[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[L.Q. cover, quotes, and images from Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2019: Happiness, except where noted otherwise.][Right-click on a photo may give the option to open it separately.]
[New to Lapham’s Quarterly? See the standard notes at the end of this review. After 40+ LQ reviews I jump right in.]
[This is a READING section, for those who may stumble in looking for photography. Pictures are included, however.]
No sooner do I receive this issue on Happiness mid-late June, then suddenly I’m running into happiness everywhere. The L.Q. Preamble discusses Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. (We’ll get to that.) My airport parking company just sent an email titled Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Savings. Don’t worry, park happy.
The New York Times has a opinion piece 2 July:
A Revolution in Happiness
The founding fathers weren’t talking about personal wellness
by Adriana Cavarero.
Happiness may not be as frivolous as I first presumed. L.Q. has covered many topics, 4 times a year for over ten years. War, Money, Nature, Learning, Travel, Medicine, Celebrity, Food, Family, Arts and Letters, Rule of Law, and Trade, to name a few. See all the covers and topics here. I thought Luck and Night were a bit nebulous, but Happiness?
It still seems a luxury to me to have the time to contemplate one’s happiness. Who throughout history has easily been able to do so? Whoever (he who) found themselves with leisure time. My personal, unscientific speculation is that Man (Woman, even Nature perhaps) is just a pleasure machine, i.e. evolving due to the pursuit of pleasure, it being that which produces a more pleasant state of being, survival itself being such a state.
The superb Preamble this issue (titled The Impossible Dream) expounds on the subject extensively:
“In Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, also published in 1690, he wrote about the pursuit of happiness, but it follows from his account there that there can be no right to pursue happiness because we will pursue happiness come what may. The pursuit of happiness is a law of human nature (of what we now call psychology), just as gravity is a law of physics. A right to pursue happiness is no more necessary than a right for water to run downhill.” (p. 13)
I highly recommend the Preamble. It is free here. I highlighted or annotated vast sentences and paragraphs. L.Q. founder/editor Lewis Lapham is on sabbatical again this month, hopefully giving practice to future preamblers who may follow in his 84 yr-old footsteps.
The previous quote, in the issue text, follows Thomas Jefferson’s famous lines in the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Jefferson’s Declaration, I have since read, was extensively reviewed and edited by others, though the intro remains largely his work.
Preamble author David Wootton makes, in my opinion, numerous assertions about Jefferson’s intent.
“Jefferson meant, I think, that we have a right to certain preconditions that will allow us to pursue happiness: freedom of speech, …a career open to talents, …freedom of worship, …and a free market…” (p. 14). […’meant, I think’…??]
“Jefferson was well aware that being free to pursue happiness does not mean that everyone will be happy.” (p. 14) [I, also, presume he was, but where does Wootton see this awareness.]
Wootton does refer to some who are not quite so optimistic about happiness.
“… happiness comes, as John Stuart Mill insisted, as the unintended outcome of aiming at something else. “The right to the pursuit of happiness,” wrote Aldous Huxley, “is nothing else than the right to disillusionment phrased in another way.” (p. 14) Brrrr.
Notably, the majority of side quotes in my first comments were skeptical of happiness.
Perhaps happiness is soaring, on the wings of imagination, creativity, and flights of fantasy.
Wootton then proceeds to make more assertions, some of which I tend to agree with (so they must be ok).
“This problem is particularly acute in our modern consumer economy, in which political institutions, the economic system, and popular culture are all now primarily dedicated to the pursuit of happiness. This has had the perverse effect of creating a world of frustration and disappointment in which so many discover that happiness is beyond their grasp. The economy fails to deliver for the majority but urges everyone to spend beyond their means. We engage in “retail therapy,” spending for the momentary gratification of acquisition.” (p. 14)
Hmm. Humans are definitely more materialistic than ever before. Happy, too? Illusive. Are we any better at thinking? Surely you and I are, but I’m not certain about the rest of ‘them’. Observing the chaos in the world today, with technology and innovation growing at near light-speed exponentials, do we manage ourselves any better? Don’t get me started on CIVIL-i-zation.
It is Man’s nature to create (that survival thing). Why are we so good at destroying too? The psychological terms escape me at the moment. Wikipedia say ‘Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by abnormal behavior, strange speech, and a decreased ability to understand reality. Other symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking…’. Well, that certainly is ‘them’! The problem is, ‘they’ think they are normal. Whichever inmates can wrest control are running the asylum.
Where were we? Oh yes, Happiness! Thomas Hobbes is heavily referenced in the Preamble.
“To be happy, in Hobbes’ view, was to succeed in acquiring pleasurable experiences. And each individual was the sole judge of what is pleasurable. In order to acquire the means to future pleasure, we seek what Hobbes called power—money, status, influence, and friendship are all forms of power. There is no limit to our quest for pleasure and power, just as there is no limit to the merchant’s quest for money; Hobbes took Niccolò Machiavelli’s account of politics and generalized it as an account of human life. Machiavelli said human beings have insatiable appetites, and Hobbes constructed his psychology, moral philosophy, and political theory around this perception. We all, he claimed, endlessly compete with one another over limited resources.”
Ahh. ‘Income inequality’ rears its ugly head. Don’t get me started on ‘there is no pie!’ That is yet another argument. I don’t care if uber-rich CEOs buy gold-threaded shower curtains. Admittedly, I am not dirt poor, either literally or figuratively, and I do not disparage those who are. There, but for the grace, go I and many others.
Wootton dwells on Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill, all late 17th-early 18th century English-speaking thinkers and writers. It’s the Age of Reason/Age of Enlightenment, Wikipedia reminds me. “The Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on reason as the primary source of knowledge and advanced ideals such as liberty, progress, toleration, fraternity, constitutional government and separation of church and state.” (Ref.)
Then Wootton seems to diverge: “As reason gave way to passion, interpersonal social realities were replaced by subjective experience.” (P. 18). Huh?! The Age of Reason gave way to non-reason? I guess that’s why we read. To question, think, question again.
Wootton concludes: “But there is an important difference between us and the founding fathers. They saw life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as the alternative to despotism and intolerance. We now can see that a society devoted to self-gratification may, in the end, destroy the conditions of its own existence.” (P. 21). THERE is food for thought. We sentient beings may well destroy ourselves, irrevocably.
Read, dear reader, and contemplate your own happiness.
Again, I highly recommend the Preamble for your consideration.
Speaking of happy places, as I was back in ‘first comments‘, there is always a two-page graphic before the main body of L.Q. This time it’s about HAPPY PLACES! Garden of Eden, Shambhala, Avalon, Big Rock Candy Mountain, and others. The graphic is most frequently done by Haisam Hussein. View and enlarge it online here.
M’lady has a tee-shirt that echos her motto: “The mountains are my happy place.” I totally concur.
The Table of Contents is online. Underlined items are available to read free online, extracts underlined on the left, authors on the right.
To be continued…
You can get ahead of my reading via Happiness (click List for a better selection).
6 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Summer 2019: Happiness (second comments)”
Alie has often noted that psychologists study problems but never study happy people to see why they are happy [she says she was born happy].
Ha. Good point, Alie.
Interesting subject this time around John. I’ve often thought of it along similar lines. The focus on happiness seems to have grown exponentially over the past decades, at least here in the US, and probably due in some part to the economy’s shift to all things technology. Now we have kids playing games instead of doing the work on the farms or in the factories as they did in the past. And we have photographers and writers working online and getting instant responses and/or instant views of others against which they compare their own work. There will always be someone better – human nature dictates that we focus on those rather than on those whose work is not quite at the same level. One could easily spiral if not of sound mind and solid self-confidence!
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Well said, Tina.