Noah denkt™  -
    Project for Philosophical Evaluations of the Economy
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Happy to be unhappy in France (and Germany)
Dialogue with the Alter Ego on the emotional darkness in Franco-German-Land, drafted and
published on May 6, 2013

    ... Claudia Senik, a French economist (...) will present a paper in London next month to show that, despite the
    generally excellent material conditions of life in France, “the French are gloomy. A recent WIN-Gallup poll
    found that their expectations for the coming year ranked lower than those in Iraq or Afghanistan.” (...) The
    French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies found that France had the same “index of human
    development” (material well-being) as Belgium and Denmark, but polled much lower in the “happiness
    scale,” which ranged from one to ten: France was 7.2, while Belgium scored 7.7 and Denmark rated 8.3. “The
    fact of living in France reduces by twenty percent the probability of declaring oneself very happy,” Senik
    writes, and adds that France has Europe’s highest rate of usage of mood-altering drugs, and one of the
    highest rates of suicide. Taking into consideration a range of factors, she links the French “malaise” to “the
    ensemble of psychological and ideological mechanisms and dispositions that constitute the process of the
    transformation of experiences into well-being”—in other words, French culture. (“French people living abroad
    are less happy than other Europeans living outside their country of origin,” she writes.)
    New Yorker Magazin

Question by Alter Ego of Noah denkt™ (AE): On Sunday, May 5, France24 interviewed Claudia Senik, a
Professor of Economics at the Sorbonne who convincingly argues that growing up and/or living in
“reduces by twenty percent the probability of declaring oneself very happy”. In other words, the mindset in France
is pretty gloomy, not far, - as she quickly added - from that of Germany. So what is going on here?
Answer by Noah denkt™ (Nd): Apparently, Ms. Senik suggests that all this bad mood may have something to do
an overly standardized and unified education system that is more likely to imbue its students with a sense of
failure than a degree of empowerment.

AE: Does that seem a plausible hypothesis to Noah denkt™?
Nd: Not really. After all, Germany’s educational system is more decentralized and less unified than the French
one, and yet the gloominess in Germany isn’t any less pronounced either.

AE: So, what is going on here? Where does this Franco-German malaise come from?
Nd: In the case of Germany, luminaries such as
Heinich Heine and Mme de Staël have argued long ago that the
brooding element in the German soul may have something to do with the missing experience of having lived
under a technically and culturally advanced Roman empire.
(see: Footnote *) In other words, the eternal German
soul-searching is the consequence of residual remnants of the old animistic subjection to the barbaric forces of
climate and nature. From this point of view, however, the current French malaise is a lot more surprising.

AE: So, what you are citing here, is not an answer to our question, is it?
Nd: Probably not!

AE: So what is your won theory then?
Nd: Well, perhaps, times have changed  and perhaps all this gloom and doom, we experience in France and
Germany has a lot more to do with the present and the future than with the past. After all, it is quite normal for
people living in highly developed societies to feel overwhelmed, isolated and exhausted by the reality of their life.
Perhaps, we simply have to accept that the path of reason will inevitably lead to a melancholic state of mind that is
void of powerful passions.

AE: But why are people in Denmark and Sweden not feeling the same gloom then? Obviously, their societies are
even more advanced than ours.
Nd: May be, they live in a greater state of denial about their “true feelings” than our bothers and sisters on this
and that side of the Rhine do. After all, there is a moral obligation in Nordic societies to not pester others with
your mood swings (whatever these mood swings might be). In France and Germany, however, you are a quite
encouraged to express your sentiments rather than to mumble around about them
(see. Footnote **).

AE: So you are saying that people in France take more mood altering drugs because they are more aware of
their despondency than people elsewhere are?
Nd: This could very well be.

AE: But shouldn’t this higher degree of individual self-consciousness that apparently is prevalent on this and that
side of the Rhine
generate healthier and more constructive results.
Nd: Well, in our mind, this melancholic groundswell in Franco-German-Land is better equipped to deal with the
challenges ahead than the denial mindset is.

AE: How so?
Nd: Well, it helps people to maintain a calmer and more resilient composure in the face of dramatic threats. In
other words, a melancholic predisposition is a somewhat necessary precursor to avoid hysteric reactions.

AE: But staying calm in times of a national crisis has more to do with public discipline than with individual
contemplation. Witness Norway’s fantastically composed
reaction to Breivik’s terrorism; witness Japan’s quiet
orderliness in the face of nuclear disaster; And witness on the other hand Germany’s hysteric reaction to the
outbreak of the EHEC-Virus etc...
Nd: Okay, okay, you are right. - ... even though, we should probably point towards Lars von Trier’s acclaimed
movie essay  “Melancholia” to support our theory ....

AE: So, in conclusion what’s is positive then about the habitual directness in Franco-German-Land?
Nd: Well, at least it makes for
good and interesting philosophy (see also Footnote ***)


Footnote * : « Les nations germaniques ont preque toujours résisté au joug des Romains. ; elles ont été civilisées plus tard et
seulement par le christianisme ; elles ont passé immédiatement d’une sorte de barbarie à la société chrétienne (...) et quoique les
savants de ces pays aient étudié les auteurs grecs et latins plus même que ne l’ont fait les nations latines, le génie naturel aux
écrivains allemands est d’une couleur ancienne plutôt qu’antique. Leur imagination se plaît dans les vielles tours, dans les
créneaux ; au milieu des guerriers, des sorcières et des revenants ; et les mystères d’une nature rêveuse et solitaire forment le
principal charme de leurs poésies. « Madame de Staël, De l’ Allemagne, Garnier Flammarion, Paris 1986,  (based on the original
text published in Paris, 1814), page 46

Footnote** : Funnily enough, Noah denkt™ has found that people in the supposedly happy countries of the Southern hemisphere
have a tendency to pretend both to themselves and to others that they are happy, when in reality the picture is a lot more mixed. One,
hence, has to question the validity of the above mentioned happiness polls, given that the notion of honesty is quite different in
different places.  

Footnote ***: On the theme of happiness and the pursuit of it, see also Pascal Bruckner: L’Euphorie perpétuelle, Éditions Grasset
et Fasquelle, 2000
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