Is Happiness Conservative?

By James Kwak

A few days ago I wrote a post addressing Mike Konczal’s question of whether behavioral economics, as a whole, weakens the case for the welfare state or, more generally, for activist liberal policies. I said the answer was “no.” But I think positive psychology—otherwise known as happiness research—presents a more difficult question.

I’ve only consumed popular versions of happiness research, such as The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt, but basically the story is something like this. For much of its history, psychology had a pathological bent: it was concerned with figuring out why people had psychological problems and how to cure those problems. (Whether it had any success whatsoever is a question for another day and another blog.) A few decades ago, however, some psychologists decided they would try to figure out what makes people happy, and they started a wave of happiness studies that continues today. In many of these studies, people are pinged at random times and asked to rate how happy they are at that moment. Then treatments are introduced so you can measure the difference in happiness between the treatment and control groups. For example, if people find a quarter in a pay phone,* afterward they will report they are happier than people who didn’t find the quarter; not only does this effect persist for a surprisingly long time (into the next day, I think), but also affects people’s reported happiness about unrelated parts of their life, like their family life.

Happiness research is vaguely related to behavioral economics research in that both show that people can be easily tricked, but it has a different emphasis. Happiness research is in a sense less threatening to traditional microeconomics, because it is about figuring out how to measure utility. In economics, money has always been just a proxy for utility. The idea is that people maximize utility under constraints; since we can’t measure utility, we assume that they maximize money under constraints.

Well, we still can’t measure utility directly, but we know some things that make people happy: Short commutes. Predictability. Control over the environment (random noises are bad). Eating, but only until satiation. Sex, but only until satiation. Money—but only to a point; once your basic needs are met and you don’t face constant insecurity, more money no longer buys you more happiness. Participation in social groups. Marriage, usually. (Children, not so much.) Being appreciated by your boss. Generosity toward other people—even if the generosity is not observed by anyone. Work that is challenging but not overwhelmingly so. Physical contact with other people. And finding quarters in pay phones.** (This is a partial list based on my current recollections of things I read at various points in the past, so it may not be perfectly accurate. But you get the idea.)

Now, understanding these things can be very important for your personal well-being. For example, it implies that you should choose a short commute over a higher-paying job (for some range of commuting and salary differentials).

But what does this mean for public policy? It still means we should be ensuring a minimum standard of welfare for everyone, since uncertainty about obtaining the basic necessities of life is a major source of unhappiness.

But you can also draw some conservative implications from the research. For one thing, a central principle of the research is adaptation: people tend to adapt to the situation they’re in. Once you have the basic necessities, if your income goes up, you quickly adapt to it, so the added income doesn’t make you happier. If you make a big purchase, most of your happiness is consumed in anticipating it; by the time you actually get it, you’ve already adapted to having it. In other words, most economic changes in your life aren’t going to have much lasting impact on your happiness—not as much as, say, going to church every week. And the implication of adaptation is that you should try to be satisfied with what you have, because having more of it isn’t going to make you any happier.

Another possible implication is that, if we want to promote happiness, government should encourage the formation and strengthening of community organizations. While this may not necessarily sound conservative today, the conception of society as composed of tightly knit local groups was historically a conservative one, while the progressive movement (formerly known as the workers’ movement) was framed much more in classically economic terms: getting people more money for fewer hours of work. And today, the strongest community organizations are churches. Again, churches are not inherently liberal or conservative, but the idea that people should seek fulfillment in their church community rather than by improving their economic station has a conservative tinge to it.

As you can tell, this isn’t a black-and-white issue, and breaks differently in different contexts. But I personally have had some second thoughts when reconciling my belief in the importance of happiness with my general support for traditionally progressive policies. And I think the general question is certainly worth thinking about: If we believe in maximizing happiness as we understand it today, what kind of public policies does that entail?

* Pay phones, for the kids out there, were fixed-line telephones that were installed in public places (train stations, street corners, etc.). To use such a phone, you had to put money in it, hence the name. They have mainly been rendered obsolete by the rise of mobile phones.

** There is one huge caveat to this list. These are factors that contribute to happiness in the moment, which is what is primarily measured by studies that ask people how happy they are right now (and measure the effect of treatments administered in the last few hours or days). Daniel Kahneman has a brilliant TED Talk making the point that there are two different kinds of happiness: happiness in the moment and satisfaction with your remembered life.

 

71 responses to “Is Happiness Conservative?

  1. What if different people are made happy by different things?

    Hard to imagine, I realize.

  2. Happiness can’t really be an objective to maximize, especially momentary happiness. Sometimes we need periods of sadness or unhappiness. These negative emotions can be a strong motivation to make necessary life changes. Trying to eliminate or limit unhappiness through public policy will suck the soul out of life.

  3. Bhutan famously computes it Gross National Happiness. Would this be one way to sample that?

  4. Tony Blair unsuccessfully attempted to measure national happiness in order to inform public policy and now David Scameron, heir to Blair (his own words) is embarking down the same road, but it seems to me there are far too many variables for an index of national happiness to be ever achieved.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11833241

  5. Overall happiness and contentment are certainly served by progressive objectives such as universal health care, eliminating poverty, access to good education, corporate accountability for social costs like pollution, protection of the environment, democratic governance, freedom from discrimination, fair taxation, equal access to economic opportunity, and so on. Models that only look at the correlation between income and subjective happiness seem to be missing many fundamental components of a good life.

  6. Attempts be governments to “nudge” their citizens, e.g. on health or retirement, in order to improve the public purse are certainly worthwhile. Good health is a correlate of happiness too.

    Howevever, when they start to target happiness for its own sake, the efforts might not only fail, but could also be an electoral liability.

    See ‘Germans Want To Be Happy Too’
    http://www.unexpectedutility.com/?p=725

  7. But you can also draw some conservative implications from the research.

    I don’t see how. On the one hand, we don’t need much money, i.e. wealth, to make us happy, once we have what we basically need.

    On the other hand, wealth inequality makes us unhappy. As the piece says, chasing ever greater wealth doesn’t bring happiness. More importantly, perceptions of significant inequality lessen happiness.

    Most importantly, wealth inequality, by driving up the cost of living for everyone, directly kills happiness by rendering it harder and harder for most people to attain the basic material security necessary for broad-based happiness.

    And then there’s the fact that concentrated wealth is always used as a weapon in all sorts of ways against those who are economically and thus politically weaker. This too directly kills happiness.

    So anyone who cares about maximizing happiness in a society would be a wealth inequality abolitionist. (There’s also lots of other reasons to eradicate concentrated wealth.)

    But as we know, there’s no faction within the kleptopcracy, and few if any individuals there, who care at all about the people’s happiness or even if we literally live or die. 100% of the actions of corporations and government prove that we have a terminal kleptocracy whose only goal is to steal all wealth from the productive people and reduce us to slavery.

    So we can imagine how much traction happiness analysis will get among such policymakers.

  8. With the enormous amount of homeless and poverty-stricken people in this country, it seems inconceivable to me that anyone could ask what what kind of public policies are needed to maximize happiness. You already answered part of your question in stating that after a set amount of economic comfort, happiness does not increase. We waste billions, trillions of dollars funneling them to the already rich in the delusion that it will trickle down to the masses, when in fact the rich tuck most of it into asset values that don’t do much except to enrich a tiny, already-too-rich cohort. We would do much better to ensure a minimum income, destroy slums and rebuild them into decent neighborhoods, eliminate sub-prime, predatory and usurious financial practices, create equality in public education regardless of where one lives, enable free universal health care, and provide equity between renters and homeowners. And yes, for hundreds of years people have turned to their religion for comfort to escape the bone-grinding misery that poverty and enslavement caused, but that doesn’t mean a public policy based on encouraging church-going and “faith-based” solutions is an acceptable substitute for the injustices now rampant.

  9. It seems to me many modern Tea Party conservatives are profoundly everybody for themselves anti-social and thus deeply anti-happiness. They deny most efforts to improve others lots in the world. These Randian, Ryanian conservatives are deeply anti-happiness.

  10. anandopadooda

    I like this line of inquiry very much — but in the list of happiness factors I find three important omissions.

    First, we need to feel that we have good prospects for the future, for ourselves and the next generations — that we are headed in “the right direction” as the polls often phrase it. But environmentally, the future looks bad.

    Second, we need to feel that our rulers are essentially just and sane. Tis is fundamental to our feeling of security, our feeling that our efforts will bear fruit. Income disparity which grows ever larger is NOT just. Runaway, unstable economic systems are not sane.

    Third, we need contact with the natural world. It is healing — if only a pet and a little greenhouse. I remember the old oriental saying, “if you would be happy for a day, take a wife. If you would be happy for a week, buy a cow. If you would be happy all your life, plant a garden.”

    And ultimately we need to seek contact, and love, with the great “I” of the Maker which is within the small “I” of our egos. That ain’t the same at all as “church.”

  11. It does not necessarily follow from “negative emotions can motivate necessary change” that “happiness can’t really be an objective to maximize”. The final sentence about sucking the soul out of life, similarly, does not follow from what has gone before. It is just one of those things that people say to justify hardship, along the lines of “suffering builds character” and “what is, is right”.

  12. The index will measure what the index measures, and so the number of variables is not a bar to creating an index and slapping “happiness” on it. What you’d get is a measure of some elements of happiness, or contentment or whatever.

    Some part of the impetus to study happiness in aggregate is as a counterbalance to GDP and other economic measures. GDP famously does not measure welfare, but rather exchange in the legal, monetized part of the economy. Employment is treated as a “good” in much of economic discussion, when it is really a cost to the worker. A well constructed measure of something like happiness would not need to be complete to be a useful guide to policy.

  13. On balance, I’d think the field of happiness economics lends support to progressive economic policies, even regarding “communities”.

    Having lived in both Europe and the US, I am often struck by how much TALK of “community” there is in the US, but how little “community” there is, particularly in suburbia.

    In Europe, you have city centers, you walk a lot, you use public transport. You are surrounded by people, you know your neighbours and run into them constantly. You sit in the same boat.
    There are many clubs and associations and groups (and people have time and leisure to join them) – church is only one of them.

    The most social public places in the US are, yes, church and Starbucks. Sad.

    Just the fact that you associate “community” with church, and find it to have a conservative tinge, very much betrays specific US circumstances, it seems to me — the European left would be astonished to be regarded as relatively individualistic compared to their conservative opponents.

  14. Indeed. Which raises the questions of why conservatives have become so preoccupied with destroying the infrastructure of happiness and family: communities, informal institutions, local economies, etc.

    Conservatives are happiest when workers are unmoored from social rootedness, and become mercenaries solely to their wages – the supposed rational actors who pick up and move to follow the promise of better jobs around like dustbowl Oakies.

    Conservatives are suspicious of people who congregate for non-commercial purposes. There is the risk they will compare notes, develop compassion, see through demagoguery, and God help us, develop solidarity.

    I recommend the book: False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism by John Gray. A former Thatcherite conservative who came to see that his “free trade” policies were actually destabilizing and breaking up families.

  15. What’s a “pay phone”?

  16. Good comment. I never questioned the assumption that employment is “good.” But for me, looking back, it was slavery if there was not time left over for my own life. I learned (as a single mother) to live very inexpensively and use unemployment benefits and even sometimes welfare so I could have time for my children and time to cook real food and continue learning and growing in my mind. It was fun, and a creative endeavor. In a less demanding society, like France perhaps with its generous vacation times and daycare support, I would have probably followed a career path and been able to contribute much more to society. After all, I had a 4.2 grade average when I completed university, and could always think in original ways — and didn’t have bad habits, or ask much for myself besides a little breathing room.

  17. i expect we’ll find that a lot of happiness/unhappiness is genetically determined, for roughly equivalent environments – so likely public policy cannot alter the mix that much

  18. wo . . genetics is BIG these days isn’t it? Kinda like predestination-type religion in the old days.

    Except cutting edge genetics is discovering that not only are there ‘jumping genes’ within organisms, but also organisms can actually incorporate outside particles into their genetic structures in order to adapt to their situations. There seems to be some kind of ‘field’ which coordinates the whole in ways we do not yet understand.

  19. This mandaranesque treatment suggests that the happiest people should be found in societies where people are deeply involved in local groups based on adoration of imaginery supernatural beings.

    The places fitting that description are Islamic societies. The only really happy people in those places, are the ones who found “quarters in payphones” in the form of oil revenues, or exploitation of government cronieism, or handouts from the US.

  20. What an utterly prejudiced ignorant remark! Islam has a magnificent mystic tradition of the highest order, especially among the Sufis. Educate yourself about the evolution of consciousness. Read Owen Barfield’s on idolatry SAVING THE APPEARANCES.

  21. I agree that many of the things that make people happy were _traditionally_ conservative values, but the modern conservative movement has basically given up on most of them:

    * Short commutes: modern conservatives hate dense development.
    * Predictability. Control over the environment (random noises are bad): Mixed: the left tends to like labor controls that make employment predictable, but the right likes zoning that makes your living environment predictable.
    * Eating, but only until satiation: No real positions.
    * Sex, but only until satiation: Conservatives tend to dislike birth control, and especially abortion, which discourages sex.
    * Money—but only to a point: Indicates for a minimum income and not worrying much about high marginal tax rates. Modern liberals win.
    * Participation in social groups: Conservatives _do_ this more, but what’s the policy to encourage it or make it easier?
    * Marriage, usually. (Children, not so much.): Conservatives pay marriage a lot of lip-service, but liberals actually want to let more people get married.
    * Being appreciated by your boss: Roughly neutral.
    * Generosity toward other people—even if the generosity is not observed by anyone: Again, lots of conservative lip-service. What’s the policy?
    * Work that is challenging but not overwhelmingly so: Neutral
    * Physical contact with other people: Helped by leisure time, which is exactly provided by “more money for fewer hours of work”. Liberal win.
    * And finding quarters in pay phones: Is there a partisan difference in lottery support?

  22. See the footnote.

  23. For example, suppose what makes me happy is to be left alone to live my life the way I choose, and to tell ivory tower academics to take their “public policy” and shove it.

    Too bad there is no country that attempts to secure individual rights like “the pursuit of happiness”, instead of trying to maximize some people’s happiness at others’ expense.

  24. I understand and agree with the need for universal access to necessary medical care, but please don’t ever use the word “free” when advocating for it. This just provides ammunition for those too selfish and arrogant to care whether the rest of us have any medical insurance at all.

  25. 1. Prospects for the future
    2. Just and sane rulers
    3. Contact with the natural world

    VERY wise additions to Mr. Kwak’s list of happiness factors. Thank you!

  26. @Fab: “The most social public places in the US are, yes, church and Starbucks. Sad.”

    I agree in general, although for my local community, I would add the public library, the community recreation center (where we go to ‘work-out’), and my own street, which has an active block association.

    But I am so lucky to live in an old, inner-ring suburb close to universities and the city center.

  27. The ignorance is all yours.
    Islamic countries are mired in religious fantasies and have made few recent contributions to science and the human condition since fundamentalism set in centuries ago.
    Any non-ignorant non-hysteric who knows what kind of governments and terrorist movements have been active in those countries understands why riots have been spreading through a number of those countries.

  28. Hysteric. Funny. Never get that one from your type here when I use my male-sounding tag.

    Which says a lot about your take on ‘those countries’ which you have lumped together so simple-mindedly.

  29. IMHO, “happiness” seems a poor word choice, as it suggests a sustainable state of being, and as was addressed in an earlier thoughtful comment, depends upon periods or circumstances of un- or non-happiness to be able to discern the change in circumstances.

    That said, it is arguable that there are certainly public policy choices that would provide opportunities for happiness – not the least of which would be a roll back of the 24/7 consumer driven economy – the value of time can often be more valuable than money.

    James, your post made me think of Norman Rockwell’s series the Four Freedoms. Trite? Simplistic? Possibly, but so what?

    Finally, the effects of the economic downturn in my circle of friends and colleagues has provided an opportunity to strengthen ties as we have not all been similarly effected. In conversation, we’ve described our “community” as a kind of ‘Decameron’ as we await recovery from the economic plague years. We prefer local craft ale over starbucks or church. Happiness is occassional, fleeting, but shared.

    Is it measurable, does it have practical applications for making policy choice? Well, decisions have certainly been made on worse criteria.

  30. Excellent post James :-)

    If you don’t mind me saying…you are an extremely compassionate human being Mr. Kwak. Thusly, I can only mention the late great Mr.Joseph Campbell, whose famous quotes sum up his beautiful, and wondrous life on planet earth – helping to solidify your rationale. Ref:

    http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/j/joseph_campbell.html

  31. “two-bits” for your thoughts?

  32. The happiest person I know leaps out of bed wearing a smile, runs through her daily responsibilities at warp speed, is never too busy to help anyone to whom she is even tangentially connected, cooks mouth watering meals at the slightest provocation, wiles away her evenings reading worthless genre novels and watching mindless television dramas and sports. Her edge may be a result of having been rescued as an infant from a Communist dictatorship, or native cleverness, or personal discipline, or religious convictions which seem to me old fashioned, or an unusual gratitude at finding herself safe and reasonably comfortable. I find it miraculous that she manages to be so consistently happy, but I am endlessly glad that I married her.

    About one thing I am certain: she isn’t expecting the government to make her happier.

  33. Well, maybe the gender confusion is the source of your hysteria.

  34. Plenty of research says that faith (even netting out the impact of community ties) has a positive impact on happiness. Should policy promote faith?

    Likewise, I recall reading the news has a negative impact. Should policy promote not reading the news?

    I’m not sure what government policy should have to do with happiness at all… Neither conservatives nor liberals frame their arguments in terms of improving happiness, since happiness by itself is not a commonly accepted goal of government action. Even utilitarians do not necessarily make happiness their end goal, and those that do make it their end goal do not all believe government should directly pursue it on the behalf of individuals.

    Facilitating the means by which people can _pursue_ happiness – that is different. Very different.

    Also, regarding the impact of modern organizations (which divorce people from local communities) on happiness, that accounts for a huge chunk of the sociological literature on alienation. However, these institutions also facilitate “labor mobility”, which is functional for the US economy. Hence the commoditization of labor, and Max Weber’s iron cage.

  35. Perhaps happiness is the wrong term. Maybe we should be speaking of social health, and impediments to social health. The government is certainly proactive in affairs of “public health” — meaning physical health. And even mental health. Why not social health? Human beings are social creatures, and social conditions are certainly important in their well-being, affecting physical and mental health..

  36. There is research to suggest that happiness is negatively correlated with income inequality. A widely cited recent paper here.

    From the paper: “The broad consensus in the literature is that … higher income brings both consumption and status benefits to an individual… Since the consumption benefit approaches zero as income rises, happiness profiles over time in developed countries are flat. Carlyle’s pitifulest whipster will indeed be made happier by higher income, but only at the expense of someone else or
    his own future self. We have appealed to the growing literature to show that happiness is indeed negatively related to others’ incomes and to own
    past income.”

    Using coarser measures, however, Will Wilkensin found there’s no straightforward relationship between Gini coefficient and happiness:
    http://www.willwilkinson.net/flybottle/2009/05/18/happiness-and-income-inequality/

  37. James! This is brilliant. We are on to something here. Paraphrasing slightly from wikipedia

    Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness is one of the most famous phrases in the American Declaration of Independence and considered by some as part of one of the most well crafted, influential sentences in the history of the English language. These three aspects are listed among the “unalienable rights” or sovereign rights of man … and and woman :)

    One could argue that a government role in “happiness” is not an outlier but absolutely central to the American way of life.

    So how about some of that famous American capacity for innovation. What qualifies as genuine happiness? What are the innovative social policies that can produce and support our inalienable right to happiness.

  38. Perhaps the experts in “positive psychology” can offer a cogent rebuttal to Caplan and Beaulier who use “behavioural economics” to argue that removing the option of welfare from the poor is good social policy.

  39. JK asks: Is Happiness Conservative?

    Happiness is an inalienable right, according to the authors of the American Declaration of Independence.

  40. Actually, I was pretty happy until I read the article and the subsequent comments.

    :-))

  41. But what if the mere act of ensuring some of the happiness of some others means they’re less likely to commit crimes that impede your pursuit of it? I would think a more contented society is less likely to mug, cheat, steal, and generally misbehave in ways that harm each other, wouldn’t you?

    I’m not saying we hand people everything they’ve ever dreamed of, but a certain degree of safety (no danger of going without the absolute basics) might make for far less desperation and crimes associated with it. I would suppose it might make society overall, even those who wish to be “left alone”, a bit happier.

  42. “I am endlessly glad that I married her.”

    Beautifully expressed. I’m quite sure she too is endlessly glad that SHE married YOU. Much happiness to both of you.

  43. Lord Professor Layard, nothing to add here?

  44. Thank you, acontra. The Gini findings are indeed striking and important, and not well enough known in North America. I think the correlation between income equality and happiness is a reflection of our deep need to feel we live in a just society. Yet much remains to be learned about this.

    Remarkably, Japan, and not one of the socialistic Scandinavian countries, stands at the top of the Gini list as the country with the most egalitarian income distribution. Yet I suspect their happiness would be less than, say, France, because Japanese culture is extremely demanding of the people — intensive study and work, not much play or leisure. Maybe Gini equality and the leisure-factor, together, would correlate well with Gross National Happiness.

  45. Happiness research goes much further back than modern psychology’s ghastly turn somewhere around the mid-twentieth century. Jeremy Bentham and the utilitarians – whose theories were then formalised in the marginal utility theory of value – were already firmly on the path to impose smiles on the gloomy populace.

    I’d go one further than this post: the very notion of pursuing happiness as the greatest good is an eminently Anglo-Saxon ideal. And in a certain sense it is dangerous – exploited by cults and advertisers alike. Here:

    http://fixingtheeconomists.wordpress.com/2011/02/10/are-you-really-happy/

  46. Herbert Wetherby

    Not likey my friend, The only hysteria I sense is in your voice. Yes the Middle East is and has been a hot bed of occasional bedlem for well, Since she got out in the form of a soft comfortabe neck, so many years ago. And now we see a resemblance of irritateions here in this country, and some abroad, why could they not do the same for the past (just how many years has it been?) 2 millinia? And riots, yea its been one, and might be one more.

  47. Ghastly is right. Good comment.

    Anything that locks us more deeply into the Matrix is ghastly, and some notions of ‘happiness’ can do just that, especially in the hands of the profit-takers. And one of the worst Matrix-binding factors is being constantly too busy, and never having leisure enough to have an inner life, to enjoy slow food and slow sex, to contact the natural world. Hard to factor this into economic calculations . . but such enslavement has very real consequences in the real economic world.

  48. Herbert Wetherby

    Two-bits it is, and a fitty cent piece too boot.

  49. I would agree that “happiness” can be interpreted in countless different ways depending. Certainly socialists, libertarians and free-market “fundamentalists” would interpret happiness differently in terms of economic policy.

    Some might argue personal happiness is selfish, rather than a virtue.

  50. So what did the fathers of the American Declaration of Independence mean by our inalienable and sovereign right to pursue happiness?

  51. That’s exactly what I argued in the link. I stated that what most people refer to as happiness is actually a derivative of self-love/narcissism (that is, it is an attempt to assume a perfectly narcissistic – that is, self-loving – state).

    This can easily be seen in most advertisements (‘Because you’re worth it etc.’).

    I don’t see ‘happiness’ as a real analytical concept. I do, however, recognise that ‘narcissism’ is a very powerful analytical concept – and is amply exploited by advertisers (and sometimes economists) under the moniker of ‘happiness’.

  52. They derived their ideas – I think – from Bentham and the utilitarians. To discuss this any further, I’d have to start talking about how the US has a strong tradition of individualism that often tips over into obsessive narcissism and that this goes right back to the founding fathers (they seem to have viewed the individual’s relationship to the state not primarily as one of ‘duty’ but as something else altogether…). I don’t think I’ll start this discussion, because I don’t think I’ll make any friends in doing so…

  53. Apologies – correction… the ideas came from utilitarianism’s predecessor, John Locke:

    “Thomas Jefferson took the phrase “pursuit of happiness” from Locke and incorporated it into his famous statement of a peoples’ inalienable right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence.”

    Doesn’t change my argument though. The ideal came from the same tradition – a tradition where rights are not seen primarily as duties, but as a mandate to pursue ‘happiness’ (which, as I’ve argued, often means nothing but self-interest of a very primitive kind).

  54. Here’s a post that deals directly with sovereignty, and is implicitly all about public happiness, political happiness, which lay at the core of what Jefferson meant by happiness.

    (He substituted “happiness” for the more common “property” which often occured in such formulations; but he seems to have hedged by not explicitly saying “public happiness”, which was also a common term and concept.)

    http://attempter.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/some-basic-thoughts-on-the-american-revolution-according-to-bernard-bailyn/

  55. someone wise said true happiness is the result of effort. i have found that to be true.

  56. “someone wise said true happiness is the result of effort. i have found that to be true.”

    I wholeheartedly agree. In the philosophical language of the period we’re dealing with, that would be – I think – broadly consistent with the view that to engage with sovereignty (i.e. to be a citizen in a constitutional community) required that your rights imply that you have certain ‘duties’ to said community.

    In my opinion, this then leads, in a roundabout way to actual happiness (I’d prefer to say ‘contentment’). The other view of happiness (i.e. the narcissistic view) leads to nowhere but frustration.

  57. I believe the “inalienable” part came from the debate as to whether all authority is vested in the sovereigh/state or whether some laws come from God and are applicable directly to the individual, not vested in the rulers. Thus ‘sovereign’ rights. It was a really radical concept at the time, a revolution in thought.

    Marx took a wrong turn here because his atheism left no ‘inalienable’ legitimacy to the individual — and thus condemned socialist states to become dictatorships. (In recent times ‘human rights’ has stepped into the god-is-dead vacuum — but modern social philosophers have great debates as to the source of our rights — it is a big problem for an agnostic humanist.

    As our society has become ever more oriented toward scientific materialism, and humanistic education has eroded the legitimacy of the ‘inalienable’ spiritual pespective, the state is assuming more and more power over the individual. I think this is one reason the libertarians are linked up with the fundamentalists — clinging to the “God-given” basis of rights. But we must move beyond antiquated forms of churchiness into a dynamic understanding of what consciousness really is. Hard physics is already there and we must follow.

    Like the old guy said in Bullworth, be a spirit, not a ghost.

  58. Self Esteem (Endogenous/Exogenous)

    Vanity (Survivalist Gene +/-)

    Narcissism (the gross addiction persona)

    In life we juggle all three – periods of despair – periods of jubilation – and in periods of self destruction?

  59. I have some sympathy for your argument, but I think it takes a wrong turn twice:

    (1) “Marx took a wrong turn here because his atheism left no ‘inalienable’ legitimacy to the individual — and thus condemned socialist states to become dictatorships.”

    Nonsense. This was not the problem with socialist states – many of them had autocratic backgrounds… hence why Russia became a dictatorship once more after Communism. Democracy is the exception – not the rule.

    This is not to defend Marx’s theories – I agree with your evaluation – but your ideas about historical causality are more than a little circumspect.

    (2) “But we must move beyond antiquated forms of churchiness into a dynamic understanding of what consciousness really is.”

    …and follow Marx and his ‘scientific’ historical laws? ‘Hard physics’ tells us nothing about ‘what consciousness really is’ – hard physics, it can be argued, is simply a PRODUCT of consciousness (this especially so in light of relativity theory and the like).

    Your argument leads us once more to seek out some ‘scientific’ method to determine rights. Life, unfortunately, is not so simple.

  60. pursuit of happiness, and happiness, are different things

  61. I find it interesting that your example of happiness is someone finding that unearned quarter in the pay phone, offering the kind of happiness that leaks over into other days and impacts all other aspects of life.

    Our Founding Fathers guaranteed our right to the “pursuit of happiness,” but not happiness itself. That is such a vague term that means so many different things to so many different people. It sets the government up for an impossible task to have it enter the “happiness” business.

    Instead, I think our culture should perhaps promote associations with groups and churches, but not the government. We need business and cultural leaders who stand for promoting connections, not tearing people apart. In our highly polarized culture, we don’t have such leaders today.

    Where government can play is to provide basic protections for its citizens. I think the bank bailout has many people believing that the government doesn’t swing that way today. The government’s focus on rescuing Wall Street seemed to come at the expense of the economy outside of the financial sector.

    Thus, we are a land mired in much unhappiness and rage.

  62. You may well be right about the Marx issue — it was a connection I hadn’t made before and I do believe it was a factor but do not know how other factors played in. In socialist states which are also democratic, like some of the Scandinavian nations, were they more accepting of religion than the USSR was?

    Pretty sure I’m right about physics though. Recent physics research has pretty much decimated the objective materialist view which has driven the churches into a reactionary corner — physicists are asserting that the universe is exceedingly strange and more like a great thought rather than ‘stuff.’ Very much like the ancient Eastern perspective. This actually frees us from the anti-spiritual constraints of the old “scientific” focus on material things as our bedrock reality, and opens the path to understanding what Yeshua was talking about.

  63. Now we don’t hardly have a concept of “public.”

  64. Herbert Wetherby

    You missed the part about the difference between northern churches and southern churches. Northern ones are the hard ones, physcially and mentally. Southern ones offer a way out of the northern philosophy but actual circulation is limited due to sanity setting in and just letting the norhtern ones play hard ball with themselves, as the southern ones try to play softball.

  65. Herbert Wetherby

    Instead, I think our culture should perhaps promote associations with groups and churches, but not the government. We need business and cultural leaders who stand for promoting connections, not tearing people apart. In our highly polarized culture, we don’t have such leaders today

    Its to bad you don’t have such leaders, probably because you do not believe that there could still be associations between govt, others, including churches. (In name only of course)

  66. Herbert Wetherby — you are right. My perspectiveI was stuck in waspland.

  67. “Pretty sure I’m right about physics though. Recent physics research has pretty much decimated the objective materialist view which has driven the churches into a reactionary corner — physicists are asserting that the universe is exceedingly strange and more like a great thought rather than ‘stuff.’ Very much like the ancient Eastern perspective. This actually frees us from the anti-spiritual constraints of the old “scientific” focus on material things as our bedrock reality, and opens the path to understanding what Yeshua was talking about.”

    Yeshua is a wasp? Who knew? :-)

    USA doesn’t do “mystical”, I’ll go along with that. But aren’t you a bit bassackward when it comes to the “physics” part – which came first? The egg. The earth – billions of years in the making – God doesn’t do nanoseconds exclusively, no flash crashes.

    So our “genes” are not in mystical control of the “environment” – accessing material stuff at will – it’s the exact opposite, we are depended on what it provides.

    I’m pretty humble when considering Yeshua, God, The Big Kahuna, wha’ever, same Almighty Creator,

    and it strikes me that the Creator is a nice PERSON, in the final analysis. S/he enslaved nothing. Look at the worker bee – I mean ALL of life is beholden to that labor.

    Now, granted, one can speculate that the business model that is killing off the honey bees will “change” when it has to in order to stay “free”, but that’s not true.

    Already, one can hear the spin grinding away at the books of history – chaining virgins to a tree during the spring in order for virgins to lick the stamens of flowers – do the work of the long extinct dead bees – will be taught as “god’s will”.

    So aren’t we being herded into believing we need the banksters MORE than we need the honey bees? Happy banksters and all’s right with “God”?

    Like I said, we don’t DO “mystical” in the USA – we insist that bees are franchised because we have SCIENTIFIC proof that that’s the only way to save them.

    Quagga mussles chocking off water intake valves, soem kind of “stink bug” invaded the Northeast – why would anyone ignore such SIGNS of what “global” just can’t BE?

  68. @stats guy

    Well, the anti-Mubarak protesters in Cairo are pursuing there desire for life, liberty and happiness. Perhaps, this is an expression of natural law rather something unique to the Declaration of Independence.

  69. @pilkingtonphil

    I got your name mixed up with Punxsutawney Phil. But you are Irish and not from Punxsutawney :) In any case, I’ll read you essay and maybe I’ll have something more to say.

  70. Seriously, and times are serious, if you are NOT going to read the Declaration of Independence, don’t presume to wing it with opinion and speculation.

    After the “happiness” part – THE PROTEST STATEMENT AGAINST the “elite” enforcing their will with wanton disrespect

    came the list of why everyone was so “unhappy”.

    Put the “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the CONTEXT of the document and there is NO need for speculation.

    Nothing has changed – the ONLY role of “government” is to protect the individual against force and fraud.

    The individual.

    Governments do, quite often, become the SOURCE of force and fraud against the INDIVIDUAL, and

    BY LAW

    in the USA

    that is when you have a

    Constitutional Convention

    We start with the “pen being mightier than the sword”

    But the sword is right there because you always have to deal with the psychos who will do anything for the $$$$

    And BURN The Patriot Act – a load of crap that is nothing more than enronistas gone wild…

  71. Impediments to social health? Henry George made it very simple: guarantee access to land by a single tax on its use value. Other suggestions: eliminate monopolization, condition corporate privilege, outlaw usury. Maybe this wouldn’t be enough but it would be a good beginning.