Why money shouldn’t be a measure for progress

What do “happiness”, “progress” and “the meaning of life” all have in common?  They are all used to describe each other in some way, and yet, when used together they don’t always add up.  Here are the two most common implied equations I’ve seen:
Meaning of life = happiness /  Happiness = progress
Meaning of life = progress / Progress = happiness

The inherent assumption in that a state of happiness is directly and upwardly correlated with progress which feels inherently flawed to me because…

1.  It assumes an understanding of the meaning of life for each individual
– Science would suggest the only meaning of life is that your cells replicate and enable another human being to replace you – biological survival 101.  Therefore the only relevance of progress in this context is biological, and even then this may not mean extending life given that could reduce replication. Science would also place emphasis on the uncovering of new knowledge as progress for humanity in discovering an overall meaning which has not yet been found yet.

– Islam places great emphasis on the afterlife and suggests the meaning of this life is preparation for the next – therefore progress is not particularly relevant.

– Buddhism places emphasis on the achievement of positivity and the potential for reincarnation into a new body to live again – again progress is not the emphasis.

– Christianity places emphasis on positive personal relationships and a personal relationship with God or Jesus.

– Capitalism places emphasis on the achievement of material wealth, progress is an emphasis here as it “creates fuel for the fire” – by providing a progress as a proxy for meaning in order to create wealth.  The important thing to note is that in capitalism, the “winner” is the entity with the most highest dividend pay outs to its investors, so the end game is not progress or happiness.

With all of these broad brushstroke ideas about meaning, the individual is ignored – even though it is the individuals perception of meaning that matters.  Interestingly I found it pretty much impossible to find any large scale scientific study on people’s own perception of the meaning of life for themselves personally and then for the human race in general which seemed odd…given we’re all alive and doing “stuff”…surely we’d want to know, in general, what others think its all for!

Apart from Capitalism…which isn’t really a philosophy, its a way of managing money markets…there isn’t an interpretation of the meaning of life requiring any link whatsoever to Gross Domestic Product GDP(which is what most countries used to determine their country’s relative position in comparison to other countries when it comes to progress)

I did find this interesting graph showing GDP vs. happiness…showing there really is no correlation.  The poor people of Columbia and Guinea are just as happy as some of the worlds richest countries by GDP: Switzerland and Denmark, and are more happy than people in the US which enjoys the worlds second highest GDP.
600px-Life_Satisfaction_vs_GDP

2.  It assumes a meaningful life equals a happy life and that meaning is derived through progress which is derived through a combination of health and income
In many ways meaning and happiness are connected – if you feel having a purpose or meaning is important to your life, then without it, you’ll probably be unhappy (although there’s still people out there who don’t require stated purpose or meaning to experience happiness…most kids don’t!).  So that connection feels right (again I wasn’t able to find any large scale scientific studies on it – weird).

I think where we get off track is when we assume that the meaning itself is derived through progress which we assume comes from income and health.  There could be so many other interpretations of progress and meaning – and in fact when people talk about life meaning or purpose, they often talking about “leaving something for their kids”, having a positive impact on others” – none of these things require progress or money to do.
As a side note, the rise of obesity and depression in Western Societies also shows the pursuit of personal income comes with some heavy side effects

The other important aspect of how meaning is described in an economic progress context is often on a macro, rather than micro level.  That is,  the effect felt by humanity as it progresses after an individuals death, not the meaning experienced by the individuals themselves during their own lifetime.  For example – how much meaning would someone working in the industrial car age have received in working on the same car parts every single day?  I’d say not as much as the meaning derived by humanity in the ability to now transport themselves hundreds of miles in mere hours that perhaps allows them to live, work or visit family that would have otherwise been difficult in the past.  Does progress require that some must suffer so that others may benefit?  And if so, are there some benefits that are not worth the suffering, when the benefit only contributes to economic progress and not directly to meaning or happiness?

So what’s more important, meaning or happiness?
Well logic suggests a balance of both.  And the data suggests countries could achieve this balance in ways other than measuring GDP which does not correlate to happiness forever.  Compared to ancient market forces, capitalism is a baby.   Who can say whether it will continue to sustain itself.  If (or as some would say, when) it fails, we need a system that can maintain happiness and meaning in balance or the humans of that generation will suffer a deep psychological chasm that could hurt generations into their future.  If we used Guinea or Costa Rica or Colombia as case studies, we could find key elements to a new structure that would enable meaning to thrive without capitalism.  My guess is it is heavily reliant on a sense of family and community and is supported by cultural modes of working and interacting that are native to the area – although I’d need more time to look into it.

The reality is most humans aren’t going to turn around and sign up to a new way of working if it sends them back to the dark ages and having to farm their own fruit and veg living naked on a commune farm in Tasmania (sorry to my dear Hippy friends!) – so we need a system that allows us to maintain similar lifestyle but also make considerable leaps forward in our personal well-being and happiness.

This would be my checklist for finding an alternative:
1.  Run a survey to 50k people on Google Consumer Surveys for $10k (cheapest way to run surveys around!) and get responses to two key questions:
a) What do you believe is the meaning of life for you?
b) What do you believe is the meaning of life for human kind?
c) What makes you happy?
d) Do you think that happiness and meaning are connected? (e.g. without meaning, you can’t have happiness or visa versa)
f) Do you believe you would be happier if you earned more money?

2.  Study societies where GDP and happiness are not correlated, find the source of happiness for those communities and look at ways these could be applied in other societies.  Bhutan’s fourth Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck  was onto something when he coined the term “Gross National Happiness” as a way of measuring a countries psychological state as an important and connected measure of progress, verses just the traditional monetary economic measurement.

3.  Study societies where technological and scientific progress occurred without capitalism or communism, then get sci-fi fantasy writers and economists into a room for a brainstorm session!  Creativity and logic are powerful combinations for innovation.

4.  Get the economists to create economic models, to model out the transition to the new state (or the transition from a failed state to the new alternative) because it has been too long really since anyone properly got their hands dirty on this one as there are so many things that need to be taken into account – particularly in a transition model where the transition would necessarily begin with education of young minds and would need to occur over perhaps 100-150 years.  Some good alternatives exist for business which you can read about here, but communism and socialism tend not to work if applied as the only system of governance across a country because humans have an inherent need to be individual while also being a part of a community and that must be balanced appropriately.  (Australia has some socialist constructs which were created with the best of intentions but do end up with some unwanted side effects in the market – such as Medicare which provides much needed care for our poorest, but also encourages those with enough money to rely on and overuse the system, come to expect more than necessary and makes doctors and clinics dependent on the system also which may have some impacts on innovation.)

We measure money and not happiness because its EASY.  But easy doesn’t make it fit for purpose.  1+1 = 2, but that equation won’t solve Einsteins theory of relativity.   It simplifies humans to a common denominator that doesn’t even match their perceived experience of reality!

I don’t have $10k lying around right now to do the research, but I’d be interested to know YOUR answers to those survey questions if anyone would like to share 😀

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Lack of political education killing true Australian choice

English: Ballot Box showing preferential voting

I don’t understand why in America you don’t have to vote but you are required to learn about politics in school. In Australia you are not required to learn about politics in school but you are required to vote.  And yet the BIGGEST impact a free citizen can have on the outcomes of their country is an informed vote.

Surely if a system places such value on the equality of each citizens opinion that they would force each person to provide their opinion – then that system should be equally interested in informing those citizens about how the system they are a part of works.

Now, I am not saying that the US education system should be copied, nor am I saying that there is no education about politics in Australian schools.  What I am saying is that there is no national standardardised implementation of the study and I see this as a major gap and one of the likely reasons that many Australians profess not to understand how our preferential voting system works.

One of my good friends put this really well in a recent Facebook post:

 The absolute unbiased truth: Vote for minor parties if they represent your values best. Vote for whoever represents your values best. We have a preferential system where YOU choose where your vote goes, all the way through the preferences and it passes on at full value.

In a seat which is a fight between Liberal and Labor the only thing that matters in terms of who wins the seat is which comes first out of those two parties on your ballot paper. They can be last and second last and which ever one is second last will still get your vote AT FULL VALUE. Voting a minor party as 1 sends a message to the old parties that they are not representing your values, and it gives funding to the minor party of your choice WITHOUT HAVING ANY IMPACT ON WHO WINS THE SEAT.”

So…back to the issue of education.  When I was in high school you were able to choose politics as a subject in Year 11 and 12, but it definitely wasn’t “required” like maths or science. And perhaps the only other time it was mentioned was in a couple of SOSE classes in year 8.

In 2014,  the Australian government will bring in required studies of Civics and Citizenship from Years 3 to 10 (http://www.acara.edu.au/curriculum_1/learning_areas/humanities_and_social_sciences/civics_and_citizenship.html).  That’s a huge step forward.  But am I the only one thinking…where the hell is the requirement for study in Year 11 and 12?  So right when most Aussie’s turn 18 and are being asked to now provide their opinion on the governance of their country, most of them haven’t even thought or been in a class on it in 2 years.  That’s a lifetime to a young person!!

It also brings up the question of how much influence any government in power should have over the creation of the curriculum.  This whole curriculum has been created while the Labor government was in power.  What does this mean for the neutrality of the information presented to young minds of the future?

It’s almost like the “ideal” scenario is that there is a third party/non affiliated with the government or other association that actually writes that part of the curriculum. Because science, maths, english are fairly solid in terms of their interpretation and application: But history is written by the conqueror and politics is defined by those in power.

So…what of those of us who are voting in the Australian Elections this Saturday?  Those of us who missed out on essential information that governs our potential to have positive or meaningful participation in the system that has been chosen to manage the country they live in?

Many Australians are talking about their apathy toward both parties, but with the 2 major parties having $64 million and $67 million in campaign backing verses $1m backing to the next viable party – the average Australian without any particular interest in politics is simply bombarded with two choices: Labor or Liberals.  And no thanks to US Billionaire Rupert Murduch who owns 70% of Australian media, they are getting even less of a choice by being presented with editorial content in newspapers across the country as if it were news.

Without unbiased, consistent education – no society (no matter how intelligent its people) can be expected to make an informed voting decision on country governance.  I just hope that in 2023/2024 – when those in grade 3 next year turn 18, they’ll be able to make better decisions than the rest of us this year.

Australian Politics…chapter 1

Parthenon from west

Parthenon from west (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.1  What is meant by calling the human being a ‘political animal’?

The ancient Greeks used the word Politics to mean something rather different to how the word is used today.  Polis means “of the city”, so Socrates reference to “man as a political animal” was about humans natural state being living in a city or state.

Today, some might say this is incorrect, given that humans are biologically built to live mainly in Hunter-Gatherer societies, and it is only in relatively recent times that we have grown to live in dense cities and urban masses.

Although in some ways, in ancient Greece, the saying was perhaps closer to the truth given that “cities” generally didn’t contain more than 300 or so people and very often were less than 100, while modern cities like Shanghai in China now has over 23 million inhabitants with 6,400 humans per square kilometer. (source)

At the end of the day, anything that describes human behaviour as being either essentially social and city based on individualistic, can only ever be general – given the diversity of human life and thought.

1.2  Must politics always involve conflict or power?

Politics in its simplest form, is the act of managing the state.  Politics involves many elements and both conflict and power are essential ingredients.  However the dynamic of the conflict and power change significantly dependent on the political regime in place.  For example, in a Dictatorship where perhaps the state is often run by military rule (like Egypt from the early 1900’s until the Arab Spring), conflict in the running of parliament is low, and conflict with the people is low until a revolution occurs as a result of low level and ongoing conflict between military forces and the public which builds public resentment slowly but inexorably over time.  In its place, the authority executes the full force of its military power on the people of its society, in order to maintain a state where there is no internal conflict to its own rule.

In a democracy however, the balance of conflict and power are different.  Democracy encourages conflict within its own ranks, between different schools of thought that make up the associations which form parties who represent the general public.  That low level conflict is what ensures the balance of power is kept in check, so that differing points of view have a voice and so that any ruling decisions are thoroughly tested before changes are implemented in society where they will affect the lives of those who choose to live in it.  In a democracy, the power struggle is focused between parties for the love of the people, not forced on the people (although with free press expressing personal view points like Murdoch owned media in Australia, some would argue this is not always the case!).  The power of the state through military force is focused on protection toward outside forces, not the oppression of the internal society.

But in all cases, there is conflict and power at play.

1.3  Is it reasonable to say that politics in some sense always involves the state?

Not always.  In more recent times, politics is used to describe the internal power plays, conflicts, relationships and governance within companies also.  However, if referring just to politics within the realm of the management of a country or nation made up of a collection of states, territories or provinces as is the case with the world today – then yes, the two are connected.  The “state” is what politics as a framework aims to provide protection and advancement for, the members of the state are its existing  citizens and the guests of the state are its tourists, refugees and immigrants – until otherwise officially accepted by the state.

English: One of the symbols of German Women's ...

1.4  How pervasive is “patriarchy” as an explanation of political power relations?

Patriarchy – the power of Fathers – and therefore, the power or rule of male thought, is how most modern Western societies were formed.

Firstly, its important to note that most anthropologists hold that there have been no known matriarchal societies in human history with the possible exception of some small societies from Burma and Native America.  Certainly there have been no major matriarchal civilisations.  Although Matrilineality (where descendant groups and potentially land, culture and other items are based on the mother line) are more prevalent including small society groups in Native America, China, Spain,  Africa and of course those of Jewish belief.  Many of these no longer exist.

What is also important to note is that most of the Western colonial world (USA, Australia, Canada) has been created on the back of expansion from the English, French, Dutch and Portugeuse.  None of these societies had a history of matriarchy nor matrilineal descent.  Given that each of these societies based their system of politics on their known political framework – they only had a patriarchal framework from which to take from!  Even today, while there is a separation of state and Monarchy, England still holds high regard for the family line, and Australia as England’s colonial outpost is not officially a republic and the Governor General as representative of the Queen of England must sign off on all major matters of state.

In democratic societies, the state involves citizens who are able to vote in or out members of parliament.   It was only just over 100 years ago that women were first allowed to even participate in that voting system (longer for countries other than Australia who was one of the first to provide women with that right as a part of the Feminist movement of the time).  And 100 or more years before that, women were under the complete rule of there Father in terms of matters of property ownership, life decisions and more.

So given the political system has existed for hundreds of years and was set up by men before women had any right to be a part of it, this suggests very strongly that patriarchy forms the basis of political power relations.

Australian Coat of Arms (adopted 1912)

Australian Coat of Arms (adopted 1912) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.5  Discuss the difference between rhetoric and democratic politics.

Officially rhetoric is used to describe the discussion of political affairs by ALL members of society – not just politicians.  But the reality is, it has been so often used to describe the empty words of politicians who make promises and never deliver – that the word has lost all power to describe anything else.  Most people think of rhetoric as a ONE WAY speech rather than a discussion.

Discussion, on the other hand, is the heart of democracy.  Without discussing, arguing, engaging and fully testing the idea through debate, it is unlikely that same idea, and any related rulings from that idea, will be able to be accepted by people of different schools of thought.

However, discussion shouldn’t be the ONLY important factor.  Too often (as can be seen in the daily caucus at Parliament in Australia), there is too much talk and debate about things irrelevant to the needs of the people.  We are not a society that lives without access to information.  We live in an amazing age where we can gauge public feedback of thousands within in hours or seconds on social media, where contacting experts from all fields takes a few touches of a button, where scientific research is readily and easily available to all.  So I would argue that when pure rhetoric (without evidence from the people that politicians represent, a range of experts within those people, and research data) takes precedence over informed rhetoric, we enter a dangerous area of non-productive politics which is in fact self serving and undemocratic in its very nature. So often we see Indigenous Affairs ministers who have never spoken to an aboriginal elder or even lived in an Aboriginal community, or Health ministers who have never been doctors or nurses.  If these people are to represent these areas of society and do not have a background in it, then surely they must commit themselves to a learning process through community involvement, traditional study, expert panels, research and more.

1.6  What implications are there for the study of democracy in postmodern analysis?

Post-modernism really just means the following: there is no ONE RIGHT WAY to govern a society.  The idea that all truths can be questioned: including democracy.  Interestingly, never more has this been tested than through the rampant desire of the US to force its concept of democracy on the Middle East.  Or closer to home, the Australian Government’s need to replace the Australian Aboriginal Consensus based decision making system which also placed most power in the hands of elders (both men and women).  And in BOTH cases, the form of democractic rule forced on those societies seems to have made those made situations worse, rather than better.

Societies are very complex, they have taken in many cases, either hundreds or sometimes thousands or tens of thousands of years in their formation: this is particularly the case for people in the Middle East and Australian Aboriginals.  Humans are highly agile and malleable when brought up in a particular way from birth – however fast change forced on an entire society mid-cycle (mid generation) will often end in high levels of conflict or a situation where the state applies a level of power that oppresses the other society into submission.  That doesn’t sound like a democracy to me…

Post modernism in its purest form is academic bullshit.  It’s the realm of masters students and PhD’s who have nothing better to do with their time than deconstruct sentences.  But postmodernism that is grounded in real life respect for cultural, religious, geographical and historical differences is, I think, I highly valid and important perspective.  It is a perspective that allows governments to really think about the potential outcomes their actions may have.  It should never be used as a way to justify the continued existence of oppressive types of government, BUT it should look to accept circumstances where freeing people from such a situation without a valid and COMMUNITY OWNED & VETTED alternative has proven to turn the society into a highly unstable one.    Laughably, this is the definition of anarchy!  It takes time for people to change.  It took hundreds of years for the Western world to create its form of democracy.  Equality for all is a very noble goal, but the seeds of democracy must be sown over time and within the hearts of the people.  Unfortunately, Western governments rule for 3-5 years and time is not something they have a lot of.  So they look to create fast change and in the process, can cause great damage.