Sunday, February 13, 2011

What is my purpose in blogging?

I have recently been invited by another blogger, Thought Bubble Ten (TBT), to participate in a self-interview on my blog. There is nothing wrong with the suggested list of questions and I was interested in the answers that TBT gave. But I don’t want to attempt to answer the questions on my blog because it isn’t actually meant to be about me.

While I was thinking about this last night I had imagined that one of the questions in the list was, ‘What is your purpose in blogging?’. That question isn’t actually on the list. I probably confused myself because I have been observing Jim Belshaw go through the process of reviewing what he is seeking to achieve through blogging.

Jim takes blogging a lot more seriously than I do, but it would not do any harm for me to review my purpose in blogging. When people have asked me this question in the past my answer has been that I am interested in issues related to liberty and happiness. I read a lot of material related to those issues; I write about the things I read because that helps to focus my mind; and I publish what I write on my blog because my views might be of interest to some other people. After I explained this to a friend he said something to the effect that I must have to have a fairly big ego to think that other people might be interested in my views. I agreed.

However, I don’t think the purpose of my blogging has a great deal to do with my ego. While I am interested to see how many people are visiting my blog and what they are reading, I do my best not to unduly influenced. I would get some satisfaction from having a more popular blog, but I keep telling myself that the main purpose of the blog is to help me to straighten out my own ideas.

I know a good interviewer would not be satisfied with the answers I have given so far. She would probably ask: So, why are you concerned about issues related to liberty and happiness?

My concern arises because I think our liberty is increasingly under threat from people who want us to be happy.

Around 250 years ago, Adam Smith wrote:
‘Every man is, no doubt, by nature, first and principally recommended to his own care; and as he is fitter to take care of himself than of any other person, it is fit and right that it should be so’ (‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’, p 82).

At the time Smith wrote that, the idea that everyone is fitter to take care of himself or herself than any other person was becoming widely accepted. Such thinking was influential in the recognition of ‘pursuit of happiness’ as a right of individual citizens in the drafting of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Doubts were expressed by some people even at that time about how successful individuals might actually be in pursuing their own happiness, but few would have suggested that it might be ‘fit and right’ that governments should assume responsibility for caring for us all.

Over the period since then, happiness has become a government objective. Our political leaders may not use those specific words -they are more inclined to state their objectives in terms of well-being and welfare rather than happiness - but the meaning is the same. In addition to concerns about health, education, care for the elderly etc, governments are increasingly being urged to take account of the findings of happiness research and behavioural economics to develop policies that will make people happier.

Does this mean that we are heading toward some kind of brave new world where individual freedom will be totally sacrificed in the interests of making people feel happier? I’m not sure. When people debate public policy issues it is natural to consider how the well-being of particular groups and the broader community might be affected. The problem is that in attempting to solve immediate problems for particular groups I think we have tended to overlook the longer term implications of reducing the responsibility of individuals to care for themselves. It is worth thinking long and hard about the implications of growth of government for the personal development of individuals as well as for norms of behaviour that are fundamental to peace and prosperity.

So, why don’t you write a book about this?

That is a good question. As my thoughts become clearer, the idea of writing a book about the links between liberty and individual flourishing becomes more appealing.


Anonymous said...

Mr Bates, I just want to record how insightful I think this brief comment is.

"our liberty is increasingly under threat from people who want us to be happy"

Most book titles these days seem to suffer from cancer of the colon, but I really do think you would do well to title your book using the above after the :

Best regards

Thought Bubble Ten said...

Winton, I appreciate your providing a reason for not wanting to do the Self-Interview (not that you needed to provide one :)).

I do understand your wish to keep your blog about ideas that interest you rather than about you personally. Good onya :)

I was interested to read your reason for blogging and think it's wonderful that you're pursuing a *calling* to explore the relationships between happiness and freedom. I wish you every success if you choose to allow this exploration to develop into a book.

As for the question about whether governments are assuming or trying to assume the role of fairy response would be in the form of this question:

At what point is *the government* different from its people? You see, I don't see a government (especially one that is democratically chosen) as an entity entirely separate and distinct from the people it is supposed to serve.

I believe that the ideas, ideals and interests of people are represented in government to various degrees and, as is the case with schools,for example, if people (varying in number of course)seek 'leadership' from the government in the matter of happiness, then it's to be expected that the government show such leadership.

I'm not agreeing with personal abdication of responsibility, whether to schools or governments or god or doctors or the police or the law courts etc but I am saying that we are part of the reason why governments etc behave in the way they do and make the decisions that they do.

Winton Bates said...

kvd: Please call me Winton. Informality seems to me to be one of the good things about modern life. I think it is great that people all call each other by their first names these days.
Thanks for your suggestion. I have been thinking that 'Free to Flourish' might be a good book title. 'The threat to our liberty from people who want us to be happy' might go well after the : . But then I would have to think up a new first sentence!

Winton Bates said...

Thanks for your understanding and thoughtful comments.

I think you are right that 'we' are part of the reason why governments behave the way they do. It is very difficult for anyone to resist the call that 'the government should do something about it' whenever any problem arises. The main threat to our freedom comes from people a lot like 'us' rather than from power hungry politicians and bureaucrats (although such people do exist).
I think I should try to write an introduction to try to get a clear idea of what the book might look like. It might be worthwhile posting a draft of an introductory chapter on a web site somewhere to invite comments and suggestions about how I should go about publishing as an ebook. But I am getting ahead of myself :)

Thought Bubble Ten said...

Hey Winton, there's a process I use when I'm writing ebooks and 'considered' long essays which I'd like to share with you. You may already know it but in case you don't:

1. Write down the 10 or 15 questions that you would most like answered on the broad subject/topic you're writing about.

2. Fast write your answers (gut/intuitive as well as any that come to mind). The brain will typically try to edit but don't let it. Just write as fast as you can even if it seems like nonsense or are just (key)words or even symbols or pictures or more questions.

3. Now you have the backbone of your book and can start putting on the flesh with more considered and researched content.

I've found this an extremely useful technique and hopefully, you will too :)

Winton Bates said...

Thanks TBT. Actually, I did something similar this morning. I quickly jotted down some questions and then grouped them to come up with some provisional chapter headings. It seemed necessary to do that so that I can tell 'em what I am gunna tell 'em in the introduction.

The other thing I have decided to do to help make the main text readable (and to avoid getting side-tracked in writing) is to exclude footnotes and references. I will provide reference notes on each chapter in a discursive fashion at the end of the book. I have read a couple of books that have done that and I think it worked well.

Thought Bubble Ten said...

Fantastic! Nothing like seeing an adventurer set off on his adventure :)

You have my full support should you ever need it :)

Winton Bates said...

I appreciate your offer of support - and will probably need it!