Thursday, May 08, 2008

We're happier because we're more in touch with human reality

This post is first of all a reminder that the Covenant Zone bloggers and friends meet every Thursday, 7-9 pm, in the atrium of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, in front of Blenz Coffee. Please join us in the discussion of what may become the new Canadian covenant.

For identification, you may see us wearing blue scarves, though with summer coming on, you can't be sure. Sooo... maybe just look for the happy people:
Individuals with conservative ideologies are happier than liberal-leaners, and new research pinpoints the reason: Conservatives rationalize social and economic inequalities.
Now, right off the bat, reading this report on some new "study", one feels one is gaining insight into the liberal world view. I mean, for starters, who would be sure enough to think that they could "pinpoint" the reason for happiness? We all have our ideas about what makes people happy, but pinpointing, through social scientific methods....? Let's read on:
Regardless of marital status, income or church attendance, right-wing individuals reported greater life satisfaction and well-being than left-wingers, the new study found. Conservatives also scored highest on measures of rationalization, which gauge a person's tendency to justify, or explain away, inequalities.

The rationalization measure included statements such as: "It is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others," and "This country would be better off if we worried less about how equal people are."

To justify economic inequalities, a person could support the idea of meritocracy, in which people supposedly move up their economic status in society based on hard work and good performance. In that way, one's social class attainment, whether upper, middle or lower, would be perceived as totally fair and justified.
Now here's another indicator of the liberal world view. Liberals are desperate rationalizers; so they think that if they can find people who can respond to a great and difficult human question, like "inequality", with a rationalization, well then that must be what is making the "rationalizers" happy.

Yet surely, whatever one's propensity to answer a social scientist with a rationalization, it's not the act of rationalizing that makes us happy. I would suggest that it's our ability to have good faith in the social system of which we are a part that makes us happy; and one cannot reduce this faith to its rationalizations. Indeed the attempt to reduce faith (which is always a leap into a mystery) to rationalization is just what makes us unhappy.
If your beliefs don't justify gaps in status, you could be left frustrated and disheartened, according to the researchers, Jaime Napier and John Jost of New York University. They conducted a U.S.-centric survey and a more internationally focused one to arrive at the findings.

"Our research suggests that inequality takes a greater psychological toll on liberals than on conservatives," the researchers write in the June issue of the journal Psychological Science, "apparently because liberals lack ideological rationalizations that would help them frame inequality in a positive (or at least neutral) light."

The results support and further explain a Pew Research Center survey from 2006, in which 47 percent of conservative Republicans in the U.S. described themselves as "very happy," while only 28 percent of liberal Democrats indicated such cheer.
First of all, if this is true, then why - as this blogger asks in questioning the present study - are conservatives much more involved in charitable giving than liberals, even though the latter have more of the wealthiest North Americans among their ranks?

I would suggest that liberals are not unhappy because of their failure to rationalize. They are unhappy because of their propensity to resent what they perceive as an injustice. But what makes us resentful is not something we can take for granted, as undoubtedly unjust. We need to understand our sense of injustice at a more fundamental anthropological level if we want to get at the happiness question.

In my world view, what makes us resentful and unhappy is our sense of alienation from the sacred. The liberal is someone who often takes "equality" as some absolute measure of the sacred; so she cannot but help to feel more or less alienated from all the other forms of the sacred that have evolved in cultural history to allow for social differences (in our proximity to the sacred) around which relationships of reciprocity and freedom can emerge. The conservative is more likely to make human reciprocity and freedom sacred, but these require we take on and respect social differences. It is, essentially, our social differences that create a basis for our exchange with each other. We free ourselves from the more primitive human rituals fixated on equality, in order to have freer and more full lives in exchange with each other. For example, we cannot really enjoy the freedom to eat in restaurants (nor respect the need to employ people and create wealth) if we cannot give the job of serving others some kind of sacred charge (keeping in mind that the sacred always has simultaneously both a positive and negative charge, it both attracts and repels our desire).

The liberal who takes for granted resentment of his or anyone's sense of alienation from the sacred centre, is involved in an inherently delusional state of mind, even when a real injustice is involved. However much the resentment is founded in a real injustice, say inexcusably rough treatment of a waiter in a restaurant, it is the nature of resentment that it moves our minds beyond a reasonable apprehension of the injustice to fixate on the mere fact of difference and or distance from the sacred: one person serves and another eats. Reason teaches us to respect certain social differences, but a liberal can still resent them, merely on the basis of a powerful sense of unholy difference in people's proximity to a sacred centre.

We focus our resentment on the person we "think" (often scapegoating him) is responsible for our alienation from the centre, or sometimes on the thing at the centre of a scene that is being held up as sacred (I resent, for example, people who think SUVs are more cool than bicycles... I resent Jihad-funding SUVs and love bicycles). But at root, it is not so much the person or the thing that is responsible for our resentment, as the mere fact that our consciousness as human beings takes place on scenes that require a sacred centre and hence a human relationship to a centre that can be experienced as unduly close or far away, though ultimately it is really all in the mind, as any Buddhist sage can tell you.

Resentment is inherently delusional because it is founded in our scenic sense of alienation from something, from a lack or absence, and is not founded in concrete rationalizations about the world and the things in it. Those who spend all their time trying to rationalize the world, instead of coming to terms with the need for faith in the scenic ways and means by which humans make and relate to sacred centres, is someone prone to be unhappy, in my experience.


maccusgermanis said...

Rationalize is first recorded 1803, "to explain, to make reasonable;"

Damn it the language has suffered enough for these fools. They are not liberal. Nor do they rationalize.

When such fools accuse "conservatives," that just happen to care for basic rights that befit free men, of rationalization, then shouldn't we just say thank you? Or would that be overly rational?

When you attempt rationalization, your reasoning can either be proven or disproven. Persons with some history of being able to prepare for eventualities are bound to be more happy, however dire the circumstances, than those constantly offended by reality.

truepeers said...

I agree with you that they're not liberal. But on the other hand, I don't quite se how we can avoid using "liberal" as it is currently used in much discussion of North American politics; and it would be tiring to have to qualify every time that we don't mean liberal in the classical sense.

When you attempt rationalization, your reasoning can either be proven or disproven.Some of the time... and some of the time the proof that only the lab of history can provide is yet far off in the future. And then there are some fundamental questions that reduce to core human paradoxes. We can deepen our understanding of these paradoxes, situate them in greater paradigms for human self-understanding, but we can't ever resolve them once and for all. This is why I say rationalization is not enough and we need also some kind of faith.

How any thing in language or culture first emerges out of lived experience, transcends that experience, and then refers back to it, shaping memory and future actions, is not something we can fully understand through rationalization. To say that is not to belittle reason but only to note that it too has limits.

truepeers said...

I argued in this post that the conservative has more faith in the necessity of social differences, in order to maximize the good of reciprocity, than does the "liberal". I didn't note however, that some social and cultural differences are not conducive to increasing reciprocity; and when this is the case it takes a lot of political work to re-situate our differences in ways that some kind of productive reciprocity can then take place. ANd this kind of political work is not reducible to rationalization. We can't plan it all out in advance. It takes a spirit of experimentation and good faith to see in what ways we can change to face up to the human imperative that we find a way to engage in some kind of exchange as an alternative to killing each other.