Advertisements counsel us: "Enjoy life, buy our product, come to where the action is, life begins in our new model home." In effect, It's a world where everyone seeks his pot of gold and hopes to find the really good life in doing so. But there's a MISSING DIMENSION in the search for happy and abundant living. Read here what most people fail to consider.
EVERY WEEKEND restless families by the hundreds of thousands scramble into cars or campers. Automobiles and trailers loaded with the paraphernalia of pleasure — boats, dune buggies, motorcycles, stereo equipment, television sets, radios, electronic musical instruments — careen down crowded freeways. They all flee to the same national parks, the same pleasure places, the same wide open spaces. All this mobile madness is part of the search for relaxation and a little taste of happiness. Never, it seems, have humans so fervently desired to "get away from it all." But a weekend change isn't enough for many. Americans on the move keep magazine publishers busy changing addresses. City people flee to the suburbs to live in tract homes advertised, "For city people who like to live in the country" or "the town that grows in the park." Meanwhile, farm dwellers and citizens of rural communities flock to the big cities — two million in the last decade and some 20 million during the last 30 years. With visions of high paying jobs and gold-paved streets, these country folk flock to decaying cities from which millions of city dwellers fervently flee. In all this, Americans are looking for the good life — a life of prosperity, peace of mind, fulfillment. Yet, somehow the good life eludes them. Not only Americans, of course. Our whole Western industrialized world is made up of searching, uneasy people — looking for greener grass just over the hill.
We're Riding a Monster
The noted philosopher Joseph Wood Krutch has said of our way of life, "Ours is not only the richest and most powerful civilization that ever existed, but also one of the most uneasy both without and within." Krutch went on to say, "The monster we have called into existence must be looked after, and he is more demanding of time and attention than the creations of any other civilization. ... We are mounted on a tiger and it is hard to imagine how we might dismount" (America the Vanishing, Ed. by Samuel R. Ogden, Stephen Greene Press, 1969, pp. 222, 229). Whether it's creeping bumper to bumper down a freeway In choking traffic four lanes abreast, or pouring coal into power plants which hope to produce 18 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity in the United States alone this decade, or thrusting skyward in a roaring 747 for a destination halfway around the globe, mankind is mounted on a "go-go-go" mechanistic tiger.
"Grow With Us" Syndrome
Yet, who will be the first to dismount the tiger and give up the many "benefits" of a growing economy? We want autos and airplanes, freeways and concrete skyscrapers, bigger homes and more of them, higher salaries and greater production of factories. The goal is an even higher Gross National Product (where money spent to clean up ill side effects of industrial output is counted in the GNP but a farmer's produce grown for his family is not counted!). All these have become the measure of our success and progress as a free enterprise system — a monument to our "come grow with us" syndrome. Yet, this philosophy largely neglects the base of any permanently productive society — understanding of and respect for the good earth and the soil that supports all of us. Today, some few are seeing the follies of "growth for growth's sake": ever-increasing population, over- concentration in giant urban gluts, which have spawned such coined expressions as Bosnewash (for the projected strip city spanning today's Boston, New York, and Washington D. C.), and Sansan (for a strip city from San Francisco to San Diego, including Los Angeles), and Chipitts (for Chicago-Pittsburgh). And an even more recent coined word ends this massive expansion of suburbia with "Urbicide." Some few people are leaving the cities, seeking a new and simpler way of life. They are fed up with smog and traffic, with urban cocktails from the tap, with prices out of sight and still climbing, with increased dehumanization of society — reducing men to machines for production of "X" amounts of goods and services, rather than minds to create, to grow, to love and be loved, to express the full gamut of human emotions. Ironically, these were the same people who earlier flocked to the city to attain success, economic stability, education, and happiness. Many left the dull, degrading "farm life" of just a few decades ago to escape its boredom, its poverty, its drab, unchallenging existence. Since World War II, it is estimated that the number of people living on farms in the United States has decreased from 30 million to a present level of some 10 million people, or about 5% of our total population. But what caused farm children and farmers, by the millions, to leave the way of life of our ancestors and flock to the cities? And, paradoxically, why are many others today reversing this trend, searching for the "good life" away from city frustrations? Today, there is a veritable "back to the earth" movement of various groups. Many even successful individuals are giving up careers to seek the "simple life."
Recapturing a Simple Life
Recently, there have been scattered reports of executives, musicians, movie stars, and others leaving their high paying jobs and positions for a much simpler way of life they themselves would have spurned before fame and "success" came to them. One such individual, the singer Glenn Yarbrough, said good-bye to his musical career in the following words: "When I was a kid, I figured like everyone else does that the more money I had, the more things I'd possess and the happier I'd be," he said. "Well, I was lucky. I obtained the material things when I was relatively young. And it didn't take long to figure out what a ridiculous goal that was," he continued. Such a philosophy goes contrary to the popular belief that more money and more material possessions equals more happiness. Few people ever realize that money and things alone never make anyone happy. There are other more important elements in the good life. Yarbrough at age 41 and after much "success" in show business, admitted, "I guess what I'm looking for after all these hectic years is a fairly simple life."
Good Life of "Things"
Amidst such growing dissatisfaction with the hectic American and Western way of life, merchandisers continue to hawk their wares. One recent advertisement for a major credit card promised abundant living through "sports, food, fashions, the theater, and all the rest of 'the good life.' " And people gullibly swallow such propaganda. It's the stuff of our Western economy. It's "American," or "British," just as apple pie or chocolate candy. Buy. Travel. "Give yourself a little present. Our credit card is honored at thousands of establishments over the world," go the ads. Yet, to a growing number of dissatisfied people, our Western way of life is unfulfilling — a continual search which never comes to fruition, a gold-leaf- over-papier-mâché image. Yet, is simply going "back to the earth" enough to bring the good life? What is the key — the missing dimension — that will bring human happiness?
A "Great Society" for All
We all want peace, happiness, prosperity — a sense of security and well-being. No one desires to live in misery and poverty. Everyone would like personal fulfillment and satisfaction, pleasure and peace of mind. All these make up the truly GOOD LIFE. Man has searched for this abundant life as long as he has walked the face of the earth. Ironically, history is a written record of man's failure to attain these high ideals, goals and dreams. Every attempt to build a true utopia — a really Great Society — has failed or is failing. Politicians, military leaders and kings have carved out nations, promising a new world. Visionaries and philosophers have concocted schemes to guarantee citizens the good life. But all have floundered and failed. Why did these sincere, well-meaning, dedicated planners fail? Here lies a paradox of human history, a story few people understand, and a sad commentary on our own searching for the good life.
Why Others Failed
To find the Way which will bring harmony and peace to this earth — brimful, abundant living to all — we must consider some of the utopian systems which have been proposed throughout history, and discover WHY they failed. We should understand that the twentieth century is not unique in its uneasy quest for a better way of life. Historically, mankind has sought to build a utopian system and find the good life. Yet, none of man's attempts have ever fully encompassed all the necessary elements which produce the desired results. In ancient Greece, for example, over 2000 years ago, Plato proposed his idea of an ideal society. He outlined what he felt was necessary to create a permanent, productive society in his day. Plato espoused a "back to the earth" theme. Social critic Lewis Mumford tells us: "The groundwork of Plato's utopia, accordingly, is the simple agricultural life, the growing of wheat, barley, olives, and grapes" (The Story of Utopias, by Lewis Mumford, Viking Press, N. Y., 1962, p. 35). Plato wanted the necessities of life for all. He recognized special skills and talents were required for production of specialized goods and services. He recognized the need to limit city populations, and maintain a constant agricultural base for a continually productive economy. Yet his utopia was never fully tried — nor would it have succeeded. It lacked many essential elements. Plato repudiated marriage, and reduced humans to mere reproductive machines for the development of a "super race." A yet more fundamental mistake was his failure to recognize that human nature is the unpredictable culprit that has ruined every utopian dream down through history. Later utopias did recognize the need to change human nature — yet they too failed. Human nature refused to be molded to fit a pattern. People want freedom to do as they please; they resist change. They want to be good but not do good. They want the "good life" without doing the action which produces this life. Where this effect is not accounted for, and overcome, no utopia or good life on earth can be achieved. Witness another example of dreams of a new life which crumbled. Sir Thomas More lived in England during the reign of Henry VIII, at the beginning of the 16th century. More saw many evils of society. He detested the social wrongs of his country, the corruption of the clergy, the sufferings of the poor, the destruction of wars and the luxurious living of the elite. His "utopia" (a word he coined, and the title of a book he wrote propounding his ideals) was both an indictment of the society he lived in, and a proposal of a new society which would usher in "the good life" for all. More's utopia was founded on an agricultural base, where it was assumed that a high perfection of the art would be achieved. His utopia was located on a crescent shaped island, made of farm lands and 54 cities! It assumed the ultimate cooperation of men with men. No trades were esteemed above others (to the dismay of modern labor unions!). When farmers needed more hands, they merely called the city magistrates, who supplied them. Just how, More did not fully elaborate. More thought that "fear of lack causes covetousness and greed; in man also pride, which counts it a glorious thing to surpass and excel others in the superfluous and vain ostentation of things. But this kind of vice among the Utopians can have no place" (Utopia, by Sir Thomas More, D. Van Nostrand Co., Inc., 1947, pp. 92-93). In other words, basic problems of human nature were to be overcome before one entered More's utopia. Great thinking, yet highly unlikely by human standards. His proposals were never tried in their entirety, mute testimony to the ineffectiveness of idealistic thinking. More had no power to remake society as he saw fit. Therefore, his ideas were little more than theoretical paper dreams. No matter how great the ideals, how sincere the motives, how lofty the principles, we must recognize the basic truth that neither More nor any other human being has the power to remold, reshape and rebuild society after a set pattern. Men can think up utopian ideals ad infinitum, but until human beings themselves think and act differently, utopia will remain a theory. At this point, consider another system which is widely extant in the world today — Communism. Communism is merely another philosophical system attempting to bring the good life to its citizens. It hopes even to change human nature.
What Founders of Communism Took for Granted
Notice what Communists themselves have to say about the "good life" — in an official publication Lenin on State and Democracy, by A. Spirkin. It is published by the Novosti Press Agency. The Introduction says: "People have long dreamed of a free and happy life. Their dreams were like a fairy tale in which fantastic pictures of universal prosperity blended with a vivid portrayal of a Utopian society where good and justice reigned supreme in relations between all its members. "Humanity traversed a long and arduous path in the struggle for a society which liberated man from humiliating exploitation and ensured him the possibility of living a worthy life and displaying freely all his gifts ... " Notice two important points. First, Communists know people would like to be happy. Second, they equate happiness with a state of fantastic universal prosperity. Haven't You often thought that if only you could have more money to buy more things you would be happy? Of course you have! And so, too, have Communists. Prosperity, a better income, more physical conveniences can add to happiness. But these things alone do not create happiness. The founders of Communism — Marx and Engels — took for granted that physical things were the source of happiness. Communist theorists, beginning with Karl Marx, believed that human nature could be reconstructed so that people would learn to be unselfish and considerate of others.
Basic Error of Communism
The founders of Communism — like the founders of any governmental or "utopian" system — were faced with the questions and problem of human nature. Why is there, for example, the tendency in human nature to resent authority — to resent someone telling us what to do) Why the greed, the selfishness, the lusts of the flesh? Why envy, status seeking, vanity of mind and laziness? Why lying, adultery, hatred? The founders of Communism reasoned that these characteristics of human nature are the result of one's environment. Change the environment, they announced, and you will CHANGE HUMAN NATURE. Take away private property, they reasoned, and you will banish greed, envy, status seeking, etc. Teach people the dignity of work, they declared, and laziness will disappear. Replacing the sweat and toil and privation and suffering of the present, there will be — so the Communist Party hopefully announced — a world of happiness and joy, a world filled with all the physical and educational necessities of life. "Under communism men will work to the best of their abilities simply because men will delight in creative endeavor," said the Communist Party, in one of its books, Man's Dreams Are Coming True.
Human Nature the Culprit
But something is wrong: Human nature has refused to be changed! The Soviet citizen, like his counterpart in the democracies, is still as he was. And certainly one would have difficulty believing the Soviet Union is utopia on earth! Communism, like all other utopian ideas, has dealt with only the effect, not the cause. All the evils expressed by uncontrolled human nature are effects of uncorrected causes. Greed, selfishness, lust, human vanity and conceit are causes of theft, crime, lying, cheating, adultery and all the other outward manifestations of those causes. One's environment does not create the evil characteristics of human nature; it merely channels those characteristics down certain paths of expression.
Accomplishing the Impossible
Ultimately, human nature must be changed, before "the good life" can be lived and enjoyed by all. But how? An ancient prophet and philosopher, Isaiah, spoke of a time when nations would beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. He spoke of a time when nation would not lift up sword against nation any more. In this millennium of peace, "inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness" (Isa. 26:9). That is, to do right. Certainly, no ideology, no philosophy, no government or ruler or educational system has ever caused people to "learn righteousness." That would be tantamount to remolding human nature. And, heretofore, human nature has proven too stubborn to be reshaped. Yet, this is exactly what is necessary if we are to have any kind of utopian state, any true "good life." A "Utopia of Reconstruction" — the words of Lewis Mumford — is what this world needs. He characterized utopia — the good life — as needing "a new set of habits, a fresh scale of values, a different net of relationships and institutions, and ... an alteration of the physical and mental characteristics of the people chosen" (The Story of Utopias, by Lewis Mumford, Viking Press, N. Y, 1962, pp. 21-22). But how can such changes be brought about? Human nature itself cannot be altered by governmental fiat. A dictatorial, despotic government can FORCE its citizens for a time to follow a particular set of philosophical principles. But no matter how sincere the ideology — as Communism — there is something diabolically wrong with the basic motivation behind these governments. If war has not overthrown despotic states, revolts by irate citizens have. Realizing the history of oppressive governments, learned men recoil from the thought of despotic, autocratic rulership forcing the citizenry into a preconceived mold. In a study of utopian systems throughout history, Lewis Mumford concluded: "I was aware of the dictatorial tendencies of most classic utopias. They sought to impose a monolithic discipline upon all the varied activities and interplaying interests of human society, by creating an order too inflexible, and a system of government too centralized and absolute, to permit any change that would disturb the pattern or meet the new exigencies of life. In other words, each utopia was a closed society for the prevention of human growth" (ibid., p. 4). World government is an absolute essential to bringing the good life for all. But it must be a just government, with wise laws and power to quell wars and enforce peace for its citizens. Yet, it must go one step farther. It must be composed of human beings with a new way of thinking instilled in their minds. How is this to be accomplished? There must be a moral and spiritual law AGAINST human nature. A Utopia of Reconstruction must focus on the reconstruction of the human mind. Herein lies the only way men will ever discover a lasting utopia, the brimful good life. A law of righteousness — of doing and being right — must be written into the very minds of human beings. This law must be on a higher moral plane than the laws enacted by fallible human beings. As one ancient visionary, Jeremiah, put it: "After those days [of the present world system], saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer. 31:33). Such ideals are indeed visionary; and most, by today's materialistic standards, would scoff at the idea that there is a God who can effect such changes. But who has offered a better idea? All utopian plans of men have uniformly failed. Who else but a Supreme Guiding Force has the power to bring about Utopia?