Crash Course in Justified Gratitude
And when it’s healthy and sensible to get pissed off instead
By MARTIN REZNY
Speaking of getting pissed off, I find that the best way to quickly accomplish that is to watch the latest video from Prager University. In case you’ve never heard of it, it’s an American conservative think tank and media organization lead by Dennis Prager. It has a YouTube channel where educated conservative intellectuals try their best to come up with reasonable arguments for every hostile and offensive Republican policy.
With this video on gratitude and happiness, they have outdone themselves:
To sum it up, no good person can ever be angry and every victim is a bad person. To entertain a Christian-friendly example, if only Jesus was more grateful to the Pharisees and the Romans who have all clearly earned their positions of power and wealth (or otherwise they wouldn’t have had them, obviously), he might have been a good person, leading a happy life.
Instead, he chose anger (at immoral behaviors, but who cares) and feeling like a victim (of legitimate oppression, what an entitled snowflake), and look how unhappy and bad his life was as a result. Wow, this advice is so bad that if there were bad advice Olympics, it would have ended up second.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Injustice
To sum up the actual manipulative intention behind the video even more succinctly, we should all just shut up and be grateful for whatever we’re given. While this is an extreme and therefore exceptionally insulting and indefensible version of this argument, in one form or another, people are often told by governments or employers that they should be happy with whatever level of opportunities or services they’re given. As if the governments and employers were our benevolent selfless saviors.
First of all, let’s address the link between gratitude and happiness. While you could often see correlation between people who are ungrateful and unhappy, as long as you have a good reason to be ungrateful, you’re ungrateful because you’re unhappy, not unhappy because you’re ungrateful. It’s also not an all-or-nothing situation. Usually, there are good things in life or kind actions of others that generate happiness and justify gratitude, while there are other things in everyone’s life that are just bad.
Even assuming that choosing to be grateful for things that are objectively horrible and unfair does increase one’s happiness, do you know what would bring even more happiness? If those things stopped being horrible and unfair. The main problem with unjustified gratitude for the sake of delusional bliss born of ignorance is that acceptance of bad things makes them stay longer and become worse over time. Righteous anger has a constructive purpose, too — to enable you to fight for what you deserve.
Sometimes, some time spent being angry is necessary to change your circumstances for the better through your own actions. How else do you think that anyone can earn something major for themselves, like build a successful business from scratch? While the conservative pundits demand you get off your entitled ass and improve your station through work, they also sabotage your ability to accomplish anything more than servitude by preaching a morality of passive unquestioning obedience to the status quo.
Successful Businessmen — The Real Entitled Crybabies
You know what, let’s look at the main heroes of this farce, the “job creators”. They would have you believe that while they’re entitled to all that they have because they have earned it, you’re entitled to nothing. It doesn’t matter if they just inherited their wealth while you inherited only debts; it doesn’t matter if they only got lucky with their investments while you were stricken with random bad luck; it doesn’t matter if their successful businesses are destroying lives or nature, while you only try to help others.
To them, only success matters. Specifically, only their own success that has already happened. In the true spirit of socialism, they wish to centralize all wealth and power in their own hands, guaranteeing to themselves the impossibility of personal failure or any kind of consequences with the help of bailouts and golden parachutes. Paid for by customers through jacked-up prices, taxpayers through tax increases for the poor, and employees by cuts in wages, benefits, and pensions. That’s some entitlement for you.
Let me tell you what’s not entitlement. It isn’t “entitlement” to expect and demand that you will be allowed to live in peace and freedom. Especially those of you who believe in any kind of god, how could you deny life to those who were born, or freedom to be themselves? Don’t each of us have a purpose the way we are if we were created? And if there’s no god involved, if justice is a human invention, how can any individual expect to be arbitrarily entitled to more of everything than any other individual?
While peace and freedom are broad concepts, they aren’t complicated if you consider basic requirements for healthy life. Leaving someone at peace to live freely must require at least not inflicting violence on them, not leaving them homeless, starving, and sick, and not preventing them from learning. To actively do, support, or even tolerate any of these harms is both ungodly and inhumane. Those who work harder or better do deserve more than those who don’t contribute, but in any world deserving anyone’s gratitude, it should be more than the basics, not more than nothing.
The Relationship Between Victimization and Victimhood
Finally, let’s address the victim blaming present in this conservative argument. Essentially, what the conservative pundits are saying is that you’re a bad person because you’re being victimized, meaning selectively wronged by those in power. It’s only logical, after all — why would I be persecuting you if you weren’t a bad person? Ha, checkmate! Whatever you do, just don’t recognize that you’re being victimized, and you’ll be happier!
Sure, if someone isn’t systemically or personally victimized by the wealthy and the powerful, they have no reason to feel any sense of victimhood. But in any case, there’s no absolutely exclusive logical relationship between gratitude and victimhood — one can feel a victim of abuse or injustice and still be grateful to everyone and for everything else other than the people and things that are abusing them or treating them unjustly. Being grateful to those who victimize you for being victimized would be truly pathological.
Absolute, simplistic statements like that are in general a sign of bad thinking or manipulative intent and should always be approached with a healthy dose of skepticism. While concentrating too much on being a victim is unhealthy, acknowledging that one is a victim is an important first step in stopping to be one. One can still be grateful for and happy about a lot of things, while they’re simultaneously angry at victimizers for completely justified reasons. Inaction isn’t going to help anyone get away from harm.
If someone is trying to get you imprisoned for an arbitrary offense that has harmed no one, if they deny you healthcare or education, or if they give you indentured servitude as the only option to get by, for the love of god, don’t be in any way grateful to them. Be angry and act to change the status quo. Demand being treated with basic human decency. Don’t victimize anyone, but acknowledge that you are being victimized, while seeking refuge among good people who have your best interest at heart. Be happy, but not about things that shouldn’t make anyone happy. That will get us more happiness.
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