MY QUESTION AS I REACH OLD AGE: Given the inevitability of social collapse, maybe we should live out our declining years as disciples of the pleasure principle and to hell with the future?
MY WISE FRIEND’S RESPONSE AND CHALLENGING REFLECTION ON THE QUESTION WHICH I PUT TO HIM:
Do I detect some post-Methodist disdain for pleasure?
I wonder what a world run according to pleasure might be like? It’s so hard to imagine, conditioned as we are to believe life is about struggle, self-sacrifice and deferral? The mainstream religions are strongly opposed to any notion that life could or should be about pleasure, and when did any politician refer to it? One of the phrases I most disliked from the last Labour government was “hard-working families”, which seemed to encapsulate an appallingly narrow view of life, as well as contradictory ideas of both undesirable and necessary toil. Why should life be about working hard? That idea has been propagated by Christianity, capitalism and communism, which must indicate that something is seriously wrong!
I think this denial of pleasure also largely explains modern society’s strange attitudes toward sex. It’s one thing that’s rarely discussed openly and honestly, though of course we are assailed on all sides by sexualised images. I’m endlessly perplexed why people should disapprove of homosexuality, and I can only conclude that they have found no genuine pleasure in sex. Contented people have no desire to repress others.
My own life has been significantly conditioned by my parents’ inability to discern and seek any real pleasure in life. For them everything was a means to an end, and those ends never seemed attainable in this life. But our lives are so short, so why should we not want what we might attain right here, right now (provided that it doesn’t cause suffering to others)?
Of course you will say that the modern world’s behaviour is indeed causing suffering for others: for the poor and future generations. But my point is that we are busy trashing the planet for no good reason. There is now much evidence that economic well-being ceases to add to happiness after a certain point, and we might reasonably conclude that our society’s excessive consumption is unconscious compensation for our pleasure-free, stress-filled, overworked lives. Money itself is largely a surrogate for all those things we can’t directly experience for ourselves.
Politicians cannot talk about pleasure because really it’s about what we can do for ourselves. Our “political selves” are weirdly two-dimensional, but we are multi-dimensional beings. I’m becoming less and less interested in what any politician or religious person has to say; I’d rather lie in the sun, listen to music or go for a run! This is probably how I shall live out my “declining years”, though I shall be holding off the “decline” as long as possible!