Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The New Epicureans

Liberals and Suffering One of the criticisms leveled at the Liberal West is that is hedonistic. There's no doubt that there are hedonistic people around, but is it fair to say that hedonism is a defining characteristic of modern liberalism? I think that while it might be tempting to say yes, in the end the charge does not stick. The hedonism we see is mostly media fantasy, designed to make us look! look! look! at what we are selling here. There is still a solid resistance to the drug culture from the top of our cultural food chain, even from those who want to loosen drug laws. Their motives, right or wrong, are that it is a personal issue. They are tired of the fight. And there is a strong resurgence of puritanical towards food these days. So hedonism is what the media pitches, but there is strong resistance too. My search through Amazon was prompted by curiosity about books that are critical of Darwinism. I've read lots of book about Darwinism, almost all of them from people who favour it, including a few tomes by Richard Dawkins. As I've said here before, I think there is strong evidence for Darwin, but Darwin alone is not enough, as the Argument from Reason establishes. People like Dawkins tend to use poor Darwin to advance their own pet causes, but the Argument from Reason destroys them. There is nothing in Darwin to necessarily deny God, as both Darwin and the Vatican have written. If we allow our thinking about Darwin to entertain God such that the criticism of the Argument from Reason can with withheld, a very conservative morality can be extracted, one that puts a premium on reproduction and sexual specialization. I'm digressing. My point is that I was looking for books critical of Darwin, but not books that take up the Argument from Design, which I've never liked. And I found this. Despite the title, the interesting thing about this book is that it is supposed to link the Material Naturalism of the western elite with the philosophy of Epicurious. The Wikkipedia describes the Epicureans as favouring a life of simple pleasures:

By simple pleasures, the Epicureans meant abstaining from bodily desires, such as sex and appetites, being on the edge of asceticism. When eating, one should not eat too richly, for it could lead to dissatisfaction later, such as the grim realization that one could not afford such delicacies in the future. Sex could lead to increased lust and dissatisfaction with the sexual partner. By simple pleasures, the Epicureans merely advocated for a lifestyle free of pain and suffering. The Epicurean schools were also quite solitary, for social interactions was seen as one of the causes of suffering.

The only thing that seems out of step with trendy modern modern 'sophisticates' is that nasty bit about resisting sexual urges. Today we seem to advocate lots of sex but limited emotional attachment, even if we stop short of actually saying it (sadly, there are some who do advocate it). On this angle, we are worse off than the Epicureans, being close to what we really want - love - but not being able to admit it. It's a recipe for psychopathology, IMHO. The real sticking point is the attitude towards suffering. Western liberals find any kind of suffering absolutely unacceptable. Really, though, if you are to be a consistent materialist, you have to admit that any emotions or thoughts you have on the matter are just a bunch of atoms bashing into one another anyway. This inconsistency stops no one from advocating a larger and larger governmental structure, lashing us harder and harder because it's all just a matter of willpower, to prevent anyone from being inconvenienced about anything at all. Our elite class and their followers think that compassion is all that there is to leading a good life. Christianity - and Catholicism in particular - takes a very different stand. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is a case in point. Gibson's Christ is no Epicurean. The Christ of the movie, as of the Gospels, pours himself out for others. He does not take the view that he must preserve himself. He freely spends everything that he is and has, such is the depth and the passion of his love for mankind. In a comparison, can a Epicurean be said to be passionate about anything? Can a Liberal?

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