Sunday, August 31, 2008

Exponential happiness: McCain, Obama, Chekhov & my 93-year-old aunt

"Oh, I could never vote for Obama," said my 93-year-old aunt.

"Why not?"

"Because he's too inexperienced."

"But what about Biden? He's had experience."

"Oh, I can't stand Biden."

"But," I argued, "McCain doesn't appear to be able to control his temper. Do you really want someone like that in charge of the Red Button? And Palin has zero experience either."

"Actually," said my aunt, "I'm not planning to vote for anyone this year. Why should I? I'm 93 years old. What do I care about what happens next?"

I was shocked. "But what about the next generations? What about them?"

"Our generation lived through the hell of the Great Depression and World War II -- and we survived. They'll figure out some way to deal with it. We did. Whatever happens next just isn't my problem."

Then I watched a video ( about how to get over fear of flying. "First," said the video, "you need to realize that everything on an airplane is always completely and continually checked and double-checked for safety. And every system and all equipment also have backup mechanisms in case of failure, and then there are three more backup mechanisms built into every system after that." Or words to that effect. I wasn't taking word-for-word notes.

But if they can build airplanes that way, why can't they build voting machines like that too? Not to mention governments.

"Second," continued the man in the video, "when you realize how the human mind works, you can see that people get anxious exponentially and that their anxieties build up after the fact. During a real crisis, one doesn't get anxious. One just acts." But after the crisis is over -- like with PTSD -- only then does one build up anxiety in one's mind, in retrospect, piece by piece -- until the accumulated anxieties get out of control.

Well. If we humans can get anxious exponentially, then why can't we get happy exponentially too?

What would make me happy? Living in a world where we have leaders who are smart enough to avoid spending over half of the planet's wealth on weapons!

How can I reach that level of happiness exponentially? Good question.

At the housing co-op where I live now, I've spent the last 15 years watching our Board of Directors serve their own financial self-interests instead of the co-op's best interests. So I sued the bastards. And lost. So I sued them again. And won. And yet when it came time to vote to fix our leaking roofs at the last Board meeting, the Board was actually going to vote to NOT fix the roofs -- apparently to save themselves having their rents raised.


But then apparently someone on the Board actually seemed to remember my lawsuits -- and the Board then actually voted to fix the roofs! Boy, was I happy. Happiness begins small and then expands.

The women of Afghanistan organized locally against the Taliban. The Continental Congress organized locally against the British. And Jesus organized locally against hypocritical religious leaders. The moral? One by one, if we work at it really hard, us "meek" people of the world can exponentially organize to inherit the earth.

That would make me VERY happy.

Or else, like my 93-year-old aunt, we can just leave our messes for the next generation to deal with.

PS: Speaking of organizing the world locally, I just went to a lecture on Anton Chekhov. The man was born into brutal poverty in pre-revolutionary Russia, became a doctor despite his hardships, wrote some of the world's greatest literature, set up over a hundred free clinics during a cholera epidemic while making over 500 house calls simultaneously, did all of this with a bad case of tuberculosis and died before he reached age 50.

If Chekhov can accomplish that many good deeds even during his short lifetime on earth, surely we who now have the opportunity to live to age 100 and beyond can try to do at least half as much.