In and out of happiness

“After experience had taught me that all the usual surroundings of social life are vain and futile; seeing that none of the objects of my fears contained in themselves anything either good or bad, except in so far as the mind is affected by them, I finally resolved to inquire whether there might be some real good having power to communicate itself, which would affect the mind singly, to the exclusion of all else: whether, in fact, there might be anything of which the discovery and attainment would enable me to enjoy continuous, supreme, and unending happiness.”

-Baruch Spinoza, 17th century philosopher


Thousands of miles away, the sound of thousands of voices could be heard crying out, via satellite, as the World Trade Center collapsed to destruction. America's mental state shifted180 degrees from assumed stability and security. Within 24 hours, the strongest nation in world was left in vulnerability and fear.

America has experienced a degree of unwarranted prosperity throughout the last decade. Economically the nation flourished, unemployment decreased while the stock market increased and the opportunities for success and happiness on a monetary scale, for some, was abundant. Though the repercussions of the World Trade Center attack holds uncertainty, the economic situation of America and the entire planet will change. The actions taken by the Bush Administration will affect the standard of living in this country in the months and years to come, as well as the pursuit of happiness for Americans.

Unfortunately, not everyone experiences prosperity in America, and developing nations around the world. To suppose everyone is happy because of the good fortune America has experienced is a great generalization. Many may not ever be given the opportunity to attain happiness because of circumstance and the surrounding environment. Those more fortunate may or may not have attained a certain stability and happiness throughout the last decade, but the turn of events in New York City and Washington D.C. leave individuals to discover their own peace of mind.

If emotions are triggered solely from the outside world, then last week's shape shifting event and other actions of terrorist organizations essentially control the mental state of humanity on their terms.

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Behaviorism is a school of thought where all thoughts and emotions are generated from exterior stimuli. B.F. Skinner's psychological studies of positive reinforcement attempt to prove that humans are creatures of habit and conditioning controls behavior.

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Baruch Spinoza, a rationalist's thinker might oppose Skinner's later studies contending that thoughts, ideas and emotions are generated from within one'smind's eye. Under Spinoza's opposing view of dualism, thoroughly discussed by Spinoza's predecessor, Rene Descartes coined as the “father of modern philosophy,” would follow that the feelings of outrage and appall toward the WTC attack are not reactions to the event itself, but from thoughts and ideas within the mind's of Americans.

In the selection from Spinoza above, it could be understood that his mind is neither affected positively or negatively from outside stimuli. This would suppose that if Spinoza was alive today and cryogenics was in fact plausible, his sense of happiness would be left unaffected from the atrocities of the terrorist attack. Spinoza deepens the concept by contemplating the existence of some form of real good that communicates the condition of happiness or peace of mind. If Spinoza's insight is indeed the case, the real good that singly affects the mind can then determine reactions, emotions and happiness.

America must overcome the fear that the terrorists instilled within the minds and hearts of the nation. Otherwise their terror mission was accomplished. Though overcoming fear does not entail indifference or arrogance, it does entail putting faith in the powers that be. It is uncertain whether Skinner's positive reinforcement dictates human behavior or the light of reason Spinoza insinuates.

As human beings our personal happiness is dependent upon ourselves and must be attained through self-reliance.