The UN Happiness Conference last week looks to have been a fascinating event. The Prime Minister of Bhutan sent me a giant Willy Wonka-esque invitation, for which I’m grateful, but wouldn’t pay my air-fare, for which I’m lingeringly resentful (not really). Anyway, I didn’t go, but have spent this morning reading through some of the material that came out of it.
The main event was the publication of The World Happiness Report, edited by Jeffrey Sachs, Richard Layard and John Helliwell. Interesting that Sachs, once a champion of ‘shock therapy’ and the neo-liberal Washington Consensus, should have climbed on-board the happy train.
In fact, Sachs seems to be making a bid to be the train-driver – he wrote the intro to the report, which seems odd, seeing as he’s quite a recent convert to well-being economics, while Layard’s been banging on about it for over a decade. Anyway, Sachs (who says he’s an Aristotelian) has clearly reigned in Layard’s ultra-utilitarianism. There are five or so references to Aristotle and the Stoics in the report, many more to the Buddha, and not one to Layard’s beloved Jeremy Bentham. Sachs opines loftily in the introduction that western economists’ pursuit of GDP is “completely at variance with the wisdom of the sages”. Oh really Jeff? Do we need shock cognitive therapy?
Despite Sachs’ attempt to put himself forward as the global guru of love, the conference really marks another huge success for Richard Layard, who to my mind is by far the most influential British intellectual today – partly because of his success in British mental health policy and the spread of CBT, but also because of the global influence of the happiness agenda he has pushed.
Although there are many aspects of Layard’s agenda that I welcome (its support for CBT in particular) I remain wary of the agenda because I think utilitarianism and positivism can be too monist and authoritarian: they force an entire country to follow one particular philosophy of the good life, which they insist is ‘scientific fact’. That’s what John Stuart Mill warned in On Liberty, where he spoke of the danger of a ‘tyranny of the majority’, and insisted we need to encourage diversity, experimentation, non-conformity, and the right of people to pursue their own good in their own way. Layard, I suspect, would see all that as rank individualism. (more…)
A propos of Richard’s post on how the French used to behave in Cote d’Ivoire, let’s not forget how another member of the Security Council P5 – Russia – is behaving right now. Why, you might wonder, should Russia be blocking moves in the Security Council to step up the international community’s level of intervention in Cote d’Ivoire?
Concerned about implications for its own restive regions, such as Chechnya, Russia has traditionally sought to thwart Security Council actions regarding nations’ sovereignty. But one western diplomat said Russian considerations over Ivory Coast were “90 per cent about oil, 10 per cent about sovereignty”.
Lukoil, Russia’s second biggest oil producer, has stakes in three deep-water blocks off the Ivorian coast, part of a largely untapped 1,000km oil frontier. Lukoil acquired its interests during Mr Gbagbo’s rule and changes of power in Africa have often been followed by reviews of oil and mineral rights.
Stewart Jackson, Conservative shadow communities and local government minister and the party’s regeneration spokesman, was reported by audience members and rival parliamentary candidates to have told a public meeting organised by Peterborough Senior Citizens Forum last month that, in Afghanistan, “fifteen year old Muslim boys’ initiation rites are to rape a woman and shoot a foreigner”.
Jackson, who is the sitting MP in Peterborough, confirmed to this magazine that he had made the comments. But he said that the comments were made in reference to the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. He said they were “100 per cent” not his personal opinion but rather a view expressed in a briefing he had received on Afghanistan from the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
He said: “During a public discussion I referred to claims made at an MoD briefing on the situation in Afghanistan, this was part of a serious debate about complex issues and I hope no one is using it to try and score political points.”
But a MoD spokeswoman said that such a description of the situation in Afghanistan would be a complete departure from normal MoD practice. She said: “I can’t say that nobody from the MoD has ever said that but that is not the sort of thing we would ever say in an average MoD briefing”.
Update: This plays into an obsession on the fringes of the right with Muslim ‘rape gangs’. Our old friend, Mark Steyn, is a key promoter of this idea…
Update II: Stewart Jackson appears to have related concerns about the UK’s ‘broken society’:
The heart of Middle England is destined for asylum meltdown… News that the results of New Labour’s failed immigration policy are rising levels of violence and lawlessness on the streets of Peterborough come as no surprise to me – or anyone else who lives in the city…
Anyone walking through the city centre can see increasing numbers of young unemployed Kurdish men hanging around and residents are increasingly fearful as their area is used as a dumping ground for such ethnically mismatched groups like Afghans, Kurds and Pakistanis who riot and fight…
Tensions are growing not just between different ethnic minority groups – but also across the whole city – Pensioners, young families, professionals, Pakistanis. People are angry and feel impotent. When I knock on doors, people tell me that they’re fed up with seeing young men on street corners – mainly asylum seekers – intimidating old people and young women.
They’re fed up with homes being bought up in their neighbourhood by unscrupulous landlords milking the Housing Benefits system to let out to illegal immigrants used as cheap labour. And they’re angry that police resources are being diverted to keep warring factions in the city centre apart, whilst their streets suffer increased burglaries, robbery and car crime.
Update III: The UN has called rape a ‘profound’ crisis in Afghanistan.
Our field research also found that rape is under-reported and concealed and is a huge problem in Afghanistan. It affects all parts of the country, all communities, and all social groups. It is a human rights problem of profound proportion.
Women and girls are at risk of rape in their homes, in their villages, and in detention facilities. Rape is not unique to Afghanistan, but the socio-political context does have particular characteristics that exacerbate the problem. Shame is attached to rape victims rather than to the perpetrator. Victims often find themselves being prosecuted for the offence of zina, otherwise known as adultery.
For the vast majority of victims, there is very little possibility of finding justice. There is no explicit provision in the 1976 Afghan Penal Code that criminalizes rape. Thus, the UN recommended that the legislation on the Elimination of Violence Against Women make explicit reference to rape, contain a clear definition of rape in line with international law, and hold the government responsible for tackling this ugly crime.
The question remains, though, whether there is any evidence of it being used as an ‘initiation rite’. I think Stewart Jackson is going to have to give more details about who from the MOD briefed him and exactly what they said.
– With the new EU President and High Representative finally decided, the FT wonders whether current Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, is the true victor from all the horse-trading. The Times has news that, consistent with the Lisbon reforms, the EU is attempting to strengthen its presence at the UN. Sunder Katwala, meanwhile, suggests that European member states still lack a fundamental sense of what they want to achieve as one in the global arena.
– As President Obama continues to review Afghan strategy, the WSJ assesses the impact on US-UK relations. Con Coughlin, meanwhile, paints a more pessimistic picture of the “exclusivity of [Obama’s] style of decision-making”.
– Elsewhere, Fyodor Lukyanov heralds Mikhail Gorbachev’s idealism, suggesting he was “the last Wilsonian of the 20th century”. Richard Haass, meanwhile, explains how lessons drawn from the Cold War could help address contemporary global challenges.
– Finally, World Politics Review has a series of articles on modernising the US State Department and creating a more integrated national security architecture. The Guardian, meanwhile, surveys the UK Foreign Office’s growing “brave new world of blogger ambassadors”.
– With Angela Merkel re-elected as German Chancellor, and the CDU-CSU now forming a coalition with the free-market FDP, Mary Dejevsky assesses the implications for the country’s domestic politics. Alan Posener suggests that Frau Merkel has the potential to be the new Thatcher, while Der Spiegel takes a look at the implications for forming a coherent German foreign policy.
– Staying with shifting politics, WPR assesses the potential for changes in Japan’s international outlook, particularly towards the US. The Asia Times examines the domestic machinations and their likely impact on the new government’s foreign policy priorities.
– Elsewhere, the New Yorker talks to Columbia economist, Joseph Stiglitz, about his concerns over the current economic crisis and the need to address not just market failure, but government failure too. Catch the video here. The FT’s analysis section, meanwhile, assesses the flaws in “efficient markets” theory and explores what might take its place.
– Finally, following last week’s round of summitry at the UN, complete with rhetorical flourish from Muammar al-Qaddafi, Foreign Policy has a list of “The Top 10 Craziest Things Ever Said During a UN Speech” – Qaddafi joins Castro, Khrushchev and Ortega among others.