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Dreams, Ideals, and Living Better Naturally


Last month I suggested that the most effective argument for taking human nature, natural law, and natural human goods seriously is that doing so leads to a better way of life.

It’s not hard to see why it should. People do not in fact invent their own ways of life. They’re too social, and the world’s too complicated. So the disintegration of inherited culture, with its acceptance of natural human goods, in an industrialized, commercialized, networked, and bureaucratized society means people live by careerism, consumerism, pop culture, and propaganda, supplemented by the advice of therapeutic professionals.

That doesn’t sound inspirational, but in America we’re big on advertising and PR, so a better face gets put on it. That’s why we’re always hearing about “dreams”—the American dream, the dreams of immigrants, the dreams of young people. That’s the way we talk about ideals of life, at least the ideals that make it into public discussion.

In general, the dreams seem to relate to career success and material prosperity, which are understood as the basis for all other good things. In public, at any rate, people today don’t dream of knowledge, virtue, sanctity, heroism, peace of mind, a good marriage, happy family life, having children, an honest way of living, happiness in general, or the beatific vision. They dream of this career or that, the idea apparently being that the right career will bring with it a generally satisfying way of life.

Poverty, boring drudgery, and the dole usually don’t make people happy, so there’s something to be said for a nice career. Even so, the view that prosperity and a favored line of work is the one needful thing from which all else follows seems naive. Surveys confirm the old saw that money doesn’t bring happiness, and while there are a few people with special talents or inclinations that make some particular line of work specially suitable, how many are there for whom it really makes sense to dream of being a lawyer or sales representative?

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