Monday, October 12, 2015

The quest for happiness

I always seem to have a tough time conveying to twenty-year old students in any of my classes that happiness might not be correlated with, nor dependent on, higher incomes.  I think they think that I am setting them up for something when I say that plenty of poorer folks are happy with their lives.  But then I would not have believed me either when I was an undergraduate student.

I wonder if even what happiness is can be truly understood only with age and experience, after all the teenage angst, and the troubles of the twenties, and everything else that unfolds in life.  Not age alone--after all, one can be old and foolish, and there are too many of those among us.  Aging is natural, but wisdom about happiness we systematically have to work for.  Old and wise is something to hope for, I suppose.

We work and earn money but are less happy than the poorer folks?  So, who then is happy?
Plato believed that the best of all lives were based upon a quest, and an arduous quest at that. People who sought the Truth were the ones who, to Plato, lived with the most intensity and even joy.
Interesting stuff from Mark Edmundson, as always.  His point of departure is this Louis CK bit.  Say more, sir.
[Plato] was devoted to finding a truth that would apply to all people at all times. What is a just state? What is a well-balanced soul? What are the uses of art? How do you educate children? When Plato attempted to answer these questions, he was trying to do so for all time. He might well have failed: Even Plato, confident as he was, understood that. Others might come along in time to do better.
The quest for Truth is an ideal. When men and women engage it, their days are alive with meaning and intensity. They know what they are doing on Earth. They know what they want. They don’t need everything to be amazing. They know that happiness comes from picking out a noble goal, an ideal, and dedicating themselves to it.
So, all we need to do is to somehow get these across to the young?
People don’t talk much about ideals any more. We don’t usually offer them as viable options to the young.
Edmundson is on to something that I have often worried about.  Maybe it is just me, I used to think, but now that I read Edmundson, I now am convinced that among the young there are fewer and fewer who seem to at least talk about grand ideals.  Is it because we adults do not talk much about ideals anymore?  Are we so focused on material comforts and ease and navel-gazing that we have no place and time for ideals?  When we don't, and when everything else that surrounds us--from movies and television to internet and even books--are far from ideals, and with a world that is increasingly secular with even the religious paying only lip-service to their religions, are we doomed to lives without ideals?  And, hence, unhappiness?
These people will feel that life ought to be more than sleeping and eating and hoarding, getting and spending and having a good time. In our current culture those people may feel confused. Where are they to go for an alternative?
There is Plato behind them but still out ahead of them; there is Homer; there are Jesus and Confucius and Lord Buddha. And perhaps they will turn to them and see a new world of possibility open up.
That's wishful thinking.  But, this happy and content guy will take that, at least for now.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Back through all the formative years of my life in the old country, I recall being feeling troubled and helpless when coming across, to use the new country language, "special" people.  For instance, across from grandmother's home was a guy who had mental health issues.  As a young boy I was then, I was even terrified by the sounds that came from him across the street--he was perhaps only ten or fifteen years older than me.  Or, the classmate whose older brother had serious mental health issues and visiting with my classmate meant I had to figure out how to navigate my own issues with him.  Or, the family friend's son, who was my age--he was such a good looking fellow, but with mental health problems that could not get resolved despite all the efforts of his physician grandfather who consulted with all the experts of the day.

So much was I bothered by these, that when I heard about something called Down's Syndrome and that a large forehead is one of the physical symptoms for it, I worried that my big forehead doomed me into a life of a பைத்தியம் (literally, mad.)

The question always remained: whatever happens to kids and adults with mental illness?

My life is now in the United States and my professional life allows me to pursue such questions for my own understanding, though even here we don't talk about the mental health issues responsibly and honestly.

These are not easy issues to inquire into and sometimes I avoid reading up about them, for my own peace of mind.  Thus, I intentionally skip some news items, like this one in the NY Times.  But then the friend's email compelled me to read it.  So, I did. I watched the video too.  I tweeted about it.  No, it was not about how India handles its mentally-challenged population, but about a different part of this world--West Africa.
Every society struggles to care for people with mental illness. In parts of West Africa, where psychiatry is virtually unknown, the chain is often a last resort for desperate families who cannot control a loved one in the grip of psychosis. Religious retreats, known as prayer camps, set up makeshift psychiatric wards, usually with prayer as the only intervention.
You might think that "camps" are good.  Except that many remain "chained by the ankle to a tree or concrete block":

Good estimates of the number of West Africans with mental illnesses living in chains are not available, in part because people are shackled out of sight — by family members, traditional healers and at prayer camps.
For all the affluent country that the US is, we do not treat the mentally ill with care and respect all the time.  Many of the homeless on the streets have varying levels of mental health problems.  Like the one described in an op-ed in today's local paper:
During my most recent visits he demonstrated truly schizophrenic behavior, shouting at imaginary demons with a continual spiel of disjointed thoughts. As time goes by, his mental condition seems to worsen.
The op-ed writer argues:
We will conclude that some form of coercion, bordering on incarceration, in a mental health facility is really not politically incorrect, but is what a civilized society should do. 
I suppose it is easier to ignore them on the streets.  I suppose it is easier to chain them to trees and hope that the lord will treat them.  But, if that is how we will treat the mentally ill, then we certainly have some atrociously screwed up understanding of what it means to be human and what it means to belong to humankind!  We humans are idiots!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Keep calm ... and toke up!

It was about four in the afternoon when I pulled into the gas station a few days ago.  On the first of this month, if you want me to be precise about the date.  Gawd!  Can I continue with my story now?

So, anyway, I gave my credit card to the gas station attendant.  "Fill up regular, please" I said.  I always, always add that "please" even though filling gas is exactly what the transaction is all about.  He got the pump going and returned the card to me.

"What's with the crowd across the street?" I asked him.

"Oh, it has been there all day long, right from about nine in the morning.  People want their pot" he laughed.

I had forgotten that on October 1st recreational marijuana was becoming legal here in Oregon. But then how does it matter to me when I have never been anywhere near pot and potheads.

"They started lining up well before the store hours" he said with more chuckles.  I suppose he is like me who can be amused very easily.

The amount sold is, ahem, high ;)
Retailers sold more than $11 million of marijuana during Oregon’s first week of legal recreational sales, outpacing the early business done in other states that have legalized pot, according to the Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association.
Oregon retailers had sales of $3.5 million by the end of opening day, saidCasey Houlihan, executive director of the association, the Statesman Journal in Salem reported. By contrast, Colorado’s first week of sales reached $5 million. In Washington, sales during the first month hit $2 million.
So, what made Oregon's sales so much higher right from the first day?  The same conditions that every other economic activity require:
 One reason Oregon posted stronger early sales was the existing medical marijuana infrastructure. More than 250 medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon have told the state they will sell to recreational customers. By contrast, Colorado had 24 stores on Day 1. Washington had just four, and a year later still has fewer than Oregon.
Oregon also has a robust supply of marijuana that’s grown to support medical marijuana users and the black market. Companies have invested in massive warehouses in Portland to grow the drug indoors, and Southern Oregon has some of the nation’s best conditions for outdoor cultivation of marijuana.
Growers don’t face strict regulations yet, so the supply can more easily flow into retail stores than it did in Washington and Colorado.
I guess the legalization has begun at the right season--it has started cooling down, the daylight hours are getting shorter, and soon the rains will be here.  All the more convenient, perhaps, to stay indoors and toke up.

Recreational pot is one heck of a job-creation opportunity, argues this lawyer who is also the cho-chair of the legislature's committee overseeing the legalization:
 if we get the new industry right, Oregon could become for marijuana what Napa Valley has become for wine. Our economy would be more robust
Hey, if wine can not only be a huge industry but also spawn wine critics, connoisseurs, and sommeliers, then why not for marijuana, eh.  What a strange world in which we live!

I am so happy with the drug that I live for ;)

Caption at the source:
Co-owner Traci Watson helps a customer at Maritime Cafe in Gladstone
on the first day of legalized recreational pot sales in Oregon, October 1, 2015 in Oregon.