Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Happiness index


""""... [T]he government's plan to measure happiness raises a further and perhaps more profound philosophical question: regardless of whether this is possible in practice, is it the best way of thinking, even in principle, about what it is to live a good human life? A clue to this idea can be found in the way a term like "utilitarian" is sometimes used disparagingly. When, for example, a course of action is described as "merely utilitarian", this implies that something important has been overlooked. But what might this be?

The German philosopher Martin Heidegger can help us to answer this question. In his work both before and after the second world war, he came to focus increasingly on the issue of modern technology. He argued that technological devices such as machines and gadgets were symptoms of a deeper phenomenon that could be traced back through centuries of western culture. "Technology" in this deep sense refers not to this or that item of equipment, but to a fundamental way of thinking, and of being, that shapes everything we do.""""

The essence of technology, argued Heidegger, lies in the idea that life is something to be controlled and mastered. Instruments of measurement and calculation – surveys, for example – are integral to this project. Heidegger linked the accelerating domination of technology in the 20th century with the idea that modern humanity faces a spiritual crisis. According to this view, utilitarian approaches to ethics in general, and attempts to measure and regulate happiness in particular, are symptoms of this crisis rather than solutions to it.

Heidegger's analysis of technology expresses in secular terms ideas that have recurred through religious traditions over many centuries. These traditions aren't immune to ideals of mastery and control: the bible teaches that man has dominion over nature, and the "spiritual" exercises taught by ancient Indian sages were – not so unlike modern drugs – techniques to alter and regulate states of mind and body. But these religious forms of technology exist alongside a willingness to recognise the limitations of human power and control, and the need to be receptive to something beyond ourselves.""""
Heidegger-Sprach: an effective antidote for those humans sick and tired of naive futurists (of whatever political flavor) and techie-dolts who insist that Scottie'll be beaming them up in the transporter in the next decade or so.

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