The argument vs. pleasure

In the war against drug addiction, the strategy that gets the most press is taking the drug itself out of play, mostly through law enforcement. But until we succeed in ridding the world of such potent, life-wrecking pleasures, there should be more emphasis on learning to live in a world that has such temptations in it.

Pleasure is a powerful argument for itself. It is available in many forms: food, alcohol, sex, drugs, etc., all of which can and do give a lot of people trouble. The pleasure—the euphoria—of heroin is said to be extremely pleasureful, to the point of being irresistible.

In a world in which these strong pleasures are available, and the effects often so terrible, the question arises: how do you argue with pleasure? Especially early in life, when maximizing pleasure seems like the way to go, the response is likely (and reasonably enough) to be: How can you argue with pleasure? Why would you want to?

It’s a good guess that most of us know that survival to maturity depends precisely on on both asking the question and finding an answer to it. On getting beyond pleasure.

Simplifying a very complicated matter, what most of us discover if we live long enough, which most of us do, is that the satisfactions of a meaningful life (work, connection with others, problem solving, creativity broadly defined,) are deeper, stronger, more sustaining than the more obvious pleasures . Think of them as another category of pleasure.

Most of us know this; it is our sustaining wisdom. And yet you would not guess it from the prevailing “consumer society” description of us. You would not guess it from us or our life as depicted in TV ads.

In much of our most obvious and pervasive culture our ancient self-proclaimed right to pursue happiness looks a lot like pursuit of pleasure. Maybe that’s what the founders had in mind, but probably not.

It would seem that the TV advertising version of us and not our “beyond pleasure” survival wisdom, is what our president was taking us for when he inspired us at a moment of severe national crisis with the advice that the most useful, meaningful thing we could do was to “go shopping” (which is probably why that advice has been so widely ridiculed since almost the moment he uttered it).

If a larger portion of our youth are getting waylaid by drugs, it may have something to do with this pervasive culture of pleasure.

What is to be done? One thing is to get clear ourselves on our own “beyond pleasure” values. And then to build that wisdom and those values more consciously and effectively into education in our families and in the schools.


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