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Happiness and Economics

by rdf Thu Oct 19th, 2006 at 02:01:54 PM EST

I've brought this up before, but a posting on Sam Harris's forum brought out so many comments (some even on the topic!) that I thought it might be worthwhile to post it here as well.

(Sam Harris is the author of the "End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" - both decrying the effects of organized religion on human history and behavior).

The original diary thread here:
http://www.samharris.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2697


I think much of the reason people turn to religion (and other ideologies) is in a quest for happiness.

Those societies which favored a steady-state existence (most of the pre-industrialized world) looked not at acquiring material possessions, but elsewhere as a way to organize their lives.

With the coming of the industrialized age and the rise of mercantilism and capitalism, religion adapted (see Calvin) so that work became a virtue. Max Weber did a good job of explaining this at the turn of the 20th Century: The Protestant Work Ethic.

We, in the industrialized west, are now starting to face the fact that there is not an unlimited supply of "stuff" and raw materials to support an acquisitive way of life. Many in the US have turned to organized religion. Some have turned to quasi-religions like Yoga, meditation and other new age disciplines.

This is an attempt to find meaning in one's life, now that materialism has become less satisfying and sustainable. This trend has not yet been picked up by our leading politicians and economists, who all promote "growth" as a solution to our problems.

A small minority of thinkers are looking at alternative measures of success. One of these is to maximize "happiness". Several countries in southeast Asia are now proposing to measure GNH (gross national happiness) instead of GDP.

One who has led the way in the US is the ecological economist Herman Daly. He proposed a happiness measure 30 years ago and continues to work on calling attention to the impossibility of continual growth in a finite world. He even collaborated with a religious thinker on one of his books in an effort to find a common ground.

As a good introduction to his ideas, read this short essay:
http://dieoff.org/page88.htm

I also have several discussions on my web site about the need to design a sustainable economic system. Redirecting people's energies away from work and materialism could be a way to transition to a new form of society.

Perhaps we can extract some positive things from people's quest for the "meaning of life" from those who believe in the supernatural and turn it, instead, into some policy prescriptions which can be based upon reality instead. Suggestions welcome.

Display:
Good call. It's easy to have a go at the idea of progress in the West, but in fact progress - of some sort - seems to be basic to human happiness.

You need a goal, and you need to have the sense you're heading towards it rather than getting further away from it.

The big mistake of the last few centuries has been to limit that to economic growth. And I think you're quite right about fundamentalism and New Age ideas, because what defines both of them isn't so much the detail as a simmering millennarianism, which is where those particular world views want to progress to. (It's often explicit with New Agers, many of whom will tell you how 2012 is the year that everything changes. Twenty years ago it was 2001, or 1999, or the Harmonic Convergence, or...)

Marxism had a similar driving force, with its 'after the revolution' rhetoric.

Advertising tries to play it up on much smaller scales, with its encouragement to see, buy, spend... But it's becoming increasingly empty, financially and personally.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Oct 19th, 2006 at 02:13:18 PM EST
A small minority of thinkers are looking at alternative measures of success. One of these is to maximize "happiness". Several countries in southeast Asia are now proposing to measure GNH (gross national happiness) instead of GDP.

China seems to be taking the idea seriously, too, as well as indices measuring resource consumption:

Along with the people's happiness the country is also developing indices that measure other intangibles such as energy efficiency, advances in science and technology and social development.

China's Eleventh Five-Year (2006-2010) Development Program, which will guide the country's economic and social development calls for cutting its energy consumption by 20 percent by the end of the decade from the 2005 level.

Along with energy savings many regional development plans are looking seriously at conserving water resources. Beijing hopes to cut its water consumption by 20 percent over the next five years and hopes to cut it by five percent this year.

People's Daily Online: China introduces "happiness index" into regional development evaluation system



Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Thu Oct 19th, 2006 at 08:31:07 PM EST
Rather than promoting happiness, I think economic policy should seek to stamp out unhappiness. Things like infant mortality, poverty rates, disease, environmental pollution... are more easily quantifiable and actually easier to address from the point of view of policy than "happiness", which should be left to each individual or group to pursue as they see fit, with the role of government as an enabler, not as a prescriber of happiness recipes.

I expect Fran and Barbara (at least) to take you to task for calling Yoga a quasi-religion. I suppose you can take yoga and meditation as religions, or as centering techniques.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 05:18:14 AM EST
Rather than promoting happiness, I think economic policy should seek to stamp out unhappiness.

Yes.  As economic policy, "eliminating unhappiness", not "promoting happiness", should be the strategy.

But GDP is a meme which needs to be usurped.  And I'm afraid that without a succinct, mind-concentrating and positive alternative meme, GDP will continue to rule the roost as the bottom-line benchmark for measuring the success of a society.

As such, to turn people's attention and concern from GDP to more important measures, we need a number which can be easily used as a rough benchmark for comparisons.  Something like the United Nations' Human Development Index (HDI), which factors in "poverty, literacy, education, life expectancy, childbirth" among others such as GDP:

██ High human development██ Medium human development██ Low human development██ Unavailable
██ High human development██ Medium human development██ Low human development██ Unavailable

Wouldn't have be exactly the HDI, but how about something like it?

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 06:08:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why do we need a single number to be used as a benchmark?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 06:17:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because you need a single number to build league tables.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 06:19:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And why do we need to build league tables?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 06:25:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How else will the papers fill column inches?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 06:27:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They could print xyplots.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 06:29:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What? With something other than time on the x-axis?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 06:30:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, like Life Expectancy on the x axis and Adult Literacy on the y axis, for instance.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 06:47:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I recall a study showing that very few people can understand a graph unless it plots something vs. time.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Sun Oct 22nd, 2006 at 02:29:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because the overwhelming majority of people, including journalists, pundits, politicians and government bureaucrats I dare say, don't have the time, attention span, will power, and/or intelligence to deal with much more than a single number.

And then they build up or tear down policies that affect us all, based on and spinning the one measure that everyone cares about (even if they don't understand it) because that's what the rest of the herd is following.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 06:41:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If we could get economists to stop pushing "utility" and stop concentrating on "economics is optimisation [of a single quantity]" maybe, just maybe, they wouldn't force single lists on people.

Ordinary people have plenty of time, attention span, willpower, and intelligence to deal with arcane sports statistics. Yes, there is a league table because we're talking about tournaments to select a winner, but sports league tables have a gazillion columns full of stats.

So, why do we need a single benchmark again?

[Sports fan counterexample by Ralph Nader, used without permission]

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 06:45:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ordinary people have plenty of time, attention span, willpower, and intelligence to deal with arcane sports statistics. Yes, there is a league table because we're talking about tournaments to select a winner, but sports league tables have a gazillion columns full of stats.

I think only a minority of people -- a minority of sports fans, in fact -- only the real sports otaku, really get much data beyond who won or lost.

Sure, there are other domains: movies (who won which Oscar prizes, made the most money at the box office, said what in which film, acted with who in which film); fashion (who wore what at which gala event, who was People's sexiest man alive in 2002, etc.); and tons of other pop culture domains where people gather, retain and analyze plenty of data.

But here is the big difference:  Just as baseball otaku are a tiny minority of the world population, and just as football otaku are another tiny minority, ditto for movie otaku and fashion otaku and restaurant otaku, etc., economics otaku are also a tiny minority of people in the world.

The difference is this:  Economics affects everybody in the developed and developing world.  But who won Wimbledon in 2001, who directed the most Oscar-winning films, which restaurants in New York serve organic food, barely affects anyone.

What gives people the "bandwidth" to be informed about and have a good understanding of lots of (often subtle) data on a topic beyond a single (or a tiny handful of) figure(s) is a deep personal interest in that topic.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people do not have a deep personal interest in economics.

So we need to come up with something that most of us can deal with: something that is concise and succinct, but that is reality-based and reflects accurately their living conditions, opportunities and hazards.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 07:05:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If we could get economists to stop pushing "utility" and stop concentrating on "economics is optimisation [of a single quantity]"...
But "utility" isn't a single quantity in any ordinary sense, it is the ineffable summation of all that is good for a rational being free of internal conflicts, and it just happens to be true that the only thing that matters to a rational being is money, so GDP = aggregate utility = good.

Snarky tone aside, the first half of the above captures a significant point, which is that utility is (of course) defined to be something a lot like "good" as judged from a personal perspective. The concept diverges from reality, though, because it suggests that different kinds of good are more comparable than (in psychological reality) they are. For example, it implies consistent valuations for benefits a day, a week, and a decade from now -- but human valuations don't work that way. This suggests to me that the concept of "utility" has limited utility. Worst, though, the idea turns toxic when it diffuses away from its origin.

As carefully stated by theorists, "utility" inherently includes (for example) the value of being able to expect a sustainable future, the value of having a clean conscience, the value of being a social cooperator, and so on. Acting according to "self interest" might include selfless devotion to others.
Striving to maximise utility in this sense is hard to argue against.

But as understood by people outside the little circle of theorists and their fans, utility mutates into the idea of getting stuff you want, including services and so on. And since rational people "should" maximise their utility, anyone who doesn't grab everything possible is an irrational fool. And since money can be exchanged for stuff, it makes a convenient measure of utility. Hence the sick equation, "GDP = aggregate utility = good".

In short, I'd argue that economic thinking has some surprisingly bad effects not because of what it is, but because of how easily it is debased into the idea that rational behaviour requires amoral acquisition.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sun Oct 22nd, 2006 at 03:19:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Utility is not only unhelpful but wrong in that it presumes that all preferences (what you call "different kinds of psychological goods") are comparable or reducible to a single scale, that individual preferences are consistent and that collective preferences are comparable, reducible to a single scale, and consistent.

There is no escaping the fact that decision problems are multidimensional.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Oct 22nd, 2006 at 05:38:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Although utility fails as a description of human behavior, it does come closer to being a norm for human behavior (e.g., one can argue that individual preferences should be consistent). Of course it then collapses as a model if one attempts to build from there to collective preferences. Further, the collective-preference problems cast further doubt on the applicability of utility to "in-dividuals", since we seem more divisible when examined in psychological/neurological depth. And this, perhaps, undermines whatever claim it may have to defining a norm.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Sun Oct 22nd, 2006 at 02:10:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It has been suggested that just as in social choice theory it is hard to turn indivudual preferences into a single collective preference, it might be equally hard to turn an individual's multiple wnats and needs into a single individual preference ranking. In other words, if I am hungry, thirsty, cold, bored and tired to various degrees, does it follow that my preferences regarding what to do next, assuming each of my options addresses some nontrivial combination of my wants and needs, have to be consistent?

Sometimes the utility and rational choice model is taken as an action, as in implied preferences, where people decide it is pointless to ask people what they prefer and try to see if their behaviour matches their preferences, and instead postulate that preferences are as they need to be to be consistent with behaviour.

Rational choice theory may be an interesting branch of mathematics, but I think to make it the axiomatic foundation of economics is a bit of a stretch.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Oct 22nd, 2006 at 02:19:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This question recalls for me ThatBritGuy's comment in Eternal City Blues' Anglo-French "Special Relationship" diary:

The natural trend on the playing fields of Eton, and on MBA courses is to ape the US, because their reformist free-market yadda yadda is so much more glamorous than anything Europe can produce.

What Europe needs, and the UK needs especially, is an academic and intellectual push back against free-marketism.

Someone needs to start telling different, and more accurate, stories about how the world works. Because at the moment, in both the City and in government, it's the freebooting capitalist model that's captivating hearts and minds.

GDP has been "captivating hearts and minds" for too long.

We need to come up with a meme that is more "glamorous" than GDP (I use ThatBritGuy's here "glamorous", but I mean compelling).

HDI is one contender.  Doesn't have to be a three-letter acronym.

Come to think of it, you came up with a pretty good one yourself.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 06:50:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What's been captivating hearts and minds is not GDP, it's the "get rich quick" mentality.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 06:58:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Let's be a little more discriminating in our assessment of HDI:


Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 06:51:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good one.  I didn't see that map below.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 07:06:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The HDI is definitely a lot better than GDP as a measure, though it's not complete. If you're into this, I recommend reading up on the human capabilities approach, which also influenced the HDI.

Measures which focus on happiness instead of GDP or wealth can easily fall into the trap of narrow utilitarianism, the capabilities approach is more complete in that sense.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 08:49:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting.  I hope the human capabilities approach continues to get more traction.

Measures which focus on happiness instead of GDP or wealth can easily fall into the trap of narrow utilitarianism

Miguel also mentions "utility" in a comment above.  Are you referring to the same thing?  What exactly do you mean by "utlitarianism"?

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 09:06:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think any measure which is one-dimensional lends itself to narrow utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism is a theory of ethics which lends itself to being reduced to "maximising utility". Utility has a technical meaning in economics and decision theory.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 09:12:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed.

I would add that the technical economic concept of 'utility' has its roots in utilitarian ethical theory.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 09:50:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, the logarithmic utility of money was introduced by one of the Bernoullis in the mid-1700's, several decades before Jeremy Bentham called his philosophy "utilitarianism". I think utilitarianism was, in fact, an attempt at "rationalising" ethics and the philosophy was always an attempt at doing what the modern mathematical theory of utility does.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 09:53:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You learn something new every day.

What I still want to do is moderate this 'technical measure' distinction. Utility as it is used in economics does contain all kinds of philosophical assumptions about mindstates, etc. You can't talk about the declining marginal utility of consumption without making this utility partly a subjective measure of gratification, for instance.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 10:11:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wikipedia:
In probability theory and decision theory the St. Petersburg paradox describes a particular lottery game (sometimes called St. Petersburg Lottery) that leads to a random variable with infinite expected value, i.e. infinite expected payoff, but would nevertheless be considered to be worth only a very small amount of money. The St. Petersburg paradox is a classical situation where a naïve decision theory (which takes only the expected value into account) would recommend a course of action that no (real) rational person would be willing to take. The paradox can be resolved when the decision model is refined via the notion of marginal utility or by taking into account the finite resources of the participants.

The paradox is named from Daniel Bernoulli's presentation of the problem and his solution, published in 1738 in the Commentaries of the Imperial Academy of Science of Saint Petersburg (Bernoulli 1738). However, the problem was invented by Daniel's cousin Nicolas Bernoulli who first stated it in a letter to Rémond de Montmort from 9th of September 1713.

Daniel was the first to solve the problem by showing that even though the expected payoff of the game is infinite, the expected log-payoff (i.e., the expected utility of playing the game) is finite.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 10:16:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You can't talk about the declining marginal utility of consumption without making this utility partly a subjective measure of gratification, for instance.

I agree.  Bernoulli himself said:

"There is no doubt that a gain of one thousand ducats is more significant to the pauper than to a rich man though both gain the same amount."

And Gabriel Cramer, a few years before Bernoulli, refers to the role of "good sense":

"the mathematicians estimate money in proportion to its quantity, and men of good sense in proportion to the usage that they may make of it."


Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 10:49:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the explanation.

I am not sure what you mean by "narrow utilitarianism" as opposed to "utilitarianism" tout court.  But isn't the policy approach that you and I agree on (as opposed to the "marketing" approach I am suggesting to replace "GDP" with some other unitary notion like HDI or median PPP income) just another form of utilitarianism as well, to wit, "negative utilitarianism"?

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 11:00:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Basically, if you go to that article, Bentham's utilitarianism is narrow, because it assumes simple pleasure and pain to be the two absolutes of ethics, whereas JS Mill's utilitarianism isn't as narrow.

What I personally meant by a narrow utilitarianism is a utilitarianism which uses a methodological individualism to form a societal calculus of happiness (unqualified, in the sense of Bentham), of which the maximation is taken to be the end-all of decision-making (individual as well as collective).

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 02:20:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Certainly we don't want to encourage the idea that a single parameter should be the final arbiter of the health or quality of an individual life or society.

However, until we come up with truly a "complete"/multi-dimensional approach or mindset to replace the GDP/DJI-oriented mindset, and until people are ready to make such a drastic switch to such a different mindset, would it not be helpful to find some transitional position where we allow people to continue working with an easily graspable, easily comparable single number, like PPP median income or, better, HDI, to start to introduce such "revolutionary" notions as including fairness, socioeconomic equality, freedom from ignorance, freedom from government oppression, and so on, beyond mere GDP?

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 09:03:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What would be interesting as an intermediate solution is using a variety of measures. There are many measures in circulation right now. Competitiveness, perceived corruption, commitment to development, openness of the economy, etc. etc. etc.

These don't provide the basis for a unitary ranking but can be used as an overview. Might be an idea for a diary, actually (I probably won't have the time to do that properly until next weekend, though).

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Oct 21st, 2006 at 01:19:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you do have time to do it next weekend, you can count on me to be one of your first readers!

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.
by marco on Sat Oct 21st, 2006 at 07:45:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Things like the HDI are still based upon material items as a measure. Happiness is a state of mind and can occur in those with modest material circumstances.

One of the reasons I posted this originally on Sam Harris's forum was because he, himself, while condemning religion for its history of intolerance, has pursued mediation as a way to produce a beneficial mental state for himself. He has been looking into Buddhism (the philosophy, not the religious overlay) for himself.

By changing the focus from the material to the emotional there is a possibility that the goals that society sets for itself could be transformed as well. We also need to realize that those who don't have an adequate standard of living to enable health, food and shelter must be dealt with using a different set of rules at present.

As to the single number, whether this gets overused or not is not under our control. The news is filled with the new Dow Jones Index level. I've heard three interview with stock traders who said that they don't pay any attention to it as it is not representative on any important economic indicators. After just having said that the reporter then goes on to ask about its "meaning".

Should we stop pursuing new economic measures just because the press is ignorant?

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 09:33:28 AM EST
By changing the focus from the material to the emotional there is a possibility that the goals that society sets for itself could be transformed as well. We also need to realize that those who don't have an adequate standard of living to enable health, food and shelter must be dealt with using a different set of rules at present.

In other words, once society has obtained a minimum (i.e. "adequate") level of material affluence, we should look at changing the emphasis of our society from the material to the emotional, and -- implicitly -- regard the successfulness of our society more in relation to emotional health rather than material wealth.  Is that right?

As to the single number, whether this gets overused or not is not under our control. The news is filled with the new Dow Jones Index level. I've heard three interview with stock traders who said that they don't pay any attention to it as it is not representative on any important economic indicators. After just having said that the reporter then goes on to ask about its "meaning".

Should we stop pursuing new economic measures just because the press is ignorant?

Not sure if I am following here.

By "new economic measures", do you mean "economic measures" that put more emphasis on "emotional" (rather than "material") well-being?

In any case, I would say that we should find some indicator that does gives primary importance to emotional/psychological/social well-being and/or human capabilities, and then let the "ignorant press" have at it.

The challenge of course will be how to get the mainstream media to drop GDP/DJI/etc. in favor of HDI/HCI ("Human Capabilities Index"?)/etc.

In the mean time, we may not have a perfect "happiness/negative suffering  index yet", but when fast rising economic and political world giants make rumblings about measuring other things besides just GDP, shouldn't we take note and try work with that as a basis for moving further in that direction?

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 11:42:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Chinese measures are all material in nature and are being used as a proxy for measuring happiness.

For example, studies have shown that one someone suffers a catastrophic event (say becoming paralyzed in an auto accident) their happiness goes down, but after some time, as they adapt their happiness tends to return to its prior level.

There are actual studies ranging over many years and countries where people are just asked how happy they are. Since it is a subjective thing why use proxies?

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 12:37:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Chinese measures are all material in nature and are being used as a proxy for measuring happiness.

You have to be wary of distortions in translation and the fact that this is Chinese government rhetoric, but on the face of it, the Chinese measures in fact do seem to encompass non-material dimensions:

enhanced ideological and moral qualities, scientific and cultural qualities and health status of the whole nation; further progress in fostering a sound moral atmosphere and harmonious interpersonal relationships; enhanced creativity of society as a whole and the development of an innovation-based nation...

China View: "China publishes resolution on building harmonious society"

Again, we have to take such rhetoric and political initiatives with a few bags of salt, but just the fact that they are prominently mentioning such factors as "harmonious interpersonal relationships", "enhanced creativity", etc. in the context of "evaluating social states in terms of human welfare", isn't that encouraging, and should it not be encouraged?

There are actual studies ranging over many years and countries where people are just asked how happy they are. Since it is a subjective thing why use proxies?

I have not read it yet, but I heard a radio interview of Daniel Gilbert who was talking about his book Stumbling on Happiness in which he discusses those studies.  Are there any other studies you could point to, and are those studies designed to be sensitive to cultural and linguistic differences across societies?

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 08:52:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
good diary, great links, great discussion.

religion filled the empty hours for thousands of years, flowing out of storytelling and oral history, respect for tribal taboos, and an aesop-like desire to encapsulate moral lessons into the tribal dna, to stop having to learn them again the hard way.

example: how many generations of humans ran their course before noticing the negative results of incest, and thus incorporated strictures into their respective codices?

religions sought to soothe fears, of death principally, of the unknown, of misfortune, and most importantly of incomprehension.

by modelling morality into plays, stories and myths, civilisation has given us a huge spiritual repository of concentrated illumination, even for atheists, who might quote a greek philosopher, speak of a procrustean bed, icarus's hubris etc, and never think of religion while doing so.

point being, religion was entertainment originally, as it still very much is in india for example, where wandering troupes of players still enact the dramas of hindu religious texts.

passing the time...and there seems to be a pattern that shows the most global and enduring myths were born in desert cultures, where emptiness yawned outside the tents, and the survival of culture depended on rigorous tradition for mental balance, just as their physiologies depended on the rare oases, tiny islands in a vast sea of shifting sand.

catholic liturgy is still charged with theatrical values, eastern christianity even more so, protestantism less.

new age religions take the 'do-no-harm' road of buddhism, and are a result of seeing how much harm has been done by orthodoxy and especially the use of religions to justify land and resource grabs.

perhaps hypocrisy is the yin to the yang of codified beliefs?

'to live outside the law you must be honest' .....bob dylan

the established religions are a dying form of entertainment compared to the 'new religion' of Entertainment, ie most people would rather watch a good movie on sound surround and have it move them than gather to listen to stories of how a good shepherd lived 2000+ years ago....yes there will be countless exceptions....lol

as dvd players, laptops, projectors, wimax, large cheap storage and bandwidth continue to break down cultural walls and blow our minds better than rocking back and forth with funny hats on, so we will see a savvier world populus, one less inclined to accept pious homilies to accept their suffering with the appropriate humility, from jewelled pontiffs whose ring collection could feed the poor of an entire country!

honestly if a martian landed and saw millions of barefoot peasants contributing their little pesos to keep the 'mother' church in material splendour, while they continued to grub unenviable existences on the marginal lands their corporate masters had pushed them onto.....

his little green noggin would explode!

secular art will be the dominant form of worship, reverence will return to the miracle web of life we weave and are woven into.

religions as we know them will become museum pieces of early human evolution of social systems. archaic legends, curious, enchanting, but sadly, also staggeringly destructive.

there comes a time to throw away the crutches, and meet the joy of dancing without them head-on.

can you tell i went to a party last night?!

any religion that doesn't involve large dollops of fun and abandon as well as solemnity and awe, SUX AND WILL BE SUPERCEDED!

or is that super-seeded?

peace out

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Oct 22nd, 2006 at 07:07:08 AM EST


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