Sunday, June 7, 2009

What is Enlightened Hedonism

Simple hedonism is easy to understand, the satisfaction of desire, and the pursuit of that satisfaction. In this simple state its drawbacks are easily revealed as well. When we pursue our pleasures on a whim, disappointment is often the result as we neglect something else we value or hold pleasurable, or fail to recognize the consequences of our pure desires. In contrast enlightened hedonism takes account of just such things to not only ensure their satisfaction, but even enhance them, improve upon them, and elevate them, maximizing the pleasure experienced.

Enlightened hedonism also acknowledges the fact that simple hedonism often results in the same trap of indolence that our initial acquisition of comfort brings. That state when needs are satisfied and only wants remain – a place of stasis that we often find ourselves trapped in.

In other words those pleasures we satisfy immediately out of habit loose the same amount of pleasure they once created. These pleasures themselves become routine and uninspired despite the fact that they still might produce pleasure. The enlightened hedonist realizes this and moves to find ways to build on those original pleasures.

Thus where food was once simply sustenance, it also becomes a pleasure to the hedonist. The enlightened hedonist takes the pleasure of eating and expands on it to take pleasure in exploring different flavors, of expanding his or her pallet – this can be a chef working to create a new entrĂ©e or a gourmet, seeking a new cuisine. Food is but one example; all pleasures have their enlightened purveyors.

The enlightened hedonist of any pleasure is an explorer and adventurer. He seeks new ways to indulge a favored pleasure, or maybe even experiments with new ones. The enlightened hedonist never stops at satisfaction, for he knows staying at that point leads to indolence, stasis, and the entropy of pleasure.

While orgasm may belong to the hedonist, seduction and foreplay become part of the pleasures of the enlightened hedonist – for if orgasm where the sole goal of sex, there would be no need to proceed beyond masturbation. Fantasies and the erotic interaction with other people just begin to play a greater role for the enlightened sexual hedonist. The activities may still result in orgasm, but both the activities themselves as well as the end result create an even higher state of pleasure.

There are roadblocks to enlightened hedonism. Often it takes shape in the guilt of the hedonist. Hedonism is always selfish, which generally is not accepted in polite society as an ethical way of being. This also can lead to shame, or even the fear of being ostracized by the people you love.

As a defense, people often become crypto-hedonists – They still, like everyone else indulge their selfish desires, but they either carry these out in secret, or sometimes create in themselves a denial and repudiation of their desires. Sometimes pleasure is then taken through the denying of the one thing desired most – often unsuccessfully, thus we have the archetype of the scandalous preacher who’s desires are perverted by their repression.

Resentment also sometimes accompanies hedonism, as those who have denied their own pleasures resent it when others indulge those pleasures without consequence. Sometimes it’s to avoid the resentment and possible confrontation that we hide our desires in crypto-hedonism.

Thus, there are times though when the hedonist must keep his pleasures to himself. And while one might argue that in the best of all possible worlds, no one should be a crypto-hedonist, for some, the very act of satisfying their pleasures in secrecy may bring its own clandestine pleasure, and enhancement to the overall experience. Anonymous donors to charities can take pleasure in hearing others wonder who made that generous gift. Perpetrators of a great prank may take pleasure of getting away with it. Regardless if the ultimate pleasure is having the secret unmasked, sometime pleasure is taken in simply having a secret.

Unlike the single-minded goal of survival and satisfying basic needs, enlightened hedonism can take many paths. Since our pleasures are all subjective, and we must make choices as to what wants and pleasures to pursue and how to pursue them, there is no way to obtain “the single most pleasurable life.” We can leverage our friends and mentors to tell us of the paths they have taken to indulge their wants, but in the end, we must each decide as individuals what our enlightened path to hedonism is. In this respect, approaches to hedonism are existential, we create ourselves and define ourselves by the pleasures we decide to pursue and the way we decide to pursue them.

In this way the ethics of enlightened hedonism may seem an oxymoron, as it does not exist in the metaphysically objective world. Rather ethics and morality will always have to be defined and negotiated in terms of “what’s in it for me.” We are, at our core selfish beings; recognizing that fact enables us to move beyond ourselves and involve others as partners and accomplices in achieving our mutual desires.

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