on the age-structure, who are the people infected, and how they are managed,” Ioannidis said. “For people younger than 45, the infection fatality rate is almost 0%. For 45 to 70, it is probably about 0.05-0.3%. For those above 70, it escalates substantially…”
“Major consequences on the economy, society and mental health” have already occurred. I hope they are reversible, and this depends to a large extent on whether we can avoid prolonging the draconian lockdowns and manage to deal with COVID-19 in a smart, precision-risk targeted approach, rather than blindly shutting down everything…”
There’s little question that the lock-downs have caused widespread economic, social, and emotional carnage. Evidence that US states that locked down fared better than states that did not is hard to find.
Though not yet certain, the COVID-19 pandemic may well turn out to be another example of central planning gone wrong.
As I previously noted, it’s a sad irony that many of the greatest disasters in modern history—from Stalin’s “kolkhoz” collective farming system to Mao’s Great Leap Forward and beyond—are the result of central planners trying to improve the lot of humanity through coercive action.
“This is not a dispute about whether planning is to be done or not,” Hayek wrote in The Use of Knowledge in Society. “It is a dispute as to whether planning is to be done centrally, by one authority for the whole economic system, or is to be divided among many individuals.”
As a strange illustration of one of the three supposed laws of dialectical materialism—the interpenetration of opposites—racists and modern anti-racists are united by the importance they ascribe to race, though they are divided by their explanation of why race should be so important. The racists believe that it’s because of biology and the anti-racists believe it’s because of socially-sanctioned racism.
They are united too in their totalitarian (or at least bullying) tendencies, though in this respect the modern anti-racists are now more dangerous, not because they are worse people than the racists, but because racism as a doctrine is mostly, if not entirely, discredited. Racism is truly opposed not by anti-racists, but by non-racists, that is, people who do not judge or behave towards others according to their race.
…As under the totalitarians, positive and public assent to and enthusiasm for certain propositions are required. Failure in this regard is a symptom or sign of being an enemy of the people.
The demonstrations in London (and elsewhere) are illustrative of two contemporary cultural traits. The first is the importance ascribed to opinion as an exclusive, or at least large, component of virtue; the second is the vehemence of expression as the marker of sincerity.
…Actual good conduct, which requires some effort, restraint, and even self-sacrifice, has correspondingly become less important in earning a reputation for goodness. Holding a placard, chanting a slogan, expressing an opinion, is enough.
In short, the more you feel, as measured by the vehemence with which you express it, the better person you are, and the safer from criticism.
It seems, then, that we have entered an era of what might be called moral thuggery. It is, as ever, important not to exaggerate: we do not live in the worst of times, we do not fear the midnight knock on the door if we express a heterodox idea. But there are substantial numbers of people who, in the name of their own moral outrage and sense of righteousness, would like to impose, or at least would not object to the imposition of, a regime in which people did fear that midnight knock. We cannot assume that everyone yearns to let others breathe free.
Another instant classic! JP nails it again. Watch and share before our overseers remove the video (for our own good).