The problem with hedonism

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(This is about care in it’s broadest sense)

On the side of a Ryvita packet I read this: “There aren’t any rules, well maybe one, do and eat things that make you feel good.”

What’s wrong with that I hear you say, after all, “I’m worth it.” I think there is only one problem with hedonism, life becomes all about me, my pleasure, my desires, my needs. The highest goal in life, its ultimate aim is to fulfil those needs. I’m on a sticky wicket here aren’t I? because you might be thinking, that’s right, life is about that. Why shouldn’t it be?

OK, so let me take a step back then and appeal to anyone who has a loved one. Where does your loved one come, by loved one I include child, parent, partner or friend. Where do their needs come? Are they as important as yours, more important, less so?

Let’s be hypothetical, scientists call these things thought experiments. Let’s have a thought experiment. In this scenario your loved one is in danger, the only way to rescue them is to put yourself in danger. What do you do? In a hedonistic philosophy the highest aim is your comfort and your needs, so the obvious answer is you do nothing. But I would think most people would put themselves at risk to save a loved one. Most of us are actually quite sacrificial when it comes to love. Most of us are not true died in the wool hedonists. It’s an attractive notion, but we don’t fully endorse it. We have this inbuilt feeling that we should love one another.

Why is this in any way relevant or important? Because how we think about and react to others is the basis of the kind of society we have. If everyone really does only think about themselves, then we have a selfish, self-serving society that is little different to a jungle. Everyone fighting for dominance and possessions. We really are just a bunch of animals. But, if we act in love, not just towards those we know, but wider. If our care extends to a wider need. If we see the need around us then we are not in a jungle, but truly in a society that cares. A caring society is actually quite a good place to be, it flows out to all of us.

The trouble is we are so used to political spin and clever talk that we miss truth and heart. I am not being party political, nor am I trotting out ideologies. We have lost sight of each other in our society, because we have been convinced that we are the most important thing. Fragmentation has become the rallying cry of the last few generations. Self has become its motto. So that hedonism, a focus on our needs, desires and wants has become so much part of who we are that we can see an advertising slogan on a pack of Ryvita and not realise the selfish basis of its origin. We miss the selfishness behind so many of the things happening around us. Me, me, me becomes our focus and we become blind to us or them. Of course we need to love ourselves and care for ourselves, but not stop there.

If ever we needed to wake up and look around us, it is now. Stop looking only at ourselves, stop focusing only on what we want and see how our country, our world is fracturing. We need to open our eyes, ask ourselves hard questions. Are we being caring and loving to others or are we being selfish and self serving? I don’t say this as someone who is unselfish and outward focused. I say it as someone who realises that I need to change, that we all need to change if we want a world that is good to live in.

There is a lot at the moment about climate change, or brexit, or pollution or immigration. But in the end everything comes back to one thing, where is our focus? If it’s on ourselves, that will decide our priorities on all these things. If it’s on others then we may be surprised how that changes our viewpoint. I don’t have all the answers, but I know this, looking just at my own need is not the answer. Yes we need to love ourselves, let’s not stop there.

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