"I favor general use of the psychic-prison metaphor to free people from the traps of favored ways of thinking and to unleash their power and creativity."
--Gareth Morgan
"We cannot just remodel the prison. No, we've got to get out of it."
--W. Edwards Deming

Monday, February 25, 2008

Scared Happy

From a comment posted to an online article:
"People in Singapore do not have a right to be unhappy, technically speaking we do not have civil liberties, namely we do not have the right to free speech, nor the right to assemble, nor the right to protest, etc. The Singapore people are afraid of the government, we cannot speak up and voice our unhappiness since it would clearly breach an OB marker. Being 'unhappy' is a serious matter in Singapore since it implies the authorities are not doing something right and they do not take such matters lightly. Growing up in Singapore, we are conditioned to accept the Singapore way of life as is, unquestioning and unopposing. Essentially we are technically 'happy' because we are afraid. In the end, happiness is subjective and for me, 'I am a happy Singaporean'. Trust me, you would be too if you grew up here; and no I'm not kidding."

This reminded me of one definition for totalitarianism: it is the process of defining other people's happiness for them. I came across this definition in Howard Schwartz's writings on organizational psychodynamics. Schwartz gives the original credit for this definition to Earl Shorris, who wrote about totalitarianism so defined as a central theme in his book, Scenes from Corporate Life. Here is one critical review of Shorris' book.
A striking fictional representation of being "scared happy" that I remember seeing long ago is a scene from an old science fiction movie where, as I recall, weary wayfarers ala Grapes of Wrath are led into to a new camp. In stark contrast to the memorable scene in the film Grapes of Wrath in which Jane Darwell's character reacts to the unexpected generosity of the camp leader, the sci fi movie's leader offers this chilling remark: "People are happy here. And if they're not happy, then we kill them."

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