I am reading Russ Robert’s new book How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness and it is quite informative. Roberts is an economist at the Hoover Institution at Stanford and he delved into Smith’s less famous book to gain insight into life and human nature and shares it with readers in simple, straightforward style:
Adam Smith may have become the patron saint of capitalism after he penned his most famous work, The Wealth of Nations. But few people know that when it came to the behavior of individuals—the way we perceive ourselves, the way we treat others, and the decisions we make in pursuit of happiness—the Scottish philosopher had just as much to say. He developed his ideas on human nature in an epic, sprawling work titled The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
Most economists have never read it, and for most of his life, Russ Roberts was no exception. But when he finally picked up the book by the founder of his field, he realized he’d stumbled upon what might be the greatest self-help book that almost no one has read.
In How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life, Roberts examines Smith’s forgotten masterpiece, and finds a treasure trove of timeless, practical wisdom. Smith’s insights into human nature are just as relevant today as they were three hundred years ago. What does it take to be truly happy? Should we pursue fame and fortune or the respect of our friends and family? How can we make the world a better place? Smith’s unexpected answers, framed within the rich context of current events, literature, history, and pop culture, are at once profound, counterintuitive, and highly entertaining.
By reinvigorating Smith’s neglected classic, Roberts provides us with an invaluable look at human behavior through the lens of one of history’s greatest minds.
I was most interested in the sections on being “loved and being lovely.” Smith says “Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely.” The author interprets this quote as “Smith means that we want people to like us, respect us, and care about us and take us seriously. We want them to want our presence, to enjoy our company.”
Smith also says that we dread being hated and hateful. Perhaps this explains why people are so afraid when it comes to politics. If you have the wrong political bent these days, you are seen as hateful and hated. Most people don’t seem to be able to tolerate being hated. Being hated is no fun, but pretending to go along with the PC crowd that is ruining our country has to be worse. Smith believes that true happiness comes when we earn the admiration of others honestly “by being respectable, honorable, blameless, generous, and kind.”
Yet how can you be those things in a society that does not value these traits? Our society rewards extroversion, hypocrisy, political correctness at all costs, and phony fads. How can one be genuine, authentic, and truly kind in today’s world? To do so is often to be hated, something Smith says that we dread. Is being hated that awful? Maybe we need people in this society who are strong enough to be hated in order to make significant positive changes in politics and society.
One lamentable feature of the contemporary West is the ruthless efficiency of the nanny state. It works overnight. You wake up, slouch over your coffee and corn flakes, and read of the new Bad Thing that must be stopped Right Now. In Britain, the latest activity slated for oblivion is smoking in public parks. Readers, I’m sure, do not need to be reminded that parks are outdoor places; the traditional excuse of “secondhand smoke” does not appear to apply (although it is possible to find “studies” on the dangers of “thirdhand smoke”).
Nevertheless, British officials moved quickly. In September 2013, the mayor of London, alleged conservative Boris Johnson, ordered a “major review of health in the capital,” according to The Independent. The results are already in: Lord Darzi, Britain’s former health minister and the appointed chair of Johnson’s special commission, has said smoking needs to be banned in London’s parks and public squares. There is news that ”councils throughout England are also understood to be analysing how the proposals could be applied locally, paving the way for potentially the biggest crackdown on smoking since the Smoke Free legislation of 2007.”
The average wedding in America costs roughly $30,000. Egged on by countless wedding TV shows, magazines, and websites, people throw what appear to be pseudo star-studded events that aim to rival the kind of blow out parties you only see in movies. In the end you wind up with one night of clouded memories, a ton of photos, and a group of hungover people hovering over breakfast in the hotel lobby the next day. The bills may last you months, even upwards of a year. And for what? To make your grandmother happy? Because you really liked that episode of My Fair Wedding? You can have a great, regret-free wedding without sacrificing yourself to the Wedding Idol. Here’s how.
A few years ago, on a rainy summer’s day, I was browsing around a secondhand bookshop on the east end of Long Island, breathing in the musty wonder of the overstuffed shelves, when an elderly man approached me. I had in my hand a first edition of William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. The man started up a friendly conversation about the Second World War, asking me whether I had watched a recent television documentary on the subject.
He continued talking, perhaps unaware that he wasn’t allowing me to respond. I didn’t take this as an insult. Most people prefer to hear themselves talk; this isn’t necessarily a sign of malice or rudeness on their part. I find it’s especially true of the elderly, who are usually lonelier and thus more desperate for the ear of a stranger. So I stood there and listened as politely as I could, not altogether uninterested in his views of fascinating matters like the Nazis and other dictatorships, which are subjects that I could eat with my breakfast cereal.
My PJ colleague Walter Hudson published a compelling argument regarding physician-assisted suicide in response to the ongoing dialogue surrounding terminal cancer patient Brittany Maynard. His is a well-reasoned argument regarding the intersection of theology and politics, written in response to Matt Walsh’s Blaze piece titled “There is Nothing Brave About Suicide.” Both pieces are a reminder that, in the ongoing debate over whether or not Maynard has the right to schedule her own death, little has been said regarding the role the medical profession plays in the battle to “Die with Dignity.” Walsh argues:
None of us get to die on our own terms, because if we did then I’m sure our terms would be a perfect, happy, and healthy life, where pain and death never enter into the picture at all.
It’s a simplistic comment that ignores a very real medical fact: Death can come on your own terms. And that doesn’t have to mean suicide.
My mother was a nurse for 20 years. During that time she worked in a variety of settings, from hospitals, to private practice, to nursing homes. Much like Jennifer Worth, the nurse and author of the Call the Midwife series, my mother practiced at the end of Victorian bedside nursing and the dawn of Medicare. As a result, the abuses she witnessed in the name of insurance claims were grotesque. For instance, if a patient required one teaspoon of medication, an entire bottle would be poured into the sink and charged to that patient’s insurance company. This was just the tip of the iceberg of unethical practices that would become priority in the name of the almighty “billing schedule.”
Conservative columnist Ross Douthat has declared his love for Lena Dunham. It hardly comes as a surprise that a New York Times writer, even one who dwells to the right of the aisle, would find the Girls prodigy appealing. What makes Douthat’s devotion disturbing is that he has managed to transform a goddess chained to a slew of liberal causes into a sacrificial lamb for conservative culture. In his struggle to do so, his misses the mark in what could have been one of the most culturally relevant critiques of Girls to date.
The critic defends Dunham’s showpiece Girls, writing,
She’s making a show for liberals that, merely by being realistic, sharp-edge, complicated, almost gives cultural conservatism its due.
It’s a seemingly ironic observation, based in the idea that Girls “often portrays young-liberal-urbanite life the way, well, many reactionaries see it…” That is, a subculture on the verge of self-destruction due to excessive amounts of what sociologist Robert Bellah dubbed, “the view that the key to the good life lies almost exclusively in self-discovery, self-actualization, the cultivation of the unique and holy You.”
In other words, as Gawker so simply put it:
He likes watching the show because it allows him to feel superior to Dunham and her fellow sluts.
By employing a rote, traditionalist perspective, Douthat argued himself into a hole, turning his love into judgement and burying his point in poorly-worded theory and equally bad theology.
A few weeks ago, I was in New York City to meet someone for drinks, and got on the subway at 34th and 7th to head downtown. I dislike the New York subway for many reasons. It is the only such system in a major Western city to look as if it had been swapped with the metro of a third-world backwater. Pick any otherwise dodgy country on Earth, and chances are the subway of its capital city is a gleaming tube with smooth rolling stock and palatial stations. Not New York. The trains lurch between filthy platforms like winos stumbling to and from tenement doorsteps.
It is also a place in which I am continually confronted with the human condition. Sometimes it takes the form of rudeness; other times, drunkenness. On this particular day, it was poverty. Immediately after the doors closed, a disheveled man entered the car at the far end, battered cap in hand, and made the following announcement to us passengers:
“Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention for one moment, please,” he said loudly. “I don’t want to bother you, but I am a homeless veteran. If you could spare some money, I would greatly appreciate it.”
I didn’t fully appreciate how spiritually free I am as an American woman until I set foot on an El Al plane.
“Do you speak Hebrew?” the fretting woman in front of me asked.
“No, not really.”
“It’s okay, I speak English,” she hurriedly replied, obviously looking for a friendly face. “These Orthodox,” she motioned to the people sitting next to her, “they don’t like sitting next to women.”
“Well, that’s their problem.” My response was pointed, matter-of-fact, American.
She smiled as if a light bulb went off in her head. “You’re right!” Her expression grew cloudy. “But what if I take off my sweater? They won’t like that I expose my shoulders with my tank top.”
Again, I simply replied, “That’s their problem.”
She smiled, empowered. Removing her sweater, she took her seat and stood her ground.
And at that moment I thanked God I was raised in pluralistic America, and realized, oddly enough, that the Holy Land was giving me my first chance to practice the biblical feminism I’ve preached.
Israel is a Western nation in that women have equal rights by law. Israel is also a confluence of religious and ethnic cultural attitudes, not all of which are friendly to women. Two days into our trip to Jerusalem, a family member who also happens to be a retired journalist explained the latest story to hit the nightly news. A man accused of spousal abuse was released to return home. Later that evening, police found his wife had been shot dead. The husband confessed to the murder. Apparently, domestic violence and death is a relatively small but significant problem in Israel. When I asked my former journalist why, he pointed to the influence of Middle Eastern (both Arabic and radical Islamic) patriarchal culture as the primary source.
Yet, even religious Jews in Israel (and around the world), despite their insular nature, are far from immune to sexual abuse. Sex scandals among the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) show up frequently on the evening news. In this case it’s not the Arab/Muslim influence, but perverted behaviors that arise from rabbinic abuse of biblical teachings. How do you expect a man to relate to a woman sexually when he’s not even allowed to look her in the eye?
You’ve seen Thriller and heard all about Madonna, but what do you really know about the decade that ushered in the millennial generation? Think the era of scrunchies, boom boxes, pump sneakers and DeLoreans was just a fad? Think again. Some of the 1990s’ greatest pop culture trends were birthed in the millieu of Reaganomics, cable television, and a music video-loaded MTV.
15. Culture Club – “Karma Chameleon”
The ’80s was the decade of John Waters, the B-52s and all things camp coming to fruition. Decked out in eyeliner, lipstick and braids, Boy George popularized the aesthetic of this gay subculture with a poppy little tune about conflicted relationships. As for the music video, where better to set a gay guy’s love song in the ’80s than an 1870s riverboat called the “Chameleon” where a cheating gambler’s karma comes back to haunt him? Dude, it’s the ’80s: “Don’t ask, don’t tell” started here.
I pushed off the idea of writing this article when I first heard that Joan Rivers, one of my comic icons, was rushed to the hospital after a botched outpatient procedure last week. I didn’t want to think about having to say goodbye to Joan, to bid farewell to yet another icon of an age gone by, a powerhouse who managed to be a cultural force until her last breath. The only solace we can muster is in knowing that, for these ten reasons at least, Joan’s memory will be a blessing.
10. Joan never grew old or gave up.
At 81, she was as attuned to pop culture, politics, and current events as a 20 year old. A self-made fashionista, the comedian never retired, sat in a chair, or gave in to technology. Joan will forever be a role model to women who refuse to trade style for a shapeless moo-moo and an office chair for a rocking chair. In her later years she paired up with Melissa, illustrating that mothers and daughters really can work together and get along. She was a modern Bubbe, surrounded by her children and grandchildren as she took the world by storm.
15. Everything you know about the social stratosphere is wrong…
College is nothing like high school. You understand this in theory, but have never experienced the kind of social freedom you will in college. There are no cliques. There is no lunch table. Welcome to the world of being an adult. For the first couple of weeks you’ll attend pre-arranged mixers, usually orientation events or annoying team-building activities your RA spent all summer training to lead. These awkward moments are helpful for one reason: Discovering who has a car. As a freshman, be aware that the parties you crash at frat houses aren’t for making friends, they’re for getting drunk and hooking up. You’ve been warned.
11. A conscious awareness of God is intrinsic to human nature.
Tara Brach recently told the story of a four year old who was excited to have alone time with his new baby sister. When he finally got to the side of her crib, he asked her, “Tell me what heaven is like. I’m starting to forget.” If we didn’t have a conscious awareness of God, we wouldn’t be striving so hard to find Him in everything from houses of worship to fictional characters on the big screen. Don’t let atheists fool you; they might not believe in a God in the sky, but they’re worshiping something, nevertheless, whether its money, power, or simply themselves.
As a Gen-X/millennial crossover, I was fortunate enough to first meet Robin Williams as Mork from Ork on the sitcom Mork and Mindy. A comedic powerhouse, Mork’s colorful wardrobe and loud laugh were the first things I imitated as a child. As I grew up, I would look back and realize the many character lessons I learned at home were reinforced by a supremely acted alien outsider with a predilection for sitting on his head. In virtually every role he played, Robin Williams taught his audience a life lesson. As a young kid there was no one more fun to hang around with and learn from on TV than Mork from Ork.
10. Old people rule.
Mork marvels at the way the elderly are ignored and maligned on earth. On Ork, old folks are revered as the wise, experienced ones to learn from. “The Elder” is called on to remind Mork of his Orkishness. His was an early lesson in the importance of respect and reverence for the elders in your life and how very important all people are, no matter and, perhaps, especially because of their age.
See the previous installment in Susan’s Dudeism series: How to Become an Official Dude in 10 Easy Steps
Warning: Given that the f-bomb is dropped in The Big Lebowski over 200 times, some of these clips will most likely be NSFW.
10. Abiding is a science as well as an art.
Patience is an inherent aspect of abiding. Other definitions include “to endure without yielding,” “to accept without objection,” and “to remain stable.” In the world of the Internet and social media technology, abiding is an anachronistic action. We have been shaped by our media to function at rapid speeds. One of the biggest goals of Common Core is to increase the speed at which students mentally process information. Not study, analyze and comprehend, but process and regurgitate the way they would like and share a Twitter or Facebook post. Abiding flies in the face of today’s high-speed reactionary culture.
As noted in a song by the brilliant musical humorist Anna Russell several decades ago, some people prefer a full-time career in victimhood to happiness:
(Set at 6 minutes 18 seconds; if it doesn’t go there automatically as instructed in the link, that’s where her song “Miserable” is.)
The Mamas & The Papas noted something similar in “Glad to be Unhappy” which is one of their less well-known but rather witty songs:
As many of these full-time professional victims (with their gobs of ill-gotten cash, obscenely expensive New Age therapists on call, and multiple stormy love affairs and messy divorces and devastated offspring left in their wake) know, constant complaining about certain kinds of problems (sometimes known as “diseases of the rich”) makes you popular with a certain illegitimately powerful political crowd, and pays a pretty good salary too.
image illustration via shutterstock / Mr. Aesthetics
It seems that people pick places to live on other variables than happiness:
If New York is so unhappy, why do so many people keep living there? That’s one of the many questions at stake in a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Researchers from Harvard and the University of British Columbia used people’s self-reported life satisfaction data from the CDC to try to determine a geography of American happiness. What they found is that among the biggest metropolitan areas, the Big Apple is the unhappiest. Scranton, Pennsylvania, takes the honor of the least happy metro area of any size. Meanwhile, Richmond is the happiest large metro area, and Charlottesville, Virginia, is the happiest of any size…..
The data also carries in it an insight into how people make major life choices. If people only sought to live in happy places, cities like Richmond and Charlottesville, Virginia would be swamped with people, while New York would be desolate. Clearly, that hasn’t happened.
“One interpretation of these facts is that individuals do not aim to maximize self-reported well-being, or happiness, as measured in surveys, and they willingly endure less happiness in exchange for higher incomes or lower housing costs,” they write.
That said, places with low income growth and low population growth also tend to be particularly unhappy, both currently and historically.
“[C]ities that have declined also seem to have been unhappy in the past, which suggests that … these areas were always unhappy — and that was one reason why they declined,” write the authors.
The upshot seems to be that people make decisions based on happiness, but only on a limited basis. So at least in the economics world, there’s more to life than being happy.
It seems that people go where the money or jobs are earlier in life and then often move to places that make them happy or that have lower taxes when they retire or maybe lower taxes makes them happy as they have more time to do other things with their money. The problem is that people ruin these places such as NYC etc. with their politics and then move to the lower tax states such as the South to retire and then try to ruin these places with their politics and the cycle continues.
image illustration via shutterstock / Ollyy
Whether you’re seeking salvation or inner peace, a god to worship or add to your home-made altar, the pop culture pantheon is at your disposal so that you may pick and choose the gods and tools of worship to service your every emotional, spiritual, and even material need.
10. Harry Potter
When they aren’t re-reading their holy texts, Potterheads commune at MuggleNet to chat about their god, study their faith and perform the usual acts of tithing. According to the Facebook page “Being a POTTERHEAD” (which is classified as a non-profit organization),
Harry Potter has reached out to 200 countries, spoke out in 69 languages, and has touched the lives of 400 million people. It is the phenomenon that ignores race, age, gender and religion and has brought us all together despite our differences.
Also known as Potterholics, Potterites and Pottermaniacs, Potterheads should never be confused with potheads as their allegiance is strictly Wizard, not weed.
Pop culture has become as much of a religious powerhouse as Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism or any other faith. Don’t believe me? Sit in a college classroom. Better yet, attend a fan convention or simply rent the film Trekkies. Films, shows, bands, comic books and their like have become, for some, sources of spiritual nourishment. Do you feel the power?
12. What was once DVR-able is now weekly appointment television.
“Appointment TV” doesn’t begin to describe your weekly ritual. All pressing engagements are pushed aside, phones are silenced, and ritual food is laid out on the coffee table to be partaken in as the ceremony commences. You still DVR the show for good measure, being sure to re-watch at least once, if not multiple times in deep study so that you may discuss the meanings of both text and subtext with fellow fans.
Vacations can be wonderful experiences, but all too often they start out at an airport, which can be one of the most frustrating, uncomfortable, and stressful places on earth. Here’s the top ten ways to make your airline travel a good experience. Or at least not a nightmare.
10. Pack a small refreshment bag for the end of the flight.
Purchase the wisp toothbrushes that come with toothpaste already installed. Buy a packet of facial wipes. Take a last visit to the bathroom before landing to wash up, brush your teeth, comb your hair and prepare for your day. No matter how tired you are or how long the flight, the refreshment of a small amount of grooming helps energize you and get you ready to face your journey’s destination. Just avoid changing clothes. It never turns out well unless you’re David Spade in Tommy Boy…
10. Sullivan and Son
This working class comedy executive-produced by Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley is fraught with all the non-PC ethnic and sexual humor you’d hear in a working class, Irish-Korean, middle-American bar like the one in the show. Created by Korean American actor/comedian Steve Byrne and Cheers writer Rob Long, the TBS sitcom reminds you that some jokes are still OK to crack. The stellar cast features Dan Lauria (The Wonder Years) and comic genius Brian Doyle-Murray, along with Christine Ebersole and Owen Benjamin, who portray the drop-dead hysterical mother-son dependent duo Carol and Owen Walsh.
You don’t normally think “cultural commentary” when you watch a Paul McCartney video. But, with his latest video release for the song Appreciate, the septuagenarian King of Rock continues to pull new tricks from up his sleeve. This time, a catchy song and dance number transcends the usual McCartney fantasyland, providing some smart commentary on human culture in an increasingly technological environment. In McCartney’s museum, the humans doing everyday things are the displays to be studied by a robot known as “Newman”. An artistic interpretation of left and right brain segments is displayed as McCartney walks this New Man (get it?) through the exhibit, counselling him on human behavior and how to groove. By the end of the video, even the humans are getting into the act, dropping their technological fancies in favor of dancing to the beat.
The robot itself shouldn’t come as a surprise to hardcore McCartney fans. Back in October, when he graced the cover of Rolling Stone McCartney commented on visions of a robot, possibly influenced by one of his favorite stories shared with his 10 year old daughter, Beatrice, is The Iron Giant. In press for the video’s release, McCartney commented:
“I woke up one morning with an image in my head of me standing with a large robot. I thought it might be something that could be used for the cover of my album ‘NEW,’ but instead the idea turned out to be for my music video for ‘Appreciate’. Together with the people who had done the puppetry for the worldwide hit ‘War Horse,’ we developed the robot who became Newman.”
Having developed a keen interest in filmmaking when he was still one of the Beatles, McCartney has come a long way with his films from his first directorial foray, 1967′s Magical Mystery Tour. Far from the acid-induced country bus tour, Appreciate provides an up-tempo perspective on the 21st century from the guy who, not long ago, was singing about his Ever Present Past.
Yet it isn’t Microsoft that’s keeping Macca relevant among Generation Hashtag; cultural commentary aside, McCartney still knows how to rock a beat. Dubbed a “remarkable album” by POPMatters, NEW was ranked the 4th best album of 2013 by Rolling Stone. Transcending the pop fluff that perpetuated so many of his hits in the 70′s and 80′s, McCartney has entered a new era as much motivated by experimentation as reflection.
McCartney is set to tour with Newman in Japan. Perhaps a Godzilla mashup is already in the works.
CNN reports on Eretz Nehederet, Marcus’s first creation.
Omri Marcus is the #1 TV Geek you’ve never heard of. An Israeli journalist-turned-hit TV comedy writer, Marcus made it big thanks to his scientific understanding of comedy, a theory he delves into in a recent interview with Tablet magazine. The dialogue provides a fascinating look at Israeli television, an industry still cutting its teeth thanks to decades of gross nationalization. Until the introduction of foreign channels, the country lived off of one government-run station that began broadcasting in 1968. Color transmissions, a topic of great bureaucratic battles, didn’t begin until 1983. Hitting the industry on the cusp of change, Marcus, 34, helped launch the nation’s greatest comedy hit Eretz Nehederet (This Wonderful Country – think: SNL meets The Daily Show) from a hall closet next to a ladies’ bathroom. Now he’s sought out by TV execs around the globe.
Not ironically (he is a comedian, after all) Marcus made a funny observation about the one thing all TV writers’ rooms have in common:
“One of the best things about my work is that I’ve been to so many writer’s rooms all around the world and they’re basically the same anywhere,” Marcus said. “They are all dominated by a group of neurotic Jews. You know, my dream is to create the world’s largest Jewish writers’ room: German Jews and British Jews and American Jews and Israelis, all sitting together and writing jokes about how they’re not getting laid.”
So, do Jews run TV? Not quite:
“The fact that the world is this global village allows you to reduce the risks in making TV,” Marcus said. “You learn a lot from other countries, and we are all, after all, just storytellers. The stories we tell may differ in details, but they should all be appealing, with well-crafted characters, leaving viewers feeling as if they’ve spent their time wisely watching your show. By learning from each other, we’re able to create great, longer-lasting, and more meaningful content.”
Along with developing a rather scientific dating game involving Google glasses, the Huff-Po contributor maintains BizarreTV, a Facebook page where he chronicles the strangest television shows he’s encountered around the globe. My personal favorite is While You Were Sleeping:
How would you feel if you woke up in the middle of the night and discovered that you’re in the middle of a TV game show? ‘While You Were Sleeping’ is the first game show that gives you money while you’re fast asleep! In each episode one couple plays for a chance to win a cash prize. The twist – only one partner knows what’s going on! To stay in the game they must answer the trivia questions correctly, or risk performing a crazy and hilarious challenge – without waking up their partner!
Other shows featured include The Shower, in which contestants sing in the shower before a live studio audience, Guys in Disguise, a dating show that requires a woman to choose from 2 secret admirers dressed in bizarre costumes and I Wanna Marry “Harry” a new FOX dating game featuring a Prince Harry lookalike.
Currently working under an exclusive, multi-year deal with European media conglomerate ProSieben, chances are Marcus’s shows will be hitting American shores for decades to come.