Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Enforcing government defined happiness

It can be a tricky business. Consider the current news from Gross National Happiness pioneer, Bhutan:

Bhutan has warned its citizens over cutting down thousands of young trees every year to make prayer flags, a threat to the tiny kingdom's lush scenery and the government's duty to bring "Gross National Happiness."

Himalayan Buddhists put up prayer flags for good luck or to help the dead find the right path to their next life. The more flag poles put up for the departed the better, and Buddhist monks say fresh poles must be used each time.

Having failed to convince its citizens to switch from wood to steel for prayer flags, the government of the Himalayas' last Buddhist kingdom is growing bamboo, which it hopes will be an attractive alternative.

"The pressure on forest is from all sides -- from flagposts to hydropower. We are discussing this every day," Agriculture Secretary Sherub Gyaltshen, said.

Bhutan's constitution, which emphasises the importance of Gross National Happiness over Gross Domestic Product, stipulates the country must have at least 60 percent forest cover.

Himalayan Buddhists believe winds will carry positive vibrations of tantric symbols written on the prayer flags in yellow, green, red, white and blue to represent the five elements, and 108 prayer flags are put up when someone dies.

So I guess my question is, what actions produce national happiness? What the people obviously want to do, or what the government wants them to do? Why wouldn't a program to plant renewable prayer flag seedlings be the way to address this issue?

Or maybe is this actually a weird reverse prisoner's dilemma problem, where everyone individually would like to stop with the prayer flags already but can't risk the stigma from being the only one who quits? And the government really is doing their people a favor?

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