We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
...do we want the United States to be like Europe?
I argue for the answer “no,” but not for economic reasons. The European model has indeed created sclerotic economies and it would be a bad idea to imitate them. But I want to focus on another problem.
My argument is drawn from Federalist Paper No. 62, probably written by James Madison: “A good government implies two things: first, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained.” Note the word: happiness. Not prosperity. Not security. Not equality. Happiness, which the Founders used in its Aristotelian sense of lasting and justified satisfaction with life as a whole.
What’s happening? Call it the Europe syndrome. Last April I had occasion to speak in Zurich, where I made some of these same points. After the speech, a few of the twenty-something members of the audience approached and said plainly that the phrase “a life well-lived” did not have meaning for them. They were having a great time with their current sex partner and new BMW and the vacation home in Majorca, and saw no voids in their lives that needed filling.
Flipper the dolphin
Certainly everyone can have a personal version and meaning of “a life well-lived”.
The referenced European twenty-somethings sound shallow. Maybe it's the result of the vaunted European educational system that makes the Euros so superior to everyone else?
I have a tendency to think of it as (i) the highest and best use of one's talents, (ii) knowing that one used their best efforts and (iii) the inherent happiness that comes from (i) and (ii).
As I tell my kids, life is about how much you can do and not how little. I ask about who would be more interesting to be around and to discuss any number of subjects - a person who is well read, thinks well and speaks well, and has done much or a person who has spent most of their lives in front of a TV. It easy to watch TV. It may take more effort to be engaged in life, but it is also more interesting.
I'm afraid I don't buy into "the European model" as described above.
To my mind, if my life hasn't been a learning experience for me, it hasn't been a life well-lived. And if it has been a learning experience, it has involved pain and loss as well as happiness. My life has certainly had quite a bit of both, and undoubtedly will have more. But I am deeply convinced that this is what we're given life for ... to learn and grow, and make spiritual progress.
It seems to me, that the more materialistic we become, the less we fulfill our real purpose for being; to learn to love others as much as we can, to make clear-eyed judgments about what is good and what is evil, and to bring as much happiness as we can to those we love. If the ultimate end product for us is a stronger, wiser soul, then we have done what we came for.