The Failure of Hedonism

Whether subliminal or completely overt, we are told that we should do what we want when we want. “Just Do it!” or “you deserve it!” or “Enjoy yourself!”. “Do what you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone” is the prevailing motto in our culture and age. We are so entrenched in this that it is a built-in philosophy and way of life for most of us. We get this messaging from all advertising, music and movies, and virtually all media. We are trained in this philosophy from childhood. Selfishness becomes the norm as we get older. As adults we consume, buy, take and feed our desires always. And when we don’t get our way we get irritated, bitter and even feel justified in rage. This is the American way.

This is not a new philosophy. The ancient Greeks had formalized this way of life in a school of thought called Hedonism, which claims that pleasure and happiness are the primary or most important intrinsic goods and the goal of human life. In this philosophy a hedonist strives to maximize pleasure and avoid pain. In this way of life one does whatever one wants not restricting any form of self-indulgence. In more recent times this idea was thrust forward by English magician Aleister Crowley in his cultic religion that espoused: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law….”

You would think that if we do what we want when we want this would make us happy. But for some reason this can’t be farther from the truth. This has been clearly demonstrated by this generation. We do what we want but for some reason depression, despair, discontentment, unhappiness and suicide are increasing at surprising rates. We have more comfort that all previous ages and peoples in all of history. We have homes with indoor plumbing, air conditioning, access to medical and dental care, access to drugs to make our illnesses and discomforts go away, access to all foods, meat, sweets, and junk food. We have immense warehouses where we can find every form of liquor, wine, beer and cheese. We can indulge ourselves for hours and even days by binge watching TV shows, movies, sequels, and all this content is pumped into our homes from “the cloud” at the click of a button.  We can get high, get drunk, get lost in social media at will. We can have sex with anyone at anytime because this is the norm, and because we have pills to make us sterile. And if we cant find a partner we can pump it into our homes from “the cloud” and masturbate to our hearts content. Then we find ourselves slaves of our own pleasures. We become addicts and puppets of our desires. 

We do what we want but our hearts are restless. We are depressed! How could this be? Hedonism as the new religion is not working. Since the time of the Greek Philosophers we have known that pleasure does not produce happiness and contentment. Hedonism as a philosophy was overcome by the virtues, one of which was called: self-control. Even with modern neurological science we know this. Dopamine is released and we want more, but more is never enough. However, we still move forward with our new religion.

So what do we do? The key to our restlessness, discontent, unbearable dejection and meaningless pleasure filled lives is clearly not found in doing what we want. It is found in exactly the opposite. It is found in a life lived in virtue and self control. When we slay our desires we slay our sorrow. When we train ourselves to practice virtue we develop interior peace and contentment that is enduring. Love, chastity, humility, justice, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-sacrifice and self-control are the cure to the human condition.


Justin MarlerComment