Reason Writers Around Town


In The New York Sun, Nick Gillespie reviews two recent books: an evolutionary take on our ill-starred pursuit of happiness, and an exposé of the snake oil salesmen who claim to have caught it for us.


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  1. When Jefferson wrote about the pursuit of happiness, given the context of his time, couldn’t that just as easily have meant “the right to pursue your own destiny, rather than being forced to be a peasant farmer like your parents and grandparents were before you?” We’ve already got that here; we’re not a completely classless society but there’s no legal or even social idea that a woman has to follow in her mother’s footsteps while a man must go in his father’s.

  2. Happiness is for suckers. I find that a continual current of cynical loathing and discontent to be a much more manageable and realistic lifestyle.

    Spite and vitriol are always much more entertaining than love and praise, especially in this day and age when such things are undeservedly heaped on everyone at the slightest provocation.


  3. I don’t know that you can blame Jefferson, it’s not his fault that people have taken “pursuit of happiness” to mean “right to always be happy”. I always thought of it as being free to make the choices that you think will result in happiness.


    We may not have a social idea that children should follow in their parents’ footsteps, but we seem to have a political one.

  4. Most of the money spent pursuing “happiness” in the form of health and other self-improvement pojects is wasted. On the other hand, maybe the economy is predicated on irrational, wasteful spending. Why are Americans such suckers for hype? Who knows?

  5. I think the “pursuit” part of the “pursuit of happiness” is key. We have no right to attain happiness, only to pursue it as we choose. Well, heh-heh, supposedly….

    Melissa, do we really know, or should I say have good reason to believe, that Americans are any bigger suckers about this stuff than anyone else? Or is this just an assumption that might not stand up to examination? Seems to me there’s plenty of unscientific beliefs followed all over the world. We probably spend more money on them, but that’s likely because we have more money to spend.

  6. Fyodor,

    Europe has nothing comparable in scale to the pseudoscientific health scams that plague gullible Americans. Your assumption that Americans have more money to spend, by the way, is further evidence of American gullibility. Even supposedly critical, anti-state libertarians seem to buy into soft-headed nationalistic nonsense about the greatness of the “Home of the Brave.” More Americans than Europeans live in poverty. Europeans are also more likely to question their governments’ intentions than Americans. It’s difficult to imagine Bush making it as a European politician.

  7. Melissa, your assertions hardly stand up when you consider the prevalence of herbal remedies in Germany and homeopathy in Italy.

  8. Trust me, homeopathy in Europe is marginal compared to the health scam industry in the U.S. American gullibility has no rivals.

  9. I thought I read somewhere that Jefferson originally drafted “life, liberty and property” (quoting John Locke), but somebody convinced him to change it so it sounded more uplifting.

    Fucking editors.

  10. Melissa,

    I don’t think anything I said reflects gullibility, but setting that aside, I think that if you take my one single example of “further evidence” of a national trend, you’re not exercising much “critical” thinking yourself. Oh, but I should “trust” you. Isn’t that what gullible people do?

    BTW, here’s a ranking of nations based on GDP per capita.
    As you can see, most of Europe ranks below the US. Maybe there’s poverty in the US (and maybe not), but there’s definitely more rich people.

  11. If Europe is so great how do you explain Abba?

  12. More Americans than Europeans live in poverty.

    That’s to be expected in Robin Hood welfare-statism, where you lop off from the top. I would also expect that to suppress the overall level of wealth, though. I wonder how the average European income compares to the average American one.

  13. Oops, while I was composing, fyodor at July 6, 2005 12:06 PM posted the answer to my question.

  14. Why are American anti-statists so nationalistic? Your we’re-the-best attitude is puzzling. Isn’t America the most powerful state in the world? Isn’t America the big military policeman of the world? It’s hardly surprizing that Americans would be the most gullible of the world’s citizens. If they weren’t, wouldn’t more of them be libertarians? Why so defensive about a population that buys into health scams? Hasn’t the same population boiught into the war in Iraq? I’m having a hard time understanding your anti-statism. You all seem to love your state.

  15. Most of the money spent pursuing “happiness” in the form of health and other self-improvement pojects is wasted. On the other hand, maybe the economy is predicated on irrational, wasteful spending. Why are Americans such suckers for hype? Who knows?


    While I agree with your opinion on a lot of the “self help” stuff, why is spending on health wasted? We’re talking valid improvements here, not scams and sky hooks. (Which in some cases can be hard to identify.)

    For example, in some studies exercise has been shown to be just as effective as some psychiatric medications. In other studies it was shown that poorer countries that can’t afford a lot of psychiatric medications have better recovery rates for mental illness. So in those instances which is the scam? Regular exercise doesn’t seem to have the lobbying power of the billion dollar pharmaceutical industry behind it.

  16. Cat,

    The point is that most Americans don’t exercise. They swallow worthless pill and go on goofy diets that promise weight loss with no pain or effort. Go into any supermarket. While waiting at the check-out line, you’re bombarded with magazines promoting the latest diets on one side and chocolate bars on the other side. It may be that the economy is predicated on irrational choices.

  17. “You all seem to love your state.”

    No, we really hate the way it’s becoming more Europe-like at every turn.

  18. Melissa,

    Except that I (much less anyone else on this thread) have not expressed ANY of the sentiments you attribute to…whoever you’re attributing them to. I could care less if someone says America is fucked. I merely questioned an assumption and asked if there were any grounds to it or if people just believe it because it gets repeated. You’re reading mucho into what I’ve said that I simply have not said. Perhaps you’re reacting to (and thus expecting) the great quantity of anti-Euro sentiments expressed on other Hit & Run threads. Suffice to say that my impression that non-scientific beliefs are a world-wide and thus human phenomenon rather than a peculiarly American one hardly counts as Euro-bashing.

  19. Most of Europe opposed the invasion of Iraq.

  20. Fyodor:

    Good point. Gullibility is human. The powerful American marketing genius is perhaps better at exploiting it. I don’t think you’re a Europe basher. You do seem pretty partiotic, though. Don’t states rely on the patriotism of their citizens?

  21. Melissa,

    Love of and devotion to one’s country.

    Wow. Me, patriotic? I don’t have any particular love for America. I respect many of the institutions that have developed here, and I think I’m lucky to be here both because of those institutions and because of the level of wealth here. It’s far from perfect, but unfortunately it’s better than most of the alternatives. Still, affection is not something I’m inclined to feel for a nation-state. Just not what I’m into. I reserve love and devotion for people…and pets!

    That said, I have no particular problem with patriotism, either. Well, except that it’s kinda corny on an aesthetic level. Does it make citizens more pliable to the state? I can see the potential, but I can just as easily see why it wouldn’t necessarily. Patriotism has often been associated with resistance to a state regime as a defense of the nation in the larger sense. And just because one loves one’s country doesn’t mean one has to agree with its policies. The question opens a philosphical can of worms which I’d rather not spend all day examining, but rather just say, well maybe, but not necessarily. Either way, I would reserve my criticism for actual POV’s with which I disagree rather than for POV’s that are harmless in and of themselves but which might possibly contribute to the POV’s with which I actually differ.

  22. “Most of Europe opposed the invasion of Iraq.”

    So, according to the latest polls is most of America. But I hardly think that’s because they’ve come to their senses. Americans tend to be not just gullible, they’re fickle as hell.

    Look, most of your criticisms of America are valid, I’m just jerking your chain. I think you’re a little to full of your sophisticated Euro shtick. I know too many dumb Europeans to buy it. I suspect the only reason I know more dumb americans is that I know more americans period.

  23. Jefferson et al would hardly have understood “pursuit of happiness” to mean the search for pleasure. According to Aristotle happiness is something more akin to a virtuous life, a balanced life, leading a life in accodance with your nature. Thus as people’s natures are varied, there is no standard prescription for a happy or virtous life, each must pursue his own.

  24. Fyodor:

    I stand corrected. The cultural differences between Americans and Europeans may be an obstacle to my understanding of what you say. On balance, most Europeans seem more skeptical than Americans about their states’ intentions and take a more active role in opposing state actions they disagree with. I attribute, perhaps wrongly, American passivity to a kind of patriotism makes Americans more inclined to rally around the flag. The American weakness for admitedly clever marketing seems somehow of the same order. In any case, I may be guilty of a widespread anti-americanism. I didn’t mean to be offensive. I share you anti-statism, but I don’t quite understand your esxpression of it.

  25. The point is that most Americans don’t exercise. They swallow worthless pill and go on goofy diets that promise weight loss with no pain or effort. Go into any supermarket. While waiting at the check-out line, you’re bombarded with magazines promoting the latest diets on one side and chocolate bars on the other side. It may be that the economy is predicated on irrational choices.


    You have a lot of generalizations here. A lot of Americans exercise. A lot of Americans try gimick pills and diets. That’s all part of choice, education, sophistication, and the free market. Should chocolate bars be outlawed because some people are overweight? That’s not a very libertarian outlook.

    And there are some ways to diet and exercise that are better than others. A lot of people think Atkins is a fad, but there is a lot of science (and results) backing it up. Isn’t it more libertarian to support a free market in diets, junk food, etc. and let people make their own choices?

  26. Cat:

    I think the choices people make can be manipulated.

  27. Are Europeans really more “skeptical about their states’ intentions” than Americans? European states seme to intervene more in the daily lives of their citizens than does the American state, higher taxes, more regualtion, etc. Doesn’t this imply that the voters in Europe are willing to grant the state more power, and, thus, are less skeptical of the state? Also, when I see Europeans protesting, they are usually either protesting other states (i.e.; the U.S.) or demanding more state power (more regualations, more tariffs, more welfare provisions), not less.

  28. Schroeder in Germany would have faced massive protests had he supported the war in Iraq. Aznar in Spain sent troops against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the Spaniards, who subsequently elected a government that withdrew the troops. Italians have held mass demonstrations against our government’s participation in the occupation of Iraq. Certainly vis-a-vis the uses of the military–the most dangerous power a state has–Europeans are more skeptical, less subject to appeals of partiotism, and more actively oppositional than Americans. Europeans may demand more state intervention, but the point is that Europeans don’t passively accept what their states do or don’t do. For most Americans, patriotism means supporting the state. Only the extreme nationalistic right in Europe is as amenable as most Americans to the massive use of state force.

  29. Europe has nothing comparable in scale to the pseudoscientific health scams that plague gullible Americans.

    *cough* socialized medicine *cough*

    /cheap shot

  30. I think the choices people make can be manipulated.

    They can. That’s what marketing and advertising are all about. But it’s illegal to make false, fraudulent, misleading, etc. claims.

  31. Cat:

    The problem is that stupidity isn’t–and shouldn’t be–illegal. Maybe education is the answer, but increasingly corporations control education. People are being educated to be good, i.e gullible, consumers. It’s hard to prove that marketing manipulation is fraudulent, especially when consumers are happy to be defrauded.

  32. Melissa,

    I may be guilty of a widespread anti-americanism.

    Maybe so! 🙂

    It generally doesn’t interest me to compare America and Europe, but I should point out that your point about skepticism towards the state seems entirely to center around contrasting levels of support for the war in Iraq. If you were to simply say that America is more inclined to military action, you would likely have little opposition around here, from either those who supported the war or those who didn’t. While I opposed the war myself, it seems naively reductionist and self-serving to make out like susceptibility to appeals to patriotism was necessarily the only, or even primary, reason for American support for or acceptance of the war. You seem to be looking at Americans as unnuanced stick figures! BTW, there were indeed protests against the war here. But obviously, opposition to it did not rise to the level that would have prevented it, no disagreement there. Is that because of “patriotism?” I’d suggest it’s because of a different view of the value, appropriateness and consequences of military action. For better or worse.

  33. But, Fyodor, what better exemplifies the power of the state than military action?

  34. Education is increasingly controlled by corporations? Wow, libertarianism is doing better than I thought it was.

  35. “You all seem to love your state.”

    To understand this period of world history, it is necessary for the student to become familiar with certain terms, some of which are now obsolete:

    Country – A particular geographic region, as variously defined by a common climate, terrain features, or artificial or natural boundaries.

    Nation – An extended group of people who feel an affinity with each other on the basis of common culture, common descent or other shared trait they hold as important. Similar to “tribe,” but usually applied to a larger group. A nation may be largely confined to a particular country (Texians) or it may be widely scattered (Jews).

    State – A criminal syndicate that claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of force for creating and enforcing rules within a certain geographic region. (Local states may be allied in a pattern of fealty with a larger, over-arching regional state.)

    Patriotism – Love of one’s nation, usually combined with affection for the country which that nation inhabits.

    Modern readers often have great difficulty in understanding the Warring States period (1789-2019) because writers of that time often used the terms “country,” “nation” and “state” interchangeably — sometimes in a deliberate attempt to confuse and deceive, but more often simply out of an unquestioned habit of mind. During that period, most of the world was ruled by states, each of which indeed claimed to rule a particular nation inhabiting a particular country. For example, during that period the “French nation,” the “country of France” and the territory and people ruled by “the French state” were essentially one and the same. Because of this close identification, many patriotic people also closely identified with the state that ruled them — absurd as this may seem to us today. At the same time, those who dissented from their ruling state were often accused of “lacking patriotism.”

    — from Western Culture: The Roots of Modern Civilization; Volume 8: Wither the State
    English edition
    Uploaded 2112 Adam Smith University Press
    Urbital of Alta Ayngrad
    Anglo-Yankish Anarcho-Commonwealth
    Cislunar Orbital Zone

  36. Does the Anglo-Yankish Anarcho-Commonwealth
    require a visa? If so, where can I apply?

  37. Does the Anglo-Yankish Anarcho-Commonwealth
    require a visa?

    Asking that proves you can’t qualify.


  38. Someone’s been reading too many L. Neil Smith novels.

    (FYI, I loved “The Probability Broach” and “Pallas.” Smith has an excellent flare for political satire, the trouble is that he has a nasty tendency to sound like a broken record making his novels seem all alike. That, and his expectations for what he considers a truly “libertarian society” are a little unrealistic… not to say bat-shit-crazy.)

  39. JMoore: The Anglo-Yankish Anarcho-Commonwealth is more a network of contracts than a political organization. However, the orbital habitat of Alta Ayngrad will begin selling and leasing living space in 2102.

    No visa required, but the Port Security Company will require that you sign the standard Covenant of Non-Aggression and pay a security deposit before entering.

    Of course, any property you visit is dependent upon your having permission of the owner, but the Alta Ayngrad Merchants Association maintains an extensive network of free-access roads and paths under the customary provisions of the “Lobby, Entryhall and Driveway Conventions.”

    And of course, it is strongly recommended that you subscribe to the protective services of a security company having agents, contractors or contract arrangements aboard Alta Ayngrad before you enter. Arrangements may be made with the Port Security Company when you arrive, if necessary.

    PS: Don’t be misled by the name. There is no obligation or advantage to being an Objectivist in Alta Ayngrad, any more than you have to be a believer in limited government or avoiding entangling foreign alliances to live in the 20th century city or state named after George Washington.

  40. Someone’s been reading too many L. Neil Smith novels.

    Not to mention J. Neal Schulman’s Alongside Night, Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and Vernor Vinge’s The Peace War, Marooned in Realtime and “The Ungoverned.” 🙂

    (And now Somebody needs to get back to work.)

  41. Breaking News:

    Anglo-Yankish Anarcho-Commonwealth devastated by nuclear warheads launched by the People’s Republic of China.

  42. “defying all known science, Mr. Robbins insists that foods have different “energy frequencies” that can be measured in megahertz”

    OK, so if it isn’t science, how come I hear pop radio every time I eat carrots? Hm?

  43. Our poor people are fat and well fed. They have cell phones and cars. They have air conditioning and microwave ovens. Their life expectancy continues to rise at a faster rate of growth than the rich. They are as well off in most of the middle class in Europe. The only reason they are unhappy is because they see people who are much better off — the U.S. rich.

    The fact that the poor are upset about discreptancies rather than their actual life style compared to the poor of the past that may be a political reality, but that doesn’t mean we should recognize it as a “real” problem.

    Envy is not a positive virtue.

  44. Breaking News: Anglo-Yankish Anarcho-Commonwealth devastated by nuclear warheads launched by the People’s Republic of China.

    A) You can nuke the physical capital of a state, but you can’t a network of contracts between equals.

    B) What would it gain you to nuke some members of an anarchic society? Or a dispersed stateless society not confined within the borders of single country? Could you “nuke the Jews”? (Not “Israel,” but “the Jews.”) Or “fans of Dr. Who”?

    C) The state known as the People’s Republic of China no longer exists, having undergone the balkanization process known as “perestroika” a few decades earlier.

    Revised news story:

    Today an explosion damaged a back-up server housed in an armored bunker near Tychoville, Luna. The server was used to house back-up copies of various legal documents and the complete archives of the historical from 2000-2010. No injuries were reported. A geriatric terrorist gang calling itself “The People’s Republic of China” claimed responsibility. Wolverine Security, which maintains the server bunker, plans to pursue damages.

  45. Breaking news

    Wolverine Security has signed a contract with the government of the People’s Republic of China to provide security for Chinese colonists once decontamination has been completed.

  46. Breaking news: A reputed “delusional gang of senile statist terrorists” plans to move into slightly radioactive Lunar bunker, formerly used to house a back-up server, that the group itself bombed a few days earlier. They also hired the bunker’s owners to provide security.

    The group plans to name the bunker “The Supreme Headquarters of the People’s Liberation Movement.”

    “We said, ‘Sure, why the hell not?'” said a spokeman for Wolverine Security, owner of the bunker. “These guys are obviously batshit, but if they’re willing to pay rent for the space, we can recoup our losses for damaged server and ruined bunker. If they don’t, we’ll just seal the sucker up with them inside. After we get a just-retribution ruling from the American Arbitration Association or other reputable arbitration firm, of course. Shouldn’t be a problem.”

    Reportedly, the members of the gang believe they are “occupying” the association known as the Anglo-Yankish Anarcho-Commonwealth.

    Shaking his head, the Wolvering spokesman added, “It’s as if I trashed an automobile showroom, sat down in the wreckage, and claimed I was ‘occupying’ the Fnord Motor Company. Some people just don’t seem to understand how a decent, orderly, anarchic society works.”

  47. Breaking news

    The People’s Republic of China has released transcripts of delusional ramblings of survivors of its nuclear strike against the so-called Anglo-Yankish Anarcho-Commonwealth. Highly educated Chinese academics who have studied Anglo-Yankish sientific illiteracy find the transcipts unbelievably simple-minded and cartoonish.

  48. More breaking news

    Chinese officials hope to employ survivors of the so-called Anglo-Yankish Anarcho-Commonwealth to help Chinese news writers master English spelling.

  49. OK, you two, this has gone on long enough!

    Attention, all planets of the Solar Federation! Attention, all planets of the Solar Federation!

    We have assumed control.

    We have assumed control.

    We have assumed control.

  50. Akira —

    I also loved Smith’s Probability Broach and Pallas, although the latter was a little preachy, even for Smith. Even though I generally agree with the message.

    I also read the space pirate books Henry Martyn and Bretta Martyn, and they were fun, but the message was so heavy I could only read them as satire. It reminded me I was only reading a story by a contemporary author with an axe to grind, and couldn’t immerse myself in them. The villains included a thinly disguised Chuck Schumer, and a hardly-at-all-disguised Hillary Clinton, Janet Reno and Sarah Brady. And the end of Bretta Martyn has an anti-gun-control message tacked onto it so blatantly I had to roll my eyes.

    Still fun, though.

  51. It is hard to imagine an idea that contradicts the essence of our species more than anarchism. It’s easier to imagine bees deciding to abandon hives. Maybe that’s why libertarians love science fiction so much.

  52. Except our species was stateless for the vast majority of its history.

  53. Peasants had it great before the rise of the modern state.

  54. First things first: So you admit that anarchism is not alien to human nature.

  55. Maybe education is the answer, but increasingly corporations control education. People are being educated to be good, i.e gullible, consumers.

    Corporations have controlled education from the beginning. State schools were created to indoctrinate and propogandise, to crush the imagination and individuality, and the create the future braindead, good only for following orders and listening to quacks and charlatans.

    Don’t kid yourself, there was no golden age of state education.

    – Josh

  56. Stevo:
    Feudal society was many things, but it wasn’t anarchy.

    No golden age of state education, but a time of literacy only for elites before the institution of state education, which was a necessity of modern industry. Golden ages are more appropriate to libertarian fantasies.

  57. Feudal society was many things, but it wasn’t anarchy.

    I never said it was.

    But human societies existed long, long, long before we had states.

  58. Stevo:

    Sure, nation-states are a relatively recent development, but from Sumeria to the present, humans have organized themseleves into complex hierarchical systems. Hunter-gatherer societies were simpler, but couldn’t withstand the onslaught of better organized agricultural peoples. Maybe the Afghan warlord system is closer to what you imagine was the past, but I doubt Afghanistan would meet with your approval if you had to live there. You’re dreaming the ideological dreams of the ardent true believer. History is littered with such dreams. Most of them turned into nightmares.

  59. [There was]a time of literacy only for elites before the institution of state education,

    By the way, the experience in America suggests the opposite. Literacy rates rose rapidly during the 18th and 19th centuries, before the advent of compulsory public education. If you exclude black slaves who could not read because the state made it illegal to do so, literacy rates were over 90 percent by the 1850s, when Massachusetts established compulsory public schooling for the first time in America. Afterward, literacy rates begain to deteriorate. ( Info. More info.)

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