Most people believe that attaining happiness is the natural goal of being alive. People who hold happiness as an ideal or an ambition differ in the way they believe happiness is attained and they also differ in the way that they view actualizing their ambitions. This means that some people view happiness as a goal that should be attained despite whatever means is necessary, while others belive that the ends do not justify the means if an individual’s pursuit of happiness brings harm to others. Those who belive that personal happiness is dependant on moral behavior are apt to act quite differently from those who belive in the selfish pursuit of ambition o matter what the cost. As a person who has always believed that personal fulfillment and happiness is closely connected to morality, I view the world as a sort of battleground where so many of the problems which are encountered are the result of a clash between those who believe in moral behavior and those who only believe in self-indulgence.
For example, when the topic of global warming is brought up, the cause for this environmental catastrophe is quite obviously attached to issues of selfish personal fulfillment at a cost to the greater good. Those who control the oil industries and associated industries benefit greatly from encouraging the consumption of fossil fuels while millions of people who live near rising seas or in areas that are in danger of desertification are left to fend for themselves. This is t say nothing about the toll that is exacted on wildlife and the environment itself. The seas are becoming more acidic and coral reefs and glaciers are disintegrating. For those who prosper, it is possible to purchase a floating island and hide away from the damage that is caused; for those billions of others who are average citizens of the world, climate change is an immediate threat to their survival. In my opinion the immorality of causing others to suffer while personally profiting is something that would preclude being truly happy. Stated simply: I do not belive that I could be personally happy in life if my prosperity was connected to other people suffering.
The same can be said for issues of warfare. While it is true that terrorist groups pose a threat to innocent people around the world, it is also true that the “war on terror” as it has been conducted by the United States and its allies reflects not only the will to combat terrorism, but the will to engage in war profiteering for those who are the owners of the military-industrial complexes. Each year, for example, the United States conducts hundreds if not thousands of bombing missions and drone strikes that result in so-called “collateral” damage which is the death of innocent civilians, many times babies and small children. Politicians and generals who order the strikes are trying to appear tough on terrorism and they very seldom seem to understand that their actions are brutal and immoral.
In fact, it is not too much of stretch to suggest that most people who pursue money and power are guilty of some kind of morality. This means that purveyors of fast-food, liquor, fire-arms, ammunition, and even Hollywood movies and TV bear some degree of responsibility for the fallout that results from their products being mass produced and mass consumed. Hundreds of millions of Americans suffer from obesity and related health problems and personal unhappiness due to the prevalence of “empty calorie” food and the associated ad-campaigns that push these foods on the American population. The same can be said about the proliferation of guns in America. Also, the same can be said about the proliferation of prescription drugs. In each of these cases (and many others) what is happening is that an individual or group of individuals is profiting personally from the exploitation and suffering of others.
Because so many people, especially in America, equate happiness with the gaining of wealth adn power, there is very little chance that genuine reform of the dangerous corporate tendencies will ever take place. Rather than holding up the idea of a moral life as a means to gaining personal happiness, the basic idea in American capitalistic society is that happiness is directly connected to how much money you earn. Therefore, in pursuit of money, many people will throw out all concern for the impact of their actions on others. To my mind, it is the pursuit of power that seems to present the most serious hurdle to living a moral life.
There is saying that “no good deed goes unpunished” adn usually what people mean when they say that is that you often fail to profit materialistically or in terms of personal fame for the actions which you take that are selfless. However, it is also true that altruistic acts can bring a feeling of happiness on their own and do not require any kind of tangible “reward” in order to be looked at as accomplishments. Obviously, there are few people who would reject all forms of personal indulgence in order to merely serve others, but in my mind moral behavior is squarely based on understanding and accepting two core principles: empathy and altruism. Empathy is the power to understand and care about other people’s plight and altruism is the act of being willing to help others without expecting anything in return.
When people talk about ideal societies, they often involve the creation of high-tech gadgets that eradicate the need for human labor or make everyday tasks easier. There is nothing wrong with this idea; however, idealism can also be considered to be something that exists in a psychological dimension and in the way people view themselves and others. For example, the world we live in would be much closer to a utopia if the the level of empathy felt by all people was such that violence was curbed and poverty in others was looked at as a stain on each of us. The ending of suffering could be seen as being as lofty an aspiration as the pursuit of fame and fortune. This is a morally based idealism which is in many ways in direct opposition to materialism. That said, it is obvious that materialism and morality often exist in a state of friction with each other. Materialism and selfishness are obstacles to living a moral life.