Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Suffering succotash! Holy cow!

Photo from It's a Vertical Life.
David Brooks generally writes from a a kind of extra-terrestrial standpoint, judging but not participating, but there's been some evidence lately that beneath that sternly objective exterior there beats a human heart, as when he returned from his so-called "book leave" in December with a column about arguments for or against suicide, or when he suddenly launched into a lengthy discussion of the "painfully hip" boutique hotel in January (what, he's doing travel writing now?) and it turned out he must be staying in one, in the wake of the breakup of his marriage; serious Brooksologists such as the esteemed Driftglass have asked themselves if he isn't really trying to tell us something, issuing a cry for help.

The good news today is that he may have gotten some:
Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself in a bunch of conversations in which the unspoken assumption was that the main goal of life is to maximize happiness. That’s normal. 
Because I do not think it is normal to have a large number of conversations devoted to this unless you are seeing a therapist.

The bad news is that he has decided at the moment that he sort of likes suffering as a thought process, a kind of alternative to economics:
the big thing that suffering does is it takes you outside of precisely that logic that the happiness mentality encourages. Happiness wants you to think about maximizing your benefits.
Thus it makes you more empathetic, like Franklin Roosevelt (had polio), or more likely to write something like the Second Inaugural Address of Abraham Lincoln (conducted the Civil War). Or more, um, spiritual?
even when tranquillity begins to come back, or in those moments when grief eases, it is not clear where the relief comes from. The healing process, too, feels as though it’s part of some natural or divine process beyond individual control.... The right response to this sort of pain is not pleasure. It’s holiness. I don’t even mean that in a purely religious sense.
The right response to this kind of babbling is to draw the curtain, put your finger over your lips, and whisper, "I think he's feeling a little better."

[Driftglass analyzes the column, in contrast, as a kind of fortune cookie. But he's got a marvelous bonus, a parody of "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof.]

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