An unhealthy culture

marco battaglini

Artwork by Marco Battaglini

I came across an interesting comment on the Facebook page Traditionalist Western Art (I don’t agree with their overall philosophy, I follow it for the artworks), which was made in response to a shared article entitled “The Individualism of the Herd”. The title of the article reads like an oxymoron, and the article itself aims to convince you that the past has been abandoned, and that previously condemned transgressions of social norms are the new orthodoxy. It’s one of those articles that preaches to an audience that may already agree with the author. The comment I found on Facebook asked what exactly the author stood for, but it’s this quote that had me thinking:

“Culture and the individual should by no means be at odds: A healthy culture generates a healthy individual, who supports a healthy culture. You cannot have a healthy culture without healthy individuals. An individual, however, may thrive despite an unhealthy culture; though the unhealthy culture does all it can to thwart this.”

This had me thinking. What constitutes a healthy culture? What constitutes an unhealthy culture? Then I considered the kind of society we inhabit today, and I consider it to be the most obvious example of a very unhealthy culture. Why? Well I think it’s obvious to all that the culture we inhabit has gone to the doghouse. Everybody knows it deep down, but they’re afraid to say it because when they speak out about the state of our current culture, they’re quickly dismissed as reactionary old fogeys. But to explain how, let’s look at the signs.

The first sign I can see is the enshrinement of narcissism. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have already facilitated an environment in which we broadcast ourselves to the world, but on those sites many of us cultivate a fabrication of ourselves. We broadcast the views, thoughts, and aspects of our lives that we believe everyone will approve. It’s a quest for recognition and validation that arguably stems from the daycare craze, when the mainstream media pushed the narrative that kids are fine if you deposit them in daycare, where they are deprived of the parental attention they so desperately need in order to develop into functioning adults.

I also believe that many of the mass shooters of modern history were deeply depressed narcissists. For example, the recent Weis Market Massacre, the perpetrator of which, one Randy Stair, left behind a disturbing series of videos hinting that he was going to go on a killing spree. The way I see it, Stair was basically a disturbed individual convinced of his lack of self-worth, who desperately wanted to make his mark on the world. His explanation also convinces me of his narcissistic tendencies. After all, how self-centered must you be for you to see yourself as the “last soul alive”? And he’s not alone. What people like Randy Stair, Elliot Rodger, Seung-hui Cho and the Columbine killers had in common was not just their profound hatred of the world around them, but that their rage was fuelled by their rampant narcissism, which leads them to blame society for their own failings. Of course, every time this happens the left uses this to push for tighter gun control regulations, but guns aren’t the problem. For the gun control argument to make sense, there would have to be record of the kind of mass shooting problem we have today existing prior to the 1950’s, or even as far back as the revolutionary era. The problem is that these killers were raised in a culture that coddles them into thinking that they are the centre of the universe, all because some thirty or forty-odd years ago, parents decided that the effective method of parenting was “too harsh”, and flocked to television’s pop parenting experts for guidance. These are the generation of parents who helped to create this phenomenon. Gun control advocacy is merely a convenient way for progressives and liberals alike to avoid the difficult questions of the culture they helped to create.

The next sign I can think of is a general antipathy towards the value of hard work (which I will likely touch upon in a later post). We used to teach our kids that if we work hard we can achieve anything. Whether or not that was entirely true, we taught them that because we wanted them to work hard and earn a good living. But apparently that’s a lie now. Why even bother working when the government can look after you? That appears to be the prevailing attitude now, at least in the West. Thanks to generous welfare handouts, we’re in a situation where you practically make more money on welfare than you would make if you actually got a job. It’s the same in Britain. Indeed, in my country, the Conservatives are usually condemned by the mainstream chattering class because they have the temerity to make welfare cuts. I agree that austerity cuts are the wrong way to reduce spending, but it seems like in my country there is a zeitgeist in mainstream culture that is in favour of increased spending, and preserving and/or expanding the welfare state. This is one of the biggest reasons that a Marxist could likely become Prime Minister in the next election. Young people in particular grew attached to Jeremy Corbyn (and Bernie Sanders in America) because he is offering them free stuff. This antipathy for hard work and sensible economics, and the exaltation of mindless indulgence, can best be summed up as “most people just want the easy way out”.

Speaking of indulgence, I feel that personal responsibility is something that is looked down upon these days. Instead of allowing people to make their own choices and take responsibility for them, we try to make a society wherein you can’t choose at all. I saw this all the time when it comes to so-called junk food, alcohol and smoking. Instead of encouraging the state to ban or restrict our ability to consume things that are bad for them, why don’t we simply let people make unhealthy choices and face the consequences themselves. If people want to screw up their own bodies it’s not the state’s business, or at least it wouldn’t be were it not for the existence of state-run healthcare. More to the point, marriage, the ultimate contract of responsible adults, is now frowned upon. Marriage is regularly vilified in Hollywood films and TV shows, and has been for a long time. We’re told that marriage is a prison where we “lose our personal freedom” (translation: we have to be responsible adults, therefore marriage sucks), when in reality, there is proof that married couples are actually happier than people who are single. If marriage is such a bad deal, what’s supposed to be the alternative? The reigning culture instead not only recommends promiscuous casual sex, a message expounded by today’s pop musicians (e.g. Katy Perry and Ariana Grande), but also somehow manages to make sex itself meaningless. Small wonder that when young people follow the message of pop starlets, they end up being more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. As imperfect and difficult as marriage can be for a lot of people, I believe that the alternative that popular culture is suggesting is far worse in the long run, and the embrace of the alternative can only lead to ruin.

The final sign that comes to my mind is the demand for conformity. It would make sense that in a healthy culture, people would embrace said culture voluntarily, and would defend it if the time came. An unhealthy culture has no real value, and so people won’t really care for it, and can’t think of an argument in its defence. Hence, an unhealthy culture requires conformity in order to survive. Consider the rise of the social justice warriors which began a few years ago, and the people who try to get conservatives fired from their jobs. Consider the recent push for increased censorship by Western governments, with Germany wanting to censor social media, Britain’s Prime Minister wanting to regulate the Internet, and American pundits attempting and failing to use the “fake news” narrative to try and get alternative media outlets shut down. This would probably be what the poster meant when he suggested that the unhealthy culture does all it can to thwart the development of the individual.

So with that in mind, it is no wonder why I consider today’s culture to be extremely unhealthy. It has abandoned the very principles upon which it was founded, and we are already witnessing the deterioration of society as a whole. It may yet be possible that we will enter a point where the culture itself is a hinderance to the individual. The culture and the individual would be at odds with one another because the culture would be hostile to the individual. When the culture is hostile to individual expression, there can be no liberty, and if we get to that point, the path towards self-destruction is sealed.

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Rethinking the ideological battle lines

left-right spectrum

The old left-right spectrum, which nowadays is woefully inaccurate.

In the old days, it was assumed that ideology ran on a linear spectrum of left and right, with moderates in the centre. In the public consciousness politics generally came down to “conservatives” versus “liberals”, with conservatives on the right end of the spectrum and liberals on the left. From my observations, this was particularly pronounced in the culture war of the 2000’s. If you supported the government, supported religion (particularly Christianity) and favoured interventionist foreign policy, you were a conservative, while if you opposed war, favoured the separation of church and state, and distrusted the government, you were a liberal. Ah, those were simpler times.

However, now this would prove to be inaccurate, as the new culture war of the current decade has unravelled. Now it’s the “liberals” who are supporting bigger government and pushing for ever greater levels of political correctness, while the “conservatives” sound more like classical liberals. In the establishment at large, both sides in the traditional spectrum seem to want the same thing – bigger government on behalf of large corporations. Today’s leftists across the world have alienated themselves further and further from the common man, proving the inevitable backlash from the extreme right, which often proves just as bad as the social justice warriors, both of which quickly prove the validity of horseshoe theory (which I fervently subscribe too).

For those who may not be aware, horseshoe theory is a theory of ideology in political science which argues that left and right are like the ends of a horseshoe, in that the further along the left or right you go, the more closely similar they are. In the end, those in the far-left and the far-right both arrive at the same point, saying much of the same things but employing different rhetoric as they do it. In other words, when taken to their extremes, both the left and the right are exactly the same.

horseshoe theory

Given how much Stormfront sounds like right-wing SJW’s, this makes much more sense.

For a more nuanced take on the left-right spectrum, the horseshoe model is ideal. However, I would like to suggest another model. Allow me to introduce you to the political compass, which has been around since 2001. It was coined by the British-based Political Compass Organisation with the intention of helping people to better understand where they stand politically, and the kind of company they might keep. Simply put, it’s a multi-axis grid that is split by two axes. The left-right axis represents the traditional left-right spectrum, which is a measure of economic policy rather than social policy. In this sense, those on the left wing of the spectrum favour greater government regulation of the economy, which they feel should be run by a collective body. By contrast, those on the right wing of the spectrum feel that the economy should be left in the hands of competing individuals, organisations and market forces. At the very far end of the left wing is where you’ll run into communism, a system where the state has total control of the economy. At the very far end of the right wing is where you’ll find laissez-faire capitalism, which is essentially capitalism without any regulation from the state whatsoever.

Social policy is measured by the up-down axis, which, in my opinion, reflects the current culture war we are witnessing – the conflict between libertarianism and authoritarianism, or as I might put it, individualism and collectivism. Those on the upper half of the spectrum are authoritarians, as they believe that rules and traditions should be obeyed. Authoritarians believe that the state should have more power, and that the state has a right to intervene in people’s lives. I have reason to suspect that some of them believe that this power can be used for good, but an authoritarian always believes that he or she will be wielding that power. At the very top end of the authoritarian side is fascism, a system led by a dictator with absolute power, and I must stress that you will find fascists on both the left and the right of the spectrum (as I explained with horseshoe theory). Those on the lower half of the spectrum are libertarians, as they believe in the sanctity of personal freedom and individual rights. Libertarians believe the power of the state should be reduced, and that government should have little involvement in our lives. At the very bottom end of the libertarian side is anarchism, a system wherein the state is completely abolished. Now that that’s out of the way, I can go on to explain the four quadrants in more depth.

On the top left you have the authoritarian left. A left-wing authoritarian typically believes in a planned economy controlled by the state (sometimes called a command economy), and that states should control businesses and industries. This is where you’ll find the communists, Marxists, socialists, progressives, neofeminists, proponents of Keynesian economics, and of course the social justice warriors. Famous examples would include Joseph Stalin, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Bernie Sanders, Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. I would personally count Anita Sarkeesian here as well because of how her brand of feminism, in terms of narrative, is very much akin to Marxism, same goes with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. A debatable example of a left-wing authoritarian would be Adolf Hitler, who, despite the popular misconception that he was far-right, was essentially a socialist who believed in a command economy. Speaking of Germany, I believe that the anti-fascist movement in Germany is becoming a left-wing authoritarian movement, as they have placed racist anti-white posters on public property, and have been known to threaten anyone who disagrees with them, ironically becoming the very thing they have set out to fight against (I’ll talk more about that in a future post).

On the top right you have the authoritarian right. A right-wing authoritarian typically believes in the legitimacy of the state, but is in favour of the free market. You’ll typically find them placing emphasis on social and religious norms, whereas many left-wing dictatorships attempted to excise religion altogether (such as in the Cultural Revolution of communist China). They are usually sceptical of social change, and believe in maintaining the status quo, which is why they are so reviled in the mainstream media. This is where you’ll find the neo-liberals, neo-conservatives, traditional conservatives, paleo-conservatives, oligarchists, religious fundamentalists of all persuasions (but especially Christianity and Islam), monarchists, reactionaries, neo-Nazis, nationalists, and the alt-right. Famous example would include Margaret Thatcher, Augusto Pinochet, Lee Kuan Yew, Richard Nixon, David Cameron, Hillary Clinton, Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush (and his father), and Donald Trump. Pretty much all the Republican nominees except Rand Paul fit into this category, and this is especially true of Ted Cruz, a hardline conservative who fits in perfectly with the GOP. You’ll also find corporatism thrives here, because for the neo-cons, the “free market” allows them to subsidise the military-industrial complex and grant corporate welfare to the multi-national entities. The extreme racists of Stormfront, televangelists, Islamic terrorists, as well as the neo-con sock puppets at Fox News, could be found here as well.

On the bottom left you have the libertarian left. A left-wing libertarian believes in individual rights, but is still concerned with society at large. They promote personal freedom with emphasis on also promoting equality, and they typically advocate for reducing the power of large corporations and protecting worker’s rights. This is where you’ll find the social liberals, libertarian socialists, anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-communists, and choice feminists. Famous examples include Emma Goldman, Christina Hoff Sommers, Noam Chomsky, Nelson Mandela, Bill Maher, Jill Stein (from the US Green Party), Thomas Paine, and Carl Benjamin (the YouTuber better known as Sargon of Akkad). Some of the more moderate socialists and progressives may be found here as well.

Finally, on the bottom right, you have the libertarian right. A right-wing libertarian is the definition of “fiscally conservative and socially liberal”, as they advocate capitalist economics and have a generally liberal stance on social issues (for example, they ardently defend the right to free speech). They stress the importance of individual rights, and do not trust a large government to protect them at all. They also believe that state regulation hinders the ability of a free market to grow. This is where you’ll find the mainstream libertarians, free market capitalists, classical liberals, objectivists, anarcho-capitalists, and a new phenomenon described as “cultural libertarians”. Famous examples include Rand Paul (and his father Ron Paul), Gary Johnson, Austin Peterson, Ayn Rand, Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig Von Mises, and debatably Milo Yiannopoulos. You may find some disaffected Republicans, such as those in the Tea Party movement, in this quadrant.

This is a vastly superior model that addresses the inadequacies of the old-fashioned left-right narrative and I feel it reflects the real culture war between individualism and collectivism. But, of course, the mainstream media doesn’t like nuance, so they just use the old system so they can get people to choose a side and fight each other to the bitter end. They’re duping people into accepting a grossly oversimplified ideological narrative, and the result is senseless, especially when you consider that anyone can use the political compass. I took the test on the Political Compass site myself (and if you want to, you can too if you click here), and here is the result.

political_compass

As you can see, I qualify as a right-wing libertarian, but I’m so close to the left that I tend to consider myself a centrist. You could call me a moderate libertarian if you want, because I tend to focus on issues rather than ideology. In days gone by I would have been a left-wing libertarian, and I was certainly this as a teenager (by which point I leaned pretty far to the left). However, over the years I’ve been growing very tired of the insanity exhibited by the political left, and ultimately jumped ship to the other side, mainly because it turned out their arguments were more rational. As a right-wing libertarian, I invariably fall under the same category as the Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, who is more of a moderate than the two mainstream candidates (one of them a neo-liberal and the other a neo-conservative).

Of course, I fall under this category chiefly because I believe in individual rights and the responsibility and agency of the individual. I don’t care about race, gender and sexual orientation as the left does. In fact, I reject identity politics as a whole. I also believe that socialism is a very bad idea, and it only serves to take responsibility away from individuals. Therefore, in my opinion, socialism goes against the core values of libertarianism. That’s why I prefer capitalism, because it creates the conditions in which we have the advanced society that we have at all.

I know that this been a very drawn out post, but I think I’ve illustrated my point quite well. The culture war we know is now very different to what it was a generation ago, and the battle lines have been redrawn. Yet the mainstream media and the political establishment would much rather remove complexity from political debate, because it’s much easier to control a population that does not understand the big picture than it is for them to present a reasoned argument to the public. For those who argue that ideology does not matter, I say that it in fact does matter, but only if you can understand your ideological position can you wield it effectively in the world of politics.

Smart thinking

science and religion

“Science and Religion” by Chris Johnston

Whenever I go into Waterstone’s, I always get at least one glance at the so-called “smart thinking” section, and as you might expect it’s filled with books about science, but they share this category with books about politics, economy, and popular ideology. They’ve got books by Richard Dawkins, Charles Darwin and Michio Kaku in the same group as books by Noam Chomsky, and an assortment of left-wing authors. Back when I was in school, there used to be separate shelves for politics, science and economy, or at least that’s how I remember it. To me, it seems like the store seems to have given in to the common mentality that scientific thinking and left-wing philosophy are automatically intelligent. By that logic anything else must be balderdash, except that’s not entirely true.

The modern mentality appears to be that science is the new religion, and liberalism the new conservatism. Of course, it was bound to happen. They both offer a path to enlightenment that requires you to have some form of trust in it, and its advocates. In today’s world, science is assumed to have all the answers, and people who don’t trust it are generally assumed to be morons. A thousand years ago, it was thought that God knew everything, and since the church claimed to know the word of God, anyone who didn’t trust or follow the church was shunned, and sometimes condemned as a heretic.

In a liberal society, most conservatives are often labelled as morons. Often, this is purely because of the political narrative of the times. The common folk have shifted towards liberal values, and so the conservatives must be evil (and in fairness, there are many conservative politicians who really are evil). In the past, conservatism would have been considered smart thinking, and liberalism was considered the domain of the working poor. At this point, what we would now call “smart thinking” is merely a difference in narrative. For me, it’s getting to be a worrying case of people using legitimate ideas and philosophies to make themselves sound intelligent.

It has often been argued that modern society is getting dumber, often in a very debatable context (often pointing only to America as an example). In my opinion, that would certainly explain why science is touted so highly by anyone who wants to look smart, but the problem is that most people like science only because of the flashy facts. They never think about the little things, or about the various kinds of sciences that don’t sound as attractive (arachnology, urology, and neuroparasitology come to mind). When it comes to science, I think most people don’t love science as much as it can seem. They just look at its butt while its walking by. Somehow, I think it’s the same with left-wing politics.

Another problem is that most people aren’t listening to real science. They’re listening to scientific theories that have been deliberately sensationalized for the purpose of drawing mass appeal. That is what we would call “pop science”, and it usually manifests in the form of news outlets reporting studies that sound either too good to be true, or too exaggeratedly terrifying to be real. You usually find this being trotted out on morning news shows desperate for filler material, and it’s bad when you consider that many viewers have continually confused pop science with real science, and even after it’s proven false, people continue to believe newer and more bizarre claims passed off as scientific studies.

At this point, I could probably make the argument that people tend to take things out of hand, and this case, science has been put on the same pedestal as God, and established theory the new holy writ. The only difference is that most of the Western world don’t go about killing those who disagree with us. However, I think we should ask ourselves – is it really smart thinking just because it sounds like the right thing? Furthermore, is it really smart thinking if it’s just popular philosophy? I realize that I may have opened more questions than I answered here tonight, but these are questions I’d prefer people to answer themselves, because if anything, smart thinking would require one to think independently.

Why cynicism is overrated

diogenes

“Diogenes of Sinope” by Jules Bastien-Lepage (1873)

Lately I’ve been thinking very hard about where I stand in the world, and I feel like I’m starting to feel disenchanted with the idea of cynicism. In fact, recent events in my life up to this point left my riding on a new wave of optimism. When I eventually came to, I weighed that positive outlook against the previous outlook, for which I had been known in the early college days, and I asked myself, do I really want to be cynical in the years that haven’t happened yet?

I look around me and I find that cynicism has become the hip philosophy for today’s generation of youngsters, but I also realized that being cynical is completely easy. From my experience, it doesn’t require much critical thought at all, and is usually based on the idea that the world is a broken shell of empty promises. It’s a worryingly easy trap for the next generation to fall into, and that sucks because when you’re cynical, whether you describe yourself as that or not, you can very often end up being a pessimist as well if you don’t see anything positive at all. The same thing happened to me a lot when I was still a teenager (and even more so during the beginning of my twenties), and I don’t think it was a very productive outlook.

It’s easy to assume that a cynical outlook is smarter than the more optimistic outlook. The truth is that neither outlook is smarter than the other, but I find that the more cynical outlook does not offer any solutions. It offers a ton of problems but no alternatives of its own. The only useful thing a cynical outlook teaches is to not trust everything with blind faith, but it’s a lesson that’s worth nothing if you end up dismissing everything without thought. Cynicism is nothing without the power to rationally discern what you can and cannot trust, and without rational judgement, cynicism always leads to the kind of jaded negativity that has now become trendy in the age of social media.

It’s also very naive to say that cynicism is about knowing better. After all, almost anyone can be cynical. I’ve found that when you’re cynical, you’re not making the best of the opportunities that can make your life better, and there’s no better example of this than university. I used to be extremely cynical about the idea of going to university because of the alcohol culture, the financial difficulties, and the fact that everyone wanted to go. Now I realize that this cynicism towards university was merely a mask for the fact that I wasn’t ready. Now that I feel I am, I think it’s going to be the best thing that will ever happen to me. Given that I spent three years being cynical about it rather than actually looking into the facts, I’d say that I’ve wasted a huge part of my life that I could have spent making my dreams come true.

The final thing that bothers me about cynicism (or more or less cynics) is the idea that if you think there’s a solution to a problem for which the cynic claims there is none, the cynic will dismiss you as a starry-eyed idealist, and any cynic that agrees that there might be a solution risks losing his or her street cred. That’s ultimately the big problem for me, when I start to think and feel more positively, and actually question how bleak my life really is, the cynical outlook quickly cracks. After all, when did thinking positively suddenly become bullshit?

For me, cynicism is a philosophy that doesn’t stand up to the test of time. If it could, then why do people still hope? Even as the media presents us with a distorted, exaggeratedly gloomy outlook of the world around us, humans still find ways to make the best out of life. As college comes to a close, and I move forward into the next stage of my life, I find myself feeling that an overly negative attitude as prescribed by the cynics will do nothing other than bring me down, and what good will that do if the negative feeling isn’t based on good judgement? All in all, I see cynicism as little more than a trendy philosophy that people inadvertently follow without actually thinking about how bad things really are, or will be in the future, and as long as I’m sure that cynicism doesn’t require a deeper knowledge of the complexities of life and human relationships, then I cannot take it very seriously anymore.

On the Christian worldview

christ carrying the cross

“Christ Carrying the Cross” by Giovan Battista Tiepolo (1738)

Some people say that life is simple, but we make it complicated. I personally take this as “life sucks because we make it suck”, mainly because it has been a self-evident truth throughout the annals of human history, especially after the advent of Christianity. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said that “the Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad”. This strikes a chord with me because I find that it makes a lot of sense. After all, we are talking about a religion that devalues the Earthly world and treats human life as merely a path to the afterlife. It’s also the same religion that espouses poverty and chastity as virtues, even though actually living by them would be a monumentally stupid idea.

Even in the modern world, Christianity still has a strong hold on mankind and its values, mainly because humans have been conditioned to them for such a long time. Hence, most of us still try to abstain from selfishness altogether as opposed to emphasizing on self-improvement here on Earth. The Christian worldview teaches people to abstain from earthly pleasures that have no purpose other than enjoyment, and without such pleasures, life on Earth really is much worse than it would be with them.

Today, those who profess belief in God from a pulpit stand in opposition to the march of progress, as Christianity faces its inevitable decline, and every time they try to oppose the modern world, it simply feels like they just want to make life worse for everyone who doesn’t agree with them. The conservative Christians of the world want the rest of us to feel bad for deviating from “God’s plan”, and by their obsession, they’re slowing down the progress of mankind and achieving little else other than putting Nietzsche’s words into effect. Then again, as an organized religion, Christianity seems to no nothing but bring misery to the world. Under the continued Christian influence, the world continues to seem like a miserable place because we are so convinced that it is.

Bearing that in mind, why do I see so many adults just embracing Christianity and touting it as “the only path to heaven”? What do they have to gain from a system of values that are inherently based on self-denial and the vilification of the natural world? Moreover, why do we consistently insist on raising our children Christian? Those are some of the many questions about our society that have baffled me for the past five years. For me, all it proves is that the primary goal of Christianity is the domination of the soul rather than its salvation. Either that, or some of us cannot resist the urge to control others.

Either way, I find it very baffling that mankind continues to embrace and support a system of values that has consistently shown to hold us back at every opportunity. Why do we continue to exonerate something that only makes life more miserable than it needs to be, and why do we expect everyone else to follow the same pattern? Wouldn’t it be far better if we actually encouraged each other to follow our own path no matter what other people think? Furthermore, if we could make life miserable for ourselves for the most illogical reasons, then we also have the ability to make life better for ourselves by abandoning such dogma. Given that, I must wonder why we still don’t.

Confusing hedonism with lust

pleasure

In an overly sexualized world, anything to do with pleasure is now automatically linked with sex, and so hedonism, with its emphasis on personal pleasure, has become distorted. Let me clear something up. Hedonism is a philosophy that argues that pleasure and/or happiness is the highest good. Personally, though I may have oversimplified it, I think that sounds like a damn fine philosophy. In fact, how is the pursuit of happiness such a bad or sultry thing anyway? Has Christianity warped our minds so badly that we can’t accept pleasure for its own sake? Would we rather have asceticism, the charlatanical joke of a philosophy that argues, nay, demands extreme self-denial?

That aside, the common misconception about hedonism is that it’s always in excess, or is simply there to rationalize excess. That is false. It is also a misconception that it is solely a selfish philosophy. Hedonism is simply the philosophy of pursuing pleasure and happiness. Therefore, hedonism is perfectly compatible with the idea of making others happy, for everything we do is done ultimately for our own benefit.

The big misconception about hedonism is that it is only concerned with sex. Of course, due to the Hollywood image of Ancient Roman orgies, that perception tends to stay with a lot of people when they talk about hedonism. The reality is that hedonism is in favour of all pleasures, and virtually anything can be a pleasure worth pursuing. You could be a hedonist who takes a particular fancy to chocolate, or bull riding, or observing the colour patterns of various butterflies. Hedonism is more than sex. If it weren’t, there’d be no such thing as Christian hedonism, a doctrine where the primary goal is to “glorify God and enjoy him” (which misses the point of actual hedonism entirely, so the name “Christian hedonism” is a joke).

I think that the common image of hedonism comes from centuries of Christian brainwashing. According to them, our natural drives are sinful, sex is evil, and the body is something to be ashamed of. Hedonism sounds threatening to the church because hedonists are content with themselves through their pursuit of earthly happiness, as opposed to the lie of a blissful afterlife. Naturally, the Christian church does whatever it can to make sure people avoid the path of self-contentment, using the same old brainwashing tactics as they always have. As long as that social programming stays, people will continue to misinterpret hedonism as a philosophy focused only on sex, and the “sin” of lust.

For me, this mentality is just another part of the continued demonization of sex and the body. We are never going to progress from the Dark Ages if we continue to see sex as evil and the body as a source of shame. Besides, if we continue to press the notion that sex is evil, all we’re doing is making ourselves lust after it in more depraved ways until we cannot control our excesses. We’re doing far more harm to ourselves than a hedonist even dream of doing to others. I think that people would like hedonism far more if they knew what it actually was, and when that happens, perhaps they will see exactly what the false idol that is society has denied them.

Good and evil: What’s the verdict?

st. michael defeats satan

St. Michael defeats the Devil” by Eugène Delacroix

Throughout the annals of human history, we have become familiar with the concept of good and evil, mostly in the context of the mythical conflict between good and evil. Thanks to popular culture deciding for most of us what good and evil are, many of us do not decide for ourselves what is “good” and what is “evil”, and even fewer have come to the conclusion that good and evil are merely human constructs, and that there can be no good or evil without humans to judge as such.

The way I see it, humans tend to act as though good and evil have been around since the beginning of time. This mentality has been the basis of morality since time immemorial, but it has also become the basis of a pervasive “us versus them” mentality that has sown the seeds of violence and hatred since the dawn of civilization. Then again, that could just as easily be called evil, although such a statement would fall on deaf ears.

One thing I’ve noticed about how we perceive good and evil is that the most common definitions of them are either narrow by themselves or interpreted in a grossly over-simplified way by most of humanity. I say this because what is good for some will not be good for others, and what is evil for some will not be evil for others. The ironic thing is that it is natural for humans to try and decide objectively what good and evil are, but it is not necessarily smart to do so, since everyone will have differing ideas.

The sad thing is that the narrow definitions assigned by society are the prevailing definitions, and it has become nearly impossible for most people to think of good and evil in any other way. In the case of good, most people see good as anything that benefits anyone other than yourself. When society talks of good, they usually praise those who live selflessly, as though the object of life is to benefit another human being rather than yourself. This mentality is unhealthy, and serves only to create a bad opinion of the self, since according to conventional norms, the self is evil and must be vanquished.

But then, evil is the other extreme. Most people see evil as anything that benefits only the self, or only exists to the disadvantage of others. In the case of society, however, the idea of evil is even more insidious, because when society talks of evil, they usually refer to anything that disagrees with the collective norms of the masses. For society, the word “evil” plays in to the “us versus them” mentality, and that is by far the most successful way to lead a people against something, especially if you’re a politician interested in starting a war. All you have to do to lead the people into accepting conflict is to make them think of who you want to fight as the evil enemy. It worked for the Crusades, it worked for the Vietnam War, and it worked for the war against the Middle East.

In this regard, I think the biggest reason that the concepts of good and evil are around is because they give meaning to conflict and human life. The reality is that conflict is a constant in the universe. It’s one of the only certainties in life, aside from death and taxes. Without meaning, however, conflict is just a very ugly thing. With the ability to judge “good” and “evil” for ourselves, we have given meaning to a meaningless universe. However, the illusion has worked too well, to the extent that we have allowed a powerful few to decide for us what good and evil are to us, and to manipulate those sensibilities to cause otherwise reasonable human beings to kill each other for their own amusement.

For me, the verdict is that good and evil are merely words, and like all words, they mean nothing until human give them meaning. In nature, good and evil don’t even apply, thus there is only the struggle for survival. Even if good and evil are applicable constructs, we have to have both. If we only had good, then we as humans would be too weak to assert ourselves, and thus would be swallowed up by anything that means to destroy us. If we only had evil, then we as humans would be unable to control ourselves. We would be killing and ravaging everything including each other until there was nothing left but a pitch-black void.