Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Structure of Platitude

Welcome MBRU readers!
"Gratitude is a sort of laughter of the heart."
David Brooks

Mary Pickford and Howard Ralston in Paul Powell's Pollyanna (1920).
Brooks in briefs and undershirt, crawling along the baseboard in search of a powerpoint for his laptop.
Hotel rooms, amirite? Can't live in 'em, can't live outside of 'em. They'll give you an iron just in case the one-hour laundry service doesn't do a good enough job with your shirt, but you can't find a fvcking outlet to plug it into. Maybe I could work that up for a column.
Finds it, sighs, sets up the charger, looks out the window.
Still, I could be in that breakfast bar in Michigan fighting over the self-service waffle maker. At least there's room service here, even if the waiter's shirt is better pressed than mine. I should be more grateful.
Sits at the machine.
Some are born grateful, some achieve gratefulness, some have gratitude thrust upon them. Hm.
Some are grateful dispositionally. Spell Check doesn't like that word, maybe I should use it three or four more times. It means they have grateful dispositions. In spite of increasing status and dignity, wealth and ease, being showered with honors, they're delighted with everything. You'll let me make my own waffles, right here in the Best Western? Golly, thanks! I can figure out how to work the shower without a Ph.D.? You guys are the best!
Some have big ambitions, but small anticipations. Stars of the journalistic world though they may be, they thrill at a word of praise. Not like that sour-ass Krugman. I'll bet the creases in his shirts are colossal. Canyons. And they gladly praise others, or the weather when it's nice. They're present-minded. And hyperresponsive.
Googles the meaning of "hyperresponsive"*, symptoms of cerebral aneurisms, prices of DC area motels with continental breakfast, "david brooks gratitude", and sighs again.
Dispositional gratitude is a topic that should be carefully studied because. 
Dispositional gratitude is worth dissecting because it induces a mentality that stands in counterbalance to the mainstream threads of our culture. That's how science works. You have some threads, some of which are mainstream, and you have something that induces a mentality. If the mentality stands in counterbalance to the mainstream threads, you want to dissect the something, obviously. Then you can draw a picture of the different bits and put it in your lab notebook.
Because we live in a capitalist meritocracy, which is sort of the opposite. In a capitalist meritocracy, people are encouraged to be masters of their fate and captains of their soul. Or at least first mates. But if you're a dispositionally grateful person you're hyperaware of your lack of self-sufficiency, standing on the backs of your parents, friends, and ancestors, some of whom made admiral.
In the capitalist meritocracy, everybody gets exactly what he deserves, by the logic of rational self-interest. But to the dispositionally grateful this is an illusion: there's another economy where people give me stuff just because they're so nice, families, schools, summer camps. In this economy, nobody ever goes hungry; it produces a regular surplus of niceness.
For the person of liberal views, who sees humanity as fundamentally good and powerful, life is a continual series of frustrations when people fail to live up to these expectations, children starve, workers slave, old people are set adrift, geniuses languish in obscurity while clueless hacks rule the pages of the New York Times. We're all better off recognizing, as conservatives do, that people are intrinsically depraved, flawed and unreliable, stupid and greedy; then you'll be constantly happily surprised at how pleasant your own life is instead of being shocked by these depressing things going on elsewhere. Here in the big hotel, it's summer camp! Cheery, friendly service! A waffle in every iron!
*Under typical circumstances, the nervous system receives both excitatory and inhibitory messages, and must balance these competing inputs to determine an appropriate and adaptive response. Sometimes, the nervous system responses are out of balance; when those responses are larger than we would normally expect in a particular situation, it is referred to as ‘hyper responsive’. (University of Kansas Medical Center)

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