“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Pursuing Liberty and Happiness in Life.

“Marital satisfaction decreases dramatically after the birth of the first child and increases only when the last child leaves home.”

"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," is probably one of the single most intriguing phrases in any constitution, anywhere, at anytime. It defines a meaning to life and a right of citizenship and mankind. It is a radical departure from living one's life for the benefit of a deity or a collective societal responsibility. I would love to have seen and experienced the shock and awe of the first readers of those words. What Jefferson meant when he penned them in The United States Declaration of Independence, and the debate about how they got accepted is not totally clear and it is not important. The point is that they were written and we all own them. They are the legacy of mankind.

The words increase in meaning the further one travels along the path through life. Liberty and the pursuit of happiness, how sweet it is.

Happy to be unhappy

By Chrystia Freeland
Published: November 23 2007 15:03 Financial Times
Recent studies suggesting a growing “happiness gap” between men and women have captured the headlines. That’s no surprise: the battle of the sexes is at least as old as Adam and Eve.

But, if you read the fine print, you may agree with me that these familiar gender duels are the less interesting aspect of Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers’ September paper on “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness”. What caught my eye was the authors’ assertion that their findings “raise provocative questions...about the legitimacy of using subjective well-being to assess broad social changes”.

I liked the contrarian sound of that, particularly because these days “subjective well-being”, which you and I might prefer to term “happiness”, is no longer the exclusive province of poets, philosophers and the makers of pre-school children’s videos. It is starting to be claimed by public policymakers, especially those of a progressive bent.

The New York Times, for example, this month published an editorial comment arguing that “30 years from now, reducing unhappiness could become another target of policy, like cutting poverty”.

Now, I am as much in favour of happiness as the next person. But I’ve also lived in a society built, at least in part, on utopian dreams of making everyone happy through enlightened government action – it was called the Soviet Union and I think we can all agree it didn’t really work. So I called Prof Stevenson with high hopes of discovering a well-reasoned debunking of what its practitioners are calling the new “science” of happiness.

Honesty compels me to admit that I didn’t quite find one. What Prof Stevenson thinks her paper has revealed is how hard it is to compare the happiness of similar populations over time. Thus, she thinks we need to be cautious about assuming that women reported their own happiness in the same way 35 years ago as they do today. Maybe women haven’t become less happy, we just talk about our feelings in different ways.

Beyond that, I can’t claim Prof Stevenson as a thorough-going happiness sceptic. She reminded me of the research tying our self-reported levels of happiness to clinically measurable signs of well-being. And she believes “we could do a better job of helping people get more happiness out of their lives”.

One favourite example of the happiness camp is the trade-off between having a big house and a longer commute. We think a bigger house will make us happy, so we move to the suburbs. But in making that choice, most of us don’t take enough account of how swiftly our pleasure in our beautiful new home will be ground down by the twice daily misery of a longer commute. Helping us as individuals make these kinds of specific life choices seems like an eminently sensible use of happiness research.

But as a guiding principle for living our lives or shaping our societies, I think we could do worse than remember that the framers of the Constitution put the pursuit of happiness after life and liberty in their list of inalienable rights. And it is not just that life and liberty are more important than happiness, but that some very important life pursuits probably make us unhappy.

Take having children. As Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert points out in Stumbling on Happiness, “Every human culture tells its members that having children will make them happy.” The problem, Gilbert writes, is that studies show the opposite: “Marital satisfaction decreases dramatically after the birth of the first child and increases only when the last child leaves home.”

My children are too young to read the FT, so I can safely admit I don’t find Gilbert’s assertion too surprising. But I don’t find it to be very disturbing, either. Most things I am pleased to have done – being a mother, writing this column – involve a lot of minute-by-minute unhappiness. And some of the people I admire the most have chosen lives that involve a lot worse than that.

Consider Dmitry Muratov, the editor of Russia’s Novaya Gazeta, who came to New York this week to collect an International Press Freedom award. He said his prize gave him no pleasure: one reason he got it was that three of his friends who reported for Novaya Gazeta have been killed. Muratov doesn’t think he’ll ever really be happy again.

Thanksgiving is my favourite American holiday and my favourite expression of it this week was the ritual at my two-year-old’s nursery school of asking the children what they are thankful for. I’m thankful for my own personal happiness, of course – diminished though I now know it to be by my offspring – but I’m also thankful for people such as Muratov who are forgoing theirs.

Chrystia Freeland is the FT’s US managing editor


  1. "my two-year-old’s nursery school "
    Ingraham reported on the growing use of "parenting coaches" in which "parents" pay $70/hr for advice over the phone from a trained parenting coach.
    Talked to some broad that founded the first school to produce these much-needed professionals.
    It's a non-profit, but @ $70/hr, they must have to work pretty hard at not making a profit.

  2. Just what every two year old needs:
    To be shipped off to a germ exchange station overseen by someone making minimum wage.

  3. H2: Happiness Hour: Infantile Fantasies
    Dennis Prager
    Prager H2: Dennis talks to Dr. Stephen Marmer, member of the clinical faculty of the UCLA Medical School and a psychiatrist in private practice in Brentwood, CA.
    The subject today is:
    we have to give up our infantile fantasies to be a happy adult. Dr. Marmer explains what those fantasies are.

  4. That's funny Doug, I just listened to that Prager podcast. Prager says that being "happy" is an obligation. We owe it those around us not to "inflict" our misery on them. He discusses "happiness" one hour every week and in my opinion, it is one of the best services of modern talk radio.

  5. Thinking a nice jeep and mountain trails would make me happy, I watch jeeps (CJ 5's) and lately Land Rovers in Ebay.

    Bobal: Here's a Land Rover Defender for sale in Moscow, Idaho.

    I haven't figured out what makes the Land Rovers so expensive when compared to the ordinary CJ.

    When the time is right, I'll buy a jeep but until then, I'm happy to watching the market.

  6. Did I read that right--current bid 99 cents? I bid a dollar.

    1L--yup Latah Co. license plate--those are the Moscow Mountains in the background in one pic. I used to have a Toyota Landcruiser, had it on the Big Island when dad was there, and then shipped it over here. We do have some great places to go four-wheeling around here. Talk about happiness!

    Thomas Traherne said we don't study happiness anymore--back during the Cromwell days in England's Commonwealth--I'll look the quote up and post it later. Traherne was concerned with happiness, but not the material kind.

  7. Well, the Island Galaxies haven't disappeared yet, due to our observations. Floating there in space, beautiful, mysterious.

  8. Burning in Malibu, again.

    Not much happiness in that.

    I alway believed the original phrasing was "Life, Liberty & Pursuit of Property"

    Rather than happiness.

    Being a property owner and having once experienced happiness, the two are not synonomous.

    Now if anyone would like to buy some of my property, I'd be happier, now.

    But that's a relative measure.

  9. This smoking gun is no surprise!
    "In an article published this week, Times writer Richard Oppel cites statistics derived from a "trove of documents and computers discovered in September, when American forces raided a tent camp in the desert near Sinjar, close to the Syrian border", featuring a "collection of biographical sketches that listed hometowns and other details for more than 700 fighters brought into Iraq since August 2006." According to the Times article, at least 305 of those biographies--or 41%--were of fighters from Saudi Arabia: "Among the Saudi fighters described in the materials, 45 had come from Riyadh, 38 from Mecca, 20 from Buraidah and the surrounding area, 15 from Jawf and Sakakah, 13 from Jidda, and 12 from Medina." Compare this to Tony Cordesman's suggestion in his 2005 report on the Iraqi insurgency that Saudi nationals represent only 12% of the total number of foreign fighters. Quite obviously, Cordesman's estimate was way, way too low."

    I heard a report yesterday from a Rear Admiral that 40% of foreign jihadists in Iraq were Saudis, 40% were from Libya and N. Africa. Syria was the primary transit point. The Admiral said the MO is to recruit the young men who want to go on Jihad. They are taken through Syria and within thirty days are sent on suicide missions.

    I wonder where the suicide bombers of Pakistan are coming from. Today two attacks killed another 35 people. But Musharraf should lift the State of Emergency so that peaceful, democratic elections can move forward. He's tried to warn the West but we seem to have deaf ears.

  10. For some reason the indoctrination process for the "self fused brainless soon to be headless" does not go over well in the US. I wonder why.

  11. The General President is not using the State of Emergency to batttle the suicide bombers and the jihadi. The jihadi he is releasing in ten to one prisoner exchanges for soldiers that have surrendered to the Taliban.

    The State of Emergancy is being use against Civil Society, lawyers, judges, candidates for office, newspaper and media editors and reporters.

    No, the General President is not prepared to take orders from civilly elected civilians. So he becomes an outlaw despot, ruling with political power grown from the barrel of a gun, but abandoning the fight against US enemies.

    The $10 Billion USD spent to build an Army to fight India, not jihadist insurgents.

    We've been played for fools by the General President. Mr Bush and the US shown to be liars, not caring of democracy, but at war with Islam.

    Which is against our battle plans, to be so percieved. Even if we have abandoned the strategy.

  12. by the way Doug is was the pursuit of property. Had they left that phrase would we have real estate taxes?

  13. Well, Musharraf is a dictator afterall. He didn't exactly come to power via the ballot box. He says that the arrests have been made because those people were violating the law. He points to the arrests made at WTO conferences as being similar.

    Yes, it's a murky, confused, screwed-up mess but my concern is that further destabilization of Pakistan can only benefit the extremists.

    Musharraf has agreed to Jan 8 elections. We'll see what happens then. In the meantime, just 100 miles from Islamabad fighting is getting pretty intense in the Swat Valley.

  14. Where the "Law" is what ever the despot says, replacing the civil Courts & Judges with hand picked yes men replacements.

    The jihadi want to destroy Pakistan's civil, secular, society, the General President is doing just that.

  15. Times of India reports

    ISLAMABAD: Authorities on Saturday imposed a 24-hour curfew in Pakistan's northwestern Swat valley as gunship helicopters and artillery pounded positions held by militant followers of radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah ahead of an offensive by ground forces.

    Gunship helicopters and heavy guns were used against mountain positions and hideouts of the militants near Imamdheri, Fazlullah's stronghold near Swat town, before the local administration clamped the curfew from 2 pm.

    Officials said several militants were killed in overnight clashes but there were no exact figures for casualties.

    The army said its helicopters had struck at militant positions near Kuza Banda while artillery guns were used in Friday night to target a group of militants near Kabal, which has witnessed intense fighting over the past few days.

    A suspected militant was killed on Friday when he did not heed a warning by security forces to stop near the Kabal golf club, which is being used as a base by the forces.

    Reports from Shangla, which was recently over-run by the militants, said the rebels had vacated Alpuri, the main town in the area, and taken up positions in nearby hills as they prepared for an army offensive.

    "This is not a retreat, this is a tactical move," militant spokesman Sirajuddin said.

    The army, which took over the operations in Swat after police and paramilitary forces failed to quell Fazlullah's men, is slowly advancing towards Alpuri in the face of stiff opposition from the militants.

    There were reports that the militants had mined roads leading to Alpuri.

  16. Voice of America reports

    Pakistan's Military Cuts Food Supplies to Militants in Northwestern Pakistan
    By VOA News
    23 November 2007

    Pakistani officials have imposed a food blockade, as part of their strategy against a militant uprising in the North West Frontier Province.

    Officials Friday said they have cut off food supplies to militants in the troubled Swat Valley region. Pakistan's military is not allowing food to go through checkpoints.

    The food blockade comes as the military continues its offensive against insurgents in Swat Valley. More than 220 people have died in clashes just in the last few weeks.

    Military officials say police Friday shot and killed a suspected militant, and wounded another believed to be wearing a suicide belt - after the two men failed to obey orders to stop in Swat.

    Unrest erupted in the Swat Valley last month when pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Fazlullah declared a holy war against the government, spreading his message through a pirate FM radio station.

    Since the unrest began, fighters loyal to Fazlullah have seized control of several towns and police stations in northern Pakistan without much resistance from the army.

    That is a human rights violation, cutting off food to the civilian population.

    Not winning hearts & minds, starving the folk.

    Not the Lessons of Anbar being applied by the Pakistani.

  17. From TIME

    ...In the village of Matta, the police post sported a new sign: "Taliban Station." So did the precinct in Kabal. In Kalam village, Dr. Fazli Raziq's barber disappeared, driven out of business by a new edict prohibiting men from shaving their beards. Fazli's wife, Zaibi, stopped leaving the house, preferring to stay inside rather than replace her headscarf with the freshly mandated shuttlecock burqa that left only a mesh opening for the eyes. Then militants threatened to bomb their daughter's school. All in all, five out of seven subdistricts — some 68 villages — in this picturesque valley 100 miles (160 km) from the capital are under the control of an extremist group that has torched music shops, beheaded policemen and tried to blow up centuries-old Buddhist monuments.

    Related Articles

    No, this is not Afghanistan. It is the Swat Valley, Pakistan's biggest tourist destination, home to the country's only ski slope and a haven for trout-fishing. Its people are deeply conservative Muslims, yet highly tolerant of the liberal ways of international visitors. In recent months, however, Swat has changed. Maulana Fazlullah, a fundamentalist preacher known as the "FM Mullah" for his daily radio sermons, has launched a campaign for the establishment of Islamic law, or Shari'a, in the valley. Fazlullah is backed by Pakistani extremists who share an Islamist ideology with the Afghan Taliban next door. These militants have unleashed a wave of violence on Swat that has claimed nearly 300 lives, mostly security personnel, and that has driven nearly half a million residents from their homes. "Swat used to be a paradise," says Zaibi Raziq. "I used to go on walks every day with my family and friends. But we stopped going out; we stayed inside, discussing what might happen next." The next time she left her home, it was for good. On Oct. 29 Zaibi and her family fled Kalam, leaving a TV, a computer and all their furniture behind.

    When Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf, declared emergency rule on Nov. 3, he cited the threat of Swat's mounting insurgency as justification. But, so far, Musharraf has used his emergency powers mainly to jail opponents and journalists, and to oust the Supreme Court judges who were about to pronounce his recent re-election as President unconstitutional. (On Nov. 19, a newly reconstituted Supreme Court comprising Musharraf loyalists decreed his re-election lawful.) While the government concentrates on putting out opposition rallies in the capital Islamabad, extremist wildfires are erupting across the land. Since the imposition of emergency rule, the violence has actually gotten worse: sectarian strife on the Afghan border has claimed more than 100 lives, and at least four police and eight frontier-corps soldiers have been beheaded in Swat. "Musharraf's emergency was just a pretext," says Shah Jehan, director of the Institute of Management Studies at Peshawar University. "If he really wanted to do something [about terrorism] he would have pulled the plug on the FM Mullah. Instead, things are getting worse."

  18. They're going to achieve happiness in Austrailia, sooner then we had hoped.

    Looks like there'll be 5,500 troops home from Iraq, for Christmass.

    The Aussies marching home again, hoorah, hoorah!

    SYDNEY, Australia (Associated Press) -- Conservative Prime Minister John Howard suffered a humiliating defeat Saturday at the hands of the left-leaning opposition, whose leader has promised to immediately sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and withdraw Australia's combat troops from Iraq.

    Labor Party head Kevin Rudd's pledges on global warming and Iraq move Australia sharply away from policies that had made Howard one of President Bush's staunchest allies.

    Rudd has named global warming as his top priority, and his signing of the Kyoto Protocol will leave the U.S. as the only industrialized country not to have joined it.

    Rudd said he would withdraw Australia's 550 combat troops from Iraq, leaving twice that number in mostly security roles. Howard had said all the troops will stay as long as needed.

    Official figures from the Australian Electoral Commission showed Labor far in front after more than 70 percent of the ballots had been counted _ with 53 percent of the vote compared to 46.7 percent for Howard's coalition.

    Using those figures, an Australian Broadcasting Corp. analysis showed that Labor would get at least 81 places in the 150-seat lower house of Parliament _ a clear majority.

    Rudd is expected to take office next week.

  19. Why would Musharraf want to do anything about Islamic extremism in Pakistan? Of course he would rather arrest innocent civilians and ignore the growing danger from the Taliban grow stronger.

    Seriously, what useful purpose would that serve?

    I have read that the civil unrest is coming from small special interest segments of Paki society. ie. Judges, lawyers, Benazir and Sharif supporters. In other words, the elites seeking power. On top of that bin-Laden recently declared war on Musharraf.

    Word is, the common man on the street simply wants the extremist threat taken care of. To them, the rest is political theatre.

    For their parts, the US and UK have been vocal in their calls for Musharraf to release the political prisoners, hold elections and step down as General. All of which he has said he will do. He should have resigned when his recent book was first released and he was well received at places like Davos.

  20. I put up a new post on the Australian elections.

  21. The reason that the General President will destroy civil society and effectively ignore the jihadi is that the Army and the jihadi are joined at the hip.

    Retired General Gul and his supporters using the Army infrastrcture to support the Taliban in Afghanistan, by extention then, Warizistan and the Tribal areas.

    The General President part and parcel of that Army policy, as well as Dr Khan's proliferation network. Pakistani Army Policy, exemplified.

  22. Only thing more expensive than a Rover, Whit, are the Repairs!
    Really bad defect ratio.

  23. 'Rat,
    Steve @ Threatswatch had a post that explained that Mushie largely destroyed the frontier corps by putting lowly army guys in charge over experienced warriors and cultural experts.
    Intel down the tubes.
    Said did the same thing with other orgs, namely, put the Army in charge.

  24. Anthropology, Policing and Soldiering In al-Qaeda's Pakistani Insurgency

    We have made a concerted attempt to distinguish between the employment and deployment of Pakistani Police and paramilitary forces (Frontier Corps and constabularies) and the employment and deployment of the Pakistani Army when news coverage vaguely refers to Pakistani “troops” or “soldiers” being killed, captured or deserting in the conflict with the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the NorthWest Frontier Province (NWFP) inside Pakistan.
    This is very important in understanding the state of affairs there.

    Former head of Indian Intelligence, B. Raman, notes the distinction well and includes ethnic/tribal distinctions as well in a report from the South Asia Analysis Group’s International Terrorism Monitor . The unusually long excerpt is necessary, but read the report in full for additional context.

    Cultural Knowledge and Counterterrorism

  25. The best SUV on the planet is a Toyota Landcruiser. Get one with a winch and longest cable. It runs through the transmission and it can get you into and out of most anything.

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  27. I think this one is still at the ranch, make ya a deal ...

  28. Ha, ha, ha. I guess you will rat. That is a pitiful looking piece of machinery.

  29. "Nevertheless some things were defective too(at Oxford under the Commonwealth). There was never a tutor that did professly teach Felicity, though that be the mistress of all the other sciences. Nor did any of us study these things but as aliens, which we ought to have studied as our own enjoyments. We studied to inform our knowledge, but knew not for what end we studied. And for lack of aiming at a certain end, we erred in the manner." Thomas Traherne

    "In Traherne's vocabulary 'felicity' means 'beatitude' which is identical in practice with liberation, which, in its turn, is the unitive knowledge of God in the heights within and in the fulness without as well as within."

    Aldous Huxley

    The nation's documents don't speak to this kind of happiness, but set things up so the pursuit of it is at least possible.

    "Yet further, you never enjoyed the world aright, till you so love the beauty of enjoying it , that you are covetous and earnest to persuade others to enjoy it. And so perfectly hate the abominable corruption of men in despising it that you had rather suffer the flames of hell than willingly be guilty of their error.
    The world is a mirro of infinite Beauty, yet no man sees it. It is a Temple of Majesty, yet no man regards it. It is a region of Light and Peace, did not men disquiet it. It is the Paradise of God. It is more to man since he is fallen than it was before. It is the place of Angels and the Gate of Heaven. When Jacob waked out of his dream, he said, God is here, and I wist it not. How dreadful is this place! This is none other than the House of God and the Gate of Heaven." Thomas Traherne

    "The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting....The Men! O what venerable and reverend creatures did the aged seem! Immortal Cherubim! And young men glittering and sparkling angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die. But all things abided eternally as they were in their proper places. Eternity was manifested in the light of the day, and something infinite behind everything appeared; which talked with my expectation and moved my desire....And so it was that with much ado I was corrupted and made to learn the dirty devices of the world. Which now I unlearn, and become as it were a little child again, that I may enter into the kingdom of God.
    Thomas Traherne