Saturday, April 28, 2007

Happiness? Joy? Bah! Humbug!

Several weeks ago I posted on Happiness vs Joy. It didn't result in much discussion (Ok. No one commented.) This was a bit surprising in a blog,, where 20 comments is the average. At some level the issues of happiness, joy, contentment, anxiety, angst, fear are at the very heart of the human condition. Wired magazine has a brief essay this month which adds a bit of flavor to the issue from the pharm side of things. I recommend this 3 minute read. But here's an excerpt:

From a distance, pleasure without fear or desire sounds pretty good. But in your grasp, it starts to feel less like paradise and more like soma. A species that shuts out adversity does not survive very long in a Darwinian universe. In the short term, humans with happy-making neural implants would cease to be interesting. Quenching feelings of hardship also means never feeling desire or want. Unpleasant as those emotions can be, they're also the basis for ambition and creativity. "Happy people are not ambitious," Greenfield says. "They do not build civilizations."
One could argue that there is no inherent goodness in building civilization, and I have had some commenters on this and other blogs who feel all this need to grow and build is not the best for human kind. The Jesus People certainly would contend that the constant grasping for material improvement is not of God. Many environmentalists clearly would like to see a return to simpler times.

Now enters the age of Pharma. The article points out that we may be on our way to being able to use various drugs or other tools to completely control our moods. We certainly have taken a number of very large steps down that path with various anti-depressants, anti-anxiety products, ADD and ADHD solutions, and "muscle relaxents." On the surface and case-by-case one has a hard time saying to the chronically depressed person, "You'll get over it," when a couple of tiny pills will give them so much peace. But as a species, is this approach wise?

Taking it directly into the God realm, there is a small and shrinking percentage of the Christian community who proclaim the sufficiency of Christ. This is similar to the Christian Scientist Claim of no medical intervention. However, do we begin to see their point as we move down the slippery slope. (Or should we say slippery designer babies, gene alteration, or enhancement drugs.) Should we draw a line? Where?

The article concludes with this interesting thought:

Maybe it's no coincidence that some of the happy-making stuff is manufactured in those countries. It's reminiscent of the scenario laid out by another prescient thinker, H. G. Wells. In his book The Time Machine, Wells wrote about a world where the happy, indolent elite — the Eloi — are served by industrious outsiders called Morlocks. The Eloi are also the hardworking Morlocks' food. Grim stuff. And also the exact opposite of what Jefferson was trying to tee up for Americans. Maybe he knew that if you have too much happiness, you don't get life and liberty.

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