Any discussion we might have regarding our pursuit of “a reasonable life” (Jefferson called it “happiness”), inevitably opens the door to our various disagreements about what we want to do in our own lives and what everyone else is doing to get in the way of that. At it’s heart, this might just be another nexus between ideology and pragmatism.
Some might suggest, reasonably enough, that “happiness” is merely a euphemism for the highest of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs“, otherwise known as “self-actualization” and, as such, has importance only rivaled by the difficulties associated with it’s achievement. Because of those difficulties, this argument can be carried further (as HDW has done in earlier posts) to mean that you can’t begin to hope for more when more basic needs (like food) are a problem.
Despite ample evidence to the contrary (how often are we surprised at the happiness of some impoverished peoples or cultures, after all?), this is a compelling perspective, notably to the wealthy, who may suffer nightmares about such hardship. Of course, we American’s are most prone to this mindset, setting the official 2009 poverty line at $22,050 for a family of four, a mere 1,350% of the average family income for the whole country of Haiti and 300% for that of Mexico, two near & dear examples. Our “poor” should be thrilled.
Of course the notion that “money can’t buy you happiness” is among first-order truisms, but that doesn’t mean any of us will be well enough versed in it’s practice to keep smiling when we’re the one scrapping for bread. Still and all, I suggest that we learn to attack Maslow at all elevations, perhaps on the basis that this isn’t just a linear problem.
Take a moment to consider this problem in the context of the tools we have at our disposal at the banquet table we call “our life”, reasonable or otherwise. (If you need help getting your bearings here, may I suggest a brief review of basic table manners.) Anyone above the age of 18 should be well accustomed to the notion that “there’s a right way and a wrong way” of doing things in this country. By this, we generally mean “work hard and play by the rules” as a foundation to “success”.
Surely we’ll need a “knife” to cut through the most difficult courses and, perhaps protect ourselves from the “boardinghouse reach”, as it were. Generally, we will forge this tool in school, the one of “hard knocks” if nowhere else. At more-or-less-mid-Maslow levels, we’ll quit using the knife to spear things with and learn to use the fork as we develop relationships; in a word, focus our efforts and refine our manners.
The spoon, well…you know where this is going. Here’s where we really get to the spoils of life, as well as soup. Yes, we can just slurp out of the bowl or sop it up with bread, but that can cause a whole host of problems. We should be mindful of the messes we might make during this meal and, if possible, avoid the pitfalls of either savagery or gluttony. In the end, we’d risk missing or, at least, appreciating the essential goodness of the experience without help of the spoon.
For me personally, I guess, I might be inclined to give up my fork, perhaps even my spoon, before losing grip on my knife. That may well put at least one of my feet in Maslow’s camp. One way or another, though, I keep faith that I will be fed and that gravy is always on the menu.
Now, you could say that Jefferson was, himself, a Maslow precursor. What better hierarchy might we choose than “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness“? Of course, he called these “inalienable rights“, by which he meant a “natural” or de facto part of personhood. Was his ordering of these rights intentional? Almost certainly. But, I still find no compelling reason to imagine that they could be separated in any meaningful way. (Go ahead, I dare you….take any one of them off the list and see where it takes you.)
It’s here I find myself thinking, “golly, gee whiz, I guess that makes me a Spork man”. Oh, I’ll use traditional cutlery in an acceptable manner, surely. Some days, I might be impatient enough or pressed to use my hands. But, for everyday living, I’ll take the spork (of the original Van Brode design, knife included), perhaps the highest technological achievement in western history. No, it’s not perfect, but it is, I contend, a reasonable alternative to losing sight of the meal itself.
The Titanium Spork, alas, no knife edge.