Monday, May 1, 2023

#121 / A Message From Minnesota

I have a friend who lives in Proctor, Minnesota. Proctor is a close neighbor to Duluth, and back in mid-April, I heard from my Minnesota friend. At that time, Duluth had just experienced a winter that brought Duluth the most snow that Duluth has ever seen. I think I am reliably informed about that, and when we talk about record snow in Duluth, that is really saying something! Snow is not scarce in Minnesota (except in the summer, of course, which is the only time I would ever dare to visit). 
At any rate, my Minnesota friend thought I would enjoy seeing what a Minnesota newspaper columnist was thinking about, as the cold weather came, and as the cold weather continued, and as the snow piled up. What would you guess?

Well, D.J. Tice, who writes for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, was thinking about "happiness," or, perhaps better said, the lack thereof. The column my friend sent was titled, "The pursuit of unhappiness (and its remedies)." The image at the top of this blog posting, which came from the Tice column, is the perfect illustration. How will you take your coffee, sir? Well, with a "Sad Face," of course.
The essence of what Tice had to say can be condensed into the following statement:
Americans should be happy, but they're not.
I am pretty sure that my friend sent me the Tice column for one reason only. The column commented, specifically, on how a person's "politics" seem to correlate to depression: 
Everywhere one turns nowadays, there is talk of a mental health crisis among teenagers and the middle aged — particularly among men but especially among women; a collapse of trust in institutions; a loss of legitimacy for democracy itself, and a deep estrangement between one American and another.
Naturally, the search is on for explanations. Such speculations, if often self-serving, are worth pondering if only because they unite our ahistorical generation with an ancient human tradition of wondering why, so often, as Ecclesiastes puts it, our "days are sorrows and our hearts taketh not rest in the night."
Inevitably, one prominent theory just now is political. A flurry of commentary has lately swirled around a 2022 study from Columbia epidemiologist Catherine Gimbrone and colleagues titled, "The politics of depression." Its headline finding, amid plentiful reports of general psychological distress of young Americans, is that young liberals are more depressed than their conservative peers — consistent with many studies showing a similar pattern at all ages.
The politics of depression study also shows that youthful unhappiness began to rise sharply about a decade ago, first among liberal youths, but also among conservative kids a few years later.
In general, unsurprisingly, progressives (including the study authors) have responded to this data with variations on the theory that liberals are grim because they see the true injustice of society clearly, while conservatives are cheerful because they are privileged, and can find little fault with a sociopolitical order that favors themselves. Conservatives understandably take a different view, detecting in liberals a debilitating blend of native utopianism and thirst for martyrdom that puts serenity out of reach (emphasis added).

I actually do think that "politics" has something to do with "happiness" (or the lack thereof). However, I think that what Hannah Arendt has to say about "the public happiness" is more relevant than what the psychologists and the social scientists are talking about. Click right here for a brief - and I think helpful - explanation of Arendt's concept. In short, since we are both "individuals," and part of a greater whole - because we are "in this world together" - we need to be personally engaged with others in trying to shape and define the common world we inhabit. Genuine "democracy," which the the name we commonly use for "self-government," is what can make us happy.

That's what I think, at least. 
I say, let's give it a try!
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