Weihnachten: Ein paar Buchempfehlungen

Jetzt ist schon wieder Weihnachten. Also schon wieder Anlass für Buchempfehlungen (hier die Empfehlungen vom letzten Jahr). Wer Bücher schenkt, schenkt Wertpapiere (angeblich von Erich Kästner).

Irvin D Yalom, Love’s Executioner / Die Liebe und ihr Henker

Yalom ist der liebe weise Opa den wir alle gerne hätten (dazu empfehle ich den Film Yalom’s Cure). Love’s Exeutioner ist eine Sammlung von Episoden aus seiner jahrzehntelangen Therapeutentätigkeit – von der Liebe bis zur Unausweichlichkeit des Todes. Der Buchtitel ist nach einer Patientin benannt, die krankhaft-obsessiv in einen Mann „verliebt“ war, den sie eigentlich kaum kannte. Hier musste Yalom mit teils radikalen Mitteln tatsächlich eine eingebildete Liebe beenden, weil die Frau nicht weiterkam. Ein schönes Sinnbild dafür, wie es sich bei Liebe letzten Endes um Projektionen und wirklichkeitsfremde Idealbilder handeln kann.

To lose a parent or a lifelong friend is often to lose the past: the person who died may be the only other living witness to golden events of long ago. But to lose a child is to lose the future: what is lost is no less than one’s life project—what one lives for, how one projects oneself into the future, how one may hope to transcend death (indeed, one’s child becomes one’s immortality project). Thus, in professional language, parental loss is “object loss” (the “object” being a figure who has played an instrumental role in the constitution of one’s inner world); whereas child loss is “project loss” (the loss of one’s central organizing life principle, providing not only the why but also the how of life). Small wonder that child loss is the hardest loss of all to bear, that many parents are still grieving five years later, that some never recover.

Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis / Die Glückshypothese

Es gibt viele Bücher zur Suche nach dem Glück bzw. der Glücksforschung. Haidts Happiness Hypothesis ist vermutlich das beste. Eine von vielen zentralen Erkenntnissen: Das Glück ist ein Kind der sozialen Beziehungen.

If you want to predict how happy someone is, or how long she will live (and if you are not allowed to ask about her genes or personality), you should find out about her social relationships. Having strong social relationships strengthens the immune system, extends life (more than does quitting smoking), speeds recovery from surgery, and reduces the risks of depression and anxiety disorders. It’s not just that extroverts are naturally happier and healthier; when introverts are forced to be more outgoing, they usually enjoy it and find that it boosts their mood. Even people who think they don’t want a lot of social contact still benefit from it. And it’s not just that “we all need somebody to lean on”; recent work on giving support shows that caring for others is often more beneficial than is receiving help. We need to interact and intertwine with others; we need the give and the take; we need to belong. An ideology of extreme personal freedom can be dangerous because it encourages people to leave homes, jobs, cities, and marriages in search of personal and professional fulfillment, thereby breaking the relationships that were probably their best hope for such fulfillment. Seneca was right: “No one can live happily who has regard to himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility.”

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness / Ins Glück stolpern

Gilberts Buch ist gleich hinter Haidt auf Platz zwei. Zwischen banalen Erkenntnissen, die man ja doch zu oft vergisst bist hin zu neuen Einsichten deckt es alles ab, was man von einem Glücksbuch, das über einen platten Lebensratgeber weit hinausgeht, erwarten darf (vom deutschen Titel und vor allem dem Untertitel nicht abschrecken lassen!).

Among life’s cruelest truths is this one: Wonderful things are especially wonderful the first time they happen, but their wonderfulness wanes with repetition. Just compare the first and last time your child said “Mama” or your partner said “I love you” and you’ll know exactly what I mean. When we have an experience—hearing a particular sonata, making love with a particular person, watching the sun set from a particular window of a particular room—on successive occasions, we quickly begin to adapt to it, and the experience yields less pleasure each time. Psychologists call this habituation, economists call it declining marginal utility, and the rest of us call it marriage. But human beings have discovered two devices that allow them to combat this tendency: variety and time. One way to beat habituation is to increase the variety of one’s experiences (“Hey, honey, I have a kinky idea—let’s watch the sun set from the kitchen this time”). Another way to beat habituation is to increase the amount of time that separates repetitions of the experience. Clinking champagne glasses and kissing one’s spouse at the stroke of midnight would be a relatively dull exercise were it to happen every evening, but if one does it on New Year’s Eve and then allows a full year to pass before doing it again, the experience will offer an endless bouquet of delights because a year is plenty long enough for the effects of habituation to disappear. The point here is that time and variety are two ways to avoid habituation, and if you have one, then you don’t need the other. In fact (and this is the really critical point, so please put down your fork and listen), when episodes are sufficiently separated in time, variety is not only unnecessary—it can actually be costly.

Daniel Kahnemann, Thinking, Fast and Slow / Schnelles Denken, langsames Denken

Wie ich heute gemerkt habe, wird Kahnemanns Buch immer noch prominent platziert bei Thalia. Aber ja, es ist empfehlenswert. Wenn ein Nobelpreisträger ein Buch schreibt, kann man nicht viel falsch machen. Kahnemann unterscheidet unsere zwei Denksysteme: Das schnelle, reaktiv-instinktive und unbewusste auf der einen und das langsame, überlegende, analytische auf der anderen Seite. Kahnemann haben wir es (wie auch insbesondere Dan Ariely) die fundamentale Hinterfragung der naiven Annahme des hyperrationalen homo oeconomicus zu verdanken – von der Risikoaversion, der Illusion vom raffinierten Trader an den Börsen bis hin zur „Theorie-induzierten Blindheit“ (sobald man eine Theorie akzeptiert hat, fallen einem ihre Unzulänglichkeiten nicht mehr auf). Oder auch: Wir sind nicht so vernunftbegabt, wie wir das gerne hätten. Besser, wir finden uns damit ab. Beeinflussen können wir es laut Kahnemann ohnehin kaum. Und übrigens, auch bei Kahnemann geht es ums (Lebens-)Glück.

One reason for the low correlations between individuals‘ circumstances and their satisfaction with life is that both experienced happiness and life satisfaction are largely determiend by the genetics of temperament. A disposition for well-being is heritable as height or intelligence, as demonstrated by studies of twins seperated at birth. People who appear equally fortunate vary greatly in how happy they are. in somce instances, as in the case of marriage, the correlations with well-being are low because of balancing effects. The same situation may be good for some people and bad for others, and new circumstances have both benefits and costs. In other cases, such as high income, the effects on life satisfactin are generally positive, but the picture is complicated by the fact that some people care much more about money than others do.

Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape

Also gut, Gott ist tot. Aber wie sieht Ethik ohne Gott aus? Sam Harris hat es zumindest versucht, ein allgemein-verständliche moralisches Grundgerüst abseits von Glaubensgrundsätzen und dem Gedanken an die Bestrafung oder Belohnung im Jenseits aufzubauen. Vereinfacht gesagt: Wir wollen doch alle (oder sollten es wollen), dass es allen einigermaßen gut geht.

in the moral sphere, it is safe to begin with the premise that it is good to avoid behaving in such a way as to produce the worst possible misery for everyone. I am not claiming that most of us personally care about the experience of all conscious beings; I am saying that a universe in which all conscious beings suffer the worst possible misery is worse than a universe in which they experience well-being. This is all we need to speak about “moral truth” in the context of science. Once we admit that the extremes of absolute misery and absolute flourishing—whatever these states amount to for each particular being in the end—are different and dependent on facts about the universe, then we have admitted that there are right and wrong answers to questions of morality.

For nearly a century, the moral relativism of science has given faith-based religion—that great engine of ignorance and bigotry—a nearly uncontested claim to being the only universal framework for moral wisdom. As a result, the most powerful societies on earth spend their time debating issues like gay marriage when they should be focused on problems like nuclear proliferation, genocide, energy security, climate change, poverty, and failing schools. Granted, the practical effects of thinking in terms of a moral landscape cannot be our only reason for doing so—we must form our beliefs about reality based on what we think is actually true. But few people seem to recognize the dangers posed by thinking that there are no true answers to moral questions.

Yuval Noah Hariri, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow / Homo Deus: Eine Geschichte von Morgen

Ich habe Homo Deus immer noch nicht gelesen, obwohl ich es schon vor Längerem geschenkt bekommen habe. Geschenkte Bücher, jedenfalls dann, wenn sie von guten Freunden kommen, sollte man stets lesen. Der Schenkende denkt sich ja was dabei. Empfehlen will ich es dennoch – einfach nur deshalb, weil es mir schon so viele intelligente Menschen ans Herz gelegt haben. Beim Durchblättern habe ich auch sogleich eine zitierenswerte Stelle gefunden:

The real nemesis of the modern economy is ecological collapse. Both scientific progress and economic growth take place within a brittle biosphere, and as they gather steam, so the shock waves destabilise the ecology. In order to provide every person in the world with the same standard of living as affluent Americans, we would need a few more planets – but we have only this one. If progress and growth do end up destroying the ecosystem, the cost will be dear not merely to vampires, foxes and rabbits, but also to Sapiens. An ecological meltdown will cause economic ruin, political turmoil, a fall in human standards of living, and might threaten the very existence of human civilisation.

John J Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics

Ein politisches Buch muss am Ende einer Liste mit Buchempfehlungen von mir dann doch sein. Mearsheimers The Tragedy of Great Power Politics ist ein Klassiker der internationalen Beziehungen. Mearsheimer ist einer jener (Neo-)Realisten, deren Thesen aufgrund der geopolitischen Umwälzungen der letzten Jahre wieder enormen Aufschwung bekommen haben. Am Ende des Tages geht es Staaten darum, zu überleben – egal, ob sie demokratisch, sozialistisch, oder sonstwie verfasst sind.

the structure of the international system, not the particular characteristics of individual great powers, causes them to think and act offensively and to seek hegemony. […] I assume that the principal motive behind great-power behavior is survival. In anarchy, however, the desire to survive encourages states to behave aggressively. Nor does my theory classify states as more or less aggressive on the basis of their economic or political systems. Offensive realism makes only a handful of assumptions about great powers, and these assumptions apply equally to all great powers. Except for differences in how much power each state controls, the theory treats all states alike.

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