We live in a society that really wants us to feel good. We have weight-loss programs, 24-hour gyms, hair color for men and women, and scads of “self-help” books. We laugh at videos on the internet of people doing dumb stuff, just so we know we are better than that. If we’ve got a job, a reasonably well-trained dog and no parking tickets to pay, we are good. Right?
John Zmirak begs to differ. He takes us to an imaginary land to prove his point:
Imagine a small country in Central Asia – call it Soregonadistan – where prospectors discovered an otherwise rare and extremely precious metal, contrafactium. The country sells the right to mine contrafactium to the U.K.-based Leviathan, LLP., which duly pays the country $100,000 per year for every native, and contracts that it will do so for at least the next 70 years. The once-impoverished citizens of this camel-blighted republic vote in a populist government, which declares that it will divvy up the money every year among the people. And how do the citizens decide to spend it? They legalize heroin, and contract with their southern neighbor, Lotusland, for a cornucopian supply of its precious poppies. Then the Soregonadis hire Lotuslanders as servants to make them dinner and keep them healthy, while each Soregonadi enjoys a lifetime of opiate ecstasy. No one is coerced into taking the stuff, but that blissed-out look on people’s faces proves mighty contagious – and soon 90% of the adult population consists of opium eaters. (What kids they still manage to have are farmed out to dutiful, sober nannies from Lotusland.)
Now from what I read, the high from opium is one of the most exquisite experiences on earth. The chemical latches onto the mightiest pleasure centers in the brain – and if you get a pure supply delivered through sterile needles, it need not shorten your life unduly. So if the Soregonadis are paying for the drug with their own money, and making sure that they don’t violate anyone’s rights, what is exactly is wrong with the choices they’ve made? Post-Christian liberalism has no persuasive answer. The brilliant Fr. Dwight Longenecker once summed up the modern outlook on life as “utilitarian hedonism” – the consistent pursuit of the largest number of chipper, happy moments for the greatest number of people before they die. That is the moral code that prevails in the West, where seat belts are required but pornography goes unregulated. (Except, of course, to make sure that most of the actors indeed are consenting adults.) Call it the “happy moments” theory of life.
By modern Western standards, then, the Soregonadis are simply the luckiest people on earth, and it’s time for patriotic miners to find an American source of contrafactium, if only to maintain our nation’s lethargy independence.
If that conclusion doesn’t sit well with you, it must be because you think that there is something more to human happiness than feeling good all the time, and that there is some moral standard which includes, but goes beyond, respecting individual rights.
What lies beyond this land of “utilitarian hedonism”? Perhaps, Zmirak suggests, we look to Samuel Gregg’s Tea Party Catholic and the idea of human flourishing.