Hooray for suffering!

Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart (born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz; November 28, 1962) is an American political satirist, writer, television host, actor, media critic and stand-up comedian. He is widely known as host of The Daily Show, a satirical news program that airs on Comedy Central. | Jon Stewart, Comedian, Comedy Central, Liberal, Democrat, Teeth,

Some pundits are happiest when America's miserable.

Back before 9/11 came along, some people thought Americans were too damn happy.
Right-wing pundit Irving Kristol, for example, was horrified that with the USSR gone, the USA wasn't planning to take on the rest of the world: "What's the point of being the greatest, most powerful nation in the world and not having an imperial role? It's unheard of." Instead of sending troops to occupy the Third World, we were wasting our time on discussing unimportant crap such as Medicare!
In the wake of 9/11, Frank Rich dismissed the 1990s'you know, when the economy was growing, unemployment was lower and the government had priorities other than war'as "a frivolous if not decadent decade-long dream." David Brooks wrote that "it is no longer possible to live so comfortably in one's own private paradise." and that after 9/11, Americans "are less interested in things like money and career and more interested in things like family, heart, God, and health."
I've heard the same argument made about a bad economy: Hardship and unemployment make people more moral by forcing them to sacrifice. Brooks has written several columns explaining that the 21st century recession makes the 99 percent spend less and live within their means, so it's a net gain for America. Right-winger Walter Williams argued some years back that if eliminating Social Security leaves seniors in poverty, that's a good thing. Their kids will have to support them, which brings families closer together.
I don't know what drug pundits take before they write stuff like this, but I'd advocate banning it, immediately.
I freely agree that when peace and prosperity abound, people get frivolous (myself included). If the economy is good enough we can work a 40-hour week and then goof off, some people will use their down time to create great art or invent the next tech revolution. Most of us will play video games, read, watch TV, have sex or post cat photos to Facebook. We will not achieve greatness.
But you know what? An America where people have the option to just kick back and not struggle unless they want to is a good thing. It's a much better sign our government and our business leaders are doing their jobs than waging endless war.
John Stuart Mill covered the "Yay, suffering!" line of thought two centuries back. As he put it, some people see idle pastimes and easy living as proof civilization has sapped the people's determination, grit and resolution, compared to when they struggled for survival. Therefore, "the work of civilization should be as far as possible undone" so we can get back to a purer, harsher, more demanding existence. By that reasoning, terrorist attacks and recession are a world of win.
Of course, the pundits who take that view don't actually think "we" should get back to a less frivolous life'it's more of a thing other people need, not them. Brooks isn't quitting his high-paying columnist and television gigs so he can preserve his moral fiber with a minimum wage job. Rich may believe America at war is superior to the "fat, daydreaming America" of the 1990s, but his (and Kristol's) idea of contributing to the war effort is writing columns urging our leaders send other people off to fight and die.
As George Orwell said, "the people who write that kind of stuff never fight; possibly they believe that to write it is a substitute for fighting." I'd drop the "possibly."
I'm really sorry that the thought of Americans being happy, safe and financially secure doesn't satisfy the warhawks' national pride the way bloodshed and high unemployment do. But until they want to make the same sacrifices they urge on everyone else, I rather wish they'd shut up about it.

Comment on Facebook

Updated May 22, 2018 1:43 AM UTC | More details


©2018 AND Magazine

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without express written permission from AND Magazine corporate offices. All rights reserved.