Life, liberty and the pursuit of fuck-you money
August 2, 2013 1:54 AM   Subscribe

The Quality of Life: As Macaulay once noted: “If men are to wait for liberty till they become good and wise in slavery, they may indeed wait forever.”
posted by Gyan (18 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Prisoners in California currently on a hunger strike to protest solitary confinement policies illustrate the poverty of such linear-sequential approaches to quality of life. I know nothing about the issue or the merits of various positions in the debate. What interests me is the undoubted symbolic significance of refusing satisfaction of a “more basic” need in order to protest non-satisfaction of a “less basic” one. Though I am not a Gandhi fan, he understood the power of such signalling. It is the most basic way to undermine the mental models of those who presume to dictate what “basics” ought to mean to you and whether you are competent to decide for yourself.

So maybe I take issue with the tone of this article? How are you going to casually and thoughtlessly use a thirty thousand prisoner hunger strike as an example for your bullshit, and not even give context?

The "statistics are for authoritarians" thing was really what killed it for me. Ugh.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:05 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

"I am a victim of Quality of Life!"
posted by oceanjesse at 4:06 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I thought the article made a valid point: that it's presumptuous to assume what other people should want. It reminds me of the tired argument against giving money to homeless people because "they'll just spend it on booze, cigarettes, or drugs." Who cares? If that's what they want, is it our business to police what people in whose shoes we have never been should prefer? And don't many of us buy those very items for ourselves?
posted by Vispa Teresa at 5:02 AM on August 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

I appreciate the thoughtfulness that went into posting this. Honestly I do. But god damn, it's early and this is going to be a long day.
posted by Naberius at 5:24 AM on August 2, 2013

The author (Venkatesh Rao) is definitely one of the more original pundits on the web, but holy shit does he need an editor. Every one of his posts is twice as long as it needs to be.

In this case I think he's right about how we've internalized an imperfect, Maslow's hierarchy type understanding of human needs. It's worth drawing that out and critiquing it. But what are the real practical consequences for social programs?

For example, take this paragraph:

Basketball — hardly a “basic” — has arguably done more to help the Black community in America heal the scars of slavery and overcome the tribulations of life in violent ghettos than clumsy efforts to provide the “basics.” In India, I suspect denial of access to street cricket and Bollywood music would cause riots faster than turning off the water supply. We are willing to trade running tap water for a mile-long walk if the alternative is to give up TV.

Even if you overlook the clumsy racial and class stereotypes, I'm still not sure what he's saying. Does he think that governments should reallocate funding from welfare and infrastructure to sports and entertainment? I doubt it. So what's his point exactly?
posted by pete_22 at 5:54 AM on August 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

Every one of his posts is twice as long as it needs to be.

I think you are a bit generous. surely 2/3 of those words could have been cut.

I thought the article made a valid point: that it's presumptuous to assume what other people should want.

I have been thinking about this a bit lately, in the context of the waves of immigration in the 19th C and the way they drove the public library movement. No, really, one of the purposes of the public library as originally envisioned in the US was to more or less "Americanize" immigrants, bring them into line with the cultural values of the nation at its centenary*, and make them adequate workers and consumers for that stage of capitalism.

Anyway, now that I myself have use 3x as many words as necessary to get to my point -- it's really easy to say that "what people need to be happy is what I need to be happy," which, given the range of human diversity, is probably never going to reduce to a handful of options.

* Note, we are talking about people white enough to eventually assimilate after the traditional hazing (e.g. Irish, Italians, Portuguese). Darker immigrants (and freed slaves) had, of course, a whole additional pile of problems.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:03 AM on August 2, 2013

Wow, that guy sure likes italics.
posted by windykites at 6:04 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

So what's his point exactly?

I think, after a very quick initial read, that the point is that freedom and a certain measure of self determination (which is probably provided by fuck you money) is what is really creates quality of life, much more so than clean drinking water or access to green spaces or organic produce or whatever else the western middle class think that the poor need.

To carry it further, he's saying that it's problematic for rich people in the west to try to tell people in the global south what they need to be happy.

I just read his bit on scripts the other day. I suspect that if one really wanted to understand what he's getting at, one would have to spend a good bit of time reading his other writings.

I don't think he's saying that government should reallocate spending to sports and entertainment - rather that the structure of welfare and infrastructure spending is in itself creating problems because it is top down and controlled by people who have either no idea what will actually make people happy or else have some vested interest in keeping certain power structures in place.
posted by natteringnabob at 6:05 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

What I mean is I found the author's writing style difficult to take seriously. And I also found the content difficult to take seriously.

I have a friend whose opinions about issues are just her, parroting phrases that her husband says. She's quite vehement about them, but because she doesn't actually know very much about the issues, sometimes she'll put the phrases together in a way that's just a little bit off, or misunderstands or misremembers some points and comes to conclusions based on those misunderstandings, and if you try yo have a conversation with her about her opinions, pretty soon you hit a wall and you realise that all the outrage and bluster has very little behind it. She wants to be able to be a contributer to those conversations, and she feels very strongly about her veiwpoint, but there's nothing- no careful research, very little independent thought- behind any of it.

This essay's style seems similar to my friend's political opinions. Vehement declarations with very little behind them.
posted by windykites at 6:18 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Why isn’t there a major UN study tracking what people consider fuck-you money?

In a way that is a dumb question. It does give one a pretty good idea who he thinks his audience is.
posted by bukvich at 6:22 AM on August 2, 2013

long winded and pretentious. can't say I liked this piece at all.
posted by IvoShandor at 6:44 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

the point is that freedom and a certain measure of self determination (which is probably provided by fuck you money) is what is really creates quality of life, much more so than clean drinking water or access to green spaces

I don't think he's saying "much more so," only that freedom is an aspect of what gives people's lives a measure of quality that is too often overlooked. I think this quote sums it up nicely: (So why so many other words... ?)

To provide the basics in order to allow the recipients of charity to make more choices as they see fit is to understand quality of life.
posted by Vispa Teresa at 6:50 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Some interesting points buried in there, but holy fuck that guy needs an editor. that said, I did like this:
Money does not buy happiness not because it cannot, but because the freedom to spend it intelligently is locked away in institutionally advantaged scripts that make irresistible claims on marginal discretionary dollars above that amount.
On the other hand, whether we like to admit it or not, "freedom" is every bit as culturally loaded as the other "quality of life" indicators he runs through.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:18 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

MetaFilter: You there, get your calories and daily protein requirement before you get your psychadelics.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:10 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Both McDonald’s and the Indian politician might have sparked far more interesting debates if they had included the local price of pot in their speculations

That's when I realized he was stoned.

In a way, it’s like the eighties and cyberpunk never happened.

That's when I realized he was REALLY stoned.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:13 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

So basically he's a big, fat cultural relativist. Is it 1990?
posted by Mooseli at 10:04 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

After reading these comments i expected the post to be a mess. But I'm 2/3 of the way through it now and it's really quite readable and straightforward.

This post illustrates the idea that a poor person will very often choose television over food sometimes. Going without food for a while is a natural part of most living things' existence, and we can mentally cope with it pretty easily. Forcing a human to be alone with his or her thoughts is cruel, but we live in such a way that we put ourselves in this position all the time - expecting people to live alone or in small groups, sleep in their own rooms, be mistrustful of non-family members, which makes us pay money for things like television and alcohol to relieve the feeling of loneliness. An evening of distraction and a memory of a story for the price of a movie ticket is probably worth foregoing a meal once in a while - perhaps even regularly.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:01 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

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