Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Satisfied Citizens are Tolerant Citizens

There is a study in the Journal of Social Issues by University of Illinois researchers Ed Diener and William Tov that show a correlation between a person's "subjective well-being" and his/her attitude towards their government, military, and tolerance for racial others--here's a line from the abstract:

"Person-level SWB was associated with more confidence in the government and armed forces, greater emphasis on postmaterialist values, stronger support for democracy, less intolerance of immigrants and racial groups, and greater willingness to fight for one's country."

For a link to the abstract, click here:

Diener and Tov are quick to point out that just being happy doesn't mean you are blind to the problems of your society--and that especially the endorsement for peace is predicated on whether the conditions for peace exist where these people live.

But I guess, since I'm interested in all things race, what strikes me is the language--that it's not that they are more tolerant of racial others (the more positive way of putting this) but that they are "less intolerant of immigrants and racial groups"--and of course, it's very unspecific--who, exactly, do they mean by "racial groups"--those in the minority? Racial groups different, presumably, from the one that you find yourself in.

In other words, if I am living, as I am, in a fairly peaceable college town, where the effects of the war are filtered through, to me, by media outlets rather than my personal connection with anyone in Iraq or Afghanistan. And if I have a fairly high subjective well-being--if I'm happy--then I'm going to feel more positive about my government, be an advocate for peace (I suppose this means peace in the abstract as opposed to the likelihood that I will start a guerilla group to take over the government) and I will not look unkindly on my immigrant neighbors from Syria, Switzerland, or San Salvador and will feel less intolerance towards my non-Asian American friends and neighbors.

Getting through the mumbo-jumbo of social science jargon, perhaps what the researchers are trying to figure out is, if you are happy, personally, does this mean you are going to feel more happy towards others in a larger social sphere--the government, your neighbors, the topic of immigrants and racial others in general--does your personal happiness and well-being have social ramifications and benefits beyond just your own contentment?

I guess they are tentatively saying yes--which means, how do we make everyone happy? Especially, how do we get people to be happy without BUYING and VIEWING or NUMBING their way to happiness. Anyone...???

No comments: