Happiness Note:
Insecurity
11 November 2013

¶ In the current issue of The Nation, historian Jackson Lears runs through a stack of get-happy self-help books. Laugh riot — when we weren’t weeping! When Lears dismisses most of the titles as rubbishy adjuncts to the capitalist project of endless consumption, he’s so obviously right that we overlooked the doctrinaire aspect. But the goldenest nugget was his critique of the black-and-white flattening that’s so characteristic of this breezy, brainless literature.

Burkeman’s ringing conclusion—“This, then, is the deep truth about insecurity: it is another word for life”—is a little too open-ended. By identifying all forms of insecurity with “life,” he depoliticizes it. The experience of economic insecurity, from this view, cannot be mitigated (or exacerbated) by particular public policies. Indeed, the equation of insecurity and “life,” while it does contain a “deep truth,” in the end blends all too easily with the neoliberal celebration of risk-taking as an end in itself—a celebration conducted by political and media elites who are themselves well insulated from risk. Burkeman’s notion of happiness, like the positive psychologists’, needs a thicker sense of the ways that social and economic circumstances can promote or undermine possibilities for a satisfying life.

Lears also advocates the elimination of the business-expense deduction for advertising costs. That’s just about the best idea we’ve heard all year.

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