Friday, January 28, 2011


Butler's protagonist, Lauren, has hyperempathy syndrome. She is biologically wired to experience the pain of others. She feels the human pain that she observes as though it were her own, and the pain of other animals to a lesser degree. However, her disorder also causes her to experience the joy of others' physical intimacy. This is the only true form of positive emotion that Lauren actually feels from others.

In Marcuse's introduction, he states in an assumption that he upholds regarding the human condition, “ a given society, specific possibilities exist for the amelioration of human life and specific ways and means of realizing these possibilities” (pages xlii and xliii.) He also makes “the judgment that human life... can be and ought to be made worth living.”

Inherent in the concept of happiness is the opposing idea of unhappiness, or pain. As happiness is to be achieved or found, pain is to be avoided. Happiness can here be defined as the absence of pain. Butler addresses pain and the avoidance thereof very directly through Lauren. Lauren is biologically obligated to experience not only her own pain but the pain of others. This pain shapes her personality and creates the religious leader and human being that she has become. For Lauren, certain acts are physically impossible for her. She cannot torture, because the pain she would cause would become her own. In this way, Lauren's everyday avoidance of pain drives her actions. Marcuse discusses the idea of pain more indirectly. He takes a societal and political approach to unhappiness, remarking on the enslavement of man to technology, the inefficiency of the for-profit attitude of the government, and many other situations that he would like to see remedied. In this way, Butler sees pain and suffering on an individual level and Marcuse on a larger-scale societal level.

Providing that happiness is defined as the absence of pain, The Parable of the Sower and One-Dimensional Man can be seen as blueprints or maps of a methodological path to ubiquitous happiness, or utopia. Through Lauren, Butler seems to say that utopia would be achieved if each individual strives on a personal level to avoid pain. Butler suggests that, were everyone hyperempathetic and therefore biologically contracted to avoid pain on a personal and interactive level, a community and eventually society could be formed in which people are inherently happy. Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man, however, is a series of postulations in the direction of an overarching social framework. Through his ideal social structure, with labor, religion, democratic process, and all other social constructs as he wants them, he believes that the individual would be free to say they are truly happy. In essence, Butler believes individual avoidance of pain leads to a happy society while Marcuse believes that a properly structured society will afford individual happiness.

In the world as I see it, Butler's strategy seems the more appropriate. The reason society and politics are so imbalanced and susceptible to Marcuse's criticism is that it is difficult to simply institute an effective overstructure. Many systems of government have been attempted, and have failed as models. In terms of the big picture, perfection of a utopia, if any individual in the society feels unhappy with the way things are, the entire system has failed. It is extremely difficult for an individual to feel as though they get what they want every single time in any attempted government, especially any kind of democracy or party-based system. In the end, building society from the top down means more time spent on individuals. Buildings are built from the ground up, and successful government and society should be built from the people up.


  1. Your first three paragraphs lay out a very interesting subject matter which is of great importance in both books. "Happiness can here be defined as the absence of pain." - after Harry is horrified when she kills the one guy, Lauren has a great line about this very subject (to her pain "is the end of the evil," I think is the line. You establish your area of interest very well, but your direction is a little unclear.

    I am also, I admit, a little unclear on what you think Marcuse has to say about pain - I feel like the 2nd to last paragraph gets vaguer, not more precise, on this subject, although what you have to say about Butler in this paragraph is very articulate.

    The final paragraph seemed very vague to me, but not hopeless - while your final sentence (about top down vs. ground up) is in danger of seeming like a cliche, I think it could be an excellent way of approaching both texts *if* you were more concrete (your understanding of Marcuse especially needs to be both more clear and more rooted in the text itself), and if your argument was build more clearly from the start.

    Note that I'm not suggesting that your views are Marcuse are wrong - just vague and underdeveloped.

  2. I liked how you combined the ideas from both books into one definition for happiness, although I feel like your doing so was not very clearly stated and I had to go back and double check a few times to make sure I understood.

    What do you think Marcuse would say in relation to everyone having hyperempathy syndrome? Do you think he would agree with or argue against Butler?

    I really liked how in the last paragraph you take a side, and maybe you could expand on this idea some more, since this is all a matter of your opinion. I think talking about the government here is a good idea, but then I felt like you added it in at the very end, and I personally would have liked to see more about that throughout your essay.

  3. I really enjoyed your post although I had one fundamental problem with it. You state that happiness is the absence of pain, but without experiencing pain, how would one know the joy of happiness? I think that pain is a necessary evil to allow the dichotomy of happy/sad emotions. I agree with Erin in saying I could stand to see a little more of your personal opinion in this blog post, but in general I think this is a really good start and will be great to expand on for a formal paper.