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David Lucifer
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Social Policy Implications of the New Happiness Research
« on: 2004-07-31 14:00:31 »
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source: The Third Culture
author: Geoffrey Miller
vector: #sl4

In the last ten years, psychology has finally started to deliver the goods — hard facts about what causes human happiness. The results have been astonishing, but their social implications have not sparked any serious public debate:

(1) Almost all humans are surprisingly happy almost all the time. 90% of Americans report themselves to be "very happy" or "fairly happy". Also, almost everyone thinks that they are happier than the average person. To a first approximation, almost everyone is near the maximum on the happiness dimension, and this has been true throughout history as far back as we have reliable records. (This may be because our ancestors preferred happy people as sexual partners, driving happiness upwards in both sexes through sexual selection).

(2) Individuals still differ somewhat in their happiness, but these differences are extremely stable across the lifespan, and are almost entirely the result of heritable genetic differences (as shown by David Lykken's and Auke Tellegen's studies of identical twins reared apart.)

(3) Major life events that we would expect to affect happiness over the long term (e.g. winning the lottery, death of a spouse) only affect it for six months or a year. Each person appears to hover around a happiness "set-point" that is extremely resistant to change.

(4) The "usual suspects" in explaining individual differences in happiness have almost no effect. A person's age, sex, race, income, geographic location, nationality, and education level have only trivial correlations with happiness, typically explaining less than 2% of the variance. An important exception is that hungry, diseased, oppressed people in developing nations tend to be slightly less happy — but once they reach a certain minimum standard of calorie intake and physical security, further increases in material affluence do not increase their happiness very much.

(5) For those who suffer from very low levels of subjective well-being (e.g. major depression), the most potent anti-depressants are pharmaceutical, not social or economic. Six months on Prozac™, Wellbutrin™, Serzone™, or Effexor™ will usually put a depressed person back near a normal happiness set-point (apparently by increasing serotonin's effects in the left prefrontal cortex). The effects of such drugs are much stronger than any increase in wealth or status, or any other attempt to change the external conditions of life.

The dramatic, counter-intuitive results of happiness research have received a fair amount of media attention. The leading researchers, such as Ed Diener, David Myers, David Lykken, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Norbert Schwarz, and Daniel Kahneman, are regularly interviewed in the popular press. Yet the message has influenced mostly the self-help genre of popular psychology books (which is odd, given that the whole concept of self-help depends on ignoring the heritability and stability of the happiness set-point). The research has not produced the social, economic, and political revolution that one might have expected. Journalists have not had the guts to rock our ideological boats by asking serious questions about the broader social implications of the research.

Popular culture is dominated by advertisements that offer the following promise: buy our good or service, and your subjective well-being will increase. The happiness research demonstrates that most such promises are empty. Perhaps all advertisements for non-essential goods should be required to carry the warning: "Caution: scientific research demonstrates that this product will increase your subjective well-being only in the short term, if at all, and will not increase your happiness set-point". Of course, luxury goods may work very well to signal our wealth and taste to potential sexual partners and social rivals, through the principles of conspicuous consumption that Thorstein Veblen identified. However, the happiness research shows that increases in numbers of sexual partners and social status do not boost overall long-term happiness. There are good evolutionary reasons why we pursue sex and status, but those pursuits are apparently neither causes nor consequences of our happiness level. Some journalists may have realized that the happiness research challenges the consumerist dream-world upon which their advertising revenues depend — their failure to report on the implications of the research for consumerism is probably no accident. They are in the business of selling readers to advertisers, not telling readers that advertising is irrelevant to their subjective well-being.

Also, if we take the happiness research seriously, most of the standard rationales for economic growth, technological progress, and improved social policy simply evaporate. In economics for example, people are modelled as agents who try to maximize their "subjective expected utility'. At the scientific level, this assumption is very useful in understanding consumer behavior and markets. But at the ideological level of political economy, the happiness literature shows that "utility" cannot be equated with happiness. That is, people may act as if they are trying to increase their happiness by buying products, but they are not actually achieving that aim. Moreover, increasing GNP per capita, which is a major goal of most governments in the world, will not have any of the promised effects on subjective well-being, once a certain minimum standard of living is in place. None of the standard "social indicators" of economic, political, and social progress are very good at tracking human happiness.

When hot-headed socialists were making this claim 150 years ago, it could be dismissed as contentious rhetoric. Equally, claims by the rich that "money doesn't buy happiness" could be laughed off as self-serving nonsense that perpetuated the oppression of the poor by creating a sort of envy-free pseudo-contentment. But modern science shows both were right: affluence produces rapidly diminishing returns on happiness. This in turn has a stark and uncomfortable message for those of us in the developed world who wallow in material luxuries: every hundred dollars that we spend on ourselves will have no detectable effect on our happiness; but the same money, if given to hungry, ill, oppressed developing-world people, would dramatically increase their happiness. In other words, effective charity donations have a powerful hedonic rationale (if one takes an objective view of the world), whereas runaway consumerism does not. Tor Norretranders (in this Edge Forum) has pointed out that 50 billion dollars a year — one dollar a week from each first world person — could end world hunger, helping each of the 6 billion people in the world to reach their happiness set-point. The utilitarian argument for the rich giving more of their money to the poor is now scientifically irrefutable, but few journalists have recognized that revolutionary implication. (Of course, equally modest contributions to the welfare of other animals capable of subjective experience would also have a dramatic positive effect on overall mammalian, avian, and reptilian happiness.)

Other contributors to this Edge Forum have also alluded to the social implications of happiness research. David Myers pointed out the lack of correlation between wealth and happiness: "it's not the economy, stupid'. Douglas Rushkoff and Denise Caruso bemoaned America's descent into mindless, impulsive consumerism and media addiction, neither of which deliver the promised hedonic pay-offs. Daniel Goleman identified the hidden social effects of our daily consumption habits — they not only fail to make us happier, but they impose high environmental costs on everyone else. Others have suggested that some external substitute for consumerism might be more hedonically effective. David Pink championed a switch from accumulating money to searching for meaning. John Horgan was excited about the quiet proliferation of better psychedelic drugs. Howard Rheingold thinks more electronic democracy will help. They may be right that spiritualism, LSD, and online voting will increase our happiness, but the scientific evidence makes me skeptical. If these advances don't change our genes or our serotonin levels in left prefrontal cortex, I doubt they'll make us happier. There may be other rationales for these improvements in the quality of life, but, ironically, our subjective quality of life is not one of them.

Perhaps the most important implication of the happiness literature concerns population policy. For a naïve utilitarian like me who believes in the greatest happiness for the greatest number, the happiness research makes everything much simpler. To a first approximation, every human is pretty happy. From an extra-terrestrial utilitarian's viewpoint, human happiness could be treated as a constant. It drops out of the utilitarian equation. That leaves just one variable: the total human population size. The major way to maximize aggregate human happiness is simply to maximize the number of humans who have the privilege of living, before our species goes extinct.

Obviously, there may be some trade-offs between current population size and long-term population sustainability. However, most of the sustainability damage is due not to our large populations per se, but to runaway consumerism in North America and Europe, and catastrophic environmental policies everywhere else. Peter Schwartz (in this Edge Forum) mentioned the declining growth rate of the world's population as if it were unreported good news. I take a different view: the good news for a utilitarian who appreciates the happiness research would be a reduction in America's pointless resource-wastage and Brazil's deforestation rate, accompanied by a luxuriantly fertile boom in world population. Given modest technological advances, I see no reason why our planet could not sustain a population of 20 billion people for several hundred thousand generations. This would result in a utilitarian aggregate of 10 quadrillion happy people during the life-span of our species — not bad for such a weird, self-deluded sort of primate.

GEOFFREY MILLER is an evolutionary psychologist at University College London, and author of The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped Human Nature. He is currently researching the implications of evolutionary psychology for consumer behavior and marketing.



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David Lucifer
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Re:Social Policy Implications of the New Happiness Research
« Reply #1 on: 2004-08-01 12:01:32 »
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What do you think of Miller's "naive utilitarian" proposal to increase the human population as much as possible?
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Re:Social Policy Implications of the New Happiness Research
« Reply #2 on: 2004-08-03 22:58:33 »
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Re:Social Policy Implications of the New Happiness Research
« Reply #3 on: 2004-08-04 10:29:16 »
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Quote from: Epistaxis on 2004-08-03 22:58:33   

If a genetic component can be isolated and applied, then I would find ethically culpable any prospective parents who abstain from genetically engineering their children for optimal happiness for any reason other than inability or ignorance.

Suppose that prospective parents have the choice of optimizing the genes of their child for only one of a) happiness, b) health/longevity and c) intelligence. Ignore for now that there is some overlap between the choices and also ignore that genetics have only a statistical correlation with the results. Which is the ethical choice?
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Re:Social Policy Implications of the New Happiness Research
« Reply #4 on: 2004-08-08 14:29:34 »
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Re:Social Policy Implications of the New Happiness Research
« Reply #5 on: 2004-08-13 05:47:56 »
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Re:Social Policy Implications of the New Happiness Research
« Reply #6 on: 2004-08-26 02:11:34 »
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The idea of a "Happiness Police Force" is interesting, and I think well worth considering.

I suggest the following cons against idea;

Eight Point Summary

1. Is being happy more important than ability to do as one pleases? Although as a general rule people seek out happiness (as per Benthamite utilitarianism), there are times at which they do not, and at which feelings of happiness would be inappropriate. An artist or musician, for example, may wish to experience anger, hatred, and melancholy in order to produce a striking, emotionally charged piece of artwork or music. Completion of the piece may inspire satisfaction, a kind of happiness, as a result of the completion of the piece, however the purpose of creating such a piece would probably be to induce the aforementioned feelings of anger, hatred and melancholy, so as to convey the artist's experience of those emotions to the audience.

2. If the HPF (Happiness Police Force) performed their duty well, the result would be a society in which everyone was engineered to be permanently happy. Would we want a society in which no other emotions were ever experienced? Some might say such a society would be bland and uninteresting, with a much reduced level of mental and cultural diversity. All music would be jolly and bucolic, all art gleeful and bright. If it ever became known that other emotional experiences were possible, humans are naturally inquistive, and might want to test these other unknown emotions, which would make the HPF's job more difficult and force them to circumvent people's wishes, inspiring increased feelings of forbidden intrigue and possibly rebellion. In the "Matrix" trilogy of films, we are told that before the overlord machines decided to simulate a fictitious but recognisable "normal" reality for humanity (The Matrix), they had first placed them in a joyous paradise, an Eden with no pain or suffering of any kind- a perfect environment filled with beauty and goodness. Apparently, however, they didn't believe it, couldn't stand to live in it, and rebelled, hence the second, "real-life" matrix. As much as I doubt the premisses of the rest of the plot, this particular notion seems quite likely, based on the above considerations.

3. If we were to redo the topical survey of happiness several generations after the establishment of the HPF, to test its effectiveness to date, say, then we might find that people did not describe themselves as "Happy" but rather "Normal". Seeing as people would be in a permanent state of happiness, they would know no other condition, and so the word "Happiness" might fall out of use or assume a subtly different meaning. I propose that unless one is capable of feeling unhappiness, then one has nothing to compare a state of mind that is not the usual- happiness- with, and so happiness because the norm and goes otherwise unnoticed. The people in such a society would be expected to show some signs of their permanent state of happiness. The three main signs of happiness are a happy appearance- namely smiling etc, a happy demeanour and attitude, and, upon questioning, a genuine response suggesting happiness. I assume the biology of this future society's facial muscles would still be identical, and the facial muscles tire quickly, so we can expect that, although happy, they wouldn't be permanently smiling. One sign of happiness, then, is gone. We have already established that those under the control of the HPF may not necessarily describe themselves as happy, because they would know nothing else and so their response to enquiry of their mental state would be that they were feeling "normal". Another sign, then, is lost. For all we can tell by definite examination, then, these people in the future happy society show no signs of happiness. The third sign, a perky demeanour, is difficult to quantify, and might well be lost as permanent feelings of happiness become the norm.

4. It follows from argument 3 that, in order to be able to compare their emotional state to something other than happy, and hence make happiness meaningful, people would have to have experienced an emotion less happy than their current one. This could perhaps be solved by increasing each person's level of happiness to a maximum at old age, so that they can always say they are happy, in fact happier than they have ever felt. This would mean that the HPF would have to constantly ratchet up everyone's level of happiness at regular intervals (before the feeling became considered "the norm"). I feel that this period might be quite short. The novelty of prolonged happiness at a certain level may, I think, begin to wear off after under a week. If the increase in happiness were to be noticable (and in a permanent state of happiness the increase would have to be considerable), then it could well be that by a relatively young age (if the rathcet were nudged up every week, by the age of twenty a person would have had their happiness considerably increased permanently over a thousand times) people could be rendered so happy as to be useless- rolling around in a constant state of delirium or (if the happiness were sensory), orgasm. Such people would not be able to perform any useful fucntion to society, and, society itself may indeed collapse as a result. There is an episode of "Star Trek" (The Next Generation Series) in which a race of aliens introduces an addictive game to the crew of the enterprise. The game is a kind of visor that overlays an image of the playing field onto the retina of the player. The goal is to, by controlling a certain state of relaxation (that is presumably monitored by the device) steer a virtual disc into a vortex-shaped goal. The device rewards those who score by stimulating the brain's pleasure centres. The creators of the game, however, have a nefarious prupose. The game is designed to become popular very quickly, and gets more difficult to master at each level. This means that players have to induce a greater state of relaxation, and the reward for scoring gets ever more pleasurable. As you can imagine, the crew of the Enterprise soon become addicted, and are walking around the ship in a state of dreamy ecstacy. This makes them highly susceptible to mental suggestion, and sure enough the aliens soon intervene and are easily able to take control of the crew and the powerful ship they control for their purposes. Luckily, just as the aliens are about to succeed in their direction to transfer the game to another vessel, causing it too to become infected, the previously [deliberately] incapacitated android science officer Commander Data (who isn't affected by the device) comes to the rescue. If this future society, controlled by the HPF, were unlucky enough to have a devious megalomaniac or two escape the net, they could easily influence the vulnerable people and take over, directing society to their own ends. Would we want this to happen?

5. Seeing as a state of happiness is essentially the result of the action of chemicals, an exorbitant and impractical HPF may be unnecessary. Perhaps instead a device, designed to introduce an ever-increasing level of happiness inducing drugs into a peron's bloodstream,  could be implanted at birth and regularly refilled. In fact such a device could make possible, by means of the vast variety of hallucinogenic drugs available, a range and intensity of happiness that a physical police force ever could. Again, science fiction seems to provide an appropriate example. Again in "Star Trek" (this time the Deep Space Nine series), the rulers of a powerful villainous empire (the Dominion) genetically engineer their fearsome soldiers to be addicted to a chemical that is fed into their bodies, and whose supply has to be regularly replenished by their more cool-headed and conniving, but also genetically engineered commanders and superiors who control the supply. In this way, the ultimate rulers control their army's loyalty, for without the drug, whose supply they can choose to withhold, the soldiers cannot survive for long and ultimately perish. Would we want to be potentially subject to control by such overlords as suggested in 4, and, furthermore, does not the idea of chemical induction somehow devalue the concept of what we might call "true" happiness?

6. The HPF might also have the problem of considering which kinds of happiness it wants to provide, for happiness is a complex and varied emotion. To name but a few there exist:

Artistic satisfaction
Objective satisfaction (completing a worthwhile objective or task)
Sensory happiness
Aesthetic happiness (appreciating a thing)
Long-term satisfaction
Contentment with one's circumstances and environment
Life satisfaction
General joy (perhaps inspired by a sense of freedom)
Short-term elation
Gratitude
Relief from suffering

All forms of happiness are highly subjective experiences, and often do not conform to a normal pattern. For example, masochists apparently obtain happiness by experiencing pain, as, similarly, sadists obtain happiness by causing pain.

NB: Jeremy Bentham, one of the originators of utilitarianism who first espoused the maxim "What one ought to do is to maximise pleasure and minimise pain", ignored the subjectivity of "pleasure" and went so far as to formulate what he termed a "Felicitous Calculus". His later fellow utilitarian John Stuart Mill recognised the subjectivity problem and objected to Bentham's 'hard' or 'discrete' utilitarianism (for example, a drink of water induces more pleasure in a dehydrated man than in a well nourished one, and therefore a certain volume of water does not supply a constant degree of pleasure), and his writings are, I think, relevant to this discussion.

In light of this observation, it follows that the HPF would have to be highly specialised and personal, with perhaps as much as half of the population acting as an officer to some other person (if the position required constant attention). It is likely, therefore, that rather than a police force, it would have to be a gigantic enforced co-operative law between normal people to help each other experience happiness, and dissuade each other from pain. Would this work? Is it perhaps idealism of the most unreachable kind? I propose it would take an actual statistically significant experiment to decide.

7. Do ends always justify their means? Might, for example, the HPF decide that by subjecting a person to mild torture for an extended period of time, more happiness is produced when they are released from incarceration (in the form of relief and a sense of freedom), than is lost (or experienced in the negative form of unhappiness) during the punishment? If this were so, would the purgatory justify the eventual release?

8. Perhaps, given the subjective difficulties cited in 6, the best way the HPF could decide on which kinds of happiness a person finds most pleasurable and wants to experience would be to ask the person. As people, as per the utilitarian notion that the HPF would be based on, naturally seek out happiness anyway, perhaps the best thing to do would be to leave them to it, and not bother with a HPF. If the society in which people sought happiness was truly free, then at any given time, within reasonable limits, the most likely thing any person will be doing is seeking and hopefully finding happiness. Perhaps the duty of the HPF, then, should not be to haphazardly care for and enforce a person's highly subjective (and possibly unknowable) needs for happiness like an incapable infant, but to foster an environment that is conducive to all kinds of happiness, so that people can freely find and experience the kinds of happiness they desire at any given time.  I believe this final idea is relevant to my thread on Social Contracts etc. entitled "Jurisprudence", and I would like to invite further discussion of this issue in particular to take place there, where relevant.
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David Lucifer
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Re:Social Policy Implications of the New Happiness Research
« Reply #7 on: 2004-08-27 09:53:32 »
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Quote from: Joe Dees on 2004-08-08 14:29:34   

"The evidence thus suggests that if income affects happiness, it is relative, not absolute, income that matters...In most cases, the person who stays at the office two hours longer each day to be able to afford a house in a better school district has no conscious intention to make it more difficult for others to achieve the same goal...Yet the ineluctable mathematical logic of musical chairs assures that only 10 percent of all children can occupy top-decile school seats, no matter how many hours their parents work."
-- Robert Frank, H. J. Louis Professor of Economics at the Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University, How Not to Buy Happiness

rhino found the original article here>> http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=6&tid=14403
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David Lucifer
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Re:Social Policy Implications of the New Happiness Research
« Reply #8 on: 2004-08-27 10:40:51 »
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Quote from: Beneficientor on 2004-08-26 02:11:34   

1. Is being happy more important than ability to do as one pleases? Although as a general rule people seek out happiness (as per Benthamite utilitarianism), there are times at which they do not, and at which feelings of happiness would be inappropriate. An artist or musician, for example, may wish to experience anger, hatred, and melancholy in order to produce a striking, emotionally charged piece of artwork or music. Completion of the piece may inspire satisfaction, a kind of happiness, as a result of the completion of the piece, however the purpose of creating such a piece would probably be to induce the aforementioned feelings of anger, hatred and melancholy, so as to convey the artist's experience of those emotions to the audience.

I agree that people often follow the behaviour pattern you describe above, but I don't think that is evidence for your conclusion. The reason for doing something that you don't enjoy in the short term is because you have an expectation of greater long term satisfaction. Fortunately most people don't focus on instant gratification past an early age, and those that do are often diagnosed with some addiction or other that is responsible for drastically reducing long term happiness.

I will go out on a limb and speculate that all actions chosen voluntarily (i.e. not physically forced) are selected because the actor believes (rightly or wrongly) that the expected long term utility as defined by some subjective happiness function encompassing all forms of well-being (joy, satisfaction, respect, self-esteem, etc, etc) is greater than selecting another course of action. The actor may not be aware of the criteria, or even the decision process (it may all be subconscious) or may be aware of the a rationalization that seems reasonable and coherent, but was only generated after the decision to explain the choice. Even when the actor believe they "had no choice" (for example, someone is forcing them to do something terrible at gunpoint), the fact is that they are still choosing between doing something terrible and the possibility of getting shot (and possibly maimed or killed). It seems most possible choices are elminated before they ever reach consciousness, so to the actor it appears that the number of available choices at any given time is very small (or often, as just mentioned, just one). We shouldn't confuse the number of options that are consciously deliberated with the number of actual choices available.

To summarize, if we observe someone else choosing a course of action that does not seem to lead to an increase in subjective positive well-being, it is only because one of use (observer or actor) is missing some relevant information.
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Re:Social Policy Implications of the New Happiness Research
« Reply #9 on: 2004-08-27 14:56:51 »
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Quote from: Beneficientor on 2004-08-26 02:11:34   

2. If the HPF (Happiness Police Force) performed their duty well, the result would be a society in which everyone was engineered to be permanently happy. Would we want a society in which no other emotions were ever experienced? Some might say such a society would be bland and uninteresting, with a much reduced level of mental and cultural diversity. All music would be jolly and bucolic, all art gleeful and bright.

Here you make the mistake of assuming that everyone enjoys "happy" art. I tend to gravitate to more challenging art. The music I listen to is anything but "jolly and bucolic". I find most happy pop music insipid and intolerable and I guarentee I am not alone. For my preferences in visual art do a google search on "H. R. Giger". Let me know if you think it is "gleeful and bright".
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Re:Social Policy Implications of the New Happiness Research
« Reply #10 on: 2004-08-27 15:03:45 »
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Quote from: Beneficientor on 2004-08-26 02:11:34   
3. If we were to redo the topical survey of happiness several generations after the establishment of the HPF, to test its effectiveness to date, say, then we might find that people did not describe themselves as "Happy" but rather "Normal". Seeing as people would be in a permanent state of happiness, they would know no other condition, and so the word "Happiness" might fall out of use or assume a subtly different meaning. I propose that unless one is capable of feeling unhappiness, then one has nothing to compare a state of mind that is not the usual- happiness- with, and so happiness because the norm and goes otherwise unnoticed.

This argument reminds me of a bit of the ones used by conservatives (in the sense of those wishing to maintain the status quo) to argue against life extension technologies, saying that death is necessary in order to give meaning to live. Is that true, or are they rationalizing away the problem in an attempt to put a positive spin on it? I admit I have suffered very little compared to many, if not most, people lving today. Does that make my own happiness any less valuable or real? What about someone who has not suffered at all? Is their happiness wholly fictional or worthless in your view?
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Re:Social Policy Implications of the New Happiness Research
« Reply #11 on: 2004-08-29 19:00:53 »
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1. The intention of this observation was to note that humans are creatures of experience, and that all subjective emotions compliment and contrast with each other in order to generate, and give anthropic meaning to, experience.

"The reason for doing something that you don't enjoy in the short term is because you have an expectation of greater long term satisfaction."

I agree with this comment in part, and similarly note (in  reference to the example of an artist) in my original post:

"Completion of the piece may inspire satisfaction, a kind of happiness".

I disagree with your conclusion that all actions that do not lead to an increase in subjective positive well-being are due to missing information.

Many, many internal things drive human beings to act as they do, and in each case of an individual, these motivations are either subtly or radically unique, being a result of interactions between the individual's life experiences, extant personality and adopted memes.

What drives a person to listen to a piece of powerful, frightening music? I question whether or not it is in the interests of happiness or satisfaction, for doing so does not make me, as an example, feel happy or satisfied.

2. This is a misunderstanding. You suggest I make the mistake of assuming everyone enjoys 'happy' art. The intention of this observation in particular was to make exactly the opposite claim!

Specifically I note "Some might say such a society would be bland and uninteresting", in relation to one in which all art etc. was happy. I would certainly be one of those objectors, just like yourself. I apologise if the wording of that section led you to believe I was promoting the notion of a purely happy and gleeful culture. All my eight observations are cons, against the idea of a HPF, and seeing as the observation suggested that the HPF would render a society whose art was uniformly "gleeful and happy", I hope you can see that I consider this to be a bad thing (hence a 'con').

H.R. Giger certainly produces some interesting art. It is definitely not happy and gleeful, at least in the usually understood and implied sense.

3. Firstly I object to having my argument compared to that of a conservative! I don't feel the parallel is quite justified.

Secondly, as regards  quality of happiness. I do not believe that not having suffered a great deal makes a person's happiness less valuable or real to them, but everybody has suffered to a certain extent, so at least the concept of happiness as something distinct from unhappiness is meaningful. In the perfect HPF society there is nothing but happiness, and so nothing to compare it to.

I do think that a person who has suffered a great deal has a greater respect for any happiness they feel, and so in that sense their happiness becomes a more valuable experience, to them at least. Again, this is analagous to value theory. A glass of water is more valuable to a dehydrated man in a desert than it is to a well fed and healthy person by a river. Similarly, happiness is more valuable to an unhappy person than it is to a happy one because it is a far rarer experience.
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Re:Social Policy Implications of the New Happiness Research
« Reply #12 on: 2004-08-30 21:40:48 »
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Quote from: Beneficientor on 2004-08-29 19:00:53   

What drives a person to listen to a piece of powerful, frightening music? I question whether or not it is in the interests of happiness or satisfaction, for doing so does not make me, as an example, feel happy or satisfied.

OK, then why do you do it?


Quote:

Specifically I note "Some might say such a society would be bland and uninteresting", in relation to one in which all art etc. was happy. I would certainly be one of those objectors, just like yourself. I apologise if the wording of that section led you to believe I was promoting the notion of a purely happy and gleeful culture.

To clarify, I don't think the HPF would promote just "happy" art if they really wanted to maximize everyone's positive subjective experience (something I call the "Q factor" for lack of a better term, referring to Quality of life). So this particular criticism seems to be a strawman.


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3. Firstly I object to having my argument compared to that of a conservative! I don't feel the parallel is quite justified.

Hey, I just said conservatives make similar arguments. 


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Secondly, as regards  quality of happiness. I do not believe that not having suffered a great deal makes a person's happiness less valuable or real to them, but everybody has suffered to a certain extent, so at least the concept of happiness as something distinct from unhappiness is meaningful. In the perfect HPF society there is nothing but happiness, and so nothing to compare it to.

I do think that a person who has suffered a great deal has a greater respect for any happiness they feel, and so in that sense their happiness becomes a more valuable experience, to them at least. Again, this is analagous to value theory. A glass of water is more valuable to a dehydrated man in a desert than it is to a well fed and healthy person by a river. Similarly, happiness is more valuable to an unhappy person than it is to a happy one because it is a far rarer experience.

I agree that someone who has suffered very recently would appreciate their happiness at the moment more than someone else ceteris paribus. However people seem to discount their past experience pretty heavily, so someone who was in a Viet Cong POW camp in the 70s or in a Nazi concentration camp in WW2 might appreciate their happiness today a bit more than I do, I'm not sure the difference would be measurable.
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Beneficientor
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Re:Social Policy Implications of the New Happiness Research
« Reply #13 on: 2004-09-01 18:49:55 »
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Thank you for your responses.

Referring to the driving force behind listening to a piece of music that does not inspire feelings of happiness etc.

"OK, then why do you do it?"

This is a very difficult question to answer, and one reason I believe the HPF would fail. It is not to feel happiness. It is not to feel satisfaction.

Perhaps it would be easier to list all the possible reasons that do not motivate the action.

There is an element of aesthetic appreciation that goes beyond the vague boundaries of "happiness", but I feel perhaps the main incetive is to expand experience, to broaden a person's artistic horizons etc. I feel the reasons may be subtly and complexly different for everyone.

Why do you view the art of Giger?

I think your next point is important. My response to the HPF has been tailored specifically around an organisation designed to promote happiness- simple Utilitarian or Epicurean pleasure. The idea of an organisation designed to maximise "Q" as you call it, is a more evolved concept, and so some of my arguments, designed to criticise a more basic suggestion, won't be appropriate.

The QPF, though, would still run into many difficulties, most notably I think ones of subjectivity. The QPF could operate in two ways. Either it could be an organisation designed to promote the quality of life in general, by enriching the human habitat in ways it saw fit- providing art galleries, museums, cinemas, parks, concert halls etc. and filling them with 'Q' enhancing amusements. Alternatively, it could be a true "force", driving each member of society to enhance their 'Q'. If the former is the case, then the QPF must simply tend to the needs of the majority. If the latter is the case, the QPF encounters the subjectivity problem in the same way the HPF would. How do you best decide what will enhance a person's Q? Since Q is subjective (a Yogi living a simple life in a cave can be happier than a rich business executive with five cars, a jet and a mansion), how does the QPF ascertain which of its actions will benefit its subjects? Asking them seems to be the most obvious and effective solution. If the QPF then does whatever their subjects ask of them, then the organisation simply becomes a special kind of slave force.

Planning Q-Enhancing activities throughout a person's life would remove their snse of freedom, which would make many unhappy and perhaps cause rebellion, and the subjectivity problem still looms. Should a person be tortured short-term to generate long-term satisfaction and happiness on their release? Should people be forced to endure unpleasant experiences such that afterwards they attain a different, 'Q' enhancing perspective on life?

Do the ends justify the means?

As regards Conservative arguments, I maintain that the parallel isn't justified! Perhaps it's a matter of opinion.

I think perhaps the only way to resolve the issue of the quality of happiness, or 'Q' would require a long-term study. All the obstacles of subjectivity, though, would still, I fear, cloud the results.
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Re:Social Policy Implications of the New Happiness Research
« Reply #14 on: 2004-09-04 16:31:40 »
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Quote from: Beneficientor on 2004-09-01 18:49:55   

There is an element of aesthetic appreciation that goes beyond the vague boundaries of "happiness", but I feel perhaps the main incetive is to expand experience, to broaden a person's artistic horizons etc. I feel the reasons may be subtly and complexly different for everyone.

Well whatever the reason, they are doing it because at some deep level they think they are better off than not doing. In other words, it increases their quality of experience however they define it: their Q factor.


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Why do you view the art of Giger?

Because it increases my Q factor.


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I think your next point is important. My response to the HPF has been tailored specifically around an organisation designed to promote happiness- simple Utilitarian or Epicurean pleasure. The idea of an organisation designed to maximise "Q" as you call it, is a more evolved concept, and so some of my arguments, designed to criticise a more basic suggestion, won't be appropriate.

I think this is the source of our apparent disagreement (if any). Your definition of happiness is narrower than mine. In addition to "simple Utilitarian or Epicurean pleasure", I would include any qualia that is desirable to the experiencer. I coined the term Q factor to make this concept more explicit because I couldn't think of any english words that were all encompassing in this respect.


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The QPF, though, would still run into many difficulties, most notably I think ones of subjectivity. The QPF could operate in two ways. Either it could be an organisation designed to promote the quality of life in general, by enriching the human habitat in ways it saw fit- providing art galleries, museums, cinemas, parks, concert halls etc. and filling them with 'Q' enhancing amusements.

Hmm, that sounds an awful lot like the Canadian gov't. :-/


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Alternatively, it could be a true "force", driving each member of society to enhance their 'Q'. If the former is the case, then the QPF must simply tend to the needs of the majority. If the latter is the case, the QPF encounters the subjectivity problem in the same way the HPF would. How do you best decide what will enhance a person's Q? Since Q is subjective (a Yogi living a simple life in a cave can be happier than a rich business executive with five cars, a jet and a mansion), how does the QPF ascertain which of its actions will benefit its subjects? Asking them seems to be the most obvious and effective solution. If the QPF then does whatever their subjects ask of them, then the organisation simply becomes a special kind of slave force.

I agree with your points here: a QPF will undermine it own goals if it tries too hard. Everyone want to be free to find their own happiness, not have it force fed.


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Planning Q-Enhancing activities throughout a person's life would remove their snse of freedom, which would make many unhappy and perhaps cause rebellion, and the subjectivity problem still looms. Should a person be tortured short-term to generate long-term satisfaction and happiness on their release? Should people be forced to endure unpleasant experiences such that afterwards they attain a different, 'Q' enhancing perspective on life?

To make this point a bit more concrete, should people be required to get an education? Not exactly torture (in most cases), but if you ask any grade school student if they would rather be doing something else rather than attending school at any given time, the vast majority would answer yes almost all the time. Yet we still force them to go with the assumption that it is for their own good, and they will eventually thank us for it. Are children a special case?
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