Some Good Reads

Some Good Reads:

The Monday-Wednesday corridor is a very busy time for me, so I will have to direct you to other reading today. Wretchard has an excellent review of the new Kaplan article, "The Coming Normalcy."

Winds of Change has an article on the "Barbarians" gang in France, and its attempts to replicate Iraq's anarchy (as per the Kaplan article above) in the Cites of France.

And since my calendar says this is "International Women's Day," whatever that means, I'll replicate Arts & Letters Daily's recent links to this article on Islam and feminism, and this one on women, biology and inter-relationships. They are interesting to confer with Cassandra's piece on happiness from yesterday.

UPDATE: Lunch break, so I can finally take a few minutes for myself. I'd like to talk a bit about the paragraph above. There are two things I'd like to discuss.

Although the connecting thread is that all three pieces are by women, about women, the real enlightenment is not on the subject of women, but happiness. This is the second time Cassidy has taken up on the topic of happiness lately, on both occasions referencing studies and polls suggesting that liberals are constitutionally less happy than conservatives.

I don't find either study convincing, to be honest: I can't see how either polling or the dubious "science" of psychology could control for external factors (such as the relative success of conservative policies, and the relative collapse of the political party most associated with liberal ones -- it would seem that might impact happiness in ways that could reverse if the political fortunes did also). Yet I think Cassandra has some excellent advice on how to be happy, regardless of your politics (or your sex):

Conservatives don't expect life to be fair. This is critical to understanding the happiness gap. Because we don't go through life thinking the world owes us a fair shake, when life treats us unfairly we don't tend to take it personally. We don't get angry at government, society, or the system. We just realize we need to try harder.
Accepting personal responsibility for improving your own condition is key to happiness, because it concentrates your attention on what you can do to make things better. This is true even if, in fact, you aren't the one responsbile: even if you have had genuine bad luck, even if the government ought to be helping you and isn't, you will be happier if you focus on how you yourself can make things better in your own life. The less attention you focus on what you can't control, the happier you will be.

This is one reason for thinking that the electoral failure of liberal politics is related to liberal levels of unhappiness: if you are successful at the ballot box, the sphere of things "you can control" or "you can influence" is much larger. Assuming you are doing your duty as a citizen to be aware of political issues, the presence of a political movement sympathetic to your goals, responsive to your efforts, and able to effect real change, is thus going to mean that you are happier than someone who lacks such a movement. Assuming you are convinced of the rightness of your views, however, you can't just sit out the political process because it's making you miserable. You have, in a sense, a duty to be unhappy. You have to work, even in constant failure, to change things according to what you feel is right. That's what citizens are meant to do.

Still, you will find greater happiness among even minority political movements -- the political movement associated with the Mormon Church in Utah, say -- who focus on the level of politics small enough for them to control. In Utah, they can be happy. If you concentrate your efforts on a town or a state where you can build a majority, you can be genuinely happy even though the national level politics may be permanently beyond your particular political movement.

Yet, even there, by concentrating on what you can control, you will improve your ability to lever the larger politic: control of Utah, to continue with the example because it is a neutral one, means a greater say due to its presence in the Senate and in the Electoral College than if you spent your efforts trying to influence the national debate instead of concentrating on capturing and controlling the state. Not only do you get local laws that mean you can live the way you want (another source of happiness), but you find -- almost by accident -- that you actually end up with more power that way.

You've all heard my Federalism rants before, but here it is again anyway. That was observation #1.

Observation #2 relates to the degree to which happiness is hard-coded. To a large degree, being happy means learning what has been written into you, by evolution or God: the things that set off the right chemical triggers in the brain are the sources of happiness. Yet the underlying hard-code is antithetical to happiness. We are happy when we obey Stone Age triggers; but the same triggers never permit you to be too happy, as the Stone Age man who settles in comfortably and stops fearing for his survival did not survive. The eye tracks Cassandra's silver Mercedes (not my eye, I hasten to add, which prefers Chevrolets) because it is hardcoded never to accept that it has enough, that it should stop striving for more. Learning to feel otherwise is not practical work, but mystical work: it is what people spend their entire lives in monasteries to accomplish.

Here is a piece called "The Stone Age Trinity," which holds that there are three basic interpersonal drives that arise from our long history as hunter-gatherers:
The late philosopher Robert Nozick pointed out that when people compare themselves to one another, they are disposed to feel one of two emotions -- guilt or envy. Guilt when someone has a lower station than you; envy when someone has a higher station than you. I would add a third to this mix: indignation. That's when you compare someone of a higher station to someone of a lower station, and feel that something is wrong. I refer to this complex of emotional responses to unequal life-stations as the "Stone Age Trinity."
I suspect that there are rather more than three such drives, which creates a more complicated picture than the piece admits. Cassandra's first-cited article has to do with one such complication, which arises from the fact that men and women relate to each other differently from the way that men relate to other men. To whit, it is not clear that a man looking at a woman feels either guilt or envy or indignation when considering her status: there is an entirely different emotional structure at work.

The Scrivener piece on female-female relations suggests that there is yet another structure at work in those relationships: Just as men look at each other with a different structure than they use in considering women, so too do women seem to regard each other differently than they regard their relations with men. This is true, as the article makes clear -- indeed, it is the article's main point -- even with women who have spent a lifetime studying the issue and trying to "correct" it. Yet, as the subjects admit, it is simply hard code. The best you can do is try to override the programming consciously -- the underlying feelings do not go away.

The Chesler piece cited overlaps with the Scrivener piece at exactly that point. After a lifetime on the front lines of feminism, attempting the very "corrections" that the above article mentions, Chesler has reached the point at which she feels the need to offer a partial critique of modern feminism. It is really a mild critique. In spite of her hostile title (which was probably chosen by an editor, not her), she has very positive things to say about the movement that has involved her life's work -- but expects that this critique will be regarded as a "betrayal," that her attempt to criticize the status of the movement will result in her being thrown out of the movement.

What's do be done about that? Not very much -- and it isn't happy work. We feel happiest when we do what comes naturally to us, and what comes naturally to us includes thrusting out of the group those who depart in sharp ways from the underlying social dynamic. The preservation of that dynamic is often seen as being more important than the truth value of the claims being made by those thrust out -- witness the trial of Socrates, which makes the point that this is a human rather than a female issue. Yet the best kind of person can't accept that, and go along with what is common but is not right.

Again we see that there may be a "duty to be unhappy" in ethics -- you have to be mindful about thrusting aside your happiness if necessary to uphold the truth. You have, in effect, to be ready to go into exile, to drink the hemlock, to enter the monastery, or to start the war.

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