Adonis Diaries

Archive for September 21st, 2012

Happiness is a modern concept? What the ancient philosophers were talking about…?

In 1794, the young and radical French revolutionary Saint-Just proclaimed at the Convention: “Happiness is a new idea in Europe“.  Saint-Just was a learned man and must have read the documents and discussions of the leaders of the American Revolution and the concept that happiness is a natural right for every citizen. Was this idea of happiness similar to the one understood in Europe?

After the French Revolution, there were ideas thrown around that all citizens were entitled to eat properly, enjoy health, free time for leisure, appropriate retirement conditions…

What substituted happiness in Europe before the French Revolution?

Before the revolution, the little people were invisible and were of no concern to the nobility in these absolute monarchies, except when famine hits and the power feels the heat…

The ancient philosophers and the succeeding thinkers viewed happiness as “a way of living”, guided by virtue and reason, in relative indifference to material possession and worldly successes. It was out of the question that idiots can be considered to be happy…

It was not conceivable to claim happiness if you believed that it could have an end: Happiness was a concept directly linked to a faith in eternity and immortality.

Happiness was irreducibly an elitist acquisition, reserved for those who had the mental and material means to become wise and leisurely contemplate nature and the living people…

What could be the meaning and value of Happiness in modern time?

The “utilitarian” vision of happiness (Jeremy Bentham) proclaimed that happiness is in essence the absence of pains and aches, and the satisfaction of individual preferences can come in any order…The goal of  the activities of individuals is the greater happiness possible within the greater number of mankind “the common good”.

This “democratization” of happiness, at the reach of the little people, was denuded of its sacred meanings, detached of its religious connotations, not opposite to ephemeral and artificial pleasures…

Like what kinds of modern pleasures?

Smoking marijuana, taking cocaine, morphine, hallucinogenic products, Prozac…watching action movies, scary movies, science fiction movies…all kinds of musics, concerts, all kinds of variety of food, visiting remote regions, seeing new cultures and civilization…wearing variety of clothes…engaging in a variety of physical activities and sports…

The German philosopher Kant tried to demonstrate that happiness bears No Moral meaning. For example, there are so many objective desires that people aspire to, such as wealth, glory, power…Can we agree that these “values” are at best controversial and not evident to the little people? So many exploiters and tyrants have been swimming in happiness

How happiness was characterized before the French revolution?

1. Epicure (341-270 BC) taught in his Garden to oppose the rigor of stoicism, and to converge toward a moral of moderation “Let’s not jump into any kinds of pleasure…There is no agreeable living without a hefty dose of prudence, honesty and justice…”

2. Seneca (4 BC-65) The individual should be capable of combining reason and character in order to find pleasure from his physical faculties “I am after happiness of man and not of his stomach…”

3. Leibniz (1646-1716): “Evil exists. Considering Creation as a whole, God did his best…The grain suffer in the soil before bearing fruits…Our suffering lead the way to the good, to the greater perfection…”

4. Spinoza (1632-1677): “The essence of mankind is the desire to be happy, to live good, and to act good…The only access to happiness is to know what determine our passions in the natural order of the universe…”

And what are the visions of happiness after 1789?

5. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). All the pleasures are Not of equal values. It is better to be an unhappy Socrates rather than a happy imbecile. Individual happiness is not complete if the common good is forgotten and neglected…

6. Nietzsche (1844-1900): “Who cannot learn to take a break to forget the past, to enjoy the moment, will never appreciate happiness, and will never learn how render others happy…There is a level of insomnia, of rumination, and of historical meaning that ruin the living person and annihilate his happiness…”

7. Georges Bataille (1897-1962): “If happiness is a reaction to the call of desire, and if desire is a caprice incarnate…then happiness is the sole moral value…”

8. Michel Foucault (1926-1962): “Abstinence that leads to individual sovereignty is happiness without desire and without trouble…”

Many modern critiques and thinkers made it a business (publishing books of how to be happy…) to fall back into the archaic version of “learning to be happy…” Kind of  “if we know how to enjoy life in the cheapest way possible…” happiness can be in the reach of everyone…(except those dying of famine and of common diseases…?)

All that talks of ancient and modern ideas of happiness have no sense if not described and explained within the proper context of the period and culture. For example:

1. How an individual with a life expectancy of no more than 30 years can conceive of happiness?

2. How an individual living in the harshest conditions to survive may experience happiness?

3. How the European under absolute monarchies and with a life expectancy not surpassing 40 years could comprehend the idea of happiness?

4. How all those cow-boys of the Far West experienced the meaning of happiness?

5. Was happiness the same before, during and after the Chinese revolution?

6. Was happiness experienced in the same quality before, during and after the British dominion of India?

7. Has happiness the same meaning and value before and after the “Industrial Age“?

8. Has happiness the same meaning and value during this instant communication and traveling facilities?

9. Don’t you think as life expectancy reaches 80 years that happiness requires extensive planing and preparation as we hit retirement age? What can you do without talent after 60?  How can you be happy if your eye sight goes and your hearing capacity dwindle?

The next article intends to describe the feasibility of experiencing “happiness” within the proper context…

Note: Post inspired from a study by Ruwen Ogien in the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur #2490

Circumventing censors in the Arab States and everywhere? Is free expression the baseline of all rights?

Lebanon is a place where everyone has the freedom to shout and gather… But what

is the use if no one in the public institutions is listening?

Protests are frequent, and roads and highways blocked by burning tires…Bu twhy change and reforms are so rare, mangled, shortsighed, unfulfilling?

In its political and social system that divides the population into 18 different publicly recognized sects, every party has means to express itself, but security and religious authorities can stop anyone who challenges the system or those who are powerful in it…

Three weeks ago, news updates proclaimed that a bomb dropped by a fighter jet killed the 11 Lebanese civilians who were hijacked by Syrian insurgents over 3 months ago.

One Lebanese TV channel dispatched reporters to visit with the bereaved families and get Hot coverage.  . The immediate reaction of Lebanese tribes was to kidnap 40 Syrians and a Turkish citizen.

The news concerning the death of the Lebanese turned out to be false. Even if the news were accurate, is this sudden confronting the bereaved families publicly part of free expressions?

Censorship played a crucial role in Lebanon following the civil war… Civil rights groups are challenging censorship and claim that free expression is the baseline of all rights…

Andrew Bossone published an article in the Egyptian Weekly Al Ahram:

“Lebanese artists and organisations discussing matters of free expression say State security has considerable power, but this institution does not use a clear legal framework to support its decisions.

The Censorship Bureau of the Directorate for General Security reviews scripts for films or plays before, during and after production, and the law is vague enough to allow censorship on whim rather than on legal reason. Free speech advocates say censorship is holding back society from being unified and healing divisions from the civil war.

Ayman Mhanna, executive director of the Samir Kassir Foundation, says: “Censorship regulation in Lebanon is out-dated. It deprives artists of the ability to express their ideas as they want. Censorship prevents people from looking at other opinions and other perspectives. Ultimately, it leads to extremism, because you would only have one set of ideas that can be voiced.

After the civil war, we chose the path of amnesia and amnesty, looking back at our years of conflict. If we didn’t have that censorship, artists would have had more ideas to dig deeper into the wounds of Lebanese society.

Free opinions wouldn’t have healed them directly, but it would have contributed to a positive process that we’ve been denied so far in Lebanon.”

Beirut is generally considered a place of creative expression: Lebanon proceeded after the civil war without addressing the sectarian tensions that actually created the war. These divisions are clearly in the forefront of disputes in the country that at times bring arms to the street.

Lea Baroudi, general coordinator for the March Lebanon organisation that addresses censorship, says: “Since the war, we have lived in a taboo environment where we cannot talk about the war, we cannot talk about our differences, because the leaders thought that this was a solution to our problems…

“Freedom of expression is the right that accompanies all other rights. If you don’t have freedom of expression and you don’t have the freedom to say or advocate for what you believe in, what are we left with?”

Advocates of free expression admit that allowing any form of speech is not necessarily going to resolve all the country’s problems, but it is a starting point.

Art is often a vehicle for tackling sensitive issues.

Picasso’s “Guernica” explores the tragedies of the Spanish Civil War, and Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat confronts the authority of religious clergy, for example.

Expression may also be a means of unity by allowing open debate that allows a diversity of opinions.

Many issues have been deemed too sensitive, and expression that approaches specific red lines is often prevented from being produced, or in legal terms, the government exercises prior restraint.

According to Mhanna, these lines include talking about the president (both as an individual and an institution), the armed forces, Syria and Hizbullah, friendly nations (in particular Arab countries), enemy countries (specifically Israel), homosexuality, and incest.

Religion is also deemed a sensitive topic, and the Censorship Bureau typically sends content related to it to institutions such as Dar Al-Iftaa and the Catholic Media Centre.

Both Baroudi and Mhanna are advocating for the Censorship Bureau to be replaced with a board that would give ratings according to a system, as for films. This would head off the prior restraint moves of the government.

Regardless of censors, many artists in Lebanon are confronting sensitive issues. This is no more widespread than in music, such as hip-hop. Many Lebanese rappers talk about political matters, even if they do so using metaphors and language that avoids directly naming names.

Jackson Allers, a music promoter in Lebanon and editor of the World Hip Hop Market online magazine, says rappers have thus far avoided censors because their music has yet to reach mass appeal.

Allers says: “They feel empowered to say what they want to say and without having to worry, but I don’t think they realise they’re in a honeymoon period where they haven’t been tested and I feel like that’s coming and it’s approaching more quickly then they thought because of the proximity of Syria, because of the revolutions that are playing out elsewhere…”


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

September 2012
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