“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, May 02, 2008

On the idea that conservatives are a happy lot

My editor at the Statesman has been kind enough to shoot me the many unreviewable books about happiness which come in the mail for him. They have been churning and burning off the presses lately – once again, LI is ahead of the curve! (put your hands in the air like you just don't care!)

Of course, LI might be as against the curve as a hot and horny salmon facing a concrete dam, given our goals and assumptions. Everybody, it seems, thinks happiness is a good thing.

One of the books is by a conservative egg head named Arthur Brooks. We tossed the book when we noticed a footnote to a blog post by Jonah Goldberg. We don’t have infinite patience. However, Brooks does make a big deal out of a standard right wing chestnut. Since the seventies, Pew Research has found that Republicans, and conservatives generally, are more likely to say they are happy than Dems, liberals or independents. Pew Research helpfully broke this out by income, so that we aren’t being mislead here by the fact that your hedonic gradient goes up as your income takes you into the upper percentiles. Rather, Pew contends that the big factor is religiosity.

The usual liberal conclusion is that those who want a better regulated financial system and the legalization of gay marriages are more sensitive to the unhappiness of others, as in wishing for a more just and equitable system, for which we bleed. While those who are afraid that socialism is going to creep into the medical system and that we are going to cut and run in Iraq are simply self involved bubble children.

LI, however, sees the hedonic gap as a precursor, a little light, that maybe we aren’t alone in wanting to throw off the conjunction of the happiness norm and our Lebensordnung. In fact, it might be that the assumption that our social arrangements are all about making us happy could be in decline.

As is obvious, over the last two years I’ve been hammering away at happiness triumphant (which is a little like one little termite working on the toe of the Colossus of Rhodes – but eventually, all Colossi fall). I am firmly of the belief that our social arrangements should not be judged on whether they make us happy. Instead of a scale of well being, I would like to see a scale of passional being. Instead of continuing to meekly submit to an order of life that points us all to the synapse linking happiness and more, and urging us to have our little chemicals make that leap en masse and permanently – every day is Christmas in Serotoninville! – I’d like that monkey business overturned, before it wipes out all the monkeys.

My fellow liberals – ask not if you are happy, but if you are in love.


Dominic said...

"ask not if you are happy, but if you are in love"

This puts me rather in mind of Badiou's opposition of love as a truth procedure to the technical administration of sexual pleasure (how to make sure it's available to all irrespective of kink or orientation; how to make sure you're getting enough and of the right sort; how to be better at eliciting it in others, etc.). Except that Badiou seems to think that "happiness" is the affect associated with love. But he seems to mean being happy with the world - not happy with the state of the world, necessarily, but with the world itself, the very fact that it exists.

roger said...

Dominic, I've never quite understood why love is a truth procedure rather than sex - sex would seem, as a technique, to be amenable to proof, whereas love flees from it. But I always like the love the world biz - Alyosha Karamazov's final position.

I am not exactly happy with the manifesto like ending of this post. The thing I like about the passions is that they cut across the lines of happiness/unhappiness. Nobody assumes that the statement, I am in love, is the equivalent of the statement, I am happy - in fact, it is often proferred to explain why one is continuing to exist in an unhappy situation.

Still, there's something a little retro about the language of the passions. In my positive program, which comes of course after my critique, I'm hampered by a lack of vocabulary. So I might have to make due with the vocabulary of the passions.

northanger said...

did you know Laura Bush's favorite book is ''The Brothers Karamazov" — specifically The Grand Inquisitor' section?

roger said...

Hey, North, I'll have you know only one degree separates me from Laura - I'm an austinite, remember? So I do know one of her literary friends quite well. And yes, Laura has a love for Dostoevsky which I hope is serving her well, as she apparently married ... I was going to say Pere Karamazov, but really, Bush's combination of blind ignorance, clumsiness and self righteousness was only captured in literature by Gogol. There's no character in Dostoevsky quite like Bush, but in The Inspector General, you find just his type. As well, of course, as the immortal Chichikov in Dead Souls.

Dominic said...

sex would seem, as a technique, to be amenable to proof

Also to fakery, of course.

It's all bound up with this strange idea of the formal Badiou has, of the formal as the strangest thing there is. Is there formal novelty in sex? The perms and combs seem exhaustible in principle, as de Sade intimated. Whereas there is something ever-newly aleatory about love, or so the lover at least is pleased to imagine.

northanger said...

Mr LI! Eight Belles had to be euthanized at the Kentucky Derby. :(

roger said...

Fuck! Poor horsey. And she was the runner up! I'll have to find some appropriate Kipling poem about heroism above and beyond the call of duty.

Chuckie K said...

Belated detritus of happiness:

Was also wollen die späten Teens und frühen Twens? Am wichtigsten ist ihnen, „glücklich“ zu sein, also Freunde bzw. einen Partner zu haben, das Leben zu genießen, seinen Horizont zu erweitern. Traditionelle Werte („Eigenheim“) oder die der Leistungsgesellschaft („Erfolg“) haben relativ geringe Bedeutung.

Appeared here: