Ibraheem A. Waziri
As published in the Philosophy Section of the journal, African Renascence, London, May/June, 2004
"Oh me Oh life of the questions of these recurring!
Of the endless trend of the hopeless;
Of cities filled with the foolish;
What is amid thee oh me oh life?!"
- Whit Whitman
It is true that the ultimate goal of human life in this world is to attain a state of absolute peace and happiness. In Western philosophies, evil is understood to mean nothing more than that which brings agony or displeasure, constituting the disruption of the flow of peace and happiness of humankind. Based on this, it is often assumed that the key struggle in life is to conquer evil. There has been a debate, since time immemorial, as to which way is the best for humankind to follow in their quest to achieve this. Different philosophers have offered different prescriptions at different turns of human history.
Religious institutions have always maintained that absolute peace and happiness is attainable only when humankind recognises that life is a struggle to meet with the requirements of a certain omniscient being called God. Thus Christ is often quoted as saying: "But seek ye first, the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you". The religious institutions usually argue that this should form the essential building block of all nation-states, including their political and social structures. This approach sees evil in the light of the spiritual, and as such discourages people from unlimited indulgence in leisure- seeking exercises, for a promise of a future world that will bring all leisure to one's doorsteps.
Those who are against the religious notion of happiness tend to see everything from the other side of the moral divide. Karl Marx for instance re-wrote history based on Darwin's theory of evolution, and concluded that the history of humankind is nothing more than the story of creatures who are trying to survive, through a quest for peace and happiness via economic liberation. His monumental work, Das Kapital is more a re-appraisal of the statement attributed to Christ: "Seek ye first the economic kingdom and all shall be added unto you". The argument seems to be that since human beings are only products of chance as "confirmed" by Darwin, their life is nothing more than a service to the flesh. Let them eat their fill, drink to brink, accumulate wealth, have sex, and do everything according to the cravings of their heart. They should have no obligations or responsibilities, but rights and liberties. For proponents of this philosophy, only that, which can be seen, deserves attention.
This brought about the notion of material description of the world, in terms of man's social activities: Social Darwinism. From this evolved the two dominant economic theories, Capitalism and Socialism. These two theories have had profound influence on humankind in the last two centuries. Since then the indices of national development everywhere in the world are measured in terms of the kind of food people eat, mortality rate, life expectancy and other things that have direct correlation to what the eyes can see and hands can touch. It is even assumed that only economic activity should mark the level of the liberation of human mind.
Socialism failed. We are today left with Capitalism, which is nothing different from the other sister-theory, except perhaps in form and structure. But the goal is the same: a materialistic description of the universe and a certain belief that peace and happiness could only be achieved through economic empowerment. But capitalism has not fully delivered. In America, where the system is practised in its most advanced form, rather than attaining the goal of peace and happiness, we see constant complaints by people of various forms of subjugations, including that their lives have become meaningless by their reduction into a struggle to feed and survive. In other words, there appears to be a pervasive feeling that despite the country's wealth and power, life ought to be more than what the system is offering them.
When Maria Pruetzel, the mother of the onetime Broadway Star, Freddie Prinze, wrote an account of what made him commit suicide, she concluded thus:
Freddie had come to the Hollywood with a dream he believed about to come true. But in Hollywood he stopped being a person and became as he put it - a piece of 'merchandise'. He was offered a fortune to endorse lunch boxes bearing his trademark quip...Freddie the product had replaced Freddie the person.
She concluded by asking a series of rhetorical questions
... Was all this what killed Freddie? Was it that the dollar was more important than the human being with feelings and emotions? Was the image more important than the real person? .... If this is the case, then we live in a society suffering from spiritual malnutrition.
Many people around the world today experience similar dissatisfaction as Freddie Prinze did despite having totally dedicated themselves to the service of the flesh. I cannot remember how often I have heard, Michael Jackson, the self-styled King of Pop, say he is not happy. This is despite his tremendous wealth, and the attention he constantly garners wherever he goes. One writer summarised the dilemma of humankind in relation to happiness in the 21st century thus:
Today we have higher buildings and wider highways,
but shorter temperaments and narrower points of view.
We spend more, but enjoy less.
We have bigger houses, but smaller families.
We have more compromises, but less time.
We have more knowledge, but less judgment
We have more medicines, but less health.
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values
We talk much, we love only a little, and we hate too much.
We reached the moon and came back, but we find it troublesome to cross our own streets and meet our neighbours.
We have conquered the outer space, but not our inner space.
We have higher income, but fewer morals....
These are times with more liberty, but less joy....
With much more food, but less nutrition....
These are days in which two salaries get home, but divorces increase.
These are times of finer houses, but more broken homesÔÇŽ.
The failure of the economicist system should be a wakeup call for humankind. There is a need for a new system that will truly serve human's innate need for peace and happiness. The new system should include, among its indices of national development, not just material affluence or wealth but also stability in marriage, individual sense of personal security and other elements that relate to the spiritual upliftment of humankind. The new system should also look at humankind from a point of view of creatures that have obligations and duties, not just rights and liberties, which often turn them into selfish beings that seek only for their entitlements, often, with disregard to the feelings of others. It is then we will have a running system that strikes a balance between the spirit and the physical self.