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From well-being to well-living: Towards a post-capitalist understanding of quality of life

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Abstract

Australians are told that they live in one of the top 10 richest countries in the world in terms of GDP per capita, and that they enjoy a level of 'well-being' or 'quality-oflife' higher than many other advanced societies. Australia is ranked third after Norway and Denmark on the OECD Better Life Index, a new index developed to measure nations' well being more inclusively than the older methods that focused on wealth or income. This index includes non-monetary aspects of social life such as employment, environment and education
APR–JUN 2018 AUSTRALIAN QUARTERLY 35
Australians are told that
they live in one of the top 10
richest countries in the world
in terms of GDP per capita,
and that they enjoy a level
of ‘well-being’ or ‘quality-of-
life’ higher than many other
advanced societies. Australia
is ranked third after Norway
and Denmark on the OECD
Better Life Index, a new index
developed to measure nations’
wellbeing more inclusively than
the older methods that focused
on wealth or income. This index
includes non-monetary aspects of
social life such as employment,
environment and education.
ARTICLE BY: DR s. A. HAmeD HOsseInI
Although such shifts
in our understanding
of wellbeing must be
welcomed, the concept
of wellbeing hasn’t
been liberated from its underlying
hegemonic political agendas, and has
become even more complicated by an
increasing public, state and corporate
interest.
from well-being
to well-living:
Towards a post-capitalist
understanding of quality of life
36 AUSTRALIAN QUARTERLY APR–JUN 2018
For many people, happiness is increas-
ingly evaluated by digital tools that
constantly monitor a wide range of vari-
ables – daily step targets, calorie intake,
stress level, spending habits, etc. – pro-
viding an incredible source of income
to the towering ‘happiness industry’.1
Tracking our personal health and ‘life
goals’ has become a normalised and –
sometimes obsessive – phenomenon.
A popular intellectual project, with a
strong technocratic tone, seems now to
be at work to constantly assess, compare
and promote people’s happiness.
Yet the question of how to realise
a good life as a ‘state of being’ and/or
to evaluate what a good life ‘achieves’
(either subjectively or objectively) is an
ancient one. So are the disagreements
– especially for elite thinkers in both the
Western and Eastern antiquities. These
elites were divided by a profound ambi-
guity known as the dualism of hedonic
vs. eudemonic traditions.
The changing face of happiness
Hedonists dened happiness as
obtaining pleasure and avoiding pain. A
modern version of this approach argues
that ‘being nancially well-o (as an
individual or a nation) would inevitably
lead us to living well and happy.
In contrast, the eudemonists equated
wellbeing with the actualisation of
human potentials and positive func-
tioning in the community. According
to them, wellbeing is more than just
happiness – in fact happiness might
not even be present in situations
associated with wellbeing, given that
self-fullment is normally associated
with hard work and pain.
The historical quarrel has centred on
the question of which path humanity
should pursue, and if these two ways
of understanding wellbeing are incom-
patible after all.
Pre-capitalist dominant discourses
answered this question by advocating
the eudemonic way of life for the
masses and recommending a relatively
self-contained hedonic approach for
the rulers, in order for the rulers to not
overspend their popular legitimacy
budget.
Virtual notions of wellbeing, manufac-
tured through communitarian cultures
and religious authorities, argued that
it is merely through the individual’s
submission to the pre-established
rules, norms, traditions and values that
the ultimate ourishing of self and the
purpose of life can be achieved. The
formula was/is that good faith = good
fate, as if what counts as ‘ourishing is
xed for all time.
With the Western expansion of colo-
nialist capitalism, the idea of hedonic
wellbeing gained greater momentum
over its eudemonic rival. The new ruling
class recognised how the individual’s
endless craving for pleasure and
comfort can be a great source of prot
and be leveraged by a system that
assumes natural resources are innitely
exploitable.
The arrival of the holy dollar coin-
cided in with the waning power of the
religious authorities in Europe, and
numerous secular and rationalist ideo-
logical machineries were set up to deal
with the task of redening happiness
and wellbeing. New schools of thought
emerged to provide the modern secular
politics with a moral framework to
dene what human success looked like.
• Contractualists,likeHobbesand
Rousseau, based their moral
framework on principles everyone
would agree to in ideal situations and
placed happiness as the standalone
plan for this life within the framework
of social contracts.
• Liberalpsychologyheldtheindividual
responsible for nding the balance
between reality and expectation
(happiness = reality expectation);
lower your expectation if reality is not
on your side.
• Utilitarianistswentevenfurther
by turning wellbeing into a moral
criterion, an ultimate aim of this life,
a rightness of actions that cannot
be questioned. Utilitarian wellbeing
(pleasure pain = wellbeing) had a
FROM wEll-bEING tO wEll-lIVING
The question of how to realise a good life and/or to
evaluate what a good life ‘achieves’ is an ancient one.
So are the disagreements
APR–JUN 2018 AUSTRALIAN QUARTERLY 37
FROM wEll-bEING tO wEll-lIVING
strong social dimension (maximum
pleasure for maximum number of
people) but its denitions of pain and
pleasure remained highly subjective,
too demanding to be feasible and the
eorts to quantify it through universal
indexes turned out to be impractical
to many critics, including the Critical
Social Sciences.
Critical Social Sciences have raised
the question of the distribution of
wellbeing and the diversity of contexts,
and highlighted the politics behind
this intellectual project. Despite the
existing disputes and diversities, many
of the competing Western approaches,
whether orthodox or heterodox, share
a number of underlying assumptions,
and almost all tend to be based on
dominant rationalist Western/Northern
perspectives.2
With the demise of the ‘welfare state’,
after the free market revolution in the
1980s, the idea of improving individual’s
‘wellbeing’ was sold to the public as the
ultimate goal of the so-called ‘caring
corporate capitalism’.
This sentiment continues today, with
‘social welfare’ increasingly seen as a
burden too heavy for the state to carry
alone in this age of lower taxes for the
rich. In a cunning twist, a promising
new image of ‘wellbeing’ has emerged,
one that fully devolves responsibility
for an individual’s wellbeing onto the
individual while creating new faith in
the magic of market and capital. This
The formula was/is that good faith = good fate,
as if what counts as ourishing’ is xed for all time.
38 AUSTRALIAN QUARTERLY APR–JUN 2018
FROM wEll-bEING tO wEll-lIVING
The more people are delinked from the state’s protection under
austerity regimes, the more they become dependent on non-state
forces to pursue happiness.
independent consumer model of well-
being further reduces the role of the
state to simply a provider of institutional
support for the market in its mission
to maximise wellbeing for all. Both the
centre right and the centre left political
forces in the West share a great deal of
interest in this project.
Ironically, the eruption of the global
nancial crisis (GFC) in 2008 did not
weaken the modern wellbeing dis-
course. Rather, it helped the discourse
to become even more sophisticated by
bringing elements of the eudemonic
tradition back in the form of shared suf-
fering for the communal good.
Whereas economics has histori-
cally been dened as the science of
managing scarce resources, post-GFC
progressive revisionists are shifting the
focus from ‘measuring’ production to
‘measuring’ quality-of-life; the goal of
economics is [now] to enhance our
well-being”.3
This move has also played well in the
hands of economic conservatives. If
wellbeing is more than happiness, and
require sacrices and pain to achieve
a higher status of self-ourishing and
maximum pleasure for the majority,
then economic austerity can be morally
justied.
Yet the more people are delinked
from the state’s protection under
austerity regimes, the more they
become dependent on non-state forces
to pursue happiness: from positive
psychologists, to the tness industry, to
alternative medicine, to the giant debt
industry that encourages consumers
to spend even in an age of fewer state
safety nets and economic stagnation.
The more the public sector is
colonised by the corporate sector –
through privatisation or controlled
by managerialist technocrats from
within – the more the acquirement of
‘wellbeing’ (as a process or outcome)
will primarily become the responsibility
of the individual.
This de-politicisation of own personal
wellbeing and health clearly serves
the interest of the ruling class and
their policy makers, by blaming the indi-
viduals for their so-called bad choices.
Societies however
have not been
apathetic towards the
commodication of
wellbeing (i.e. treating
wellbeing and health
as commodity).
Reclaiming the
commons, the state,
and public spaces
where the ‘quality of
life’ is mainly deter-
mined, has been one
of the major demands
of many recent progressive movements.
Such movements have inspired many of
their actors to rethink the mainstream
notions of wellbeing.
Suma qumaña
Transformative movements against
neoliberal globalism, mostly from the
global South, have questioned the well-
being discourse since the early 2000s,
by highlighting cultural specicities,
the centrality of communal life, and the
criticality of ecological environments.4
These are all issues that can hardly be
measured, let alone be addressed, by
the mainstream Eurocentric approaches
to wellbeing.
In the early 2000s, as one example
among many, the augmenting indig-
enous movements in post-neoliberal
Latin America (Ecuador and Bolivia)
– drawing on the legacy of their pre-
capitalist living epistemes and post/
colonial experiences –
raised the idea of buen
vivir, sumak kawsay, or
suma qamaña (‘living
well together’) and
struggled to translate
it into government
policies or legislative
reforms.
Despite the inbuilt
tensions within the
discourse and the
political complica-
tions, the core idea is that nature,
community and individuals all share
the same metaphysical or spiritual
dimension.5 Therefore, achieving and
maintaining a psycho-spiritual state
THE CoRE iDEA iS THAT
nATuRE, CommuniTy
AnD inDiviDuAlS
All SHARE THE SAmE
mETAPHySiCAl oR
SPiRiTuAl DimEnSion.
APR–JUN 2018 AUSTRALIAN QUARTERLY 39
FROM wEll-bEING tO wEll-lIVING
Well-living is about enhancing the capacity of
individuals to care for and to promote the wellbeing
of their communities and their environment in the
most collaborative way possible.
<<
of harmony within the self (among
its dierent functions like reasoning
and emotions) and between selves
and nature, is a virtuous and thereby a
self-fullling way of life that needs to be
pursued at all levels from the personal
to the political.
In response to the paradoxes and
inadequacies of mainstream wellbeing
discourses, and inspired by such radical
transformative voices in the global
South that advocate for post-neoliberal
futures,6 I aim to initiate an argument
for both the plausibility and indispen-
sability of a profound shift in our under-
standing of people’s wellbeing.
‘Well-living’ (a term I coin and
advocate for here) can function at least
as a dialogical potential, to represent
a transition in how we understand
what quality of life is without creating
contradictions between the individual
and the communal, the material and
the subjective. Well-living is about
enhancing the capacity of individuals to
care for and to promote the wellbeing
of their communities and their envi-
ronment in the most collaborative way
possible, through genuinely democratic
or consensual mechanisms.
The question here is not primarily
about how far ‘my’ ecological and
communal conditions are suitable to
‘me’ to obtain more pleasure and avoid
pain (according to the hedonic views)
or even to full ‘my’ true self (according
to the self-oriented eudemonic
perspectives). Well-living, at the societal
level, is not just a sum or average of
individuals’ wellbeings.
Well-living, as a general framework
rather than a xed notion, is about (1)
enabling the Self and Others, (2) diversi-
fying experiences, (3) promoting equality
and self-suciency, (4) promoting
reciprocity and conviviality, and (5) a
peaceful coexistence. I would like to
warn, from the outset, that such an idea
must not be turned into another reied
notion (even with a dissenting gesture).
Well-living can only be realised in
a society where all individuals have
equal access to the opportunities and
resources necessary to meet their basic
needs, achieve sustainable comfort and
renement without compromising the
planet’s ecological capacity to sustain
itself and life, and to achieve a persisting
harmony with nature (now the most
oppressed, voiceless entity in human
history).
Well-living is therefore about the
creation of harmony within the
individual, between the individuals
and between the culture and nature.
This state of harmony however
cannot be achieved when there
are many forces of disharmony, like
capitalism and consumerism, at work.
This therefore inevitably becomes a
grassroots political project – partly
a political demand from below for a
non-reformism reform of the state
and economy, and partly a collective
practice that can be exercised through
community building wherever possible.
Can well-living coexist with capital-
ism? Well-living cannot be universally
dened or determined. Rather it needs
to be dened contextually according to
cultural systems that give meaning and
purpose to life and create social bond-
ages, given that they are subject to open
deliberations within public spheres.
Therefore, the complexities of every
given context will be taken into account
when operationalising well-living as an
abstract notion into a praxis. Moreover,
it is not the level of access to the means
of production and subsistence that
determine well-living but more how
democratically the access and control is
determined.
Such a non-capitalist notion of ‘quality
of life’ is needed to become the center
of our transformative grassroots projects
when imagining or planning alterna-
tive modes of livelihood and sociability
beyond, carbon, capital and growth. AQ
AUTHOR:
Dr S. A. Hamed Hosseini is a Senior Lecturer at The University of Newcastle,
Australia. He is the founding member and chief editor of the Common
Alternatives network (http://thecommonalts.com/), a leading interna-
tional team engaged in studying alternative modes of livelihood beyond
carbon, capital, commodity and growth. Hosseini's main eld of research
is shaped around the social impacts of capitalist globalisation and the con-
temporary progressive and populist responses to global crises.
channel The capaciTy oF
The communal!
Are Capitalism and Community antagonistic?
See Cahill's article on p22
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Full-text available
Degrowth is a globally emerging movement that criticizes the emphasis on economic growth within mainstream capitalist economies. Instead, degrowth calls for the shrinking of production and consumption within economies to mitigate the social and environmental impacts of climate change and natural resource depletion. This paper draws on a growing literature on the movement to examine its capacities as a prefigurative and sustainable alternative to capitalist economies. It explores the theoretical and practical principles that underpin the degrowth movement and examines the strengths and weaknesses of their key arguments. The degrowth ideas can hardly become fully realized within the capitalist framework since this requires significant structural shifts in the way capital operates, a growing wealth of degrowth activism, research, and experiments provide a foundation for continuing transformative mobilization. Although the movement still lacks strong global focus and feasibility, it shows significant potentialities to consolidate the seemingly disparate post-capital movements within and between the global North and global South.
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Among the Indigenous groups of the Eastern Tukano language family of Northwest Amazonia, there are ritual specialists called kumuã. They are philosopher-healers with profound myth-historical and cosmological knowledge, part of which relating to tã hori (rock art) sentient integration within wametisé (sacred landscapes). The expression Toñase Masise Tutuase means the encounter of memory, knowledge, and power gravitating around tã hori wametisé where kumuã connect and merge with non-human beings and mythic ancestors. The contents presented here stem from extensive recorded conversations with a group of kumuã during intercultural fieldwork held on the Miriãporãwi rock shelter (the House of the Sacred Flutes’ Spirits) in the middle Tiquié River, Northwest Amazonia. The chapter ends with a tentative articulation among kumuã philosophy of mind, neural network, and extended mind theories.KeywordsKumuã philosophy Miriãporãwi Ʉtã Hori Wametisé Extended mindNeural networkNorthwest Amazonia
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