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robertogreco : unhappiness   10

The Convivial Society, No. 4: Community
"More recently, however, I've come to think that community is a yuppie word. Let me explain. I'm borrowing the formulation from Bob Dylan, who, when asked if he was happy on the occasion of his 50th birthday, after a long pause responded, "these are yuppie words, happiness and unhappiness. It's not happiness or unhappiness, it's either blessed or unblessed." I suppose one either takes his meaning or not. It occurred to me that Dylan's sentiment worked well with how the word community tends to get thrown around, especially by someone with a new technology to sell. It's just another commodity or accoutrement of the self. 

There's another problem, too. I once heard someone observe that only sociologists talk about community. No one who is actually in a community calls it a community. They call it what it is: a synagogue, a family, a neighborhood, a school, a sorority, etc. Or you don't call it anything at all for the same reason that a fish wouldn't talk about water, the reality is too pervasive to notice and name. If it names anything at all, it names an absence, a felt need, and object of desire. Unfortunately, it might also be the sort of thing, like happiness, that will almost certainly not be found when one sets out deliberately to search for it. What we find, if we find anything at all, will probably not be exactly like what we hoped to discover. A pursuit of community in this manner is burdened with a self-consciousness that may undermine the possibility of achieving the desired state of affairs. On this score, social media does not exactly help. 

To express wariness of community talk, whatever its sources, is not, however, to dismiss the importance, indeed, the necessity of the thing we desire when we talk about community. That thing, let us call it Community with a capital in order to distinguish it, is vital and people suffer and die for the lack of it. At its best, Community sustains us and supplies the context for our flourishing in the fullness of our humanity. Apart from it we are less than what we could be. Community, in its most satisfying forms involves the whole person, including the body. It nurtures us as individuals precisely by directing our attention and our care outward toward those to whom we are bound. And bound is the right word. In a Community, we are bound by ties of obligation and responsibility. To be in a community is to have the self spun out into the world rather than in upon itself.

The question that remains is whether or not that thing we seek can be found online. Or, whether it is useful to think of Facebook, or any other social media platform, as a community. Consider, for example, that the root from which we derive our word community reminds us that a community is bound together by what the hold in common, by their common wealth. But what exactly do we hold in common with every other user of a social media platform? For that matter, what exactly do we hold in common with those who are our Friends or Followers? What is our common wealth?

I have no interest in the denying the obvious fact that genuine and valuable human interactions occur online and through Facebook everyday. I'm certain that some have found a measure of companionship, joy, and solace as a result of these interactions. But do these interactions amount to a community? Or, to put it another way, what definition of community is being assumed when Facebook is called a community?

It seems clear to me that connection does not imply the existence of community much less Community. It also seems clear that while we may speak of Facebook as a platform that can theoretically help support certain kinds of communities, it is meaningless to call the network as a whole a community. Moreover, if the only fellowship we knew was a fellowship mediated through a social network such as Facebook, then our experience would be impoverished. But I don't imagine that there are many people who explicitly and consciously choose to use Facebook as a substitute for fully embodied experiences of community.

There are also important questions to consider about how we are formed by our use of social media, given the design and architecture of the respective platforms, and what this does to our capacity to experience community on the platform or find Community beyond it. Chiefly, I'm thinking about how social media tends to turn our gaze inward. The platforms foreground for its users the experience of being a self that is always in the midst of performing for an audience, and at a consequential remove from the immediacy of a face-to-face encounter. Moreover, it seems to me that the experience of community ordinarily presumes a degree of self-forgetfulness. Self-forgetfulness is not something social media tends to encourage.

Belonging is a critical aspect of the most satisfying kind of community. But belonging is an interesting word. When we speak of belonging to a community, we ordinarily mean to say that we associate with the community, that we count ourselves among its members. We might also mean that we are at home in the community, that we belong in the sense that we are accepted. But the word also implies that we belong to the community in the sense that the community has a claim on us. I think this last sense of belonging is critical; the most satisfying and fulfilling experiences of community presuppose this kind of claim upon our lives and we will, ultimately, be better for it, but it is also the case that we tend to mightily resist such a claim because we value our autonomy too much. As is often the case, we haven't quite counted the cost of what we say we want. "
communities  community  lmsacasas  2018  facebook  socialmedia  online  web  internet  conviviality  ivanillich  self  happiness  unhappiness  boundedness  belonging  experience  self-forgetfulness  purpose  autonomy  michaelsacasas  amish 
may 2018 by robertogreco
Avery Morrow on What do you think is the key to a ha...
"One of the most famous letters in Chinese history was sent by the historian Sima Qian to his friend Ren An. In this letter, Sima Qian bemoans his castration at the hands of an arbitrary emperor after he tried to speak out in defense of a good man. He proclaims that he will devote his life to completing his history, and speaks of the conviction that keeps people writing in devastating tone:
When Xibo, the Earl of the West, was imprisoned at Youli, he expanded the I Ching. Confucius was in distress when he made the Spring and Autumn Annals. Qu Yuan was banished and he composed his poem “Encountering Sorrow.” After Zuo Qiu lost his sight, he wrote the Conversations from the States. When Sun Tzu had his feet amputated in punishment, he set forth the Art of War. Lü Buwei was banished to Shu but his Spring and Autumn of Mr. Lü has been handed down through the ages. While Han Fei Zi was held prisoner in Qin he wrote “The Difficulties of Disputation” and “The Sorrow of Standing Alone.” Most of the three hundred poems of the Odes were written when the sages poured out their anger and dissatisfaction. All these men had a rankling in their hearts, for they were not able to accomplish what they wished. Those like Zuo Qiu, who was blind, or Sun Tzu, who had no feet, could never hold office, so they retired to compose books in order to set forth their thoughts and indignation, handing down their writings so they could show posterity who they were.

I too have ventured not to be modest but have entrusted myself to my useless writings. I have gathered up and brought together the old traditions of the world that were scattered and lost. I have examined events of the past and investigated the principles behind their success and failure, their rise and decay, in 130 chapters. I wished to examine into all that concerns heaven and humankind, to penetrate the changes of the past and present, putting forth my views as one school of interpretation. […] When I have truly completed this work, I will deposit it in the Famous Mountain archives. If it may be handed down to those who will appreciate it and penetrate to the villages and great cities, then though I should suffer a thousand mutilations, what regret would I have?

(Translated in Burton Watson, Records of the Grand Historian: Qin Dynasty, appendix 2)

This must stand alongside the world’s greatest critiques of writing. Writing, says Sima Qian, is just an elaborate way to tell the world about your indignation. Writing is a therapeutic behavior which you must resort to because you have been wronged or defeated. These are the bitter words of a man whose romantic belief in standing up for goodness and justice was viscerally mutilated by reality.

Sima Qian confides to Ren An that “such matters as these may be discussed with a wise man, but it is difficult to explain them to ordinary people.” The life of the mind is defined by knowing other people write from a state of discontent, not only with local injustices, but with the human condition itself. Those who have never known such deep discontent make poor conversation partners. Conversely, those who have come to peace with the human condition have no need to defend their views in public. This is the meaning of the Tao Te Ching’s verse, “Those who know, do not speak. Those who speak, do not know.”

In this sense, a philosopher, academic, or any kind of writer is the worst person to ask about how to live a fulfilling life. Their obligation to themselves is not to resolve their own problems, but to plumb the depths of their own discontent, seeking after a truth in unhappiness. It is not likely that anything that can be articulated in an intellectually honest essay can bestow a fulfilling life on you.

But in a terribly significant way, Sima Qian leaves out the other side of writing. He is convinced that if he writes something great, then posterity will read it. It turned out that his conviction was entirely right. But why was it necessary that his writing be great? Why does he need to go to the extent of examining everything that happened in the past and analyzing it? Why didn’t he just write a book about how the emperor castrated him and how he suffered? He must have seen something more important than himself in the history of his land.

In this letter, Sima Qian lets his bitterness shine through. But in his magisterial history, that bitterness is intertwined with a capacity for selecting, critiquing, and recording historical facts that ranks him among the greatest of all human civilization. Perhaps we can’t merely be told how to live a happy, fulfilling life with simple instructions. But reading can tell us about the dreams of centuries of men and women, and about what they did to realize them. In their dreams and their struggles, perhaps, we can see hints of transcendence, and find our own fulfillment."
writing  happiness  intellectuals  philosophy  simaquian  renan  wisdom  life  living  via:anne  transcendence  bitterness  fulfillment  thinking  unhappiness  taoteching  knowing 
july 2015 by robertogreco
Just something | oddhack
"I firmly believe that the institution of schooling is a significant cause of the numbness and melancholia that we see in so many young people today. Not that they would recognise it in themselves, mostly, nor would they seem openly miserable. But the way in which schooling and its curriculum contribute to a sense of lack of control over one’s life, a lack of any sense of being able to celebrate the skills and passions one would like to concentrate on, means that many young people today are - at least subconsciously - unhappy about themselves, and their futures, and their present; but simultaneously unaware of what they most need in order to resolve this unhappiness. Schooling doesn’t want you to have the breadth of awareness to realise what you could have found out about yourself had you not been schooled."
francisbarton  education  schooling  schools  unschooling  deschooling  learning  melancholia  youth  control  empowerment  happiness  unhappiness  health  mentalhealth  well-being  2014 
october 2014 by robertogreco
Love People, Not Pleasure - NYTimes.com
"We look for these things to fill an inner emptiness. They may bring a brief satisfaction, but it never lasts, and it is never enough. And so we crave more. This paradox has a word in Sanskrit: upadana, which refers to the cycle of craving and grasping. As the Dhammapada (the Buddha’s path of wisdom) puts it: “The craving of one given to heedless living grows like a creeper. Like the monkey seeking fruits in the forest, he leaps from life to life... Whoever is overcome by this wretched and sticky craving, his sorrows grow like grass after the rains.”

This search for fame, the lust for material things and the objectification of others — that is, the cycle of grasping and craving — follows a formula that is elegant, simple and deadly:

Love things, use people.

This was Abd al-Rahman’s formula as he sleepwalked through life. It is the worldly snake oil peddled by the culture makers from Hollywood to Madison Avenue. But you know in your heart that it is morally disordered and a likely road to misery. You want to be free of the sticky cravings of unhappiness and find a formula for happiness instead. How? Simply invert the deadly formula and render it virtuous:

Love people, use things.

Easier said than done, I realize. It requires the courage to repudiate pride and the strength to love others — family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, God and even strangers and enemies. Only deny love to things that actually are objects. The practice that achieves this is charity. Few things are as liberating as giving away to others that which we hold dear.

This also requires a condemnation of materialism. This is manifestly not an argument for any specific economic system. Anyone who has spent time in a socialist country must concede that materialism and selfishness are as bad under collectivism, or worse, as when markets are free. No political ideology is immune to materialism.

Finally, it requires a deep skepticism of our own basic desires. Of course you are driven to seek admiration, splendor and physical license. But giving in to these impulses will bring unhappiness. You have a responsibility to yourself to stay in the battle. The day you declare a truce is the day you become unhappier. Declaring war on these destructive impulses is not about asceticism or Puritanism. It is about being a prudent person who seeks to avoid unnecessary suffering.

Abd al-Rahman never got his happiness sums right. He never knew the right formula. Fortunately, we do."
relationships  people  consumerism  materialism  buddhism  2014  arthurbrooks  abdal-rahman  economics  happiness  unhappiness  life  living  skepticism  desire  charity  virtue  fame  money  danielkahneman  collectivism 
july 2014 by robertogreco
Happiness and Its Discontents - NYTimes.com
"Over the past 30 years or so, as the field of happiness studies has emerged from social psychology, economics and other disciplines, many researchers have had the same thought. Indeed this “life satisfaction” view of happiness lies behind most of the happiness studies you’ve read about. Happiness embodies your judgment about your life, and what matters for your happiness is something for you to decide.

This is an appealing view. But I have come to believe that it is probably wrong. Or at least, it can’t do justice to our everyday concerns about happiness.

One of the most remarkable findings in this area of psychology, for instance, is just how many poor people say they are satisfied with their lives — very often a majority of them, even in harsh environments like the slums of Calcutta. In a recent study of poor Egyptians, researchers asked them to explain why they were satisfied, and their responses often took something like this form: “One day is good and the other one is bad; whoever accepts the least lives.” This sounds like resignation, not happiness. Yet these Egyptians were, in terms of life satisfaction, happy.

The problem is that life satisfaction doesn’t really mean what we tend to think it means. For you can reasonably be satisfied with your life even if you think your life is going badly for you, and even if you feel bad. To be satisfied is just to regard your life as going well enough — it is satisfactory. You might think even a hard slog through a joyless existence is good enough. It sure beats being dead, and maybe you feel you have no right to complain about what God, or fate, has given you."



"I would suggest that when we talk about happiness, we are actually referring, much of the time, to a complex emotional phenomenon. Call it emotional well-being. Happiness as emotional well-being concerns your emotions and moods, more broadly your emotional condition as a whole. To be happy is to inhabit a favorable emotional state.

On this view, we can think of happiness, loosely, as the opposite of anxiety and depression. Being in good spirits, quick to laugh and slow to anger, at peace and untroubled, confident and comfortable in your own skin, engaged, energetic and full of life. To measure happiness, we might use extended versions of existing questionnaires for anxiety and depression from the mental-health literature. Already, such diagnostics often ask questions about positive states like laughter and cheerfulness, or your ability to enjoy things.

The emotional state theory of happiness has significant advantages over the hedonistic view. Consider, for starters, that we don’t normally think of pain as an emotion or mood. It seems more natural, for example, to think of back pain as something that causes unhappiness, not as unhappiness itself. A more important point is that we are fundamentally emotional beings. Who we are is in great part defined by our emotional natures, by what ways of living make us happy. Yes, we have animal needs for food, shelter, clothing and the like. But we also have needs as persons, and happiness concerns the fulfillment of those needs.

What sorts of needs are we talking about? Among the most important sources of happiness are: a sense of security; a good outlook; autonomy or control over our lives; good relationships; and skilled and meaningful activity. If you are unhappy, there’s a good chance that it’s for want of something on this list.

Unhappiness is not just a brute physical or animal response to your life. It is you, as a person, responding to your life as being somehow deficient. Unhappiness, like happiness, says something about your personality. Whereas back pain does not: It is just a sensation, something that happens to you. Accordingly, Buddhists and Stoics do not counsel us not to feel pain; their training aims, instead, at not letting pain and other irritants get to us.

Our language also marks the difference: You merely feel a pain, but you are depressed, anxious, melancholy or whatever. Similarly, you might have a depressive or anxious or cheerful personality. But we never talk of someone having a “painful” or “pleasureful” personality."
life  happiness  satisfaction  socialpsychology  psychology  poverty  danielhaybron  unhappiness  well-being  anxiety  depression  emotions  2014 
may 2014 by robertogreco
Lately I've been sitting in my living room brooding. - Notes + Links / Casey A. Gollan
"What’re we doing here in New York City? Building a place that eventually — sooner than we think? — will not have enough electricity to function.

I call friends or meet up and ask everyone similar questions. Instead of smalltalk at the beginning we start with an impossible — ? — and wrap with pragmatism. Everyone responds differently but mostly the same: it’s hard, everyone does what they can.

Work boils down to sitting at my computer in the living room. I realized that I have to get out of the house and move around in a capacity beyond home-office musical chairs or my body will literally die.

I run East at night, when nobody is around. Blocks&blocks of rolled-down metal grates. Then big, muddy expanses of land behind chain-link. Gigantic silos with spiral staircases, electrical rod-looking thingies, smokestacks blowing smoke, a tall vent with a huge flame shooting out the top of it, trucks everywhere, unfriendly signs that say YOU SHOULD LEAVE.

I don’t know what anything is. That’s what makes me feel completely dependent on it, the not knowing. What gives me the feeling that I can’t do anything about anything.

I wanted to tell you what makes me think the world is completely, entirely malleable, and then I ran past industrial infrastructure. On which the whole city depends. Whose pedal we can’t take our foot off of. At least not without the field exploding into [gas|sewage|electricity|radiation] or whatever.

Brooding, for me, is not a depressive act. I enjoy Deep Unhappiness Of Thought. Brooding, for me, is not a depressive act. I enjoy Deep Unhappiness Of Thought. Brooding, for me, is not a depressive act. I enjoy Deep Unhappiness Of Thought.

I actually do think that brooding is closely tied to visioning, which is maybe a nicer-sounding way to spend a day. I can’t disagree with pragmatists who say that impossible — ? — are a waste of time, and yet — ? —!

Is it unreasonable to stress myself out about the end of civilization? I don’t know anything. Enjoy Deep Unhappiness Of Thought. Everyone does what they can."
caseygollan  2014  nyc  infrastructure  brooding  civilization  happiness  unhappiness  pragmatism 
march 2014 by robertogreco
The Agony of Perfectionism - Derek Thompson - The Atlantic
"The fortress of classic economics was built on the slushy marsh of rational consumer theory. The once-popular belief that we all possess every relevant piece of information to make choices about buying fridges, TVs, or whatever, has since given way to a less commendable, but more accurate, description of buyers, which is that we basically have no freaking clue what we're doing most of the time. Prices, marketing, discounts, even the layout of store and shelves: They're all hazards strewn about the obstacle course of decision-making, tripping us up, blocking our path, and nudging us toward choices that are anything but rational.

Today, rather than consider consumers to be a monolith of reason, some economists and psychologists prefer to think of us as falling into two mood groups: maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers are perfectionists. They want the best of everything, and they want to know they have the best of everything. Satisficers are realists. They want what's good enough, and they're happy to have it.

The trouble with perfectionists is that, by wanting the best, they aspire to be perfectly rational consumers in a world where we all agree that's impossible. It's a recipe for dissatisfaction, way too much work, and even depression.

In "Maximizing Versus Satisficing: Happiness Is a Matter of Choice," published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that maximizers are more likely to be have regret and depression and less likely to report being happy, optimistic, or have high self-esteem.

To be a maximizer requires an "impossible" and "exhaustive search of the possibilities," that invariably ends with regret when the person realizes, after the purchase, that there might have been a better choice. This regret actually "[reduces] the satisfaction derived from one’s choice." The paradox of caring too much about having the perfect version of everything is that you wind up feel dissatisfied with all of it.

A new paper published in the Journal of Consumer Research further illuminates the onerous woe of perfectionism. Maximizers apply for more jobs, attend more job interviews, spend more time worrying about their social status, and wind up less happy, less optimistic, "and more depressed and regretful" than everybody else.

In a battery of tests designed to prime subjects to act like maximizers and satisficers, the researchers validated just about every stereotype about perfectionists: They work harder, search more deeply, and perform better in their jobs, but the emotional byproducts of their accomplishments are regret and dissatisfaction. (You might say that hard-earned success in life is wasted on the people least likely to appreciate it.)

Both papers concluded that the Internet is a briar patch of misery for maximizers. Not only does it allow them to more easily compare their lot to the sepia-toned success stories of their peers on Facebook and Instagram, but also it makes comparison shopping hell. From the first paper's discussion section:
The proliferation of options [online] raises people’s standards for determining what counts as a success, [from] breakfast cereals to automobiles to colleges to careers. Second, failure to meet those standards in a domain containing multiple options encourages one to treat failures as the result of personal shortcomings rather than situational limitations, thus encouraging a causal attribution for failure that we might call “depressogenic.” [ed: had to look that one up.]

In short: The Internet doesn't have to make you miserable. But if you insist on comparing your choices and your life to every available alternative accessible through a Google search, it will.

For consumers, this means embracing the limitations of classical economics. We don't know everything. We don't have everything. And that's okay. Pretending otherwise is, in fact, anything but rational."

[See also: http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/bschwar1/maximizing.pdf ]
choice  choices  paradoxofchoice  perfectionists  satisficers  economics  rationality  reason  2014  unhappiness  happiness  depression  jobhunting  perfectionism  optimism  regret  worry  anxiety  possibilities  satisfaction  caring  self-esteem  realism  derekthompson  advertising  internet  infooverload  information  comparison 
march 2014 by robertogreco
The Chattering Mind by Tim Parks | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books
"…if the critics and academics wearied of untangling torment for a living (I see you haven’t got any better, Beckett’s old analyst responded after the author sent him a copy of Watt). Imagine if the publishers—let’s call them the Second Arrow Publishing Corporation—informed all their great authors, all the masters of the mercilessly talkative consciousness, that they are winding up their affairs; they have seen the light, they will no longer publish elaborations of tortured consciousness, lost love, frustrated ambition, however ingenious or witty. Imagine! All the great sufferers saved by Buddhism, declining the second arrow: quietness where there was Roth, serenity where there was McCarthy, well-being where there was David Foster Wallace?

Do we want that?

I suspect not. I suspect our destiny is to pursue our literary sickness for years to come. It is hard not to congratulate oneself on the quality of one’s unhappiness."
well-being  psychology  silence  suffering  nobility  dignity  suicide  reading  writing  2012  timparks  samuelbeckett  thinking  ulysses  jamesjoyce  hamlet  dostoyevsky  virginiawoolf  johnupdike  sandroveronesi  willself  philliproth  buddhism  unhappiness  happiness  literature  davidfosterwallace  cv  chatteringmind 
june 2012 by robertogreco
If we try to engineer perfect children, will they grow up to be unbearable? - By Katie Roiphe - Slate Magazine
"In the long sticky hours of boredom, in the lonely, unsupervised, unstructured time, something blooms; it was in those margins that we became ourselves…our new ethos of control…contains a vision of right-minded child rearing that is in its own enlightened way as exclusive & conformist…Built into this model of the perfectible child is, of course, an inevitable failure. You can't control everything, the universe offers up rogue moments that will make your child unhappy or sick or ­broken-hearted, there will be faithless friends & failed auditions & bad teachers…All I am suggesting is that it might be time to stand back, pour a drink, & let the children ­torment, or bore or injure each other a little. It might be time to dabble in the laissez faire; to let the imagination run to art instead of art projects; to let the imperfect universe & its imperfect ­children be themselves." [Read it all.]
parenting  children  imperfection  learning  identity  boredom  supervision  control  unschooling  deschooling  perfection  failure  happiness  unhappiness  risk  risktaking  laissezfaire  imagination  glvo  self  teaching  cv  unstructuredtime 
november 2010 by robertogreco
Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 120, Mario Vargas Llosa ["I realized then that we [Latin Americans] have extremely interesting writers—the novelists perhaps less so than the essayists or poets.…]
"…Sarmiento, for example, who never wrote a novel, is in my opinion one of the greatest storytellers Latin America has produced; his Facundo is a masterwork. But if I were forced to choose one name, I would have to say Borges, because the world he creates seems to me to be absolutely original. Aside from his enormous originality, he is also endowed with a tremendous imagination and culture that are expressly his own. And then of course there is the language of Borges, which in a sense broke with our tradition and opened a new one. Spanish is a language that tends toward exuberance, proliferation, profusion. Our great writers have all been prolix, from Cervantes to Ortega y Gasset, Valle-Inclán, or Alfonso Reyes. Borges is the opposite—all concision, economy, and precision. He is the only writer in the Spanish language who has almost as many ideas as he has words. He’s one of the great writers of our time." [That's just a snip. There's lots more inside.]
mariovargasllosa  latinamerica  literature  borges  sarmiento  facundo  interviews  fscottfitzgerald  dospassos  writing  reading  perú  victorhugo  floratristan  guimarãesrosa  sartre  dostoyevsky  balzac  flaubert  tolstoy  nathanielhawthorne  charlesdickens  hermanmelville  gabrielgarcíamárquez  gabo  cervantes  spain  spanish  español  language  history  politics  ideology  happiness  unhappiness  parisreview  depression  josélezamalima  hemingway  joãoguimarãesrosa  españa  williamfaulkner  jean-paulsartre 
october 2010 by robertogreco

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