Wednesday 26 February 2020

Can human happiness be engineered?

Well, obviously Not - when stated like that, plainly. Yet the entirety of public discourse makes the assumption that human happiness is a product of social engineering.

Also, there is the assumption that happiness (and prevention or relief of suffering) is the aim of human life - which is a fairly natural inference from the other assumptions that we came into existence only at conception (or, maybe, sometime during embryonic or foetal development, or at birth) and that biological death is annihilation of the self.

If there is only a short biological life, then some hedonic calculus (on a scale of happy to miserable) is probably the only substitute-for a real morality; and we can't do (nobody does) without a morality-of-sorts.

So, the modern world assumes that happiness is the most important thing, and it assumes that happiness is a product of a system of social organisation; and that systems can and should be engineering deliberately by... leaders of one sort or another.

(The leaders are themselves supposed to be a product of some kind of system for choosing leaders - albeit this system has been designed by... leaders.)

This is all assumed and everywhere is used to analyse, critique and justify socio-political decisions. Yet it is false. We all know from direct personal experience that happiness cannot be engineered - although misery can - at least to a substantial degree. This governments can't do anything much to make people happy, but they can sometimes do something to relieve acute suffering, and can also make people miserable.

This is because a system cannot be Good; only individuals can. The system can put individual people into a position where that person may do Good; but it will always be up-to that individual whether Good is actually done.

However, a system can - substantially - stop people doing Good; and systems are very effective at this. So systems are negative things.

However, because we assume (although nobody believes) that systems can do good, happiness can be engineered, that good outcomes are a product of social engineering... we make ever more, ever more intrusive systems - and link 'em all up into one mega Global master-system (to coordinate all their activities).

And at the end of the day, hardly any Good can be done, because everybody is satisfying system-requirements.  

Exempli gratia (from my experience) family doctors used to be able to do quite a lot of good, but now can only do about half or less as much good, because they are satisfying system requirements. 

It used to be possible for teachers at school and colleges to teach quite a lot of stuff (depending on their aptitude and that of their pupils) but now much less teaching is possible, because so much time is taken by bureaucracy. 

A well-motivated scientist used to be able to equip himself with skills and work on a problem that he felt he could contribute to, and speak and publish honestly about what he discovered (or, more often - this being science - failed to discover) but now none of this is allowed; and unless he does 'research' on whatever is funded/ fashionable, under instruction, and speaks/ writes whatever contributes to career and institutional 'success' - then he will not be allowed to remain a professional 'scientist'. 

We are being killed by our assumptions, and we refuse to examine our assumptions - because (our assumptions tell us) only 'evidence' matters! - and because our assumptions claim not to be assumptions but facts. We assume that human happiness is the bottom line - but this is false, and incoherent.

We know that human happiness cannot be engineered top-down, yet our whole society, the whole world, is increasingly run on that false basis - and this is at-least-tacitly supported by a considerable majority.

OK, there are evil supernatural powers behind this shabby scheme. But when things are so obviously incoherent that a child can see it, yet we insist on their truth; when we simultaneously deny and insist-upon the objectivity of truth; when we rubbish the validity of the spiritual yet cling-fanatically to absurd false facts and arbitrarily-changing media ephemera - then we have nobody to blame but our-selves.

Responsibility for our false assumptions will be imposed upon our-selves, because that is where it truly lies.


seriouslypleasedropit said...

On this problem---widely held, yet foolish assumptions---I have some experience from a more prosaic sphere. I am sorry to say that I never did succeed in convincing anyone to examine them, though that community is still feeling (and will feel, for years to come) the weight of the contradictions.

There is no "solution," but the proper reaction, I think, is to do one's best to show by example that there is a different way.

Bruce Charlton said...

@spdi - Yes, one person at a time. That is, indeed, how this blog works (insofar as it does work).