A great piece from David Mitchell on the messaging around climate change.
Why can’t we just dispense with all the talk about how wonderful it’s going to be and the opportunities for fun which await and say:
Look I like driving cars and taking planes and eating strawberries at Christmas, but we’re can’t do it anymore because of facts
I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, I’ve said as much:
We are compelled to action not because it doesn’t befit civilised man to behave in such a manner or any other such utopian ambition, but because – and let me be perfectly clear on this: We do not have the resources on this planet to continue as we are.
It seems to me that this gives a credibility and urgency to the facts. The “let’s all do this together because it would be fun!” approach needs to be sure it does focus creating the change required, and doesn’t start believing its own hype that as long as people are having fun, and the census shows us getting happier, that everything’s going to be OK.
As The Politics of Wellbeing points out:
It is vulgar. Bentham, Mill said, suffered from a “deficiency of imagination”. So do his followers. Bentham insisted that only things that make us feel pleasant are worthwhile, therefore ‘pushpin is better than poetry’, because pushpin, a trivial parlour game, creates more pleasant feelings in the masses than poetry. He had no sense that some types of happiness are higher and better than others, and so we should be educated to appreciate them. He also didn’t appreciate that some worthwhile experiences – like watching a tragedy – will actually make us feel sad. The best arts – Shakespeare, Sophocles, The Sopranos – connect us to the full range of human experience, the dark as well as the light. Utilitarianism, by contrast, tries to turn everything into a moronic happy face. Imagine a TV show or a novel where everyone was happy all the time. It would be unbearably boring.
It is self-absorbed and anti-civic. Utilitarians think that, if ‘feeling good’ is made the goal of society, everyone will naturally work for other people’s happiness. But why should they? ‘Because it will make them feel good’. But what if it doesn’t? What if visiting my sick mother in hospital actually makes me feel bad? What argument can a Utilitarian make in that instance? Our own pleasant feelings are not a strong and lasting enough guide for sustained moral and civic behaviour.