Gross national happiness

We had a pleasant visit with our esteemed university president yesterday in Environmental Ethics class. He didn’t formally commit to signing the ACUPCC yet, but said he’d study it some more. And he said we were already plenty green, greener, in fact, than most of us know.

He said our new Student Center and Science Building, for instance, are LEED-certified. If that’s true, we should be trumpeting the news. The community needs to hear about it, we need to stand up and get credit for doing the right thing. That’s leading by example, and it’s how real and lasting change comes to a society: via snowball. One small signature can catalyze events. A low profile doesn’t make waves, but it doesn’t make change either. It’s more like an epiphenomenon.

But the president’s parting words were a reminder that ours is a very Red state, and our allotment from the legislature is down 40% from just two years ago. Science Building? We should just be glad we have one at all, and we’d best be careful what they study in there. Better not confirm the reality of climate change.

No, he didn’t say that. He did say we need to plead our case with our elected representatives. So here they are.

In chapter one of Stoic Pragmatism John Lachs (who has never shied away from an opportunity to educate our “leaders” in public, even when he considered himself an epiphenomenalist) repeatedly alludes to the real problems of ordinary human beings as deserving (if not typically taking) priority over the technical problems of philosophers. He notes that

The recently published Encyclopedia of American Philosophy [which he and Rob Talisse co-edited, and to which I was privileged to contribute a couple of modest entries] promises additional resources for leaving what has been called “the linguistic turn” behind and facing at last the multitude of real-life problems that beset us. Many philosophers have already turned in this new direction.

Environmental ethicists and bioethicists have “turned,” for instance. As John Dewey said back in 1917, philosophy will be fully healthy only when its practitioners break free of their self-imposed bubble of specialized scholastic isolation and speak up in public about issues of common concern.

Philosophy recovers itself when it ceases to be a device for dealing with the problems of philosophers and becomes a method, cultivated by philosophers, for dealing with the problems of men. John Dewey, “The Need for a Recovery in Philosophy”

In this spirit Lachs writes:

The U.S. would be a better nation if, in addition to a Council of Economic Advisors, it also had a Council of Ethics staffed by philosophers.

Now why didn’t I think of that, back when I was serving my term on the American Philosophical Association‘s sub-committee on alternative jobs for philosophers? But he’s right, and I’d add: we need a council to demonstrate ways of enhancing not GDP but GNH, Gross National Happiness. Better appoint some Bhutanese to show us how it’s done. They’ll know where to find a genuinely new direction and “additional resources.” They’re familiar with the geography of bliss. Just leave at least one spot on the Council of Happiness Advisors for a western academician with an interest in the philosophy of happiness.



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