Friday, May 08, 2009
Utilitarianism is a universal system for measuring happiest end possible. As such, it seeks the ultimate good for the ultimate number of people. Whatever benefits the highest number of individuals is deemed the best, whereas that which benefits the least number of individuals is deemed the least good.
Regardless of what is best or least good for whatever number of people, the quest for the best in life—one that is long, healthy and happy—is the concern of most people across the globe no matter what the race, religion, age and gender is. Tangent to this pursuit is the existence of many organizations whose lone objective is to help the ill, the aged, and the poor to live longer and more fulfilling existence. These organizations—governments, religions and various social agencies—are fueled by the practice of utilitarianism.
The organizations mentioned above carry the primary notion of utilitarianism which is to act in such a manner that the majority and society in general get benefited by the action. However, it one is to look deeper into the real meaning of benefiting the majority and society in general at the same time that utilitarianism is examined, there seems to be a need to include the future members of the society and the conditions they will acquire from the present generation. It is easy to see that the lives of the contemporary society’s grandchildren will be affected by the actions being done currently. In that case, the benefit of the majority and the definition of majority appear to be in question.
History tells the present generation that from the time of the cavemen down to the turn of the 20th century, the human longevity spanned 20 to 35 years. Nevertheless, beginning 1900’s, the average life span jumped forward, whether the countries involved are advanced like United States and China or are still developing like India. The sharp climb in this human longevity is attributed to medical science as well as the great decrease in the infant mortality rate. Other contributing factors include the collapse of the economic world, the enlargement of importing and exporting, and the modern comfort and technology. Not to be overlooked, another major contributing factor to the increase of average life span on Earth is the utilitarian task to make all individuals the happiest people that they can be.
Nonetheless, if a believer of utilitarianism were to consider the abrupt ballooning of this planet’s population, doubled with the average individual living about twice as long as individuals the past three millennia, coupled with the escalating consumption of needed natural resources, one might begin looking to the local culture where there are certain utilitarian penalties which may run opposite to the ideals of other utilitarian organization or societies.
For example, the Ilocanos are known to be thrifty no matter what the season is. This is partly due to the fact that the true-blue Ilocanos up north lived in constricting geographical conditions where the isolating mountain and valleys made their salt—a commodity made precious by their distance from seas—a precious product. By extension, the food supply had to be short and, therefore, consumed little by little. With the sacrifice the Ilocano elders performed before, undergoing organic as well as psychological pain, the future generation are assured of a characteristic that contributes to the perceived happiness of Filipino people.
The Ilonggos, meanwhile, are known for their cariñoso attitude which is extraordinary given the economic circumstances of people living in the Panay-Negros milieu. The filthy rich people of the haciendas lived off through the hardships of the sakadas, creating a sharp contrast in their respective economic status. Nonetheless, those who suffered poverty as a result of this feudal condition remain loving, at least to their family and at most to the people in their social circle. Hence, they are known to be romantic which is somehow connected to the positive approach to happiness that is the ultimate good in utilitarianism.
Also, the ethnic minorities of Mindanao are exposed to hunger, poverty and land displacement as a result of the military and rebel clashes as well as the lack of economic opportunities in the region. Hence, it seems that happiness is farther away from them. However, the fact that they have to subsist on what they have has made them content with the resources they possess and can find. They have learned to live within their means, making them content in the process. Happiness them is not so much as the abundance of material things but of the capacity of the human spirit to endure even the most trying circumstances in life.
As the population climbs as steeply as it is now and people living increasingly longer, many of the world’s natural resources are being exhausted. More houses must be built to accommodate people and more resources are needed for their survival. As such, material things seem to be reaching their optimal limits, leaving other options such as socio-cultural resources to achieve the pursued end of utilitarianism.
The common worldview of utilitarianism is the duty to address current socio-economic problems, since it is the right thing to perform for the majority of the people. An alternative worldview is to accommodate the most people to whom the best chance to find happiness is being offered. If the future must be considered in this utilitarian pursuit of happiness, then non-material alternatives be explored in order to realize the ultimate good of happiness being sought for the majority.