A Journal for Western Man
An Essay on Pleasure and the
Desired Attitude Toward It
G. Stolyarov II
Issue V- September 19, 2002
Why was it, the reader may ask, that an essay about pleasure had begun with such a statement? Before that question can be addressed, we must look into another, namely "What is pleasure?" Indeed, such a term is vaguer than any others that we had identified in previous essays, such as progress or virtue. Yet it, like the others, does not lack a definition, since it is the author's firm and founded conviction that all things in this universe possess clear boundaries and any specific point, be it an event or a concept, can be identified as residing on one side or another. Thus, not only is it possible to make an attempt at setting a clear framework for the term "pleasure," but also to forge a link between it and both virtue and progress. Pleasure is any pursuit of that, which increases one's self-impression and thus creates progress within the mechanisms controlling that particular individual. And by proceeding along this train of thought, the reader may discover why pleasure, in order to be classified as such, must fit into the framework of virtue as well.
What motivates our actions? There are two primary causes, security and pleasure. Why are certain people employed in monotonous occupations that bring them no enjoyment and incite grumbling and a rapid deterioration of body and mind? Because they, not sufficiently developed in professions that attract them, have no other means to support themselves materially. Sacrificing their dreams for a financial semi-stability, they demonstrate the first motivation. A more dramatic example would be that of minions all over the world groveling before heartless dictators who oppress and manipulate them, stealing, both openly and secretly, all others' will, property, opportunity, wealth, and even relatives. Why, then, do those lowly servants obey? Once again, for security. Their lives are above any material or interpersonal gain on their list of priorities. For the sake of existing they thus surrender their well-being, just like the manual laborer surrenders his dreams. Perhaps such a motive is one of delusion, for these oppressed, wretched men cannot see that their security shall become but transient if it be the sole object of their pursuit. The manual laborer, who performs rote, mindless tasks, will age eventually, and have naught to hold back his atrophying bodily mechanisms or compensate for the decay thereof. The men demeaning themselves in obsequy before tyrants possess no protection aside from appeasement, a reliance of the despot’s “mercy” and “good intentions”, which the latter, by the nature of his position, would seldom exhibit. What, on the other hand, do well-being and the fulfillment of dreams bring? Pleasure, of course. Why does an artist paint? Why does a composer forge magnificent combinations of sound? Are they in any way obliged to do so? Some may have a commission from a patron, yet that could hardly be seen as an obligation, since they would not have been receiving such requests had they no talent (Nevertheless, the author feels the need to state that although commissions prove a master, a lack of them does not necessarily signify a lack of ability or creativity). And they would have had no talent only if their work was not sufficiently attractive from their perspective. What can be said of an artist or a musician can also be applied to professors, architects, entrepreneurs, politicians, and all other professions requiring monumental work, intellectual ability, and cultural refinement. Usually such people are not faced with an immediate struggle for survival and have both the physical and mental foundations to begin their search for pleasure. There is no sole motivation in any human being, and stability often precedes enjoyment when people weigh their interests. That is why there is so far greater an amount of manual laborers in this world than members of the cultural elite. Dr. Abraham Maslow, in his hierarchy of needs, places self-actualization and the desire for aesthetic perfection on levels five and six, the two of the most advanced. When one struggles for material securities of food and shelter or life itself, which is beyond even level one, they cannot journey on the search for self-improvement. Thus we have come to the inevitable conclusion: all progress was created by those for whom progress was pleasure.
To have arrived at such a thought, one must inevitably have decided that a vast source of pleasure lies in the work that a person performs and, therefore, in the thoughts and actions that such work requires. Even certain manual laborers may find their occupation to their liking. What is the difference between them and their comrades, who seek only security and find not even that? The ones who are delighted in their tasks will perform them with greater skill and diligence, thus rising to an inevitably greater prestige in their field of work. That is what distinguishes a craftsman from a mere hired servant. What else have we discovered here? That all those who have been telling the reader to abandon serious thinking and action to enjoy himself could not have been more wrong.
What pleasure is there in idleness? Perhaps to an animal, after a successful hunt and a meal so large that it leaves them immobilized, it is the only source of reprieve from the labor of retrieving food, performed for its security. Yet animals cannot think; animals have no conscience. They are unable to read a book, write a brochure about the inefficiency of their lifestyle, or even create a fire from friction between two surfaces for the purpose of roasting their prey. They have not the standards of virtue that humans have discovered as a result of technological progress, and therefore they are unable to feel guilt for any of their actions, be it the extreme of hostility or the opposite extreme of idleness. Thus they cannot, in their simplicity, recognize the difference between acts that merely continue their stagnation and those which improve body, mind, and image. Therefore, they do not experience pleasure, since they are not even conscious of that, which is constructive, for such pastimes were invented by man and not nature. It is true that their nervous system and impulses function in ways exactly like our own, but the euphoria they feel from fulfilling their basic needs for food, shelter, life, and a continuation of the species cannot be classified as pleasure, for such actions do not lead to the progress of the animals' mechanisms and in no way even increase their chances of surviving beyond nature's life expectancy for their species. Since those pitiful creatures are involved in a constant struggle for need number one of Maslow's hierarchy, since they have an extremely scant number two (shelter), since their nature does not permit them to comprehend number three (love), nor their subconscious views them unique enough for number four (self-esteem), there cannot even be a question about whether any non-human Earth-dwelling creature can fulfill levels five and six of the hierarchy. Thus, since idleness is a result of limited desires, those for security alone, it cannot be the source of pleasure. Then let the reader ponder over the next link in our chain: what in the world do several billion humans think they are doing through inactivity?
We have already made clear that pleasure is the fundamental stimulant of progress, therefore being necessary. Yet, as we have also found out through an analogy to the animals, a majority of human beings have not the realization of the concrete boundaries between the pleasurable and the absurd. Pleasure, once again, is constructive enjoyment that builds either the physical portion of an individual, the mental one, or both. Euphoria is sometimes a side a effect, but not the equivalent of pleasure. Why? Because it had existed for millions of years before humanity had developed the ability to act independently of instinct, thus, a long time before our species had ever come into existence. Nature has used and still uses euphoria, a mild boost of internal adrenaline to the brain, to give a signal to a creature that they are performing an act necessary for or beneficial to survival. That is why, for example, ripe fruits have a sweet taste (taste is a human sense; it does not exist outside the realm of one’s mind), while rotten fruits have a foul one. The animal is rewarded for consuming a clean, fully-developed, nutritious food, while it is repulsed by its own senses from decaying and visibly infected objects. As euphoria can reward acting for one's security, pain, another illusion to the conscious made by the subconscious, can punish injurious deeds and discourage the repetition of such. Yet these mechanisms of natural evolution have not caught up with the technological evolution of man and are therefore obsolete and harmful to our society. For example, the same euphoria brought about by a ripe or rare fruit can now be received from a bar of chocolate, since our still primitive subconscious is unable to tell the difference. Neither can it identify chocolate as a food of practically no nutritional value but a likely catalyst of such an accumulation of weight that could not have been possible under the circumstances for which both euphoria and pain had been designed. Just like nature encourages the consumption of chocolate, it also presents a narcotic or stimulant addict with an even more potent euphoria, this time because the drug injected from the outside is so like the adrenaline used by the mind to guide the body. Neither chocolate nor consumable narcotics can exist without human refinement; nature knows not of them. Both are harmful; nature encourages them. They do not bring about the constructive progress of the organism that is part of pleasure, but its destructive antithesis, which, for the sake of an illusion of primitive security, destroys both security and pleasure. Are people truly so tightly bound by such impulses to reject their basic and advanced needs? Why do people involve themselves in such pastimes that destroy them without giving anything real in return? Just as nature can be blamed for creating a downside to technology through misuse by tainted humans, it can be held accountable for setting them aside from their chosen path in life. Only rational deliberation and logical identification, an exclusively human trait, exhibited through the individual free will only, can thwart the vile consequences of suicidal urges.
Perhaps the reader is now
beginning to realize why destructive activity is often
confused with pleasure in minds inferior to his own. If
something done for the deterioration of self can cause
such a magnified euphoria, doing harm to others would
spark one of even greater proportions. In the world for
which nature had ordained it, inter- and intra-tribal
conflicts were a daily reality. Then, every creature was
an unwilling, unthinking threat to every other's
survival, and, in order to keep his head from being
bludgeoned into the ground, an
needed to bludgeon in someone else's. Every organism
sought to be the most powerful, the most able continuer
of its species (in other words, the brutal Darwinist
struggle for survival in which only the strongest, the
most powerful and fearsome would survive to pass their
more successful genotypes on to posterity). Thus, nature
had instilled within every creature, including man, the
desire to kill and maim one's neighbor for, once again,
security. Yet now, after the sages of the Enlightenment
and even their predecessors from Greece and Rome have
devised the principles of virtue, summarized in complete
freedom as long as it does not intervene with anyone
else's freedom, a majority of people merely wish to live
and work in peace. They do not seek to do harm nor to
spill blood. Yet that primitive impulse occasionally
seeps through the veneer of moral advancement in those
retrogrades who have not reached it fully, for, just
like the obsolete euphoria and pain, the means existing
to quell it are not fully implemented as of yet. Thus,
the lowliest organisms among the human species
constantly assail with violence anyone whom their
barbaric subconscious, always in control of them, views
to be competition due to their advancement. That is why
philosophers, scientists, artists, and other members of
all intellectual avant-gardes have always been
persecuted by crowds, comprised of exactly such people
as those who are still manipulated, without their
knowledge, by the strings of Social Darwinism. Since the
mob always carries out its rampages of devastation
without any internal reasoning or at least without the
consciousness of it, they, in a somewhat human attempt
to rationalize it, call it a pursuit of pleasure. Yet
they are merely deceiving themselves, for we have
already determined that euphoria can never be the root
G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent filosofical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. His newest science fiction novel is Eden against the Colossus. His latest non-fiction treatise is A Rational Cosmology. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at email@example.com.
This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.
Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, at http://www.geocities.com/rational_argumentator/rc.html.