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Interchange – Selling Happiness: Part Five of The Way of Neoliberalism


Happiness. We all want it. But what can that word mean? What do we imagine we’re seeking as we spend much of our time and effort in pursuit of happiness?

Happiness has become the biggest idea of our age, a new religion dedicated to well-being. Political economist Will Davies shows how this philosophy, first pronounced by Jeremy Bentham in the 1780s, has dominated the political debates that have delivered neoliberalism. From a history of business strategies of how to get the best out of employees, to the increased level of surveillance measuring every aspect of our lives; The Happiness Industry is an essential guide to the marketization of modern life. Get out your hip high bootstraps, because the science of happiness is less a science than a narrative extension of hyper-capitalism.

We begin with historical definitions: specifically, Aristotle’s “science of happiness” as a kind of active fulfillment that comes through one’s participation in ethical, public life — which he termed politics. Neoliberalism, in stark contrast, operates towards the disenchantment of politics, its replacement being the pursuit of a personal, economic definition of what’s good or bad. Davies finds the beginnings of this version of happiness with the English father of Utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham.

With the focus on quantifiable objective measurement, happiness morphs from an unorthodox aspirational idea into a mainstream science of human management. Spawning an industry guiding individuals to take responsibility for, and cope with, an unhappy life, rather than paying attention to — much less taking action to change — social, economic, and institutional circumstances contributing to their unhappiness.

We’ll begin with 20th century psychotherapist Jacob Moreno and his theory of sociometry – a quantitative method of measuring the social world that treats complicated human spaces as fragmented, purely egocentric transactions: What does relating to this person do for me? Welcome to the age of Facebook, where you judge your life and self-worth in an addictive, competitive environment based on the metrics chosen by the titans of Silicon Valley.

Will Davies is a political economist with particular interests in neoliberalism, history of economics and economic sociology. His work explores the way in which economics influences our understanding of politics, society and ourselves, themes which he has addressed in two books, The Happiness Industry: How the government & big business sold us wellbeing (Verso, 2015) and The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, sovereignty & the logic of competition (Sage, 2014).

“Happy Alone” by Saintseneca
“Make It Happy” by Lyle Lovett
“Whip It” by Devo
“Motorcycle Emptiness” by the Manic Street Preachers

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billgoldsmith460Scapegoating Our Cities
Author Bill Goldsmith argues that America has been in the habit of abusing its cities and their poorest suburbs, which are always the first to be blamed for society’s ills and the last to be helped. As federal and state budgets, regulations, and programs line up with the interests of giant corporations and privileged citizens, they impose austerity on cities, shortchange public schools, make it hard to get nutritious food, and inflict the drug war on unlucky neighborhoods. Cities require interdependence and social cohesion…which is in ideological opposition to America’s founding myth of individualism and the freedom of wide open spaces making cities, and their inhabitants easy targets for blame when life does not live up to that Myth.

Producer & Host: Doug Storm
Assistant Producer & Editor: Rob Schoon
Board Engineer: Jennifer Brooks
Executive Producer: Joe Crawford

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