Search This Blog

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pleasure and excellence on the decline

An interesting article one of my students pointed me to. According to this piece, the use of the words "achievement" and "fun" have increased exponentially in the last 2 centuries, while the use of the words "excellence" and "pleasure" have declined. The writer suggests that
in the destinies of these two pairs of words is a suggestion of a turning in American culture, and one that has influenced the world. It is a turning away from an arguably aristocratic idea of the intrinsic worth of things: from pleasure, with its sense of an internal condition of mind, to fun, so closely affiliated with outward activities; from excellence, an inner trait whose attainment is its own reward, to achievement, which comes through slogging and recognition.
It's an interesting read - check it out here. I'm inclined to see a relevant correlation between the decline of the use of these words and a decline in the value of the concepts the words express. I'd suggest that this relates to the decline in the value placed on humanistic inquiry as well, though that's a case to make in a longer post than I can do right now. Having spent so much of the last few years being confronted by people who take it as a personal offense that I don't validate every effort they make with an A, I am not at all surprised to read this--old, sad news, in my case. Perhaps the more thought-provoking part of the article, for me, was the final paragraph:
The world in which “pleasure” and “excellence” roared was less equitable than our world today. It shut out vast categories of humankind. In the intervening years, those exclusions dwindled; the world opened up for so many, not least in the United States. But with that change has come another: what would seem to be a growing intolerance for merely being, and an anguished insistence on doing, doing, doing.
Excellence is not, at its core, an egalitarian principle. I'm not sure that I'd say the same thing about pleasure, though I haven't thought about it yet.

1 comment:

  1. *Sigh* I guess I am in trouble since I excel at taking pleasure at merely being.