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Saturday, April 14, 2012

What Makes us Happy?

Hi AB!

Your friend who strives not to be too authentic...I'm not sure where he's going with that exactly, but I wonder if he's thinking along the lines of author Andrew Potter, who wrote The Authenticity Hoax.  I just checked this book out from the library last week. (Funny how it jumped off the shelf towards me...I had recently read your last blog entry!) 

From the book's jacket : Potter has examined our "fetish"  for "authentic" lifestyles, and has concluded that our obsession is actually a form of exclusionary status seeking. The result is modernity's malaise: a competitve, self-absorbed individualism that creates a shallow consumerist society built on stratification and one-upmanship that ultimately erodes genuine relationships and true community.

Hmmm...is this something like what you and your friend are also concluding? Potter writes, "...the search for authenticity is motivated by a visceral reaction to secularism, liberalism, capitalism, and the sense that a meaningful life is not possible in the modern world, that all it offers is a toxic mix of social-climbing and alienation. So, we seek the authentic in a multitude of ways, looking for a connection to something deeper...in each case, we are trying to find at least one sliver of the world that is innocent, spontaneous, genuine, creative, and not tainted by commercialization, calculation, and self-interest."  (page 264)

I can certainly relate to that paragraph.  We do seem hungry, starving, as a culture really, for something that is not tainted by vulgar or selfish motives.  We want the experience of the meaningful, and the reassurance that even if it's just the tea we drink (organic) or the jeans we wear (also organic cotton) we have somehow latched on to something more gratifying, different, and yes better, than those who prefer Lipton and polyester!

If you have time, would love to hear your thoughts about this!


Hi G

Sorry it took so long to get back to you.  I’ve been tied up with publishing my middle-school book Hanner and the Bullies. It’s now on amazon.com if you want to glance at it. I’m now tied up making a movie trailer for the book. It’s only 2 minutes but I’m amazed at how many long hours goes into something so short. I have also been booksigning almost everyday.

Here, before I comment on all this,  is a further bit I copied from the website you suggested. About the bad taste of the “masses.”

Ever notice that the masses have incredibly bad taste? Admit it. Take a look at a painting by Thomas Kinkade ("Painter of Light"), the best-selling visual artist in the United States. His work is so awful it must be seen to be believed. Or go down to one of the discount furniture warehouses, the kind that are constantly advertising "no payment until 2037". Try to find a single piece that you would be willing to put in your living room. Or listen to an entire album by Kenny G, the best-selling intrumentalist in the world. Your typical urban sophisticate would find this experience not just unpleasant, but positively harrowing...

The popular view of aesthetic judgment is dominated by what sociologist Pierre Bourdieu calls "the ideology of natural taste." According to this view, the difference between beautiful and ugly, tasteful and vulgar, stylish and tacky, resides in the object. Bad art really is bad, it's just that only people with a certain background and education are able to recognize it as such. Yet, as Bourdieu points out, this ability to detect bad art is distributed in an almost miraculously class-specific fashion. In fact, only a tiny percentage of the population has it. And as Bourdieu documents quite exhaustively, this capacity is almost entirely concentrated among the high-status members in society. The lower classes uniformly love bad art, while the middle classes have resolutely "middle-brow" taste.

Anyone with an even moderately critical turn of mind can see the obvious explanation for this pattern... So, we don't quite say that his work is "so awful that it must be seen to be believed", but that for people of a certain class, it certainly seems so. Millions of people, obviously, think otherwise. 

So, Dear G., it is an intriguing thought. What are we all looking for—in art as well as in life? Art is the easiest to answer. I think the judgment one makes upon design, art, furniture, etc. depends upon your education and familiarity with the objects you are judging. If Kinkaid’s art work was the first you ever saw you would regard it differently than if you had spent some time wandering around neighborhood art shows, museums, taken an art appreciation course or had purchased some artwork to hang in your own home and lived with a succession of pictures as you tired of them, or decided you really liked them. You would be developing an educated taste. 

So when they say that good taste is not found in the masses, I question that. It depends upon education and more affluent people generally are better educated and have more experience. But anybody can educate themselves. Window shopping is good for this.

As for what people really want from life? Maybe that’s easy as well. Instead of judging the life styles that people are opting for, let’s get more basic. We all want to feel safe. So far in this country this is a given for most people because we have the freest country the world has ever known. So far we can count on our individual freedom. 

Troops are not going to knock on our door and take us off to some forced labor camp like they do now in North Korea. Now, it is true that some people become enslaved to friends or family. But this is something that can be fixed, sooner or later by the individual. 

In my book Depression is a Choice I talk about “the transcenders” those people who had horrendously abusive childhoods and yet were able to go forward from that horrible beginning to live happy and productive adult lives. We can also become enslaved to drugs, both legal and street. Again, this is fixable. 

We all want to be safe  so we have to be careful that in opting for safety we don’t become enslaved.

We all want to be loved and respected. This is why we rush around madly trying to find the “right life style.” But life style won’t get us love and respect. Being loving and respectful gets us love and respect. The more we are loving and respectful, the more we relax into ordinary life and take pleasure in the small moments, a sunrise or sunset, a bird flying overhead, a clean kitchen, a note from a friend.  

We all want to have a sense of accomplishment—that what we are doing makes a difference, creates something that wasn’t there before. We get a sense of accomplishing by working on something, great or small, important or unimportant. It’s a way of connecting with others and feeling needed. I love the way the movie Hugo made this point.

Rich or poor, big house or little, life on Walden Pond, or in some high rise, we are all fundamentally the same, human. And we need each other and we want to feel needed.

While I was booksigning in the Zoo I saw a number of people who were taking a child or an adult for an outing who was severely physically or mentally challenged. We all see people like this on occasion. People in wheelchairs, autistic children, or people with Down’s Syndrome. We see old people held by the hand because they are so unsteady on their own. 

Usually we don’t approach these people. We might smile, or give a thumb’s up if we keep our wits about us and don’t freak out at some outlandish sudden outcry, suddenly thrust-out arm, or loud groan, drooling, or someone shaking uncontrollable. I’m as guilty as anyone as far as never going out of my way to approach these people. I fear to intrude. How would they take it? What should I do? Would they be embarrassed by my attention?

But I had a momentary fantasy about all this. Suppose we all knew what to do. Suppose someone handed out little business cards when such a person came by that said, it’s okay to come over and hug us, or give us a good word. What if all of us, the whole big crowd of us knew what to do? So when a severely crippled person came by in a wheelchair, suddenly we all rushed to their side with hugs and “hi, hope this is a good day for you” “Nice sunny day for you today”  Letting them know we cared about them—that they were one of us. 

I suspect that not only would the crippled person feel something good had just happened. But, when it came right down to it, the whole crowd of us would be the ones who profited the most. Don’t worry about your life style, worry about whether or not you can offer your heart to those around you. A. B. Curtiss

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