"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8

Monday, January 29, 2007

The pursuit of happiness

Maddy's back - and is she annoying? It's a rhetorical question - she is. Take this, for example:
"Increasingly, the stridency with which the non-religious attack the religious belies their own profound insecurity - that the progress they like to attribute to western or enlightenment values is a much-compromised property. It is challenged by almost everything we see around us: climate change, rising levels of mental ill-health, growing economic inequality fuelled by debt and hyper-consumerism. As Oliver James's new book, Affluenza, makes clear, the nostrums of the west's "good life" - success, fame, wealth - mask an extraordinary vacuity of purpose, a desperate, restless discontent.

Even on a more prosaic level, Jade Goody and Branscombe beach have been such absorbing spectacles because they echo our fear that the "progress" of rationality and freedom has done nothing to enlarge the human spirit. Indeed, the "larger freedoms of mind and action" of secular Europe cited by Grayling have proved just as much a licence for egotism as for noble achievement."
Where to begin? How can we possibly know whether levels of mental illness were lower in traditional societies than now when the aforementioned condition was routinely diagnosed as demon possession? Goddamit all, even in the post-Enlightenment situation, those suffering from mental illness during WWI were diagnosed as suffering from cowardice and promptly shot.

But there's a more substantive point and it's to take issue with the notion that the purpose of a liberal society is to produce 'enlarged spirits'. Only someone who thinks it is the proper function of a polity to be an enterprise association could say such a thing. But the point of liberalism, which depends utterly on a distinction being made between what is a crime and what is a sin, is to allow people to pursue their own salvation. Or not, as the case may be. To allow the pursuit of happiness - not guarantee this as an outcome, whether this is seen as lying in the possession of an 'enlarged spirit' or not.
"Indeed, the "larger freedoms of mind and action" of secular Europe cited by Grayling have proved just as much a licence for egotism as for noble achievement."
Indeed. And what of it? A Europe with Jade Goody as a celebrity is a price well worth paying for one without the Spanish Inquisition. Those with a sense of history say yes and amen - those without suffer from the crisis of confidence that Maddy describes. It's a wee shame for them but I can offer only sympathy, not empathy.

6 comments:

stephen said...

nice to hear your authentic voice again.

Recusant said...

No, please can we have the Spanish Inquisition and you keep Jade?

Shuggy said...

But nobody would expect that....

Sorry.

dearieme said...

"the progress they like to attribute to western or enlightenment values": and to what does she attribute it? The People's Flag? Mad bints drivelling in the newspapers? The sons of the desert?

KB Player said...

You always hear happy rumours that Madeleine has bunted her last but she comes back, ready to bunt and bunt again.

To bunt (verb, intrans) (1) to make apocalyptic and stupid interpretations from small ephemera (example:- “Jade Goody and Branscombe beach have been such absorbing spectacles because they echo our fear that the "progress" of rationality and freedom has done nothing to enlarge the human spirit.”) (2) to treat phenomena that have been around since human beings first started observing their condition as being symptoms of a specifically modern Western malaise (example:- “the nostrums of the west's "good life" - success, fame, wealth - mask an extraordinary vacuity of purpose, a desperate, restless discontent.”). (3) to be very annoying.

There’s a good fisk over at Obscene Desserts. http://www.obscenedesserts.blogspot.com/

Uncle Joe said...

Good work Hugh.

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