Sunday, July 16, 2006

But what if pissing off greenies make me happy?

Let's say you want to find out who are the happiest (and unhappiest) people are in the world. Let's say your a envirofundamentalist group with an agenda. How do you go about it?

Well for starters you can ask them how happy they are. It's not bad place to start, but it's subjective. It also doesn't give you an answer that suits your agenda. The last thing you want is to produce a report that says that people who have plasma tv's and digital wristwatches are pretty chuffed with them, and are enjoying life in general.

So how else can you measure how happy people are? Well you can look at how long people live. With the exception of followers of fanatical death cults, most people don't find dying a happy experience. It also has the advantage that most governments try to keep track of these sorts of things, meaning it doesn't take much effort to collect the data. Sure some lie about it, especially when they are the ones responsible for the dying, but it's mostly correct. Unfortunately, it also doesn't fit your agenda. See the problem is that all these highly developed countries have highly developed medical services, and tend to keep people alive and healthy longer.

So to get the result you want, you need some other criteria. Something that guarantees you the "correct" result. Luckily, the answer is right under your nose. Just assume that what makes people the happiest is knowing they aren't using more than their share of the worlds resources, and that anyone who is using more than their fair share is inherently unhappy, whether they realise it or not. So now you can declare that all of usliving in consumerist societies are miserable, and we'd all be much happier if we lived in a tree and worshipped almighty gaia.

Only problem is when people actually read your report. See your report comes up with some strange results. By your calculations, people living in some of the repressive dictatorships are much happier than anyone living in a western country. Apparently Cuba(6), Syria(86), Burma(77), Iran(67) and Libya(107) are happier places to live than Australia(139). War and famine ravaged Ethiopia(144), Eritrea(137), Ivory Coast(151) and Sierra Leone(153) are just as happy place to live as the US(150). Despite not actually being a country, Palestine(45) manages to come in well ahead of Israel(117).

Even better, they let you calculate personally how unhappy you are. According to them my happiness index is 15.5, compared to a world average of 46 and Australia's average of 34.1. Now it's dragged down a bit by my estimated life expectancy of 57.8 (mostly due to family history), but of course what makes me "unhappiest" is my ecological footprint of 20.83 global hectares, or 11.57 planets, which is apparently higher than the national averages for every country in the world, and more than five times my "share". It's even so much that there results page has a scaling problem drawing the bar chart.