Today’s lecture was Bhutan, the Environment and the Politics of Happiness: The First Year of Democracy in the Dragon Kingdom. The blurb:

Bhutan’s most notable contribution to the language of global politics and sustainable development has been its concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH). GNH, Bhutan’s guiding development philosophy, grows out of Tibetan Buddhism. This philosophy recognizes the importance of environmental preservation as one of its Four Pillars. Prof. Zook and Elizabeth Allison will discuss the ways that GDH unites religion, politics, and environmental protection, and the implications for an alternative model of development in Bhutan.

Some questions to be raised include: how does this concept hold up under scrutiny? Could it really evolve into a global indicator of political vibrancy and social well-being? And now that Bhutan has experienced one year of political life after its democratic transition, has democracy made Bhutan a happier place?

This was a very enjoyable and fact filled lecture by two academically oriented Americans, (I think) who have spent a lot of time in Bhutan. They were particularly interested in the concept of Gross National Happiness, a term first coined in 1972 and explored by that country’s policy makers and Institutionalized by the Gross National Happiness Commission in 1998. Their general terms for measuring happiness were

1 Standard of living, 2. Health, 3. Education, 4. Ecology and biodiversity, 5 Cultural protection, 6. Time harmony, 7. Good governance, 8. Community participation, 9. Emotional well-being.

The four pillars of their proposed Gross National Happiness were defined as 1. Sustainable and equitable economic development – Agriculture and renewable natural resources. 2. Environmental conservation, Urban growth, solid waste disposal, air pollution, land degradation and other pollution. 3. Preservation and promotion of culture. 4. Promotion of good governance.

It all sounds good and for the people they define as Bhutan citizens it seems to be working out well. The problem is that they defined quite a few of the people who had lived within their national borders for a long time, perhaps their entire lives, as not being Bhutan citizens and those people were expelled out of their borders into refugee camps near the triple point between Bhutan, Nepal and India at ( +26.613 +88.041 ). There are something like 80,000 displaced people forced out of Bhutan into these camps. It was reported that half of that number have been offered asylum in the United States.

If the United States were to expel 20% of its unhappy people it would seem like a very happy country indeed. But instead we actually take into our country unhappy people from all over the world and with the freedoms they enjoy here they become happy people. Some even do quite well here, like Andy Grove. Maybe the United States isn’t perfect but for some strange reason we are the biggest importer of refugees of any place in the world and most of those people choose to stay.

Here on the streets of Berkeley, there are public foreign protesters saying and doing things which back in their native lands would probably get them killed, or worse.