Condemned to Joy
I write this post with trembling hands. You see my recent post on a particularly execrable high school play has inspired a histrionic conniption over at Good As You. There’s even a threat to report me to the Southern Poverty Law Center. I quake to think of what they’ll do to me.
You see, Mr. Good as Me (he doesn’t say what he’s as good as me at doing, though) and I have a vastly different worldview. My own worldview is derived from the ancient Jewish sources. It is one that asserts that life has a higher purpose. It looks at human life and human happiness in a vastly different way than modern people do.
I would presume that Mr. Good as Me looks at life in a more typically modern way. Here’s an article that describes the viewpoint.
In the 1960s, two major shifts transformed the right to happiness into the duty of happiness. The first was a shift in the nature of capitalism, which had long revolved around production and the deferral of gratification, but now focused on making us all good consumers. Working no longer sufficed; buying was also necessary for the industrial machine to run at full capacity. To make this shift possible, an ingenious invention had appeared not long before, first in America in the 1930s and then in Europe in the 1950s: credit. In an earlier time, anyone who wanted to buy a car, some furniture, or a house followed a rule that now seems almost unknown: he waited, setting aside his nickels and dimes. But credit changed everything; frustration became intolerable and satisfaction normal; to do without seemed absurd. We would live well in the present and pay back later. Today, we’re all aware of the excesses that resulted from this system, since the financial meltdown in the United States was the direct consequence of too many people living on credit, to the point of borrowing hundreds of times the real value of their possessions.
The second shift was the rise of individualism. Since nothing opposed our fulfillment any longer—neither church nor party nor social class—we became solely responsible for what happened to us. It proved an awesome burden: if I don’t feel happy, I can blame no one but myself. So it was no surprise that a vast number of fulfillment industries arose, ranging from cosmetic surgery to diet pills to innumerable styles of therapy, all promising reconciliation with ourselves and full realization of our potential. “Become your own best friend, learn self-esteem, think positive, dare to live in harmony,” we were told by so many self-help books, though their very number suggested that these were not such easy tasks. The idea of fulfillment, though the successor to a more demanding ethic, became a demand itself. The dominant order no longer condemns us to privation; it offers us paths to self-realization with a kind of maternal solicitude.
Thus happiness becomes not only the biggest industry of the age but also a new moral order. We now find ourselves guilty of not being well, a failing for which we must answer to everyone and to our own consciences. Consider the poll, conducted by a French newspaper, in which 90 percent of people questioned reported being happy. Who would dare admit that he is sometimes miserable and expose himself to social opprobrium? This is the strange contradiction of the happiness doctrine when it becomes militant and takes on the power of ancient taboos—though in the opposite direction. To enjoy was once forbidden; from now on, it’s obligatory. Whatever method is chosen, whether psychic, somatic, chemical, spiritual, or computer-based, we find the same assumption everywhere: beatitude is within your grasp, and you have only to take advantage of “positive conditioning” (in the Dalai Lama’s words) in order to attain it. We have come to believe that the will can readily establish its power over mental states, regulate moods, and make contentment the fruit of a personal decision.
When I read the comments to the post entitled Jews Bad. Sexual Promiscuity Good, I was amazed that anybody could believe that leaving one’s wife and children to have an affair is anything other than deeply immoral. Sure, I’m intellectually aware that people of low character exist, and that lack of character makes some people rationalize such selfishness. But it still amazes me to see those shameful thoughts expressed.
I thought it perfectly reasonable to say that if a person undertakes obligations towards another– such as getting married to them, and then having children, he is duty bound to carry out those obligations until they are completed. The adult’s desire is secondary to the children’s need for a daddy and a mommy. This is not to mention the wife’s heartbreak at losing a husband.
Apparently it is not obvious.
The denial of this obvious proposition needs explanation. If you want real understanding of our differences, you need look no further than this article.