Venezuela: Does Individual Appearance or Societal Charity Equal Happiness?

Kennedy Powell

venezuelaVenezuela: a country with one of the worst economies on the planet.  Venezuela was once a country with a rich in oil resources. From 1928 to 1970, it was the world’s leading exporter in oil.[1] But what happened? As oil prices quadrupled in 1974, the government spending increased as well. For a while, it was prodigious. This balloon growth soon saw it’s burst when in 1983, oil prices dropped tremendously, causing many people to go into debt[2]. Never being able to recover from this crash, Venezuela printed more money than ever, causing inflation to rise—this economic crisis has never recovered to the once glory days. Now in 2016, they have a $538.9 billion GDP, -4.0% economic growth, and 62.2% and rising inflation rate, one ponders: How does one or the whole society obtain true happiness when the economic circumstances of the country are rapidly downgrading?[3]  Is true happiness even attainable within these conditions? In context of the Venezuelan culture, can they attain happiness for the individual or for the society as a whole?

In modern Venezuelan culture, there is extreme national pride of one’s country and their own physical beauty.  People are obsessed with “how they look, what they wear, what they do for a living, and what and how much they own”[4]. This breeds great social status individually. But, is this emphasis on physical beauty of the individual considered true happiness? Well, according to the Aristotelian view of happiness, happiness is loosely defined as “something that is final and self-sufficing, and something that is the end of all that man does”[5]. It focuses on the happiness of the individual instead of the happiness of the society as a whole.  If one were to examine this statement, would beauty fall in line with happiness? Let’s start with happiness as final. In terms of appearance, whether it is physically or materially, there could be a final aspect to either. If a person were to desire the latest fad in fashion such as jean skirts, would they attain happiness by finally getting them? This sounds ridiculous.  How can one be happy by buying a jean skirt? It might make them happy for a couple hours, maybe even a couple of minutes, but it will never make them truly happy.  Why? What happens when the jean skirt fad disappears, and another fad pops up? It will just be a never ending cycle. Well what about self-sufficing? Isn’t buying something for oneself sufficient for a person? Well, not necessarily in the situation of the Venezuelan, the materialistic views of Venezuelan culture do not sustain as sufficient. Although they are sufficient in that moment, that jean skirt or new hair-do does not make an impact on a person’s life.  Aristotle defines happiness “as a kind of activity”[6]. Well what is this activity? It is the function of a man, or the using of reason[7]. And certainly, the function of a man cannot be purchasing a new denim skirt, and it is certainly not reasonable. Well if it can’t be the function of a man, can buying that jean skirt be the end of all that man does? The absurdity in actually believing that buying something can actually bring you lasting happiness! How can buying a material item that contains no essential substance be the end of all that man does?  Whether it is buying this jean skirt, getting a new job, or changing one’s physical appearance, this only serves to feed self and momentarily gratify. Purpose to one’s life is not found in a single purchase.  What is true happiness if one can’t satisfy himself or herself with needless purchases?  Aristotle completely defines happiness for an individual to be “an activity of living in accordance with human reason”[8].  In relation to the Venezuelan culture, the idea of the extreme importance of physical appearance being an answer to happiness is at odds with Aristotle’s interpretation.  A person cannot be performing his or her function with human reason by changing their appearance and buying new material goods constantly. Buying new items is extremely wasteful and feeding a symptom of unhappiness and will never lead to true happiness. If the outside of a person is not consistent, how can the inside be?  I analyze it like this: when we hurt ourselves, we put a band-aid over the sore in order to promote healing, but eventually we must take the band aide off once the sore has healed.  This is what the person does to oneself with new artifacts they continue to mask the inner sore with new items.  But in the case of the Venezuelan, the cycle of covering up continues and the inner self never heals.

Because of reasons previously outlined if Venezuelans cannot be individually happy, what about as a whole society? According to John Stuart Mill and the Utilitarianism view of happiness, to be happy is to have pleasure and freedom from pain. They are “the only things desirable as ends; and that all desirable things (which are as numerous in the utilitarian as in any other scheme) are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain”[9].  This basically means that in order to be happy in the Utilitarian view of happiness, a person must experience pleasure without pain. This is what Venezuela is attempting to do in order to have all of their people experience pleasure without pain, or experience happiness. In 2013, Nicolas Maduro created the Vice Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness.  This is an attempt to alleviate poverty- to alleviate the pain of poverty and increase the feeling of pleasure in order to create happiness. This program addresses the needs of the disabled, the homeless, and families living in poverty, old-age pensioners, and those from deprived background requiring special medical attention.[10]  According to the Utilitarian view, “the end of human action is necessarily also the standard of morality”[11]. Isn’t “the end of human action”, essentially happiness? Does this mean by helping out those in need and having a good standard of morality equal happiness for a society? Yes, it does. Mill also states that “the utilitarian morality does recognize in human beings the power of sacrificing their own greatest good for the good of others”[12]. Therefore, is this Vice Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness sacrificing its own greatest good, the Venezuelan government programs, for the good of others, the poor? Or is it not by using previously created programs and just putting a title of happiness on it for the good of itself, the appearance of the country as a whole, which is what is really happening?  The use of previous government programs is not a sacrifice of the government’s own greatest good[13].  Why? Higher risk entails higher reward. By not taking the risk of creating actual new programs to support this mission, it entails a lower reward.  Therefore, this lower reward will not be for the good of others. So, this mission seems like a very good and substantial thing to do on the surface, but when a person delves into the resources and real intentions, it becomes a little dubious. This mission alone cannot do what it is supposed to do, to create happiness by sacrificing the greatest good for the good of others.

The question still remains: Can the people of Venezuela be truly happy due to their economic conditions?  Individually, they cannot due to their culture of desire of a good physical appearance, and they cannot have societal happiness due to the fact that their government is not taking risk to entail the greatest of happiness. So what is it that is keeping Venezuelans from being happy? Is it their morals or their government, or is it both? In looking at this, I believe that anyone can be truly happy no matter their circumstances. It depends on whether or not people want to change for the greater good of others or for one’s benefit only.  Venezuela has to find that the society’s happiness supersedes individual happiness and vice versa.  Meaning, they feed off of one another.  Without true individual happiness, society will not attain happiness because individuals make up a society. Therefore, as a country the citizens must find that selfishness and “me-now” culture, it is all about me and I want it now, does not help them as a whole and that the whole helps the self.  Do for others and then one will find complete and endless happiness both individually and as a society.

 

 

 

[1] “Venezuela – GROWTH AND STRUCTURE OF THE ECONOMY.” Venezuela – GROWTH AND STRUCTURE OF THE ECONOMY. Accessed May 04, 2016. http://countrystudies.us/venezuela/22.htm.

[2] Venezuela

[3] “Venezuela.” Economy: Population, GDP, Inflation, Business, Trade, FDI, Corruption. Accessed May 04, 2016. http://www.heritage.org/index/country/venezuela.

[4] “Culture of Venezuela.” Every Culture. Accessed May 04, 2016. http://www.everyculture.com/To-Z/Venezuela.html.

[5] Aristotle, and Martin Ostwald. The Nicomachean Ethics. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1962.

[6] Aristotle

[7] Aristotle

[8] Aristotle

[9] Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1957.

[10] “Venezuela’s Maduro Creates Social Happiness Ministry, Is Criticised by International Media.” Venezuela News, Views, and Analysis. Accessed May 04, 2016. http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/10127.

[11] Mill

[12] Mill

[13] Nagel, Juan Cristobal. “Venezuela’s Ministry of Happiness.” Foreign Policy Venezuelas Ministry of Happiness Comments. October 30, 2013. Accessed May 04, 2016. http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/10/30/venezuelas-ministry-of-happiness/.

Picture “Happy Venezuelans.” Digital image. The Green Star. September 20, 2013. Accessed May 4, 2016. https://americanfront.info/category/venezuela/.

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