Thursday, February 23, 2006


Liberalism is Not Conducive to Happiness

I still like him.


Tom said...

Didn't do much for me. Headline was good, though.

Stephen said...

What about that last paragraph?
"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."

Tom said...

I enjoy folks scoring points with good jabs as much as the next guy, but the article left me unsatisfied overall. It takes some interesting mental gymnastics to conclude that conservatives are happier because they are pessimistic. How about this: contemporary conservatives are happier, in part, because they think America is a good and decent place. They are not as guilt-ridden as contemporary liberals. Vietnam, not FDR. Doesn't that make more sense?

A man of the people, even the conservative people, George Will ain't.

dcat said...

He also isn't someone who apparently knows what liberalism is. It is not useful to break liberalism or conservatism down into caricatures. At least not for people who aren't stupid.
I also reject, as a general rule, the idea of liberalism as somehow not optimistic. I embrace what Bobby Kennedy said about liberalism -- "Some people see things that are and ask, 'why?' I see things that never were and ask 'why not?'." It may make conservatives rest easy at night as they rape the land, steal food from the mouths of the poor and tell racist jokes (see George, I can play that stupid game too!) to portraty themselves as sunny and optimistic and liberals as dour and fretting. It just isn't in any meaningful way true. Barack Obama is a lot more optimistic than Tom DeLay. Nonetheless, it is the nature of an opposition party, which is the party in which the vast majority of liberals belong, to be critical. Political circumstance and a fundamental outlook are two different things.
In any case, I'm quite certain, as a resident of the Bible Belt, that I don't want to hear nonsense about scolding liberals. There isn't much that conservatives here don't like to scold and condemn. And beyond the Bible Belt, why don't we bring about that notoriously fun fellow, Bill Bennett, who takes other people's words, slaps his name on the cover, and tells us of virtue, of how to live our lives? Bill O'Reilly? Rush Limaugh? Jerry Falwell? Ann Coulter? Lots of positivism and optimism in that group. Conservatism is about optimism? Happiness? Puh-leeze. There is an element of conservative optimism. There are happy conservatives. And there are bloviating judgmental right wing gasbags. There are fretting, judgmental, sanctimonious liberals and there are sunny, hopeful ones. Any other crass categorization is just plain stupid, and stupidity ain't the province of right or left.


Tom said...


I'm no defender of Will, but you might want to re-read his article. It is based on this section: "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 to 47 percent of conservative Republicans. This finding is niftily self-reinforcing: It depresses liberals.

Election results do not explain this happiness gap. Republicans have been happier than Democrats every year since the survey began in 1972."

If we accept that there is some kind of general trend there, and we can certainly argue the point, then the question is why.

On folks like Coulter, O'Reilly, et al., he writes, "Nevertheless, normal conservatives -- never mind the gladiators of talk radio; they are professionally angry -- are less angry than liberals."

My only point is that if conservatives in America since 1972 are happy in comparison to liberals (keep in mind that everyone is under 50% on this), then a more simple answer for why is that conservatives since 1972 have been more willing to answer the question "Is America a fair and decent place?" with "Yes," while liberals would be more likely to say "Yes, but...," "Mostly," "Sometimes," or "No." (There was a poll a year or two back that showed these result.)

I don't think I'm being controversial with the general idea. Aren't conservatives by definition more happy with the status quo? Aren't liberals more concerned with making changes that they think will improve things?

But to be a bit more controversial, I will say that I think liberals since Vietnam and the Great Society have focused more on the problems in America as embedded in institutions and therefore harder to solve. Conservatives paint a more rosy picture of gradual yet consistent improvement.

dcat said...
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dcat said...

Tom --
The problem from the outset is that I KNOW how you feel about polling data. And I see no sign of how this is necessarily indicative of something tangible. And I see no sign that happiness has a universally agreed upon definition. I also note that he does not embrace the Alexander caveat: x% of Americans WHO WERE SURVEYED indicated Y. He just concludes that "A survey by the Pew Research Center shows that conservatives are happier than liberals." Normally this is precisely what you hate about both polls and those who use them.
The "professionally angry" idea is just monumentally flawed. The presupposition is that these people tap into something in their viewer or listenership. Have you never listened to Limbaugh's callers? I am under the assumption that these people do not sit in a room and make calls for which they are paid. I am assuming, based on Occum's Razor, let;'s say, that the simple answer is that O'reilly and Coulter and Linbaugh have constiotuencies that feel, like they do. So When I mention Limbaugh, i would assume that his professional jackassery is also reflective of his vast readership.
I think it is controversial to assert that wanting changes or status quo in politics is a function of "hqappiness" in any meaningful way. I have pretty strong views on politics. I use many public forums to state those views. I am not happy with much of what is going on in the US today. But my happiness, in any meaningful way, is derived from my relationship with my girlfriend, my family, my friends; it stems from job satisfaction; it stems from last night's Red Sox score. I am a hell of a lot more happy on the whole now than I was in 1994, the last time my party was in power in both the executive branch and Congress; I was assuredly more politically optimistic then. But for all but the most committed and driven politicos, I'm just not that certain that one's personal well being is all that tied with politics and ideology. I'm not certain I've ever known a single person whose happiness was tied to such things in the long run, and if I did I am not certain I would hang out with them for long.
And are optimism and pessimism really synonyms of happiness and sadness? Really? Since when? And I suppose Will missed the day in class when they talked about the meanings of words like "causality" and "causation."
George Will elides all of these questions. Largely because he is a poopyhead. I am pessimistic about Will's capacity not to be a poopyhead. Yet I am strangely happy. Bizarrely enough, George Will would not be able to reconcile those two perfectly reconcilable concepts. That, and only that, makes me sad.


Tom said...


All the points you make about polls are correct, which is whay I said that only if we accept the poll Mr. Poopyhead cited as reflecting some sort of truth should we bother trying to come up with an explanation.

On that note--as we've said, I do not trust polls. I do not know how random the polls are, I do not know how the questions were phrased, I do not know how liberals and conservatives compared to self-proclaimed moderates. But... it seems to me that a poll going on for 35 years is going to reduce the margin of error and help control for other factors like race, socio-economic background, and general Catsam-like stinkiness.

So, just for kicks, let's accept the poll at face value and say that personal reasons aside, why does it appear that conservatives are slightly more happy than liberals?

Maybe liberals are smarter and have a more nuanced understanding of the word "happy," and therefore will not be constrained in their thinking by pollsters who are interrupting their weed smoking. Maybe liberals are less happy because they smell bad from using organic deodorants that don't work. Maybe conservatives are happier because they are in better shape because racism is a good workout.

Okay, so none of these ideas are particularly likely. Nor is Will's idea that pessimism leads to happiness, methinks. I like my idea that liberals hate America (kidding). I'm willing to hear other suggestions.

dcat said...

I vote for the "organic deoderants" answer.