Looking Beyond the Mirror   (Pleasure vs. Contentment)

January 2020

What makes America great?

Is it our technology, that has enabled us to eliminate privacy and sacrifice our ability to communicate face-to-face?

Is it our vast natural resources, that have enabled us to achieve a standard of living once enjoyed only by monarchs and despots?

Is it our political parties, which have abandoned the principles of our founding and separated Americans into three opposing camps? (Republican, Democrat, and Independent)

It is our great cities, whose inhabitants are heavily burdened with taxes and regulations, and who have in many cases been victimized by venal and power-hungry politicians who care not for the people they were hired to serve?

Is it our financial system, which has abused its influence to create the greatest disparity of wealth in human history?

The answer is, of course, none of the above.

Alexis de Tocqueville put it this way:

“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

All right. Let’s modify the question. What makes America good?

There can be only one answer to that question, and it is the answer de Tocqueville had in mind. It is the people who make a nation great. More specifically, it is good people who make a good nation. Only a good nation has the potential to achieve true greatness.

What makes people good?  Being a good person involves doing those things that pertain to the foundation beneath our founding documents. The Founding Fathers knew, and John Adams expressed it best, that a constitutional republic requires moral, ethical, decent, and honest citizens of good character who are that way because they choose to be.

That’s what self-governance is all about. Self-governing people – what we would call responsible citizens – do not need a government in the usual sense. They are well educated, act in good faith in all their dealings, believe in God, and keep God’s commandments. They hold themselves to high personal standards of character, personality, and behavior.

Are such people found in America today?

There are more responsible citizens in the United States today than ever before. Ignored by the media, they live their lives in service to their families, their communities, and their God. They support organizations they believe in, support the Constitution, and fulfill their obligations as responsible citizens. They don’t draw attention to themselves because they do occasionally come under fire, particularly from the Left, and in recent decades they have found it increasingly difficult to explain their positions on the issues of the day in the garish light of the prevailing Progressive philosophy. .

The conservative movement, which counts among its number a great many of these responsible citizens, has failed to properly and fully defend those principles it holds dear. As a result, those principles have been largely superseded and overwritten by new human “rights” created by government under pressure from special interest groups.

In recent decades great divisions have arisen among us. Despite the legislative and judicial successes of the Civil Rights Movement, there remain those who believe that one race is inferior to another, or that one race has the right to rule others.

We are also divided by the notion that sexual orientation is what defines us, motivates us, and inspires us, and that it determines the type and quality of life we will live.

These beliefs and notions are falsehoods. Their propagation endangers all of society.

In his book The Hacking of the American Mind, Dr. Robert M. Lustig discusses the two paths humans may pursue in life. He defines them as pleasure and contentment. Each is achieved by a different approach to life, and each is measured by a different set of receptors in our brains.

Pleasure, of course, is moment-to-moment, transient, and of no permanent effect. It is sought through various means, including sex, alcohol, drugs, and sugar.

Contentment is almost the polar opposite; it is sought through commitment, faithfulness, diligence, and intellectual honesty. It is achieved during and after significant effort, and its effects are long-lasting and life-changing.

There is an easy comparison to be made between these two approaches to life and the bottom line positions of our two major political parties. At least, it once could be said that the Republican Party was the party seeking contentment; that may no longer be true. At the very least, the Republican Party is desperately trying to overcome its own internal conflicts and find some point of relevance in a sea of Progressivism.

The Democratic Party, on the other hand, has increasingly chosen the path of pleasure. In the past fifty years the Democrats have adopted Progressivism to a very high degree, adopting horrors like the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which denies that humans have any responsibility for their own lives. From this we have witnessed a sea change in behavior all over the world. Hundreds of millions have abandoned the faith of their fathers. They have drunk the Kool-Aid and wear the shackles of the welfare state. They have allowed foreign and demeaning philosophies and behaviors to be taught and promoted to their children. They have diminished the institution of marriage and the propriety of birth within the bonds of matrimony. They have embraced illegal drugs, alcohol, sexual misconduct, child and spousal abuse, road rage, violent video games, and much more in a long, downward spiral that is robbing them of their humanity and stealing from them their birthright as children of God.

All of this is both saddening and reprehensible to responsible citizens. Bad conduct in our communities affects us all. Labeling it acceptable conduct is even more harmful.

The Sexual Revolution, the gay rights movement, women’s liberation – all these events have diminished us in one way or another. They have changed our ideas about what it means to be human. They have challenged the foundation upon which our civilization, and particularly our constitutional republic, is based. They have encouraged us to live for ourselves as individuals while forcing us into a collective as a group of “victims” seeking our “freedom.”

In another essay I will consider the proper role of government in all of this. For the moment, suffice it to say that the role of the United States Government under our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, has no authority in making legal determinations of sexual preferences or personal lifestyle. Those things are part of the power reserved to the people themselves, or to the states. The states have the authority to govern the conduct of marriages and to punish abuse and drunk driving, but they do not have the authority to control our thoughts or the attitudes that promote our bad behaviors.

These “new” ideas are not new, and they are not valid. If we are indeed children of God, we have a responsibility to seek Him out and discover His truths for ourselves. We do not have the right to choose to live in a way that violates those things our consciences would teach us – if only we would let them.

We used to say that the “new morality” is the old immorality. That is a true statement. Today such talk is, in far too many venues, punishable as hate speech.

The seeking of pleasure turns us inward. We seek pleasure for ourselves, often to the exclusion of others. We become self-serving. We care less and less for those around us, including our families, as we focus on the things we want. We look at the mirror and declare that we have rights, and that no one can take those rights away from us. We declare ourselves the master of our fate – and then fail to properly prepare for a life worth living.

We can abandon the pursuit of contentment, and seek pleasure for the sake of pleasure, only if we also abandon the foundation underlying our constitutional republic. That foundation includes the principles that empower the idea that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

There it is. Happiness. Does happiness come from seeking pleasure?  If so, we receive it only momentarily. True happiness is developed through the choices we make, the character we develop, and our willingness to look beyond the mirror and step up to our responsibilities as spouses, parents, and citizens of the greatest nation the world has ever seen.

There is a God, and He loves all his children. If America is to become great, we must become good. We must undergo our own personal search for God and truth, confident that we will find both as we live our lives in the way He always intended.