Non-Hedonistic Egoism

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Hedonism is usually defined as a disposition that seeks to avoid pain and suffering, and that positions personal physical pleasures superior to all other possible goals.

I also place “selfish” pleasure above all else, but wish to carefully qualify this by first commenting on human nature, then on the taxonomy of pleasure and pain.

Humans are subject to what might be called the creep of discontent. The individual who has been living in the comfort of a villa yearns for the adventure of the jungle, while those who have been long in the jungle yearn for the comfort of the villa. The same conditions yield different pleasure values over time. The deeper the discontent in setting A, the greater the euphoria when there is a transition to desired setting B.

As an example, when I first began to live in the mountains of Mexico, I was elated by the demands of survival and self-sufficiency. However, after 4 or 5 months, I began to feel a bit homesick for the amenities of electricity and plumbing. Now, after having lived in Tokyo for 10 years, the mountains of Mexico again have a considerable appeal.

Often the elation is unexpected. I experienced two and a half years of seemingly endless depression after my divorce which suddenly and surprisingly gave way to an intense euphoria when I began to explore and adopt a new identity.

Another example is my move from Christianity to agnosticism. Though experiencing a considerable amount of happiness within Christianity, I did not even recognize my own submerged discontent resulting from the cognitive dissonance naturally emergent of incoherent notions contained within Christianity. I made the decision to leave Christianity fully expecting a future of spiritual anguish. When the pieces of the puzzle of life fell beautifully into place within a couple years, the resulting euphoria was quite a surprise.

So it is largely the experiential contrast between perceived or unperceived pain and pleasure that deepens the pleasure. Continued satisfaction within a constant physical pleasure is not possible. For this reason, unlike a hedonist, I welcome pain. Pain is what makes the recognition of pleasure possible. The troughs and crests of an engaged life merge to create a satisfying dynamic.

In addition, there are various categories of pain and pleasure. If merely physical pain and pleasure were possible, a life of inebriation and hallucination would be a noble goal. However, many psychological pains and pleasures are overlooked. I derive deep psychological pleasure from the fact that I have 3 kids in university, from the great number of experiences I’ve had, and from my current identity, knowledge, circle of friends and disposition towards life. I currently feel quite complete. Death, while not desired, is nothing to be feared.

As a human, I recognize that psychological pleasures normally outweigh immediate physical pleasures. This mindset is largely responsible for my disinterest in money and the pleasures it can purchase. I acknowledge that, while I am essentially egoistic (and believe that no one actually acts outside their own selfish interests), within that egoism there is a significant altruistic module that must be fed. My social nature compels me to seek out individuals to love and care for. Narcissistic hedonism disallows this and, while passing through temporary physical pleasures, does not accumulate the psychological pleasures that aggregate into a strong personal contentment that can be carried far into the future.

So welcome the painful. It defines the next pleasure.

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