Now, anybody who had been exposed to Alain de Botton during his recent visit to Australia to promote his new book and television series on 'status anxiety' could be excused for thinking that this fellow's a bit of a flake.
Status Anxiety proved just one thing - that Alain isn't really up to evolving original concepts. And nor should he have to be. For this DVD, Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness, shows that while Alain is no philosopher himself (despite being labelled as such on the DVD slick), he is a fine student of philosophy and a good communicator.
This DVD comprises six episodes of almost 25 minutes each (a nice bite-size tonic if taken once a day) dealing with philosophers whom Alain believes can contribute to happiness in our modern times. And the more he tells us about these philosophers, who lived and wrote up to 2500 years ago, the more we realise that life really hasn't changed at all since they started contemplating their navels.
We kick off with Socrates, the great Greek philosopher who was one of the grandparents of civilisation as we know it. His specialty was in bolstering our self-confidence.
From Socrates we move to my personal favourite, Epicurus, who believed that happiness could be found without excess of any kind, through friends, freedom and rational examination or thought. None of the writings of Epicurus, who died in 270 BC, survive, but his teachings were passed down by generation after generation of followers.
Next up is Seneca (from about 2000 years ago) whom Alain finds has very pertinent things to say about anger-management. Those chariot drivers on the streets of Rome really had to contend with a lot, with foreign drivers who just couldn't understand civilised road-rules.
Montaigne, the French 16th century philosopher, talked about our self-esteem. What's the point of envying or excessively admiring those in higher society, he asked. If you feel intimidated, just remember that they too have to go to the toilet every day. And they fart just like you.
Then the 19th century German philosopher Schopenhauer deals with love and its influence on the will to live, and Alain winds up his super-swift survey with good old Nietzche, who has something of consolation to say to any of us suffering from abnormal hardship. It's from hardship, he said, that worthwhile achievements in life spring. Any Collingwood supporter could have told us that!
So forget the more recent Status Anxiety, which really is a load of old cobblers. A Guide to Happiness gives us Alain de Botton when he was still content to be a scholar and communicator, and didn't feel driven by status and anxiety to come up with a Grand Theory which really amounted to just a pile of fertiliser.