The Pursuit of Happiness

Submitted by Chris Webster on Sat, 2008/02/02 - 00:29
The Testament of Gideon Mack

'What is so wrong with America,' he repeated, as if it was the title of a lecture. As indeed it was. He stood in front of the fire, blocking the heat, hands clasped behind him, and I could hear the back of one slapping into the palm of the other as he answered Jenny's question.

'The Americans sentimentalise anything they touch,' he said. 'And because they dominate the world, they have done their best to sentimentalise our understanding of it. This will not do. It enfeebles the intellect. It gives the most banal aspects of human existence a spurious significance purportedly on a level with, or surpassing, the great truths of revealed religion. ... Stupidity is rife in this world, and its wellspring is the United States of America. This stupidity and this sentimentalism derive from a document which says that humans have an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness.' He paused, as if to see if there was anybody in the room stupid or sentimental enough to defend the Declaration of Independence. 'They don't. The chief end of mankind is to glorify God.'

'An end and a right are different things,' I said. I don't know why I spoke, it was only going to encourage him.

'Yes, you're correct, but the Americans have obliterated the difference, and so, in turn, infatuated by America, has the rest of the Western world. They have turned the pursuit of happiness into an end in itself. Happiness! What is happiness but the flicker of a struck match in the vast expanse of God's creation? It is nothing. You cannot measure it but by false measures - a well-paid job, a nice house, a new car, a loving spouse. ... All these can be taken away from you in an instant. Where is your happiness then? You cannot sentimentalise the valley of the shadow of death, but the Americans do their best, and what they fail to sentimentalise they brutalise. How else could Thomas Jefferson have written those words and yet owned slaves? Ever since Jefferson the Americans have blundered on, pursuing happiness, though it may lead to the destruction of the planet, the starvation of millions, though it means war and crime and incalculable waste and misery - they will pursue happiness to the ends of the earth. But they will find only wormwood and gall, because happiness is a false god.'


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