Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sage Advice

Limited, Inc. has been pursuing a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion of the sage and the fool lately and, most recently, of the conventional gap between wisdom and happiness.

It has occurred to me more than once that this series of posts has more direct bearing than most on the recent discussions of graduate school and other ruminations on the state of the profession in academia.

My usual starting point on the relation between academia and happiness is that there is a certain amount of treason involved in not being happy if one is fortunate enough to occupy such enormously privileged positions as that of graduate student or professor. This line of thought, of course, leads to guilt and yet more unhappiness. However, LI writes:

As societies become more affluent, the pursuit of unhappiness emerges pretty quickly, and not just in fringe cultures. The sullenness of adolescence, the mid-life crises of middle age, the goth music grad student culture, these aren’t accidents. Affluence allows for what you might call different climates of temperament. Unhappiness is the purest response to the very idea that happiness is the ultimate parameter by which to judge one’s life and one’s society.
This resonates with much of the lived experience of academia where unhappiness is produced, cultivated, and distributed in too many subtle ways to be entirely accidental. It seems very plausible to me that this state of affairs is more structural and a direct effect of our economy of happiness rather than an aberration of it. It also tends to underscore one of LI's most recent and disturbing conclusions, "that as a social and individual ideal, happiness is fucked up."

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure about your conclusion here. I think the unhappiness in academia can come about for structural reasons, but often does not. Too much griping and complaining can make a reasonable situation, seem bad, when really it is not.

    If one sets clear goals and reaches them, then a certain satisfaction can arise and that is one route to happiness. Of course, there are always a few twisted, vindictive individuals and others who suffer from mental illnesses, but by avoiding such people, as best one can, can again lead to a reasonably happy environment. Thus, I don't quite buy the 'structural' thesis. I think that matters are both more complicated and more tied to the disposition of the individual. Sorry to be disagreeable.

    The Combat Philosopher