Friday, August 14, 2009

Our Nation's Birthday and the Pursuit of Happiness

Singapore’s 44th was a glitzy and well-celebrated event. The National Day Parade surpassed itself, and the entire production, sound and music arrangement was par excellence, deservedly drawing rave reviews from locals and foreigners alike. The creativity involved in this elaborate production was thoroughly deserving of commendation. At the same celebration next year, the construction site behind the floating platform will disappear, and the completed integrated resort would serve as a backdrop to what undoubtedly would be an even more impressive spectacle. It would mark a new chapter in Singapore’s development, with a changing skyline of the entire Marina Bay area, and an extended financial district. During the pledge recitation, we were reminded that ‘happiness’ is a goal to be achieved, together with prosperity and progress for our nation. Just how happy are we as individuals or collectively as a nation? The US declaration of Independence identifies the “pursuit of happiness” as one of the inalienable rights of man. In Thomas Jefferson’s words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (my emphasis)

The phrase “pursuit of happiness” has featured in various decisions of the US Supreme Court. Notably, in Butcher’s Union Co v Crescent City Co 111 US 746 (1883), the phrase was interpreted to refer to one’s economic vocation of choice rather than the more ephemeral search for emotional fulfilment, even if one may be predicated on the other. Associate Justice Samuel Freeman Miller said in Butcher’s Union:

“Among these inalienable rights, as proclaimed in that great document, is the right of men to pursue their happiness, by which is meant the right to pursue any lawful business or vocation, in any manner not inconsistent with the equal rights of others, which may increase their prosperity or develop their faculties, so as to give to them their highest enjoyment.”

We work in a capitalist environment, we have our dreams, ambitions, and we seek to realise them, day after day. We ply our trade and our vocations of choice. Meritocracy rules. The system rewards our tenacity and industry. In coping with the challenges of this earth, our faith grows, as does our maturity and our ability to take a punch from our critics and detractors. Would we want it any other way? As Winston Churchill famously said:

“The inherent vice of capitalism is the marginal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.”

I know what my choice is.

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