I’m sure this has been covered by everyone and his brother, but I couldn’t help being amused by this study suggesting that conservatives are happier than liberals. But before any conservatives start gloating, there’s another thing to consider.

Being happy is a cinch, if you can rationalize not giving a shit about injustice and inequality.

Regardless of marital status, income or church attendance, right-wing individuals reported greater life satisfaction and well-being than left-wingers, the new study found. Conservatives also scored highest on measures of rationalization, which gauge a person’s tendency to justify, or explain away, inequalities.

The rationalization measure included statements such as: “It is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others,” and “This country would be better off if we worried less about how equal people are.”

To justify economic inequalities, a person could support the idea of meritocracy, in which people supposedly move up their economic status in society based on hard work and good performance. In that way, one’s social class attainment, whether upper, middle or lower, would be perceived as totally fair and justified.

If your beliefs don’t justify gaps in status, you could be left frustrated and disheartened, according to the researchers, Jaime Napier and John Jost of New York University. They conducted a U.S.-centric survey and a more internationally focused one to arrive at the findings.

It makes sense. If you can rationalize inequities as right and just, then no matter how bad things are for someone else, you can rest assured that things are as they ought to be. So, naturally you’re not bothered by economic injustice. You’re not bothered by discrimination either.

In other words, going back to a previous post, you don’t have to acknowledge your privilege.

No one likes to be reminded of their privilege — whether it’s white privilege, heterosexual privilege, male privilege, or class privilege — because acknowledging that privilege commutes responsibility for that privilege, and the day-by-day, moment-to-moment decision to perpetuate that privilege or know — while knowing the consequences it imposes on others.

Whether we asked for our privilege or not — acknowledging it, if we don’t want to be responsible for perpetuating it and the injustice it perpetuates, means changing how we are in the world, day-by-day and moment-to-moment.

That is difficult and never-ending work, to be honest. It’s easier not to acknowledge it. It’s even easier to pretend it doesn’t exist. In fact, the first essential rule of perpetuating privilege is to pretend it doesn’t exist. That becomes difficult when the voices of those who can confirm the existence of that privilege, because they (a) do not possess it and (b) live with the consequence of its existence every day, become unavoidable.

And, the truth is that even though almost all of us enjoy one or more of the privileges above (especially if you consider class or economic privilege on a global scale), we also live with the consequences of not having one or more of the privileges above. The lack of one privilege can mask the existence of the other. (i.e. “What do mean I’m privileged? I’m barely making ends meet, just got laid off, and don’t have health insurance because my spouse and I aren’t married and he/she can’t carry me on hers, etc.”) That privilege doesn’t go away, but it becomes something taken for granted, as natural as breathing out and breathing in, so that we don’t take it as privilege anymore.

If you can rationalize your privilege, and rationalize related inequities on the flip-side, then you don’t have to change how you are in the world; because all is right with the world, no matter how bad it is for somebody else.

In fact, your privilege — whether it stems from your race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, etc. — doesn’t even exit. The whole world is suddenly a meritocracy. What you have, you deserve, basically because you have it. And the “have-nots”? Well, if they deserved it, they’d have it.

Essentially, the have-nots deserve whatever they get. It’s an aspect of conservatism that we saw play out during Katrina. We’ve heard it paraphrased by the likes of George Will and Bill O’Reilly, as well as Neal Boortz. Still I haven’t heard anybody put it any better than George Lakoff.

Worldly success is an indicator of sufficient moral strength; lack of success suggests lack of sufficient discipline. Dependency is immoral. The undisciplined will be weak and poor, and deservedly so.

… The role of government is to:

* Promote unimpeded competitive economic activity so that both the disciplined moral people and the undisciplined immoral ones are able to receive what they each deserve, based on their own choices;

… The Economy and Business: Promoting unimpeded economic activity means favoring those who control wealth and power, who are seen as the “best people,” over those who are unsuccessful, who are seen as morally weak. Corporations are more heavily favored than non-corporate businesses, because big businesses (like wealthy people) have gotten big precisely through working hard and being disciplined.

Norman Vincent Peale, as I recall, came close.

Over the years, others have had uneasy doubts about the Narnian brand of Christianity. Christ should surely be no lion (let alone with the orotund voice of Liam Neeson). He was the lamb, representing the meek of the earth, weak, poor and refusing to fight. Philip Pullman – he of the marvellously secular trilogy His Dark Materials – has called Narnia “one of the most ugly, poisonous things I have ever read”.

Why? Because here in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America – that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right. I once heard the famous preacher Norman Vincent Peale in New York expound a sermon that reassured his wealthy congregation that they were made rich by God because they deserved it. The godly will reap earthly reward because God is on the side of the strong. This appears to be CS Lewis’s view, too. In the battle at the end of the film, visually a great epic treat, the child crusaders are crowned kings and queens for no particular reason. Intellectually, the poor do not inherit Lewis’s earth.

The best I could do to paraphrase it was this.

The better off are so because they are better people. Thus if the poor were better people they would be better off. Therefore, there are very few good people who are poor, and probably even fewer well-off people who are bad. What we saw in the post-Katrina suffering was simply bad things happening to bad people. Most, if not all, of the good people had the means to get themselves out of the hurricane’s path and did so.

Though I did manage to take it a little further.

Mix it all up together, stick it in an oven until it’s half-baked, and you end up with an ideology that people will eat up with both hands if they have any economic strength, or hope to have any because they are sure of their moral virtue and know they will be justly rewarded (even if it means buying another lottery ticket or two), because it at once elevates and absolves them. It elevates them above others who have less (or whom they deem less moral), and absolves them of helping the great many of the poor because the poor are right were they deserve to be. Heaven has mandated it so.

I didn’t say it made sense or that it holds together, just that an awful lot of people happily swallow it whole. Once they do it’s easy to see things as portrayed above and accept it as not just reality but as the way things ought to be.

If you accept all that, then depending on charities to deliver services to the poor isn’t “punishing the good guy.” The good guy has all he needs to take care of himself and his, and if he decides to reinvest his tax cut rather than donate it to charity, that’s his business. Besides, who are we to question the righteous?

And it doesn’t matter that charities will not be able to deliver the same level services to the same amount of people as the government, because the whole idea is that there will be fewer services, and there should be fewer services. The government may be able to help more people, but the problem is that it will inevitably help people who shouldn’t be helped. So less help is better, even some of the folks who may deserve it don’t get it. After all, if they were better people they wouldn’t’ need services in the first place.

Convince yourself of that, and you spend the last few hours before your winter break cutting heating assistance to poor families, and feel good about yourself. (You might even hum “Winter Wonderland” as you cast your vote.)

President Bush says that his 2006 budget “is a budget that sets priorities.” Examining those priorities is a moral and religious concern. Just as we have “environmental impact studies,” it’s time for a “poverty impact statement”, which would ask the fundamental question of how policy proposals affect low-income people. Such a moral audit might reveal unacceptable priorities for many of us, including in the religious community where the president finds much of his political base. In a recent letter to the president, nearly 80 prominent evangelical leaders warned: “We know there will be powerful pressures, from some places, as you and the Congress work to reduce deficit spending, to cut even effective programs for poor people. We pray that you will not allow this to happen.”

But it is happening. In this budget, the cost of deficit reduction is mostly borne by those least able to bear the burden—the lowest-income families in America, rather than by those most able to afford it—the wealthiest Americans who benefit from the largest tax cuts. The budget projects a record $427 billion deficit, along with a promise to make tax cuts permanent. Does that make fiscal or moral sense?

Religious leaders have spoken clearly in past years about the perils of a domestic policy based primarily on tax cuts for the rich, deep program cuts for low-income people, and an expectation of faith-based charity to make up the huge gap. This budget runs directly counter to that religious wisdom. Billions of dollars are cut from programs that most directly impact America’s poorest families—in education, nutrition, child care, health care, affordable housing, job training, heating and cooling assistance, and in community and rural development. At the same time, mere millions of dollars are added as increases to a number of faith-based programs focusing on marriage, fatherhood, and abstinence. On the street, that would be called “chump change.” The warning that faith-based initiatives should provide a partnership with effective government anti-poverty programs—and not a substitute—has not been heeded. And the added tax cuts for the rich merely compound the moral and biblical offense.

You can even successfully sell that idea to the disadvantaged themselves, as purveyors of the prosperity gospel have shown. And you can grow quite wealthy doing it, even if your followers don’t.

The message flickered into Cindy Fleenor’s living room each night: Be faithful in how you live and how you give, the television preachers said, and God will shower you with material riches.

And so the 53-year-old accountant from the Tampa, Florida, area pledged $500 a year to Joyce Meyer, the evangelist whose frank talk about recovering from childhood sexual abuse was so inspirational. She wrote checks to flamboyant faith healer Benny Hinn and a local preacher-made-good, Paula White.

Only the blessings didn’t come. Fleenor ended up borrowing money from friends and payday loan companies just to buy groceries. At first she believed the explanation given on television: Her faith wasn’t strong enough.

“I wanted to believe God wanted to do something great with me like he was doing with them,” she said. “I’m angry and bitter about it. Right now, I don’t watch anyone on TV hardly.”

All three of the groups Fleenor supported are among six major Christian television ministries under scrutiny by a senator who is asking questions about the evangelists’ lavish spending and possible abuses of their tax-exempt status.

The probe by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has brought new scrutiny to the underlying belief that brings in millions of dollars and fills churches from Atlanta to Los Angeles — the “Gospel of Prosperity,” or the notion that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches.

On the other hand, someone more liberal or progressive, and lacking such simple (not to mention self-serving) rationalizations for the inequities the witness might be more inclined to question — to ask why they exist and why they persist — and keep questioning until they reach a more challenging (and perhaps less self-serving, depending on their relative degree of privilege) answer, rather than simply accepting that they exist and that they persist because they ought to.

Essentially, progressives see injustice and ask “Why?”. Conservatives, on the other hand, see in justice and ask “Why not?”

If you ask why, without settling for simplistic answers, you might conclude that inequity an injustice do not exist in a vacuum and do not persist according to some law of nature, but because they serve as the basis for the privileges of some, and thus the privileged perpetuate them in order to preserve their privileges. You might be inclined to believe, then, that inequities and injustices are not “inevitable” or “natural” and you might also be inclined to do something about them.

You might join something like the Mississippi Freedom Summer, and spend what h have been your vacation registering people to vote who had been systematically denied the right to vote for generations. You might give your life doing it.

If you’re someone like Michael Ashcraft, you might stop a gay bashing, even though you’re not gay and not being bashed.

Or , if you have a simple explanation handy, you might just leave things be, since everything is a it should be already. Of course, you might also wonder why other people don’t see it the same way you do — especially the have-nots. You might wonder why they make such a fuss over it, and you might wish they would stop. You would definitely start to worry when the don’t stop.

I think, then, that the study might have confused happiness with something that can look a lot like it, but isn’t: complacency.

a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition, etc.

Then again, maybe there’s a simpler explanation.

Crossposted from The Republic of T.

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