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TED Talk Analysis: Nic Marks and Happy Planet Index

The video titled The Happy Planet Index features a statistician Nic Marks talking about how the environmental movement adopted a wrong strategy to convince the world about the importance of ecological problems. He assesses that people shut down negativity and ignore it, instead of acting (Marks, 2010). Some of his propositions to improve the situation include introducing the Happy Planet index, which would measure how happy people are, with ecology and the environment being an important axis on the chart (Marks, 2010). He also proposes to make news about the environment a repeated and daily occurrence on the radio and mass media, to popularize the environmental agenda (Marks, 2010). What I found most interesting in his message is the fact the author honestly thought that changing the attitude towards ecology would be enough to get the process going.

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The primary idea informing the speaker’s thoughts is the utilitarian ethical theory. It revolves around measuring human happiness and asserting that happiness is the most important criterion to measure success or failure by. Nic Marks attempts to resolve one of the biggest utilitarian problems – to find the criterions for happiness, by citing world salvation to be a universally-accepted cause of that (Pels, 2020). The speaker does not seem to try and appeal to any virtues, though a sliver of Kantian idealism is also present, namely in the suggestion that instead of talking about nonsensical topics on mass media, ecological subjects from a positive viewpoint would be universally preferable.

Personally, I do not agree with Nic Marks’ moral reasoning, nor with his arguments. His thesis that happiness is the purpose and the end goal of human existence is opposed by many other ethical theories, such as Kantian and virtue ethics, which put universal welfare and other moral principles above happiness and even life (Pels, 2020). The arguments themselves appeared to me as attempts to denigrate the seriousness of the situation and make the humanity feel good about themselves, despite the planet being significantly endangered. The proposal is also based on assumption that humanity will act to improve the happiness rating rather than find the positivity a reason to stop striving, and rest on their laurels instead. Finally, Marks did not offer any evidence whatsoever to back up his claims, despite being a statistician. Overall, I think that his ideas would be a step back and not forward.

Sheryll Wudunn and the Century’s Greatest Injustice

In her TED talk, Sheryll Wudunn speaks about gender inequality. She presents it as the most significant challenge and the greatest tragedy the world is experiencing right now. While slavery and totalitarianism were the biggest issues of the previous centuries, the 21st century needs to bring equality between men and women (Wudunn, 2010). Wudunn (2010) states that there are more women than men in the world, and despite that they earn less, occupy fewer positions in power, have less access to education, and are exploited and demeaned in every imaginable way. She proposes that the part of the world that won the lottery of life utilizes their resources to join the movement and secure the future for women everywhere (Wudunn, 2010). What I found interesting about this presentation was the heart-touching story of the little girl in China, who was given a ticket into the future through collective action in the West.

The moral theory Wudunn based her arguments on are virtue ethics. She appeals to the ideals of fairness and generosity as means to motivate individuals to get themselves involved, stating that people become better when practicing said virtues, and make the world better around them (Wudunn, 2010). Some of her ideas have a Kantian background as well, as Wudunn (2010) clearly believes that if everyone does something to promote equality for women, the goal would be achieved much faster (Pels, 2020). At the same time, the woman describes the conditions and actions women are forced to take to survive as unvirtuous, meaning that affirmative action from the rest of the world would not only improve their lives but allow them to pursue a righteous path.

While I agree with Wudunn’s moral arguments, I disagree with her initial assessment that equality is the biggest problem of the 21st century. It is one of the greatest issues, certainly, but throughout centuries, the most terrifying and all-encompassing problem has been hunger. From a rights ethics perspective, the most important right any person has is the right to live. Without nourishment, individuals cannot exercise other rights or live a virtuous life. Therefore, the world should first seek to eliminate hunger, before tackling the issues of equality, poverty, and other problems that exist. I do think that Wudunn’s ideas about how to achieve equality will bear fruit, however – without mass collective action, the world will not change.

Paul Collier and The Bottom Billion

The last presentation by Paul Collier addresses the issues of the bottom billion, which lives in abject poverty, corruption, and lawlessness. He believes that the rich half of the world is capable of changing that situation through altering the societies by providing resources and accountability (Collier, 2008). He believes that the way Europe was rebuilt after the Second World War could serve as a blueprint for building up societies. Collier affirms the dominion of benevolence and enlightened self-interest in order to guide the project (2008). He is firmly believing in strong governing institutions as means of ensuring accountability and shaping democracy into a system like that found in the West. Utilizing this combination of efforts, Collier believes it would be possible to solve wars, poverty, and hunger in many regions of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East (Collier, 2008). What I found interesting was how west-centric and outdated Collier’s views were, in relation to modern history and theories of foreign relations.

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To justify his ideas, Collier used the liberal theory of ethics, which puts to the forefront the ideas of liberty, self-determination, and enlightened self-interest. This theory borrows from utilitarian and virtue theories, offering a framework of ideas and virtues, and provides a utilitarian analysis to justify them (Pels, 2020). In his opinion, in the pursuit of happiness, the West would find it beneficial to help build up the rest of the world, in order to secure a bright future for their children.

I disagree with what Collier had to say on multiple accounts. While his ethical framework was somewhat understandable, the facts he operated with were firmly entrenched in neoliberal economics. His support of institutionalism failed in many instances, be that Africa, Iraq, or Afghanistan. His focus on the western models of governance and democracy as universal solutions to world problems do not respond well to different cultural and ethical paradigms present around the world. Therefore, while the intentions may be good and noble, the solutions were not going to help bring about a better tomorrow for the bottom billion.

References

Collier, P. (2008). The “bottom billion.” Web.

Marks, N. (2010). The happy planet index. Web.

Pels, P. (2020). Embedding ethics. Routledge.

Wudunn, S. (2010). Our century’s greatest injustice. Web.

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