Thank you, Thomas Jefferson, for fucking us. Of all the things you could have had us pursue…You could’ve had us pursue basic pleasantries with our neighbors, and perhaps today we would not be a divided nation that can’t even talk to each other. You could’ve had us pursue good health, and then maybe today Americans would not be the most obese people in the world. You could’ve had us pursue knowledge and then we’d not be having to bribe our kids into college. If you had chosen knowledge instead of happiness, then maybe 1/3 of Americans wouldn’t believe Russia is our friend and the world might not be in this ridiculous mess in the first place. But noooooo! You said Happiness. We could have all been happier being healthy or smart or being able to communicate with each other.
Jefferson meant well, but he doomed all future Americans to misery with his lofty notion that we should pursue… happiness. It sounds good on the surface. I mean, who doesn’t want happiness, right? Happiness gets 5 stars on YELP. But that’s just because Jefferson sold us that idea. Before that, nobody had ever presumed people were entitled to …happiness. If you just avoided the plague it was a good day. If your village wasn’t raided and your head wasn’t chopped off, you had done a pretty good job of being a rational and responsible citizen that day. But then, in strolled Jefferson with his fancy feather in hand, to set the bar a little, no A LOT higher. Far too high. Let’s not just worry about survival any more, let’s try to be happy while we’re planting and plowing. WTF? No wonder today Americans want credit for “adulting” the first time they go grocery shopping without their parents.
The problem with this brilliant idea of pursuing happiness is the pursuit part. Jefferson knew people weren’t ever really happy for the whole day long, so he wrote “the pursuit of happiness.” In modern day Los Angeles a pursuit means news choppers and spike strips. At least a televised police pursuit usually ends with a petty criminal being tackled by Highway Patrolmen after a pit maneuver. Now that’s happiness. And a satisfying pursuit that sates one’s appetite, if not for happiness, at least for perverse 21 stcentury live entertainment. And it’s free, if you pay for cable.
If I had a nickel with-his-face-on-it for every time I’ve had a great idea that never took off, I’d be a gazillionaire. But Jefferson knew the future. He was clearly envisioning Facebook when he wrote about the pursuit of happiness. He figured that seeing photos (although he’d never seen a photo) of other people’s perfect salads would drive us all to pursue even better salads, on cooler more rustic-looking outdoor tables than our friends have, with those little white party lights strung over the patio. It’s the pursuit of … Wayfair.
Tom would be so, dare I say, happy to know that centuries later most American adults would spend an average of 3 hours per day staring at their phones, trying to convince themselves and everyone else that they are indeed happy. In technological pursuit of happiness. Check it off your list, late Thomas. Mission accomplished. We’re pursuing our asses off.
Originally published at http://theatreoftheabsurdblog.wordpress.com on January 3, 2020.