Monday, December 29, 2008

what bus?

one of my boys had one of those never-again experiences with a National Express bus driver back from London before Christmas, so I checked on the complaints procedure and whacked one in.

fourteen days later, and still nothing, I thought I'd do some delving, and came across this.

UK and US unions call for investigation at National Express Group amid resignation of Chairman David Ross

so I don't think I'll be wasting any more time with procedures.

Friday, December 26, 2008

You deserve to be happy

says who?

the militant be-happy hitlers trot it out at every opportunity. it's the kneejerk there-there hankie-proffering accompaniment to any emotional knock-back of the he/she dumped me why o why my life is over kind. it amplifies the less convincing, patently untrue "Everything's going to be alright", and imbues the miserable with a momentarily distracting sense of moral outrage: my fundamental right to happiness has been infringed. it's illegal! who can I sue?

simple answer: Thomas Jefferson - he who in 1776 promoted "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" as top three of the "inalienable rights" of man in the United States Declaration of Independence. Jefferson, however, was actually paraphrasing John Locke, whose 'Two Treatises of Government' were approved in Virginia only a few days before the Second Continental Congress, but whose own top three were, actually, "life, liberty, and estate". clearly, the Locke route would have precipitated much less self-indulgent misery down the years: estate (property), after all, can be acquired, with money - something we can all understand - whereas Money Can't Buy Me Love (=happiness).


mumbling nitpickers have pointed out that the right to pursue happiness isn't quite the same as the right to be happy - but as this comes into the same category of bar-room banter surrounding American creation myths as the perennial to-ing and fro-ing about the right to bear arms, it's really not worth getting into a lather over.

Jefferson, of course, was naïve to imagine that something so nebulous as the right to 'happiness' could be included in the welcome package at the birth of a nation - although such apparent naïveté perhaps masks a less smiley-faced political agenda: the late eighteenth century was after all a period bursting with Utopian as well as Revolutionary ideas, and what could have been more populist, at such a time, than to propose hitching the impossible to the contentious and stamping all three together under the imprimatur of constitutional legislation. (the French - doyen of the European Revolutionary Age - pointedly omitted le bonheur from their own top triad of liberté, égalité, and fraternité.)


what's done is done, and the consequence of such flimflammery is that we are obliged now to listen to the brattish bawling of that righteous legion of jilted, dumped, double-crossed, shafted and like so totally pissed off people who genuinely believe, poor dears, that they have been cheated of their right to be happy.

I could have been a contender! boo-hoo.

the truth is, we barely have the right to breathe, let alone to act freely, without acquiescing to the implicit contingencies of those rights: the terms of these freedoms are going to appear either reasonable or tyrannical depending on your point of view. we might, for instance, consider that we have the 'right' to roam wherever we like, do whatever we like, whenever we like, take whatever we want, in whatever circumstances we discover it, and we might believe that property is theft, that the stress should be on the commonality of the common wealth, and that authority is definitively synonymous with oppression. or we might believe that the health of the body politic is only maintained at the expense of a defined set of legally enforceable limitations of such 'rights', that the price of such social must-haves as universal franchise, free education and health care, the 'right' to free expression of our opinions and religious foibles, freedom from want and hunger and the depredations of pirates and highwaymen and teenagers in hoodies is a fractional tax on our behaviour as well as our income - that liberty, in other words, is not a given absolute, but a relative condition, something that only exists in relation to other things like social responsibility, self-scrutiny, and vigilance.

obviously, it's preferable to be happy rather than miserable. this is why Buddhists, whose premise, more pragmatically than most, is that the ground bass of life is suffering, feel obliged to walk around with that idiot fixed smile on their faces all the time. it's very nice when it happens. and it does happen from time to time. even to me. but, if it's not happening, it's not something to get all litigious about.

ever the fan of Diogenes, I have been known to play a game inspired by his glorious and legendary cynicism. called Hunting the Happy, it was predicated on the understanding that it's really quite easy to spot someone who's genuinely happy, because they're the ones who aren't either fake-smiling and wishing one all the benefactions that the best of good days can shower upon one as they count out one's change, or they're the ones who aren't shuffling along living-dead style with an expression of grim endurance on their face as they suffer the endless loop of transit from the hell of home to the hell of work or vice versa. so, on any given journey (from home to the shops usually used to work, but the longer the better), I would set out to count the number of happy people I saw. the number was always low, but when I started to apply a few reality-filters - my Evil Conditions of Exclusion (no children, no lovers, no alcohol or drugs involvement, no hippies, no Buddhists, no cultists or village idiots), the number dropped to zero. always. and it became too depressing so I had to stop playing it.

'happiness', crucially, operates by a fundamentally different set of attributes than apply to any seriously comprehensive view of the world: it's a very strange person who can profess to be 'happy' at the same time as professing to care about cruelty, injustice, oppression, or inequality, in any form that contradicts our espousal to the cause of aforesaid 'inalienable rights'. such confusion is forgivable in a child, but the continuation of such childlike reconciliations into adulthood is - well - a bit gay, a bit hippy, a bit too fucking DUMB for anyone's good. and yet this is where we are. we want - we want desperately - to be happy, choosing wilfully to ignore the fact that the only way to be happy for anything other than the few fleeting moments in any given lifetime when it might actually happen of its own accord is to wrap ourselves in a cosy cocoon of pre-adult oblivion in which neither intellect nor personal moral barometer is engaged.

however, as age and experience lend unwelcome if incontrovertible evidence to the proposition that, in fact, happiness of the childlike kind is the ineluctable province either of childhood or of such childish states of mind as can only be emulated in adulthood with the assistance of drugs and booze and god, there gradually emerges the initially wearisome discovery of a compensating mechanism - that all-over glowy feeling it's possible to get from putting a smile on someone else's face. it's hardly comparable, it's true, to the passionate pyrotechnics of, say, falling in love, but, unlike that kind of happiness, it's guaranteed to stay the course. one doesn't have to be a saint to be neighbourly, polite, thoughtful, kind, and generous, but, eccentric though it might sound to a generation dedicated to the axiom that all men and a few token women and blacks are born free to pursue their constitutional right to happiness, there might actually be a grain of truth in the old saw about virtue being its own reward.