Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Happiness vs the Battle Obscured

The NEF have have released their "Happy Planet Index" (Download here), placing the UK at 108th and trying graciously to sever the association of happiness with GDP. The associated BBC article is here.

"Although Vanuatu tops the happiness index, it is ranked 207th out of 233 economies when measured against Gross Domestic Product (GDP)."

Interestingly, it seems that the largest economies occupy the middle of the table:

"Germany is ranked 81st, Japan 95th, while the US comes in at 150th."

Naturally, I wonder about how we measure "progress" - note that "progress" is a very different thing to "happiness" - one can be happy without making progress, and one can make progress without being happy.

Various things (ok, ok, I've watched a little bit of Big B[r]other...) have got me thinking recently about the differences between men and women, and I've come to the (temporary) conclusion that when men get bored, they create external enemies (hence video games, paintballing, cold war, terrorists, holocausts...). When women get bored, they create an internal "enemy" (worrying about themselves, rather than worrying about someone else). OK, this is a gross over-simplification, but I think it has enough value to merit discussion. I'm also not speculating (yet ;) on causes...

Global markets fit very much into this man-influenced version of the world, under this model. Competition is a constant battle, just with certain "rules" that involve underhand tactics rather than out-and-out violence. Diplomacy, not Firepower (although the latter has played an essential part in creating the market in the first place, of course).

At any single point in time, we are being dragged continuously into a struggle of trade with "emerging economies" and "newly globalising countries" - feeding the male desire to do battle with and overcome an external enemy. Opening up new countries to trade is like inviting the gangly guy in the corner over to play squash when you're on a roll.

So this means, under current definitions, the "globalised" definition of happiness is one that's inherently tied to that of "competing", and all that "progress" is is yet another tactic to play the game. Winning outright is out of the question - once someone wins, you can no longer compete, and so new competitors need to be found all the time.

Except this idea of "happiness" needs to be considered on a fractal scale too. The effects and male motivations bonding happiness with competition trickle down to the level of the individual (and beyond, and feed back). People are not nations. There are more people, for a start - many more - which means a much wider variation in needs. Furthermore, not everyone is "as" male as those deciding the agenda of "competitive happiness". At least half the population, probably.

In fact, this split is readily identifiable. Of the happiest people I know, some (small) proportion, mainly biased by my own social circles, are happy because they do want to compete and like the challenge. Fair enough. The other happy individuals are happy because they don't want to compete and aren't competing. Thus, the ability to remove oneself from the competitive "flow" is vital to achieving this happiness.

The problem is that the former need the latter in order to "compete", like an army commander needs soldiers. Populations cannot be happy while they are being enlisted by their "commanders" (read "presidents", "prime ministers", "kings", etc.) to undertake economic battle in a war on the scale that only those high enough up can comprehend.

I should wrap up by making a clear distinction between "male/female" and "men/women", as in the current climate any reference to either can find the discussion quickly mired in debates of equality and so on.

"Male" and "female" concepts are very much abstract, used in order to define some polarities in order to draw some relative context to matters we often take for granted as being absolute (e.g. GDP = Happy). "Male" and "female" are not necessarily tied intrinsically to the "man" and "women" biological forms - men have as much of a "male/female" mix as women do. Following yin and yang then, "male" and "female" is simply a "handy" way to refer to two things that are in opposition, yet attract and repel each other simultaneously.

There are women that like to compete. There are men that don't. There are men that like to compete. There are women that don't. Happiness depends on letting all of these exist as they would like to.

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