Diogenes’ Wall: on the Pleasures

In the coming weeks, The Autarkist will be covering in detail some gleanings from Diogenes’ Wall Inscription. Diogenes of Oenoanda was a wealthy Epicurean from the Second Century of Common Era who lived in what is today the south of Turkey. He erected the wall with an inscription of Epicurean teachings so that the teachings would benefit all passers-by. The two major portions of the inscription are an epitome on the physics and another one on the ethics. The key portion on pleasure are fragments 32-35. It begins by tackling how virtues are the means and pleasure is the end:

If, gentlemen, the point at issue between these people and us involved inquiry into «what is the means of happiness?» and they wanted to say «the virtues» (which would actually be true), it would be unnecessary to take any other step than to agree with them about this, without more ado. But since, as I say, the issue is not «what is the means of happiness?» but «what is happiness and what is the ultimate goal of our nature?», I say both now and always, shouting out loudly to all Greeks and non-Greeks, that pleasure is the end of the best mode of life, while the virtues, which are inopportunely messed about by these people (being transferred from the place of the means to that of the end), are in no way an end, but the means to the end …

He then goes on to argue that the virtues benefit man, and exist and act for the sake of his nature. Diogenes says that there are three categories of causes of pleasure according to time: those that precede the pleasure, those that coincide with it (coincident causes, among which the virtues are to be found according to Diogenes), and those that follow the pleasure. Fragment 33:

Well now, I want to deflect also the error that … further inflates your doctrine as ignorant. The error is this: [not] all causes in things precede their effects, even if the majority do, but some of them precede their effects, others [coincide with] them, and others follow them.

Examples of causes that precede are cautery and surgery saving life: in these cases extreme pain must be borne, and it is after this that pleasure quickly follows.

Examples of coincident causes are [solid] and liquid nourishment and, in addition to these, [sexual acts:] we do not eat [food] and experience pleasure afterwards, nor do we drink wine and experience pleasure afterwards, nor do we emit semen and experience pleasure afterwards; rather the action brings about these pleasures for us immediately, without awaiting the future.

[As for causes that follow, an example is expecting] to win praise after death: although men experience pleasure now because there will be a favourable memory of them after they have gone, nevertheless the cause of the pleasure occurs later.

Now you, being unable to mark off these distinctions, and being unaware that the virtues have a place among the causes that coincide with their effects (for they are borne along with [pleasure), go completely astray.]

The ability to remember and anticipate past and future pleasures will be discussed in a future essay, and relates to this, but first I wish to explain that the above passage is controversial among Epicureans, who tend to stay away from talk of virtue precisely because of our preference for clear speech. Prudence is the kind of virtue by which we plan for the future, and while we may take pleasure in the anticipation of future confidence and stability, it’s not immediately clear that it (like all “the virtues”, according to Diogenes) is coincident with its effect (pleasure).

In Fragment 34, Diogenes rephrases the portion on choices and avoidances from the Letter to Menoeceus, and then once again revisits the subject of pleasures’ causes in time using garden imagery, explaining how the seeds of different pleasures germinate in different seasons.

… [let us] not [avoid every pain that is present, and let us not choose every pleasure, as the many always do. Each person must employ reasoning,] since he [will not always achieve immediate success: just as] exertion (?) [often] involves one [gain at the beginning and] certain [others as time passes by], so it is also with [experiencing pleasure;] for sowings of seeds do [not] bring [the same benefit] to the sower but we see some seeds very quickly germinating [and bearing fruit and others taking longer] …………… of pleasures and  [pains] …….. [pleasure].

In my book, I translated katastematic pleasure as abiding pleasure, and kinetic as dynamic pleasure. Dan Gilbert in his science of happiness book and TED Talk, uses natural and synthetic happiness. The Oenoanda page speaks instead of pleasure in states and in actions (static and active), and gives some insight into how an Epicurean from the Second Century CE defined static pleasure and into how ataraxia (equanimity, imperturbability), while not identical to pleasure, opens the way for pleasure.

Let us now [investigate] how life is to be made pleasant for us both in states and in actions.

Let us first discuss states, keeping an eye on the point that, when the emotions which disturb the soul are removed, those which produce pleasure enter into it to take their place.

Well, what are the disturbing emotions? [They are] fears —of the gods, of death, and of [pains]— and, besides [these], desires that [outrun] the limits fixed by nature. These are the roots of all evils, and, [unless] we cut them off, [a multitude] of evils will grow [upon] us.

The premise here is that, as sentient beings, at least so long as we are awake and conscious, we are always in some state of being. As philosophers, we should therefore be mindful of the dispositions that inform our states of mind—and some of these are hidden or unconscious–so that the perturbances can be healed in order to allow for pleasure to enter and take their place. Notice that there are four roots of evil that are clearly identified for our introspection and inner work.

Of the unconscious nature of many of these fearful dispositions, we read in Fragment 35:

As a matter of fact this fear is sometimes clear, sometimes not clear—clear when we avoid something manifestly harmful like fire through fear that we shall meet death by it, not clear when, while the mind is occupied with something else, it (fear) has insinuated itself into our nature and [lurks] …

This accentuates the psychotherapeutic nature of Epicurean ethics: we frequently use avoidance, repression, projection, and other techniques to lie to ourselves about what perturbs us. We therefore have to confront ourselves with honesty in order to profit from the Epicurean process of philosophy. And so Epicurean therapy–the purpose of which is to secure a life filled with pleasures–requires introspection, focus, attention, and the healing and training of the mind so that it may be pleasantly occupied.

See Also:

Oinoanda: “What the Truth Was Before it Turned into Ruins”

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Happy Twentieth: Lucretius on Iron and War, and some Updates

Happy Twentieth to Epicureans everywhere! During the month of February in Athens, Epicureans from all over Greece got together for their annual symposium. As is customary, I sent a message of solidarity on behalf of the Friends of Epicurus. Here is the full report of the symposium in English.

This month the essays about Nietzsche’s Will to Power went live on the Society of Epicurus page, and I was introduced to an intriguing discovery: YANG CHU, the Taoist hedonist sage who authored the seventh chapter of Lieh Tzu. This chapter has been translated into English as Yang Chu’s Garden of Pleasure: a literary and philosophical treasure trove filled with wise parables and teachings that many Epicureans will likely end up considering an important source of inspiration and guidance.

Look for my article on euthanasia on TheHumanist.com. A new self-guided and self-paced study curriculum (which covers the entire corpus of our tradition) is live on the SocietyofEpicurus.com page for the benefit of philosophy students, and the Spanish version also. We are also celebrating the growth of the Society of Friends of Epicurus: Matt Jackson is our newest member. He lent his voice to the introductory video on our youtube channel.

And finally, I was invited to discuss Epicurean philosophy at a high school philosophy club, and had a great experience interacting with brilliant young minds about hedonic calculus and about choices and avoidances.

This month I’ll share a passage from De Rerum Natura on how war expanded to an industrial scale after the discovery of iron. The passage raises questions about technology and how we should apply it to the end that our own nature seeks: Pleasure. There is a Yoruba legend that says that the only being in the universe who could tame the warrior Ogún was the most beautiful of the Goddesses, Oshún (the African Aphrodite), who would smear herself in honey and dance naked for him, enchanting him and making him do her bidding for the sake of peace and prosperity in the land. If Ogún is “sweetened”, rather than wage war or remove his skills from civilization, he would use his skills for sweetness, diminishing the brute labor required from men and beasts by making machines and weapons that make life easier. So it’s an interesting Epicurean commentary on this archetype: by offering its skills to the service of Oshun (i.e. Pleasure), all of civilization and all of society is helped! In De Rerum Natura, we also see that Mars stops his displays of aggression and his fighting, and gently surrenders to Venus in the opening poem.

ogThe month of March takes its name from the god of war, Mars. The Lucretius passage on how the invention of iron exacerbated man’s violence and made warfare on a larger scale possible reminds me of an African War God known as Ogún, whose counterpart is Hephaistos / Vulcan in the classical pantheon.

Ogún is a warrior god and the spirit of iron. He is associated with train tracks, iron, smithwork, and really he is the orisha associated with all technology and mechanics. The Yoruba people (and their Lucumí counterparts in the island of Cuba) believe that Ogún never tires and is constantly working. This is because he is associated with, or embodied in, the tools used to work the land. Many Yorubas believe that without Ogún, advanced civilization would be impossible.

But he’s more than the Divine Mechanic. They also believe that war would be impossible without him, and in fact Ogún is also the Voodoo god in whose honor the people of Haiti offered a sacrifice at the onset of the island-wide bloody slave revolt that eventually led to Haiti’s independence. Voodoo faithful believe that Ogún is the orisha who liberated them from slavery.

Now, Epicurean doctrine teaches that anything that secures our safety and our life is a natural good. The good side of this archetype is that chariots and weapons allowed many who were defenseless before to not succumb to tyranny, and to defend themselves. In Lucretius, a secular humanist evaluation of the association between iron and warfare is explored. The passage ends explaining how Discord multiplies the horrors of war.

How nature of iron discovered was, thou mayst
Of thine own self divine. Man’s ancient arms
Were hands, and nails and teeth, stones too and boughs-
Breakage of forest trees- and flame and fire,
As soon as known. Thereafter force of iron
And copper discovered was; and copper’s use
Was known ere iron’s, since more tractable
Its nature is and its abundance more.
With copper men to work the soil began,
With copper to rouse the hurly waves of war,
To straw the monstrous wounds, and seize away
Another’s flocks and fields. For unto them,
Thus armed, all things naked of defence
Readily yielded. Then by slow degrees
The sword of iron succeeded, and the shape
Of brazen sickle into scorn was turned:
With iron to cleave the soil of earth they ‘gan,
And the contentions of uncertain war
Were rendered equal.
And, lo, man was wont
Armed to mount upon the ribs of horse
And guide him with the rein, and play about
With right hand free, oft times before he tried
Perils of war in yoked chariot;
And yoked pairs abreast came earlier
Than yokes of four, or scythed chariots
Whereinto clomb the men-at-arms. And next
The Punic folk did train the elephants-
Those curst Lucanian oxen, hideous,
The serpent-handed, with turrets on their bulks-
To dure the wounds of war and panic-strike
The mighty troops of Mars. Thus Discord sad
Begat the one Thing after other, to be
The terror of the nations under arms,
And day by day to horrors of old war
She added an increase.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura

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Tending the Garden with the Youth

I had the great pleasure of discussing Epicurean ethics with a group of about twenty students from the Philosophy Club at Jones High School in Chicago yesterday. After introducing myself and explaining what led me to write Tending the Epicurean Garden, I read Principal Doctrines 26, 29 and 30, as well as the portion of the Letter to Menoeceus that talks about how–although pleasure is choice-worthy for its own sake and pain is avoidance-worthy for its own sake–not every pleasure is to be sought and not every pain to be avoided. I also discussed the differences between the natural and necessary desires, those that are natural but unnecessary, and those that are empty, and the importance of having some kind of standard for our choices and avoidances, and explained hedonic calculus.

We considered real-life scenarios to apply hedonic calculus, and mentioned questions about access to information, as many of the Herculaneum scrolls are not available to everyday people due to the high cost of academic translations available. I also discussed some of the contemporary research on the science of happiness, went over some of the findings, and talked about how much of this research is actually taking place in universities here in Chi-Town.

But one thing that struck me was how easily they understand issues of power and how power affects narratives. When asked why Epicurean philosophy hadn’t been more widely taught, I simply mentioned: “Plato. And Christianity“. And it seemed immediately like they understood. I shared a bit of the counter-history of philosophy angle when I explained that Epicurus was reacting mainly to Plato when he offered a materialist philosophy, as Plato had de-contextualized and de-naturalized philosophy. On contrast, Epicurus wanted to reconcile us with nature.

The modern efforts to bring creationism and superstition into the classroom are nothing new, in fact they are an ancient cultural war: it has take the form of science versus theology, materialism versus idealism, and other forms. But the Jones students fill me with hope: the high school philosophy club was initiated by students, who get no extracurricular credit for it. They are genuinely interested in the philosophical questions and in critical thinking. Jones is a college prep school and is one of the best in the city of Chicago. My overall impression is that the youth were super smart, organized, curious, respectful and attentive, and my visit there, their hospitality, and their passion for philosophical questions will be quite memorable to me for some time.

Yes, there’s a cult of ignorance taking over America. But there’s still MUCH reason to hope!!!!

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On the Virtue of Coolness

Coolness is the proper way you represent yourself to a human being. – Robert Farris Thompson

A happy life is like neither to a roaring torrent, nor a stagnant pool, but to a placid and crystal stream that flows gently and silently along. – A Few Days in Athens

Coolness (itutu), in Yoruba African aesthetic and spirituality, is associated with the river Goddess Oshun (Aphrodite), who is said to be in charge of “refreshing the world and refreshing all the heads with her sweet river waters“. Beauty is also a part of coolness: it adds to a person’s confidence. This coolness is opposed by gbona (heat, warmth), and is frequently applied to one’s head (as in, keeping a cool head versus being hot-headed) in Yoruba parlance.

The term cool in colloquial English may have been coined by imported Africans to America who were attempting to express ideas peculiar to their worldview. Here, it continued to evolve and, today, coolness is a reincarnation of itutu. We hear expressions such as:

losing one’s cool

keeping one’s cool; cool off (as in, calm down)

chill; chill out (perhaps America’s answer to Danish hygge)

being cool (likeable, sociable, easy to get along with)

Obatala, Yoruba God of Wisdom

Obatala, the Yoruba God of Wisdom, is believed to always keep a cool head

We can also think of a cool pose, a cool and confident way of carrying oneself, and therefore of the connection between coolness and popularity.

The aesthetic ideal of itutu is seen in the dignified, collected, untroubled, calm, peaceful demeanor in African statues and masks. We can immediately see a connection with the Epicurean ideal of ataraxia (equanimity, imperturbability), and in fact both notions denote a certain maturity of intellect and character: gentleness, conciliation, an ability to defuse fights and disputes, self-control and diplomacy. All of these are desired traits in an elder, mentor, or role model.

Coolness of head is also a tangible, physical experience that a hedonist can bring about in his body, literally, by refreshing his head with cool water. In my book, I make mention of the Afro-diasporic therapeutic practice of washing one’s head (known as rogación de cabeza or head rogation, lave-tete or head washing, and by other names in various traditions), which is usually done as a ceremony either with cool water or coconut water. It generally involves washing the crown, the sides and the back of the head. It’s a great practice for when we are in a bad mood, confused, exhausted, or sad.

Notice that cool is distinguishable from cold in our language. Expressions like “cold-hearted; cold and calculating; cold as ice” denote apathy or antipathy, or even lack of humaneness, cruelty.

Coolness has always been in danger of being coopted by consumerism. I believe it should be appropriated as part of a specifically American art of living by our street philosophers, by our everyday intellectuals, and reclaimed as an Epicurean virtue. Everyone can benefit from learning to keep a cool head and from associating with people who are cool in the truest sense of the word.

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Thomas Jefferson’s Epistle to Peter Carr

After writing my Bonobo and the Atheist book review, a friend pointed out a quote by Jefferson where he also argued that morality is a nstural faculty. Here’s the relevant portion, from his Epistle to Peter Carr:

He who made us would have been a pitiful bungler, if he had made the rules of our moral conduct a matter of science. For one man of science, there are thousands who are not. What would have become of them? Man was destined for society. His morality, therefore, was to be formed to this object. He was endowed with a sense of right and wrong, merely relative to this. This sense is as much a part of his nature, as the sense of hearing, seeing, feeling; it is the true foundation of morality, and not the to kalon[beautiful], truth, &c., as fanciful writers have imagined. The moral sense, or conscience, is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. It is given to all human beings in a stronger or weaker degree, as force of members is given them in a greater or less degree. It may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body. This sense is submitted, indeed, in some degree, to the guidance of reason; but it is a small stock which is required for this: even a less one than what we call common sense. State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor. The former will decide it as well, & often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.

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The Bonobo and the Atheist Book Review

This book review was originally posted in societyofepicurus.com.

Today I’m reviewing the amazing book The Bonobo and the Atheist by Dutch anthropologist Frans de Waal. The author takes a soft, humanist approach to atheism and morality, focusing on the study of human and ape (and even mammalian) nature and focusing more on the similarities between us and other animals than on the differences.

This book crushes human exceptionalism and argues that complex human morality, just like our limbs and body parts, comes from earlier, simpler forms. In other words, the book treats morality as the product of natural selection and as a strictly natural phenomenon.

The Question of “Selfish Genes”

The book defines and cites examples of both altruism and reciprocity, both of which are seen in nature and evolved among animals. It is perhaps unfair to limit morality to altruism and reciprocity (or as interpersonal ethics expressed in terms of help / harm), but as we must begin somewhere and as the book is premised on the idea that morality, being a natural phenomenon, evolved from simpler and more rudimentary forms, these are good starting points–which also imply that morality(ies?) must be subject to evolutionary pressures, and evolve with the species.

There underlies animosity against the “new atheists” in the book, although the author admits that he himself is an atheist. They are characterized sometimes as narrow-minded, even bigoted, but not for the reasons that religious people would argue. The book rebels against scientism and against the “doctrines” established by biologists and other scientists. The author argues insistently that genes are not merely selfish, as Richard Dawkins and other brilliant biologists have argued. Yes, they do serve selfish purposes, but it is unfair and uncritical to argue that, if a behavior does not serve an obviously selfish motive, that it is unnatural, or a “misfiring” of a vestige instinct, or some other “error” of nature.

In this, the anthropologist is reminiscent of the ancient Epicureans, who often sought more than one interpretation of data and accepted them all, as long as they did not contradict each other and as long as they did not contradict the evidence. For instance: Lucretius, in De Rerum Natura, specifically argues that body parts evolved, and only later acquired their various purposes, functions, and uses–which may be varied, and not mutually exclusive. (See the Section in Book IV that says “No speaking ere the tongue created was“, or read this blog).

The author also argues that those that engage in atheistic activism may have experienced trauma earlier in life, which might be true for many, but then he goes as far as stating that he is anti-conviction, as if it was wrong to have definite views on things that are demonstrably clear. I don’t know if this is the answer to the problem, but he clearly is tackling some of the same issues that I tackled in Atheism 2.1.

He does have a point when he argues that philosophy is distinct from, and a necessary companion to, science.

Anti-something movements will go way of the dodo unless they manage to replace what they dislike with something better.

The author also engages in a bit of religious apologetics when he describes the play behavior of some apes who play with dolls. Some religious “make-believe” behavior that we see in humans cannot be compared with the innocent play of a human girl or an ape. Deeply held religious beliefs do have (sometimes awful) repercussions, and to confuse make-believe with proven truth–like religious people do–is infantile and irresponsible. As theater, or as play behavior, make-believe is fine.

Hedonic Kindness

The author coins the term “hedonic kindness” to speak of how doing good deeds and being altruistic releases feel-good hormones, citing maternal care as the possible source of this adaptation.

Invariably, nature associates things that we need to do with pleasure. Since we need to eat, the smell of food makes us drool like Pavlov’s dogs, and food consumption is a favorite activity. We need to reproduce, so sex is both an obsession and a joy. And to make sure we raise our young, nature gave us attachments, none of which exceeds that between mother and offspring. Like any other mammal, we are totally preprogrammed for this in body and mind. As a result, we barely notice the daily efforts on behalf of our progeny and joke about the arm and leg that it costs.

Not only does the author reject the “selfish gene” view that exceptional acts of altruism (like adoption of an unrelated creature) are errors, vestiges, or “misfiring” of our instincts, he also reminds us that human brains are wired for empathy, unlike insects. Social animals in the insect kingdom are highly efficient and have complex systems of communication and social interaction, but they do not have the neural complexity of a mammal. We are social and altruistic and moral in a different way from collectivist insects.

Part of the thesis of the author relies on a view of morality as a faculty, and therefore as somewhat unconscious. He uses the example of incest to argue that “moral decisions arise from the gut, they are irrational, visceral”. Modern biologists can of course reason why incest makes people so uncomfortable, but primitive man always had taboos against incest, long before geneticists pinpointed the need for genetic variation.

In order to understand hedonic kindness, we must first understand the mechanisms by which people experience empathy. This is where the science gets interesting: the author argues that these mechanisms are physical and neurological. He discusses processes of bodily synchronization, contagion of happiness or sadness, and yawn contagion which are seen in nature among many primates, and what is known as mirror neurons that “fuse people at a bodily level”.

… we activate neural representations of motor actions in our brain similar to the ones we perceive or expect in the other … Frowns induce sadness, smiles happiness. Ulf Dimberg, the Swedish psychologist who conducted this research, told me about the initial resistance, which made it hard to get his findings published in the 1990s … at the time, empathy was viewed as a complex skill under cerebral control. We decide to be empathic, so the thinking went, on the basis of deliberate simulations in our head of how we would feel in someone else’s situation. Empathy was seen as a cognitive skill. Now we know that the process is both simpler and more automatic. It’s not that we lack control (breathing is automatic too, but we are still in command), but science looked at empathy entirely the wrong way. Empathy stems from unconscious bodily connections involving faces, voices, and emotions. Humans don’t decide to be empathic; they just are.

One uniquely human instinct that strongly correlates with morality is blushing, which is a physical signal sent when one experiences shame. The author reminds us that bodily indicators of shame are also seen in great apes. The role of shame in a naturalist morality was discussed in my reasonings about Confucius’ Analects. Like other forms of humanism, Confucianism focuses on the need for good role models: wholesome leaders inspire wholesome citizens and individuals, and the fear or shame tied to the disapproval of these role models is one of the main incentives for moral behavior. The author of The Bonobo and the Atheist provides numerous examples of this from ape societies, and also cites the “the prestige effect” that is observed in primate societies: how apes and humans like to imitate those in higher social standing (role models, alphas).

Without getting too off-track–as this is not in the book, I should cite that gossip is theorized to have a role in instilling shame and building trust among humans and, although it is sometimes looked down upon, gossip behavior seems to also be part of our moral instinct. It helps to enforce shame and guilt when anti-social behavior is observed, and strengthens societal cohesion.

We are reminded that one of the founders of our School, Hermarchus, posited a doctrine that natural kinship contributed to our moral choices and avoidances: this doctrine strongly resonates with our anthropologist’s hedonic kindness. Hedonic kindness reminds us that logic and syllogisms are not the source of moral judgment, and that we must study empathy as an unconscious phenomenon in order to better understand our moral faculty. This also brings us back to our Cyranaic Reasonings, which concluded with the recognition that our way of philosophizing is rooted in the body, its instincts and drives.

External Reinforcement

Moral instincts are innate, but reinforced socially–both in hierarchical and egalitarian models of relationship. We see that respect for authority figures and alpha (fe)males is part of what keeps society in order and that, through bullying, through not sharing resources, through shame and other methods, individuals in a group internalize the rules.

Conflict is needed to reinforce the rules, but after conflict happens, we see in ape communities a huge amount of time and attention dedicated to repairing relationships, making amends via grooming, sharing a meal, and other behavior.

Egalitarian relations also exist among the great apes. The author explains that initially, anthropologists hesitated to use the word friendship for the relationships between unrelated members of a species that were always together, fearing that the term was too anthropomorphic. In reality, friendship is no exaggeration, as friends in ape societies have been observed to mourn after one of them dies.

The ultimate example of external reinforcement in human societies comes in the form of the death sentence, which has acted in human society as a form of artificial selection for certain moral traits: we have been killing off sociopaths for millennia, in doing so removing their strains from modern human DNA and producing an increasingly domesticated variety of human.

The Is / Ought Question

From a biological point of view, basic emotions are … nature’s way of orienting us to do what we prudently ought. The social emotions are a way of getting us to do what we socially ought, and the reward/punishment system is  away of learning to use past experiences to improve our performance in both domains. – Patricial Churchland, in “Braintrust”

The author argues that morality exists without reason, and is based mainly on instinct and emotion, and says that “the tension between (is and ought) is felt much less clearly in real life than at the conceptual level at which most philosophers like to dwell. They feel that we can not reason ourselves from one level to the other, and they are right, but who says that morality is or needs to be rationally constructed? What if it is grounded in emotional values?”

In other words, it is unnecessary to go from is to ought. Instead, we can study nature and base our choices and avoidances on what we know about nature–flow with it, not against it–because (and this is one of the key premises of this book) we really ARE good-natured.

The book closes by speaking up against top-down morality. If in fact morality, like our limbs, comes from simpler forms and we are good-natured, then we can speak of grassroots virtue or morality, a subject that I discussed in my Contemplations on Tao as tied to the virtue of naturalness. If we are authentic and true to our nature, we will naturally develop wholesome qualities.

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Review of The 100

I do not usually write pop culture reviews, but the post-apocalyptic sci-fi series The 100 is so well written, and so full of intriguing plot-twists and solid characters, that it deserves its own place in my blog.

The story starts as a teenage drama, with 100 youth from a space station’s juvenile detention ward in orbit around a supposedly uninhabitable Earth, are let loose on Earth to see whether it can be inhabited again. The society that the youth create is reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. But when they discover that they’re not alone, that there are grounders who live on Earth in a primitive state, the series turns into a sci-fi version of Game of Thrones. And the kids grow up quickly! Now entering into its fourth season, it no longer feels like a teenage series.

One of the reasons why The 100 works is because it does not attempt to give easy answers to questions of morality and philosophy. It depicts the very difficult choices that leaders have to sometimes make, how they sometimes make mistakes (or not) and then later have to live with regret for the rest of their lives. Many of the moral questions hinge on what we believe about human nature: are we good-nature or evil by nature? What can we expect of others in various circumstances?

I grant that the second and third seasons were far stronger than the first, but that just means that if you stick through the series, the rewards will pile up. Recent episodes have turned more Nietzschean, with the build-up of hostilities between natural humans who know that to live is to struggle and to suffer and to experience the full range of human emotion, versus an unnatural cult of borgs who have assimilated into the collective mind of an artificial intelligence in order to avoid suffering and erase difficult memories. Why are so many willing to erase their human nature, their memories, and their emotions, in order to experience steadier highs? There’s simply no easy answer to that, or perhaps there are many answers explored in the plot.

I won’t give more details away. I was initially biased against what seemed like low-budged sci-fi, but now I must insist: if you enjoy good post-apocalyptic science fiction, watch The 100!

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