Is Self-Sufficiency Really True Happiness?

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Allie S. p.1

Aristotle states in “The Politics”, “the final cause and end of a thing is the best, and to be self-sufficing is the end and the best.”¹ Aristotle states that everyone should live their life as self-sufficient as possible. Although he does agree you cannot be completely self-sufficient and you need a city to help provide, in our society it is almost impossible to even be somewhat self-sufficient. He was not concerned with many or the masses, only a person’s own self. The dictionary states “self-sufficient” as, “able to maintain oneself or itself without outside aid” or “capable of providing for one’s own needs.”² He contradicts himself because he knows no one can be fully self-sufficient and they need a civilization to provide for them. He focused on each individual’s happiness rather than community and believes being self-sufficient is ultimate happiness. In today’s modern world every country, city, and person relies on community and relationships. Without other people there would be no base to create a prosperous nation. I believe Aristotle’s idea would not stand up in the society we have now. We depend on countries for trade, community for relationships, and government for laws which all help us towards happiness and living in accordance with reason.

Going back five thousand years ago to the ancient times is when trade was first-born. Before trade began people had an abundance of resources but very limited possessions and ideas of what they potentially could gain. Trade also can be a similar word for relationship because countries create relationships from trading and exchanging their resources. From the beginning of the birth of trade all the way up to this very second, trade is occurring. Even the simple trade of a pencil for a pen, you are gaining something you did not have. Without trade the world would not be in the place it is today. It has increased our potential output and industrialized and revolutionized the way we live. When you want something all you have to do is look up a place to buy it. The grocery store has any type of food you want. The mall has any type of clothing, shoe, or accessory you desire. All these material items are what make a lot of people happy. Every country is not equipped with all the food, clothes, supplies they would ever need for their entire population so they have to look outside the country. That is why trade is necessary. Even though the United States has a fair share of resources, we do not have all of them we need. The U.S. has over 75 relations with countries all over the world. The top five trading partners with the U.S. include Canada, China, Mexico, Japan, and Germany. “U.S. goods exports to China in 2013 were $122.1 billion, up 10.4% from 2012, and up 330% from 2003. It is up 536% since 2001 (when China entered the WTO) and U.S. exports to China accounted for 7.7% of overall U.S. exports in 2013.”³ It is obvious that trade has made a significant impact on not only the United States economy but every single country that has ever traded. Aristotle is more interested in a single person’s happiness rather than a whole community’s. This idea would struggle in today’s economy because the modern world works around the idea of relationships and community. One person could not finish a job 20 people are supposed to do. The single person would ultimately be unhappy with their life because they would be challenged with creating everything they ever need on their own. With trade there is absolutely no way to live in civilization and be completely self-sufficient. “Trade was also a boon for human interaction, bringing cross-cultural contact to a whole new level.”4

Relationships are what make our world connect the way it does. They are also a large factor in what makes people happy in our century and are important when discussing happiness and end goals. I think Aristotle would have a hard time grasping the idea of a relationship fulfilling someone fully with happiness. He was focused on reaching the end goal by living in accordance with reason but today most people do not try to live their life this way. He could understand relationships but not agree that they can fully make people happy and help them reach their final end. Many people live their life waiting to find a significant other to start a family and new life with. Many people end up living this life and are happy at the end of their lives and feel that they fulfilled their true wants and desires. This would not be impossible if one were self-sufficient. Yes, some people do not wish to settle down and may be more career driven, but they still have to build relationships with coworkers and business partners to climb their way up in the working world. Communication between people is a key factor in reaching true, ultimate happiness. Everyone relies on friends and family to entertain them, help them through bad times, or just to spend time with. People who are very antisocial sometimes end up having depression or other issues in their life that brings out deep unhappiness within. “A study shows people who are married report the highest levels of well-being, regardless of whether they are happily married or not.”5 A relationship cannot even exist with only you. You need to communicate and interact with other people. Being self-sufficient in relationships would never work. Being a part of a healthy relationship is fundamental because it encourages people to be happy and share their happiness with others.

The government is present in every aspect of our lives. Even though that may sound invading and unappealing, it was created to maintain order and make sure people always are granted their full rights. Conservatives are always pushing for less government involvement, but “increased government efforts could do much more to improve our lives in significant ways.”6 There are people who do not follow the laws of civilization and live in forests away from people and technology, but most people follow the laws of government and live happy lives. The government has wronged people before but the whole point of it is to fight for a person’s rights in the Constitution. A self-sufficient government would collapse after a short time because there would be too many people fighting for their own selfish rights rather than the rights of the whole society. I believe a group of people benefitting is much more effective than a single person benefitting. Aristotle does not agree with this but the government system today has thousands of people all working to help the country’s population. A self-sufficient government also would not work because when there is only one person in charge it is a dictatorship. Aristotle does agree that a government with a tyrant is deviant but he also says that a democracy is deviant. He states in The Politics Book III: Chapter 9, “political society exists for the sake of noble actions, and not of mere companionship.”7 Our government today is based around the fact that we are a democracy where all people are in charge and have say on how they are ruled. The country comes together over the idea that all rules apply to all people and are fair. To makes laws for a population of 318.9 million people, many people need to work together and use each other for ideas. Aristotle had a basis on how a society should flourish but his ideas would not compete in the contemporary world today.

Community is a much larger aspect of how people live their lives and creating relationships has important benefits. Aristotle’s concept of being self-sufficient to be happy does not stand up well today because that doesn’t necessarily mean you will be your happiest self. Being self-sufficient is a good quality in some aspects of life but it would be difficult to be as self-sufficient as possible because relationships and working together are so tightly tied with happiness. It is hard to pinpoint everyone’s happiness and make it general, like being self-sufficient. I believe Aristotle’s opinion would not be able to carry over into life in today’s modernized culture.

Endnotes

¹ Aristotle, Benjamin Jowett, and H. W. Carless Davis. 1920. Aristotle’s Politics. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press

² “Self-sufficient.” In Merriam Webster.

³Executive Office of the President. “Countries and Regions.” United States Trade Representative. https://ustr.gov/countries-regions.

4Whipps, Heather. “How Ancient Trade Changed the World.” Live Science. Last modified February 17, 2008. Accessed April 27, 2015. http://www.livescience.com/4823-ancient-trade-changed-world.html.

5 WebMD. “People in Committed Relationships Are Happier Overall.” Fox News. Last modified December 8, 2005. http://www.foxnews.com/story/2005/12/08/people-in-committed-relationships-are-happier-overall/.

6Amy, Douglas. “Why We Need More, Not Less, Government.” Government is Good. http://www.governmentisgood.com/articles.php?aid=8. Page 1

7 Aristotle, The Politics, Book III: Chapter 9

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