Do we not have a responsibility to be Hedonistic?
Consider carefully the state we exist in, or even the State we exist in. Compare it to literally any era in history. Pre-World War, there was nothing illogical, nor even immoral (if that is a thing) to aspire to expansion. I mean expansion in every sense of the word: monetary, geographical, ideological and biological. We were, for the vast majority of our history, a species still coming to terms with this planet. And though, from the earliest recorded times, we had people who dedicated their lives to the study of the stars and the skies, we still hadn’t really delved the depths of the very ground we stood on. Even today, as unprecedented as our knowledge levels and levels of self-awareness are, the leading figures of any branch of knowledge are the first to emphasize the limitations of what we know. So, in that sense, it makes sense for us to strive for more, scientifically. Even today.
However, what of the other categories? No longer do we live in times when we could send brave souls into uncharted territory hoping to lay claim to some hidden paradise. No longer do we live in times when things were so indiscernible to us that our only recourse was to assign to an Omnipotent being a shifty personality and consign any enigmatic occurrences to his unfathomable whims. No longer do we live in times when we could excuse our excesses by pleading ignorance to their long term effects. A ruler, in the past , when faced with the prospect of a Kingdom that had used up all its resources, simply looked elsewhere. He sent an army or a fleet of explorers, and mined outside his borders for what he did not have within.
But those were times when the Earth held more resources than people. And when our methods of extracting these resources were not advanced enough to outpace their reproduction. Our inefficiency, in short, was what kept life sustainable. But, having fine-tuned our technological acumen as much as we have, coupled with the population explosion, we have long since overrun that boundary. And what’s worse, we have done so in a way that makes it extremely hard to slow down. We learnt how to use machines before we learnt about what the machines are capable of. And we based our entire existence upon it. Now, we are faced with a terrible choice, to give up these never-before-experienced levels of comfort, or to keep living the way we have, and to hell with the consequences.
As always, when faced with a hard choice, and given a chance to prove its mettle, we, as a species, let ourselves down. We took the easy way out. We have the classic Deniers who claim nothing at all is wrong with our lifestyle. We have the Industrialists who dare not accept reality, since reality tends to drop share prices, and then we have the majority, who may accept that we are doomed, but are either too lazy or simply do not care enough to do anything about it.
Can we realistically imagine a time in the near future, even the next century, when people agree to control their biological urges and deny themselves the joy of parenthood in order to be ecologically responsible? Can we imagine an entire industry unanimously slashing their profits in the interest of environmental safety? Can we imagine a time when a country, knowing its own military superiority, but faced with a lack of resources, does not invade or bully another country into providing that resource?
The answer, for the Optimists, may be a yes. I, personally, can never see that eventuality materializing. You could call it my Pessimism, for me it is simply a staggeringly improbable event.
And so, knowing we reproduce too fast, consume too much, are irresponsible, impulsive, juvenile and quite frankly dangerous for ourselves, what is left to the common-folk?
Here, a single outlet appears to me: Nihilistic Hedonism
When trapped in a system where a common person’s input is nullified by miles of red tape and subversive laws and bureaucratic manipulations that run so deep that no man may fully fathom it, man must be forgiven, nay, even expected to react with a certain disgust and a desire to alienate himself from it all. If there exists a problem that has no solution and promises to sap our lifeblood for as long as we live (for example, an abusive spouse), every psychologist worth their salt will recommend that you sever ties. Cut them from your life, you are better off without it. For every common man, the system and the State is that abusive spouse. Interfering, violating, dominating and oppressing you every chance it gets. So, following the mental health handbook, distancing is just fine.
Distancing oneself from the system, however, has further implications, one that now render the abusive spouse analogy insufficient. When you attempt to disavow participation or any form of engagement, even in idle discourse, with the system, you are signaling the destruction of your faith in a functioning community. You are saying you do not believe we are capable of sustaining ourselves, we cannot coexist long term and that the tracks we are on lead only to destruction. Until this is accepted, a person has not truly severed ties.
Accept this, however, and the rest follows quite simply. When one accepts that everything has gone to shit, then one’s inner conscience no longer impels him to invest in a better future. It would be the equivalent of pouring money into a company that you know is going to go bankrupt. Having lost all incentive to look ahead, one simply looks to enjoy it while it lasts. Nevil Shute’s On The Beach captures this form of thinking admirably. The only difference being, in the fictional work, the onset of the end of life is much more immediate, and so its effect on people is that much more exaggerated. But the essence remains the same. “We all return to dust in the end, so let us make merry while we are here.” A completely understandable extension of the feeling of futility.
Today, the only avenue of hope left to us is outer space, and that faint glimmer is swiftly being shut out by budget cuts and strong, misguided opposition. Within the confines of our planet, we have reached, overthrown and exceeded our limits. What little we are still creating is merely to distract us from the fact that we have begun to teeter. We have nothing more to offer as a species. Nothing that will really matter.
The way I see it, we have dug our graves, we have lay in it voluntarily, we have thrown away all the tools that could possibly allow us to dig ourselves out. And so, the one last thing we can aspire to is dignity. Not in the societal sense of virtuous and moral behavior, but simply being true to ourselves. If we are honest with ourselves, and we recognize the mire we are steeped in, and the fact that we are not getting out, then let us shed these pretenses and do what our minds are telling us to do. Let the world mock our weakness (for indulging is always viewed as a weakness), and let it not matter. Bring on Hedonism, the full package. If we are to die, let us not die in half measures. At the very least, as a species, let us spare the feat of extinction the botched nature of our other achievements. Let us go out with a bang, though there will be none to hear it.
And so, to return to the original question: Do we not have a responsibility to be Hedonistic?
Yes. We most certainly do.