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I am Singaporean VII – “Net Happiness” September 24, 2010

Posted by The Truth in I am Singaporean Vol. III.

SM Goh has been spreading his brand of wisdom once again. In a statement which mrbrown calls “Yoda-like”, he said

“Unhappiness, those who are happier, in total there’s net happiness, there’s no such thing called total happiness, don’t believe in it. It’s whether we create net happiness in all this.” He added it is “very difficult to satisfy everybody” and in politics, trying to make everybody happy is “impossible”. They (sic!) key, said SM Goh is to “make the most number of people happy, the most number of times”. (source)

Prima facie, it sounds great. In fact, if you don’t reflect on what SM Goh says, you would think that it was pretty damned brilliant. But something smells fishy. It smells so fishy that it reeks of food poisoning if you consume it. And here’s why.

Basically, SM Goh has expounded the basics of utilitarian ethics as put forward by Bentham and Mill. To put it shortly, it’s about maximizing happiness, i.e., making as many people as possible happy. But here’s a big problem. Utilitarianism is probably practiced in most companies and perhaps by some countries in the way they run their countries. Like Singapore, obviously. If you look deeper, what SM Goh said are the fundamentals of utilitarian politics. If you make more people happy, then more people will vote for you. Politically, it is very sound.

But something is missing. What’s missing is that happiness can never be quantified in such a way, unless you are a politician standing for election. You are either happy or unhappy, and it normally doesn’t matter if others are happy (unless it concerns a friend, your life partner, or your family). What matters is that YOU are happy. But since here it is all about how many people in a particular population are happy, one must come to the conclusion that your happiness doesn’t matter. In fact, i’m actually quite impressed that SM Goh put it so clearly. What he said was one step short of saying that “your happiness doesn’t matter, as long as everyone else is happy,” which essentially means the same thing.

Which may also help to explain some conspiracy theories flying around in the Net. People say that the Gahmen has such lax immigration policies to ensure that it stays in power for all posterity. Makes sense now, right? Since it’s all about “net happiness”, when you notice that your people are becoming less happy, you just import more people from overseas which will definitely be happy. Net happiness, mah! I mean, if 90% of the population are happy, that’s good. But is 90% enough for you if you happen to be unhappy?

Thanks for making this conspiracy theory plausible, SM Goh.

The fact that it is so politically doesn’t mean that it is so for the individual. That must have become clear from what SM Goh said – my aim was just to make what he said even clearer. What outrages me is not that he meant that our individual happiness doesn’t matter – actually, it’s like that everywhere – but the audacity with which he said it, and the knowledge that people will nod their heads, say “Yessir, Yessir, three bags full” and go back to their everyday lives.



1. Daily SG: 27 Sep 2010 « The Singapore Daily - September 27, 2010

[…] to Elections – TOC: Low Thia Khiang on Insight report for Hougang Constituency – Die neue Welle: I am Singaporean VII – “Net Happiness” – Sgpolitics.net: Democrats set the stage for GE with rally – Jacob 69er: {Video} Ex-political […]

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