Friday, December 21, 2007

For God's sake, start moaning by Julian Baggini

reposted from:

Chris Street comments are in bright green;
highlights in yellow blockquotes.
Julian Baggini
Julian Baggini spoke to Dorset Humansits about "Noble Complaint" in November 2007.

Our ability to complain is what drives humanity forward and separates us from the beasts

December 6, 2007 5:00 PM

Think of the word complaint, and you're likely to conjure images of moaning, whining rants about mainly trivial matters: the trains don't run on time, people are so rude these days, there's nowhere to park, there's nothing on the television...

Complaining has become an activity of the resigned and the nostalgic. It has even become something of a leisure pursuit. Just think about Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit? Eats, Shoots & Leaves or Grumpy Old Men.

It needn't be this way. At the root of every complaint is a sense that things are not as they ought to be. To complain is to speak out about this, and we can do so petulantly, aggressively, calmly, pointlessly or constructively.

It does not even matter whether we are truly upset by what we perceive to be wrong. Many people are never happier than when they get the opportunity to complain, while others are deeply unhappy with how things are but just accept the fact.

Complaint occurs when we refuse to accept that things are wrong and we do something about it, even if that something is simply articulating our unease.

What we perceive to be not as it should be can be something trivial or profoundly important. All major social advances have started with a complaint. The changes brought about by Emeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes, Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, and Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement all began with a complaint that the status quo was wrong and needed to be changed.

Indeed, to be capable of complaint is to be both fully human and closer to the divine. Adam and Eve, in their original state, could not complain, for they did not know the difference between right and wrong; and without any sense of this, how could they even conceive of the idea that things are not as they should be?

This is the paradox of the fall. It is often related as a tale of paradise lost, as though we would all be much better off if it had never happened. Yet it is obvious that before they ate from Eden's tree, Adam and Eve were not creatures any reflective, self-conscious human being would aspire to be.

We say that ignorance is bliss, but without the capacity to understand right and wrong, we would be less than fully human. The fall is not what ruined us: it was what made us.

Perhaps then we should be more sanguine about our more everyday moans. The complaint reflex is a profoundly important one. Although we waste our breath when we complain too much about the wrong things, isn't it better to complain too much than too little?

So how do you square up as a complainer: are you a class-A kvetch or a serene stoic? I've devised a short survey/test that you can take to see how you measure up as an everyday complainer. It's mainly a bit of fun, but there is a serious side to it, which I'll talk about when my book on complaining comes out next year.

Two warnings. First, some computers don't have the plug-ins required to take this test - I'm sorry if yours is one of them. Second, yes, I know this is an extremely limited exercise, so please don't complain about that. If you feel the urge to complain at length, then please follow standard Cif procedure by posting your concern below.

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