February 23, 2006

FROM LUNACY TO TRUISM:

Smile if (and Only if) You're Conservative (George F. Will, February 23, 2006, Washington Post)

[O]ne cannot -- yet -- be prosecuted for committing theory without a license, so consider a few explanations of the happiness gap.

Begin with a paradox: Conservatives are happier than liberals because they are more pessimistic. Conservatives think the Book of Job got it right ("Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward"), as did Adam Smith ("There is a great deal of ruin in a nation"). Conservatives understand that society in its complexity resembles a giant Calder mobile -- touch it here and things jiggle there, and there, and way over there. Hence conservatives acknowledge the Law of Unintended Consequences, which is: The unintended consequences of bold government undertakings are apt to be larger than, and contrary to, the intended ones.

Conservatives' pessimism is conducive to their happiness in three ways. First, they are rarely surprised -- they are right more often than not about the course of events. Second, when they are wrong, they are happy to be so. Third, because pessimistic conservatives put not their faith in princes -- government -- they accept that happiness is a function of fending for oneself. They believe that happiness is an activity -- it is inseparable from the pursuit of happiness.

The right to pursue happiness is the essential right that government exists to protect. Liberals, taking their bearings, whether they know it or not, from President Franklin Roosevelt's 1936 State of the Union address, think the attainment of happiness itself, understood in terms of security and material well-being, is an entitlement that government has created and can deliver.


Geez, no one even argues the point anymore.

MORE:
The devil's sourdough and the decline of nations (Spengler, 2/22/06, Asia Times)

"The personal is political," said the feminists of the 1960s. They were on to something. Countries go to war because those who inhabit them cannot bear their individual lives. Entire cultures die out because the individuals who comprise them no longer wish to live, not because (as author Jared Diamond claims) they cut down too many trees. Bulgaria and Belarus have plenty of trees, yet we observe in such countries a demographic catastrophe unseen in Europe since the Thirty Years' War.

What is it that makes life livable? And why should life be bearable in some nations but not in others? Unlike Sigmund Freud, I do not think mankind suffers from a universal death wish, any more than it benefits from a universal instinct for self-preservation. Some people have a death wish, and others don't. Considering how disappointing life can be, and how hard it is to credit divine justice in the face of so much suffering, it is not surprising that so many peoples fail of their will to live. It is hard to digest the ancient sourdough, as Mephisto told Faust. More remarkable is that some nations remain cheerful about life notwithstanding.

Birth rates rise and fall with religious faith (see Why Europe chooses extinction, April 8, 2003, and Death by secularism: Some statistical evidence , August 2, 2005). People do not have babies because religious doctrine instructs them to procreate, though, but because religion makes them happy. With the end of traditional society, religion becomes a personal, not a communal, matter, and the fate of nations is fought out at the level of individual souls. Communism suppressed religion in Eastern Europe, and the demographic data in consequence seem to bear out the cliche of the melancholy Slav. By mid-century most of the Eastern European countries will lose 20-40% of their people and be left with a geriatric remnant.

US Christians, by contrast, have one of the highest birth rates in the West. Conservative, mostly evangelical Christians have a plurality, soon to be a majority, in US politics (see Power and the evangelical womb, November 9, 2004, and It's the culture, stupid , November 5, 2004). Their burgeoning power stems from a personal message that has made converts of tens of millions of liberal Protestants. Evangelicals are political only when circumstances force them into politics, for example proposals in several US states to legalize same-sex marriage. Their identification with Israel has drawn them into foreign policy.


Who will begrudge the unhappy secular Left its decision to die off?

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 23, 2006 10:07 AM
Comments

"Hence conservatives acknowledge the Law of Unintended Consequences, which is: The unintended consequences of bold government undertakings are apt to be larger than, and contrary to, the intended ones."

If they didn't acknowledge "the law" before, they do now. Oy!

Posted by: Genecis at February 23, 2006 11:18 AM

For years when people have said that I'm too pessimistic, I reply that "optimists can't be pleasantly surprised, but they can be disappointed."

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at February 23, 2006 12:16 PM

Please, they prefere to be called 'the reality-based community'.

Posted by: Amos at February 23, 2006 7:55 PM

Please, they prefere to be called 'the reality-based community'.

Posted by: Amos at February 23, 2006 7:55 PM
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