Monday 7 January 2008

We're all doomed

Another inspired pairing from the Guardian: Madeleine Bunting on Oliver James. One cultural pessimist reviewing another. In fact, Bunting is less fulsome about James' latest prophecy of doom than one might have expected, though she doesn't dispute his central thesis that people are generally less happy than they were a generation ago and that modern liberal capitalism is to blame. 

I find it difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is about Oliver James' ideas that I find so deeply annoying. Perhaps it's the de-contextualised positivist psychology which assumes that 'happiness' is an objective and quantifiable 'something' that you can measure scientifically, and with an unchanging meaning that means you can compare surveys taken 50 years apart in very different social circumstances. Or it could be the hint of class condescension - perhaps more evident in James' supporters such as Bunting - that seeks to deny the huge improvements in physical and emotional well-being experienced by the mass of the population, as a result of the material and social advances of recent times. (When members of my grandparents' generation told researchers they were 'happy' with their lot, they may have simply been reflecting the limited expectations that had been bred into them in an unequal society.) But it's probably just my irritation at hearing James recycle his non-analysis of the supposed sins of 'Blatcherism' (geddit?) in every interview, like a schoolboy repeating a joke that he's ever so proud of but which nobody else finds funny or original.

Anyway, it was heartening to see James' theories finally getting the drubbing they deserve from Oliver Kamm here.

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