Eckersley, R. 2015. Measuring the public interest. In B Douglas, J Wodak (eds.) Who speaks for and protects the public interest in Australia? Canberra: Australia21, pp.18-19. Article.
This essay summarises my recent work:
Eckersley, R. 2012. Whatever happened to Western Civilization? The Futurist, vol. 46, no. 6, Nov-Dec, pp. 16-22. Article.
My work is a wide-ranging inquiry into progress and wellbeing, including:
- measures of progress.
- the relationships between economic growth, quality of life and ecological sustainability.
- social and cultural influences on health and happiness.
- visions of the future.
- young people and their world.
This site provides a selection of my writing for scientific journals, specialist magazines and popular media. My book, Well & Good, can also be downloaded from the site.
In essence, I explore the question: Is life getting better or worse?
I think it is the defining question of our times.
The answer may seem obvious, or the question so broad as to be meaningless. But there are good reasons why we should take it seriously.
The question reflects a coherence in our lives, socially and personally, that needs greater acknowledgment. How we answer the question bears on almost every issue on the public and political agenda. However, public and scholarly debate rarely reflects this connectedness.
In fragmenting our consideration of life into separate issues, policies, portfolios, sectors and disciplines, we dodge the hard questions of how all these things interact with each other to shape the life we lead and the societies we live in.
A central tenet of modern culture is the belief in progress, the idea that life should get better. Is this the case? If our answer is ‘yes’, we can continue to assume that human history is on the right trajectory, and needs nothing more than periodic course corrections - the task of governments.
If the answer is ‘no’, then the most fundamental assumptions about our way of life - assumptions that have long been broadly agreed and taken for granted – must be re-assessed. The task we face goes far beyond the adjustment of policy levers by government; it demands an open and spirited debate about how we are to live and what matters in our lives.
The answer to the question is not as obvious as it may seem. I approach it from a perspective of human health, wellbeing and happiness. I emphasise the importance of culture, values and stories, and challenge some of our most powerful beliefs about progress, including that we are getting healthier because we are living longer, that the 'west is the best' when it comes to human development, and that past life was wretched.
It is not clear, for example, that greater wealth, health and happiness - as we measure them - constitute a better life. This is especially so in developed nations (on which I focus), but it is also increasingly relevant to the developing world as globalization and modernization continue apace.
And however elusive a definitive answer might be, the question is still worth posing because it generates other questions about life today that would otherwise not be asked.