So, I’ve been thinking a lot about quality of life since I’ve been working on the Comox Valley Social Planning Society’s 2013 Quality of Life Report. I’m trying to whittle down the idea of quality of life to a few key concepts and I’m trying to think about the issue of quality in general. It informs how I approach my current research and writing.
I’ve come to the conclusion over the past while that quality of life can be summarized along two major continua, mobility and sociality. Mobility encompasses many forms including physical mobility or the ability to move around, from place to place. Mobility can be hampered by illness, injury or the lack of monetary means. No money, no go. Sociality is a term that refers to our need to be around other people, to be social. That need has a biological basis but is reflected in most of what we do and are in life. There are many aspects to sociality. I’ve written before about what happens when children are left alone without contact. They die at a rate 4 times what we might consider normal. The harshest punishment in Canadian prisons is solitary confinement. Solitary means no sociality and no mobility either which means in my analysis here, just about the worst condition a human can suffer. Of course there are always exceptions to every rule. There are people who shun the company of others and some who are content to sit still for days on end. And, of course there are subjective and objective dimensions to mobility and sociality. Whatever we ‘feel’ about mobility and sociality, there are social values and norms, moral codes, that determine how we should think about these things. We know that ‘idle hands do the work of the devil,’ and that warm feelings can be had with the company of family and friends. We have all kinds of ‘sayings’ that glorify mobility and sociality. Just listen for them. They’re everywhere. Even when we glorify individualism or expressions of individuality, we do it only when it conforms to social moral standards.
In fact, our whole morality is built on the glorification of mobility and sociality and the deprecation of immobility (idleness, laziness, indolence, etc.) and standing alone and away from the group (snobbishness, lone wolf, unfriendly, self-centered). Movies are based on these themes, so is music. We go to a party and are asked what we do for a living. Well, what you do for a living tells a lot about how mobile you can be. The more mobile we are, the more social prestige we are afforded. ‘Planning any trips?’ That’s another one of those questions that is aimed at getting at how mobile you might be. To put it bluntly, we afford people highest prestige points for being wealthy and healthy. There are some very primal themes at work here if you think about it.
Mobility equals life, immobility equals death. Living things move, generally and dead things don’t, at least on the face of it. In reality the situation is much more complex than that, but for now, let’s stick with the appearances of things. It’s not surprising then that we value life over death, even though one cannot exist without the other. Well, at least we often say that we value life, but that’s often conditional; there are strings attached. For instance we generally don’t eat live things so we obviously value death and dead things…we just don’t like to think of it that way. It’s not surprising, then, that we would value highly things that move…the faster the better. I could write a book about this, but for now, just a few hints at what is to come.
In terms of sociality, well, it’s pretty clear that we value collective effort, unless it’s in a union of if there’s any hint of ‘communism’ attached to it… Teams that win do so because of the collective effort, the dampening of individualism. After winning the big game, you’ll never hear the top player look into the camera and say: “Yeah, I carried this team. If it wasn’t for me we’d have lost this game!” No, no. It’s always, “Well, the team came together on this one. We’re all in this together.” We don’t like loners and we’re not too sure about hermits, either. Lots more to be said…maybe I’ll visit here a little more often. I am busy though, so don’t expect too much from me just yet.
By the way, rummaging through my papers a couple of days ago I ran across a plan I had put together for a book I intended to write some day. Still looks interesting. I’ll have to share that with you here sometime.