There’s an odd sort of resonance between David Brooks’s New York Times column on two contrasting views of “human development”:
I’d like to offer you two models of human development.
The first is what you might call The Four Kinds of Happiness. The lowest kind of happiness is material pleasure, having nice food and clothing and a nice house. Then there is achievement, the pleasure we get from earned and recognized success. Third, there is generativity, the pleasure we get from giving back to others. Finally, the highest kind of happiness is moral joy, the glowing satisfaction we get when we have surrendered ourselves to some noble cause or unconditional love.
The second model is Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. In this conception, we start out trying to satisfy our physical needs, like hunger or thirst. Once those are satisfied we move up to safety needs, economic and physical security. Once those are satisfied we can move up to belonging and love. Then when those are satisfied we can move up to self-esteem. And when that is satisfied we can move up to the pinnacle of development, self-actualization, which is experiencing autonomy and living in a way that expresses our authentic self.
and Michael Gerson’s Washington Post riff on a recent essay of Andrew Sullivan’s:
A provocative new essay by Andrew Sullivan, “America Wasn’t Built for Humans,” describes the emergence of two American phyles. One is more racially diverse, urban, secular and globalist. The other is largely white, rural and exurban, religious and nationalist. Their conflict is the context of American politics. At stake is the idea that “American” describes a single people.
In Sullivan’s description, the “myths” that used to help unify the country — the ideal of assimilation, the idea of America’s founders as exemplars of constitutional values — have been weakened. “We dismantled many of our myths,” he argues, “but have not yet formed new ones to replace them.” The result is the dangerous triumph of cultural identification over unifying political ideals.
Both are in their own ways about the search for meaning in life. I found the discussion of Andrew Sullivan’s essay interesting, not interesting enough, however, to purchase a copy of the New Yorker, the only place, apparently, where the essay may be read.
Turning to Mr. Brooks’s observation, I think that as a society we’ve been stuck at the first stage of the “Four Kinds of Happiness” for decades and it isn’t working. Rising suicide rates and abuse of opioids, anger, high homicide rates in Chicago, Baltimore, and St. Louis all point in the same direction.
Imagine if the headlong push to erode every form of economic activity in this country until the only people who are employed are artists, teachers, politicians, and physicians is successful. Most people derive their sense of achievement from their jobs. If you don’t believe that, read Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow. Truly happy people, even those in the most menial and repetitious of jobs, find happiness in their work. What if that is foreclosed?
The notion that people will jump from hedonism directly to generativity is laughable. The rate of voluntarism has declined even as the rate of long-term unemployment has risen.
This passage from Mr. Gerson’s column caught my attention:
Sullivan also urges “mutual forgiveness” as the basis for genuine reconciliation. “No tribal conflict,” he says, “has ever been unwound without magnanimity.” We need the spirit of Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela in our politics, which is essentially to call for a miracle.
It is not merely a miracle but unthinkable. The Blue Phyle’s conviction of their own rectitude, that they are, to use a favorite phrase, “on the right side of history”, and their belief in the utter vileness of any who disagree with them even as their own views turn on a dime all tell us that we should not expect forgiveness or reconciliation to emerge as a driving force any time soon.
I couldn’t care less whose fault it is. IMO assigning blame depends entirely on your horizon and how strongly you believe that you’re right. I care much more for what works and what we’re doing now isn’t working.