Wednesday, July 12, 2006


As I point out at some length elsewhere, people's degree of happiness is largely static -- it rapidly reverts to its accustomed level after even extreme highs and lows. But -- in shades of Huxley's "Brave New World" -- the British government wants to teach schoolkids how to be happy! The Brits now even have a "happiness tsar". Report below:

Lessons in happiness are to be introduced for 11-year-olds in state schools to combat a huge rise in depression, self-harm and anti-social behaviour among young people. Special behavioural techniques imported from the US will be used from September next year in an attempt to make children more resilient in the face of the pressures of 21st century living.

Professor Martin Seligman, from the University of Pennsylvania, one of the most influential psychologists of his generation, has been drafted in to train British teachers so that they can deliver classes to nearly 2000 secondary school pupils. Lessons using cognitive behavioural therapy techniques will include role play designed to help children build up their self-esteem, challenge negative ways of thinking and express their thoughts clearly. Trials have shown that the techniques can boost class performance and exam results.

They will also be shown breathing exercises to keep them calm when their parents are arguing and avoid blaming themselves for situations that are beyond their control. The anti-depression classes, due to be introduced in South Tyneside, Manchester and one rural location, have been approved by Lord Layard, the Government's "happiness" tsar.

The Department for Education is expected to evaluate the programme. If it proves as successful as it has been in the US, happiness classes could become part of the regular school timetable. The move comes as experts warn that record numbers of young people are on the verge of mental breakdown as a result of family break-up, exam pressures and growing inability to cope with the pressures of modern life.

Figures show that at least 10 per cent - three children in every average-sized class of 30 in the country - are experiencing symptoms of severe depression, including suicidal thoughts, prolonged bouts of despair and the urge to cry on a daily basis. Twenty-five years ago the average age people fell ill with depression was 30. Today this has fallen dramatically with 14 the age at which mental illness first strikes.

David Cameron, the Conservative leader, will highlight the need for professionals to pay attention to the emotional development of young people in an attempt to turn them away from offending. In a speech to the Police Foundation, he will say that children are not "feral" and instead need "love" to restore their health and happiness. Wellington College in Berkshire this year became the first private school to pioneer positive-thinking teaching for 13-year-olds. But this initiative is the first time such a comprehensive programme, which can also be used by parents, has been used in the state sector.

Seligman is certainly a respected psychologist and no doubt does some good but the long-term effects of his methods in the general population are unlikely to be more than marginal. And, as Sean Gabb comments, schools that cannot teach reading and basic arithmetic are unlikely to be able to teach happiness. I reproduce some of Sean's article on the subject below:

It is not the function of government to tell people how to be happy. It is not within the ability of governments to teach us these things. If governments wish us to be happy, the most they can and ought to do is create the conditions in which we can most effectively make ourselves happy.

Indeed, I go further. The most a government can and ought to do is remove the conditions it has created that prevent us from making ourselves happy in the manners of our choice. It should cut taxes and government spending. It should abolish the regulations it has made on our activities. It should provide a framework of laws within which our rights to life, liberty and property are effectively protected.

Beyond that, governments should go no further. We are all different as individuals. Only we as individuals can know what is likely to make us happy. Only we can pursue our own individual happiness. Any government that believes itself to know better than we do ourselves how to make us happy is guilty of a most presumptuous arrogance. Any government that tries to put its belief into action is by definition tyrannical. Its means must entail a searching inquisition into our thoughts and a close control over our actions.

The truth is that this proposed change to the National Curriculum has far less to do with developing children as autonomous individuals than with brainwashing them into obedient sheep as adults. These lessons in happiness will inevitably turn into propaganda sessions in which children will be lectured into a celebration of the moral sewer than our masters have made of modern England. They will be told that our enlarged, activist state is a good thing. They will be told that the denigration of our history and customs is a release from the dead hand of the past. They will be told that anyone who doubts that the highly taxed and regulated multicultural police state in which we live in the best of all possible worlds, and that anyone who disagrees is either mad or evil.

It does seem that modern children are less happy than Mr Huet and I contrived to be in the 1970s. That seems to have less to do with transient misfortunes in their home lives than the utter chaos to which this Labour Government - not forgetting its Conservative predecessors - has reduced the country.

We live in a country where strangers and criminals have more rights than we have; where our votes, once we reach the age of majority, are worthless to change our rulers, or even hold them to account; and where our lifestyle choices are constrained as they never were in the past. Children have not the same perspective on these changes as have we who are now in middle age. They have not the same narrative in their heads of how a free constitution has been perverted into a recipe for despotism. But they perceive enough to be unhappy. And this unhappiness is manifested in behaviour damaging to others and destructive of their own future well-being.


By Jeff Jacoby

When the Massachusetts Legislature meets in joint session as a constitutional convention this week, the most notable item on its agenda will be a proposed amendment to ban same-sex marriage. A record-breaking 170,000 state residents have signed petitions to put such an amendment on the state ballot. But the Massachusetts Constitution mandates a detour: The measure must first win the support of at least 50 lawmakers in two consecutive legislative terms. Only then can it be submitted to the people. If the amendment gets past every hurdle, it will reach the ballot in November 2008.

It is a deliberately long and cumbersome process, meant to keep the Constitution from being altered recklessly, and to provide time for an amendment's pros and cons to be fully aired. To draft an amendment that passes legal muster, to collect tens of thousands of signatures, to haul reams of petitions to and from hundreds of town halls in every corner of the state, to raise funds, to debate and defend the proposed change -- it takes an incredible amount of work and dedication to get an amendment to the ballot. Citizens who accomplish it demonstrate an admirable faith in the democratic system. That doesn't entitle them to win, of course. But it does entitle them to be treated fairly. If the petitioners have to play by the rules, the Legislature does, too.

And what the rules say about the marriage amendment is that the Legislature must put it to a vote. The Massachusetts Constitution could not be clearer on the point. Article 48, which establishes the right of initiative and referendum, specifies that when amendments proposed by initiative petition come before the Legislature, a roll call is mandatory. They "*shall be voted upon*" as written, the Constitution directs (unless amended by a three-fourths supermajority). Moreover, the Legislature is permitted to take action on them "*only* by call of the yeas and nays." (Italics added)

Lawmakers are not given a choice in the matter. The Constitution requires them to vote. If it didn't, initiatives opposed by the legislative leadership could always be aborted by simply refusing to bring them up for a vote. Instead of operating as a check and balance on the Legislature, Article 48 would then be a toothless sham.

But for weeks now, same-sex marriage advocates have been telegraphing their intention to kill the marriage amendment through just such an unconstitutional ploy. "Every possible option is on the table," says the head of MassEquality, a powerful coalition opposed to the amendment. Among the tactics being discussed: adjourning the joint session before the amendment is brought up, or arranging for enough legislators to stay away in order to prevent a quorum.

Some members brag openly about their plans to flout the Constitution. "Legislators won't be hiding in Oklahoma," House majority leader John Rogers told Bay Windows, a leading gay newspaper. "In fact, they'll be standing right in front of the State House steps, probably singing freedom songs and hugging one another in plain sight, not cowering." And by the way, Rogers added -- whether from ignorance or fraudulence isn't clear -- "that is perfectly acceptable as constitutional behavior."

Those intoxicated with their own moral superiority often find it easy to believe that it is "perfectly acceptable" to make a mockery of the rules that ensure fairness for those they look down upon. Homosexual marriage is widely supported by Massachusetts elites; few of them are likely to lose much sleep if the proposed amendment is derailed by an illegal parliamentary maneuver. In a newspaper ad appearing this week, 165 Massachusetts business executives and civic leaders endorse same-sex marriage and urge the Legislature to reject any amendment "that would take away rights." But the ad says nothing about the right of 170,000 Massachusets citizens to have their petition put to a vote on Beacon Hill. "I think we have had enough of this debate," says Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick, siding with those who favor procedural tricks to cheat the amendment's supporters out of a vote. "The basic question here is whether people come before their government as equals." His position, in other words, is that scores of thousands of petitioners must be treated as second-class citizens in order to ensure that people aren't treated as second-class citizens.

Same-sex marriage supporters dominate the Massachusetts power structure; if they are hell-bent on denying voters a chance to be heard on the issue, they can probably get away with it. The result, however, will not be a fairer, more liberal Massachusetts. It will be one that is even more unfair and illiberal -- a place where citizens who play by the rules get treated with contempt, and where democracy is more dysfunctional than ever.

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