Monday, December 25, 2017

Defining Happiness in Worldbuilding

Funny how things come together.  In a worldbuilding context, I had done a post on health, with an eye to eventually tackling culture and happiness.  I did define culture somewhat, but not to the point where I am ready to offer a table.  I haven't really touched happiness.

I got to thinking about the opposite of culture and happiness.  Health was easy; the lack of health includes all those things we strive to manage, disease and waste foremost on the list.  My feeling, then, was to start with the lack of culture and the lack of happiness.  But how do we define those things?

The question has been bouncing around in my mind for a month now.  Yes, we do create culture to help guide and control the population.  We also create opportunities to encourage pleasure and happiness, such as parks, competitions, sport, games and so on.  Reversing that, it is easy to see that happiness creates discontent, anger, crime and rebellion.  This much is clear.  But where is the measure?

Well, this being Christmas, I find myself coming back around to Dickens:

"Look here."
From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, ideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.
"Oh, Man. look here. Look, look, down here." exclaimed the Ghost.
They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.
Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.
"Spirit. are they yours?" Scrooge could say no more.
"They are Man's," said the Spirit, looking down upon them. "And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it." cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. "Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end."
"Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Scrooge.
"Are there no prisons?" said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. "Are there no workhouses?"

Of course the opposite of happiness is want.  I should have remembered that from my Buddhist readings, but these things get lost.  And it equally follows that the opposite of culture is ignorance.  I've never met anyone uncultured who wasn't an enormous boor where it came to understanding anything about any person's motivations for action.  It requires a cultured person to understand why a man would kneel on one knee at a football game or why a D.A. chasing 17-year-olds around at a mall is wrong, whatever her mother says.

Culture is the process of expanding the minds of a population in order to bring them on board with concepts like universal responsibility for the general welfare or the singular care of the unhealthy, infirm or disabled.  Just as happiness is the process by which we assuage the want of millions, to encourage them to believe that there is a better existence to be had rather than endless, unendurable misery.

We can extrapolate happiness, then, from a set of measurable factors.  How much food do people have to eat?  What material things and services are available for their use?  How free and able are they to pursue their own interests?  What entities or laws exist to exploit them, in a manner that encourages their degree of want?

I'm not quite at the table-making process, but I'm close.  I need to spend some time digging out a list of things that answer the above questions.  Then I should be there.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Just getting to this post now, but I like how you’ve outlined these concepts. I wonder, how would want or ignorance affect the general activity of the populace in a region? Presumably, want would encourage criminality; ignorance would discourage adventuring or make adventures distrusted. I also wonder if spending time in a locale which is wanting or ignorant would cause penalties to the player characters due to feelings of distrust, discomfort or from harassment from locals. The barkeep doesn’t serve your kind or the players are being constantly approached by beggars or pickpockets. Good way to increase stress over time.