Eudaimonics



Lloyd H. Whitling

Hang it up. Put it back on the shelf. Keep it in cold storage. Give it a rest until we see a reason for it. Abeyance…

Over the past two or three centuries, depending on what we would choose for a starting point, science has been slowly building and refining a pool of knowledge. During that time, it has also refined and established a method for determining and verifying by how much we can depend upon a piece of information, its reasons for denying truth for other pieces of information, and why some other pieces of information accepted as true should not be believed.

During recent decades, that pool of knowledge has accelerated into a pond. Science still has an ocean full of lakes to go, but that does not mean we do not need to keep on, nor will not benefit from, applying that method to our individual existences. After eventual banishment of unfounded beliefs, will our world truly crumble into rampant sensualism? Will a universal application of well-understood science prevent that from happening—or, is what we have now to guide us the best we can ever do?

If there be truth to the often-expressed notion that science cannot make moral statements, it likely is true that there will never be a better world for human habitation. We cannot forget, however, the scientific method was never used to approve that statement. For people to believe it while untested makes of it a religious statement about “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” Untested, it may not be true, or may be partly true but mostly misleading. It must be tested so we can know, and steer a proper course in harmony with the result. We can learn to trust it over the course of time, as increasing amounts of gathered data lead to refinement, until we (or, our heirs) get to compare life in some later times with ours. Will we or they laugh at our current duplicity? I will insist this: If applying science to morality results in a mess, it is set up to correct itself. It is the nature of religion that it will not. Religion will hide in every hole it finds, and hang in each hole until science finds a plug. The value of religion to humanity is not the possession of any truths. It serves the world by challenging science and forcing it to stay honest and, as much as possible, complete.

I was not raised to think the way any of that suggests. My folks would have felt proud of all the religious-right sons of (I so hate to sully my image of dogs that I will say) Satan that are running our country now. What changed? I believe my interest in writing, combined with the religious arguments in which my parents seemed to stay involved, caused me to rescue myself. Starting with the religious arguments, I started to read everything I could find, until it dawned on me that everybody seemed able to prove anything they wanted from their scriptures. I began to understand how God and Satan could switch places in people’s minds with no one ever the wiser. The only people who could show me what to believe were the scientists I eventually read about.

Yes, there is an element of doubt inherent to science. That is a good thing that allows for refinement. That element to enable a tuning-up process should no more be disparaged for science than for musicians. Think of musicians not allowed to tune their instruments, and you will soon have the conditions inherent to religion— people soon starting their own bands (new sects) just so they can retune, then having a blast with it until the inevitable detuning occurs. Rather than doubt, I now see it as being able to know a good thing that may later lead to knowledge of something even better. Hey, I can allow myself to stay in tune, now!—and I have standards of comparisons so that I can stay in tune. I only have to remember that not everything written about science is scientific.

The religious don’t see it that way. They see that element of doubt as a weakness they can latch on to so they can keep themselves convinced of their own failing sense of rectitude. That may be one reason why they search the Internet for arguments. They feel desperate, it appears, for a handle by which they can lift up their wilting belief, hoping against hope that it won’t die before Jesus comes back to rescue them. They don’t see the verse in their own scripts that tells them that day has come and gone. They don’t want to hear how the promise went unkept.

The religious call us fools, immoral, evil perverts with no moral compass, filled with anger. We may be fools, but only because we give them our attention, as if we give no thought to things when they’re not around pissing us off. Yes, it is their common inclination to reason with the gut that makes them so irritating to us. They proclaim something scientific, when it has passed muster with nothing more than their scriptures. They talk about hypotheses as though they may be defeasible without realizing we commonly have no interest in them until someone can make testable predictions about them. They seem oblivious that so many people have tried variations of the same routine on every opportunity to present itself that we feel underwhelmed (a cliché, yes, but appropriate for a cliché situation). You! You are not the first to so approach us. Our parents and/or our neighbors beat you by most of our years.

Conditions found in the middle East give me my personal take on morality. It cannot be set in stone by centralized self-appointed authorities without doing great harm. Over time, the authority squeezes harder and tighter as new, more painful and unjustifiable edicts increase its grip while its subjects struggle to stay alive. Look at conditions in the middle east where that is normal and enforcement too often leads to death of an innocent victim and freedom for the guilty. Morality is a servant of Justice. That is not justice. That is injustice! To treat religious edicts as though they have already gone through science’s process of validation leads to the enforcement of sham laws based on them, a dangerous situation the rise of which we are seeing in our own country. Fascism is not just a Republican buzz-word. Dominionism is not just an idle threat. You would not like life under them any more than would most of us.

True morality is a province of responsible empathetic individuals. Living in a “righteous and good manner” is what keeps us all out of jail. The last statistics I found showed atheists to be, PER CAPITA, less than 1% of prison populations. That is what comes of mixing religion with governance, and of treating speculative hypotheses as though they have been proved. Those who do so get incarcerated several times over those who acknowledge their ignorance by declaring, “I don’t know.” What good is a hypothesis if it gets you into trouble by leading you to moral edicts that fail? Why bother with all the trouble taken to hide religion behind rhetoric when the numbers show how it will fail you? It is as easy to call Satan “God” and mistake that entity for Allah, Yahweh, or whomever, because you have no way of recognition. You would be far better served to simply watch what happens to other people and learn from that.

Most arguers accusing atheists of ‘fundamentalism’ and ‘denying God’ leave out the one important element that DAs use to determine if cases are ready to be tried, that makes science the powerful tool it has become, and justifies the naturalistic atheist position. It is the matter of abeyance, derived from the defeasibility principle. A scientist may believe his hypothesis will pass all tests. A DA may be convinced the accused deserves to serve a long sentence for a heinous act. To serve the cause of justice, which we all want, abeyance requires unsupported hypotheses and accusations to be set aside and to not be acted upon until sufficient evidence can be gathered. Conjecture and speculation for which no evidence exists, and for which no testable predictions can be expressed, are considered to be frivolous, meaningless, irrelevant, dangerous to truth and justice.

I have lived a long life filled with people pushing a ‘god’ notion and have learned some things that warn me of slavery, intolerance and centralism. That means that my autonomy is being targeted. Someone is setting up a circumstance where they can grant authority to a central power to manage my sense of responsibility for the results of my choices in life, and such people act as toadies for that cause. Worse, they want to usurp my right to choose sensibly by introducing priests (by all the labels that apply) into the mix, who feel bound to serve their frivolously derived god named (God, Allah, Satan, the other 15000) by guessing at what It wants the same way they guessed that It exists.

We already have a central authority, where Almighty’s handworkers have been making inroads since this country’s inception. We are embroiled in the middle East because of it. We have problems in our cities that can be (and have been) attributed to it. We have an unjust system of taxation because of it, and it will get worse before enough people awaken to the root cause and rise up against it. Look at what is happening in the middle East now. Look at Syria. Worse than that could happen here because of people pushing this conjectured existence into government. Do we want that evil here? My opinion is “No!”

Can you in all honesty, imagine a god as jealous, bloodthirsty and demanding as the one described in the Bible staying so completely absent from its flock? As all-powerful as it is said to be, I would expect to hear a ‘round-the-world deafening growl every so often. It would definitely make itself heard and put a stop to all these yay-hoots giving Satan all the credit and causing all those good-intentioned converts to be bound for Hell. I surely don’t envision a god so dumb as to let that kind of people do its talking, when the real, actual thing could scare Hell right out of me just by letting me hear it sigh. I would be at its service immediately after cleaning up the mess.

The only testable rules of right and wrong are learned from nature. The only demonstrable reason for ethics and morality is found in other people. We will praise each other for doing good and right, and warn each other when we see bad and wrong in our midst. We will sue people who do us harm. We don’t need priests to set down rules about those things, nor to form a court to determine reprisals and restitutions. Like any other animal, we can do that ourselves because we know what hurts, what deserves blame, what deserves praise, what constitutes loss, and what makes justice. Gods and priests serve no purpose in that, and only get in the way of its free practice.

We also know how to determine the sources of many decrees about morality, the nature of the causes such decrees might serve, and do well understand what it leads to. Our USA is suffering in its sleep because of that now. It is the adverse of the freedom our leaders constantly tout. We don’t need more of that in our lives. You don’t need it in your life. Study freely with an aim to learn what atheism and hedonism really means away from churches and other commercial enterprises. Don’t try to sneak in what deserves nothing more than abeyance. Too many of us have already had that up to here. We have no reason to adopt such beliefs, and you have no reason for hanging on to them.


Three interpretations of hedonism seem to prevail in today’s world: Commonest are the commercial approach and the misapprended misunderstanding derived from that, upon which the religious approach relies, upon which, in turn, our dictionaries and textbooks rely. Least common, but most true to hedonism’s origins are the various philosophical hedonisms, including my own Equalitarianism that attempts to present hedonism in ways the average person can grasp. As true hedonism requires a high level of self-control and an advanced ability to cogitate, the philosophy suffers from the absence of metaphorical images available to the commercial and religious presentations, which enables those to dominate from nearly the beginning of human life.

Rather than understanding ‘metaphorical images’ as mental props meant to instill ongoing fear of dire punishment, consider the effect that a well-understood, natural system of rewards offers, the penalty side being of things you’d want to avoid anyways as a natural instinct if you saw them coming at you. Rather than of what you will do in spite of a threat, penalties that naturally fit the crime, rather than eternal torment for rather minor infractions, seem more believable to the forewarned scholar. Rewards you can earn for yourself hold more promise than foggy notions of a Heaven designed for 12thousand gross of Jews (that promises to be too overcrowded to allow admittance to very many Gentiles). Penalties that accompany errant acts can be observed at work on other people and enable a wise person to choose against a multitude of evils at work all around. Here should be the clincher: The system is already at work whether or not we choose to benefit from it.

While I have no interest in promoting any specific causes, a better understanding of the ages-old philosophy that gave rise to the American constitution, and the resultant experiment in democracy, should warn us of historically-evidenced dangers inherent to the increasing entanglement of religion with governance our nation has been facing since its inception. America‘s major religion rightly demonizes commercial hedonism without caring to recognize it as such due to historical ties with the moneyed side [1]from which it gains its support. Hedonism’s “pursuit of happiness” mantra was openly expressed in the oft repeated quote that begins with [2]”life, liberty and the…” expressed by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.

While not official policy, that document does serve as a statement of [3]Deism-derived beliefs we find verified in a letter from Jefferson to William Short, “…As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurean. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy…” As a Deist, for whom no god named God remains active in the universe, it is only natural that he would find authority in an ethical philosophy, and only natural that, as reviled and malpracticed as it had been, few people of his time (and ours) would understand ethical hedonism in any factual manner.

Epicurus ran a school, The Garden, where he taught his philosophy, now known as Epicureanism. From Wikipedia:

“For Epicurus, the purpose of philosophy was to attain the happy, tranquil life, characterized by ataraxia—peace and freedom from fear—and aponia—the absence of pain—and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends. He taught that pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and evil; death is the end of both body and soul and should therefore not be feared; the gods do not reward or punish humans; the universe is infinite and eternal…”

Other than the labels, the message is basically the same then as now, waiting for us to interpret how to apply it according to today’s advancing knowledge. Rules derived from the modern view differ very little from those Epicurus expressed, and engage every aspect of human existence. I arrived at over a hundred general rules before I showed them to my neighbor. He commented, “So complicated. We have only ten.” He just stood there, grinning while he waited for what I’d have to say, so, I responded, “Maybe that’s why there’s such a high percentage of your folks in jail, compared to us.”

I don’t mind including myself ‘in’ with whom I know as good people. If I were to appropriate just ten rules out of what Ben Franklin wrote to Mr Short and what Wikipedia attributed to Epicurus, here’s what they’d be:

  1. Balance pleasure and pain to stay happy, calm and peaceable.
  2. Stay decent with others and aim to do them no harm.
  3. *Golden Rule: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.
  4. Silver Rule: One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.
  5. Reward and penalty measure good and evil for both Nature and mankind; therefore, aim to live a tranquil life and let your good deeds far outnumber the bad.
  6. Stay active and maintain good health in every way.
  7. Believe nothing beyond that which has been tested through observation or logical deduction.
  8. “Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.” – Thales
  9. Fear not, for death offers no threat beyond eternal peace.
  10. The highest good comes from pleasures of the mind, so stay interested, refuse no opportunity to learn or create according to your talents, attend to your studies, and learn from others with due caution.
    ~~

*Note: I believe Epicurus’ laid-back approach was not shared by Mr. Franklin nor by myself. Modern life exposes us to too many opportunities to experience excruciating pain, so that near-total avoidance is impossible to maintain while aiming to also live a healthy life without becoming a recluse. Still, one should not give up his/her rights to cater to other’s whimsy. The Golden Rule as usually expressed fails to acknowledge the need for complete reciprocity to establish the empathy necessary for total civility. Therefore, I offer this revision while keeping the Silver Rule as is: “Do unto others as they would have you to for so long as you do not violate your own principles.” I have added these rules, with that modification, to my list, which now numbers 125.

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I have discovered my footnotes have been failing to show up in the publishing process, so am experimenting with various methods of creating them. It appears that the old fashioned “look for this number at the bottom of this page, then try to find where you were before going blind” approach may be all there is. My approach to this condition?—read the page thru, then read the notes and try to remember why they’re there. Makes a fun game of it.

I recently uploaded 127 LLOYD’S RULES to amazon.com in hopes readers of this blog would find it relevant. I started it as a collection of Gibbs Rules (on NCIS, CBS) but found them a little too work-oriented to mean much. I started my own list with modified versions of those applicable in the Gibbs list, and increased it with hedonism-oriented rules as I discovered them. I told myself, “People ought to be able to find these all in one place, instead of having to learn them the hard way!” and decided to share them at amazon’s lowest ebook price. (Hey, I appreciate what they do for unsponsored authors. They deserve to earn a few cents for hosting information you can find gathered nowhere else).

NOTES:

[1][1] http://www1.umassd.edu/euro/2005papers/keuhn.pdf  “…students are sometimes disturbed to learn that in early Christian history, conversion was often in response to economic or political benefits rather than religious fervor… …As economic forces proved unwavering and proto-industrialization rapidly changed the society of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, intellectuals gradually changed their tune, postulating that capitalism, private ownership and overseas trade were part of God’s plan. Thus, observers of social change manipulated religious rhetoric to justify the new market society, which had become necessary for people’s economic well-being.”

Book: Spiritual Merchants: Religion Magic & Commerce [Paperback]

http://www.aef.com/on_campus/asr/editorial_intros/10_4 “…contemporary observers in the West tend to think of religion and commerce as two domains that are—or at least should be—tightly sealed off from each other. However, the longer human record shows the persistent influence of religion on commercial practices, while commerce has always ‘tainted’ the space of the sacred.”

 

[2][1] Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Wikipedia offers a useful discussion about Jefferson’s inspiration but does not claim the final word.

http://libertylifehappiness.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/liberty-liberty/

[3][1] Both [theists and Deists] asserted belief in one supreme God, the Creator… and agreed that God is personal and distinct from the world. But the theist taught that God remained actively interested in and operative in the world which he had made, whereas the Deist maintained that God endowed the world at creation with self-sustaining and self-acting powers and then abandoned it to the operation of these powers acting as second causes. (Wikipedia)

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