A reflection on a quote from Voltaire's Candide:
Candide and Martin came to the decision at the end of Chapter 25 that Count Pococurante could be so displeased with every thing because, as Martin put it, “There is a pleasure in not being pleased." I feel that this has to be true. The reoccurring theme in most conversations my friends and I have is complaint. It’s not that we live in poverty, or that we are forced to deal with great hardships on a daily basis. It is as Martin says, we enjoy being unhappy.
A simple explanation of this would be to say that it is easy to complain. Life isn’t easy. We all have problems and so it is simple to find a common ground with someone you don’t know very well by complaining about something with which you both have had to deal. It creates an instant ally, a companion. Trying to find a topic of conversation that’s not just ranting is far too difficult, I mean you might actually have to think and get to know someone. Can’t have that now can we?
But complaining can do more for you that just make an instant friend. It allows you to demonstrate your superiority. If all you do is complain when your life is as good or better than your peers, it sends a clear message that you’re better than they are. While they’re quite happy living with their microwaves, TVs, DVD players, CDs, big houses, fast cars, cool clothes, and exceptional educations, none of this is enough for you. You always want something faster, easier, bigger and better. What satisfies your peers could never possibly satisfy you, and so you can’t help but complain about it, constantly. Who can blame you? You’re God's special little creature stuck here amongst those barely worthy of their mediocrity. This can be quite impressive to some, and quite rude to others, but that doesn’t matter to you, because the people who can stand you are the ones who are willing to accept that you’re better than they. A constant displeasure with life can make you special, it can make you popular, and it can give you a group of subservient followers. How could this not be pure pleasure?
Being displeased has solutions for those who don’t want to be seen as the kid who’s got everything too. Ever wanted to be that cool independent looking kid? The one who doesn’t let pop culture dictate his decisions? He complains just as much as the rest of us. The trick to being part of indie culture is to be very quick to insult and complain about anything that is mainstream (Read: recognizable to more than ten people). Discussing the shortcomings of popular music groups, television shows, movies, and media in general is one of the most common topics to these people. To be of any quality something must have been made in the back room of an obscure store in an obscure part of an obscure town, and it’s only cool until someone else sees it, at with point it becomes an unenthusiastic, “ok.”
I myself am a member of most of these categories I’ve described, as are most of my friends. We do it because it’s easy, and it makes us feel better. As Candide said “There is the happiest man alive, because he is superior to all he possesses." But ignoring the simple joy of putting on a show of displeasure, complaining has many short comings. The first being a fear of honest opinions. There is often a great moment of awkwardness after viewing a movie with friends as we all try to figure out whether or not to rip on the film’s many inherent flaws, even if we loved the film. It is difficult to admit when you like something, for fear of being instantly shot down by your happily displeased friends. Not only can you not admit liking something, you rarely hear honest opinions about things,which makes asking for help in choosing something to read, watch, or listen to more or less useless.
Besides having killed the honest opinion, insulting everyone and everything is obviously bound to offend a lot of people. While the opinions expressed are often not true, and usually exaggerated, they are often taken quite seriously and can lose you many friends and get you into quite a bit of trouble if you aren’t careful. Complaining about a car not up to your standards to it’s proud owner, or expressing displeasure after a play to its hardworking director are obviously out of the question, but no matter how safe you think it is to complain, you’re always at risk of offending.
I believe that life would be generally more pleasant if we could admit to each other honestly what we find pleasure in. If we throw out all dishonest displeasure I believe we could live honest and happy lives, as equals, not self-inflated egos and false dissidents.