This week’s controversy over James Caspian’s ‘politically incorrect’ plans for research on sex change regrets highlights the need for nonmiserabilist ethical debate. What was needed here was balanced assessment looking at not just the possible harms, but also the likely benefits of that research. Equally, research on sex change must consider not only risks and disappointments, but also aspirations and benefits.
Lots of people have complained that the ‘Prevent’ component of the UK government’s counter-terrorism strategy is backfiring because it stokes inter-ethnic mistrust and fear. Louise Nadal, University secretary at the University of Greenwich, has argued that it can be embedded within a more positive ‘wellbeing’ approach. But she doesn’t seem to really mean it. A genuine wellbeing or happiness approach would go well beyond pastoral support and therapy. It would aspirationally promote the institutionalising of kindness, fun, and conviviality in Universities. People who are really having fun, and who feel loved, are unlikely to be tempted into extremist violence.
If you’re interested in social justice, what could be more interesting – or more morally compelling – than looking at the inequalities that ultimately matter, such as how long and how happily people live? Why then, do so many people pontificate about injustices and social inequalities without reference to longevity or happiness?
Any parties or movements claiming to be ‘progressive’ are duty bound to spell out the kinds of progress they envisage. And part of that vision must be aspirational, not just remedial or useful. Without a vision of better lives, they won’t inspire us and can’t expect our support.
The microaggression police, seriously misguided though they are, have this going for them: they have understood that convivial social quality is built up from tiny everyday encounters.