Head on a Hot Plate

A statistician is someone who can put their head on a hot plate and feet in a bucket of cold water who says, “on the average, I feel fine.” But don’t tell social scientists —their entire world revolves around statistics. For instance, they’re now trying to figure out, statistically, what makes people happy.

The pursuit of happiness is a right enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. So an increasingly important question for economists, psychologists and decision-makers is the role that happiness plays in society and how to increase it. … But working out exactly what factors affect happiness is not easy. The data is difficult to gather and the statistics are hard to manage. -Technology Review

One of the interesting findings they’ve run across while trying to quantify happiness is that having children always makes people less happy, while better health always makes you happier. So the solution to all of society’s ills is, apparently, a lot of exercise and birth control. If you think that sounds a little like a liberal’s dream world, you’re not imagining things. In the liberal worldview, the point of life to be happy! Doesn’t the US Constitution, itself, promise us happiness? Isn’t the goal of government making the people as happy as possible?

From this idea —that the point of government is to make people happy— arises the entire idea of the government providing everything from health care to jobs, education to retirement.

But what if we’re wrong? What if the main obstacle to happiness is chasing happiness as a goal? What if the problem with government creating happiness is that it can’t, in fact, create happiness? As government can only give what it takes, isn’t it probable that government can only give happiness in proportion to it’s taking of happiness?

And here lies the problem with social engineering. For all the concern and care lavished on the happiness of people by social engineers and government policy makers, the bottom line is you can’t make people happy. You can set conditions so people are able to be happy —if they choose— but you can’t make them happy. No matter how hard you work at it, the end goal of social engineering is forever impossible to reach.

You might have thought that we would learn our mistakes by examining the past and current failures of social psychology and social engineering.

Entire journalistic enterprises, whole books from cover to cover, would simply collapse into dust if even a smidgen of skepticism were summoned whenever we read that “scientists say” or “a new study finds” or “research shows” or “data suggest.” Most such claims of social science, we would soon find, fall into one of three categories: the trivial, the dubious, or the flatly untrue. -The Weekly Standard

But that wouldn’t make those who want to control our lives for our own good very happy.

And after all, happiness is the most important thing in their lives.

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