Ideas on Happiness

While in Europe I read two books seemingly unrelated, but I found a few interesting ties. The first was by James Gunn, The Joy Makers, which consists of three parts, apparently each published separately in Sci-Fi mags in the 1954-55 timespan, then later collected as a book. Each of the stories links together on the subject of ‘hedonics’ – a systematized way to achieve happiness. As one character states it:

“The hedonics techniques aren’t something magical. They’re a reorientation and a discipline – a control not over external events but over our reactions to them. Happiness is inside. All you have to do is recognize that.”

Then Gunn takes things into the future, and he introduces the idea of terra-forming Venus, but mostly concentrates on how hedonics has reduced the people of earth to a very bad state. Much like what’s depicted in The Matrix:

“The thing had floated submerged in the fluid…. It was male; the long, white beard was proof of that. It was a pitiful thing, a kind of caricature of humanity, a fantastically hairy gnome curled blindly into a fetal position…. It had floated in this room in its gently moving nest of hair, nourished by the thick, fleshlike cord trailing from a tap protruding through the wall to where it had been grafted to the navel, dreaming the long, slow, happy fetal dreams.”

Island

The second was Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island, 2005. If you can get beyond the gratuitous provocations, there’s an investigation here of the possibility of love in a world of lust, along with some interesting questions of what human cloning might actually achieve. Here the far future clones of a man study his current-day autobiography, trying to understand how he lived. The man, Daniel1, is a ‘comedian’ who is never able to find a workable combination of love and sex. He muses on whether it’s ever possible.

The clones, while seemingly ‘beyond’ such problems, find that they are surely missing something as well, and some give up their cosy existence to find it.

I find Houellebecq provocative and amusing, but many will surely be turned off by his approach. Daniel1 calls himself “a pretty abrasive humanist” and that may sum it up for Houellebecq as well.

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