Two things to file under "up is down" this morning.
Here's Julian Savulescu talking about the negative side of being green. Small measures like recycling make you mean, some new research shows (you did your bit, now you can be selfish). They also deceive you into thinking environmental problems are being taken care of when they're not.
Must we help the poor because they're so miserable? It turns out they're not so miserable. See: Happiness around the World: The Paradox of Happy Peasants and Miserable Millionaires, by Carol Graham. Here's a New Yorker review.
Heh... I don't think any of this is really new... In fact they're kind of related. People donate money at church or in the salvation army kettle, and they feel as if they've done their part for world hunger, even though neither really do much at all for the cause.... Then they feel as if they can go and buy that Xbox....
But those Xboxes really don't make anyone happier, in fact it begins to overcomplicate our lives... People with simpler lives have more easily realized goals, less things to be responsible for, less things that are demanding upon them. If they get enough food for the day, they feel incredibly fortunate, and happy. Its the declining marginal utility of money... and what I called the synergistic compounding of suffering. As we complicate our lives, we get bits of more suffering in our lives. This builds up and makes us less happy.
Ok--but then the puzzle is, why should we send our excess funds to help the poor, if they're already happy? (Possible answer--we should only send money to help the extremely poor, who can't possibly be happy. But I need to read the book before I say that.)
Well it depends upon what we're doing with the funds. If we're using the funds to complicate their lives, then perhaps we shouldn't.... But if we're using the funds to just keep them alive, because they would die without them, then we should. Help the worst off first.... Maybe we shouldn't help anyone who isn't in absolute poverty.... because in those circumstances they really don't need any help.
Instead... perhaps we should help the millionaires.... by taking their wealth away.
Just because a child dying of cancer without proper medical care may be happy does not indicate that the situation is just. If ever I heard an argument designed to rationalize or justify global injustice, it is the argument that the poor are happy. Should they be unhappy, so that we may deign to share our surplus wealth with them? People adjust to their circumstances, as the article says, and there may be happy people in Haiti, in Gaza and in Somalia, but that should not be a rationalization for inaction regarding global injustice. In fact, the argument is obscene.
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