cj#628> Crittenden on Optimism


Richard Moore

Date: Fri, 27 Dec 1996
From: Butler Crittenden <•••@••.•••>

Dear Richard,


I remain the optimist I've always been. Just a few days ago National
Public Radio carried several segments as part of a larger story on the
"psychology of happiness." The first segment struck me as pretty bad, as
some goofus from Minnesota had done a study that claims happiness is 50%
genetically determined. The headline for Dr. Lincoln's segment talked
about a "happiness gene," which he somewhat corrected when the interview
began. He says it's not just one gene, but several, and then admitted
that none are identified. But of course he's sure they're there, as he
studied "twins."

The second segment made a lot more sense, as it dealt with "optimism,"
and the researcher noted that optimistic people do better at everything,
controlling for other variables. I guess I always knew that. Perhaps
because of my grandfather.

Papa told me as a child of optimistic Charlie and pessimistic Willie
talking before Christmas. Willie was sure he wouldn't get anything, as
he never had. Dumb old train sets and the like. Nothing. Charlie, of
course, knew he'd get something great. So Christmas eve Santa was out
delivering and went to Willie's house first, and emptied the bag. When
he got to Charlie's house there was nothing left, so he bagged a pile of
horse manure from the street and put it under Charlie's tree. The next
morning the boys were talking, and Willie said he didn't get anything,
as usual. A dumb old bike, football, etc. Then he asked Charlie what he
got. As no you no doubt have already guessed, Charlie was excited and
grateful. He said: "I got a horse, but he got away."

The "happiness gene" segment is a good example to me of how dangerous
the times have become. Although the narrator quipped that with all the
newly-discovered behaviorial genes (gay, alcoholism, etc.) a happiness
gene was bound to be discovered, she did the story anyway, and no one
really challenged the whole gene interpretation of human behavior. So
the overall effect of the story is to reinforce the whole idea of genes
explaining human behavior. This is now so common in the U.S. that I fear
the next step is not far off--eliminating the people with the wrong
genes. We've done it before. Indeed, Hitler's gene laws came mostly from
the U.S. and from California's gene laws of the '20s in particular.
Scary thoughts, especially from an optimist. But there's nothing
pessimistic about "forewarned is forearmed."

One of the better points made in the segment is that optimism can be
taught. I suspect not enough is being taught. The Left, for example,
seems to have lost its optimism and idealism. Alex Cockburn was on the
Jerry Brown program a few days back, and said the Left is now so much on
the defensive that they don't offer a positive plan or alternative. He
reminded Jerry that during the '60s and even early '70s there was a
strong utopian strain on the Left. I had to smile, as that was when I
was teaching a course on "utopian organizations." But since then, he
notes, the Right has managed to turn "utopian" into a dirty word again.



P.S., I voted for Nader, and enjoyed doing so.


    Posted by Richard K. Moore  -  •••@••.•••  -  Wexford, Ireland
     Cyberlib:  www | ftp --> ftp://ftp.iol.ie/users/rkmoore/cyberlib