Every so often, fresh realizations of freedom, understanding, and creativity burst forth from religious, repressive societies and bring refreshing winds of change to the social landscape. I’ve been noticing the undercurrents of a new wave of this, and I refer to it as ethical hedonism.
It’s actually nothing new, just as art and literature were nothing new during the Renaissance. It’s simply expressing itself with more conviction and understanding. To the contrary of the shrieking of overzealous morality police, we now are starting to get it. It’s okay to live such a lifestyle. We can each be free and enjoy all of life’s pleasures while still being an ethical, moral person. We understand that repression leads to excess and aberration, and when one allows themselves to explore pleasure, whether it is food, sex, drink, travel, or whatever, they free themselves of the mental and emotional baggage that creates aberrant behavior.
Sadly, we live in a society which gives a great deal of mixed messages: Be yourself, but not different. Be a considerate lover, but don’t have sex for pleasure. Think for yourself, but obey your pastor and President. Embrace diversity, but for God’s sake you better be white, male, heterosexual and Christian if you want to be respected.
So, how do we determine what is ethical in such a morass of intolerance, fear, blame, and confusion? Simple: consent. If you are an adult, it is your birthright simply by existing that you should be able to do with your body, mind and property as you wish, provided that you are not interfering with anyone else’s ability to consent with their own.
We are told that if you enjoy sex a lot, you are a creep or a slut. If you are male, and you seek to enjoy lots of sex, you are a lascivious, perverted, potential rapist. If you are a woman who enjoys lots of sex, you have no self-respect and are one step away from being a whore. Both mindsets are dead wrong. Whether you are male or female, enjoyment of sex is perfectly natural. It’s wired into us. As long as we are responsible, safe, honest, and respectful to each other, what’s the problem?
Of course, when social and religious repression is being burst through and one is waking up from it, they often go on an initial binge and completely let loose, sometimes forgetting responsibility or restraint. They hopefully come to the conclusion sometime soon that it’s not about having as much pleasure as you can, but thoroughly enjoying what pleasures you have.
Part of ethical hedonism is the understanding that we don’t have to be monogamous. As long as we are up front with each potential new partner that they are not the only one, and as long as they are okay with that, there’s no problem. Of course, many people are rather inclined towards monogamy, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. The point is honesty, freedom, and respect.
People make the mistake of getting head over heels and making a promise to another that they will be the only sexual partner for life. Given our nature and the variety of factors that come into play in a person’s life, it’s a pretty unrealistic expectation. If people want to commit to each other, that is good. However, it would make more sense if the commitment was made in the spirit of love for one another and respect for their own sovereignty over their own body, mind and life.
This means that it would be more realistic for people to commit to each other for as long as both people feel it is right to do so. It may work out for life, and that would be awesome. It also might not, and it’s better to have that freedom of choice so that people can be honest with each other without a sense of servitude or duty. Love should never be a duty, but a gift.
When this kind of commitment is made, people are together with the understanding that the other person is with them because they want to be, not because they think they have to be. It creates an environment where honesty and respect can truly thrive.
We’re made to feel that there’s something wrong with us if we don’t want to settle into a marriage and pump out the obligatory 2.5 children and strive for the CEO job while accumulating all the status symbols we can go into debt for. Sounds like prison to me.
Remember, those ideals were fabricated by people. There’s no inherent rightness about them. It’s all made up. It’s just that it’s been enforced for so long that it’s become tradition. We think it’s the right way of living because that’s what has come at us from every direction since birth. It’s okay to wake up now. If you’ve been waiting for someone to tell you that, well, here it is: it’s okay to enjoy your life! It’s okay to have pleasure! It’s perfectly fine to indulge yourself. Just be honest and responsible about it, that’s all.
You don’t have to be tied down. You also don’t have to go get laid every night. You don’t have to stay away from delicious, rich foods. You also don’t have to gorge yourself like it’s going to all disappear tomorrow. You don’t have to work the day job and slave away according to a ridiculous “work ethic”. You can set up streams of income that flow to you effortlessly. You don’t have to bullshit yourself anymore. It’s about choice. It’s about moderation. It’s about freedom in its truest sense.
Perhaps the biggest fallacy of living as an ethical hedonist is the accusation that a person who lives such a lifestyle is avoiding responsibility. It is quite the opposite. When you marry, you’ve made a commitment for life, and the other person has to be with you, or risk being unfaithful or dishonest. One ends up putting up with a lot more negative and unethical behavior because they feel duty-bound to stay.
When you don’t agree to be with another for life, you can’t get away with being rude, inconsiderate or dishonest. You have to stay on your toes and be respectful because they don’t have to be with you. They can go at any time. They don’t have to put up with your crap, and you don’t have to put up with theirs. Each person bears full responsibility for what they say and do. One can get away with not being responsible for words and actions in a marriage, due to the permanence of the agreement. Sex can become obligatory and redundant, rather than a choice and a pleasure.
In many ways, a great deal of our commitments actually remove responsibility rather than place it on our shoulders. If you have your own streams of income going, it is up to you to keep them going. If you get a regular job, your employer takes care of the details and decides whether or not you even get paid, and how much. All you have to do is show up for work.
If you place yourself on a restrictive diet, you are following a prescribed set of rules which tell you what you can and can’t eat, how much, and when. If one doesn’t place themselves on such a diet, they are responsible for making sure they listen to their body and not give it more or less nutrition than it needs.
When one chooses to travel and enjoy the world, they are now responsible of constantly figuring out where they will sleep, how they will get their next meal, figuring out safe routes, learning new languages and customs, and presenting themselves in a much more ethical light.
When one lives by default and stays home all the time, they have their same nightly bed. They can just open the fridge for their next meal. They don’t have to worry about being considerate about the languages and customs of others, as they are in their own element. They know the safe places and the places to avoid. It becomes a comfy, predictable zone where they don’t have to worry about the responsibilities of taking care of most of the details of their lives. They go to work, come home to the spouse, get their (mis)information fed to them through the tv or internet, eat a meal that they are reasonably sure is safe for consumer consumption, and sleep on the same bed, only to wake up and do the same thing tomorrow…and the next day…ad nausaeum.
So little to have to think about. Most things are already set and predictable and so many choices don’t have to be made.
If one chooses this kind of life, good for them. It’s their life. However, one shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that those who do not share the same kind of commitments are somehow less responsible, or seek to avoid responsibility.
Like most things worth doing, living a life of ethical hedonism isn’t easy, but it’s so worth it. The rewards are greater and more fulfilling. The experiences will leave cherished memories and few regrets. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it would make one a better person than they otherwise might have been.
You become more responsible, more capable, more confident, more skilled, more fulfilled, and more compassionate and understanding. It’s hard to bitch about the petty things in life and become so impatient and self-centered when you’ve seen the conditions that most others endure.
The things you come home and hear people complaining about makes them seem petulant and pathetic. If they knew what suffering really was, they’d never throw a fit at a restaurant, get pissed off and impatient in line, treat others like nonexistent servants, or heap expectations upon others. With experience comes perspective. Everything just seems to roll off your back. People may look at you and think you don’t care. No, you simply understand. It’s life. So be it. Not worth getting worked up about.
There are two things that every person would do well to eradicate as much as possible in their lives: worry and blame. If you’re worried, you’re not here and now, where life is. You’re in negative fantasies. That’s all. If you are blaming, you’re not taking responsibility. This is the core of ethical hedonism. Living your life! Not placing it everywhere except here and now, where you are.
Exploring one’s interests and pleasures with honesty and careful respect of others does take skill and is a great responsibility, however, one thing is almost certain: when the time comes that you are about to leave this world, provided you are fortunate enough to have the time to reflect, you can look back with a smile and much less regret than those who chose to live by default. The things they put off and ended up never doing, you experienced. The foods they only read about, you ate. The fantasies they left unfulfilled are your memories. Their postcards are your stomping grounds. Their wishes are your reality.
© 2015 William Suphan
- Don’t Fight Bad People, Fight Bad Ideas
- Ideological Feminism