Sunday, November 10, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Twenty

“The Happy Man,” pages 197-205

[Chapter 17 of Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness, published 21 years prior to New Hopes for a Changing World, also is entitled “The Happy Man.” Did the requisites for happiness change between 1930 and 1951? The chapters are quite different, though their tone is similar, as is their ending.]

This chapter will present a vision of what would be feasible for humans, if we decided to pursue it. Right now, only a few people can live in the manner described, and during wartime, we lack even these happy few.

The happy man starts off as a happy child, one who receives parental affection, from two parents who find their parenting to be a mutually pleasurable partnership, and for whom marriage bonds are not simply restraints upon sexuality. The child spends times with lots of other children, outdoors when the weather permits. [Russell speaks well of spending time outdoors in Education and the Good Life, too.] The surroundings of the children have been child-proofed in the sense that those surroundings cannot be badly damaged by normal energetic activity, and also in the sense that children needn’t fear severe accidental harm. Their own potential depredations upon each other must be prevented, and generally can be prevented through the positive means of providing interesting activities.

Children feel secure in the presence of routine and affection. They need freedom to grow, and can be encouraged to use this freedom to experiment with new activities.

“Scholastic education is a tiresome necessity [p. 198].” Yes, people need to be prepared to operate in a civilized world, but that preparation need not involve the familiar drudgery. The educational focus (in Europe) on intellectual conversation instead of manual abilities is probably a leftover from the elite ancient Greeks, who had slaves to ensure that the actual work was accomplished. Boys with manual interests and talents should be in workshops for much of their schooling, not at desks. “All education can be pleasant if the child feels that it is important [p. 199].” Children often are correct when they suspect that they are engaging in pointless educational tasks.

Russell once again endorses the cinema as an educational tool (page 200), this time for history and geography – the pleasure of watching will spur attentiveness and promote retention. When a child meets a Zulu, he will view him as familiar, having earlier seen a film on Zulu culture. Kids who develop a taste for specific historical or cultural topics will proceed to seek out books concerning their interests, but in the meantime, all the children will have had their horizons expanded via movies.

Other elements of culture, such as art, music, and literature, should be available to those with an interest, but not force fed through the standard grind, as Shakespeare often gets delivered. The pedants should not be allowed to extract all the pleasure out of culture, and then subject children to the fun-free version.

The competition for academic scholarships in Europe is so intense that even the winners are badly damaged. [Russell exhorted against academic competition some 32 years prior in Proposed Roads to Freedom.] The underlying problem is funding, and that problem is intense because physical insecurity results in large resources being directed towards arms. In a world conducive to happiness, interest and not examination results would determine access to higher education. [See also Education and the Good Life, Chapter 18.]

“In every society, however Utopian, every healthy adult will be expected to do some kind of useful work [p. 202].” Remaining idle is not the recipe for happiness, but six hours of work per day would suffice to maintain a livelihood if economic life were rationalized. [In 1919, Russell thought four hours of work per day would be enough to secure a high living standard.] People should be able to work half-time for half-pay, so that exceptional talents could be given the opportunity to bloom [another echo of the circa-1919 Russell] – the best work is always undervalued contemporaneously.

An upbringing divorced from the usual diet of fear and sin will render the happy man open to others, possessing a generous spirit. He will be friendly, trusting that people will not abuse his friendly overtures, and his friendliness itself will typically validate that trust. He will understand the folly of war, and will be predisposed towards kind regards for foreign countries. [Russell’s happy man, though more free and open, has much in common with the prudent and virtuous man of Adam Smith’s description, as put forth in Part 6 of The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Here is Smith on regard for foreign nations (TMS VI.II.28): “France and England may each of them have some reason to dread the increase of the naval and military power of the other; but for either of them to envy the internal happiness and prosperity of the other, the cultivation of its lands, the advancement of its manufactures, the increase of its commerce, the security and number of its ports and harbours, its proficiency in all the liberal arts and sciences, is surely beneath the dignity of two such great nations. These are all real improvements of the world we live in. Mankind are benefited, human nature is ennobled by them. In such improvements each nation ought, not only to endeavour itself to excel, but from the love of mankind, to promote, instead of obstructing the excellence of its neighbours. These are all proper objects of national emulation, not of national prejudice or envy.”]

Back to Bertie. “Inventors of Utopias usually make them intolerably dull, because their main preoccupation is with security [pages 202-203].” While broadly speaking, security is necessary, some adventure is needed, too, for fomenting happiness. It should be possible for people with a taste for active exploits to be able to save up and to travel to exotic locales to indulge such a preference. This possibility is open to a few hardy souls now, as the Kon-Tiki and Desperate Voyage indicate. [Recall Russell noted in Chapter 17 the interest in seeking out risky leisure activities by people living in a relatively secure world.] Adventurous pursuits should be made more available, and might even substitute for competitive behaviors that harm others.

So a happy man owes his happiness both to favorable external circumstances, and to a temperament bequeathed to him by a wise and loving upbringing. He will enjoy work and family life, and not go through middle age (as many men now do) with a sense of failure. In old age, he will look back with few regrets.

“The art of growing old is one which the passage of time has forced upon my attention [p. 204].” [The sentence that immediately follows the one just quoted starts a four-paragraph section that was reprinted (word-for-word, excepting the final sentence) in Russell’s Portraits From Memory. There, the four paragraphs form part, but only part, of his essay entitled “How to Grow Old”.] One key to a happy old age is to avoid dwelling in the past, while similarly avoiding negative comparisons between your current emotional and mental make-up and that of your younger self. A second key [and here is a close parallel with Russell’s much earlier “The Happy Man” essay] is to develop impersonal interests, as you do not want to burden your children with keeping you company. Broad, impersonal interests can even dilute the fear of death, and make the process of death akin, intellectually and emotionally, to the gradual merging of a widening river with the larger sea.

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