Monday, 26 March 2007

The Fraud of Happiness

In February 2007, the European Commission published European Social Reality, a report of the results of a survey of 26,755 people living in 27 European countries (the European Union member states plus Bulgaria and Romania). One of the questions asked in the survey was: "taking all things together would you say you are…very happy, quite happy, not very happy or not at all happy?". In the 25 European Union states, 89% of respondents described themselves as very or quite happy. This is propaganda directed at one's self. In an era in which the revolutionary transformation of society has largely ceased to be regarded as a practical and imperative project for individuals, the inevitable deficiency of an everyday life relentlessly subjected to the dictatorship of the economy places the individual in a quandary. How does one respond to the poverty, stupidity and inanity that afflict an everyday life crushed beneath economic, social and political systems that are constructed out of the powers and work expropriated from individuals but are nowhere under individuals' control? One could admit that one's life is wretched and try yet another electronic toy, therapy, drug, guru, sport, self-help regime, cultural event, holiday, style, job, crime, etc; and, indeed, these measures for refurbishing life without changing any of the basic conditions that made it lamentable in the first place remain popular. But it would seem that there are few of us who are prepared to threaten our shaky self-esteem by admitting to too great a disappointment with the life we lead. Hence the ubiquity of professed happiness. We may from time to time become horrifically aware of the emptiness and degrading narrowness of the domains of family life, friendship, entertainment, study, work, travel, etc, in which we are condemned to pretend to live, but we are surely happy. We may feel tired, bored, sick in mind and body because of the humiliating garbage we are required to think, say and do every day, but we are surely happy. We may rummage with mounting desperation through the commodified joy, fun and ecstasy offered by a Bacchanalian consumer capitalism, but we are surely happy. These are the lies we tell to keep us from cutting our throats.