In Our Time

The Pursuit of Happiness

Mass shootings of the sort that happened recently in Florida and Nevada, whose only conceivable motive is the perpetrator’s compulsion to make his satanic and nihilistic hatred of other people and of existence itself a compelling item in the international news, have become almost monthly occurrences here, though they are rare in more mentally and emotionally healthy societies.  Other Western countries, cultural cousins to the United States, face social challenges of their own while sharing many of the pathologies that are consuming America today.  But school killings, indeed mass slaughter of any kind, are not among them—murderous rampages by Third World immigrants and terrorists excepted.  The reasons for this discrepancy are not immediately apparent, but a broad explanation is that the U.S. is ground zero for the explosion of postmodernity.  Atrocities such as those in Parkland and Las Vegas, like the Columbine massacre of two decades ago, are not features of happy societies.  They indicate that the United States is not only the wealthiest and most comfortable society in the world, but the unhappiest one as well.  How can this be?

All people in every time and of every culture have wished to be happy.  The urge to happiness is humanity’s fundamental instinct after the urge to self-survival and sex, itself a type of happiness, though a spasmodic one.  But only Americans have...

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