The trouble with titles, continued

I’m just finishing Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis, which Baltimore Bookworm already does a great job of summarizing.

Naturally, I’m especially interested in what Haidt has to say, for instance, about the uses of adversity in life (he gives an entire chapter to it), since that fits one of the impostors in my book.

But, since I can’t help but think about book titles these days, which you may have noticed here and here, I found myself lamenting the title that Haidt’s publishers forced on him. The book is not just about happiness, and hypothesis, no doubt meant to sound mysterious, is too academic to hit me in the gut. Instead, it occurred to me, there is a much more obvious title that Haidt’s publisher, Basic Books, could have chosen.

Haidt gives us, above all, a great extended metaphor for our psyche as consisting of a huge elephant  and a little rider on top. Hence the cover image you see here. The elephant is that part of our brain/mind that we’re hardly aware of but that is actually in charge most of the time. The little rider is our intellectual brain/mind, which evolved much later and which does its best to drive the elephant but most often just ends up having to go where the beast goes. In all those cases, the rider’s main skill is to confabulate (Haidt’s word) a story to explain to himself why he, the rider, really wanted to go where the elephant went. You see, he couldn’t possibly admit to himself that he, as mahout, is not in control. In other words, we are great at fooling ourselves. We do things for reasons we barely understand, and then retroactively concoct a logic that makes the action sound plausible, to ourselves and society.

So, if the metaphor was good enough for the cover image, why not for the title? In my opinion, the book should have been called:

The elephant and his rider: What really drives you, and why you lie to yourself about it.

(And, because this is the Hannibal Blog, one more reason why I like the cover image: This is how you must imagine Hannibal’s mahouts riding their elephants across the mighty Rhone river, while under attack from Gauls on the far side. Most of the mahouts drowned. But the elephants, natural  snorkelers that they are, made it across. Having crossed the stream thus, Hannibal was able to take them onwards to the Alps, and then…. well, you know. More about his elephants here.)
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