America the Anxious, by Ruth Whippman

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America the Anxious, by Ruth Whippman

Postby Upton_O_Goode » Wed Jun 07, 2017 10:02 pm

The author is a fortyish Jewish woman from Britain, who moved to California with her husband and son and gave birth to a second son in California. She was struck by the fact that happiness appears to be a religion in the United States, and has written a whole book about the subject, replete with fascinating insight and humo[u]r.

Just one sample: According to polls, the happiest people in America are in Utah, and Mormons are much happier than what the Mormons call "Gentiles." This could be, realistically, because the LDS Church has the most extensive and intricately developed social safety net in the world, one that any welfare state could learn from. (But the "taxes" Mormons are required to pay to support it would horrify our laissez-faire Republicans, so on second thought, don't bother to study it.) But it could also be because this "happiness" is self-reported, and there are heavy social penalties among Mormons for going around with a long face. It is a salient fact that tranquilizer use in Utah is the highest of all fifty states. Hmm...maybe the happiness is causally related to the tranquilizers? Ya think?

Anyway, the general message of the book is that corporations and social media in the US force people to put on a happy face all the time, and the result is that people who are not happy feel EVEN WORSE, knowing that they are social outcasts for being unhappy Debby Downers.

There's a political nexus to this religion of happiness also. Since "nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so," politicians of a conservative stripe feel justified in shredding the social safety net and preaching positive thinking to the poor. Highly convenient. Americans are already familiar with this, and have been since the Reagan administration. Britain (which is Whippman's major example here) experienced it under David Cameron, who was a devotee of "positive psychology." I only heard about this movement last year, although it's apparently been gathering strength for decades. And there is even a whole set of journals like The Journal of Happiness Studies. Happiness is now a science, right on a par, I assume, with Adlerian, Jungian, and Freudian psychology (maybe even parapsychology?).

Later edit: I just finished the book. In the last chapter, Whippman's husband becomes a US citizen. Her account of the naturalization ceremony is interesting:

Ruth Whippman wrote: Then the citizens of ninety-nine nations stand up together, raise their right hands, and in unison renounce all "allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty of which they have heretofore been a subject or citizen." I wonder how this squares with the fact that Neil isn't actually renouncing his British nationality, just adding to it. Later the Internet tells me that the queen is secure in herself not to care what empty promises her subjects might whisper in the heat of the moment to a foreign power (although I can't help thinking that she's kidding herself, like a wife insisting that the back rubs her husband gives his secretary are a business requirement).

Then the nearly citizens promise not only that they will bear arms on behalf of the United States and "support and defend her against all enemies foreign and domestic" but also that they will do all this "without any mental reservations," a requirement that seems so genuinely impossible for any British person to fulfill that I wonder if it is the final secret test of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration department. Able to perform a significant act of any kind with mental reservations? Congratulations! You are, by default, no longer British.


As for that renunciation of previous loyalties, my great-grandfather came to the US in 1853 and became a US citizen in September 1860. I still have his naturalization papers. In addition to the same oath quoted by Whippman about renouncing previous loyalties to foreign prince, potentate, state, or soverereignty, there was added in longhand on my great-grandfather's paper the phrase "and particularly Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, of whom he was a subject." Definitely not an empty promise back then.
"A general conversion among the boys was once effected by the late excellent Mr. Fletcher: one poor boy only excepted, who unfortunately resisted the influence of the Holy Spirit, for which he was severely flogged; which did not fail of the desired effect, and impressed proper notions of religion on his mind."

James Lackington, Memoirs of the First Forty-five Years of the Life of James Lackington, the Present Bookseller

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Re: America the Anxious, by Ruth Whippman

Postby Nikki Nyx » Wed Jun 28, 2017 3:38 am

My daughter and I were just talking about this the other day, how people here get upset when they see you being anything except happy, and how people's happiness seems to be rather forced and frantic.

She mentioned a friend's backyard barbecue she'd attended. When she stepped away from the crowd for a few minutes, someone followed her to ask, "Are you all right? Is everything ok?" My daughter responded, "I'm fine. I was just taking a break from the noise." This seemed puzzling to her would-be rescuer, as if it was abnormal to "miss any of the party."

Of course, my daughter takes after me...we both have resting bitch face when we're not paying attention to our facial expressions. :mrgreen: But it's interesting that both of us are approached by both strangers and friends thinking that something must be wrong, because we're not constantly smiling.
What are the facts? Again and again and again-what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history”--what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!
—Lazarus Long, from Time Enough for Love, by Robert A. Heinlein

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Re: America the Anxious, by Ruth Whippman

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Wed Jun 28, 2017 4:26 am

I'm not happy. Content and satisfied.... yes. Happy is too frenetic. iow: to be true, it can only exist for short periods. Long periods by definition means its something else.

Yea Verily!
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Re: America the Anxious, by Ruth Whippman

Postby ElectricMonk » Wed Jun 28, 2017 4:35 am

Drugs are the answer to this non-existent problem.
I've come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
Spoiler:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
- Douglas Adams

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Re: America the Anxious, by Ruth Whippman

Postby TJrandom » Wed Jun 28, 2017 7:14 am

Scotch tape to lift the sides of the mouth works too.

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Re: America the Anxious, by Ruth Whippman

Postby TJrandom » Wed Jun 28, 2017 7:25 am

bobbo_the_Pragmatist wrote:I'm not happy. Content and satisfied.... yes. Happy is too frenetic. iow: to be true, it can only exist for short periods. Long periods by definition means its something else.

Yea Verily!


Just look at the faces of those NK school kids performing for the brute - you will be happy, or you will be dead! :roll:

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Re: America the Anxious, by Ruth Whippman

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Wed Jun 28, 2017 8:29 am

TJ--I recently thought a bit about all the smiling faces and clapping hands and adulation we see from NK. Years ago, took a trip to the NK border and met some NK "guides" who went on and on about how great it was being Kornean. A Dick in my group wanted to convince them they didn't know what they were talking about. I took him aside and told him to shut up. "Since you do know these people are not free, its irresponsible for you to put their lives at risk with such notions." We didn't get along for the rest of the trip.

THEN------I saw the same BS take place at Trumps last cabinet meeting. Then I though: "Maybe everyone in NK is just a suck ass." I mean: what do I know?
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