Tag Archives: epicurism

Don't strive to be happy. Strive to be content.

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Cracked.com has this great article called “5 scientific reasons your idea of happiness is wrong” and it is really a great piece on the issue. In the end, the article manages to touch the truth of the matter

The very act of trying to achieve happiness made people unhappy because of the anxiety they felt when they failed. They were happier when they weren’t trying. You know, like if somebody had told them it was out of their hands, or that they should focus on doing good things and declare the result to be “happiness,” regardless of what it looked like.

This is very similar to what I’ve been saying myself for a while: Explicitly striving for happiness is a recipe for failure. Happiness is not an attainable goal, primarily because of how our own brains work. Rather, the on best way to go about life, is to simply strive as much as possible to avoid pain and discomfort.The feeling of general happiness will naturally bubble up once this is achieved.

The more articles and studies I read on the matter, the more it seems that modern science is merely proving Epicurism true.

How Epicurism leads me to Anarcho-Communism

Anarchism/Anarcho-Syndicalism/Anarcho-Communis...
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As an Epicurean, I require very little to be content: Food, Shelter, Friends and the absence of pain. All these things have always been generally easy to achieve and as such they are what each person should be able to have. The fact that so many do not is a telling problem of the disfunctionality of our society.

One could ask: “As an Epicurean, why do you care what others have? After all, if you can achieve a state of ataraxia why should you care if others do the same?”. This is really a moral issue and should be looked in this light.

The question is, how do I go from the descriptive “My only needs are those which bring me in ataraxia” to the prescriptive “Everyone should be able to fulfill the needs that bring them in a state of ataraxia“. To go there, we first need to look at my reasons for doing so.

  1. The more people that desire that others are achieving ataraxia, the more likely it is that I will be able to achieve and sustain it through their combined efforts.
  2. Achieving ataraxia allows people to work on achieving the rest of their desires. Since I’m trying to make it so that one of those desires is that everyone is achieving ataraxia, then this helps spread this desire as well as happiness which comes from being in this state.

From these we can see that I have reasons to promote the desire (i.e. it is considered good) that people should be able to fulfill the needs that bring them in a state of ataraxia. It becomes a moral value.

So how does this lead to Communism? Well, Communism has the ideological proposition that everyone should be producing according to their abilities and receiving according to their needs. By itself, the second part of the sentence is not very descriptive as anyone can claim the most extraordinary things as needs. However through the lenses of Epicurism, the needs transform to something objective: The things one needs to be in a state of ataraxia.

Communism then conflates exactly with the moral value I have reached via Epicurism. Each of us should be striving to the best of our abilities to help others fulfil their needs. And since the needs one has on average1 are the very basic and most easy to create, the effort we would require from each of us for this to be achieved would be minimal.

Of course Communism is more than a ideological proposition. It also proposes the way a society would be organized (Classless & Staleless) which also follow from Epicurism since authority and inequality either lead to emotional pain or to the increased cost of basic needs, making them opposed to the moral value I explained above.

Now to be accurate, I never really moved towards the libertarian socialist quadrant because I looked at the subject philosophically, but rather because intuitively, for someone with an Epicurean mindframe, the concepts of Anarchism/Socialism/Communism fit very well to my moral values.

Only later did it occur to me how much one leads to the other and the dialectic relationship between them. As much as the Epicurean subconsiously espouses the libertarian socialist mindframe, so does the consistent libertarian socialist require an Epicurean thinking to avoid sliding into authoritarianism or crass individualism (ie Capitalism)

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  1. adding the cost of medicine which are more resource intensive but also much smaller in production scale than food []

The perspective behind me

Taking the idea from the Directionless Bones’ “why” articles, I’ve decided to write a series of pages on the particular philosophies, ideologies and concepts which compose my outlook on life and from which I write on this blog.

I hope these will serve as a second stop for visitors wishing to get a deeper view into my mind and hopefully strike the interest for others to explore them on their own.

The first one I’ve written is incidentally the first label I applied to myself and by far the most important: Epicurism

In the coming year, take it easy and get back to the basics

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Someone reading the Division by Zer0 the last few days (weeks? months?) might get the impression that I’m a generally angry or aggressive person who constantly rants about Capitalism or ignorance and whatnot. The truth is that lately I’ve been indeed writing quite a bit on subjects which annoy me, as the more I learn the more I notice people writing things that are obviously (to me) wrong.

So for my first post of the new year I thought I might go to a more positive subject.

Until now we’ve been living in an era of unprecedented consumption and instant gratification. New gadgets every month, huge TVs with thousands of programs, Vacations on exotic locations and the like. This has not been the case for everyone in the world of course but for those of us lucky to be living in the developed nations, life has been overall good.

However 2009 is promising to bring interesting times to everyone in the world, and part of that is going to certainly include such economic upheavals that belts will have to be tightened (to say the least). Especially in the US where a luxurious lifestyle has been propped up on massive debt, the impossibility of receiving more of it will mean that part of what was considered normal before will have to be reduced. No more new video-games every week, no more new ipods every year, reduced night-clubbing, music albums, drugs etc. All the things which in the past, rather than reduce, people preferred to work (much) more and get more in debt in order to afford.

But what people don’t understand is that all these things are not in the least necessary to live a happy life. While being able to have a new iphone might be a nice way to impress other or play with new technology, is it really worth working 1 extra hour per day for? Luxuries such as this will only bring you joy only for a very small amount of time but putting oneself in debt or working extra hours more than counters any such fleeting hapiness.

We can easily look at the things which bring us happiness and see also how much “pain” we need to go through to achieve them. If you put these things in a scale, you should be able to see if they are worth it or not. You will quickly figure out that the more luxurious the things which make us happy are, the more geometrically the pain increases and the less we get to enjoy them.

If the only thing that makes me happy is visiting exotic locations where I can be served on day and night, it means that not only will I have to get a good position in a job but that I will have to work long hours so that I may achieve a few days of such a vacation a year. In the end, I spend a whole year being miserable and a few days being happy. The example might seem extreme but it serves to show what the obvious correct action for this problem would be. It wouldn’t be either to get a better position, or work harder, or even get a debt for it. It would be to stop having only this type of vacation as the source of one’s happiness.

We have a very good thing going in our favour as humans: We are social. That means that interacting with other humans, forming friendships, having conversations and the like is treated by our evolved psychology as a very rewarding experience. A meaningful discussion can last many hours and in the end we will probably come out more satisfied than staying home and watching soap operas. In a similar way, playing the same video game with friends can be much more fun and last much more than buying 4 different ones in the course of one month. I still remember how in my youth I used to play the same ones, on my crappy machine, Mortal Kombat 1 and Micro Machines 2, with two of my best friends and we continued playing them much longer than usual simply because of the fun we had together. To this day, no other video game has given me as much satisfaction for such a long time as those two.

And the best thing about friends, especially in a Capitalist society, is that our friends are free. Not only are they free, but once you have them, it does not matter what kind of activity you do with them. It’s almost certain to be enjoyable. And that includes even activities which are cheap. Money problems prevent you from having a plasma TV and a Playstation 3? You can have fun by playing athletic games. Can’t go on vacation in Ibiza? Grab your friends and go free camping in the mountain or something.

Our popular culture has been struggling to convince us that happiness hides behind more and more accumulation of (expensive) toys, beauty and general luxury. This year then (and possibly the following) promise either to make a lot of people miserable, or to make them realize that they’ve been lied to. I hope all people reading this will belong to the later group.

All you need to do is realize that the specifics of your hobbies are not so important in your overall happiness. If you can’t afford your gadget “addiction”, you can always switch to something that requires less pain to achieve. Once this capability is realised, a world of options becomes open to us and we can survive any difficult situation with laughter in our hearts.

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Being Happy

ekuverikamakee, gadha fadha baareh
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Ebon Muse from Dailight Atheism is pondering on what makes people happy and comes to a conclusion that is quite close to my own thinking:

Instead, I believe that goodness in life consists in gaining experience, having love and friendship, the acquisition of knowledge, the pleasure of creating things through artistry or craft, the practice of virtue toward others, and participation in meaningful and satisfying work.

The only thing I would disagree is that acquiring knowledge or being creative etc is a step for happiness. These are all things that different people might want and not an definite guide.

Instead I find that the way to achieve it is simply to have the capability to do whatever you wish, when you wish it. To achieve that one needs to only have the basics covered and those are the things that you need to fill first before one can start doing anything further.

Food, friends and shelter and the absence of pain.

One cannot pursue knowledge if one is starving and one will not care about satisfying work if he is living in solitude. These things are the prerequisites of any further action one can take. However these things are our only needs. One needs simply to have these four to be content with life. Further achievements can then be pursued if they do not contrast the basic four and add more spice to life but even when they cannot, they are not necessary.

Ebon Muse also seems to be at a loss to give a name to this philosophy of life. But a name for such a philosophy already exist and has done for more than 2000 years. Epicurism.

This is the philosophy that explains how striving for material wealth, fame, power etc is a recipe for disappointment. What is difficult to achieve never gets one happy for in the course of achieving it, the four pillars are eroded in one way of another. Thus one becomes powerful and friendless, or famous and sick from the stress.

Not only that, but because these four are so easy to achieve (compared to any other goal), it is the easiest thing for people to become happy in their life. Once one reaches this level, more flavour in one’s life can easily be added through altruistic objectives. For example, one’s meaningfull work can put towards helping more people reach this level as well, thus slowly improving the whole society.

I find it a bit sad that so many people in the world must rediscover Epicurism through “reinventing the wheel” through the ages. He was not simply of the first Atheists1 but also taught skepticism, materialism, tolerance through the only life philosophy that works. And this is something that many Humanists should study.

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  1. Well, Deist really but pretty close []

How Epicurism can alleviate Poverty

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I just noticed that today is the blog action day for Poverty and I felt the need to participate. Although the people for whom this blog day is about will probably never read it, I’m hoping this post to perhaps give insight and ideas for people who are, or might be struggling with poverty.

Poverty is unfortunately a major problem in the world still. Even with the rise of technology to such a great degree and the amazing enhancements food production has undertaken, millions of people are without the basic things of life. Food and Shelter.

This is, incidentally,  the biggest failing of Capitalism. It is not that we do not have enough food to feed everyone in the world, it’s that we don’t know how to make a profit while doing so. How can you sell food to someone who does not have any money? Thus the invisible hand of the markets wipes itself of any responsibility and leaves the suffering to go unattended or alleviated through charities so that the companies can still make money.

In a our society, poverty is something expected and indeed I would argue, welcomed. You cannot have a perfect capitalist society just because poverty is something necessary. Not only does it force the impoverished people to do the worst jobs for the longest time within an unbreakable cycle, but as George Carlin famously said, it is the perfect tool to keep the middle class in line. What better way to be an obedient little worker, than to see everyday what awaits you if you dare to anger the powers that be?

I can’t really help the people who are impoverished, although I do have some ideas1 but what I can do is explain how all but the worst types of poverty need not be the end of life. The answer lies in what you need to live.

As a social human, most of us require three basic things to have a good life. Food, Shelter and Friendship. The rest is simply extravagance. When one has conditioned itself not to require anything other than these three to be happy it will take only the worst type of poverty to shake the foundations.

Food is generally cheap. Even if you cannot grow your own foo, one can easily find the food that is cheap and filling. When I was living with £100 per month for general & food expenses in London, I went on a diet of noodles and rice. While I not only learned to cook these simple things more interestingly, it also sustained me without ruining my organism as would eating junk-food have achieved.

Shelter is unfortunately at the moment quite expensive. Due to the concept of private property, land that could have very adequately sheltered people if put to use, now is just left unattended as the owner has no benefit in either using it, or letting others use it.

Fortunately, there are options available for the unfortunate ones. In a society who respects itself, there should be shelters for the poor. Not only are these necessary to protect the most unfortunate of us but they are a necessary stepping stone in making people a productive member of society again. It is amazingly difficult to find a job when you haven’t taken a bath for over month. Societies that do not have shelters for the homeless are especially criminal in this regard as they only keep this effect going.
Once someone has even a little money, options could include finding a cheaper place in a more remote area of the country (where the rent must be much cheaper) or along with a few others cohabitate, even if they may be a bit tight. At least that might help in the final necessity

Friends are (or should be) the final need of any human. Fortunately the good ones they are notoriously cheap to come by. Hell, all one needs is a bit of empathy and a non-toxic character and they come gratis. Not only do friends fill the basic social needs of all of us but good friends are the ones who will act as your own personal safety net when poverty is rearing its ugly head.

If one manages to be content with these three basic things, it will take the worst kind of abject poverty to put them down and even then, the way up is easier.

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  1. Which I’ve been consistently told will never work []

On the decline of Theism and the effects of fear

I feel cold as razor blade
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I just read this excellent article (hat tip: Pharyngula) about the last century’s trends in religiosy and, for a non-theist like me, it certainly perks up the ol’ optimism. Even though theists in the recent years have been claiming that theism is on the comeback while secularism and irreligiousness was just a passing fad, the cold hard data once again, forms the proverbial thorn in their soft underbelly of wishful thinking.

While this post is partly to advertise the article, I also wanted to comment on part of it that triggered a long standing wish of mine, which is to start talking about my own philosophy of life, but I’ll try to avoid getting into specific labels at this point.

In the article then, it is explained how religion’s drop in popularity is more closely related to socioeconomic reasons rather than being the result of proselytisation from the “New Atheists”. It is shown how most European countries see their religious population percentage drop with a positive correlation to socialism or socialistic policies. Indeed, some of the more socialistic Countries of Europe seem to have, for the first time, a majority or non-religious people.

I will not go into detail on this, as the article makes the case much better than I ever could, however it did raise a very interesting point. That US high religiosity has much to do with the lack of a social net for the population, and the easy way with which one can go bankrupt and never recover. Indeed this constant fear that the population lives with, is what drives so many people turn to religion or spiritualism for comfort. It is no wonder that the larger percentage of religious people resides in the poorer rural areas.

Of course this is a result of the rabid anti-socialism that is prevalent in the American society ever since the First Red Scare. Because of the huge negative emotions and reactions that being labeled “left” carries, socialist policies like universal health care, have failed to become reality which, among others, rightly earns U.S. their label as the aberrant example of a developed nation.

But what does this have to do with my own philosophy? Well, the correlation between non-theism and social safety reminded my of one of the building blocks for it, Epicurism.

As a philosophy, Epicurism was one of the first1 who explicitly espoused materialism and a form of deism as a method to reduce fear and personal suffering. Especially because this kind of materialism instructed a radical reduction of human needs to the bare necessities, it allowed people to reduce their anxiety and fear which further chipped away at their theism.

It strikes me as brilliant then2, that in the U.S., where the exact opposite of this materialism is promoted, (namely crass commercialism) the fear and anxiety increases and leads to even stronger theism. Indeed, theism itself quite often wraps itself around commercialism (or is it the other way around?) and takes away a sizable amount of money from the “flock” in exchange for blissful uncertainty. It’s like a drug who’s withdrawal symptom is fear.

I can’t help but wonder at the masterful mental construction this has created in the minds of U.S. Americans today.

  • Greed → Commercialism / Consumerism.
  • Consumerism → Fear. (“You have to buy more stuff, or the society will collapse“)
  • Commercialism → Fear. (Lack, or reduced, social security keeping people scared of sudden mishaps)
  • Fear → Greed. (“You have to have wealth or power to be happy“)
  • Fear ↔ Traditionalism / Conservatism. (“We must return to our old values to save our society“)
  • Fear ↔ Nationalism / Xenophobia. (“We must protect the homeland in order to survive and prosper“)
  • Fear ↔ Authoritarianism. (“We need to reduce freedom in order to prevent societal problems and terrorism“)
  • Fear ↔ Theism. (I don’t think I need to explain this.)

It’s a vicious cycle. It is no wonder that all these values and beliefs go together most of the time and generally, if someone has one, it is quite probable that he will have at least some of the others as well. All of them feed the fear, and fear feeds them all.

Does it surprise anyone that most Clergy have authority? Does it surprise anyone that most Clergy are conservative and most Conservatives crave authority? Does it surprise anyone that pure capitalists tend to be religious3.

Finally, does it surprise anyone that fascism embodies all of these together in a nice round package?

Fear is the common denominator, and any philosophy that is designed to reduce fear is bound to reduce the person’s attachment to these values. This is why so many atheists seem confident, progressive, liberal and socialistic. They all lack the necessary levels of fear to be anything else4.

What we need to do, is not attempt to convert people to atheism or non-theism. What we need to be doing is to change the society in ways that reduce fear. As that happens, slowly these values will start retreating due to lack of empowerment.

  1. if not the first. Not absolutely certain on this []
  2. In a bad way []
  3. Even Objectivists who exhibit the most pure form of Capitalism display a certain religiousness []
  4. I would also like to mention here that one can repel fear with anger as well, but only until his anger subsides. This is why atheism based on “anger at god” never lasts []