February 23, 2006

Happy Conservatives, Miserable Liberals

George Will has a column today that looks at a recent poll about "happiness". The Pew Research Center poll reveals that its Conservative respondents are happier than their Liberal counterparts and significantly so. A student of the Social Sciences can spend a lot of energy sifting through the various factors that might explain this but Will makes the observation that a primary difference has to do with the philosophies themselves.

For example, Conservatives tend to be more pessimistic which in and of itself is a paradox (and I think the word "realistic" is much more apt). But looked at another way:

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.

But for Liberals, the idea of the happiness is framed as an entitlement that harkens back to the "New Deal" of the Roosevelt era. And of course, for Liberals, the entity responsible for ensuring this "right" is the Federal Government, regardless of any unintended consequences that result. This idea has driven every failed Liberal program that Democrats have pushed since the 1940's.

But these days, a major factor in the unhappiness of Liberals is an underlying rage that overrides any possibility of happiness. Will explains:

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.

Conservatives are often criticized for having a "don't worry, be happy" mentality. But a more accurate one, borrowed from the classic Bill Murray comedy, "Stripes" (and Liberals should pay attention to this one), would be "Lighten up, Francis".

Posted by: Gary at 09:30 AM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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1 Lefties are like the Puritans of our times: we must place severe limitations on enjoyment because by enjoying life, we are not being serious about it. Of course, the Puritians had a higher calling in mind, while today's left is more worried about offending people they don't even know...

Posted by: Pam at February 23, 2006 11:56 AM (rx9LD)

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