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October 3, 2009

Does happiness require suffering?


Alan Jacobs, in an article on Iain Banks' "Culture" novels (The New Atlantis » The Ambiguous Utopia of Iain M. Banks) makes this offhand remark:
In this sense the conceit of Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" more complex than it seems at first to be: yes, it asks us what price we would be willing to pay for perfect happiness and social harmony; but it also may suggest that that one poor miserable child in the closet creates meaning for all the others -- gives their contentment a necessary contextual frame. Maybe those residents of Omelas who do not walk away, who accept the necessity of the child's suffering, are all the happier because they see the contrast between that child's life and their own.

This is a worrisome thought: that even the happiest of lives, or especially the happiest of lives, depend on the existence of conflict and suffering somewhere. This is a darker view of the human condition than one which simply affirms that contentment only comes in its truest form after struggle or suffering are overcome.

Dark indeed but, like the question of Machiavelli, more true than we care to admit.

Posted by Vanderleun at October 3, 2009 9:32 AM. This is an entry on the sideblog of American Digest: Check it out.

Your Say

True, yes. How can happiness exist even conceptually without the existence of unhappiness? The old "two sides of a coin" metaphor still holds up. It is the bane of progressivism and a host of other philosophic maladies.

Posted by: Hannon at October 3, 2009 5:03 PM

Thanks for the link...I'll have to check it out. My knee-jerk reaction is that conflict or unhappiness isn't necessary to have happiness. But they make you appreciate happiness all that much more. Just the gut reaction of having to have a family member committed yesterday for evaluation since they were a threat to themselves and others. Watching a severely delusional person successfully navigate certain processes makes me appreciate what a complex thing the mind really is...

Posted by: Chrees at October 3, 2009 6:57 PM

My sister's bahirdty is 5th of October as well.. what a coincidence..It's a small world after all!She had 3 surprise parties: one by her family, one by her school friends and one by her college friends! She turned 18!

Posted by: Nechirvan at July 14, 2012 10:54 PM

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