Drooling on the Pillow

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Happiness - Don't Immanentize the Eschaton 

One of the founders of the firm I work for was a believer in World Government. This firm, today, is defending a company that no longer exists, but used to have a baseball park in Texas named after it.

It's a funny old world.

I know about old Mr. Masthead because I happened to come across a box of books from his personal library when we were moving the office. Among them was one he wrote which described a plan to evolve the United Nations into a true world government.

If you've stopped trembling and your breathing has returned to normal, I'll point out what was most disturbing to me. The old man was manifestly not a fool or an unsophisticated observer of The Way Things Work. He'd been around the block many times and had served the Beast of Capital faithfully over a long and distinguished career.

But a belief in the perfectibility of mankind is a kind of romance, a willful suspension of disbelief and, unfortunately, the wind beneath the wings of disaster. Its a Pandora's Box made of wishful thinking and held together with nothing but coersion. Open it and out flies fatwas and jihads, workers paradises, eugenics, master races and, along with your fair trade coffee, a little auto de fe. It's an illusion which, in theory, is progressive. In action, it's the Whirlwind. Good people are drawn to it, hard people control it.

I suppose if you've spent your life in the sausage factory you might be able to combine your conflicting desires for a nice Italian sandwich and a happy old age for pigs into a System.

Such is the world of Happiness: Lessons From a New Science, by Richard Layard, New York: Penguin Press, 310 pages, $25.95.

Mr. Layard notices that Americans earn twice as much as they did several generations ago, but are not happier. We are using up vastly more of the earth's resources and receiving no increase of joy. Wealth, therefore, is pollution. That's the sandwich. From this he concludes that what we should do is tax the crap out of ourselves to discourage striving and use the proceeds to 'encourage' people to live smaller, quieter lives. That's pig heaven.

I haven't read this colander and am, no doubt, being grossly unfair to Mr. Layard and his thesis. Not that I care. I gather these nuggets from the review/pantsing by Will Wilkinson in Reason Online.

People whose fondest wish is for a Swedenized America of Sitzpinkel and compassionate head tilts are really the nicest of folk. But we have to discipline ourselves to slap them around whenever the opportunity presents itself.

H/T to Jonathan Pearce at Samizdata.
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