Need a good laugh? Starved of irony lately? Not to worry…the Washington Post will provide:
To bemused conservatives, it looks like yet another example of analytic overkill by the intelligentsia — a jobs program for the (mostly liberal) academic boys (and girls) in the social sciences, whose quantitative tools have been brought to bear to prove the obvious.
Oh, lordy. You just know you’re off to a roaring start when you feel you must wax pompous right off the bat, instead of just starting in with the nut graf:
A survey by the Pew Research Center shows that conservatives are happier than liberals — in all income groups. While 34 percent of all Americans call themselves “very happy,” only 28 percent of liberal Democrats (and 31 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats) do, compared with 47 percent of conservative Republicans. This finding is niftily self-reinforcing: It depresses liberals.
Yeah, that’s pretty nutty, all right. Because only a nut would think that way…and I’m not depressed in the least, reading it. On the contrary, I’m rather entertained. Especially in light of what follows:
Election results do not explain this happiness gap. Republicans have been happier than Democrats every year since the survey began in 1972. Married people and religious people are especially disposed to happiness, and both cohorts vote more conservatively than does the nation as a whole.
People in the Sun Belt — almost entirely red states — have sunnier dispositions than Northerners, which could have as much to do with sunshine as with conservatism. Unless sunshine makes people happy, which makes them conservative.
Such puzzles show why social science is not for amateurs. Still, one cannot — yet — be prosecuted for committing theory without a license, so consider a few explanations of the happiness gap.
“Happiness gap”? Trust a conservative to invent a problem where none exists. If you think that was comical, wait. It gets better:
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.
Okay, now we’re getting a fairly good idea why conservatism and social science do not mix. A conservative just can’t do the math, because he goes in with a preconceived set of imaginary facts, from which he cannot be dissuaded, no matter how wrong all of them are. And the author of this hilarious article, Gentle Reader, is wrong on so many levels.
First of all, THIS lefty-liberal is Canadian. I don’t take my bearings (consciously or not) from US politicians, past or present. I do, however, watch them closely–usually to shake my head at how consistently they get things wrong. And wish THEY would learn to take their bearings from US–because up here in the Great North, we are definitely happier than our neighbors to the south, unsunny weather notwithstanding.
Secondly, this theory of conservatives usually being right is just horseshit from back to front. If they were right, would they panic so much, seeing their cherished values constantly being threatened by more realistic ones? (Bear in mind that they’ve been losing ground FOREVER–even in ancient Greek times, the conservative old fogies were moaning about the “moral decline” of the young.)
Conservatives are wrong and always have been, but their capacity for smug denial knows no bounds. Were they right when they elected Dubya president, thinking he’d be a compassionate conservative, in favor of maximum liberty and minimal government? Surprise! Turns out he doesn’t give a tinker’s damn for the life, liberty and pursuit-of-happiness of anyone but his wealthiest donors. And he’s expanding the government’s reach into every American’s most private life. (Yeah, tell me again how judges like Roberts and Alito are conducive to a woman’s freedom and happiness if they don’t even want to let her decide for herself what to do about an unwanted pregnancy.)
And then there’s that “fending for oneself” thing. That sense of smug self-reliance only sticks around until the money mysteriously dries up and it suddenly becomes incredibly hard to get more. And when that happens, misery sets in–in earnest. It works the same for the rich as it does for those living paycheque-to-paycheque. Only the former have a longer period of denial–and less realism, consequently–than the latter. (Ever notice how many Great American Novels trace the downfalls of rich and happy conservatives? There’s a reason for that.) When you’ve suddenly got no boots, being hectored to pull yourself up by the bootstraps is the ultimate in cruelty. And all your cherished values won’t put new ones on your feet, either…
Tell me, conservatives–are you happy to be wrong about all that? If I were one of you, I’d be dead scared–and wondering what the hell I voted for, since it’s all now going to pot. Believe me, thinking about the realities of your pathetic situation makes me glad NOT to be a conservative. Especially since I used to be much more of one when I was younger…and much less happy.
I think the author of our charming piece-of-drivel must have realized that himself, because look what he writes next:
On Jan. 3, 1936, FDR announced that in 34 months his administration had established a “new relationship between government and people.” Amity Shlaes, a keen student of FDR’s departure from prior political premises, says, “The New Deal had a purpose beyond curing the Depression. It was to make people look to Washington for help at all times.” Henceforth the federal government would be permanently committed to serving a large number of constituencies: “Occasional gifts to farmers or tariffs for business weren’t enough.” So, liberals: Smile — you’ve won.
See that? He’s acknowledging that liberal policies were, ARE, effective–and VERY happiness-friendly. The New Deal no doubt came as a great relief to many who had endured the Great Depression (which was all the more depressing for having been engineered by conservatives.)
But then, not wanting to shoot his own lovely theory all to shit, he backslides to a wonderfully spinny finish:
Nevertheless, normal conservatives — never mind the gladiators of talk radio; they are professionally angry — are less angry than liberals. Liberals have made this the era of surly automobile bumpers, millions of them, still defiantly adorned with Kerry-Edwards and even Gore-Lieberman bumper stickers, faded and frayed like flags preserved as relics of failed crusades. To preserve these mementos of dashed dreams, many liberals may be forgoing the pleasures of buying new cars — another delight sacrificed on the altar of liberalism.
But, then, conscientious liberals cannot enjoy automobiles because there is global warming to worry about, and the perils of corporate-driven consumerism, which is the handmaiden of bourgeoisie materialism. And high-powered cars (how many liberals drive Corvettes?) are metaphors (for America’s reckless foreign policy, for machismo rampant, etc.). And then there is — was — all that rustic beauty paved over for highways. (And for those giant parking lots at exurban mega-churches. The less said about them the better.) And automobiles discourage the egalitarian enjoyment of mass transit. And automobiles, by facilitating suburban sprawl, deny sprawl’s victims — that word must make an appearance
in liberal laments; and lament is what liberals do — the uplifting communitarian experience of high-density living. And automobiles…
You see? Liberalism is a complicated and exacting, not to say grim and scolding, creed. And not one conducive to happiness.
Uh, way to twist things totally out of shape, buddy.
How is it “not conducive to happiness” to live modestly and peaceably, not constantly having to assert one’s machismo and status with a new car (or house, or spouse) every damn year? To me, the very idea of going car-shopping is depressing–what a nuisance to have to compare the bells of this model to the whistles, sirens, klaxons and hooters of that! I don’t give a fuck about the “metaphor” they represent–the immediate reality of those stinking roadhogs is quite enough for me. (Did I mention yet that I don’t even drive–and that walking or biking, or–oh heaven!–taking the train is MY delight?)
And I don’t even contemplate looking (in vain) for happiness in an “exurban mega-church”–just the sight of them gives me the shudders. (And no, not just because I’m a happy pagan who’d like to remain one, thank you very much. By the way, did you notice how even the conservative guy said “the less said about those, the better”? I guess he doesn’t like them, either. Even though they cater primarily to his own kind–fellow conservatives!)
As for complicated and exacting–well, I’ll concede that yes, we ARE exacting–in a good way. We insist on getting things right, we liberals–and working harder on the things that have gone awry. Conservatives? Bah, let the world go to hell–and let the peasants eat cake! As long as we’re happy (and liberals are miserable), that’s all that matters…
But are we liberals really complicated? Uh, pardon me, but how many back-to-the-landers do you know who say their lives are MORE complicated since they got off the grid and away from the suburban sprawl? (They are also, I note in passing, far more self-reliant than any conservative I’ve ever seen, though they do not shun communitarian values either.) Granted, that’s the further end of the liberal spectrum…but you’d be surprised how many of them I’ve met, seeing as I live on the edge of a rather small town here in Southern Ontario…
And yes, those back-to-the-landers, those liberals, those leftists, those hippies–are the happiest people I know. Mainly because, unlike conservatives, they haven’t built their whole lives around money, status, and the eternal, unsatisfying acquisition of more of the same. To them, and me, it looks too much like the life of a drug fiend. More, more, more–too much, never enough!
But, Gentle Reader, here comes the kicker…
You’re probably wondering who wrote that article. It is George F. Will…professional conservative scold and perpetual sourpuss, hectorer extraordinaire. Take one good look at him, or one good reading of his vinegary venom, and you’ll realize that here is a sad little man with his panties forever in a wad, right up his highly retentive anus. He secretly envies liberals, knowing that he’d never make it with the cool crowd–and so feels free only when projecting his own neuroses onto them.
Maybe his shorts are all bunchy up his bum because some wise-guy liberal gave him a wedgie in his nerdy youth, and he never quite forgot–or forgave. Well, George, you know you can get help for that. One of the great things about being a liberal is that, after the scales of smug denial drop from your sore eyes, you open up to change and understand that it’s never too late–there are always others out there willing to embrace you when you’ve finally seen the light.
But you won’t find them in any of those megachurches you have to drive to on an endless ugly highway, pretending to yourself that it’s really fun to have to impress all the Joneses with a new car every year.