Friday, February 17, 2006

Stand for Something! Pt. 2

I was perusing the Numeric Life blog and came upon the following post: "Why Republicans Are Happier than Democrats?" (For your convenience, I'll just paste the short article below.)

The recent Pew poll confirms a 30 plus years, longstanding trend: Republicans say they are happier than Democrats. This year, 45% of Republicans said they were “very” happy as opposed to 29% of Democrats. That’s a big gap.

What make people happy? After using statistical technique known as multiple regression analysis (which gauges the relationship between each factor and happiness while controlling for all the other factors), the analysis shows that the most important factors to happiness are good health, decent income, high church attendance, being married and, yes, being a Republican. So the conclusion is this - happiness is probably connected to some other facet of life that also inclines people to be Republicans.

In essence, the post comments went something like this: "Ignorance is bliss, and republicans are ignorant. Not only are they ignorant, they willfully choose to ignore truth and the problems of the world."

So, I decided to leave my own comment, which turned out to be very long. I believe so much in what I wrote that I thought my comment deserved it's own spot on Busy Nothings. After writing it, I realized that it's not so different from another post I wrote about a month ago called "Stand for Something!" The thoughts expressed in that post and the comment below probably represent me more than anything else I have written lately. That is, those convictions are probably my strongest. Anyway, here's the comment I left on Numeric Life:

Hm. As far as the education comment goes, I would say that if happiness is related to education, the relation is that educated people are more happy because they make more money, and perhaps they are more satisfied with themselves -- with the knowledge that they have gone to school, learned a trade or skill, whatever.

OK. I see where the last few comments are going -- ignorance is bliss, right? And I'd like to say that there are just as many ignorant democrats in the world as there are republicans. It's not just republicans who ignore the problems of the world. I'm so sick of that argument . . .

I really have NO idea why the survey came out the way it did, but my proposal is this: In general, I think republicans really stand for something. If they believe in a certain religion or politic or moral, then they really stand by it and stand for it. Some of their beliefs may be completely off-the-wall, but they know who they are, at least. And having a sense of self goes a long way toward happiness in life.

Democrats, in general -- Actually, I'm not going to break this argument into the characteristics of two parties. Instead, I'll make the distinction between conservatives and liberals. So. Liberals, in general -- don't seem to know what they believe in. For them, all choices are right; no belief is wrong -- except the belief that there is one right way. They seem to say that having one set of values is not enough -- the world needs to accept all values. Because of that need to satisfy everyone, I think left-wingers don't have a surety of what they believe in -- except, as I said before, the belief that there is no one right answer. In my experience, my liberal friends are often unsure of who they are and what they stand for. They can't really make decisions one way or another and kind of attach themselves to every cause. This leads to frustration, feeling lost and lonely, and unsure of anything. And that's anything but happy.

And I think more republicans are conservative; therefore, more republicans are happy. Yet, that does sound a bit too simplistic. Maybe it sounds simplistic because it's true, though.

Anyway, I'm starting to ramble here. I wish I had more time and space to really explain my thoughts. But this is only a blog comment, and I hope I made sense!

Thing I'm thankful for: That HTML is a lot simpler than I expected it to be!


Blogger Sara said...

In the half hour since I made this post, I have been mulling over the whole thing. And I want to clear something up. As I've pointed out, I think it's crucial to believe in something and stand for it; yet I also think it's important for people to be persuaded, if called to. There's a fine line between stubbornness and conviction. So I guess I would say to know what you believe, know why you believe it, and be willing to listen to others and make informed decisions.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

Since the "education comment" was mine, I'd like to address it. I was insinuating (as you know, Sara) that education (and/or money) does NOT equal happiness. In fact, I believe the opposite. And maybe, if you want to take it that way, "Ignorance is bliss." But that's not exactly what I meant.

Haven't you read Candide? The farmer is the happiest of all the people that Candide meets because he enjoys "the simple things" in life. (Specifically, the farmer has concocted ice cream, which we can all agree, brings a certain amount of happiness.)

I completely believe (and I'm gonna "stand for something" here) that, while there is some satisfaction in understanding a difficult passage of literature or solving an equation, the happiness or contentment that comes from, say, a child's laugh or being in nature or ice cream, far surpasses that satisfaction from "deeper" accomplishments. For me, anyway.

If the "eduaction comment" alludes that ignorance is bliss, then that's what "ignorance is bliss" means to me. I think it's more like "simplicity is bliss" with no negative connotation implied.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Jacki said...

Sara you make some good points! I feel that more republicans believe in God too. That can bring a lot of happiness!

4:14 PM  
Blogger Blake said...

"O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are ewise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not."

- 2 Ne. 9:28

10:48 PM  
Anonymous brian said...

Having looked over some of the Numeric Life stuff the other day, I wondered if I'd be seeing this again.

Whee... super long comment time! :^)

I'll have to stand for something here and disagree with the generalization that liberals don't stand for anything. It's a straw man argument. (We create a fictitious group of people, call them "24 fans," say "24 fans are like such and such," and talk about how they're wrong about this and that without checking to see if 24 fans are really like what we're saying they're like.)

I'm not saying that we can't find liberals that don't stand for anything and are unhappy as a result, but having many liberal friends and finding myself on the liberal side of some issues myself, I have to point out, many of us stand for things. Probably more of us than you think. We often don't stand for the same things as conservatives, but we stand, work, and fight for them just as much as conservatives.

One thing I run into with some of my conservative friends is a difficulty distinguishing between not standing for something and standing for a different view of something than they have.

For example, let's say I don't support teaching intelligent design in school or requiring schools to teach children that evolution is probably untrue despite the observable evidence. In the case of teaching creationism or intelligent design in public schools, I stand for a very specific interpretation of "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" (The Bill of Rights, Amendment I).

Even though I believe that God created everything around us, I don't believe that Congress is allowed to pass any law that requires students to learn that God created the earth. That's parents' job, and I don't want Congress interfering with it. The Bill of Rights says that I can teach my children how the universe was created without the state getting in the way. I shouldn't have to un-teach whatever religious beliefs the public schools teach my children before teaching them what our religion teaches. (And evolution isn't a religious belief, it's a scientific theory based on conventionally observable evidence. Religion is based on faith and spiritually observable evidence.)

Unfortunately, people sometimes interpret this stance as standing for nothing because I'm letting science that they see as incompatible with religion get taught in school. Instead, I'm standing for the government sticking to the protections that the Bill of Rights promises: you can't teach my kids your religion in public school. (And it doesn't make a special allowance to change the science curriculum because I don't want to have to explain to my kids that sometimes what scientists find out about the world doesn't match with what we read in the bible every day. I'll have to suck it up and talk with my kids about how science and religion work.)

So how do I stand for that position? I tell people why I think it's a bad idea to teach the majority's religious beliefs in public school even though they're mostly the same as mine. I try to get informed about who's running in school board elections, whether they stand for imposing the majority religious view on everybody in public school, and I vote against them. (Unfortunately, I'm not doing an especially good job, because we just had school board elections in Cobb county and we're still requiring disclaimers on science books that mention evolution.)

Now to talk statistics and conclusions.
Numbers don't always say what people say they do. As a fun example, the pastafarians point out that global warming is caused by the decline in the number of pirates since the early 1800s. They point out that there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between these two things.

If we look at the numbers we find... there is an inverse relationship! But using that relationship to claim that global warming is a result of "not enough pirates" is ridiculous because we can't prove that pirates did anything to prevent global warming and we're totally ignoring everything else that's happened in the world since 1820 that might have had a more direct effect. (Like the industrial revolution, emission of greenhouse gases, women's suffrage, and the increase in worldwide readership of Charles Dickens.)

So just because 45% of republicans say they're very happy and only 29% of democrats say the same doesn't mean we can necessarily conclude that being republican (conservative) will make you happier than being democrat (liberal) will.

To finish up, there's one key problem I see with interpreting this poll too broadly.
We know that the poll measures what people say about how happy feel, it asks how much money they make, how much they think money buys happiness, and it asks them what political party they consider themselves part of.

But because we're asking people how happy they think they are, we're going to get fuzzy numbers for happiness because different people have a different take on what "very happy," "pretty happy," and "not too happy" mean. What I consider a very happy life for me might feel like a not too happy life for you. (Maybe I just like being happy more than you do, or maybe I just like saying I'm happy more. Hard to say.)

11:51 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

Hm. Point taken, Brian. Well said. Definitely well said. I like what you said about the subjectivity of the word "happy." And I fully realize that the post was based on a poll, which may not even be that accurate. It probably isn't. I suppose my post was more of a response to other people's comments on that Numeric Life blog, rather than the actual blog. So it was definitely an emotionally charged comment. I would consider myself a conservative voter, but a liberal thinker, which I think can be two VERY different things.

But I'm still sticking to what I said. I think believing in something and sticking by it increases personal happiness. But you're right, maybe politics doesn't have anything to do with it. I WAS making HUGE generalizations. But as I said before, it has been my experience that what I described was the case for my "liberal" friends. But you would say the complete opposite for your group of friends. Interesting.

Maybe we should start our own poll group.

1:38 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

I think my next post should go something like this:

Republicans vs. Democrats. Go.

1:52 AM  
Anonymous xuhoch said...

Heh... to clarify something, I completely agree with you on the idea that it's difficult to be happy (if it's possible) if you don't sand for something. My main point was what you took from it... that some liberals do stand for things. But as you point out, some don't, and they're unhappy as a result.

The response was a bit heavier than I intended, but I think I'd hit a breaking point on not standing up for liberals, and I'd like to think that I'm among friends here and can be straightforward about these kinds of things. (It's certainly seemed that way to me thus far, sorry if I've hurt that feeling for anybody.)

And as I mentioned in the lj post, I was a bit worried I'd end up offending people rather than successfully making any point. It's happened to me before, and anytime I bring up a view different from other folks at church, people start getting really uncomfortable.

(That said, I had a really interesting conversation with Ryan once. He's super conservative and we were talking about something where I'm really liberal, so it made for a really cool moment where everybody was getting along even though we really disagreed with each other.)

Which makes a great transition to... instead of Republicans vs. Democrats, can we do Republicans and Democrats. It'd be great, like playing Contra and working together instead of fighting each other like... Street Fighter or something.

5:52 PM  

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