Welcome to the letters page. If you want to add your two cents, send me an e-mail, let me know if
you want or are willing to have it published, whether you want your name on
it (which I would prefer), and whether you want your e-mail address on
there as well. I reserve the right to publish or not publish whatever the
hell I want to, to make annoying headlines, etc. Thanks!
Ben Franklin (and Ken Layne), on ‘Happiness’
From: KEN LAYNE, Nov. 21
Too bad Jefferson or Franklin isn't around to zap Ziegler an e-mail explaining that "happiness" in the 1700s -- especially to those brilliant weirdos who formed the United States' philosophy and government -- meant exactly what it means today: good fortune, prosperity, a state of well-being and contentment, joy, a pleasurable or satisfying experience, felicity. It's a word traced back to the 15th century, and as it shows up in everything from Shakespeare to the KJV Bible, it's pretty easy to see that "happy" and "happiness" mean exactly what they mean today.
While conversing with some friends at a local Philadelphia tavern, Franklin was accosted by a drunken man who had overheard him discussing the Declaration of Independence. Slandering the document, the young fellow shouted at Franklin: "Aw, them words don't mean nothing at all. Where's all the happiness the document says it guarantees us." The quick-witted statesman sympathetically replied, "My friend, the Declaration of Independence only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself!"http://library.thinkquest.org/22254/frwit&h.htm
Franklin often used the words "happy" and "happiness" in his autobiography. Here's one such use:
The different and contrary reasons of dislike to my plan makes me suspect that it was really the true medium; and I am still of opinion it would have been happy for both sides the water if it had been adopted. The colonies, so united, would have been sufficiently strong to have defended themselves; there would then have been no need of troops from England; of course, the subsequent pretence for taxing America, and the bloody contest it occasioned, would have been avoided. But such mistakes are not new; history is full of the errors of states and princes. So, what's he mean by Happy, in this bit? He means "satisfied," and he means "happy" in the same way we mean "happy" if we make a deal, and then say, "Everybody's happy? Good, then we've got a deal."
For a more, uh, academic look, read this:
"If Thomas Jefferson offered the philosophical basis for the pursuit of happiness, Benjamin Franklin provided the practical methods for achieving it. Considered the great-great grandfather of the self-made success movement, Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack established the American style of pursuing happiness through virtuous living, hard work and mutual support of like-minded colleagues."But Jefferson wrote the Declaration, so might as well ask *him* what he thought: http://www.pbs.org/jefferson/enlight/politi.htm -- or George Mason, who used a similar but less elegant wording ("and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety") in his Declaration of Rights.
Here, in a polite argument with an Indian Chief over the use of booze (Jefferson loved his wine), TJ uses "happiness" in exactly the way it would be used today:
"They have sold what individuals wish to buy, leaving to every one to be the guardian of his own health and happiness." From the same letter:
"You will soon see your women and children well fed and clothed, your men living happily in peace and plenty, and your numbers increasing from year to year." And,
"How much better is it for neighbors to help than to hurt one another; how much happier must it make them." -- http://libertyonline.hypermall.com/Jefferson/Indian.html
Here's one of his own definitions: "Happiness is not being pained in body or troubled in mind." Anything vague about that? Hardly ... and the key is not being "troubled in mind." When you aren't bummed out by physical pain or mental anguish, Jefferson says, you are happy. It was specifically written in the Declaration of Independence that we had the right to pursue happiness -- to pursue a life free from being bummed out. Like Sullivan wrote, it didn't mean everybody achieved happiness, or that they'd ever get it. But they were welcome and encouraged to pursue it.
And here's Jefferson's personal definition of happiness: "It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation, that gives happiness." But he didn't say his happiness was somebody else's happiness. The definition is, by design, personal. I believe Sullivan's whole point was the personal nature of the pursuit of happiness, and that the founding of the United States was unique in identifying an individual's pursuit of happiness as a goal of the state.
Ziegler says: "Sullivan never even considers that the meaning of the term ‘happiness’ might have been different for the Founders than it is for him today."
Strangely, she fails to consider whether such a criticism might call for investigating the historical use of the word. "Might have been different" does not equal "was different," so what is the purpose of her complaint?
Now, I can't find an 18th century dictionary online, but I have found an 1828 Webster’s, which says this:
HAP'PINESS, n. [from happy.] The agreeable sensations which spring from the enjoyment of good; that state of a being in which his desires are gratified, by the enjoyment of pleasure without pain; felicity; but happiness usually expresses less than felicity, and felicity less than bliss. Happiness is comparative. To a person distressed with pain, relief from that pain affords happiness; in other cases we give the name happiness to positive pleasure or an excitement of agreeable sensations. Happiness therefore admits of indefinite degrees of increase in enjoyment, or gratification of desires. Perfect happiness, or pleasure unalloyed with pain, is not attainable in this life.
2. Good luck; good fortune.
3. Fortuitous elegance; unstudied grace.
For there's a happiness as well as care. And he continues,
The word utility does not so clearly point to the ideas of pleasure and pain as the words happiness and felicity do... Without going into interminable detail about semantics, suffice it to say that you don't have to break out the Mandeville to find the words 'pleasure' and 'happiness' used synonymously. Indeed, John Locke is a figure who influenced the Founders far more than any of the English authors mentioned above, and he wrote:
For, whether we call it satisfaction, delight, pleasure, happiness, &c., on the one side, or uneasiness, trouble, pain, torment, anguish, misery, &c., on the other, they are still but different degrees of the same thing, and belong to the ideas of pleasure and pain, delight or uneasiness; which are the names I shall most commonly use for those two sorts of ideas. There are other issues here, but I'll leave it at that. For which all your readers can be thankful.
11/21/2001 04:45:51 PM
What’s ‘Fascist,’ What’s Not
From: STEVE SHERMAN, Nov. 21
Re: U.S. Becoming Fascist, Says Minister
Great link to a truly beautiful column. The dream sequences, the absurd leaps in logic, historical distortion and the fabulous ability to transform meanings and events, and all in one column!?!
The best part is where she rights 'And it makes sense'! While I agree with you that it is way too easy to pick on the obviously mentally impaired there are a few things in the column that harken back to your column regarding calling things by their proper names. One is Ms. Holmgren's use of the term 'disenfranchised'. Assuming since she lives in Minnesota that she voted there nothing that occurred in Florida, or anywhere else in the nation, affected her right to vote. A lot of obviously misinformed people like Ms. Holmgren, but also a lot of well informed but very ill intentioned people have used this term because they didn't get the results they wanted. The right to vote doesn't abdicate the responsibility for casting your ballot in accordance with state election laws. Failure to vote properly may nullify your vote but doesn't take away your right to cast it. It's the whole denial of personal responsibility issue which is being contorted because groups didn't get the results they wanted and want to portray themselves as victims.
The second is use of the term 'fascist' to describe anything she doesn't agree with. Many people, myself included, fall in the trap of ascribing evil intentions to those we disagree with. However advocating positions that someone else is opposed to is not fascist. Arresting your opponents and asserting your will by force is fascist. Expressing patriotism and condemning dissenters is not fascist. Locking away dissenters without trials is fascist. Banning the internet and music and satellite TV and movies is fascist.
The use of the term 'fascist' is extremely vile and unwarranted in a free society. Unfortunately many people are not aware of the level of freedom enjoyed by people in this country and only the experience seeing things in a totalitarian society would ever give them that perspective.
11/21/2001 01:05:26 PM
Sullivan’s ‘Lack of Historical Perspective’
From: CHRISTINA ZIEGLER-McPHERSON, Nov. 21
Re: ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’
I have to comment on Sullivan's "Pursuit of Happiness" column. While interesting and well-written, its biggest flaw is a complete lack of historical perspective and a failure to recognize how language has changed over time. Sullivan never even considers that the meaning of the term "happiness" might have been different for the Founders than it is for him today. He is also grossly historically inaccurate when he says that in the 17th and 18th centuries "In the Europe of the preceding centuries, armies had gone to war, human beings had been burned at stakes, monarchs had been dethroned, and countries torn apart because imperfection wasn't enough...."
Religious strife between the 16-19th centuries was not about perfection, achieved or otherwise; medieval (and Renaissance) Christianity actually insisted upon the inherent flaws in human beings, perfection was only to be achieved in Heaven after death for the individual or after the Second Coming for society at large.
Plus, most religious history scholars would agree that conflict in those unhappy times was equally about power -- political and economic -- as anything spiritual or moral.
I would argue that the Declaration's statement about the pursuit of happiness is more about the right to strive for opportunity, vs. the right to achieve opportunity (or happiness or stability or anything else). More than the pursuit of happiness, the Declaration is about the individual, the individual's right to strive, and perhaps succeed, or to fail.
Sullivan also forgets that the Declaration, while being one of the most well-written and powerful political statements in modern human history, is also simply one statement, and one that was largely supplanted by the Constitution. Our government doesn't make policy on the basis of the Declaration of Independence (if it did, our foreign policy would be RADICALLY different); our policy is judged against the Constitution.
I don't have time to dissect Sullivan's column line by line because I'm at work, but it reads like it was written by someone who has never read anything by Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, or by such English 18th century writers as Mandeville, Burke, or Gordon. This is unfortunate, because, although these fellows wrote some very dense, convoluted prose, a lot of it is pretty interesting and can really challenge a 21st century person's thinking about the world, and about history.
If you want to read an interesting book about religious fundamentalism, I would recommend Karen Armstrong's Battle For God. She examines the similarities and differences between fundamentalist movements in Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and has some interesting things to say about fundamentalism and modernism.
I think Sullivan's piece is good; I admire him for trying to dig deeper into the issues related to our current crisis, but I just don't think that he's THINKING historically while he's writing about history. Obviously, thinking historically is the greatest challenge and no one can really do it because we are stuck in our own time and we all have all the intellectual baggage of our own time. But he fails to even consider that words' meanings might have changed in 200 years and he tackles a particularly loaded phrase. Everyone thinks "pursuit of happiness" means the right to party, and believe me, it doesn't.
Another very big challenge in dealing with the writings of the Founders is the fact that they disagreed, sometimes A LOT, about very key issues. And then there is the problem that the ideas of the Founders were radically transformed in American popular political culture by the early 19th century. "Democracy" went from being a very, very bad and undesirable word to being the supposed raison d'être of our government in a generation!
11/21/2001 12:44:24 PM
How the Anti-War Crowd Will React to Victory
From: DANIEL JACOBSON, Nov. 16
Re: Dept. of Predictions
great stuff on your blog recently, but there's been great stuff all over the place. hard to keep up with the good news.
anyway, i've got a prediction for the next move from the anti-war crowd, once the benefits of our military action become just too obvious to deny or ignore. (as if they're not already.) as the food starts streaming into afghanistan, look for this response:
"if it weren't for our brave dissenting voices, the US really would have bombed indiscriminately, killed civilians recklessly, and let afghans starve. fortunately we, the conscience of America, were heard, and something good came of all this horror."
of course this final round of horsesh*t will completely ignore the fact that lots of us war-mongers have been pushing for the bombs-and-food combination punch from the start. or that when we did, we were accused of hypocrisy by the anti-war crowd -- a charge that never made any sense, since it was premised on the idea that the aim of the war was simply to kill afghans (otherwise where's the inconsistency with feeding refugees?). even more galling, they'll ignore the fact that the large-scale humanitarian operations now underway would have been impossible were the Taliban regime still in place. but will that stop them from taking credit? somehow i doubt it.
i figure this nonsense to start any day now.
11/19/2001 05:21:01 PM
Matt Welch, Republican?
From: ROY W. MUMAW, Nov. 17
Okay, here I am, an over 50, former 'Nam vet who works for a law enforcement agothing you have posted is incompatible with being a Republican (at the least, a "moderate" one). While there may be chic amongst your friends with being Democrat or Green (ptoui!), you would be lying to yourself if you don't see that you are far enough to the "right" of the Democratic bell-curve to fall into the "moderate" wing of the Republican camp. You've obviously outgrown your "Liberal" childhood and are now ready to accept the adult responsibility of being "Conservative."
As if I really care.
You are still running a good site.
11/19/2001 10:48:33 AM
Indymedia Garbagemen Misquote Mao
From: ROBERT SCHWARZ, Nov. 15
Re: So Much for Indymedia
The poster said: "Anyone who has read Mao's On Guerilla Warfare should be feeling pity for the Northern Alliance as it falls into a trap."
I don't think the poster has read Mao's book, or they did not understand it very well. Mao uses the metaphor of fish to explain guerrilla action. A quote from Mao "The guerrilla is the fish and the people are the sea.." What he meant was a fish needs lots of water to prosper and the peoples goodwill allows them to succeed. Anyway by extension the water in Southern Afghanistan is drying up very quickly as the Pushtan tribes rebel against the Taliban as well.
And for those folks that like to compare the war against the Soviets and the quagmire in Vietnam I have three points. (1) Their are far more ex-Muhajadeen in the Northern Alliance than there are in the Taliban (2) There is no superpower financing the Taliban's guerrilla war this time around (3) A fish out of water doesn't last long.
11/19/2001 10:47:02 AM
From: ERIC ANONDSON, Nov. 16
I hadn't much seen actual discussion of what would work best as a government for the Afghans. Usually, instead, some pundit or reporter muses that now we just wait for the UN to figure something out that will work. Well, the UN has done a beautiful job of getting Somalia back together (that's sarcasm).
Sure, we're not Afghans, but why not give them advice based on rational observations of historical precedence. We want them to know liberty, to be as successful as they can be. Besides killing they're oppressors, why not aggressively campaign for the best government for them as well, instead of JUST making sure the place isn't a haven for terrorists. Afghanistan needs a government that will outlast the presence of UN peacekeepers. My advice would be to push for a Swiss-model Federalism, with significant imitation of Turkish secularism. If the UN/US worked towards those two objectives, I would have confidence in establishing a "Marshall Plan" for Afghanistan.
11/19/2001 10:42:37 AM
On Vietnam, Media, Chomsky and What Comes Next
From: TERRY WELLS, Nov. 16
Re: That’s Right the Readers Are Smarter
Yeah, you're right, it was a letter. Brings to mind a great line of Oscar Wilde's, who said he felt it important to read the Letters to the Editor section of the Times, because it is "important to know what mediocre minds are thinking."
It's just that I have taken on the noble duty to combat this peckerwood attitude that political restraints (not the media, that's another argument, equally false) lost the Vietnam War. I take it to task wherever it surfaces, because... well, because I lived through all that. (Although thanks goes to Milhous for the one decent thing that crooked bastard ever did -- he got up one morning, screwed his pants on, walked out and ENDED THE DRAFT just as I turned 18. Thanks, Dick!) I guess I'm still pissed about Vietnam. And a few other things. OK, OK, and a LOT of other things.
I know you're not a raving blood 'n guts type and are probably nice to grandmothers and puppies and crippled children ...
And I will admit that my dark premonitions before this shitrain in Afghanistan appear to have been largely in vain. I'm impressed with the technique of dropping these amped up Berets into target zones so they can shine their little lasers on the bad things, because it's minimized the civilian deaths and maximized the damage possible in bombing raids. This is a sharp contrast to the Russian style, or I should say Soviet style, since they're all reborned-agin, wherein large clouds of bombers rolled in at low altitudes and blew the shit out of everything in sight while the enemy hid in caves. Such indiscriminate tactics have often served only to kill lots of innocents and stiffen resolve amongst the bombed (see: Hanoi, 1970, London, 1941, etc.), not to mention stiffen support for bad regimes (see: Saddam.)
I still don't LIKE it, but I'm not shedding tears over OBL or Atteh or any of those Al Quaeda soldiers of religious fortune, who seem to be little more than nasty, woman-hating, no-sex having, Koran twisting, no-music listening, uneducated, fascistic, sweet-tea drinking freaky deaky motha fuckers.
I still see dark clouds on the horizon, along with not LIKING it, as in, what are the Warheads in D.C. gonna do with Saddam? Will the Pakistanis keep nukes away from nuts? Will a new generation of terrorists spring up? (And sorry, boys, it's a bit too early to say that's NOT gonna happen just because we're cleverly using indigenous forces and U.S. bombers to wipe out a ragtag army.) And at home, will military tribunals do away with jurisprudence, which is one of the things we're so fucking proud of in our land of the free? And will the Bush Administration keep trying to give $200 million tax breaks disguised as economic "stimulus" to crooks like Enron, who lie about losses in their SEC filings? And will we drill holes in caribou to find the crude oil that lies latent in their arterial walls?
Fine. We'll fight those another time, and I suspect we probably see eye to eye on a fair number of those things. We shall see if the rebirth of a new Afghanistan rises out of these ashes, but I certainly hope so.
And, though I am hoist by my own pessimistic petard, I hope you'll forgive me for not waving a $2 paper flag at the next parade. I'm too goddamned proud & stubborn American to do anything like that.
PS: Now, if I could only get y'all to stop picking on poor Noam so much. Chomsky is a genius in his field, theoretical linguistics, and a legend among those who shouted down the Vietnam War. He is a tireless crusader against the corporate ownership of the U.S. government -- which is a subject we haven't broached (yet) in our recent letter exchanges. Noamie has a long history as a skillful navigator of complicated duplicities in our foreign policy.
If he paints himself into a stupid corner occasionally, as he did in sparring with Hitchens a while back, it is perhaps because he's so used to being taken out of context as anti-American, when in fact he is solidly in the tradition of homegrown critics. Yeah, I know, he's pretty damn smarmy sometimes, but I have a hard time getting on his ass, and the more I see deft writers such as you and Layne and Big Hitch himself get on Noam's ass the more I feel compelled to defend him. Hell, I rooted for the Diamondbacks too, starting BEFORE the first game of the Series. And after the Snakes won, I felt SORRY for the Yanks.
11/19/2001 10:41:31 AM
Please Superman, Slap That Bitch
From: MICHAEL LEWIS, Nov. 14
Re: So Much for Indymedia
Being fairly new to the net, I am saddend to realise that the alt. media that I would have been licking up a mere year ago is run by some very nasty little rats. 9/11 has really made it easier to separate the polysci/majors from the people who really do have something to say. I hope that poisonously, 'anonymous' little turd at Indymedia chokes on his 'quote' marks. Keep up the good work.
11/19/2001 10:38:46 AM
Comments, questions, bad links? Send e-mail to Matt Welch