Where is Happiness? And is too much bad for you?

“Too much is bad for you? Too much is bad for you? Of course too much is bad for you. That’s precisely what too much means. It is precisely that quantity deemed to be excessive.” With these sage words Stephen Fry once admonished his stooge Hugh Laurie in a sketch about the excesses of smoking.

Our society prostrates itself at the altar of excess. We bow before profligate spending, limitless drinking, shouting, unchecked distraction, consumption, eating and other forms of luxury. The age of bread and circuses has arrived, and far from wanting out we demand more. More satellite TV, more big bangs in big “smash” movie “hits”. We are advertised to on this basis: have a bigger memory, have a faster computer, a more powerful car, a more advanced electric razor. Have shinier hair, have bigger boobs, go to university more, earn more money… We also tune out more, get drunk more, get fat more, get admitted to hospital for preventable diseases more. Whether its good or bad, we don’t care. We want more. Does all this excess really push us towards happiness and fulfillment? Or will we have to come to the sad realisation in the end that the only two things that really satisfy us are opening a new CD from its plastic wrapper and watching other people fail?

I can’t really carry out an analysis about all this as wittily and poignantly as Armando Iannucci manages in his brilliant satirical series The Armando Iannucci Shows. So I’ll leave you to ponder the message for yourselves. The last thing you want is more explanation, I’m sure.

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How Opinion Polls Influence Your Opinion, Not Measure It

How would you go about showing that the public’s will is in line with your policy? Watch the following excerpt from Yes, Minister and find out.

Why We Are Not Happy

Armando Iannucci presents an analysis of the reasons for why modern humans are unable to find fulfilment in their lives. Compulsive viewing.

Noam Chomsky Interview With Andrew Marr (BBC)

BlueRat presents the now infamous interview between Chomsky and Andrew Marr of the BBC, in which Chomsky explains to the disbelieving journalist how the media serve power interests. Notably, Marr offers the Watergate example of how the media are independent. Chomsky disagrees. Why hasn’t Marr heard of CoIntelPro then? This interview dates back to the late 1990s and was originally broadcast on The Big Idea in Britain. (approx 30 mins)

Thoughts on Religion and Democracy

Religious tensions in the Middle East are a palpable truth of the region’s realpolitik. Frequently, atheists or humanists (or people adhering to both views) will contend that religion is the source of much (if not all) of the unrest in the world’s political makup, and that, if only religion would be abolished, the world would be a better place. Such arguments are made on the back of claims that religion is either wholly or for the most part irrational, untestable, unverifiable, and a uniquely potent driver towards violence. In short, a mechanism by which people drive themselves to conflict with others, rather than a force for harmony. The argument is interminable and often misguided. But regardless of whether either party is right, which one that may be, or whether both are mistaken, a related problem remains.

The United States is unique in that it is the sole country on the planet (and readers may correct me) in whose constitution the separation of Church and States is enshrined as a principle by which the affairs of the nation ought to be run healthily. The violation of that is in evidence with every word a US political figure utters in public support for his religion (invariably Christianity) and with the never ending court cases relating to the Decalogue being proclaimed on court walls and the teaching of “intelligent” design in schools. So it is a far from perfect system, even by its own criteria. But at least the sentiment is there in that political scripture: state and church are not to mix.

In countries permitting rule based on religious ideology, things are seen to faulter. An obvious example is the Taliban, whose fundamentalist Islamic actions represseed women, freedom, education and so many values that sane and rational people would hold dear. In Saudi Arabia, religous expression through government leads to a totalitarian rule. Note, incidentally, the hypocrisy of the western “liberators” and democracy bringers: they side with Saudi against terrorism, neglecting to mention that Saudi is itself implicated in it. This is not a staunch defence of democracy, but a staunch defence of the west interests. One fundamentalist group may be sacrificed and another befriended.

George Bush’s religious convictions may play to the tastes of his right-wing conservative god-fearing fans, but the rest of the world is worried, not only on account of the violation of the Church and State principle the US is failing to uphold, but also on account of the unaccountability of God. Democracy’s most treasured principle relates to the accountability of leadership and representation; people are to decide and it is to people that leaders are supposed to be accountable. Yet a leader who elevates God above the electorate surely sacrifices democracy at the same altar. No longer does the popular will suffice – policy decisions are to be ratified in a dialogue with the divine.

And in this way, religion undermines political ideals. American conservatives will shout at this till they’re blue in the face, but it is a fact. A president accountable only to the Lord, puts the people he serves second.

In Britain secular tradition extends deeper, despite the lack of a constitutional divide between faith and government. Britain has never shied away from producing the likes of David Hume, Bertrand Russell or Richard Dawkins as intellectual luminaries. It is for this reason that it was all the more shocking to discover, part-way through Blair’s premiership, that some of his convictions had their origins in religious belief. To appeal to religion for guidance is, however wise the passages of holy texts may be, to appeal to a source whose reasons are not accountable to the public will. And therefore, it is to mimic the retrograde ideologies of the very religious extremists modern US-UK policy seems bent on destroying (it’s link to such regimes as Saudi notwithstanding), and to undermine democracy.

Religious influence over political affairs and the ideal of democracy are not compatible.

Please watch the BBC’s coverage of Tony Blair’s admission that God guided him through parts of his own decision making processes during the last 10 years. Of particular interest should be his conviction that he will be judged by “other people” at the end of his tenure (perhaps on earth). Since the end of his premiership, speculation has arisen on Blair’s intention to convert to Catholicism.

Responsibility In a Nuclear Age

J. Robert Oppenheimer (April 22, 1904February 18, 1967) was an American theoretical physicist best known for his role as the director of the Manhattan Project, the World War II effort to develop the first nuclear weapons, at the secret Los Alamos laboratory in New Mexico. Known as “the father of the atomic bomb,” Oppenheimer lamented the weapon’s killing power after it was used to destroy the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Famously, after the war he recounted his impressions of the bomb’s invention by quoting the Bhagavad Gita whilst trying to hold back tears on television.

In his book Heresies, John Gray reminds us that science is not the answer to mankind’s existential woes or spiritual shortcomings, nor an advance in its will to do good either; it merely amplifies our capacity to express these. Robert Oppenheimer died of throat cancer at age 62 in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1967. The video above should remind us of the responsibility mankind has in handling the fruits of scientific enterprise. The 42nd anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are coming up in August.

 

trinity_explosion.jpg

The picture above is a photograph taken of the first nuclear bomb test at The Manhattan Project. It was named Trinity by Oppenheimer.

In a 6-part series called Pandora’s Box, film-maker Adam Curtis has explored the continuing desire of mankind to fall for the illusion that scientific progress equates to progress for mankind on other levels. The theme of this unwarranted belief in science is explored in the last episode of the series, “A is for Atom”, in which Curtis examines mankind’s custody of nuclear capacity and the hope its discovery brought.

 

All Change: David Cameron vs. Tony Blair