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To all my European friends: Sorry for spying on you.

I think I may have figured out the problem. You see, roughly half the citizens of my country are content to mind their own business and cultivate their gardens (in Voltaire’s sense). The other half are haunted by the deeply disturbing fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.*

Yes, half of my countrymen and women are Puritans. Like hedonism, Puritanism involves an intense preoccupation with pleasure. Hedonists try to maximize their own, while Puritans try to minimize everyone else’s. It is widely known (or suspected) that Europeans drink more wine than we do; that they have better cheese, better bread, better beer and, indeed, better pastries. Most horrifyingly of all, it is rumored that they have more sex than Americans do, and fewer assault rifles.

Puritanism, by its very nature, involves voyeurism; hence the need to spy on those who are having more fun. No, Americans are not tapping Angela Merkel’s phone because they want to know the inside dope on the Free Trade Agreement. They want to know what she’s having for dessert.


A bakery in Munich. Click photo for source.

*This phrase borrowed and slightly adapted from H. L. Mencken