Society preaches that moderation is key and
that rabid indulgence is bad for you, yet we are also told that we have to
fight for our right… to party. This desire to live it up — to over eat, over drink, over spend, to over indulge — is never more prevalent than the holiday seasons. For some reason, getting eggnog wasted on a Thursday night in July is frowned upon, but during the holidays it’s expected.
It may even be necessary. Perhaps we afford ourselves the ability to be excessive during the holidays because it ensures us a good time. To relegate yourself to unhappiness during the holidays would be a waste of vacation days, right? But should we not maximize happiness
every day of our lives? “Thanks, I needed that.” Some might casually call this logic “hedonism.” The term “hedonism” is used in several contexts. In moral philosophy, it generally denotes the view that a good life should be a pleasurable life. In psychology, it stands for the theory that pleasure seeking is a main motivator of human behavior. Essentially — if it makes you happy, it
can’t be that bad, right? For someone like Epicurus, not so much. Because pleasure and pain aren’t
measured by simple bodily desires. Happiness is more of a state
of existence that is characterized by the freedom from mental distress and anxiety. Happiness is about maximizing well-being. It’s not simple physical pleasures,
or empty quests for fame, fortune, or power. Nietzsche is often read as a philosopher that
advocated hedonism. But against hedonism, Nietzsche
proposed a love of suffering and tragedy. Kind of like relegating yourself to watching Requiem for a Dream over and over. But for the most part, people seeking “the
good life” opt out of relentless pursuing tragedy or pleasure and favor living in moderation. In the 1920s, the temperance movement was a large part of the American political culture that served as a moral foundation
to buttress prohibition. Beyond the Judeo-Christian demand to have no idols like food and drink before god, temperance has its roots in pre-modern philosophy With Plato, earthly pleasures and bodily desires
ought to be put in check by rational forces. People that can’t put down that second pie are relegated to non-philosophical life — a lesser existence. Plato’s pupil, Aristotle, found a virtuous living
to be a condition for happiness, or eudemonia. This was a tempered life — where passions
were guided by the golden mean — a balance of drives held in check by enkratia,
or self control. In his “La Dolce Vita,” everything settles on
just right and balanced — sort of like goldilocks. But what do Plato, Epicurus, Nietzsche, and Aristotle know about living a good life in today’s world? Can you really trust the wisdom of anybody who’s never had a four loco or a fried Oreo before? From food to Netflix, our contemporary binge culture perhaps outmodes the Aristotelian and Nietzschean understandings of indulgence
and the shame that goes with it. “Ah fuck I’m getting a cinnabon.” For Contemporary American
philosopher Lauren Berlant, the reason that I am not happy after
eating an entire box of Krispy Kreme donuts has nothing to do with how much shame they kneed into the batter and sprinkle into the glaze. Rather it has to do with something she
calls cruel optimism. In her own words: “A relation of cruel optimism exists when something you desire is actually an obstacle to your flourishing…” It might involve food, drugs,
alcohol, fantasy, habits, or even love. These kinds of optimistic
relations are not inherently cruel. They become cruel only when the object that draws your attachment actively impedes the aim that brought you to it initially. We live in a time where the ability to live up to the Aristotelian good life is less and less possible According to Berlant, we are slowly working ourselves to death, living in a sort of haggard and demanding world where the contemporary worker is stuck perpetually experiencing the disappointment of unmet expectations. Working for a living means you probably
eat from the local food truck and visit the vending more than necessary, spend most of the day sitting behind a desk, all in the name of achieving the good life. Yet, the workplace becomes an obstacle to happiness. Then, when the worn out subject seeks relief in small pleasures—in the things that they find make them happy, they’re met with new expectations
and hurdles to happiness. It’s a constant cycle where the very object that makes them happy causes them the greatest amount of pain. Cruel optimism shows its cruelty here: in
developed nations, ‘comfort food’ and to be happy with. In other words, the emotional
‘solution’ contributes to the problem a per- verse mode of enjoyment in conditions
of plenty. The un-gendering of eating dis- connection between capitalism and this mode
of suffering suspended between gluttony and Like raging with friends to reduce the unhappiness?
Too bad they’re all shallow narcissists. Love scotch? “I love scotch.”
Oops- Your liver and your wife are missing. Find some joy in comfort food? Beware the inevitable guilt that comes after the food coma. It seems we are caught up in a vicious cycle. “I eat because I’m unhappy.
And I’m unhappy because I eat.” What do you think, dear viewer?
Is there true happiness? Or are we all stuck in a series of isolated nows? Are we just floating from beer to bong, from wake to bake, midday snack to midnight snack, slipping in and out of tryptophan induced naps, the transient feeling of microwave warm bliss, slowly leaving our bodies like so much baked potato heat, dissipating out into the ether? With that, Happy Holidays
from the Wisecrack crew!