Screw gdp as a measure of successful cultures.
When asked towards the end of her life (by an Ivy League Masters researcher) whether the abject poverty of her childhood had made her eventual success all the more enjoyable, Sophie Tucker thought for a second and then replied, “Well kid, I been rich an’ I been poor, an’ trust me, rich is bedder”.
This is fine as far as it goes, in terms of being a bright woman’s response to a dumb élite question. But, as long ago as the late 1970s, researchers were finding that levels of self-assigned happiness in Mega-lottery winners are not significantly different from those of respondents in a control sample.
Some people are glass half-empty, and some are glass half-full. I am very much in the former category, which in our current world is (I suspect) a better way to be, because it helps one expect human waste to hit fans on a regular basis….and thus take avoidance action as necessary. But there are two fundamental questions in play here:
- Does material wellbeing lead to happiness?
- What are the relative roles of genetic inheritance and environmental life experiences in the creation of a contented life?
Infuriatingly, the answer is “it depends” – on three things: how you personally judge happiness, what your parents are/were like, and random highs and lows particular to you in a life that is and always will be a unique experience. Or, as we saw immediately above, money, genes and events.
The good news is, the historical, neuroscientific and socially anthropological data are pretty conclusive. The bad news is, very few people in power have read that body of information, and even the tiny percentage who have don’t always join up the dots.
What makes Benthamism a philosophy and not an ideology is that it does join up the dots, and it does change its mind about what the goal of governments should be.
Jeremy Bentham defined the “fundamental axiom” of his philosophy as, “it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong”. Contemporary Benthamites now largely accept that ‘happiness’ as a term is so personal as to be almost meaningless…and that some individual definitions of happiness are deplorably anti-social – for example paedophiles, psychopaths, material obsessives, neoliberal globalist bankers, sadists and other folks worthy of permanent detention.
For myself, I’d redefine the goal of 21st century Government as ‘the greatest fulfilment of the greatest number of law-abiding citizens dedicated to the toleration of all views held in the pursuit of individual freedom and genuine democracy’.
You may have spotted that my expression of Utilitarianism has morphed into an all encompassing anti-weasel vehicle designed to control the likes of both Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson….both of whom I regard as retarded, power-drunk ideologues with intolerantly fixated designs on personal freedom. Were they still around in genuine power politics, it would also stop Antifa, Nick Boles and Harriet Harman from doing anything disturbingly silly. I make no apology for this.
Now whether we like it or not, the judgement criterion for successful government (and sure as Hell, it isn’t plural, on account of there being only one) is the amount of money various citizens have. This is not, of course, the term used: gdp is the term used. Herewith the problems with that idea:
- What about other criteria like time spent with family, partner, kids, pets and close chums?
- The gdp may look terrific, but is a disparity of wealth greater than that between the Bourbon aristocrats and the Parisan sans culottes in 1786 altogether healthy?
- If I had a Pound for every time I’ve read drivel about the number of millionaires created in the UK since 1979, I’d probably be one of them. But recording that number depends on believing in Trickle-Down Wealth. And no economist with a functional brain today can countenance such a silly idea: it has been disproved a dozen or more times by massive and multivariate research.
- Over and over I hear that the poorest 10% ‘have the same purchasing power as they had in 1992’. Well first off, they only have that status in the perniciously cheating minds of various Chancellors who keep changing the Basket of Goods to make rampant inflation look like deflation; and second, a purchasing power of close to 0% is pretty much the same no matter how many times your deluded measurements multiply it.
In the East End during the first part of the last War, many people had no home, little in the way of entertainment and nothing to look forward to beyond Nazi bombs. Mancunians in the areas surrounding Trafford Park were in the same boat, and the residents of Coventry had an even worse time of it. But people from that time consistently testified that social compassion, “pulling together” and allround generosity have not been equalled in British society since.
Social stability, overall contentment and personal fulfilment have, for the great majority of UK adults, almost nothing to do with material possessions. They may think such things are important, but in research using photographic stimuli, they consistently react most strongly to pictures of holidays, friends, kids, animals and gardens.
Every measure of fulfilment in 2019 is far too one-size-fits-all quantitative. For example:
- Employment, we’re told, has never been higher. But how many workers enjoy their job, feel empowered by it, want more hours and like their employers?
- They may love their homes, but how many of the items in it have been paid for by maxed-out credit? How well do they sleep at night?
- In research studies, citizens regularly give positive answers to questions about diversity, multiculturalism, sexuality, ecological issues and Human Rights. But they often vote in ways that contradict those attitudes, and – in one-to-one qualitative interviews – freely admit that they’re sick of being “told what to think”.
If there aren’t enough of the mass of The People able to afford repurchase, a system demanding constant repurchase will fail. If the definition of contentment is puerile and only minutely relevant, society will become unstable. If the overwhelming percentage of the political class is serving the perverse needs of a few dozen massive Party donors, then the elective system will collapse. And if the familial community aspirations of the proletariat are ignored, patronised or cheated, then the Rule of Law will disappear, and any semblance of civilised culture must collapse.
We are so, so far away from realising this – and so interminably distracted by Brexit – I genuinely fear for my homeland.