The Pursuit of Happiness

Happy freaking Fourth of July, a day late. Freedom! America! Yay America! Yay the Declaration! Yay the Constitution! For of course we know all men are created equal, and have inalienable rights including the right to pursue happiness!

Well, the equal part is obviously complete BS. Plenty of people would admit that, even if only in private with trusted friends. The pursuit of happiness part is a little harder. It’s very much in our heritage as Americans, and pretty much everybody believes they should be free to do what they want, and they should get what they want, facilitated by the government at the cost of others if necessary, so they can be happy. The conservatives are quick to say it’s only the pursuit of happiness that is a right, but who the hell wants the right to that? It’s something anybody can do anyway. What people really think is they have the right to be happy.

In my religion blog I talked about the functionality of different belief systems, and how most affluent people are functionally Epicureans. We are told the founders, particularly Jefferson, were deists, but that’s just a nicer way of saying Epicurean.

Epicureanism is a pretty radical philosophy because it changes the focus of life, of purpose of life, from duty to family, community, nation, and the gods to the cultivation of the self. The gravity of this can’t be underestimated. Almost all human beings, now and to the beginning of time, have lived for their families and the greater extensions of their families. Living for oneself has been and is impossible for most, and a frankly ridiculous idea for all but a few.

In America, though, the possibility was real. The option existed as it had for very few people before to go far from your family and community, start your own farm- almost everyone was a farmer then- and be far richer than you could be otherwise. If you were a tradesman, rather than smarting under the rule of a guild master for years, to middle age or older, you could go to a new community and open a shop and be independent and possibly affluent.

For later immigrants, you could go from being a farm laborer on the verge of starvation to being an industrial worker with adequate food. This didn’t always work too well, as there were more starving peasants than industrial jobs even in late 19th century America, and to avoid total social chaos immigration was ended after World War I. The industrialists didn’t really mind, as America had plenty of southern blacks who could move north and work cheap.

As long as America was a growth business, the pursuit of happiness seemed like a good way to live. When there were no more material goods to offer, personal freedom from traditional morality became the new good. Everybody had a car and a house, but now you could have sex with anybody you wanted, get a new spouse when the old one tired you, take any drugs you wanted.

I deal a lot with rich people, and I see the concept of hedonic limit in action. A person can only experience so much pleasure, and one becomes accustomed to the pleasure one has and it seems normal. Enjoyment requires even more, but there is only so much the body can feel. It’s more a matter of contrast. I’m sure there is a homeless guy eating a can of beans by his campfire, and he is enjoying his food a lot more than a rich guy in an expensive French restaurant.

Really the average American is more like the rich guy than the homeless guy. Almost everybody, including a lot of poor people, has a lot of stuff, more food than they can digest, gadgets, and unlimited entertainment. Uninhibited sex is only limited by your looks and social skills.

Are Americans- the proud heirs of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, with a vast array of rights, including in the minds of most the right to be happy, happy? This is the very basis of our national existence, so it’s a big question.

It’s a basic psychological insight, and the basis of Buddhism, that the pursuit of pleasure is ultimately futile. Epicurus qualified this by saying the pursuit of pleasure should be careful and measured, but even so it has its limits. You can crash up against them like a rock star at a backstage party or creep up to them like a wealthy couple touring the wine country, but they are there.

It’s also a basic psychological insight, I think, that happiness is one of those things that can’t be obtained by being pursued, but must come incidentally from other things. I modestly propose it comes from working for and performing your duty to your family, community, nation, and God- your real family, community, and nation, and the real God, not the one Obama talks about.

For this reason, the entire American experiment is essentially false. It worked, or appeared to work, in the good times, but the good times don’t last.

We are defined not by our rights and our freedoms, and how we enjoy them, but our duties and obligations, and how we fulfill them.

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It’s Over

I’ve been watching the Glastonbury Festival on Palladia. A bunch of has-been throwbacks. CSN doing “Marrakesh Express”, I never realized how twee and gay that song really was. A hippie travelogue! About buying souvenirs!

It’s over. The 60′s are over. The 70′s are over. The 80′s are over. The 90′s are over. The 00′s aren’t over yet, they’re still beating us up and taking our lunch money,  but they will be soon. Progressivism is as silly and old as “Marrakesh Express”, an old lady in Birkenstocks. Neo-conservatism, as a partial return to sanity, is a little more modern but still, as Gallagher said, stuck in the 60′s.

The people running things don’t realize it’s a new world, they were having so much fun in the old one, but it’s here, and it’s time to start living in it.

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America Is the Stupidest Country

Totalitarian or authoritarian systems are based on the idea that some people know the truth, and through forceful authority will organize society around their knowledge. People have versions of the truth of varying quality and functionality, and to the extent the model is true and functional, it will work. These systems aren’t great but they at least sort of work, usually.

Modern America is unique in that its leaders don’t think they know the truth, but that they can create the truth, that what people believes becomes true. Keynesian economics and modern race relations wouldn’t seem to have anything in common, but Keynes believed that if people thought the economy was good, it would be good, and liberals believe if the people believe blacks are nice and smart, blacks will be nice and smart. They don’t believe these things are true, only that they should be true, and if people believe them they will be true.

People who believe in objective reality can deal with facts in some kind of rational way. They can accept the theory doesn’t match the facts 100%. If they can’t, they are at least just crazy. To believe something that doesn’t match reality and refuse to change your beliefs is a good definition of crazy.

To believe that reality is malleable, that it is based on a mass hallucination is not even crazy. But that is what modern American liberalism is.

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The Truth Is, Nobody Really Likes Black People; Or, The Negro Problem, Revisited, Again

Racists are popping up like mushrooms these days, Donald Sterling hot on the trail of Cliven Bundy. Cliven Bundy is the kind of guy everybody assumed was a racist anyway, but Donald Sterling was due for an NAACP award. What’s up with that?

Donald Sterling is a very rich Jewish liberal of the kind that has sponsored the black cause since the early 20th century. At 80 he has been and adult, and a rich one, throughout all the modern civil rights era. He gets some media attention from owning an NBA team, so being involved in a business with mostly black employees is good for him. The NBA itself is run by nepotistic Jews, the new commissioner being the son of a friend and law partner of the last one. But- he doesn’t want blacks around him socially, and not even around his trashy gold-digger mistress.

There’s something that goes unsaid in all the racial debate, which is almost entirely between progressives who say blacks are victims of whites, and HBD advocates, who say blacks behave as they do because of genetics. Nature or nurture? There is a lot of nurture going on, but not of the kind people usually talk about.

The “Negro Problem” was what earnest liberals back in the 1950′s used to talk about what the US was going to do about blacks. In his 1963 essay, Norman Podhoretz had the temerity to say that in his personal experience, black people weren’t all that oppressed- in 1930′s Brooklyn the black kids were the ones doing the oppressing. Black people in the South were aggressive with poor whites, as Richard Wright tells us in “Black Boy” and in the North they had even fewer constraints. But in a general environment of assumed black inferiority, this could be still plausibly written off as an oppression issue.

Pop psychology came to the rescue of blacks. The Brown v. Board decision in 1954 made school segregation impermissible, not from any legal principle, but on the idea that it reduced the self-esteem of blacks, causing their poor performance in various metrics.

The whole nation embarked on the project of raising black people’s self-esteem. They- and we- were told they were in no way inferior, and in many ways superior. They were encouraged to feel wonderful about themselves, and proud of themselves, and to respond aggressively to anything they perceived as a challenge. Walter Russell Mead calls this “the new culture of pride and assertiveness”, in his delightfully understated way.

We’ve had two generations of this now, of this heavily promoted and harshly enforced policy of black wonderfulness. It has worked, in one way. Black people have very high self-esteem, to the point of narcissism. According to the theory, they should now be performing as well as whites. But they don’t. And the argument goes on- hidden racism, that must be rooted out by any means necessary, or genetic determinism.

There’s another thing going on here though. Think of a person who doesn’t have that much going for them, but has been told constantly by parents and teachers they are great. They have a lot of help shoring themselves up and getting nice things they couldn’t get on their own. They view their unearned status and possessions as theirs by right, but can’t take any responsibility for their shortcomings. They have a certain superficial charm, that is nice in small doses, but a bad temper that makes it dangerous to be around them if they are thwarted, or frustrated or questioned in any way. Do you really want to be around such a person? Do you want people close to you to be around such a person? Some work and government functions may require you to, and you may be required to pretend you like them for social reasons, but you will avoid them when you can and your general opinion of the will be, “What a tool…..”

Multiply this problem by most of the black population and you’ve got a real problem.

People like this wear out their welcome, eventually. If you want to hang out with people you have to bring something to the table. I read a newspaper article, decades ago, about UN diplomats in New York complaining nobody wanted to hang out with them any more. Apparently in the 1960′s it was very fashionable to have UN diplomats to your Manhattan parties, but by the 1980′s that wasn’t the case any more. The spurned seemed to mostly be Third World types, the trouble being just because your uncle is Dictator for Life and can get you a cushy posting in New York, doesn’t mean upper-class people in Manhattan have any interest in you.

This is why gays are the new blacks, and have been for a long time. Gays, or at least some portion, are much more socially attuned to what the elite like and make much better hangers-on.

Donald Sterling will get his whipping. It doesn’t really matter, because billionaires will still avoid socializing with blacks, and still want their trashy mistresses to avoid socializing with blacks. I’m baffled by why anyone would want to spend any time with Sterling or his “girlfriend” but there you have it.

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Cliven Bundy- Worse Than Ted!

Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy is involved in a tense dispute with the feds, currently on the back burner. The idea that anyone would defy the feds enrages liberals, but his comments on “the Negro” are what has really pushed him into non-personhood.

HE’S A RAAAAAAAAAACCCCISSSSSTTTTT!!!!!

That got me thinking about the real story, beyond the pro forma outrage. The upper fraction of blacks is more entrenched than ever as our rulers, and will stay entrenched. But as for the mass of blacks- the ones liberals are always fretting about, over education, discrimination, blah blah blah- nobody really gives a crap any more.

Everybody is really tired of blacks at this point, even those who pose as their biggest advocates. The nation has spent three generations worrying about blacks and trying to uplift them, or lift them up, or help them lift themselves up, or prevent evil white people from preventing themselves or others from lifting themselves up. Didn’t work. Got pretty boring, and blacks not being attractive or sympathetic characters, the whole thing was king of gross.

Gays are the new blacks and have been for years. Whites mostly immunized themselves from blacks by moving away, until rap brought negritude to the whitest suburbs. Still the ability of blacks to disrupt society was limited, as was the ability of feminism. But gays raze things right to the foundation.

Getting the heave-ho from mainstream conservatives won’t likely make much difference in the outcome of Bundy’s dispute, and not being a media figure he probably won’t make a groveling apology. The crime will go unpunished, and people may notice, a little. But everybody already knows what the deal is, and whether an old Mormon cattleman says so or not doesn’t make that much difference.

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Empathy and Sympathy

H/t to LOTB, Norman Podhoretz says he has no empathy for the Palestinians.

Podhoretz violates a social norm here, because the social norm is that you are supposed to have at least a little empathy for everyone, even people you don’t like. Systems of social norms, whether you call them religions, spiritual systems, or legal and political systems, operate partly around ethics, or what the rules are, and partly around empathy, which is the understanding of a person’s subjective situation, and also sympathy, which is an understanding for a person’s subjective situation combined with compassion for them.

There are rules, but people don’t always follow them. Who, when they don’t follow the rules, gets empathy, sympathy and love? Who, when they don’t follow the rules, gets judgment, condemnation, and hate?

Most social systems feature mostly ethics for everyone, with some sympathy for everyone. People are supposed to follow the rules, if they break them they are punished, but not excessively. If the rules are difficult and strict, more people will break them, creating more need for empathy, but if the rules are hard the people making and enforcing the rules won’t be inclined to much empathy. This will alienate a lot of people. The rules have to be strict enough to allow society to function, but not so strict people will frequently violate them and lose respect for the rules and the rulers. Strict rules are great for the rulers, but tend to backfire in the long run.

The ethical system held by mainstream conservatives and libertarians mostly rules, with limited empathy, but the rules are not strict so empathy isn’t a big issue. You must not harm others. If you harm others, you will be punished, but only to the extent necessary to maintain order, not with hatred or anger. Conservatives expect traditional sexual mores to be respected. People unable to produce economically will get charity or welfare, to a limited extent, but they believe the economy can be organized so that it is easy to get a job and make a living.

Progressives have a quite different concept of ethics. Empathy and sympathy are extended virtually without limit to some groups and not at all to others. I think this goes back to Jesus’s admonition to “love your enemies”. Bible interpretation gets onto dangerous ground. The important point here is that progressives decided at some point that not only was it good to love your enemies in addition to loving your friends and relatives, it was good to love your enemies more than your friends or relatives. This to me is the Pharisaical sin of adding on to the law, but it allowed themselves to position themselves as morally superior, and moral superiority as power is the entire idea of the last 500 years.

Jesus also told people to care for the poor and oppressed, so progressives extend unlimited empathy- or demand that others extend unlimited empathy- to those they identify as poor and oppressed, and people regarded as bad. Progressives love criminals, and care deeply about their well-being, while having no empathy for crime victims, and subjecting them to a high ethical standard. They expect criminals will be treated with kindness and decency, love, and not punished but only given confinement and treatment such as needed to remove their defects of behavior, which are entirely understandable and only due to oppression. Crime victims are expected to not have any anger over their suffering and loss and expected not to hate the criminals who hurt them, but immediately forgive them, whether they show any remorse or repentance, and not demand any more punishment than a progressive criminal justice system would dole out.

The poor are by definition good, so they must receive a lot of money and aid from the government, and the non-poor must not object to paying for this.

Most people find homosexuals and transsexuals disgusting, but being different they are oppressed, and society must do whatever they want so they will feel comfortable, and normal people must not object to their presence or any of their behavior.

This upside-down system of ethics and empathy became more and more powerful up until the 1970′s, but then the massive crime problem it created caused a backlash and counter-revolution by normal people. The criminal justice system became a lot more strict. School busing was ended, so people were able to move away and keep their children away from badly behaving poor people. Gays didn’t move back legally, but they toned down their behavior somewhat and rather than acting like 60′s cultural rebels, have since tried to portray themselves as normal middle-class citizens.

The Pharisees took a fairly straight-forward system of law and ethics and added additional customs and rules to it, to make themselves look better and give themselves more authority. This frustrated and discouraged the population. If you are a city dweller with slaves who can go to a well close by, you can wash frequently but if you are a farmer or herder admonitions to wash frequently may be difficult or impossible to follow. Jesus only wanted to restore a reasonable system of ethics and empathy, tempered with humility. Only God is good, he reminded us.

Progressive Christians took the Pharisaical model of religion where well-behaved, outwardly religious people with money were good- very much like the pagan model- to one where the badly behaved poor and sexual deviants are the good people. You go from having Deuteronomy Pharisees, who are annoying, to Sermon on the Mount Pharisees, who are deadly.

Extending unlimited compassion to the badly behaved is really a Hindu or Buddhist concept- a theoretical one, since poor and badly behaved people aren’t treated too well in Asia. The reasoning here is a little better, because a murderer for example has to suffer many lifetimes, including murder himself before he is enlightened and enters a state of bliss, rather than getting a get-out-of-jail-free card. Extending unlimited compassion to a person who has harmed you is ethically questionable to me, because while you can discount the harm they have done to you, you can’t legitimately discount the harm they may do to others without punishment. But at least it’s your choice. Demanding other people extend unlimited compassion to people who have harmed them, while extending them no compassion yourself, is evil

 

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The Strange and Terrible Visions of Fred Phelps and Philip K. Dick

Cross-posted from my religion blog.

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