One of my favorite pieces of evidence of my youthful precociousness is a line I came up with in high school. It’s so good that I’m sure I must have swiped it from somebody more grown-up and smarter (and perhaps deader) like Mark Twain.
“A Puritan,” I wrote in my journal, “is someone who is convinced that somewhere there’s a party to which he wasn’t invited.”
I still think it’s a good line, whether or not I thought it up myself or stole it. Puritans, from the day Crowmell closed the theaters till now, resent the idea that other people are having fun without them.
Not that they would have fun if they were invited to the party or want to be invited. But it’s the principle of the thing.
Puritans are also very big on being virtuous on other people’s behalf. I don’t mean they practice virtues they think the rest of us should. I mean they set out to make us practice virtues they believe we lack, their own virtue or lack thereof being beside the point.
The country is lousy with people who just can’t stand the thought that other people are having a good time. Right now there are a whole bunch of spoilsports who’ve decided we need to do something about Social Security (cut it, raise the retirement age, privatize it, whatever) because beneficiaries aren’t actually starving or living in the streets or living as burdens on their children. They’re mad because some old couple is finally taking that long-delayed trip to Europe. Point out that the couple might have scrimped and saved to afford the trip, even with their Social Security, and these Puritanical grumps will growl about how that couple would have been smarter, better off, more virtuous, less annoying, if they’d given that money to their grandkids to pay tuition or make a downpayment on a house. Tell them the couple worked hard to put their kids in a position to do that for their kids and grumps will mutter about how the couple should’ve saved it for the nursing home, just in case, and, by the way, we need to cut their Medicare too.
Naturally, these types would be attracted to repressive, authoritarian politics, which in the United States these days means the Republican Party, and Congress is full of them and their meanness.
The laid-off construction worker who uses part of his unemployment check to take his family to a movie, the single mom working two jobs who waits on line all night at Wal-Mart on Black Friday so she can buy an X-box---grasshoppers playing while the Randian, job-creating ants slave away!
And you expect a secure and comfortable old age? You don’t want to sweep floors or wipe counters until you’re too old and feeble to push a broom or twirl a rag? Well, you should have thought of that when you were younger and not listened to us when we promised you that greed was good, and he who dies with the most toys wins, deficits don’t matter, and you can have all the benefits of a liberal government without having to pay for them, just keep electing us Republicans. Oh, you weren’t listening to us, because you were too busy working two jobs to pay for your kids’ braces and health insurance? Well, tough. Life is unfair, losers!
Money, of course, figures into this. How dare these people have fun our our dime?
But there’s a moral bent to it or, rather, a bent morality to it. The Puritans take satisfaction in watching others struggle because it’s good for us. It’s what God intended. Life isn’t meant to be enjoyed, it’s meant to be endured.
This is what I hate about their demon-haunted, witch-hunting Right Wing Christianity. Besides their wanting to institutionalize ignorance, fear, and unquestioning obedience to a bigoted and bullying authority, they want to eradicate joy.
That’s the root of their hatred and fear of sex.
Young people in love having sex are full of joy.
But although at the moment most of the Puritans are attracted to the party that styles itself conservative, I don’t think they or their joyless religion are conservative at all. I don’t think it’s political at all. It’s a strain of human nature, a mixture of envy and fear to which we are all susceptible. Some of us are lucky and are inoculated against it early. Some of us just have a natural resistance. And some of us have tried being scolds and tried being the kind of people scolds like to scold and found that it’s more fun to be scolded than to do the scolding.
But for lots of us being in the position to do the scolding is attractive. We like the feeling of being morally superior. It’s self-flattering, self-aggrandizing, and…safe.
To be joyful is to be on the edge of losing control.
And then, I’m sorry to say, there are some of us who are just little and mean.
I’m convinced one of the things critics---and not just conservative critics---hate about the Occupy Movement is that so many of the protesters seem to be having a good time.
That people can derive joy from working for a good cause, from suffering and sacrificing for it, doesn’t occur to them.
All they see is a party to which they weren’t invited.