[iDC] Not well-being, but well-becoming

Frank Pasquale frank.pasquale at gmail.com
Wed Jun 13 18:15:37 EDT 2007

That's a powerful editorial--I was particularly struck by your query on "How
can one have a genuinely happy society where one large chunk of it is in the
position of *servicing the domestic and hedonistic
another large chunk?"  Probably the best work of "legitimational
theodicy" on that score is a recent self-help
manual<http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/04/12/469/>that urges
readers to say to themselves, as a mantra, "I adore rich people.
I admire rich people.  And some day, I will be a rich person."

More seriously, I recommend Richard Sennett's Respect in a World of
Inequality <http://www2.wwnorton.com/catalog/fall03/032537.htm> on that
score, as well as Barbara Ehrenreich's Fear of

Regarding the happiness researchers: a libertarian think tank has put out an
interesting attack <http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa590.pdf> on their work by
Will Wilkinson.  I discuss it in this blog
which I have pasted (in an edited version) below.

best wishes,

 Libertarians Against Subjectivism Will Willkinson's critique of "happiness
research" <http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa590.pdf> recently appeared on the
Cato Institute's website. This is the most comprehensive recent comment on
the literature of subjective well-being that I've seen, and raises all sorts
of interesting questions for those who are trying to expand the boundaries
of economic analysis.

A little background: A growing number of economists have begun to question
traditional measurements of well-being, such as GDP or income, and have
focused instead on self-reported "subjective well-being" from interviewed
subjects. "Happiness
has come up with some counterintuitive findings, reporting extraordinary
levels of life dissatisfaction in apparently prospering liberal democracies.

Wilkinson takes these social scientists to task for failing to fully
describe "the dependent variable—
the target of elucidation and explanation—in happiness research." He claims
there are four main possibilities:

(1) Life satisfaction: A cognitive judgment about overall life quality
relative to expectations.

(2) Experiential or "hedonic" quality: The quantity of pleasure net of pain
in the stream of subjective experience.

(3) Happiness: Some state yet to be determined, but conceived as a something
not exhausted by life satisfaction or the quality of experiential states.

(4) Well-being: Objectively how well life is going for the person living it.

Wilkinson provides some great arguments for questioning 1 and 2 as
hopelessly subjective desiderata for public policy. He quotes Wayne Sumner,
a Toronto philosopher, on 2: "Time and philosophical fashion have not been
kind to hedonism . . . Although hedonistic theories of various sorts
flourished for three centuries or so in the congenial empiricist habitat,
they have all but disappeared from the scene. Do they now merit even passing
attention[?]" "Life satisfaction" also comes in for heavy criticism, as
epiphenomenal of various uncontrollable variables: "people have different
standards for assessing how well things are going, and they may employ
different standards in different sorts of circumstances."

Of course, Wilkinson and I go entirely different directions at this point:
he tries to argue that the whole line of research is useless, while I think
inconsistencies like the ones he points out demonstrate the necessity of
more objective <http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/oso/34378/1988> and
virtue-oriented accounts of well-being. (Or, to be more precise, Wilkinson
(like Freud) appears to believe that debates over happiness may ultimately
best be settled by brain analysis, while I tend to think the direction of
Aristotelian theorists like Seligman & Nussbaum is the way to go.) But his
perspective does demonstrate that even those most committed to the idea of
individual liberty as a public policy goal are not necessarily wedded to the
type of subjectivity in value that would underlie societal recognition of
the more extreme claims of pet-owners mentioned in that post.

On 6/13/07, pat kane <scottishfutures at googlemail.com> wrote:
> Hi all
> Trebor has asked me to post this blog I published in the Guardian earlier
> this year - it's an attempt to link the recent happiness/wellbeing debates
> taking place in the UK, coming off the writings of people like Daniel
> Kahneman and Barry Schwartz and Richard Layard, and a much less equilibrial
> vision of human becoming, substantiated by the society and culture of
> networks, and theorised radically by the autonomists (Virno, Deleuze, Negri,
> etc). I'm somewhat hopeful (typical North European social democrat) that an
> enlightened, network-literate state could support well-becoming. The
> original publication has tons of hotlinks, if you want further depth of
> research.
> http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/pat_kane/2007/02/theres_been_so_much_thats.html
> Be interested in your general responses, best pk
> *Not wellbeing, but wellbecoming*
> *Pat Kane*
> February 26, 2007 3:30 PM
> http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/pat_kane/2007/02/theres_been_so_much_thats.html
> There was so much that discomforted me about the well-being debate last
> week - probably because I found myself (using an appropriate mental-health
> metaphor) feeling like Steve Martin in *The Man With Two Brains*<http://www.mvps.org/st-software/Movie_Collection/images/2677f.jpg>
> .
> One brain was delighted that the political argument was shifting away from
> the old narratives about "work", "prosperity" and "consumption" as the main
> goals of British life. The other brain was horrified at the level of
> behavioural meddling and social prescription that this shift seems to imply.
> And both brains were dragging me round the room in different directions, at
> the same time.
> I find Richard Layard's *argument*<http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/richard_layard/2007/02/i_agree_with_oliver_that.html>more than a little creepy, if you think about his biography. His first claim
> to fame was as the core adviser to the incoming New Labour government in
> 1997 on their "*welfare to work*<http://cep.lse.ac.uk/layard/welfare_to_work.pdf>"
> scheme - that classic piece of applied Presbyterianism by Gordon Brown,
> where "them that shall not work, shall not eat" (or in Brown's words, "*no
> fifth option* <http://www.prnewswire.co.uk/cgi/news/release?id=54997>").
> Layard's input was to bolster the notion of work - any work - as the
> essential tool of socialisation. Anything to banish that Brownite spectre of
> "people sitting around all day, watching television, doing nothing" (a
> favoure phrase from pre-1997 speeches, and barely changed to this day). This
> is such a demeaning conception of the human self - that without *the
> compulsion of wage labour*<http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2006/08/08/do0801.xml>,
> we will simply sink into indolence and passivity.
> In that sense, Layard has been entirely consistent as a *bureaucrat of
> bliss*<http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_20050304/ai_n11847368/print>:
> he still thinks the citizen-worker is too weak-minded to know his or her own
> best interests, and that policy-makers must herd us all to a median state of
> happiness. It's the implicit paternalism in the wellbeing debate that
> constantly rings my alarm bells.
> So if the stats say "marriage makes them more contented", then let's make
> divorce harder. If the research says "our media landscape saturates us with
> perspectives and world views, and leaves us dissatisfied", then we must
> control the media (or even, in one submission to this series, enforce a *national
> switch-off*<http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/mark_vernon/2007/02/wellbeing.html>of the telly at mealtimes).
> Every other day I walk by the Hampstead towers where Beatrice and Sidney
> Webb planned their giant Fabian schemes to "improve the *eugenic stock*<http://economics.gmu.edu/pboettke/workshop/Spring_06/JEP_Retrospectives.pdf>of the worker". I often idly imagine their spectres are twirling happily
> together at the sight of all these social-scientific shepherds, meticulously
> planning the micro-behaviour (if not eugenically, then at least
> neuro-psychologically) of the ex-working-class.
> And I mean *ex*-working-class, because they are now the service class,
> mostly - which is the deepest problem underlying our angst about wellbeing.
> How can one have a genuinely happy society where one large chunk of it is in
> the position of *servicing the domestic and hedonistic agendas*<http://www.mngt.waikato.ac.nz/ejrot/cmsconference/2003/proceedings/re-investigating/Nickson.pdf>of another large chunk?
> This is the great psychological wound, ever more exacerbated since the
> workfare reforms of 1997, which causes disillusion and alienation and
> general grumpiness in this country. Among younger generations, who have now
> *grown up*<http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/pat_kane/2006/07/dangerous_desirous_youth.html>nourished and watered by the globalism and diversity of the internet, this
> servile future induces a particularly acute form of cynicism.
> The book was much *derided *<http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,1389821,00.html>at
> the time, but Nick Barham's Dis/connected got something right about youth
> culture in Britain. Faced with so little real opportunity to realise their
> cultural and digital sensibilities, many youths are conducting an "*exodus
> * <http://slash.autonomedia.org/article.pl?sid=02/01/30/2044216>" into
> their *own worlds*<http://www.guardian.co.uk/weekend/story/0,,2018787,00.html>.
> Which, yes, can include environmental activism as well as gun culture,
> joyous drug-fuelled raving as well as isolated depression, McWorld as well
> as Jihad.
> The authorities might fret about youth disconnection from the norms of
> society. But their policy and institutional responses, particularly in
> education, show no imagination whatsoever. The spectrum of creative
> life-options that face our energetic millenials, thanks to the dull
> workfare-ism of Brown and Layard, is pathetic. Add to that the workaholic
> culture of too many of their parents, neglecting child-care in favour of
> jobs that seem close to absurdist in their lack of meaning and purpose, and
> the unhappiness of young people's existence is all too understandable.
> Let's push on through to the other side of this debate. As some *
> commenters*<http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/neil_clark/2007/02/wanted_an_erich_fromm_party.html#comment-440640>have acutely noted, the wellbeing merchants are often frustrated old
> collectivists, looking for a new set of research stats to justify the
> construction of a solidarity and consensus that was left behind with the
> industrial era. Never mind trying to restore this lost unity (which was a
> negative, defensive, bruised-and-battered unity at that). Can't our
> policy-makers begin to see that their best role is to give us the support
> and resources to help us navigate our deeply complex societies?
> Some great old gurus have been quoted in this debate - Erich Fromm, Hannah
> Arendt - but I'd suggest that we should also be reading *Gorz*<http://www.amazon.co.uk/Reclaiming-Work-Beyond-Wage-based-Society/dp/0745621287/sr=8-1/qid=1172260910/ref=sr_1_1/026-6744557-4262020?ie=UTF8&s=books>,
> *Rifkin* <http://www.resurgence.org/resurgence/issues/rifkin207.htm>, *
> Negri* <http://www.angelfire.com/cantina/negri/> and *Virno*<http://info.interactivist.net/print.pl?sid=06/01/17/2225239>.
> From them, some obvious policy suggestions.
> Revive (and destigmatise) social housing, so that we can live well yet
> cheaply. Make all higher education free at the point of use, in order that
> the cognitive gap between the "serving" and the "serviced" classes become
> even more untenable. Strongly regulate capitalism (shorter working weeks,
> citizen's incomes, powerful public infrastructures and networks) so that
> men, women and children can experiment with new mixes of the productive and
> the emotional in our lives.
> In short: support our autonomy, don't prescribe our happiness.
> It's not well-being our state should be in the business of enabling, but *
> well-becoming* <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilles_Deleuze> - our
> multitude of life-journeys towards meaning and purposefulness, not some
> steady-state of managed contentment. The "happ" in happiness comes from the
> Norse, and it means "luck" or "chance": this week's parade of neo-Webbs
> should remember that. Help us to be strong and capable, so we can live
> interesting, surprising, memorable lives. Other than that, get your hands
> off my soul.
> *theplayethic.typepad.com*** <http://theplayethic.typepad.com/>
> *Click here*<http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/category/the_politics_of_wellbeing/>
> * for a full list of articles in the Politics of Wellbeing debate. *
>  Pat Kane
> +44 (0)7718 588497
> http://www.theplayethic.com
> http://theplayethic.typepad.com
> http://www.newintegrity.org
> http://www.patkane.com
> All mail to: patkane at theplayethic.com
> _______________________________________________
> iDC -- mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity (
> distributedcreativity.org)
> iDC at mailman.thing.net
> http://mailman.thing.net/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/idc
> List Archive:
> http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/
> iDC Photo Stream:
> http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/idcnetwork/
> RSS feed:
> http://rss.gmane.org/gmane.culture.media.idc
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/attachments/20070613/70335bb3/attachment-0001.htm

More information about the iDC mailing list