Ok, we know a perfect society can't be created. But we can definitely create better societies(by the mere fact that we start with an imperfect society means we can improve upon it).

Our "real" societies tend to be extremely imperfect if the goal of the society is to maximize everyone's happiness. Virtually every human being wants to be happy and they gather in to social groups and societies to maximize this happiness. Unfortunately the smarter and less empathetic ones tend to maximize their happiness at the cost of others.

I believe that if a society was founded on the principle that no single person could maximize their happiness over anyone else that almost all human social problems would be non existent. Every person would have to believe and understand that this was the best way.

Suppose such a society could be created where each member was willing to commit to making everyone around him happy. No member attempted to "hoard" happiness or deprive anyone of happiness. Suppose this is the only society in existence.

What kind of society would this lead to? Anyone see any major problems?

For example, There would be no wars because wars create unhappiness. There would be no murder, hate, crime, bullying, intimidation, rules, regulations, manipulation, politics, etc because all these "infringe" upon someones happiness.

Now, this society, not being perfect would have to have a way to deal with the imperfections as they surely will creep up.

e.g., Someone is born that disagrees with the fundamental belief about happiness. Someone born that is incapable of giving happiness(e.g., a "vegetable"). Someone that becomes crazy, say to due illness, that spreads unhappiness.

The society has to be designed in a way such that positive reinforcement of the prime directive(maximize happiness for everyone) is maintained. Of course, we ultimately have to define happiness:

The best I can do is simply that if person A does something to person B and person B feels that makes him unhappier than A cannot do that action to B(directly or indirectly). If A says that not doing that action makes him unhappy then, by relativity, B is effectively making A unhappy by not accepting the action.

How can this problem be best handled? Obviously there seems like a optimal decision. We could decide to let A do the action, making B unhappy or A not do the action, making A unhappy. In either case there seems to be some fundamental issue with A or B, most likely A.

So, the society will, without the proper checks and balances degenerate in to an unhappy society. Creating the checks and balances create unhappiness(unless, maybe perfectly done) since these are effectively laws, politics, police, jails, etc.

If every person in the society were completely altruistic, then we shouldn't have any problems. It seems there would be some type of natural objective self-balancing behavior going on.

Of course, in the real world people are so hell bent on maximizing their own happiness, rather than that of others, that it is somewhat hopeless to get to such a society.

What kinds of processes, "rules", etc would be absolutely required to get such a happy society?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is a philosophical can of worms. Fun to open, but not so much fun to eat. Have you considered whether A has perfect information about what B's happiness metric looks like, or that those metrics may change over time? I'd be tempted to discuss this in a chat, but I'm really wary about trying to answer such a daunting challenge in a Q&A format. I might make you unhappy ;-) $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Sep 20 '16 at 1:28
  • $\begingroup$ Spend a lot of time on general education, making it hard for people to fool others. Devise your policies in a way that economical and social changes happen slowly, so everybody can adapt. Separate elections from votes on factual issues on all levels. That'd make me quite happy. ;-) $\endgroup$ – Karl Sep 20 '16 at 1:32
  • $\begingroup$ I just answered the major problems portion, not the how to. This might make you unhappy, so I apologize in advance. ;) $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Sep 20 '16 at 3:22
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, we know a perfect society can't be created. Do we? Kindly tell how we know that. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Sep 20 '16 at 8:36
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ There was an answer in Paranoia, as far as I remember. Every living human needs to be happy? Kill every unhappy human! You can't have everyone happy unless you can brainwash everyone into wanting compatible things. If two boys wants Suzie and wants to be her only lover, you can't keep everyone happy without someone disappearing or getting brainwashed. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Sep 20 '16 at 10:58

Maximize happiness brings the traditional moral dilemmas that philosophers often use. You know, those with a train and somebody dies.

How does killing affect maximum happiness? Well, the dead person is no longer happy, but isn’t unhappy either. In fact, it would be absurd to keep account of the unhappiness of the dead... so we just remove dead people from the measurement of maximum happiness.

This suggests that your only viable punishment is death. It can be argued that any form of punishment in which the person punished remains alive is actually causing unhappiness. And thus, any form of punishment other than death should be avoided. Oh, but the living may mourn the dead. Having people die makes the living unhappy. So, you can’t have punishments.

Without punishments, you need to find other avenues for justice. But anything enforced (being it reparation, apologies, etc.) has the same problem. People may be unhappy to do that. You may think that you could resource to them doing those things, and if they are not happy then kill them… and if other people are not happy with that kill them too… Of course, we are describing a form totalitarianism. I’ll come back to this.

If A does something to B that makes B unhappy, but doing so makes A happy remember that we want maximum happiness. So is B's unhappiness balanced by A's happiness? If it is, then this is good behavior. If it isn't then who do we blame? Should A not enjoy this action, or should B enjoy this action?

As we saw earlier, trying to apply any justice is problematic.

We have been working under the assumption that society degenerates to unhappiness. But we have been talking about local happiness. We are too worried about the happiness of a few individuals!

If we take the concept of hedonic adaptation, people will return to a level of baseline happiness after an unfortunate effect stops happening. For example people move on from mourning the dead. This is also true for rewards and achievements. Their happiness effect is temporal. So, if we can minimize chronic unfortunate effects we could – in theory – leave people solve their problems.

What counts as a chronic unfortunate effect is something bad that happens and happens and happens… if it knew that it would only happen once, you could move on knowing that it has been resolved.

But we can’t, there are things for which we haven’t figured the solution. Also, as the big problems get solved, people stop being unhappy about those, and moves to being unhappy about smaller problems. Whatever or not this unhappiness is lesser is to be debated.

Probably the best is to go for equilibrium between anarchism and totalitarianism… except, we can cheat the solution!

Cheating the solution

You may not have to solve the problems. Just hide them from the view of the individuals. That is, control all communication, and manipulate the perception of the world. And while you are at it, restrict the distribution and use of weapons. Also, if you can keep people isolated in small groups you will have control over the spread of disease.

We have already seen that any integration between individuals has the risk in diminishing happiness. So, isolating small groups minimizes the impact of ill-behaved individuals, and hides the problems form the view of the rest of the population.

Of course, once we have that setup, we can improve happiness by nurturing the needs of the people. That includes social and cognitive needs, such as helping to pursue a carrier, finding partners, learning and mastering skills, developing their own projects, etc.

Some of that could be faked. In fact, our society has been faking many needs. For example good nutrition is faked with junk food – it may not be good for you, but if you like it, it makes you happy. Similar examples can be found in video games, pornography, and other forms of entertainment.

In the worst case scenario you can put people in solitary isolation, with an artificial source of happiness. Possible artificial sources of happiness may include narcotics or other drugs, brainwashing, or virtual reality.

It is basically totalitarianism, more precisely fascisms taken to an extreme.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In the light of this answer, group rape might be a good thing. 9 out of 10 participants would be happy, might end years long frustration caused by lack of sex, and prevent even more years of such feelings, depression etc. And it would make only one person unhappy for years. +8 long-lasting happiness units. I wouldn't like to live in such world. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Sep 20 '16 at 11:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Mołot Yeah, I guess the OP was aware that there was something odd when posted with "perfect" in the title. I like the way you put it in blunt terms. Although, you could brainwash the <strike>victim</strike> pleasure donor: "It is all for the common good, you should be proud", give a medal and healthcare - no, do not kill the donor, have the donor donate again. Yeah, I don't want to live in that society either. $\endgroup$ – Theraot Sep 20 '16 at 11:12

I'm going to assume that, seeing as we've all agreed that this society is a fiction, not a reality, we can pause time while we set up the society. If we have to do the prep in real-time, this becomes much, much harder.

To start with, sort the population. If everyone is going to be happy, everyone should be doing something that they are naturally inclined to do. Don't fight nature. Sort the people into general groups; those that just want to please, those that want to do physical work, those that want to do intellectual work. These groups can be subdivided as needed, taking into account both the needs of society and the inclinations of the people. When each person has a job, and not just any job, a job that fits him, a job that feels natural to him, then he has a purpose. People need a purpose.

Once the initial sorting has been done you'll have to sort the following generations. Unlike many real-world models, this cannot be solely based on lineage. When a child is very young she will take a test designed to measure her aptitude for each of the job sections. Based on her scores, she will go to an appropriate school, tailoring education for the field she best fits. After several years, when she is old enough to have a more pronounced personality, she will take another test. The results will be used in the same way and the child will continue her education. When she is ready to enter the workforce, she will take one final test, this one to make sure that she has been properly trained and the only one that she can truly fail. If she fails, she will be sent through the system again. If she passes, she will continue on into the work force. These tests will include both physical and mental aspects to screen for all the possible jobs.

In the schools, the prime directive will be ground into every child's head. Parents will teach their children to put others first, schools will enforce it, life will revolve around it. There will simply be no other way. When the children are sorted into their first schools, they will be taught how important their work is. Each piece is vital to the functioning of society. It will be impressed upon them that they are very important, as is everyone else, and that they must do their best because they have a very important purpose in life. Children will also be taught to gauge happiness. If person A wishes to hit person B, they must both be able to figure out which action will make which person happier. Will hitting person B make person A happier than not being hit will make person B? If the two cannot reach a decision, they will take the issue to another person who, in the interest of the greatest happiness, will pass a ruling. When the children are raised to be self-sacrificing, they will have no problem continuing a society built on the happiness of others.

Now, some order must, of necessity, exist, so one of the classes will be a ruling class. This doesn't mean a king or queen or anything, just the managers and such. Some people will be happier giving orders, others will be happier following them, and there is a place for both kinds of people. Children with more ambition will be groomed for leadership positions, children with less ambition will be groomed as underlings and everyone will be happy.

The bottom of the order will be the rabble (as in 'the common rabble' not because they are less worthy than their higher-ups but because this class will have to be the largest and thus this sort of person will be the most common) who will follow orders and will have to make very few decisions. People who are very amiable and who dislike conflict will be in this class.

Above the rabble will be the directors. Directors will oversee the rabble in their work, passing along instructions and ensuring that the work is done properly. The directors will not actually make many management decisions. Their purpose is quality control and communication between management and workers. Detail-oriented people with strong communication skills will make up this class.

Above the directors sit the judges and the queens (like in a bee-hive). The queens make most of the decisions about society like how much of what to produce and which classes need more workers and that sort of thing. The judges will watch these proceedings and judge their value. They will act as advisors to the queens, taking data from the directors and interpreting it to get ideas for what should be done. Judges will not actually make decisions, they will simply look at the data and suggest possible courses of action. The queens will look at the courses, weigh the options, and make the final decisions. The judge class will be made up of emotionally challenged people. Those who can crunch numbers but cannot deal with emotion or people will be judges because they don't have to worry about the people; all they have to do is interpret the data and offer courses of action. The queens will be the people with high empathy as well as ambition. They will look at the judges' proposals and the effects that those proposals would have on society and they will choose the best option. They will pass the orders down to the directors, who will relay it to the rabble, making the course come to pass.

Alongside the queens and judges will be a secondary group of queens, a group I'll call the kings. The kings will sit in with the queens and judges, hearing all societies needs and problems that need to be solved. The kings will work with judges, deciding what problems require sterner measures. Inevitably, problems will arise in society, probably in the form of wayward and rebellious people who are out for their own happiness, not the prime directive. They are the problem of the queens, just like crops and manufacturing. These people will be brought back into the fold when possible, but if there is no way to correct their troublesome behavior, their cases will be passed on to the kings. The kings will seek the advise of the judges and will dispatch their underlings, the knights, to fix the problem. The class of kings will be made of the same people as the class of queens, but the kings will have less empathy and stronger constitutions. While queens need only deal with materials and keeping people happy, the kings must be able to eliminate problem people from society.

The knights will be under the direct and sole authority of the kings. Knights will be the police of sorts, arresting those people who cannot be brought back to society. Like the judges, knights will have little empathy. They will also be physical, not intellectuals, and have a strong drive to please, keeping them loyal to the kings. A small sect beside the knights will be the executioners, also under the direct command of the kings. When a person causes trouble, the queens will pass the case to the kings, to be passed to the knights. The knights arrest the person and he is sent through conditioning in an effort to bring him back into the fold of society. If this fails, his case will be returned to the kings. When a person is unchangeable, destructive, and is deemed a lost cause, the kings sent the knights to get him (if he's not already in custody). The kings then send the person to the executioners, who kill him. The executioners will be the psychopathic, or those people who enjoy death. There will be only a few executioners.

Because society is based on happiness and because the children are intelligently sorted by criteria other than parentage, people can marry whomever they wish. Inter-class marriages are not only acceptable, but celebrated. The classes are not meant to place one person above another, but rather to separate the chain of command. A steel plant director can marry a farm rabble, a judge can marry a knight, a cotton rabble can marry a cotton rabble, it's all fine. Birth limits will be set every five years by the queens based on the population size and requirements, and the limit will be enforced by the kings' knights. Homosexual marriage is permitted, no person shall be forced to wed, and divorce is allowed but heavily frowned upon and discouraged.

A well-ordered, well-controlled society is your best bet for a happy society. If everyone gives up a little freedom, everyone gets a little more happiness. No strife, no war, no messy revolutions or famines or shortages. I do recommend setting aside one day every month as Outburst Day. This is kind of like the Purge or the Ten Minutes Hate. The purpose is to let everyone let out a little emotion in a fun and healthy way. For one day, everyone goes to Outburst parks, prepared by a sect, and smashes up junk. Old cars, broken computers, discarded windows, non-reusable bottles, everything that's fun to destroy. People go and trash some stuff, they feel better, they go home, they go on with life.

Also, everybody gets two free days in a week. The days differ across the sects and across the troupes- the sect is cotton workers, the division is manufacturing, the job is weaving, the troupe is number 43. They get Wednesday and Thursday. Troupes 50 to 100 might get Monday and Tuesday. Troupes 1 to 50 might get Wednesday and Thursday, and so on. Iron workers, miners, troupes 1 to 25 could have Thursday and Friday. The idea is to avoid giving everyone the same two days off. Keep everything running, let the people rest, don't disrupt the flow. Everybody's happy.

Well, that's how I'd make a happy society. I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but that's the base of it. Just keep everybody ordered, in line, equal, happy, and purposeful.

  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I don't know how much I would like being sorted in categories like this...and there will always be people who don't fit. And what if making as many children as possible makes me happy? Or if I don't test well but want to do something outside my caste? This doesn't sound very equal to me either. But it is interesting to see your prospective on what you would do to make a happy society! Cool answer. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Sep 20 '16 at 3:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks, and I agree that with our modern standards, this does sound kind of dystopic, but that's because we were taught to think of our own happiness. If you were raised to think of society, to serve society and to devote your life to society an the happiness of others, you would be happy to do just that. And it's fiction. Use a hand-wave, brainwash the people just right, and poof- perfect society. $\endgroup$ – Aziri Sep 20 '16 at 3:39
  • $\begingroup$ I did upvote it b/c I think it's useful answer. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Sep 20 '16 at 3:51

I think that this question and the answers provided might be of interest for you: how-in-brief-might-a-merit-based-economy-work

What you are talking about can easily be a dystopia.

Major Problems as I see them.

Any one who rejects anyone else would be making the other person unhappy.

This applies in jobs. Also in romance. I can see unqualified people getting jobs because the job would make them happy, even if they are incompetent.In romance, would you be forced to accept anyone who would be happy to have you? Even if that didn't make you happy? Would the person who put forth the romantic notion be jailed because they made the person who didn't want them feel guilty?

Allocation of Resources

The best treaties, and fairest negotiations actually end up with nobody being happy, because generally everyone can't get what they want. That's what compromise is all about.

Thought Crime

This can easily devolve into a thought crime 1984 situation...actually it's a little more like Brave New World by Huxley, which I think you absolutely should read, because that story is, at least in part about the right to be unhappy.

Happiness is not provided by external means

Just an FYI for you. Read this article from the Atlantic. It covers a bit about why smart people aren't necessarily happy and it also hits on some common themes about happiness which are true. External factors, such as the perfect job or winning the lottery, don't make people happy. Other people, can give you brief moments of happiness, but, in short, you can't depend on others, or factors that can change for your own happiness.

Events beyond the control of the individual contribute to stress or unhappiness

ANY major event in your life contributes to stress. Look at the Holmes-Rahe stress inventory You'll notice that even seemingly positive life events, if they are a big change, contribute to stress, which is a form of unhappiness

Stress and Unhappiness can be an impetus for progress

I believe that there's a risk inherent in happiness and comfort all the time. Wall-E the movie is a good example of what humans would be like if every need was fulfilled all the time. We advance in science and other things because we are not comfortable and happy all the time.


Tl/Dr: Video (and if you do have time to read, it might be a good video to have playing in the background while you read)

Happiness is...

My my, what a short yet poignant phrase. The first step towards creating a perfect society is the really difficult one you left out: defining happiness. We've spent tens of thousands of years trying to nail that one down -- the quest certainly reaches way back deep into prehistory. Sure, it's easy to capture the giddy happiness caused by a kiss from one's crush in high school, but what about the difficult ones. What about the happiness desperately entwined with other emotions such as sadness or anger. What about the happiness from justice being served, as a criminal is punished for their wrongdoing? What about the happiness of a soldier's last kiss from the love of their life before marching off to war? What about the happiness of a mother feeling blessed that their child, dying of cancer, went in her sleep without any pain? Surely these are emotions we don't want to deny from our perfect society, but they're far more nuanced than the simple emotions from our young years.

I don't think I'm going to define happiness successfully today. I don't have that much hubris. I'll leave that question to the poets and sages for the next few millennia. However, as an engineer, merely not being able to define the problem is not an insurmountable impediment. We don't have to define happiness here to answer the question, we merely need to quantify it and give it some properties describing how it behaves. So let's just put our neck out and declare that there are some things that have an attribute called "happiness," and see what comes of it.

One of the more evident attributes of happiness is that we are terrible estimators of what makes us happy. We gorge ourselves on material values which we all recognize do a terrible job of making us happy, and yet we do it anyway. We miss out on the small things that make others happy.

An aside, since I have a soap box, and I intend to stand on it until someone boots me off: back in 2011 there was a global study on happiness. The study was simple. It had one question: "do your perceive yourself as happy or unhappy. The most happy nation in the world, with a score of 85% happy, was Fiji. I was blessed to go there on a dive trip and experience it. We Americans, of course, went to the one resort on the island, where everything is kept in proper trim shape. The two towns on the island, where everyone lived, were a completely different story. I don't often visit third world nations, so the raw destitute living these people experienced was a bit of a shock. Despite a lack of roofs over their heads, and sometimes floors under their feet, they were happy. Everyone else had a spark of life to them. It's just how they were.

On Fiji, the traditional greeting is "Bula!" said with the proper diaphragmatic enthusiasm. I asked what it meant once, and they basically said "everything." You'll use it as a greeting, as a goodbye. You'll thank people with it. You'll sometimes even just use it to get someone's attention. I finally got my hands on an actual Fiji-English dictionary and looked it up. It turns out that "bula" is a verb. It means "to live."

No wonder they are so happy. Literally every time they meet, they toast to life.

Something to think about.

Anyways, back to us not knowing what happiness is. We know we're bad at estimating what things will make us happy, but what else can we say about it. I think everyone will agree that when we are happy, its a state that we want to continue experiencing. When we are unhappy, we want our current experience to change. However, we have to be careful. If you talk to the happiest people you can find, you discover that they are happy about things that are transient. They can appreciate a sunset with their significant other, sipping wine, knowing full well it will not last. Yet they can be happy anyway. So clearly we can be happy with change. Blast it, even quantifying happiness is tough!

Okay, time to wax poetic. When we are happy, we are happy to let the situation change smoothly, flowing the value from one moment into the next. We see that that value is good, and we want it to stay that way, but we're willing to let it grow on its own, and discover it's own purpose. When we are unhappy, we want the situation to change drastically. We want the content of this moment to cease, and new content to fill in the next moment. I'd be a fool to say I can prove those statements, but it sure feels right to me, and that's the best I can do here.

So we know that we are bad at estimating what makes us happy, we know that when we're happy we want this moment to flow into the next, while when we're unhappy we want the next moment to replace as much of this moment as possible. One last assumption: we want to be happy. There's plenty of arguments about depression that suggest we don't always want to be happy, but I think that's beyond the scope I'm going to address. We'll just assume that this society consists of only individuals who pursue happiness.

Let's assume, for a moment, that the society got close to everyone being happy. Maybe this society spawned from Fiji or only consists of Tibetan Monks. Let's assume that this society got close enough that trying to create perfect happiness is actually a reasonable goal. This is helpful because it lets us simplify our options. We can optimize based on the "do no harm" policy. Any action that we, or our citizens undertake, should strive to do no harm. This is in stark contrast of how we often act in more unhappy societies. In unhappy societies, it's often meaningful to compare happiness and make trade-offs. However, as you approach maximum happiness, that sort of approach isn't effective. Trying to analyze the trade-offs gets more and more time consuming, and that can make people unhappy. So we're only going to consider actions which do not make someone less happy.

Almost. We almost forgot about the first assumptions. We're not very good at estimating what will make us happy and what wont. This is a rather interesting nuance. It's well known that its hard to predict what will make someone else happy, but that's okay because they may not know what will make them happy either. Thus we come to the first rule of this society:

Imperceptible harm - Individuals should only take action if one believes any harm another individual will undergo will be imperceptible to them and to yourself.

This gives us a little wiggle room for trades. We're no longer paralyzed by inability to act out of fear of doing harm. It suggests that there will be a natural cast system that emerges from those who truly understand what makes them happy (and thus are very good at perceiving unhappiness) down to those who really don't know what they want. Those that know exactly what they want, will rapidly trade for it. Those that do not will likely seek more vague sources of happiness. It also provides room for learning. Babies don't understand what makes others happy. Children have to learn it as they grow up. As they become more aware of the happiness of others, they are more compelled by this rule to act on it. Until then, kids will be kids. And I think that's a good thing.

Of course, there's a loophole here. If you become numb to what others feel, it's easy to abuse this system. We need something to catch people before they fall into this trap. Time to bring in an oldie but a goodie, albeit with a small modification:

The Platinum Rule - Do unto others as they would have done unto them.

The Golden Rule - If you are not certain what others would want done to them, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

These rules, in varying forms, have been the corner stone of societies for a long time. It would be silly not to include them.

One final rule that I think I'd add, and I'd say the society would have the potential to find its own happiness. Resources exist in the world, and they can be fought over. That's reality. However, if you can make a living off the resources that nobody is fighting for, you don't have to fight. We've got 4 billion years left of resources burning away in our sun. Let's not waste that energy.

Waste not, Want not - Take advantage of any resources which would be squandered if they were not taken advantage of.

Would this make a perfect society? Well, I like to think it's a decent scaffolding for erecting a perfect society. The truth is that each perfect society will be perfect in its own way, and we'd be foolish to think they'd pigeon hole themselves into fitting into our mold. That's why the rules I picked give as much room as possible to flex within them. There's something unique about each society -- giving it up in exchange for happiness is a poor trade.

One last rule, though I hate to call it a rule. It's more of a policy.

Live life in the moment.

I'd love to say I fully understand what that one means. I'm still striving for it. However, it strikes me as this is fundamental to any long term stable happy society, so I include it regardless. I'll leave it to you to figure out what it means to you.

There's only us, there's only this
Forget regret, or life is yours to miss
No other path, no other way
No day but today

There's only us, only tonight
We must let go to know what's right
No other road, No other way
No day but today

- No Day but Today, Rent


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.