Demonizing pleasure is a failed experiment
For some reason humans have been holding onto this philosophy that pleasure is inherently evil and asceticism is a benchmark of maturity. I could be wrong about this, but I blame the Abrahamic religions for creating and maintaining this trend. I’m just not sure why they decided to wage war on pleasure. Maybe the tribal leaders who wrote those mythologies knew that miserable people were easier to control or maybe they were just as bad at making up morals as they were at making up science. Regardless of why or how demonizing pleasure became a part of culture, it has been a part of culture for centuries, and it still is today.
It’s so ingrained in our culture that it’s law. In the Middle East women are forced to cover their heads and bodies to hide how pleasurable God made them. In the West women are forced to cover their breasts and waists to hide how pleasurable God made them. Men have the freedom show off their hair and chests in every country, but if anyone sees their penis they’ll go to jail quicker than a murderer. And we’re not just afraid of actual genitals; porn magazines have to be sold wrapped in plastic with a black cover over them, and children aren’t allowed to see anyone other than themselves naked until they’re about 18 years old (depending on where you live). Since everyone can watch prime time network television, nipples and groins are dogmatically censored as if they were cursed objects that will burn your eyes out if you look at them.
Our phobia of pleasure is so pervasive it extends into the work place. Men and women have segregated toilets, and the geniuses in human resources set limits on how much flesh customers and workers can expose. Workers have to wear boring uniforms, and any individual who has bought enough credentials to deem themself worthy to pick their own clothes still has to wear bland, professional clothing. Nothing sums up the absurdity of professionalism more than the neck tie. It’s uncomfortable and unnecessary, and it’s ironically similar to a noose, but it’s an industry standard. We shouldn’t be going out of our way to be uncomfortable. We should be wearing pajamas to work.
Another way culture reflects its demonization of pleasure is through strict drug laws. Granted, drugs are self-destructive, which makes them irresponsible, but sending drug users to jail for hurting themselves is like shooting someone in the head to stop them from shooting themself in the foot. That’s not justice. That’s a vendetta, and it just goes to show how committed humanity is to demonizing pleasure and glorifying suffering that we punish people for feeling euphoria by locking them in a cage with rapists, murders and abusive, unaccountable guards and forbid them from ever looking at pornography.
The ultimate symbol of culture’s rejection of pleasure is the standard we set for politicians and news anchors. They’re supposed to be the ideal human beings…yet they’re expected to act like robots. Watch any news report on any politician and you’ll see a human robot reporting on a human robot. You couldn’t even get hired as a news anchor or politician if the public found out you had too much fun in your past. That’s how serious our fear of pleasure is.
Asceticism is the standard we’ve set for maturity, but asceticism does more damage than it does good. For as long as humans have been demonizing pleasure humans have been needlessly suffering. Asceticism has failed humanity every time it has been tried. It’s still failing today, and it’s going to fail everyone who tries it in the future. Denying yourself pleasure is inherently painful. Demonizing pleasure effectively glorifies pain. Even if that’s not your intention that’s the obvious, inevitable result. The only time pleasure would ever become a problem is when it causes anyone pain, but by denying ourselves pleasure we condemn ourselves to a life of pleasure-less pain, which defeats the purpose of life, and it defeats the purpose of trying to be virtuous.
Denying yourself the freedom to feel pleasure or express yourself is psychologically tantamount to locking yourself in solitary confinement. After your body goes too long without feeling anything it shuts down and doesn’t even try to engage with the world. You die inside and end up sleep walking through life until your body finally catches up with your mind and dies and puts you out of your misery. Granted, that’s an extreme case, but the standard for maturity and professionalism which our pleasure-hating society has set is closer to that extreme than it is to hedonism, and by numbing ourselves in the name of virtue and professionalism we’re creating a society of miserable, stressed out, anxious fun police.
Being a somber stick in the mud doesn’t help anyone or anything. All it does is make life suck. In reality hiding your body and censoring your voice isn’t maturity, it’s oppression, and oppressing yourself isn’t the epitome of maturity; it’s the epitome of personal irresponsibility, and telling people they can’t act free and happy is the epitome of social oppression.
I’m not saying everyone should be wanton hedonists. I’m saying asceticism is as destructive as hedonism. Look, pleasure is fine as long as nobody gets hurt. Nobody gets hurt by seeing a woman’s head or breasts. Nobody gets hurt by seeing genitals. Nobody gets hurt by people dressing comfortably and decorating their office to reflect their personality. Nobody gets hurt by showing up to work or the grocery story in your pajamas. Nobody gets hurt when an individual sits in their home and gets stoned. There’s no logical reason to demonize pleasure, and there’s every reason to demonize asceticism. The simple math is that joy begets joy, and misery begets misery. The best way to navigate the gray area is with reason… not dogmatic mythology-based self-loathing fear-mongering.
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Originally published at thewisesloth.com on April 15, 2013.