Only after we come to see that additional goods add precious little to our happiness;
Nonsense and hypocrisy. Computers aren’t basic needs. E-mail isn’t a basic need. Who says so? Me. So this person’s life cannot possibly be happier by the addition of a device that lets him peruse the words and deeds of the world. As for me, base shallow grasping materialist that I am, let me spell it out:
My computers bring me happiness, for they are instruments of knowledge and art. My cameras bring me joy, yea, for they allow me to capture the fleeting shadows of the day or the laughter of my child or the happy romps of my old dog in the new snow, and fix them forever in a form whose quality exceeds the fond dreams of D. W. Griffith. My car gives me pleasure, for it gives me freedom and ease of movement, allows me to meet friends, gather food for the family, and drive to work with the glories of Beethoven crashing from the speakers. Or AC/DC, depending on the mood. For that matter the morning drive is made pleasurable by possessions like the coffee maker, which serves up a hot delicious beverage the moment I wake from a comfortable bed – and the waking, I should add, was gently occasioned by a machine that cost a bit more than one of those $19.99 alarms that sounds like someone tripped the perimeter alarm at Los Alamos.
Since I seem to be seeing possessions in terms of the flow of the day, let me go on: my computer, which is hardly a basic need, gives me freedom at work unchained to a veal-pen desk; my cellphone lets me write messages to a network of beloved strangers or listen to music from around the world – and take a picture of something, if I choose. Photography is art, right? Art is good, right? Yes, I know – if it serves the general weal in a spiritual burning-issue sense. If I use the camera to snap a picture of the Catholic-run men’s shelter down the street, do I get a pass if I buy a new camera this year?
Or would that be overshadowed by the bilious negativity that rolls in dark waves from my large TV? It’s not a basic need, I admit – can I still have one? Yes, if it’s not LARGE. People who grudgingly admit the usefulness of a TV for pedagogical purposes reserve the right to frown on your TV if it’s larger than it need be, for several reasons: 1) you probably went into debt to get it; 2) it uses energy that makes the planet die; 3) you watch the wrong kind of programs; 4) the size of the screen is regarded as a direct reflection of the stupidity of the viewer.
Unless we’re talking about careful, pained, exquisitely sensitive motion pictures about the horrors of life in the suburbs in the Fifties.
They really should have called the fight after the first round.
Amitai Etzione calls himself a “communitarian.” But there is nothing new about his beliefs. There’s an older, shorter word for them. It starts with “f.”