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Happiness: a zero-sum game?

Stephen Herrington, in his recent post at Huffington Post, "No one will every be happy again," makes clear that the "fear" of a zero-sum game has had the paradoxical effect of causing people to accept an "actual" zero-sum game… even though it has never been necessary to do so.

Fear-mongering, exploitation of ignorance, monopolization and manipulation of the news media, and good old GOP obstructionism that intends only to "prove" the ineffectiveness of government… these are the tools (combined with the profound demoralization of much of the electorate, especially liberals/ progressives) that have been used to bring us to this place where class warfare has been stripped of its new clothing and revealed in all its hoary grotesqueness.

Three key paragraphs from Herrington’s post:

One might be tempted to try and compromise, to find solutions that will make these disparate groups less unhappy by inches. Obama appears to be trying that. But in the attempt to make improvements in our condition by means on which all agree, he [Obama] confronts the widest ideological division of our body politic that we have seen since the Civil War, and an opposition that is resolute in that they don’t care how bad they make it for the American people, the worse the better.

Even if it were possible to combine the antithetical ideologies of these groups in a compromise government, the result in public policy would be so schizophrenic as to achieve nothing but further insanity. If Lincoln had compromised with the South, for a hypothetical, we might have had slavery made illegal but only from dusk to dawn. No one would have been happy.

In order to solve America’s fevered political delirium, clear departures need be made. In order to subdue those in our political landscape who are unprincipled, the policy postures of those opposing change must be discredited, not only through dialogue, but through the certain generational successes that implementation of change will bring. The Republicans are so invested in a philosophy that is so magnificently wrong that to compromise with it is to limit the best in us by burdening us with the parasitic worst of us. This paraphrase of Aynn [sic] Rand is a conclusion with which she would now agree. Reagan and Greenspan proved her world view to be flawed on the largest stage in the most real way possible. The empiricist in her would have to agree. The villain is not socialism, it is greed and laziness, regardless of an economic system.

[emphases are mine]

Herrington thinks we must first win this fight against greed and laziness, rather than socialism, in order to achieve anything else. I’m not sure the battle is winnable on his terms.

If anything, we must continue to connect the dots– as poignantly as possible– between the misbegotten policies that have brought us to this place where no one is happy now, and hardly anyone can project happiness into the future. Fighting on academic or philosophical or economic terms is not likely to succeed… after all, ignorance and pride of ignorance– have won the day. Demonstrating the cost of such ignorance must be the beginning.

Elites will never voluntarily surrender the power we have allowed them to have over us, but we peasants can be roused to reclaim it.

The bottom line is that I don’t really believe that happiness is a zero-sum game, despite how many people tell me that I’m too cynical about the current political landscape. They tell me that because I’m paying more attention than they are, though perhaps not quite as much attention as many here. Still, I take the time to ground myself in my daily life, and in that I find small bursts of happiness.

I know that Obama has inherited some seemingly impossible tasks, but watching him trying to compromise with the GOP who have made it a point of honor to demonstrate the impotency of a federal government (while so many of them hypocritically hold elective office) is like watching a far-too-long play in theater of the Absurd. Time for a new strategy.

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