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On wanting life to be good - Input Junkie
October 22nd, 2012
10:37 pm


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On wanting life to be good
Quoted with permission from a friendslocked post:
Little kids, let's say ages 3-8, have very strong and decided opinions about what they want. What they want seems to be pretty well-defined, too -- if there's ever a time when you have innocent, un-self-conscious desires, it's early childhood. And when you want something, you want as much of it as possible. In my case it involved desserts, frilly dresses and pretty things generally, freedom to run around and explore everywhere, and all the books I could read. If I liked something, I didn't want some of it, I wanted all of it. I never wanted it to stop.

And then, somewhere around 8 or 9, both my sister and I got socialized out of that. It showed up most obviously in aesthetics, because I drew a lot. I went from making everything maximally pink and rainbow and frilly, to believing that all that stuff was too obvious and childish and I had to give it up and say my favorite color was blue. It has something to do with...the sense that it's greedy, or childish, or unserious, to just maximize what you naively would think is the prettiest or the most fun. It was mostly a result of upbringing, I think. The message that you had to grow up and be serious and couldn't expect the world to be all "pink roses," as my dad put it long ago. If I hadn't had the stereotypical immigrant-kid's upbringing, I would probably have turned out to be a writer. My sister would have probably been an actress. She was a natural performer when she was a child -- a fearless little ham. It was around 8 or 9 that her natural demeanor got drilled out of her and she became shy and a bit neurotic. We were taught, as, I assume (?) most children are taught, that you can't always get what you want, and you shouldn't even really want to get everything you want.

At every stage, some humanist asked the world to be a bit unreasonably nice. What does it feel like, to encounter somebody who goes around saying you have a right to better treatment than you ever dared hope for as a favor? And why is it, that when somebody says we ought to have a world that's better than our idea of normal, that there's such a strong impulse to deny it?

I suspect that there's a pattern in childhood that goes like:
1. "I want that!" (Or, "I like that!")
2. "You can't have that, and you're selfish/babyish for even asking." (Or, "You're selfish/babyish for liking that.")
3. "Ok, fine, I won't even *want* that. Nobody's going to humiliate or hurt me again."

And this is how you get adults who seem to be very committed to things that are the opposite of good. People who sincerely, ardently defend the idea that "Life's not fair or nice and you have to get used to it," and in the process defend cruelty and suffering and seem to have very topsy-turvy ideas.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/557246.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

(3 comments | Leave a comment)

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Date:October 23rd, 2012 04:45 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2012 05:02 am (UTC)
I'm going to refer you to Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, which discusses the secular trend to decreasing violence. Pinker is a bit more left than I am but he has things to say that I find worth thinking about.
[User Picture]
Date:October 24th, 2012 04:21 am (UTC)
It seems to me that there is a distinction between growing up and realizing that the world is not arranged to give you all you want, and that you must acquire resilience and the capacity to do without, and losing the ability or to want things, with accompanying anhedonia. I don not think that stoic fortitude is the same as a loss of the capacity for joy, but one can shade into the other.
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