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THE HELGALIAN CHRONICLES

On American Needs and Wants by David Arthur Walters


The Helgalian Chronicle, Ed. 08

Once again I have been ruminating on Helga's sweeping statement: "America was and still is a BEACON to the world, and in a profound sense, to me. It represents recognition and a celebration of the INDIVIDUAL above the group, ideals of LIBERTY, enterprise, and possibility. It is the only country I'm aware of that has articulated the right to pursuit of HAPPINESS - a novel political and HUMANISTIC concept for that time, or any other - in its Declaration of Independence. In doing so, it recognizes that personhood has an EMOTIONAL, as well as PHYSICAL and MENTAL component. An individual has the RIGHT to emotional WELL-BEING and to seek to improve the quality of life. This goes beyond the right to live and have one's basic needs met, and even to be free. It is the basis for the AMERICAN DREAM, which still thrives. One just has to watch A&E's Biography almost any night to see the parade of famous individuals who have COME UP FROM LITERALLY NOTHING to make something of themselves and their lives, from Elvis, and Coalminer's Daughter, Loretta Lynn, to Senator Jesse Jackson, and Forty-Second President, Bill Clinton." (emphasis added)
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THE HELGALIAN CHRONICLES


My previous reflections have focused on the basic physical needs and the efforts of so-called positivist and utilitarian reformers to provide for the broader satisfaction of those needs in terms of quantifiable goods, in contrast to the power elite who resorted to libertarian rhetoric to secure and add to holdings that were already far in excess of their personal needs. I admit I have been rather cynical at times, but I have also admitted on several occasions that organized greed has in fact resulted in the broader distribution of products and services as well as longer and healthier physical life for greater numbers of people. Absent the greed there would be nothing for socialists to organize, and, absent the socialization there would be nothing for libertarians interested in contracting the circle of liberty to complain about. Yet, despite the plethora of goods on the market and the improvement of material living standards in America, the higher mental component mentioned by Helga has been stunted by unwholesome, insane objectivism; many of us suffer emotionally as a consequence, for the emotional component is the synthesis of the mental and physical faces of our coin. The positive science of production with its thrift of efficiency is turning the conjoint material and spiritual world upside down, smothering the spiritual one with the incoherent nonsense of unmitigated greed, and the physical one with garbage, trash and junk. Despite Helga's high hopes for the United States in its capacity as exemplary world-leader, I suspect that its obsessively positivist modus operandi is bringing the imitative world to the brink of yet another self-destructive episode. Helga avers that in the United States an "individual has the right to emotional well-being and to seek to improve the quality of life. This goes beyond the right to live and have one's basic needs met, and even to be free." But what are beyond basic "needs?" Let us call them "wants." The line between needs and wants is difficult to draw without a dictator, for men need wants. A human being needs more than bare subsistence to be human. He needs, say, the leisure to enjoy and improve his communications; that in turn, enhances his ability to satisfy his "basic" needs. As civilization advances, you might want a Rolls Royce; you have a Rolls; you can do without one; but I cannot do without a one, for my need for a Rolls is such that I cannot live without one; I would rather die first; so I hijack yours at gunpoint and now I am very happy. Still, although you did not need the Rolls I seized, your needed self-esteem is wounded by the injustice of my theft; you unhappily call the police. We always want more than we need; that much is clear; and of course we agree on necessaries such as food, defense, mating and shelter--although not on their quality. After that, only a dictatorial or state power can effectively draw the arbitrary line between everyone's needs and wants. For example, the regulatory agency sets price controls on energy in California, or the authorities in Brazil order consumers to reduce energy consumption by twenty percent--power to those who do not comply will be cut off. In our Rolls Royce case, since self-esteem is learned and does not necessarily depend on the possession of a Rolls, most everyone would agree that luxury cars are a want and not a need. Moreover, some would say it is demeaning for people to struggle over luxuries in general. A majority somewhere might decide to ban luxuries as a public menace. But let us suppose everyone can have as many Rolls Royces as they want because of technological progress. Every man is a king or god in an efficient democracy. When Rajneesh was asked why he had 50 Rolls Royces just to drive around his Oregon ranch, he responded, "God is opulent." And god-headed man certainly is opulent in the United States, and omnipotent:
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THE HELGALIAN CHRONICLES


working in mysterious ways with his invisible hand, he is free to pave the world between junkyards and to fumigate life right out of existence. Ironically, the growth of the fumigation process is measured by the rank growth of certain plants in a remote jungle. Civilization is working overtime to destroy that jungle too. Soon there will be no jungle or forest sanctuary left. People-pollution and its noxious by-products is nearly ubiquitous. That is to say, Helga's wonderful American Dream is nearly over. The one-sided emphasis of positive science, contrived to bring all objects including people under its domain as useful objects in order to produce more objects for consumption, is turning society into a nightmarish used people lot and its habitat into a junkyard. Much has been said about how science will bring about the end of history: that end is death, for the end of history is the end of the story of the very freedom foretold by science. Thus will the death wish be realized unless science is brought to heel in the recognition that we really do not need so many wants because, as strange as it may seem, many of us really do not want those wants; they provide us with no satisfaction: we are habitually force-feeding ourselves for want of something else to do. Therefore stand by for another unwanted product or service, upgrade, politician, et cetera, and work hard to produce things you do not want but must produce to get the means to take care of the basic necessities. Helga knows fully well that utility or happiness has two faces on its coin. When that coin was first tossed on our shore it was over-weighted on the property side. The pursuit of happiness in the U.S. is still primarily the pursuit of property, not necessarily to hold it but to consume it, to incorporate it for its mana--hence the more consumed the better. It is the very definition of utility Bentham, the father of utilitarianism, said was "unfortunate." The pursuit of positive happiness in the United States--and it has hegemony over the world, especially over Canada--is disgusting and most sensible people know it. We are no longer deluded by the dogma that the spirit of happiness is in the thing to be consumed rather than in the consumer. But we go along as creatures of habit. Mankind, with the United States as its beacon, is fouling its nest terribly. The man-child has graduated from his sandbox to cover the world with his petrified dejecta; gazing over the concrete landscape, the buildings and the pavement in between, it is obvious: the post-modern pursuit of happiness is an excremental culture. My objections to it would, however, greatly diminish if I and my like kind had viable alternatives to it other than suicide, insanity, homelessness and crime. The old alternative, the Church, is no longer viable for most of us. I mean a viable alternative to working for the vast corporate system many of us perceive as organized crime made legal. Many Americans are dissatisfied with the pursuit of trash, junk and garbage. They hate the Puritanic work ethic of working all day just to be working. There is no reason why we do not have a 20-hour formal work week, and we would if it were not for the anal-compulsive work ethic and the fear that idle hands belong to the Devil--the same scare was raised when an eighthour work day was advocated. Amazing, is it not, how many hours "idle" people will work on the Internet, for example, on their own time, free of the corporate system they detest and the bosses they despise? In conclusion I must say Helga's ideal for the United States is admirable. However, the pursuit of happiness as it is actually defined by action in the U.S. is not to be admired. It appears to me that
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THE HELGALIAN CHRONICLES


something has to give and soon. Tweakings of the status quo will not do. Viable alternatives must be made available by means of radical reform. In my opinion, a synthesis of the conflict can be realized, where utility or the greatest happiness of the greatest number means just that, and not the greatest accumulation of property, the waste of life and the destruction of the world. ---XYX--Note: Helga is Helga Ross

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