The Science of Wellbeing
It is not our well thought out logical reasoning that is the only factor that decides the social results of human behaviour. If we feel that we haven’t taken into account how we react in each situation, is it because our logical beliefs do not include our reactions to what we actually do? Put in other words – what you and I actually do, ‘or do not do’, will be of paramount importance in producing or jettisoning collective human wellbeing.
The following text is an examination of wellbeing and how it relates to human conscious and unconscious actions – what collectively the groups ‘do or do not do’ is namely their actions. What place does the science of wellbeing as produced by individual actions have as behavioural art? Has individuality left out the dominance of the present highly technical modern world?
There are suggestions that the non-materialistic human world, which contains both positive and negative humanitarian factors, is an art we have to learn about more effectively. Humanity is seen from so many different angles. Group behaviour has entered into modern society with a wealth of terminologies such as, egality, stability, democracy or more negatively, fake news, disinformation, falsifications. The latter are modern terms that are very confusing for humanitarianism and steer away from humanism.
However technically convincing ‘the science of wellbeing’ may sound, the practical results will also depend on individual’s psychological beliefs in what collective actions are seen as justifying active defence responses or more negatively ‘retaliation’.
The objective of this year’s five Reith lectures revolved around these complications. They are titled War and Humanity. In them Professor Margaret Macmillan makes the inquiry “…is armed conflict an essential part of human history?”
She examines war from five different angles. Her first lecture scans how war has affected our language and names, places such as Trafalgar Square, Waterloo Station as urban war locations. Used as metaphors militarism can be expressed as; a war on drugs, or a war on poverty. These are the stress conditions created by heroism and the allure of power.
The second lecture oscillates around ‘making sense of the warrior’. Macmillan records the magnetic force of horror, the stress and trauma of a love/hate relationship within militarisation.
Her next investigation is civilian’s active involvement, on involuntary occasions, but also their fate and suffering as the hostages of violence.
The forth lecture is entitled “managing the unmanageable” which covers how collective violence becomes an unstoppable social fact, leaving humans in uncontrollable social conditions.
The last lecture covers the diversity of the arts in handling these social forces. Artistically the human situation is portrayed as ‘theory versus actions’ which enhances social unbalance. Macmillan concludes human survival depends on a change of attitude that combines and embodies ‘the science of peace’.
Regardless of the reader’s agreement or disagreement with the lectures contents she presents a large number of facts in a technically inoffensive form. Multiple non-compliant facts follow each other, seldom being evaluated. Appraisal of the presentation is frequently left to the listener’s judgement and responsibility – and so the lectures terminate.
In our culture “’democracy’ is a word that for many theoretically claims belief in human egality. To write about everybody mattering inevitably results in questioning ‘peace’”. The questions arise as to which angles peace has or has not been studied from?
The following five books give us varying angles into the subject of peace and human rights, which are a background to the science of wellbeing.
Book 1: The issue of producing a fairer world has been taken up by Mary Robinson, in Everybody Matters: A Memoir. Mary Robinson was Irish President and then from 1997 UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights for eight years. To deal with human rights was not so simple and she met with opposition. Through Robinson’s discussion, we gain a simple insight into the influence that historical beliefs can carry and in how present organisations’ impact collective behaviour.
Book 2: Within literature the book Hypatia’s Heritage is a history of individuals that have often been forgotten. By picking out and describing the lives of scientists Margaret Alic traces their experiences and the conditions these people faced when working. The book is a practical social evaluation of who matters or doesn’t matter within each period. Social conditions vary and are not necessarily in progressive chronologic order which matures with time. The study shows that the variations seem isolated within each historical period, depending on how disinformation is shaped. For instance, history deals unevenly with beliefs that the world is round as compared to flat. When Hypatia was born in Alexandria in the 4th century, the world was round. During the 15th century Columbus’ sailors were afraid of falling off the edge of a flat world when crossing the Atlantic in 1492, which is chronologically all wrong. To appreciate the impact that scientific knowledge oscillates, and is lost to be rediscovered at a later date, is generally less well understood. Alic’s book raises questions about information many of us have taken for granted. The lucid mathematician, that made Hypatia’s contributions to science and algebra in a round world so important, is only one such example.
Exploring the Ups and Downs of Gender Egality
Book 3: In exploring The Gnostic Gospels Elaine Pagels discusses how prehistorically women/wisdom/snakes were a united concept that is found depicted in early texts. (An outlandish suggestion for those unfamiliar with prehistoric art, which is riddled with snake/women combinations). The book is an investigation into practical aspects of past relationships between politics and religion prior to and during the origins of Christianity. The ancient scripts containing these beliefs, The Gnostic Gospels are now at The Nag Hammadi Library.
In discussing them Elaine Pagels follows how competitive military demands altered ideas. They enable group beliefs to practice retaliation making them seem socially acceptable.
Pagels takes home her point by tracing the origin of Satan as a fictitious necessity for early Christian clerics like Irenaeus and the birth of blasphemy. In tracing Justin’s conversion as a rebirth into Christianity in The Origin of Satan (1995), he enables a belief ‘to live “beyond nature”’, and to reject the ancient Greek Gods as satanic. Previously bereaved of this rebirth of knowledge he saw as “dehumanizing”, while accepting a life-depriving opposition. Elaine Pagels also tells us William Green says, “those who so label themselves and others (as “inhuman”) are engaging in a kind of caricature that helps define and consolidate their own group identity… A society does not simply discover its others, it fabricates them”.
Book 4: Margaret Forster in her book Significant Sisters records history from 1839 to 1939 through the practical lived experiences of many brave women and supporting men, working for woman’s rights to achieve greater egalitarian parenthood.
It is a practical journey of demanding respect for people as parents. Babies, that one day form a coming generation, learn or do not learn from birth why everyone has a right to be physically respected. When parents do not have equal respect for each other, there is no quicker way of creating a society where children see egality as foreign and out of reach.
The book records the significance of women and supportive men that we are indebted to today for our jobs, of legally recognising our off-springs as ours, and have the right to our bodies, and in many cases for our mental and physical health during the 21st century.
Jane Harrison and Human Emotions
Book 5: Before any of the four above books were written Jane Ellen Harrison was tracing beliefs, before the deities were seen as anthropomorphic, in a world conscious of ecology. Xenophanes of Colophon in fragment 15 amusingly writes “But if horses or oxen or lions had hands,… . horses would draw the figures of the gods as similar to horses, … . and they would make the bodies of the sort which each of them had”. What is clear is that from 570-478 BCE until today the concepts of what comprise deities has fundamentally mutated. To liken them jokingly to other mammals is to bring the human mammal kingdom down to earth.
Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion by Harrison’s is recognised today as an archaeological study. Citations from urns clarify how beliefs altered with time and especially the twists and turns that come with prehistoric migration and colonisation in Europe and the duality of meaning that then guide community actions away from ‘letting everybody matter’.
It is a revolutionary book, where ancient Greek deities are not seen as anthropomorphic effigies, but explained in terms of human emotions. We get a vision of human’s twelve needed emotions and how these emotions are related to practical beliefs in daily life. In Themis Harrison traces the up and downs of emotional evolution of the human conscience.
Xenophanes joke is evidence of deity abstraction. Prehistorically divinities were not anthropomorphic concepts, but informative guiding figureheads to practical social activities, is Harrison’s indication. In accepting emotions as scientifically valid she bridged a vacuum in social science.
Writing during the first decade of the 20th century, Harrison is acclaimed as making fundamental additions to archaeology, when printed and reprinted by Cambridge University.
At the same time a closer insight was taken in to considering why Hesiod’s Theogony is devoted to negatively disseminating the ancient Greek Gods. Hesiod’s wish is to create a Zeus of such stature he outreaches all human concepts – a power figure. To make Zeus an anthropomorphic power and a divine hero was impossible unless Hesiod discredited the original deity beliefs – which Theogony does.
The five above books have one thing in common; they call for people’s value, as people, to be put before that of social organisations that make up their societies, regardless if the organisations involved are religious, legal, political or social. Especially today representatives of the organisations should still have the ability to handle employees with human respect. I can hear my friends calling out – “that this does not mean the individual’s ‘demands for rights’ can be dictatorial or aggressive, as that is not respecting a balanced humanity either”. I agree demagogic demands by the employed cannot be part of wellbeing either – the operative word is ‘balance’.
The science of wellbeing seems to be the art of keeping a very subtle balance that is closely linked to what we are as human beings and how we handle our actions in the emotional world is one inclusion made by Harrison. We are inter-dependent on animals and plants for our survival, which Macmillan’s fifth lecture includes; while leaving room to balance the needs for a zoological and ecological world which Margaret Alic makes clear in Hypatia’s Heritage. Together these reflections on wellbeing are a not lightly achieved social science.
We must not find out too late that our technical prowess cannot compete with planet earth’s sophistication and the multiple threads that are involved in balancing the wellbeing of the many forms of life on earth.
Human’s only virtue seems to be a capacity for group diversity of thinking that calls on collective cooperation. Philosophy indicates that this is only possible when peacefully achieved.
Adele Änggård: Scenkonstnär, verkat i kvinnoskyddsorganisationer, studerar genusarkeologi