Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Five Giants of Human Welfare

I want to start using my philosophy of value to create some lessons about life.

An important way of dealing with global problems is to manage global desires.

For the past several days, I have been listening to a number of podcast episodes concerning five “giants” of human welfare: “housing and urbanisation, education and skills, health and social care, the future of work, and the challenges of poverty.”

I want to say something about each of these issues that came up in these presentations: sustainability.

I wish to note that desirism does not recognize ‘welfare’ or ‘well-being’ as ‘the correct value’. Value exists as a relationship between states of affairs and desires. A person with a ‘desire that P’ has a reason to realize a state of affairs in which ‘P’ is true. However, P may not have anything to do with welfare.

This is not to deny that many of our desires are concerns about welfare, such as our aversion to pain and to the discomforts of illness and injury.

One reason that this is important is because one way in which we can handle these five giants is by managing our desires.

Think of “poverty” as an example. What we want has a lot to say about how wealthy or poor we are. A person who wants things that cost a lot of money is going to either have to (a) find a way to acquire a lot of money, or (b) suffer the thwarting of many and strong desires. In contrast, the person who wants that which is relatively inexpensive can be wealthy with a far lower income.

We can fight poverty by increasing the total amount of stuff we build. However, that creates problems for sustainability. If we can come to value things that do not require resource-extensive production, we can get what we want without destroying so much of the environment.

In my own case, I value reading and writing. That does not require a lot investment. I live quite well without a lot of wealth.

The issue of income (poverty) relates to the issue of work. What is work? There are the chores that I do for money, plus there are the chores that I do without getting paid. I read and study lots of stuff and write reports for others on what I have read. I like to think that my unpaid work provides a much better social benefit than my paid work, but my paid work pays the rent.

This applies to the problem of housing as well. A person does not need a lot of room to live. The housing problem would be significantly reduced if people were simply content to live in smaller and less expensive houses.

If you do not have expensive tastes, then you do not need to worry about having a lot of money. Furthermore, if you have a taste for helping others, you can have just as good a life as the person who has expensive tastes and a lot of money, and a much better life than the person with expensive tastes and little money.

This is an important thing to remember and easily overlooked: The person who has a desire to feed the starving and care for the sick does not perform an act of self sacrifice. The person with a desire to feed the hungry and who feeds the hungry is no different than the person who desires to live in a large fancy home and buys a large fancy home. They both get what they want. The difference is that one gets a world in which some otherwise hungry people are fed, and the other gets a world where he owns a large fancy house.

Now, on issues of health care and extreme want/starvation, there are limits to what we are capable of wanting. These are areas where we need to find way to fulfill the wants we have, rather than adjust our wants to that which we can fulfill.

The one giant that I have not covered is education and skills acquisition. As a “giant” of human welfare, this one seems to be nothing more than a means to the others. It is a way to get s job to acquire food, medical care, a place to live, and the money to fulfill basic wants. It s the iPhone “giant” that has no necessary value for its own sake, though t is certainly useful. Consequently, I am not certain that it belongs among the other giants,. Instead, it is one means among many for dealing with the other giants. The relevant difference is that this giant only has value as a means.

The ultimate moral of this story concerns the fact that we can deal with these problems of housing and urbanisation, education and skills, health and social care, the future of work, and the challenges of poverty to a large degree by molding our existing desires. This does not mean sacrificing what we want. It means changing our wants - and wanting those things we can have that do not harm, and perhaps even helps, other people.


Emu Sam said...

Education may be necessary for fulfilling desires on a more macro scale. If no one knows how to build a good house, then everyone is cold in winter (unless they offset it by knowing how to make better winter clothes or heating systems or living in a place which does not get cold). But you only need a few people with those skills out of every thousand. Or am I completely misunderstanding what you're trying to say?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Aye. Education definitely has value as a means. However, this means that the value of education is assumed under the value of the other items. It is assumed under the value of housing, health, poverty reduction, and employment. It is not an independent fifth category.