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.