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Is a Serious Problem by Dennis Prager
Is a Serious Problem is for the self-satisfied. Like
other "experts," Dennis Prager assures us there are no good
definitions of happiness. He writes an entire chapter dedicated to that opinion.
(It mercifully ends after two half pages.)
Though he refuses to define happiness, Prager does have an equation for unhappiness. Those unfamiliar with three-dimensional wave equations brace yourselves: U=I-R. U is unhappiness, I is images, and R represents reality.
this insight with the discoveries of the Canon Corporation (image is
everything), and Eastern religions (reality is nothing), we find
unhappiness is everything minus nothing, therefore everything.
formula for unhappiness has something to do with avoiding struggle and cognitive
dissonance, but I am developing a headache from all this difficult math and
must move forward.
is happiness? Happiness is rice cakes dipped in potassium cyanide, a life free
from non-Pickwickian social critics. (Oops, straw person version.)
Prager's claims resemble some claims of Schopenhauer: The satisfaction of desires leads to new desires, some causing misery and some never satisfied. Therefore, you should engage in a general scale back of desires. Of course, You do not have to be a wanton in the matter, a point that this book fails to emphasize.
issue this book fails to deal with properly: A general scale back of
desires causes problems--boredom, apathy, cynicism,
isolation, neurosis, asceticism. Prager fails to enlighten on
properly targeting desires.
Prager argues a curious Seinfeldian flaw detector dominates our lives, "the missing tile" syndrome. When we see a beautiful tiled surface with one tile missing, we notice the missing tile more than the beauty. This detector is preoccupied with finding tiny flaws in things wonderful. For example: A beautiful woman with six fingers. (Perhaps this syndrome is why Prager fails to note the flaws in neoconservatism. neoconservatism is an unwonderful warehouse of moral flaws. It is missing most of the tiles. Or to put it another way: Why bother noticing the scratches when the car is wrapped around a tree.)
"missing tile" detector must itself be flawed. When I see a tiny flaw
in a beautiful woman, I don't think about how bad the flaw is. I think
the flaw is cute and humanizing. But apparently I have failed in
following the "moderate" road to becoming nitpicking. I thought
Seinfeld was funny because it was grotesquely shallow, but maybe others admire
the Seinfeld quartet for being like themselves.
better points here are obvious: Stop
comparing yourself to others is something some may not have heard before. In
fact if you buy a large quote book filled with positive quotations you will find
Prager’s better points uttered far more concisely by others born
hundreds, if not thousands of years ago.
points made by the author include: Accept the things you can not change, accept
the things you can change, accept the things you should change because, internal
contradictions aside, society is weakened by “reforming it excessively and
unjustly.” (Reform is synonymous beneficial. Maybe he meant changing it unjustly.)
And why should we avoid reform? Perhaps we would screw up the reform job
because we spend so much time being misinformed by mistaken media folks on the
radio. (Societies that rarely reform themselves have no suffering, perhaps
because they no longer exist.)
should we strive for in life? “As in every other aspect of life, the middle
road is the road to happiness[,]” also known as the long, slow moderate road
to hell or hedonism minus the drugs. Prager’s middle road should not be
confused with Aristotle’s.
argues that happiness is a duty because lack of happiness leads to negative
affective states such as anxiety, which supposedly leads to evil. Then again,
maybe blind happiness leads to worse evils. Suicide bombers might be happy. Prager
offers mostly foregone conclusions and little evidence for his theory of
happiness. Don't bother looking for research evidence in this book. Prager
thinks scientists believe whatever they want to believe, therefore it would be useless for him to include research evidence.
warns that "expectations," meaning hope plus certainty, wreck
happiness. (This does not apply to fiction. Fictional characters who have their
hopes devastated to such an extent that their spirits drain onto sidewalks are
object of pathos or amusement, in which case the audience is made happier or at
least temporarily amused.
Prager’s website reveals Prager's idea of a moral hero: The knuckleheaded aesthetic "protagonist" from the film Life Is Beautiful because he
“devotes his life to protecting his young son's innocence” and optimism. Put
on a happy face, empty your head and evil melts away. Geez, did it ever occur to
Prager that the protagonist’s moral duty was to protect and save lives, not
optimism and innocence?
might call this bourgeois morality, but bourgeois morality is much better than this.
Prager's work is closer to a self-satisfied, self-absorbed, neoconservative
version of yogi morality.
all is not bad. Prager musters some decent ideas from
elsewhere: Self-pity is habit forming, I can control my reactions more than I
can control outside forces, be friendly to the wait staff.
I give this work a good, hearty, happy rating of not recommended.
review article by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 24, 2009.
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