I want to talk about all of these things, some are related, others are not. I think the acronym may have driven the title a bit, but all of these things were in my head before I began to write the title.
On the day of my birthday, the day everyone else calls “9/11” I was thinking about World Peace, the environment and poverty. Then I reflected on how I feel at the lovely age of 35. I concluded that I am a happy person, despite all the troubles in the world. I also came to the conclusion that, in my position of privilege I have the responsibility, not the right to be happy. The world doesn’t owe me anything, but I owe the world lots. And I am certain that I do my best at paying the world back when I am happy, not when I am depressed or angry or afraid.
Someone, somewhere killed the notion of happiness. My first instinct is to blame Robbie McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” but I’m sure it has been dying for some time. Somewhere along the line Happiness turned into this passive, self-centred, slothful, complacent, hyper-consuming value to be shunned by productive members of society. It wasn’t always so. You used to have to work at Happiness, and it meant developing yourself into a good person, making sacrifices, doing your part to bring happiness and justice to others. The happy person sought to be wise as well as smart.
In the midst of this knowledge revolution, people are sharing information at a rate that is unfathomable to individuals. Information “stuff” is bought and sold in a marketplace with self-contained value. Consumption of information is almost as valuable as producing it. People will spend their hard-earned money to have people consume their products for free. Somewhere in this game, people are developing solutions to big problems. But with the solutions come new problems that require more solutions. So is there an end to this train? Will “progress” ever stop? Ought it ever stop? Ought it continue?
Personally, I believe it should continue. I think technology and progress are not an illusion — although they are overhyped at times. I don’t believe technology is the cause of other problems like poverty and environmental degradation. And I think there has been a net benefit to our technological progress so far.
On the other hand, the failure to address our root behaviors through understanding Happiness will kill us in the end as our machines become more and more powerful.
But somewhere with all our problems and solutions we have lost touch with what Happiness is. Happiness is not complacency, but may in fact be the opposite. A happy person can be outraged, but their happiness lets them see through their own anger and focus their energies on bringing justice to the situation. The happy person loves their anger, and sadness and fear for alerting them to areas of alarm. But the happy person is not controlled by these things. The happy person has a kind of jujitsu that uses the bad in the world into something good. The happy person is by no means complacent.
But we have lost this understanding in society I think.
A solid example is the Fortuny incident. Jason Fortuny took a BDSM women-seeking-men ad from one city and posted it to a Craigslist site to see how many responses he would get from men in 24 hours. Then he proceeded to post all the responses to the Encyclopedia Dramatica. (I’m not posting too much links here, because the story is definitely NSFW).
It is pretty hard to feel sorry for the victims here, but somehow I am more appalled at Fortuny than I am with the creeps who responded to the ad. There is definitely a tort here if someone wants to take it on, but the larger point is that this guy is taking technology and information and distorting them into something that will bring benefit to no one.
The test about whether this is appropriate or ethical action is whether or not we would like a world full of Fortunys. What if everyone made everyone else’s secrets public? You could confide with anyone via email, IM, or whatever? The world would be a much worse place.
The happy person would have no need for this such nonsense, and better yet, would be focussed on more positive solutions to pressing problems. Even in absence of equality, a world of happy people would always be a good thing. At least with a happy world, we would know that inequality, poverty and war would buckle eventually.