Brave new world

In Happiness yesterday we belayed Sisyphus and caught up with Nietzsche, considering his “gifts” of adversity, hardship, and total recurrence – thanks, but no – the formula of his happiness (“a yes, a no, a straight line, a goal”), and his dream of a stark new “dawn of day” for

the mountain climber, who, although he sees his goal far above him, nevertheless falls asleep on the way from utter exhaustion, and dreams of the happiness of the contrast this effortless rolling down hill.

So we did sort of get to Sisyphus, with that image of strenuous ascent relieved by a revery of hope for the other side of the mountain. It looks like a deluded revery, for the condemned man. But Nietzsche’s point is also Camus’s: in just such moments we may seek our happiness. We must. Or we imagine we must.
Or as Daniel Haybron puts it in The Pursuit of Unhappiness, reported by Crystal, Jesse, and Dilyse, “Even when things don’t go very well, even when life is hard, it still tends to be a pretty wonderful thing to be alive.” 

Yes, it’s a wonderful life. But no, I can’t write a blank check to the demon for every “this,” when he asks: “Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?” I’m not that well disposed to suffering, which does not always offer a saving grace. I refuse to reduce it all to a single thumbs up or down. On this this, I’m with the meliorists, the utilitarians, and the Buddhists.

Still, we need our contrarians. Haybron concludes with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World “Savage”:

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want
freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the nght to be
unhappy.”
“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have
syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the
right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen to- morrow; the
right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every
kind.” There was a long silence.
“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.
Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders. “You’re welcome,” he said.

The Savage is welcome to have it all, all over again, eternally, in a world without end and with few comforts (no soma, no beer), with pain, suffering, “real danger,” and self-overcoming – the right to engineer one’s own nonconformity. It’s not what most of us mean by happiness, but it’s a perspective that needs representing in a course on happiness. It takes all kinds.

Podcast
5:55/7:07, 63/67

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