Tag Archives: hedonism

Demonizing Pleasure Is A Failed Experiment

For some reason, humans have been holding onto this philosophy that pleasure is inherently evil and asceticism is a benchmark of maturity. I could be wrong about this, but I blame the Abrahamic religions for creating and maintaining this trend. I’m just not sure why they decided to wage war on pleasure. Maybe the tribal leaders who wrote those mythologies knew that miserable people were easier to control or maybe they were just as bad at making up morals as they were at making up science.

It’s so ingrained in our culture, it’s law. In the Middle East, women are forced to cover their heads and bodies to hide how pleasurable God made them. In the West, women are forced to cover their breasts and waists to hide how pleasurable God made them. Men have the freedom show off their hair and chests in every country, but if anyone sees their penis, they’ll go to jail quicker than a murderer.

We’re not just afraid of actual genitals. Porn magazines have to be sold wrapped in plastic with a black cover over them, and children aren’t allowed to see anyone other than themselves naked until they’re about eighteen years old. Since everyone can watch prime-time network television, nipples and groins are dogmatically censored as if they were cursed objects that will burn your eyes out if you look at them.

Our phobia of pleasure is so pervasive it extends into the workplace. Men and women have segregated toilets, and the geniuses in human resources set limits on how much flesh customers and workers can expose. Workers have to wear boring uniforms, and any individual who has bought enough credentials to deem themselves worthy to pick their own clothes still has to wear bland professional clothing. Nothing sums up the absurdity of professionalism more than the necktie. It’s uncomfortable and unnecessary, and it’s ironically similar to a noose, but it’s an industry standard.  We shouldn’t be going out of our way to be uncomfortable. We should be wearing pajamas to work.

Another way culture reflects its demonization of pleasure is through strict drug laws. Granted, drugs are self-destructive, which makes them irresponsible, but sending drug users to jail for hurting themselves is like shooting someone in the head to stop them from shooting themselves in the foot. That’s not justice. That’s a vendetta, and it just goes to show how committed humanity is to demonizing pleasure and glorifying suffering that we punish people for feeling euphoria by locking them in a cage with rapists, murders and abusive, unaccountable guards and forbid them from ever looking at pornography.

The ultimate symbol of culture’s rejection of pleasure is the standard we set for politicians and news anchors. They’re supposed to be the ideal human beings…yet they’re expected to act like robots. Watch any news report on any politician and you’ll see a human robot reporting on a human robot. You couldn’t even get hired as a news anchor or politician if the public found out you had too much fun in your past. That’s how serious our fear of pleasure is.

Asceticism is the standard we’ve set for maturity, but asceticism does more damage than it does good. For as long as humans have been demonizing pleasure humans have been needlessly suffering. Asceticism has failed humanity every time it has been tried. It’s still failing today, and it’s going to fail everyone who tries it in the future. Denying yourself pleasure is inherently painful. Demonizing pleasure effectively glorifies pain. Even if that’s not your intention that’s the obvious, inevitable result. The only time pleasure would ever become a problem is when it causes anyone pain, but by denying ourselves pleasure we condemn ourselves to a life of pleasure-less pain, which defeats the purpose of life, and it defeats the purpose of trying to be virtuous.

Denying yourself the freedom to feel pleasure or express yourself is psychologically tantamount to locking yourself in solitary confinement. After your body goes too long without feeling anything it shuts down and doesn’t even try to engage with the world. You die inside and end up sleepwalking through life until your body finally catches up with your mind and dies and puts you out of your misery. Granted, that’s an extreme case, but the standard for maturity and professionalism which our pleasure-hating society has set is closer to that extreme than it is to hedonism, and by numbing ourselves in the name of virtue and professionalism we’re creating a society of miserable, stressed out anxious fun police.

Being a somber stick in the mud doesn’t help anyone or anything. All it does is make life suck. In reality hiding your body and censoring your voice isn’t maturity, it’s oppression, and oppressing yourself isn’t the epitome of maturity; it’s the epitome of personal irresponsibility, and telling people they can’t act free and happy is the epitome of social oppression.

I’m not saying everyone should be wanton hedonists. I’m saying asceticism is as destructive as hedonism. Look, pleasure is fine as long as nobody gets hurt. Nobody gets hurt by seeing a woman’s head or breasts. Nobody gets hurt by seeing genitals. Nobody gets hurt by people dressing comfortably and decorating their office to reflect their personality. Nobody gets hurt by showing up to work or the grocery store in your pajamas. Nobody gets hurt when an individual sits in their home and gets stoned. There’s no logical reason to demonize pleasure, and there’s every reason to demonize asceticism. The simple math is that joy begets joy, and misery begets misery. The best way to navigate the gray area is with reason… not dogmatic mythology-based self-loathing fear-mongering.

 

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Where Does Hedonism Fit In The Meaning Of Life?

Hedonism is defined by Dictionary.com as:

1: the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good.

2: devotion to pleasure as a way of life

 

Renaissance painting of a Greco-Roman party with excessive eating, drinking and sensual behavior

 

There’s a lot humans don’t understand about life. We don’t know why or how the Big Bang occurred. We don’t know why or how DNA exists in the physical universe. We don’t know why or how we exist or what happens to our consciousness after we die. All we know for sure is that we’re here now, and honestly, the all the evidence we’ve found so far points to the conclusion that after we die our consciousness will simply cease to exist as surely and completely as our consciousness didn’t exist before we were born.

Based on what little we currently know about the universe, the evidence points to the conclusion that once we die our consciousness will simply cease to exist and our bodies will simply become food for other smaller life forms, and eventually our bodies will be broken back down to inert matter. In other words, we were born of dirt, and we’ll return to dirt. On many levels, this is subjectively tragic, but how we feel about the situation is irrelevant to the reality of the situation. What is, is, and what will be, will be.  And you’re born and will die not knowing what it is or what it will be. It’s tough, but that’s life.

When you take all of this into consideration, it creates a powerful argument for the conclusion that the best we can hope for in this short, difficult life is to enjoy ourselves as much as possible. And while some people cling to faith to give themselves the illusion of certainty in life, pleasure is an immediate certainty. This raises the question, Why not have as much physically rewarding fun as possible while you’re here?

 

"Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die." Kurt vonnegut

 

I can’t empirically prove why we shouldn’t devote our lives to the pursuit of pleasure. All I can do is raise more questions, and the question every hedonist must constantly wrestle with is, “What if there’s something more rewarding I could be doing with my life?” which leads to the next question, “What could possibly be more rewarding than physical pleasure?” And even if there were solid answers to either of those questions we’ll always be left with the question, “So what? What if I personally choose to devote my life to hedonism instead of some other unprovable philosophical ideal? If that’s my choice then what’s wrong with that?” I don’t have an answer to that.

As I said earlier, my current theory on life is that the best we can hope to do is fulfill our potential. This theory doesn’t offer much in the way of guidance though because humans are capable of doing and becoming so much. We’re also capable of not doing and not becoming even more. So if anyone asks you what your potential is, you wouldn’t be wrong to reply, “Whatever I choose.” But if you answer that then you would be wise to ask yourself, “What should I choose to do or become?” Well, there’s no sign painted in the stars telling you what you should do. If you don’t know what you should do then you can at least ask yourself, “What do I want to do or become?”

Your wants are defined by your personality, your identity, your uniqueness. By identifying and fulfilling your wants you’re expressing yourself, you’re exercising your individual existence. Regardless of whether or not your wants turn out to be “right” or “wrong” by some cosmic standard, by identifying and fulfilling your wants you still exercised your existence, and on some level, that’s more admirable than enslaving yourself to doing what someone else once said was right. Of course, you could also argue that The Good Guy’s slaves chose to be mental slaves; they even made considerable personal sacrifices doing what they believed was right and should be rewarded accordingly. And sure, there’s logic behind that point of view that gives it credence…

But let’s take a step back for a moment. Consider the age-old argument of nature v.s. nurture. Do humans behave the way they do because that’s how they were born to behave or because that’s how they were taught to behave? When a child growing up in Saudi Arabia “chooses” to become Muslim, was that really their choice or was that the result of indoctrination? If a middle-class white boy in Texas becomes a pseudo-Christian who acknowledges the divinity of Christ but doesn’t put much more effort into their religion other than that and voting against gay rights, was that truly their choice or was it the result of indoctrination? When a child from a broken home turns to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain of a lifetime spent receiving discouraging feedback, is that a choice or the result of indoctrination? I don’t have the final answers to those questions, especially since those issues aren’t black and white. They’re as complicated and gray as life itself.

One thing I suspect is true is that the better you understand the universe, challenge your beliefs, define yourself, and achieve self-actualization, the more truly your actions will be your own. The more your actions are your own the more you will express and exercise your existence by everything you do. I don’t know how much work that takes or where the finish line is. I don’t know what a self-actualized person would or should do with themselves after defining themselves. I don’t know how much fun they’ll have. I don’t know how much hedonism they’ll embrace or avoid, and I don’t know if there are eternal consequences for either path. What I do know is that life is short. We only get so many minutes, days and years to do so many things. If you spend all that time having fun, then you won’t have much time left to tweeze your identity apart from the environment you were raised in or to refine your wants outside of how you were indoctrinated by society. And if you don’t do that then I don’t know how much of “you” is really “you.” I don’t know what you could accomplish in this world without being yourself, but I would strongly question the the immediate personal value of any choices you make regardless of how fun, socially acceptable, or productive they may be. Regardless of how much fun you had or how much of a difference you made in the world, I would strongly question whether or not you ever truly lived because there was never truly a “you” to live. There was no expression of yourself, there was merely an expression of an existing society.

So should you devote your life to hedonism? I can’t answer that question, but at this point, my personal recommendation is to use the time you have here to defining yourself. How you do that is up to you, it’s your life after all, and it’s nobody’s responsibility but your own.

 

"Alcohol is not the answer. It just makes you forget the question."

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