I've just posted to the Guardian's Comment Is Free blog again - this time, responding to their 'Politics of Wellbeing' debate. I've recently finished reading a beautiful excursus on Gilles Deleuze by Todd May: I was able to incorporate a lot of his points about the 'ontological creativity' evoked by Deleuze into the piece - it gave force to my critique of the well-being agenda as paternalist and overly-normative.
And it allowed me to coin the term 'well-becoming' as an alternative - which (now that I think about it) is actually not that far away from the 'pursuit of happiness', taking joy in the endless search for happiness, rather than the attainment or even management of it. (At some point, I'm going to sit down and properly engage with the relationship between Deleuze's ideas and the Play Ethic: something tells me they're very similarly founded, at base).
But my suspicions about the new consensus of values sought by the well-being advocates were raised by several degrees this morning, as I came across Prospect magazine's new survey of intellectuals, asking them what they think the great opposition of the current century will be (after the demise of right and left).
There's much of interest here. But for this post, nothing more so than the smug paragraph from our putative Minister for Happiness, Richard Layard:
The great issue for the 21st century will be materialism vs quality of life. Those who want priority for economic progress will be pitched against those who focus more strongly on the quality of life that people experience. Both left and right will be divided on this issue. This division will occur in most of the main policy debates: materialism will favour higher migration; quality of life will favour lower migration. Materialism will favour financial incentives and low job security; quality of life will favour the reverse. Materialism will favour little regulation of gambling or advertising; quality of life will favour more. Materialism will favour education for success; quality of life will favour the education of character. Materialism will focus less on mental illness; quality of life will focus on it more. Materialism will focus on the cost of averting climate change; quality of life will focus on the implications of not averting it. Eventually, the quality of life will win out.
Is anyone else - apart from me - alarmed that the first salvo in the battle between Q-o-L and materialism is 'lower migration'? The rest of his cultural and social restrictions are debatable in their own way: add the first, and it tips the argument into a justification of something that the late J.K.Galbraith once called 'the culture of contentment': a socio-economic laager, fearing heterogeneity, 'difference' and otherness, and wanting to arrange society and its institutions to minimize contact with it. 'People' is the weasel-word here: what people, where, doing what?
I don't agree with Layard's opposition of 'materialism' and 'quality of life', nor even with the content of each term: materialism as purely economic, and qualia as purely experiential. My Comment Is Free blog, and the subsequent discussion, fleshes out the vision further. But it confirms my interest in play - as a principle of possibility in human life - even more than before. And it also confirms my resistance to play being subsumed in current arguments about a well-being - often meaning 'well-behaving' - society.