Friday, February 24, 2006

I'm happier when I'm not reading George Will...

George Will has an editorial in today’s Star-Tribune
. I’m afraid I don’t care much for George Will. If he and I were ever in the same room, I’d roll my eyes and walk away well before he finished whatever dull pompous-guy anecdote he happened to be reciting. Life is too short to be wasted with someone like George Will, someone who’s never met an issue he couldn’t gum into mush.

But perhaps this is playing into his delicate patrician's hands. After all, he does think that liberals are less happy than conservatives. I’d hate for someone to think that I was a depressed, bitter man just because I think George Will is full of shit. Nothing could be further from the truth. I enjoy life so much I often wish I didn’t have to sleep. I’m as cheerful as any boy scout. Ask anyone.

Part of what helps me maintain this sunny disposition is my ability to ignore drivel. Consequently, I never read George Will. Life is just too good to spend with a hack like that.

Yet sometimes, in the interests of a deeper understanding of our good fortune, we must venture out into the trivial and mean side of life. Please bear with me:

To bemused conservatives, it looks like yet another example of analytic overkill by the intelligentsia -- a jobs program for the (mostly liberal) academic boys (and girls) in the social sciences, whose quantitative tools have been brought to bear to prove the obvious. 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 percentof liberal Democrats (and 31 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats) do, compared with 47 percent of conservative Republicans. This finding is niftily self-reinforcing: It depresses liberals.

Meet George Will: the pundit who feels no shame in mocking “the intellegentsia” in one paragraph and then going and gloating over their findings in the next. What a toad. And I’m afraid I have to unleash my inner editor on the great scribe: “niftily”? My spell-checker says that isn’t even a word. Even if it is one, I don’t see why one would be compelled to use it. But I’m quibbling here. We should probably move quickly, so as to minimize the trauma:

Begin with a paradox: Conservatives are happier than liberals because they are more pessimistic. 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.

How learned. Calder mobiles, Adam Smith, and the Story of Job–all these put at the service of a specious thesis and a preposterous conclusion. First, it might be appropriate to wonder if conservatives are truly more pessimistic than us liberals, especially since just a couple of paragraphs ago he wrote that his happy Republicans also tend to be married and religious. Do religious people go along with Will’s pessimism theory? What about the blissfully wedded couples? Could it possibly be that the content conservatives are more content because they’re also more enmeshed in society?

As for that second paragraph there, his first two points make me want to become unfair and bring up conservatism’s glorious Iraq venture, while his last one is–if nothing else–a spectacular George Willism in its seamless blending of the pretentious with the groundless. Conservatives accept that happiness is a function of fending for oneself? Is that why so many of them get married and go to church? To fend for themselves? But we’re supposed to understand that as a dig against government, that wretched beast that we FDR-worshipping liberals sacrifice virgins to so that it’ll start to make our lives perfect one day. Now, I know a lot of liberals, and I don’t think there’s one who believes–even obliquely--that government can bring us happiness. I don’t think we make undue demands of government. We just wish it would stop listening to people like George Will.

From here he proceeds to get nasty:

Nevertheless, normal conservatives -- never mind the gladiators of talk radio; they are professionally angry --are less angry than liberals. Liberals have made this theera 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 for-
going 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.

This is, I’m afraid, George Will’s idea of humor. If conservatives have such low standards for the funny, it’s no wonder they’re so goddamn happy all the time. Nevertheless, there are a few charges in here that should be addressed. Because, in all honesty, I wasn’t aware that this was “the era of surly automobile bumpers”. Apparently, George Will considers driving around with a John Kerry sticker “surly”. Why is that? And why is it “defiant”? Sometimes those things can be a pain in the ass to take off. This doesn’t trouble well-compensated Republican-shill George Will, though, he just goes out and buys a new car whenever his bumperstickers become obsolete.

From here, it’s just a short leap to throwing up the caricature of the handwringing liberal. Here it seems to me that even Will himself is bored with this crap and just wants to get it over with. “Oh fiddlesticks,” he thinks, “I’m a hundred words short of a real column. What to do? What to do?” Then he clutches his sparsely-haired head, squints even more than usual, and decides to ramble senselessly about how liberals are too conscience-stricken to like cars. If we liberals are doomed to lament, conservatives must be doomed to wank.

And I like how he scolds us for having a “grim and scolding” creed. Nice touch, George.

You toad.