Friday, December 5, 2008

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World - Eric Weiner

Switzerland: Happiness is Boredom

Weiner's chapter on Switzerland reveals an odd love/hate relationship with the country. On one hand, life in Switzerland functions smoothly. The country is clean, the economy is good, the chocolate is wonderful. However, he also describes Switzerland as a super-nanny country where "In many parts of Switzerland, you can't mow your lawn or shake your carpets on Sunday. You can't hang laundry from your balcony on any day. You can't flush your toilet after 10:00 PM" (p.33) An acquaintance of his even received a note asking her not to laugh after midnight. Why, I wondered, could that possibly be called a happy country?

I then started to do some research on Switzerland. The country is divided into French, Italian, and German cantons, which all have representation in the government. All three official languages are official. How could such a linguistically fragmented country be so conformist? The answer came from one of my sisters. As she pointed out, the Swiss had to create one society and expect everyone to conform to it, or the three different cultures would have divided the country and there would be no Switzerland. Therefore cultural conformity was needed for happiness.

However, as I researched further, some indications of current cultural unhappiness began to emerge. Last year, much tension about foreign immigration into Switzerland began to emerge during campaigns for a general Parliamentary election:

Twenty percent of Switzerland's population is from outside of the country. As the number of foreign-born inhabitants continues to rise, so does tension inside the country between the foreign-born and native-born inhabitants. This makes sense when you remember that Weider notes that "The Swiss are deeply rooted in place. Their passports list the name of their ancestral town. Not their hometown but the town of their roots. Maybe they've never even been there. But it is their home." (p.38) People who have been rooted to one geographic area in one country for so long would understandably have trouble relating to people who have just moved in from Africa or the Ukraine.

Also, Weiner never talks to any recent non-Western immigrants to Switzerland. How do they perceive Swiss society? Do they feel bored? Do they feel stifled by Swiss conformity? Do they want to change Switzerland? What is their happiness level? And then of course, there are the Swiss economic problems...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am not surprised about the Swiss. The way they are reacting to the "other" is quite a universal response and has much to do with humanity's essentially narcissistic innate nature, on the one hand, and failures of education to tame that unconscious force. As Krishnamurti said, “ in that gap between the subject and the object lies the entire misery of humankind.” “Every man has a mob self and an individual self, in varying proportions,” said D.H. Lawrence. “Mankind is poised midway between beast and man,” observed Plotinus.

Even a scholar no less than Will Durant, who penned the monumental eleven-volume Story of Civilization, (aka “Integral History”) in his Preface to the “Age of Faith” alluded and admitted to the bias of identity:

“The Christian reader will be surprised by the space given to the Moslem culture, and the Moslem scholar will mourn the brevity with which the brilliant civilization of medieval Islam has here been summarized. A persistent effort has been made to be impartial, to see each faith and culture from its own view point. But prejudice has survived, if only in the selection of materials, the allotment of space, and the choice of adjectives. The mind like the body is imprisoned in its skin.”

“Education,” also notes Durant, “is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” Those who are self-absorbed enough to believe that ignorance is a bliss dont know the suffering of the dispossessed and the disenfranchised. Although narcissistic biase works in subtle ways, it still is not the only destiny of seekers of truth, for genuine evolution of consciousness and justified happiness remain a rare but realizable potential. “We have to evolve,” notes Ken Wilber, “past the ape of subconsciousness in order to rediscover superconsciousness.”