My Personal Outline of Epicurean Philosophy

In a recent thread from the Epicurean Friends forum, we were invited to create our own outlines of Epicurean philosophy. The exercise has great didactic value, as it helps us to assimilate what we’ve learned in philosophy. Epicurus himself encouraged this exercise among his disciples in his epistles. Here is my own outline:

Physics / The Nature of Things

  1. Things are made, ultimately, of particles and void.
  2. Bodies have inherent / primary and relational / secondary properties.
  3. Nothing comes from nothing.
  4. All that exists, exists within nature and there can not be a super-natural or un-natural “realm”; it would not have a way of existing outside of nature, that is: reality.
  5. All things obey laws of nature, which apply everywhere.
  6. True philosophy is based on the study of nature and, unlike religions, rather than furnish an escape, must ultimately reconcile us with nature.

Canon / Epistemology

  1. External and “objective” nature is knowable via the five senses.
  2. Internal and “subjective”, or that which is dis/advantageous to us is knowable via the pleasure and aversion faculties.
  3. We may infer the unseen / un-apprehended based on what has been previously seen / apprehended by any of our faculties; and we may re-adjust our views based on new evidence presented to our faculties.
  4. Our words and their meanings must be clear, and conform to the things that nature has presented to our faculties, in order to be useful and efficient.

Ethics / Art of Living (My views are mine, not necessarily the orthodox view–I allow for both the second and third interpretations of the Epicurean gods)

  1. It is possible that the pleasures of religion are natural, but it is unclear whether they are necessary. Religion is, therefore, an optional feature in an ethical person’s life.
  2. If a person adopts belief in gods (even if they are viewed as cultural constructs, imaginary, or works of art meant for utility within contemplative practices), those beliefs must be pure, not fear-based, and not go against the god’s incorruptibility and bliss; they must have pleasant psycho-somatic effects.
  3. The goal of religion, as with all else, is the experience of pure, unalloyed pleasure.
  4. Death is nothing to us because when we are, death is not and when death is, we are not.
  5. Choices and avoidances are carried out successfully (that is, producing stable pleasure as the final product) if we measure advantages/pleasures versus disadvantages/pains over the long term. This means that we may sometimes defer pleasure, or choose temporary disadvantage, but only and always for the sake of a greater advantage later.
  6. If we wish to live pleasantly, we must have confident expectation that we will be able to secure the chief goods: those things that are natural and necessary. Therefore, whatever we do to secure safety, friendship, autarchy, provision of food and drink and clothing, and other basic needs, is naturally good.
  7. Under normal circumstances, we are in control of our mental dispositions.
  8. Autarchy furnishes much greater possibilities of pleasure than slavery, or dependence, or living at the mercy of the whims of luck; ergo the unplanned life is not worth living, and we must make what is in our future better than what was in our past.
  9. We must not force nature; We study nature in order to live pleasantly, not to wage war against reality/nature.
  10. True philosophy has utility: it must serve human needs and happiness.
Posted in Epicurus, Philosophy, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Good Bye, Dolores!

In 1994, during the second semester of my first year in college, I made a few of the very significant friends of my youth. One of them, Denise, introduced me to Bjork, Cranes … and The Cranberries … and this–together with The Doors and Blind Melon’s No Rain–was pretty much our soundtrack that year. Denise began dating her boyfriend Philip, who later became her husband, that year. He was involved in a rock band, and so music was playing in the background almost at all times while we had our first-year-of-college adventures.

cranbAnd so the death of Irish singer Dolores O’Riordan, who lent her angelic voice to The Cranberries, yesterday brought back tons of memories. I remember once having a conversation with Denise about her. Denise argued that Dolores seemed like the kind of sad person that draws inspiration from her sadness. It wasn’t until I heard Zombie (which Jay Brannan covered beautifully) that I thought, maybe, this was true … the song talks about the horrors of war, of which Dolores got a taste when Ireland was less secular and the Protestant and Catholic cults were engaged in violence. I later read Dolores–whose name means “pains” in Spanish–had also struggled with depression after losing loved ones. I suppose music is the best therapy for pain.

In this, she reminds me a bit of Robi Draco Rosa, a cancer survivor and genius musician whose Songbirds and Roosters CD seems to have originated in a somewhat dark place–hence its brilliance! It’s the undisputable best of his works, in my view.

Yesterday I listened to her voice much of the day, and reminisced … Linger, Pretty, Ridiculous Thoughts, Dreams, I Still Do … It occurred to me that the value of an artist of this caliber is immense and that, whenever a great singer dies, the unique vocal instrument in that person’s body is gone forever from this world. No one will ever again play her unique vocal instrument. We were blessed to have been graced by her beautiful gift. Good bye, Dolores! Thank you!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Happy Birthday, Sadé!

Image result for sade

Helen Fọláṣadé Adú (aka Sadé, shah-DAY), the head singer of the British band by the same name, was born on the 16th of January of 1959. I’m posting this blog in celebration of her remarkable musical career and legacy, which now spans over more than three decades.

Sadé exploded into the mainstream with Smooth Operator, which always reminded me of the ancestral link between jazz and Afro-Latin music. After years of listening to her, I’ve come to love nearly all her songs, but some of the ones that stand out are Your Love is King, The Sweetest Taboo, Like a Tatoo, Kiss of Life, SallyIs It a Crime and Why Can’t We Live Together.

Sadé’s jazzy (but more restrained than most jazz musicians), comforting, soft, smooth voice has furnished a significant portion of the soundtrack to my life’s most enjoyable moments. For instance, one of my ex-boyfriends once dedicated the song The Sweetest Gift to me, tears flowing down his cheeks. Each song is a classic and she’s timeless. She never gets old. If you want to live every moment just a little bit more intensely and pleasantly, take the time to listen to Sadé songs and enjoy them!

Posted in Ataraxia, culture | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Interview conducted by Patrick de Méritens for Le Figaro, July 27, 2012.Translation: Hiram Crespo.

Patrice de Méritens: How was your meeting with Epicurus?

Michel Onfray: I met him indirectly through Lucretius, with Lucien Jerphagnon who was my master at the University of Caen. He gave a course on The Nature of Things, which describes the world according to the principles of Epicurus. It was a real love at first sight. First, because the course brought together a handful of students, probably less than ten, and gave the impression of a meeting of contemporary disciples of the master. Lucien Jerphagnon had a great talent of tribune and one could really believe that he was what he said, namely, an ancient sage, rather Stoic (later, it would be Plotinian, then Augustinian …) which had just put his toga in his office to avoid attracting the attention of his colleagues who were too jealous, a garment he would not fail to endorse once out of the faculty … I held that philosophy could be lived, that it should not be merely a doctoral peroration. It was useless to read and meditate a text if we did not live it later on a daily basis.

It was a thunderbolt for a second reason because, having been programmed in Christianity since my childhood, I was torn between what seemed then a contradiction, but was resolved from the first sessions: how could an atheist be moral? It did not occur to me–but, if I’m allowed an excuse, I wasn’t even 20–that we could not believe in God and, at the same time, practice good and reject evil! The association of morality with the Christian religion and that of atheism with immorality were commonplace. Lucretius allowed me to get rid of it. He explained, in fact, what is good, what is bad; he affirmed the existence of diverse and material gods, and added that they were making a mockery of men … I discovered that Christianity could be a parenthesis, a moment in history, but not the whole story. From then on, one could imagine an exit from Christianity by studying pre-Christian thoughts. Lucretius became a stick of dynamite in a church …

P.M: It is essentially thanks to Lucretius that we know the thought of Epicurus, whose writings were systematically eliminated–we will come to it. But first, what are the criteria for recognizing and asserting themselves as epicureans?

M.O: Epicurus had the good sense of using shortcuts. The schools claiming him were very numerous in the Mediterranean basin. He wrote summaries for these communities. The three letters that remain to us are summaries of his thought–notably his letter to Menoeceus, which constitutes a synthesis of his morals. He also summed up his summaries in formulas … Thus with the tetrapharmakon, the fourfold remedy. Anyone who wants to be an epicurean must be convinced of four things.

The first: the gods are not to be feared: multiple, made up of matter like all that exists, they are in the intermundia, at the junction points between the worlds which are multiple, and do not care about men.

Second: death is not to be feared. When I’m here, it’s not here; when she is here, I am no longer here, so I have nothing to fear: I will not see her, I only worry about an idea. Death is painful because it is presentified. It is then given a power that should not be given. I must not pollute my present life with the fear of a thing to come. Death is a representation against which I can not fight.

The third: suffering is bearable–(unclear). Apart from a real objective part, suffering is a subjective representation that I can work on.

The fourth: happiness is possible–it lies in the belly, said Epicurus, and the inability to understand this sentence is the origin of the most serious misunderstanding.

Epicureanism would be a philosophy of the belly, and of the lower abdomen! Now Epicurus says: the belly is the place of desires, the desires are of three orders: natural and necessary when they are common to animals and to men, and when not to satisfy them, leads to death–to drink and to eat; natural and unnecessary when they are common to humans and animals, but can’t be satisfied without some harm–sexuality, for example; unnatural and unnecessary, they are the privilege of men – desire to possess, desire for honors, desire for wealth, reputation, etc.

Epicurus explains that, to know happiness, one only needs to satisfy the natural and necessary desires: to drink when one is thirsty, to eat when one is hungry, to appease the pain which are the thirst and the hunger. But not with a vintage Sauternes or with foie gras: with water and bread. It is said that Epicurus once made a little pot of cheese offered by his friends … To eliminate the suffering that is hunger and thirst for bread and water is the absence of trouble, ataraxia; it is the happiness to which Epicurus invites his disciples …

A contemporary epicurean can reactualize this tetrapharmakon: god does not exist, so there is nothing to fear from that side; death is not to be feared–it is, Epicurus was right, the end of an arrangement that bore our name, but the atoms continue to be; Suffering is bearable–one can indeed act by the will on the part of representation that is always a pain outside of its objective part; Happiness is possible, it is enough to focus on being, the construction of oneself as a free subjectivity and (unclear) …

P.M: Why was Epicurus a victim of this conspiracy which ends up calling him a “hog”?

M.O: Much has been written about Epicureanism, but almost nothing about the destruction of the Epicurean corpus by centuries of Christianity. The dominant narrative in Christian historiography was recently taken up by Paul Veyne in When Our World Became Christian. The professor at the College de France affirms, against all historical truth, that apart from all the violence, the triumph of Christianity can be explained by the content of this religion which is of love, by the radiance of its Lord and by its sublime conception of the world! To convince oneself of the contrary, let us read the excellent book by Benjamin Gras, The Destruction of Paganism in the Roman Empire (published by him via Publibook–we understand that no publisher takes the risk of this truth …) which teaches in an extremely documented way that Christianity, to impose itself, has resorted to lies, cunning, violence, brutality, vandalism.

Philosophers whose thinking was compatible with Christianity were privileged: the idealism of Plato and the Platonists, the metaphysics of Aristotle and Aristotelians, the dolorism and the Stoic ascetic ideal. On the other hand, all that was incompatible with Christianity was persecuted: the closing of philosophical schools, the destruction of libraries, the persecution of philosophers (Alexandria’s Hypatia was stoned by Christians at the beginning of the fifth century …). Epicureanism has obviously done the work to deserve this persecution: this school indeed teaches that there is a multiplicity of material gods, that pleasure is the root of morality, that there is no sin, that we are only arranged atoms, we must not be afraid of death because there is no immaterial soul likely to suffer the law of a single god … We understand that the 300 books of Epicurus, but also the other books of the materialists of antiquity, have disappeared from circulation. We have only three letters left and some sentences from Epicurus. These three letters escaped the fury of the Christian inquisitors because they are included in the histories of the philosophers written by Diogenes Laertius. Without this, the Christians would have removed the entire Epicurean production from the philosophical map.

In their lifetime, the burning of the heretics was not possible, but there was a way to fight this opposing philosophical school: slander, and it’s still a good way today to prevent the reading of the works of a philosopher who bothers them and debates their thesis on the merits … It was enough to make Epicurus a debauched man who prostituted women, a guzzler who vomited from drinking and eating like a glutton, a hypocrite who taught asceticism but practiced orgy and lived in luxury, to discredit a work through these calumnies.

It is the Stoics, a competing school, who have caricatured Epicureanism to impose their leadership in the contemporary intellectual field–if one wishes to speak like Bourdieu … In the political campaigns for the Senate, it was easy to discredit the adversary by presenting him as a hog … The Epicurean hog is an insult in the Stoic war. It will take an enlightened priest, Gassendi, to rehabilitate the figure and write a work on Epicurus in the seventeenth century: the very beautiful “Life and manners of Epicurus”, which begins to liken Epicurus and Christ, a proximity that is also found in Erasmus and Montaigne …

P.M .: Did Nietzsche not see in Epicureanism a pagan pre-Christianity without notion of sin?

Michel Onfray: Nietzsche abandons his first Wagnerian biographical period through Epicurus, before entering a third period which will be that of the superman. Epicurus embodies a moment of peace and serenity. Italy after Germany, Genoa after Bayreuth, the Mediterranean sun after the Germanic mists … At this time, he wants to create a philosophical community in a kind of farm he seeks to buy with his sister. He wants autonomy of life, invention and the practice of new possibilities of existence. He aims at frugality, he even plans to create a vegetable garden. He wants a “cloister for free spirits” in which to train the trainers of a post-Christian humanity, in which the sovereign good would be ataraxia, the absence of suffering, pain, a kind of eudemonism–happiness as the sovereign good–whose model is in the light of the paintings of Claude Gellée, says Lorrain. Epicureanism is a philosophy that is content with the given reality, which does not live in, by and for the other-worlds, which knows that there is only one world and that it is pure immanence. No Christian sin attached to a whimsical mythology, but just an existential fault: to miss out on his life, because we only have one …

P.M: Explain to us the Garden of Epicurus, which could be described as Plato’s Anti-Republic.

M.O: The Garden of Epicurus welcomes everyone: women, children, young people, old people, strangers, metics (foreigners), non-citizens. Epicurus thinks that one does not need to be a man, a citizen … to do philosophy, unlike Plato who selects his disciples to make them men of power. Epicurus wants a happy community of philosophers in the city, apart, as a microsociety that resists society for being too corrupt. Plato wants to transform the city in an aristocratic way to achieve a society in which the philosopher king is at the top, while the workers produce at the base to feed the class of soldiers who prevent the people from defeating his king … Epicurus is at the base of any future democracy, Plato is at the base of totalitarianism: Karl Popper shows well in The Open Society and its Enemies how the philosopher of the Republic lays the foundations of the socialism of the barbed wire of the twentieth century … Epicurus is the thinker who gives the means to resist all possible totalitarianism …

M.O: Epicureanism has always been the philosophy of resistance to dominant models that are idealistic, spiritualistic. The ruling power legitimates its power by invoking an other-world in which sovereignty would be rooted. Epicurus proposes a theory of the immanent contract as foundation of policy. Idealism is the companion of theocracy; Epicureanism, that of democracy. No dictator can claim Epicurus or Epicureanism–he always invites blood and tears, effort and rigor. Yesterday and today, Plato is the philosopher of lovers of tyranny, Epicurus that of the lovers of “true freedom”, to speak like Rimbaud …

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Book Review: the Epic, Complex, and Incomplete “Evolution of God”

In the Evolution of God (not to be confused with Karen Armstrong’s History of God), Robert Wright–author of Why Buddhism is True and The Moral Animal–applies the logic of non-zero-sumness that he’s known for, and the logic of Darwinian theory of natural selection, to describe the evolution of the idea of God, from the most primitive conceptions of the spirits conjured up by shamans who attended to chieftains, all the way through urban development and globalization.

The author also applies the logic of the markets (which is not too different from the logic of non-zero-sumness) to the evolution of divinity. Non-zero-sumness derives from game theory, and has always informed the author’s worldview. According to Wikipedia,

non-zero-sum describes a situation in which the interacting parties’ aggregate gains and losses can be less than or more than zero

The author argues that non zero sumness “translates rational selfishness into the welfare of others”, and otherwise his rhetoric seems reminiscent of hedonic calculus with the goal of achieving mutual advantage. In other words, the author argues that as time has progressed and societies have gotten more developed, both morality and God have evolved based on facts on the ground related to the extent to which people have more to gain from cooperation than from conflict. Religions are studied as exercises in utilitarianism that were localized in time and space.

Overall, the book weaves a long and quite interesting narrative and is an enjoyable read. The criticisms that I’ll offer here do not take away from that. I simply feel that this evolution-of-God narrative is incomplete and needs more nuance.

For instance, the author claims that “no one else achieved” what Saul of Tarsus (aka Paul) supposedly did when he created primitive Christianity. The author clearly has not read Norman DeWitt’s St Paul and Epicurus, which presents a compelling case, citing verses from Paul’s writings that demonstrate how Paul was largely reacting against the Epicureans, and elsewhere copying their educational model and their model of community-building, all the way up to the tradition of writing didactic epistles to be read out loud and studied by the congregation–a practice that the Epicureans invented, as attested by Epicurus’ Epistles to Menoeceus, Pythocles, and Herodotus.

Furthermore, the success of his church was sometimes in spite of Paul, not because of him. We see this in Paul’s rejection by the Church of Ephesus, attested in both his epistles and the second chapter of the Book of Revelation. Hence, it seems that too much credit is given to him, and that there seem to have been many other forces shaping the primitive church. Elsewhere, the author seems to give too much credit to theologians in general, as when he defines God vaguely as the “unknown thing at the source of moral order”, which sounds JUST like the empty words that theologians are known for employing.

In summarizing the three Abrahamic religion towards the end of the book with a rhetorical question, we read:

So if neither Moses nor Jesus nor Muhammad arrived on the scene with breathtaking news, and if indeed the origins of all three Abrahamic faiths can be viewed as a kind of cultural synthesis, an organic recombination of preexisting elements, what becomes of the claim that they are religions of revelation?

This characterization of all religion as syncretistic of previously existing elements to some extent is a more accurate description of the nature of all religion than the author realizes, and he fails to apply the insights gained from a panoramic view of the landscape at the end of the book to important questions about the future of God, many of which he raises.

The offshoot sects of the “big three” are also syncretistic, and we can expect as globalization advances that these offshoot cults–like the Ahmadou Bamba phenomenon in fairly tolerant Muslim Senegal, which inspires pilgrimage to the holy city of Touba in addition to Mecca, or the “Christian” sect of Mormonism–will continue to grow, and that similar cults will continue to emerge, so long as they’re favored by “facts on the ground” related to mutual advantage.

  • The Sikh faith was founded by a lineage of ten Gurus in Punjab, India. A unique product of its region, geography, and preceding cultures, it blends elements of Islam and Hinduism, has five ritual commandments by which followers of the ten Gurus signal their separateness to the rest of society, is monotheistic, and its holy text is called Guru Granth Sahib. There are more Sikhs than Jews in the world. No mention of Sikhism in the book.
  • The Ahmadiyya movement within Islam emerged in India also, teaches a reformed Islam that adapts Hindu avatars as prophets of Allah, emphasizes non-violence and tolerance, and is active in missionary work promoting Islamic apologetics. It even has its own Khalifa who operates out of London.
  • When discussing potential models for the future evolution of God as expanding the “moral circle of consideration” of people, no mention is made–perhaps because they escape the author’s radar of world cultures–of Afro-Latin cults like Candomble and Santeria, and Afro-Islamic cults like the Gnawa brotherhoods in North Africa, which syncretize spirits from African pantheism and polytheism into Catholicism (as saints) or Islam (as jinn), complete with animal sacrifices, their own rituals, chants, etc. In these cults, we see populations who are nominally monotheists reverting back to polytheistic worldviews, which demonstrates that evolution implies adaptation, not progress in this or that direction (in this case, as is implied, toward pure monotheism). The Gnawa are a major cultural attraction in Morocco, and Santeria is so mainstream in Cuban culture that the annual predictions and taboos announced by its high priests (babalaos) are piously awaited and followed by a huge following in Cuba and abroad. There are more followers of the Orisha (African Gods) in the world than there are Jews, but no mention of them in the book, either on their own or as syncretized into saints.
  • Many Native American cults and churches incorporate elements of Christianity and claim to be monotheistic. Others, of diaspora African origin–like Rastafarianism–do likewise.
  • Some non-denominational movements in America (like the Agape Church) exhibit prophetic tendencies that might evolve into a more organized new religion, and some New Age movements (like the “Conversations of God” series of books) have transformed religiosity and concepts about God for millions of believers, both unaffiliated and affiliated.
  • In the Great Goddess movement in Wicca and contemporary neo-paganism, we see that God is shifting gender in some parts of contemporary culture, and that large portions of the demographics from Russia, Europe, North America, and all the way to Australia, are reverting back to both ancestral and global forms of neo-paganism.
  • No conversation of the Abrahamic God’s evolution as related to mutual benefit and “facts on the ground” should be complete without mention of the Baha’i Faith, which–unlike Islam–has the actual claim of being the last of the Abrahamic faiths. Its doctrine preaches tolerance to all religions, and recognizes the prophets of all the major Eastern and Western religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism). After Christianity, it is the most widespread of the universal religions in terms of global presence, with over 5 million followers worldwide. Yet the Bahá’í Faith is not mentioned at all in Wright’s book.
Bahá'í House of Worship in Chicago

Bahá’í House of Worship in Chicago

The Bahá’í teachings would have provided an optimistic and unique perspective on the issue of God’s evolution in the age of globalization, as they offer not just a syncretism of all the major previous faiths, but also a post-colonial (that is, non-salvific) theology. It claims that people of all cultures and religions are already worshiping the same Deity. Rather than spreading through violence, the Bahá’í faith has spread non-violently by marketing itself as a perfect solution to the moral and social problems of globalization, including feminist issues (claims to confer full equality upon women), issues of poverty (teaches that the gap between rich and poor must be closed and that all men and women must have access to a full education), modernity (teaches that one must accept science as compatible with faith), tribalism and communication issues (promotes the establishment of a universal auxiliary language like Esperanto), environmental issues and those related to intolerance. If the God meme evolves and adapts to the times just like genes do, as the author claims, what better exhibit than the Bahá’í faith? Yet, it gets no mention in the book.

Lord Sri Krishna, Supreme Personality of Godhead

Lord Sri Krishna, Supreme Personality of Godhead

Also, there are many varieties of monotheism that have sprung in various places–as the book half-concedes when mentioning the cult of Aten in Ancient Egypt. By focusing on the Abrahamic God, the book also misses a couple of opportunities to trace back the complexity of how the various forms of monotheism have origins in polytheism, or at least are so embedded in polytheistic cultures that they’re sometimes hard to discern.

  • Evolution of God barely mentions Zoroastrianism, an important precursor to all the Abrahamic faiths. Zoroaster postulated the ancestor memes of ideas like Satan (Angra Mainyu) in eternal battle with God (Mazda), heaven and hell, angels, judgement and resurrection of the dead, the idea of prophethood, and many of the hygienic taboos found in Islam and in the Old Testament. It also features a World Savior (the Saoshyant) coming to usher in a New Age–an idea that we also find in Hinduism (Bhagavad Gita 4:7-8) and, of course, early Christians clearly attempted to make the claim that Jesus was the Saoshyant that the Magi (Zoroastrian priests) had prophesied when they were featured in the nativity narrative.
  • In chapter 15–which focuses on the “Supreme Personality of Godhead”–, in chapter 8, and elsewhere in the Bhagavad Gita (the “Song of the Lord”, which is the Gospel of one of the divine incarnations in Hinduism), Lord Krishna presents a Hindu theology that many have called monotheistic, OR at least proto-monotheistic. Krishna says that one yoga, or spiritual path, consists on full surrender to the Supreme Personality of Godhead as one’s only refuge. Many modern Hindus often conceive of themselves as monotheistic as a result of these interpretations of their faith.

Then there’s the problem of the moral confusion generated by illegitimate concepts like “God’s law”. When the history of God is explained as a history of moral development–in this case, described as an “ever-expanding circle of moral consideration–, it leads to the perpetuation of the fallacy that credulity or ritual adherence equals morality, and that the tricks of moral bribery employing afterlife promises and such are the only legitimate way in which moral development may occur. This case is becoming even more difficult to argue today, when such bribery is also employed to convince thousands of Islamic terrorists to kill and die in exchange for afterlife sex. The book concedes that Buddhism and other, non-Abrahamic religions and cultures have notions of morality, and have experienced expanding circles of moral consideration in their own histories, but only dedicates a few brief pages to them.

Also, the book’s assumption that God, as an idea, evolved morally through the imperial projects of the salvific religions largely ignores the huge amount of violence these enterprises engaged in historically, and exhibit still today–even as he mentions the Stockholm syndrome as a normal adaptation responsible for our conformist bias, and one that we see at play in cults.

The author fails to explain that, by Darwinian evolution, what is meant is adaptation, not necessarily progress from something worse (rudimentary, violent) to something better (complex, and/or non-violent, as is often implied). As we see with the Gnawas and with Santeria, God’s adaptation sometimes takes him back into a polytheistic milieu after centuries of monotheistic brainwashing. The ideas of God that have succeeded have been those that have best adapted to their particular milieu: the author should have clarified that there is no rational “direction” in which God is evolving (i.e. “pure” monotheism). It remains to be seen–although we can already begin to glimpse–what the people of Papua New Guinea, and of the many cultures of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, will do with God in the coming centuries.

To conclude, the history of God’s adaptation and evolution is not complete, and perhaps it would be unfair to expect anyone to write it in fullness.

Posted in Books, god, Review | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Homemade Kombucha and Tempeh

As my readers may remember, making kombucha and tempeh were among my 2018 resolutions. In 2009, I delved briefly into the live-foods lifestyle and came to understand the importance of probiotics. Fermented foods (like yoghurt, cheese, kimchi, etc.) are easier to digest because they have been pre-digested by other organisms, who then populate our gut flora and help to facilitate our digestive processes and to keep a balance of good bacteria versus bad bacteria in the stomach. I used to brew beer with a Mr. Beer kit, and still love both the science and the art of making fermented foods at home. Making your own foods is also a way to practice autarchy, and of avoiding the insane amount of salt and refined sugars and other additives found in commercially available foods.

Kombucha is a fizzy drink from a brewing tradition that appears to have originated in Russia, where black tea is fermented using a scoby (acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). Some people call the scoby a mushroom, although that’s not accurate. It looks more like a pancake sitting on top of the drink. The bacteria and yeast consume the sugar added to the concoction and make it fizzy. So it’s like brewing a healthy homemade soda … except that it’s made by tiny living organisms.

I used to have a scoby back in 2009 and years after that, and brewed kombucha weekly for a few years until some bad bacteria got into it and turned it green. I knew from the look and smell of the scoby that it was ‘sick’, and threw it away. Some people pay lots of money for a starter scoby from a others (who separate the layers of scoby to create new generations of them). However, one can simply birth a new scoby from a bottle of kombucha one has enjoyed (this is sold at Whole Foods and other health food stores). Last week, I reserved a few ounces of a kombucha drink, and placed it in a jar that had been thoroughly rinsed with anti-bacterial soap and coated with vinegar. After five days, a thin layer of scoby had formed, and was ready to feed on sugar! So I simply brewed some tea (I used yerba mate this time instead of black tea) and added brown sugar. Within a week, the kombucha was ready to bottle, refrigerate, and enjoy.

Some things to know about scobies: they are living organisms, and like any other organism they need a certain temperature to thrive. If refrigerated, the scoby will go dormant. They also need to be in a container that is covered at all times to avoid infection by bad bacteria, yet they need to breathe (permeable handy wipes, or paper towels held together by rubbers are enough). AND they thrive in hygiene and high acidity, so I would strongly advice thorough cleaning of the container where kombucha is being brewed with anti-bacterial soap, rinsing, adding a few tablespoons of vinegar, and then coating the entire inner wall of the container in vinegar prior to brewing kombucha. This kills any microorganisms that would impede a healthy kombucha culture.

Here is my first successful batch of homemade tempeh!

Tempeh is a product made by fermenting soybeans (or other legumes) which makes more of the nutritional value of the beans available to us, since the mycelia (plant-like fibers) of the fungus have pre-digested the meal. By the way, fungus is the plastic of the future: a certain fungal species is fed wood chips from a certain tree, placed inside a mold, and within a couple of days the fungus has taken over and one has a new object in the shape of the mold: 3-D technology using nature’s own processes. Unlike plastic, this type of landfill helps to recycle waste. I think of it as an ingenious application of the Epicurean adage “one must not force nature, but gently persuade her“.

The tempeh tradition originates in Indonesia. My first batch was a failure for two reasons: I didn’t hull the beans, and didn’t give them the right temperature. One tempeh recipe I found advised that hulling them didn’t make a difference, and that an easier and faster way of making tempeh was by ignoring that step. That may have worked for the maker of the recipe, but it didn’t work for me. Also, tempeh starter cultures thrive in temperatures between 80-90 degrees F. With the recent cold temperatures, it has been very cold inside my apartment, and I imagine the temperature on the counter of my kitchen probably stayed in the 60s last week. This time, I completely covered the two ziploc bags with punched holes with a thick blanket, and placed the cutting board under it as an added layer between the tempeh and the counter to make sure that it would stay warm. The result was a perfect batch of tempeh within 48 hours, as predicted by all the recipes I’ve found online.

Soy beans are a complete protein apt for vegetarians. Liquid smoke (which captures the essence of hickory, a wood frequently used in bbq) is a great way to season tempeh and create a meat-like flavor, together with soy sauce and maple syrup. People use tempeh as they would use any meat.

Posted in culture, Economics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

PD 13 and False Views as Threat to Public Safety

I finally took the time to read the paper Epicurean education and the rhetoric of concern. Well, actually, I must confess I didn’t read it: that’s what robots are for! I used an app called Natural Reader to have it read to me, to save time, and so that my eyes would not get tired.

The paper mentions Principal Doctrine 13 as an exhibit in the argument in favor of preaching Epicurean philosophy to the world for the sake of securing for ourselves and others the kind of life we long for. It struck me as a missing piece in a puzzle that I’ve been attempting to put together for some time. The zeal to teach the philosophy is philanthropic to some extent. Of course, that altruism and self-interest both dwell in our soul is not a revelation, and these things are not mutually contradictory but rather can co-exist and are both necessary for living a life of pleasure. This has always seemed clear and obvious to me. Not so to others.

PD 12 and PD 13 both seem to be saying something similar.

12. It is impossible for someone to dispel his fears about the most important matters if he doesn’t know the nature of the universe but still gives some credence to myths. So without the study of nature there is no enjoyment of pure pleasure.

13. There is no advantage to obtaining protection from other men so long as we are alarmed by events above or below the earth or in general by whatever happens in the boundless universe.

And so it is clear that, to live a pleasant life according to Epicurean guidelines, we should have the right beliefs concerning the nature of things. It is also clear that we should contribute to the peace of mind and happiness of our Epicurean friends by studying together and helping to correct their false views, up to the point that we even may have to engage in what Philodemus in his scroll on frank criticism called “person-taming”, because we are by nature invested in the moral character and happiness of our true friends. This is consistent with Vatican Saying 15:

We place a high value on our characters as if they were our own possessions whether or not we are virtuous and praised by other men. So, too, we must regard the characters of those around us if they are our friends.

But what about strangers, and society in general? For that, we have a different strategy: the missionary aspect of Epicurean philosophy. The issue that the paper tackles is how a philosophical doctrine of so-called “egoism” can be philanthropic to the point of being a missionary humanism. This is where the author errs, and his tone is heavily influenced by the tired anti-Epicurean stereotypes (as selfish hedonists) that abound in academia.

Yet the author Sean McConnell hits an important insight when he articulates that for the sake of safety, and to ensure that other members of his society are capable of participating in the hedonistic covenant (to not harm or be harmed, and of mutual benefit), Epicureans see it in their self-interest to produce more Epicureans by teaching philosophy. In other words, just as in PD 13 we find that we can’t lead lives of pleasure if we hold false views, similarly it would be difficult for us to live pleasantly if we are surrounded by people whose false views render them incapable of living pleasantly, or of allowing others to live pleasantly. That rings more true to me, having had exchanges with contemporary Epicureans for a few years now, than the apparent inner contradiction between selfish and selfless impulses that the author seems to imagine.

We do engage in calculus of pleasure. But enamored as we are with the immediacy of pleasant experiences, I don’t think we calculate as consciously as he thinks we do. Also, we feel in our own realities the detrimental effects produced by homophobia, terrorism, and the lack of faith in science coming from the far religious right much more vividly and viscerally than how cold calculations are experienced by a logician. Yes, we would indeed feel safer in a world with less religion and more critical, empirical thinking. And yes, a more Epicurean world would make it less likely that others will poison our happiness, not to mention threaten our lives and our security. But an Epicurean is less likely to argue the choice of teaching philosophy in selfish-versus-altruism terms, and more likely to consider that it’s in our nature to do the things we find pleasure in (like philosophy) in the company of others, and for that sake, we have missionary philosophy. And these many selfish and altruistic reasons to teach philosophy are not mutually contradictory, but mutually reinforcing.

That’s one issue. On a separate (yet related) issue raised by the above mentioned paper, Cassius says:

I think the flaws here are (1) he is forcing Epicurus into the egoist vs altruist mold, neither of which applies to Epicurus. Epicurus says to follow pleasure, not yourself for the sake of yourself or others for the sake of others. Also (2) he is one of those who is constantly looking for some “virtue” that is “choiceworthy in itself” so he can find an exception to the rule that pleasure is the goal. This is what the later Epicureans were doing, as referenced in the article, and it is deadly because it contradicts the foundation of the philosophy.

Epicurus was not an altruist nor was he an “egoist with exceptions.” He was a consistent follower of pleasure, and it is no contradiction to say that in some situations our pleasure is maximized by putting the happiness of a friend above that of our own.

I would be careful in praising the article too much because he “defends” Epicurus by concluding that he is an egoist with exceptions, and that undermines the doctrines — Strictly speaking egoism is “Self above all” and altruism is “others above self” and NEITHER of those are correct analysis. His article should have rejected both as they applied to Epicurus. Not only are they not our points of reference, but I think it could be argued that “egoism” and “altruism” are two horns of a deadly false choice.

In fact that might be a good general conclusion I would reach — I would not agree that Epicurus was an “egoist” – I would dissect that word and show he is not.

It would be much better to reject the false definitions at the beginning and explain what he meant positively, and then attack the errors from there, rather than trying to employ words that now have false issues embedded in them without rooting out the false definitions.

I see Cassius’ point, and the author does seem to be coming from a place where he is constantly reiterating that Epicureans exhibit philanthropy IN SPITE OF themselves and their selfish philosophy. For instance, we read:

John Armstrong presents a compelling argument that the agreement and adherence to a contract neither to harm nor be harmed are premised firmly on an individual’s desire for his own end, even though Lucretius for instance suggests some degree of other-concern when he says that the contract included a provision for the protection of women and children, for “it is fair for all to pity the weak” (DRN 5.1019-1023)

This is the tone we find throughout the entire paper. These kinds of “yes this is selfish, but that is altruistic” are absent in Epicurean discourse. While we like to adhere to ancient writings in our study of philosophy, in my personal conversations with other 21st Century Epicureans, what I HAVE heard often is that it is in our nature to both protect ourselves as well as to want the happiness of others, particularly those close to us. That is, both the selfish and the altruistic impulses are natural, and they both serve a life of pleasure.

Posted in ethics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment