Happiness, freedom, and control

Two quotes on my mind tonight:

1. From The Job interviews with William S. Burroughs:

Q: Are they happy anywhere?

A: They’re certainly happier in Spain with all the poverty than they are in Sweden with all the prosperity and their high living standard.

Q: But then, Spain is a good example of a highly controlled country with a repressive government, a religious bugbear – just about everything…

A: Just about everything. They have all sorts of troubles. But you see, poverty keeps people busy. You see happiness there in the faces of the people on the streets that you do not see on Swedish streets.

This interview took place in the 70s when Spain was still under Franco. With regard to the question of “being busy” read this and consider what many (most?) of us are “busy” doing in modern post-industrial society.

2. Reality Sandwich interview with R.U. Sirius:

Q: It seems equally possible that we will be thrust into some kind of totalitarian technological hell in which our every movement is watched and our perceptions are closely monitored, a la A Scanner Darkly or 1984. It’s interesting to observe how a force as powerful as technology can simultaneously invoke great dread or great hope in people based on different perspectives of its usefulness in our lives.

A: Yeah, I think that’s actually more of a parallel vision than an opposite vision. These technologies could solve problems and not be disastrous in a physical sense, but they seem to almost inevitably bring on the death of the Western concept of privacy. The scenario could be hellish, considering the current political dynamics: authoritarian tendencies married to paranoias about security are at war with authoritarian outsider anti-imperialists who hate technology and modernity.

But I don’t think the scenario will necessarily be particularly hellish. It could easily resolve into a very liberal control system. In some interview during the ’80s, someone asked William Burroughs about Brave New World and he said (in that great Burroughs voice), “I think it would be an improvement.” I can imagine a very liberal society – pampered by machines – in which people are free to carry on wild festivities in the hippie/pagan/Burning Man traditions, or do just about whatever pleases them, and where the margins on behavior are set really wide, but if you slip over those margins, everybody immediately knows about it and your brain is instantly corrected so that you can’t do that taboo thing again. Instant rehab!

Which of course makes me think of the movie Zardoz


  1. Colombia, with all it’s terrible troubles, ranks consistently in the highest places in lists of “World’s happiest people”

  2. Here’s some info about happiness by country:

    Data from 1995-2007:


    Apparently more recent but I’m not sure:


    Conclusion? European welfare states and poor Latin states are both pretty happy.

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