Chapter 3: Competition

Russell suggest that men find the greatest cause of dissatisfaction in "the struggle for life." In a certain sense, this may be true - but in great many instances men do not succeed by causing others to fail, but by applying themselves to a productive activity.

This notion seems particularly foolish among the businessmen and entrepreneurs - few men of that class have ever died of hunger. Even those that were "ruined" remained much better off in terms of their material prosperity than men who have never had the means to found a business at all.

The risk in struggling for financial success "is not that they will fail to get their breakfast next morning, but that they will fail to outshine their neighbors." Many such men could live very comfortably on what they have, and risk this security in a misguided pursuit to gain more than they need.

He speaks at some length about the pursuit of wealth: that the effort that men put into this consumes their time, such that they become estranged from families and friends, and regard the wonders of nature with a gaze of utter boredom as they reduce all they see to its potential for profit.

He mentions families of Americans touring Europe - the mother and children "in ecstasy" at the experience of seeing the old world, the father looking bored and disconnected and likely wondering "what are they doing in the office at this moment?"

He also looks to the matter of investments, in which many would seek an 8% return from a risky proposition than accept 4% from a safe one - and the consequence is continual worry that the investment will be lost. And what use does an investor make of his profits except to reinvest them, to be again at risk, for the sake of having more money to invest yet again, until a poor choice or a turn of bad fortune consumes it. He who makes a great profit gains some self-esteem, perhaps, but never makes use of his money.

He also admits that there may be some security, particularly when a man who suffered greatly through a childhood of poverty seeks to build a fortune to spare his own children the same hardship - but the money becomes an end in itself and he never quite enjoys the fruits of his labor. He does not deny that money is very capable of increasing happiness, but only up to a certain point.

But it is not merely the professions of trade that have about them the tendency to become obsessive. Artists and scientists suffer the same fate, though they generally measure their success in the vague terms of recognition and acclaim.

Americans as a culture have little idea how to enjoy themselves at all. From a very early age boys are focused on education that prepares them for some profitable vocation. The professor is become "the slave of the businessman" and education is simply a training camp for the factories and offices.

He asserts that "education used to be conceived very largely as a training in the capacity of enjoyment [of] more delicate kinds that are not open to wholly uncultivated people." Men were taught to take pleasure in literature, art, and music. But the attitude has changed to ask "What use could such knowledge be? It could not add to anybody's income."

The trouble does not lie merely within the individual, as isolated cases, but buy a broader philosophy that takes a mercenary approach to life, as a competition in which the victor seeks respect, if only from himself, by counting the coins he has won, ever jealous of the success of other men whom he perceives to be his rivals. And in doing so, wins his own misery as well.