Friday, April 14, 2006

Gross National Happiness

Late last year I saw a BBC documentary on Bhutan, and was greatly taken with the government minister who was completely serious about pursuing Gross National Happiness. Yes! (I found this site that gives a bit of background.) Bhutan is at a critical point in its existence as it moves towards signing on the dotted line with the WTO, (has perhaps already done so - haven't checked) and national culture engages with free market economics. Bhutan is no Utopia (In your dreams, foolish mortal!), but its cultural identity and way of life have evolved over centuries. How will these fare as Bhutan joins the global village?

From what I see, market economies are generally unkind to rural communities and rapidly developing cities are hard on the human spirit.

(My 18/19th Century frame of reference is largely European, but in the 20th Century I think that it applies all over the place.)

In addition, contemporary 'urban culture' is more a manifestation of capitalism than an expression of human creativity and community identity; certainly a major element seems to be the economic exploitation of the spending power, restlessness and thirst for identity of teens and young adults. Then there's 'cultural colonialism', beginning with the identification and development of potential new markets for the 'urban culture' product - a key characteristic being malleability: 'Have a MacArabia ®. Would you like fries with that?' So much for cultural identity. (I know everyone takes potshots at McDonalds these days - which I suppose is the drawback of having an internationally successful brand - but it just happens to be the first name to pop into my head, probably because there are two new McDonalds drive-thrus in the 20-minute drive between home and work.)

I remember travelling from city to city in England 25 years ago, and realising that every high street and city centre had begun to resemble every other, both architecturally and in terms of 'high street names'. Now one can enjoy the international deja vu tour.

Hey, rising GNP good! Employment, education, healthcare, social and political stability - good, good, good, good, good! (And, by the way, communism bad except on paper.) But with a world of haves and havenots in which, ironically, a lot of the haves don't seem very happy, perhaps we should be examining our social and economic model? Anyway, I find it admirable that the government of a small nation like Bhutan has the nerve to step up to the plate for necessary economic development, and do so waving the banner of Gross National Happiness.

Good luck to them.

1 comment:

pater said...

self help is good a helping hand is better