In his “Nicomachean Ethics,” Aristotle argued that of all the arts and sciences, politics is the greatest, mainly because politics brings all the various arts and sciences together, distills the essentials from them, and thus enables one to pursue the highest end of life. Aristotle then argues that the end goal of all of one’s strivings – which in turn serves as the highest natural principle – is happiness. But happiness, according to Aristotle, is contingent upon virtue.
In turn, Aristotle divides virtue into two parts, namely, the intellectual part and the moral part. In turn, virtue – and thus the intellectual and moral standing of a person – reflects an individual’s “state of character.” The more intellectually and morally sound a person demonstrates themselves to be, the more it says about their “state of character.” Also, human beings are different from all other animals in the sense that human beings have a choice to be either virtuous or not virtuous, according to Aristotle.
One’s notion of what constitutes “pleasure” is also reflected in one’s state of character. Aristotle argued that for someone with an elevated state of character, pleasure is reflected in a life of contemplation and truth, whereas a person with a lower state of character would define pleasure as the pursuit of base desires. In turn, base desires stifle a person’s intellectual and moral growth and thus their state of character, according to the logic put forth by Aristotle. Knowledge through contemplation and the pursuit of truth is real knowledge, whereas knowledge developed under the pressures of base desires can only amount to opinion, according to Aristotle. And as the Prophet Muhammad famously said: “Whoever controls their base desires will end up controlling the world.”
As a result, self-actualization – which can be the only true source of one’s happiness – is deeply intertwined with the conquest of base desires. It follows that in order to prevent all and sundry from seizing power, the powers that be must stifle people’s ability to self-actualize, given that self-actualization equates to power. In this day and age, the intellect is buried under consumer culture and the pursuit of base desires. Even our political system is buried under its base desires. Thus, it comes as no surprise why geniuses like Aristotle and others who arose often in the past are in such short supply in this day and age.
Consumer culture – which is arguably by design in Western societies, given that the West is a purely materialistic civilization – deviates from a natural or primordial state intended for human beings by intelligent design. As Rousseau wrote:
“The extreme inequality of our ways of life, the excess of idleness among some and the excess of toil among others, the ease of stimulating and gratifying our appetites and our senses, the over-elaborate foods of the rich, which inflame and over-whelm them with indigestion, the bad food of the poor, which they often go without altogether, so that they over-eat greedily when they have the opportunity; those late nights, excesses of all kinds, immoderate transports of every passion, fatigue, exhaustion of mind, the innumerable sorrows and anxieties that people in all classes suffer, and by which the human soul is constantly tormented: these are the fatal proofs that most of our ills are of our own making, and that we might have avoided nearly all of them if only we had adhered to the simple, unchanging, and solitary way of life that nature ordained for us.”
Another social ill which compounds the suppression of the intellect underneath base desires is censorship, which is most acute in the United States in contrast to other Western nations. Thus, as Rousseau argued, while censorship “may be useful for the preservation of morality,” censorship can never be useful for the “restoration” of morality. No longer is censorship in the United States intended for the preservation of morality. The United States is not Saudi Arabia or Taliban-led Afghanistan where censorship is designed for the “enjoinment of good and the forbidding of evil.” But contrary to herd mentality, and as suggested by Aristotle, the more difficult the attainment of an ultimate end such as happiness, the better it is for the individual, given that anything short of the actual source of happiness amounts to succumbing to base desires and their effects as described by Rousseau earlier.