Monday, May 17, 2010

Does happiness come from within?

In keeping with the last topic, I will talk about a different kind of foundation. The psychologist Abraham Maslow thought that happiness can't be achieved unless a hierarchy of needs are met(physical needs are the foundation, then psychological needs of various levels). The psychologist Victor Frankl, on the other hand thought that people can choose to be happy even if other more basic needs are not satisfied, as was often the case in concentration camps (basic needs not being satisfied). If one believes Maslow, then one is compelled to improve the physical, ecological and social conditions of the world, as happiness, one's own and others' depends on these external conditions. If one believes Frankl, then one may want to improve the world, but because it makes one's own life more meaningful, not because it will make anyone happier. I think they are both right. Frankl is right because we humans are adaptable and have some choice with regards to our states of consciousness. Maslow is right because certain conditions are more conducive to happiness, though it isn't a deterministic system. There is always a choice to be happy or not, even under stressful circumstances. If there is a choice, then sometimes it may be better (in a sense which we yet have to define) to choose unhappiness. It depends what one is trying to optimize. If one is trying to optimize one's happiness, then of course it is tautologically best to choose to be happy. If one is trying to optimize the world's happiness, or any other parameters, then sometimes it makes sense to choose to be unhappy.

Is happiness or communion internally generated? What does internally mean? We are living in a world, we are part of a system. Our neural system can generate experience, but we live in a culture and in a physical environment and we are constantly influenced by it. People who think they could choose to be happy or loving no matter what, usually break down when they encounter a life-threatening situation.

Franklites can choose their worldview in order to hide from things that would make most humans upset. I bet there are more Franklites than Maslowites in places where basic needs are met, such as middle class cultures across the world. Franklites might be happier in such places- they might have a selective advantage in a memetic pool--people might spread memes from happy, confident people more than from gloomy, self-doubting people. They might also have a selective advantage in places where basic needs are not met, such as a concentration camp, Frankl's original example. It is thus surprising that they haven't taken over the human population. Maybe this is because the human species as a whole is dependent on Maslowites to improve the human condition. Maslowites are altruistic.

Dav believes that the only problem in this world is that we are destroying it. He is a Franklite. I am a Maslowite, and believe that there are other problems, having to do with psychology, economics and spirituality all related to each other and related to ecology. Psychology: alienation from the means of production, alienation from other people, alienation from nature. Economics: A non-local economy/technology promotes corruption, environmental destruction, concentration of power in the hands of a few, minimal freedom of expression for most, and opacity (lack of transparency). Capitalism promotes exploitation by those having capital of those that don't (so most landlords get much more than what they put in just for having capital). Spirituality: Instead of communion with other people and nature, people are usually stuck in their ego. The basic need to transcend one's ego is minimally met through drugs/alcohol/addictive sex. It is not true that people could just change if they chose to. The economic, psychological and spiritual system of which they are a part gives them constant reinforcement to maintain homeostasis. Even people who have been radicalized and woken up, still have trouble changing because it is real hard to make a real, sustainable change by oneself. The infrastructure needs to be rebuilt, and this can only be done by a community (many communities), not a lone individual or family. The concentration camps were not ended by happy Franklites, but by many factors, including defection of Nazi soldiers upon seeing atrocities committed against human beings (Maslowites?) who refused to be dehumanized, and the allies war effort.

Capitalism (and probably any complex and powerful enough system), as Herbert Marcuse
pointed out, tends to coopt and engulf any opposition. The opposition coming from the environmental movement is an example which has begun to show signs of being coopted, though the story has not been finished. I don't think any psychological maneuvering which is allied with capitalism can really solve the systemic destruction of out planet, because it is too tied in to economics, psychology, sociology and spirituality in ways that are contradictory to capitalism.

Even if it were possible to separate the environmental problem from everything else, and solve it, I wonder if Dav would really feel like everything is OK with the world if we did things sustainably but had slaves, or Jim Crow laws, or if we lived in a sustainable fascist state. What if we (or most people) merely live a living death, working at stupid jobs that do not use our highest potential and disconnect us from nature and each other, not being able to commune with people (but able to have superficial connection) because everyone is too stressed out or dumbed down or living too far apart and commuting to work and competing with everyone? We got alot of work to do to mend things and it's much more than fixing the environment and taking the Forum.

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