Saturday, May 26, 2007

You have the right...

To happiness..? Or do you..? Do I..? Do we..? There are so many people soapboxing about their entitlements to rights or the lack thereof that it is becoming so passé. But where did we get the idea that we have a right to be happy. What if you have had a wonderfully charmed life of blessed existence and prosperity – was that a right that you were entitled to or a right that you earned or a right that other people were supposed to allow you to have? Who says we have any rights at all let alone the right to happiness? And what of the poor wretched tormented soul surviving a tragic existence who can’t even call it a life – do they have a right to be happy?

We have no right to happiness. If we said we have the right to good luck – we would think that strange. If we said we have the right to sadness – even stranger. Do we depend a great deal for our happiness or sadness on circumstances beyond human control? A right to happiness doesn’t make much more sense than a right to be 6’ tall, or to have a millionaire father, or to get good weather whenever you go on a picnic.

A right is a freedom guaranteed to me by the laws of the land and society I live in. I have a right to travel along the public roads because society gives me that freedom; that’s what we mean by calling the roads ‘public’. I can also understand a right as a claim guaranteed me by the laws, and correlative to an obligation on someone else’s part. If I have a right to receive $100 from you, this is another way of saying that you have a duty to pay me $100.

Does one have the right to pursue happiness? Of course man is not entitled to pursue this happiness by any and every means – including murder, rape, robbery, treason, fraud etc; etc. Man is expected to live according to societal laws and within boundaries of legislature – which provides our freedom. Man in his pursuit of happiness has a right to do whatever they have a right to do. Whatever means of pursuing happiness are lawful for any should be lawful for all.

What then is the definition of lawful in this context? What methods of pursuing happiness are either morally permissible by the Law of Nature or should be declared legally permissible by the legislature of a particular nation? Surely people don’t have the unlimited right to happiness?

If we establish a right to happiness, which supersedes all the ordinary rules of behaviour, we do so not because of what it professes to be while we are in the grip of it. Hence, while bad behaviour is real and works miseries and degradations, the happiness - which was the object of the behaviour - turns out again and again to be illusory. The fatal principle seeps through our whole lives. We advance towards a state of society in which not only each man but every impulse in each man claims carte blanche. And then, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart and will be swept away.

Adapted from C.S. Lewis written shortly before his death.

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