Happy Twentieth! On the Importance of Healthy Emotions

Happy Twentieth of August to Epicureans everywhere! Here are some updates from the last 30 days.

Malkin’s Death

This month we learned of the passing of educator Yaakov Malkin, who was the author of the book Epicurus & Apikorsim: The Influence of the Greek Epicurus and Jewish Apikorsim on Judaism. I had written a book review of this work back in 2016; in recent years he had received death threats for his work advancing secular values and his outspoken atheism. He once narrated that for his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah, he helped to stage a trial against the biblical god for crimes against humanity. Malkin once gave a lecture titled Epicurus, Apikorsim and Sherwin Wine–where he discussed the intersection between atheistic Judaism and Epicureanism. Sherwin Wine is the founder of the Secular Humanist denomination of Judaism.

The El Paso Shooting

I read the racist manifesto by the El Paso shooter in order to write a piece for my column in El Nuevo Día, and noticed the lack of empathy / humanity, as well as how he made an appeal to cold, calculated LOGIC. He said it was only “logical” that genocide / a major loss in population needs to happen in order for the US to continue having its way of life.

This reminded me of Winds of Dune, a novel whose main character was also a sociopath who was unable to properly mourn her dead son as a result of her stoic Bene Gesserit training. Her moral compass was only fixed when she allowed herself the ability to feel normal EMOTIONS.

The key take-away is that feelings are an important component of our moral compass, and we can’t carry out our choices and avoidances successfully without healthy, normal feelings.

Literary Updates

Speaking of the devil: after a recent Black Mass was celebrated in Canada and a local Catholic archbishop likened it to hate speech, the spokesperson of The Satanic Temple, Lucien Greaves, replied saying:

Members of The Satanic Temple, and participants in the Black Mass, are, in the overwhelmingly large majority, individuals who grew up steeped in Judeo-Christian indoctrination and Abrahamic mythology. They are the inquisitive minority who saw in the story of Satan the spirit of rebellion against a petty and vengeful dictator, a liberator who encourages freedom through knowledge, in preference to servitude through dogmatism. They were, for the most part, subjected to religious conditioning at a young age, against any credible standards of consent, and now that very religious conditioning — and the symbols made relevant by its imposition — set the context for the affirmative values they have developed after rejecting the authority of “sacred” scriptures. One may not impose such a framework upon children and cry foul when some of them grow up to use those symbols as raw artistic cultural materials to express their evolution from superstition to rationalism. We are not invaders from beyond the gates, pillaging, stealing, and defacing the iconography of a foreign culture — we are products of the culture from which the symbols we have re-purposed hold deep metaphorical power, even as we reject their alleged supernatural effects.

Having been raised Catholic and having had that particular color of lies perpetrated against me when I was a child, I found Greaves’ reply most eloquent and accurate. This controversy reminds me of Norman DeWitt’s book St Paul and Epicurus, where he details the many ways in which early Christianity appropriated Epicurean literary and communal traditions in order to advance doctrines that are about as anti-Epicurean as Satanism is anti-Catholic. It’s possible that some Epicureans experienced Paul’s writings as hate speech, but were most likely willing to use humor or dismiss his small cult as irrelevant. Either way, it is interesting that the Christians, who once appropriated so much of Pagan cultures, claim to be indignant now that the symbols of their declining faith are being similarly appropriated against them.

For the earthquake- it choketh up many wells, it causeth much languishing: but it bringeth also to light inner powers and secrets. The earthquake discloseth new fountains. In the earthquake of old peoples new fountains burst forth. – Nietzsche, in Thus Spake Zarathustra

Further Reading:
Epicurean Friends Newsletter – April 2019

Out of the Ashes: Recovering the Lost Library of Herculaneum
Herculaneum scrolls unlocked using photon beams
BBC – Life and Death in Herculaneum

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The Lion King and the Osiris Myth

This blog highlights two fun facts about the new Lion King, which I had the pleasure of watching this weekend.

Pumbaa the Epicurean

When you want to smile then visit me: sleek, and fat I’m a hog, well cared-for, one of Epicurus’ herd. – Horace

I doubt the makers of The Lion King know much about the Epicurean tradition, but the connection between pigs and Epicureanism is accidentally depicted throughout the film in one of its most beloved characters. There’s a scene where Timon, Pumba and Simba are gazing at the stars and Pumbaa (the wild hog) expounds his crazy theory that they are giant balls of gas an incredible distance away. The other two characters’ theories are mythical or just wrong.

Pumba provides comic relief, and embodies the value of friendship, both of which the Epicureans were known for. Plus, his favorite song is Hakuna Matata (which means “No Worries”). In many ways, Pumbaa is made the cheerful mouthpiece for the Epicurean life–both the physics (the nature of things) and ethics (the life of pleasure).

The Ancient Egyptian Connection

Horus and Set conferring legitimacy to the double-crown

Horus and Set conferring legitimacy to the double-crown

The Lion King has become a modern myth, but in truth it’s a creative re-telling of a very ancient tale that probably originated in ancient Egypt’s earliest dynastic intrigues. The peoples of Kemet (the two lands that we know today as ancient upper and lower Egypt) believed their dynasties to be descended from Osiris, Isis, and their son Horus. As soon as the Pharaoh was given the crown of Horus, he was imbued with something of his spirit (his “ba“) and became an incarnation of Horus (and therefore descended from the gods). Horus was the embodiment of legitimate rule and order–although in some dynasties, the crown represented both Horus and Seth joined and ruling together–no doubt evidence of the political tensions that existed between the ruling houses of the north and the south. Most people today don’t know that Egypt was originally two countries that were unified, and they each had their own gods. The unification of lower and upper Egypt in the double-crown of the Pharaoh, and the seeming reconciliation of mortal enemies Horus and Set in the double-crown, are political devices tied to the Osirian mythical cycle.

In one of the iconic and tender scenes between father and son in The Lion King, Mufasa tells Simba that “just as the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West“, he would eventually die and Simba would have to replace him. To the people of Kemet “The West“, in fact, meant the Land of the Dead. Ancestors go to “the West” when they die. This is why the necropolis, the cities of the dead, were always built west of the Nile.

The solar cult was about order. The rising and setting of the sun is linked with stability because it happens without fail every day, and so it represents Ma’at (the natural order)–a guiding idea of the ancients Egyptians, who were obsessed with order and stability. It’s also a symbol of the Pharaoh, who secures said stability, and of the return of the divine King in the mortal King time and again.

Ancients told the tale of how Set (and his attendants) betrayed and killed his brother, the King Osiris, and cut his body into 14 pieces, scattering them to all the corners of the world. He then usurped the throne. Osiris’ wife Isis went throughout the world to find the scattered parts of Osiris, just as it is Nala that goes out of the pride lands to “look for help” at one point in TLK.

Plutarch’s Moralia revealed that the meaning of this is found in the natural cycles as they were seen in the heavens: Osiris represents the moon which, once it reaches its peak, takes fourteen days to go dark. These are the fourteen parts of Osiris’ body. Egyptians had a festival where they honored Set as “the black boar who destroyed the moon“. Any careful study of Kemetic religion will show that the original doctrines of Ma’at, or Divine Order, were sustained by the mathematical certainty that ancient astronomers found in the cycles of the sun, the moon, and the stars–and which had important repercussions for the agricultural cycles (and, they inferred, for their afterlife and their entire worldview).

Mufasa, whose name means King, is the new Osiris, the prototypical King. Towards the end of the movie, he becomes the prototype of all the Kings who look down from heaven, just as Osiris becomes the King of the West–the realm of the dead and of the setting sun.

His brother Scar (Set), had lost the battle for the throne to Mufasa, but betrayed him, killed him, and became the alpha male of the pride lands. During his reign, the pride lands turned into a desert and the natural order collapsed. In The Lion King, this is seen as ecological collapse. In ancient myth, Osiris was the green god of fertility and his brother Set was the Red God of the desert, so his rule meant drought.

In the myths, there are instances where Set’s masculinity is questioned. Some tales seem to indicate that he raped his nephew Horus, while others seem to indicate that Set was made an eunuch. This is because fertility is tied to sexuality, and he is the god that kills fertility and therefore assumed to be barren. Some may find a parallel for this in Scar’s effeminacy in the Lion King. In the new movie, Mufasa’s widow refused to take her side by Scar as his Queen. When Simba re-takes the pride lands, Ma’at (divine and ecological order) is restored, and the desert starts turning green again.

There are more parallels: Rafiki (the baboon, who is the shaman or magician of the pride lands) represents the god of magic Thoth, whose sacred animals are the ibis and the baboon. Scar’s attendants are hyenas. In the ancient myth, Set’s son Anubis and Wepwawet (both canine deities) were associated with Set because canines were often seen wherever there was death and decay, as they’re carnivorous animals. There is also a short scene that associates the deity Khepre (the Scarab, a symbol of Becoming) with the circle of life.

I won’t give any more details, except to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the new Lion King movie. It’s a very magical retelling of the 1994 film that doesn’t depart much from the original and, if you’re familiar with the subjacent mythology, you may also notice and enjoy the timeless, Pan-African intertextuality.

An archetype is like an old watercourse along which the water of life has flowed for centuries, digging a deep channel for itself. The longer it has flowed in this channel the more likely it is that sooner or later the water will return to its old bed.” – Carl Jung, father of psychoanalysis

 

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Autarchy Projects: Freelancing


300x250 Fiverr Pro
I set the goal in 2012 that I wanted to be taken seriously as a freelance writer. This culminated in the writing of my book. I was finishing my B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Mass Media, had read a book about freelance writing as a business model, and was putting into practice some of what I was learning in the book–including how to write a book proposal. My first book proposal was Tending the Epicurean Garden, and the first publisher I targeted was Humanist Press.

I take particular pride in my intuitive approach to becoming an author. Most aspiring authors write many book proposals and target multiple publishers, spend years acquiring an area of expertise, and must wait long years before they will hear back from these publishers, usually to get nothing but rejections. For me, it only required ONE try. This is why I highly recommend for anyone attempting to be taken seriously as a writer to first take YOURSELVES seriously, to respect yourselves and your skills enough that you think of your side hustle as an actual job and treat it with as much professionalism as you would any job … and to take on a mentor (or several). You don’t need to personally know your mentor. You just have to read a book by a veteran who has been there and done that, and shares all his secrets, and then walk the walk yourself. And you will fail and make mistakes, but you will learn from them, take notes, and keep trying.

As a freelance writer, I learned that you had to be very focused and that this business model requires as much time management skills as it does language, editorial, organizational, and other skills. I learned that you have to set concise, specific, concrete daily productivity goals in your freelance writing business, and from those goals develop a DMO (daily mode of operation)–just as you would with any other self-employed situation where you work from home, in order to avoid constant distractions and social media. Set a time block for work and respect it–even if you’re working in your pajamas from your bedroom.

Over the years, I’ve continued to engage in freelance writing projects. I translated two books from French into English and from Spanish into English for a UIC architect. I found that job via Craigslist. The project lasted over a month. I later capitalized on my love of languages by creating a naming language for a science fiction author. Most of these projects did not pay much, but the money they paid was much needed, as most of the content I’ve created during the last six years has been free and I only have two patreon subscribers.

Once you build a name for yourself, you will start receiving invites to contribute content to various outlets in your area of expertise. Michael Fontaine, a Cornell University professor who reviewed by book, invited me to write an essay for Eidolon for which I made $100. Vintage Books–which is now a division of Penguin Random House–will be publishing a book titled How to Live a Good Life. The book will include approximately 15 chapters on diverse religions and philosophies as practiced by people today. It has already received a brief mention by Publishers Weekly. I was invited to write the 5,000-word chapter on Epicureanism! The book comes out in the fall of this year.

It is almost impossible–without great means and money for marketing–to build a profitable career as a freelance writer. But it is much more easy to have it as a side hustle for extra income. Freelancing allows you to become You, Inc.

The same goes for many other skills that one may have, whether it is digital or manual painting / design, musical gifts (many youtubers have gained fame or made either a modest or a considerable income), video and animation, computer programming, or marketing. If you have a good voice, you may offer voice-over services in whatever languages you speak.

If you do start your own freelancing side-business, you may also hire freelancers to supply the skill sets that you lack in order to advance your projects, or participate in freelancer networks that provide mutual assistance, learning, insurance, and other benefits. I hired the lady who made my business logo when I started TheTwentiers.com through Fiverr. I paid less than $ 15, which is a much larger fee to an Indonesian young woman in her own currency than what it is in US dollars. Fiverr not only serves as one of many platforms where you as a freelancer can sell your skills, but also allows entrepreneurs and business owners to make their business better, stay on budget and get things done with just a click by giving you instant access to vetted professional freelancers. Before you hire someone there, you can read the reviews from people who have hired them before, so there’s an element of crowd-sourced trust that is built on the platform.

One of the theories that I set out to prove and implement when I decided to delve into focusing on autarchy in 2019 was the Epicurean concept that mutual benefit is what lubricates social and business relations; that it does not just define just relations, but is a much more central value in all social ethics. The requirements of a freelancing business have made the importance of mutual advantage self-evident at every turn: it has benefitted my readers (who consume and, presumably, enjoy my content), myself (made royalties), Humanist Press (makes money from my book), the UIC architect who hired me (got a clear copy in English of two books), the girl in Indonesia who designed my logo (made a bit of money), and hopefully many others will benefit indirectly–for instance, the English-speaking architecture students who will read the book I translated. In this way, Epicurean principles inform and help shape good, wholesome business practices. So as you implement your business plan, consider the ways in which mutual advantage can be maximized, as that tends to be the path of least resistance to profit and benefit together with others and get things done most efficiently!

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Puerto Rico and the Rickyleaks Affair: Some Thoughts

“When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” – Thomas Jefferson

After nearly two weeks of protests, the governor of Puerto Rico has resigned and will be replaced by Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez. The protests took place after a nearly 900-page chat was leaked that showed the governor and his inner circle using degrading language to refer to women and gays, joking about the bodies that piled up at the morgue after Hurricane Maria, and expressing other deplorable ideas. However, this is just the straw that broke the camel’s back. For years, there has been pent-up anger on the island against both the federal and local governments. Here are some of my observations.

The Age of Trump

The first and most obvious observation is that Trump has lowered the bar in terms of what it means to be presidential, or dignified, in the execution of politically important responsibilities. This has made many other functionaries lax in their role. Ricky Rosselló’s attitude initially took for granted that people would be willing to put up with embarrassingly corrupt and inefficient leadership because we’re stuck with Trump and there’s nothing we can do. These protests give us hope because they show that there are, after all, limits to how undignified a politician may act–at least in some places.

The Center for Investigative Journalism

CIJ-Puerto Rico is credited with leaking the 900-page Telegram chat that led to the protests. I studied Journalism and Communications at NEIU in Chicago, and did an internship with the Chicago Innocence Project many years ago, and I’m aware of how relentless and persistent one has to be sometimes to acquire information, or to get to the bottom of complex issues. There are huge ethical repercussions to what one does as a journalist: from the choice of words, to the citing of sources, to the extent of how subjective one chooses to be in presenting events, all these things one has control over and have specific effects on the readers. For many years, the professionals at CIJ-PR have helped to inform the world in both English and Spanish about what’s happening on the island, and time and again have advocated for what’s in the public’s interest. They deserve accolades for their work.

The Puerto Rican Flag

Flags of the USA and Puerto Rico

Many people think of the island flag as “American flag, Jr.” because it has the same colors, and even Captain America could be mistaken for Captain Puerto Rico. But waving the PR flag only was very controversial at one point on the island. In the mid-20th Century, during the height of anti-communist fervor, a so-called “gag law” made it illegal to wave the island’s flag. For many decades after this law was found to be unconstitutional, the colonial reality of the island was such that–unlike what we see on the mainland during the Puerto Rican parades–many people were apprehensive about displaying only the Puerto Rico flag without the American flag. During these protests, the PR flag was seen everywhere and all segments of society were united. This is a paradigm shift.

Today is Commonwealth Day

In the lands that made up the former British Empire, the word Commonwealth means something very different from what it means in the U.S. There, it refers to all the lands that recognize the Queen of England, even if her role is merely ceremonial. Puerto Rico is one of two non-state Commonwealths of the United States. A Commonwealth is somewhere between an organized territory and a state. They have their own Constitutions, which are very similar to state Constitutions, must be Republican in nature and include all the items in the US Bill of Rights, and were ratified by both Congress and the people of Puerto Rico and of the Northern Mariana Islands (the other Commonwealth). Everyone born in a Commonwealth is an American citizen by birth. If a foreigner wants to move there, they have to have a green card and the process is identical to the process of moving to the United States. For instance, Cubans, Spaniards, and Dominicans who migrate to Puerto Rico frequently acquire U.S. citizenship after a few years.

The current Constitution of Puerto Rico was approved on July 25 of 1952. When I was growing up on the island in the 80’s, this was considered a holiday and was celebrated. We were taught that we had two flags, two languages, and two cultures and that we should be proud of both. That’s what it meant to be a good Puerto Rican back then. Today, people are more cynical about this, and few people would celebrate the bonds of colonialism in this manner. Recent events–like the PROMESA board and recent judicial decisions–have made it obvious that the Commonwealth political status is just a way to legitimize and “dress up” colonialism to make it seem respectable, and that the island’s status is not the “best of both worlds”, as we had been told. The island is still governed under the territorial clause of the US Constitution, which means that it lacks the sovereignty of a state.

Commonwealth status is clearly meant to be transitory towards either independence or statehood. At least islanders have another reason to celebrate today: they’re getting rid of this governor and their protests were the largest in modern history.

A People’s History

Many years ago, I started to read A People’s History of the United States by the Social-Democratic intellectual Howard Zinn. His premise was that history is not written by a few great men, but by the masses in struggle. Today, I think history is written by both great intellectuals, as well as the masses.

The protests of the last couple of weeks are a colossal break with inertia in terms of the people’s awareness of their power to write history. For the last 120 years under American hegemony, people in Puerto Rico have been barred from participating in all the decision-making processes at the federal level: they have no electoral votes for president, and they lack their two senators and however many representatives in the lower House of Congress. They only vote in presidential primaries, and are used to not having any significant political power. It remains to be seen whether this small taste of popular power will transform the prevailing inertia and cynicism into greater popular engagement and, ultimately, decolonization.

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Happy Twentieth! In Memory of “The Men”

Epicurus will immediately send us as ambassadors Metrodorus, Hermarchus and Polyaenus. – Leontion’s Epistle to Lamia

Happy Twentieth to Epicureans everywhere! In his Final Testament, Epicurus stipulated that the feasts on the 20th of every month had to continue in memory of him and his beloved friend Metrodorus as was “the established custom” before he died. This post is in celebration of “the Men”–the Founders of Epicurean Philosophy Epicurus of Samos, and his ambassadors Metrodorus of Lampsachus, Hermarchus of Mytilene, and Polyaenus of Lampsachus. Every Twentieth, it is they (as well as other Epicureans of importance who came after them) who are the reason for the season!

We must always orient our discourse for the benefit of those who are solidly armed for happiness: our disciples. – Epicurus of Samos, On Nature 28

The life of Epicurus is a lesson of wisdom. It is by example, even more than precept, that he guides his disciples … Many of us have had bad habits, many of us evil propensities, violent passions. That our habits are corrected, our propensities changed, our passions restrained, lies all with Epicurus … he has made me taste the sweets of innocence, and brought me into the calm of philosophy … Candor, as you have already remarked, is a prominent feature of his mind, the crown of his perfect character. – Metrodorus, in A Few Days in Athens

We are quite familiarized with Epicurus, but not so much with the other three. Our friend Josh wrote a poem titled Hermarchus, Seeing the Bust of Epicurus. Hermarchus was the co-founder and second Scholarch of the Garden. I recently shared the following fragment, which I found in the book Les Epicuriens and translated into English:

This is why Timeus affirms that, whenever they begin any enterprise, sages always in some way invoke divinity. But the Epicurean Hermarchus says: “How do we avoid regressing to infinity in all enterprise if, even for a minor matter, we have need to turn to prayer. Because for one prayer we will need yet another prayer, and we will never stop praying at any point.”

This is what we know from Book 10 of Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers and other sources: Hermarchus, a student of rhetoric, was the successor of Epicurus and the very first convert to the teachings of Epicurus. Hermarchus was born in 340 BCE in Mytilene, Lesbos, from a poor family and died around 250 BCE of paralysis. He joined Epicurus when he initially began preaching in the gymnasium of his home city.

Hermarchus was the only one among the founders who was there both prior to Epicurus’ teaching mission, and at the time of his death when, according to Philodemus, he assisted the Hegemon, “wrapped him in a shroud, and kept vigil beside his remains“–a testimony of the tender love that existed among the first Friends of Epicurus who had grown old together in philosophy and were as family.

Some of the extant sayings in our tradition have been attributed to him, and it is believed that he was almost exclusively vegetarian and that he considered meat-eating an unnecessary desire because it contributes not to the maintenance of life but to a variation in pleasure.

A young man that loves glory, that is precocious wickedness. – Metrodorus of Lampsacus

Bust of Metrodorus and Epicurus

Bust of Metrodorus and Epicurus

Metrodorus of Lampsachus was known as a great administrator, linguist and financier, and was recognized as a sophos (sage) by the Epicureans and as “almost another Epicurus” by Cicero.

He was born in 330 BCE in Lampsachus, and died in 277 BCE, seven or eight years before the death of Epicurus. He never left Epicurus except once for six months spent on a visit to his native land. He had a bitter dispute with his brother Timocrates, who disagreed with certain key doctrines of the School–this was recently discussed in the essay on Metrodorus’ Epistle to Timocrates.

He’s the one who formulated the importance of securing our natural and necessary goods now and making sure to have the confident expectation that we will be able to secure them in the future as part of the Epicurean art of living, and is responsible for these quotes:

I have anticipated you, Fortune, and entrenched myself against all your secret attacks. And we will not give ourselves up as captives to you or to any other circumstance; but when it is time for us to go, spitting contempt on life and on those who here vainly cling to it, we will leave life crying aloud in a glorious triumph-song that we have lived well. – Vatican Saying 47

The study of nature does not create men who are fond of boasting and chattering or who show off the culture that impresses the many, but rather men who are strong and self-sufficient, and who take pride in their own personal qualities not in those that depend on external circumstances. – Vatican Saying 45

Philodemus reports that Metrodorus was deeply interested in delineating doctrines concerning economics. He carried out careful evaluations concerning how to acquire and preserve wealth according to the elemental principles of Epicureanism, and applying hedonic calculus.

The good man is a good financier; The bad man is also a bad financier, just as Metrodorus has demonstrated. – Philodemus of Gadara

In addition, it’s possible to resume some of Metrodorus’ theses concerning both the sources from which one may procure wealth, as well as the manner by which one may preserve it. However, he constantly accentuated as a matter of fact that to meet occasionally with perturbations, worries and troubles is much more advantageous for the best mode of life possible than the opposite choice. – Philodemus of Gadara

From these quotes, it becomes clear that Metrodorus was a huge proponent of autarchy, which translates as personal sovereignty or self-sufficiency. He believed a sage had to be self-sufficient and neither depend on external factors, nor leave anything that is essential for happiness to Fate. He teaches us that we should always aim to have mastery over the things that we can control that concern our happiness. Hence, Norman DeWitt says that while all philosophers say that the unexamined life is not worth living, the Epicureans add that “the unplanned life is not worth living“.

Polyaenus of Lampsachus was the son of Athenodorus, a mathematician, and was considered a kind and trustworthy man. He died prior to Epicurus in 286 BC. Philodemus, in On Frank Criticism, says that Metrodorus described Polyaenus as “rather sententious … often insinuating himself into conversation and quite sociable”. Here are two quotes by him that I found in the book Les Epicuriens:

The more you benefit your friend, the more you serve your own self-interest. In fact, the kindness provoked by these benefits will come back to us.

Habit is born of small things, but (bad habits) gain vigor through (our) neglect.

This last fragment reminds me of Will Durant‘s materialist conception of identity: he said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” From the description as “sententious”–whose original sense was ‘full of meaning or wisdom’–and from the fact that he dedicated a scroll to the problem of Definitions, we can imagine Polyaenus as very careful when choosing words to make his speech clear and concise. For him to have been considered an important foundational figure, we can surmise that he must have greatly influenced–and brilliantly exemplified–the Epicurean practice of parrhesia (frank criticism) softened with suavity (gentle speech). He was known for using powerful proverbs and adages. He was great at conversation, but did not speak idly. His words were useful and profitable to those who had the pleasure of his company.

So these are Epicurus’ ambassadors: Hermarchus the loyal friend, Metrodorus the administrator, and Polyaenus the eloquent social butterfly.

A big thank you to Jason and Tyler for their Patreon support. Here are some literary updates from the Garden:

Epicurean Advice for the Modern Consumer, by Tim O’Keefe

Diogenes of Oenoanda on Cyrenaic Hedonism

Ubuntu: African Humanism and Epicurean Philanthropy

Garden-Variety Happiness: Epicurus had a simple recipe for happiness

Further Reading:

The 17 Scholarchs and the Empress

Metrodorus’ Epistle to Timocrates

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The Ancient and Emerging Atheistic Religions

Many (including some Epicureans, like Michel Onfray) consider atheism as a nihilism, or say that it means “not having a religion”, or that it’s devoid of spirituality, but this is far from true. There are many ways of being atheistic, and the variety of atheistic religions bears witness to this. Some are not entirely scientific, and accept views like reincarnation. Others are fully materialistic in philosophy. You will notice that some of these traditions have influenced and cross-fertilized each other. Here is a brief survey of the atheistic religions out there in alphabetical order.

Buddhism. 2,500 years ago, Prince Siddhartha Gautama founded a dharmic religion that was meant to reform and challenge Vedic Hinduism. His doctrine incorporated elements of psychoanalysis, and revolved around the problem of suffering rather than being concerned with appeasing deities. Today there are many branches of Buddhism, some of which attract atheists. The Nichiren tradition of Buddhism was referred to frequently in my reasonings on the Lotus Sutra, the scripture on which it’s based. There are many Secular Buddhist books and organizations, and author and neuroscientist Sam Harris–who has participated in week-long meditation retreats and researches the meditating brain–is an outspoken advocate of Buddhist philosophy. –> Secular Buddhism.org and .com Secular Buddhist.com

Secular Buddhism

Buddhism Without Beliefs

Dudeism. It’s one of the several new religious movements that are based on movies or pop culture phenomena, in this case the film The Big Lebowski. It’s also one of the most Californian of (parody?) religions. The Church of the Latter Day Dude offers certificates of ordination and has published works like the The Dude De Ching–a Dudeist commentary on the Tao Te Ching. Taoist and Epicurean philosophies greatly influence Dudeist discourse, which can be best summed up as: “Take it easy, man!”. –> Dudeism.com

The Abide Guide

The Tao of the Dude

Epicureanism. I have written before on how our own tradition fulfills the seven dimensions of religion posited by anthropologist Ninian Smart. It is based on the study of nature and teaches atomist physics, hedonist ethics with an asterisk–pleasure is the end that our own nature seeks–and that there is a proper way to pursue pleasure, that friendships are sacred, and that we should strive to be self-sufficient, among other doctrines. Please visit SocietyofEpicurus.com, NewEpicurean.com, or ElementalEpicureanism.com for more info.

 Tending the Epicurean Garden

Epicurus and His Philosophy

Existentialism. If you’re fond of Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir you might be an existentialist. These intellectuals tackle the issues of actively creating meaning in a meaningless and sometimes cruel and absurd cosmos, human freedom, and the vulnerable condition of man in his natural state. Though not typically thought of as a religion, Existentialism does inform the lives of millions in the West and some of the central writings have an air of sacred scripture and are even studied as such–the main of which are Thus Spake Zarathustra and Being and Nothingness.

 Existentialism Is a Humanism

Jainism. Buddhism’s lesser-known sibling religion, which emerged at around the same time in India, is Jainism–“the way of ahimsa (non-violence)”. Founded by Mahavira–who was a Buddha-like figure–the whole point of Jain ethics is to live according to non-violence. There is no formal initiation or baptism, one only has to study, follow the teachings, and practice the strict non-violence teachings. I had the pleasure of meeting an Indian Jain once, who was a strict vegetarian and left a very positive impression on me, but am not too familiar with the rest of their doctrine. Hermant Mehta, author of The Friendly Atheist Blog, was raised as a Jain and says that there is really no concept of God in Jainism. –> Jainpedia

Jediism. Who gets to decide what is a real religion and what isn’t? With roots in pop culture and in census-related antics, the religion based on the Jedi Code has gained serious adherents in recent years. Many people don’t know this, but mythographer Joseph Campbell–author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces–mentored George Lucas while he was creating Star Wars, and his ideas greatly influenced the saga. He was the REAL Obi Wan Kenobi, and even had a short cameo in one of the early films! Campbell’s central idea is that humans are storytelling animals who build their identities by telling myths. He taught that every person has a personal sacred narrative that gives them meaning. –> Temple of the Jedi Order Jedi Church (Star Wars is not the only great movie or work of pop literature to have inspired quasi-religious awe: Harry Potter is read as sacred text by some fans.)

Become the Force

Humanism. While some of the other religions mentioned here are sects within it, Humanism (sometimes called “Secular Humanism” to distinguish it from religious versions of it) is the “generic” version of a religion of humanity and philanthropy that is based on Enlightenment values. Humanism also has ethnic flavors (Confucianism is considered a Chinese Humanism, and Ubuntu is an African Humanism) as well as doctrinal or intellectual traditions (Sartre called one of his introductory tracts “Existentialism is a Humanism“). While it rejects supernatural claims, it does favor the celebration of ceremonies and rites of passage like baby namings, coming of age, weddings, and memorials. It has been at the forefront of training chaplains to develop secular versions of traditionally sanctioned rites which are viewed as important rites of passage in our society that bring communities together. –> American Ethical Union and American Humanist Association

Enlightenment Now

Humanism: A Very Short Introduction

Humanistic Judaism. One of the newest, and lesser known, of the denominations within mainstream Judaism is fully atheistic –> Society of Humanistic Judaism

This newest denomination within modern Judaism was founded by Rabbi Sherwin Wine during the middle of the 20th Century, who believed that there were many Jewish identities and that the monopoly on Jewishness exerted by orthodox religious authorities in Israel had to be challenged. He argued that there have always been atheist Jews, and he even adopted the label apikorsim (Epicurean) as a secular Jewish and philosophical identity. Although the apikorsim (Hellenized Jews who adopted Epicureanism) were reviled by the traditional rabbis in antiquity, HJ Rabbis argue that their mention in the Talmud demonstrates that there was, indeed, a huge number of Jews whose beliefs were not orthodox and who identified with secular and scientific values.

While believing in the usefulness of ritual as a tool to preserve a sense of tribal identity, he also considered the Torah to be only one of many sources for Jewish history and identity, and–most controversially–insisted on re-inventing the liturgy to reflect a non-theistic Judaism. He said he wanted to “say what we mean, and mean what we say“, unlike people in traditional synagogues who repeat ancient formulas that they don’t honestly believe in for the sake of tradition.

The traditional blessings and invocations in Jewish liturgy usually begin along the lines of Baruch ata Adonai Eloheynu Melekh haOlam … (“Blessed are you Lord Our God, King of the World …”), but Rabbi Wine’s Shabbat blessing is:

barukh ha-or ba-olam
barukh ha-or ba-Adam
barukh ha-or ba-shabbat

This translates as a fully immanent blessing:

Blessed is the light in the world
Blessed is the light within people
Blessed is the light of Shabbat

with similar blessings for wine, meals, etc.

Judaism Beyond God

Objectivism. The philosophy of Ayn Rand–who preached unbridled capitalism and self-interest–draws heavily from Nietzsche, but it claims a Neo-Aristotelian pedigree. Though it’s a philosophy and in spite of my criticism of it, I decided to include it here because it informs the lives of many who have read Rand’s fiction and non-fiction books, functioning almost as “the unofficial religion of free enterprise” that fetishizes power and worldly success. Rand has had great influence on many conservative American politicians and economists. The main doctrinal tract is The Virtue of Selfishness.

Pastafarianism. It started as an attempt to ridicule creationism, but has evolved into a full-fledged parody religion complete with scriptures, rituals (including weddings in pirate costumes) and its own headdress. Visit the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster website to learn more.

The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Satanism. Originating from the margins of Christianity, Satanism did not exist as an organized group of religions until the 1960’s. Prior to that, it existed merely in the collective imagination of Christians who suffered from hysteria. Then Anton LaVey published his The Satanic Bible and founded the Church of Satan, which shows the greatest level of orthodox adherence to LaVeyan Satanism–a faith that is mostly based on Ayn Rand’s philosophy, with strong Nietzschean and social Darwinist influences. Today, there are Post-Laveyan sects like the Satanic Temple, which rejects social Darwinism, and also dismisses the Satanic Bible in favor of Revolt of the Angels as its literary canon. TST was recently recognized as a non-profit, tax-exempt church by the IRS. Its early history is documented in the film Hail Satan?, and it’s experiencing considerable growth these days. This particular flavor of the faith revolves around The Seven Tenets:

  1. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.
  2. The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
  3. One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
  4. The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.
  5. Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.
  6. People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.
  7. Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

The Satanic Bible

The Unholy Bible

Sunday Assembly. Created as a church for atheists who crave community, SA encourages its participants to “Live Better; Help Often; Wonder More“. It incorporates pop culture songs into its liturgy, and weaves humanism and comedy into its sermons. The one time I visited their Chicago service, the congregation sang a Beatles song. –> Sunday Assembly

Taoism. Like Confucianism, Taoism is a humanist philosophy from the East and at least one of its sages are Epicurean in all but name. It has inspired an Autarkist blog series. While Epicureanism is based on the philosophical-scientific study and appreciation of nature, Taoism is based on a mystical study and appreciation of nature. –> Personal Tao

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching

Unitarianism. Like the Sunday Assembly, the Unitarian Universalists are a post-Christian denomination that focuses not on beliefs, but on community. One distinguishing element in UU is their central communal ritual–the lighting of the flaming chalice. Their communal format is otherwise identical to a Christian church in most respects, except that probably the majority of church members are agnostics or atheists. –> Unitarian Universalist Association

A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism

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You Have No Rights

In the above video, George Carlin bursts the “rights” bubble and raises questions about in what way would these rights exist and how would they come about. Rights are an almost sacred concept to most Westerners, but the truth is that there are no absolute rights, that rights are not observable in nature, and that they are cultural products: human rights, civil rights, reproductive rights, animal rights, gay rights–all these things have been the result of generations of struggle and progressively sophisticated philosophical discussions.

Since today is the 4th of July, I decided that I would address some aspect of American philosophy. It seems like (at least some or most of) the Founding Fathers believed that we had natural rights. This creed stems from their agreement with Locke (who believed that humans are naturally sociable) and their disagreement with Hobbes (who believed that humans are solitary and brutish in their natural state).

If humans in their natural state are incapable of just relations (as the pessimistic Hobbes proposed), then rights were a cultural convention that people had to invent in order to have society. If humans were by nature capable of just relations, then a pre-political, pre-state instinct of “rights” of some sort may have existed. But how can they be enforced? In my book review of The Bonobo and the Atheist, I mention some of the mechanisms that anthropologists have suggested for natural morality: things like gossip, shame, friendship, bullying, etc.

If humans have an inherent, natural morality, then there was something like natural rights that preceded the state. On the other hand, Adams (“I Have Looked for Our Rights“) argued that “rights” exist only where enforced by some kind of organization. Where the organization chooses or simply does not enforce them, the “rights” do not exist, and as Adams says, the issues will either be taken into the hands of the living people involved, or not. It’s clear, however, that rights only exist in practice when they are enforced (people who violate them are punished, those who use their rights are protected while doing so) typically by the state (or some other state-like institution) using its monopoly on violence.

And so the humanist doctrine enshrined in the Declaration of Independence that

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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

implies that whoever wrote the Declaration (we have always imagined it was Thomas Jefferson, but his draft was subjected to editorial feedback from others) had concluded that rights, in some way, preceded the state–that man, in his natural state, was born free, and that from this freedom stemmed some natural “rights” that preceded the state and its monopoly on violence.

Do Epicurean thinkers  take a specific stand in these matters? Before we look at Lucretius, let’s consider a few of the Principal Doctrines. PD6 states

In order to obtain protection from other men, any means for attaining this end is a natural good.

This does not specifically speak of rights or their origins, but indicates clearly that some government and some rule of law, at least enough to secure protection for ourselves, is “a natural good”. PD 33 and 36 makes it clear that we do not see absolute justice (that is, justice in nature predating the state and forever valid), and that what we do see is agreements to avoid mutual harm between consenting adults.

There never was such a thing as absolute justice, but only agreements made in mutual dealings among men in whatever places at various times providing against the infliction or suffering of harm.

In general justice is the same for all, for it is something found mutually beneficial in men’s dealings, but in its application to particular places or other circumstances the same thing is not necessarily just for everyone.

So people make their laws and invent their rights according to their mutual advantage, and people may also change them as needed (PD 37-38). This means that these rights emerge from people’s consent, and it also vindicates the assertion in the Declaration of Independence that governments derive their legitimacy from the consent of the governed. But as for the part about rights being “endowed by the Creator” (or by Nature), we just don’t find evidence of that in the study of nature.

As for the ideal type of government, we also do not find absolute answers when we study nature. Sean McConnell argues that kingship may at times have been found advantageous by the Epicureans if it efficiently secured safety, as per PD 6. This means that Epicureanism does not advocate Republican rule of law, or any other specific form of government. Rather, the ideal form of government varies according to specific circumstances.

Although Lucretius indicates that the tendency to befriend one’s neighbors and show them mercy exists in the natural state and predates the state, rights are man-made. This does not mean we should not cherish them and defend them: they were gained through blood, wars, struggle, and over many generations, but they are man-made. As our friend Cassius puts it: There are no “rights” floating in the air.

It seems like the Founding Fathers confused the natural, but fragile personal sovereignty that humans enjoy in our wild state with “natural rights”. But there aren’t many examples of peaceful anarchic societies in history. Good governance is typically required to preserve our natural, personal sovereignty to whatever extent this is possible in human society. And so Lucretius  explains how primitive man eventually found it desirable to yield the personal sovereignty that we enjoyed in our wild state, and to accept “the yolk” and the sovereignty of a ruler or of the state in order to secure safety–for which (if we remember Principal Doctrine 6) anything we do is naturally good. Here is the Better be a subject and at peace portion of De Rerum Natura:

Then, here and there, men learned to choose officials,
establish constitutions, and live by law.
For man grew weary: the life of violence
and hatred left him sick, and more disposed
freely to choose the yoke of law and statute.
For angered men kept calling for revenge
more savage than just law will now permit;
this made man sicken of life by violence. (DRN V.1136-1150)
Better by far be subject, and at peace,
than will to govern the world and hold a throne! (DRN V.1129-1130)

To conclude, rights and governmental infrastructures are a man-made invention. They do not exist in the state of nature, but they are a natural good insofar as they preserve our personal sovereignty better than anarchy.

Further Reading:

Dialogue on the Extent to Which the Declaration of Independence is Consistent With Epicurean Philosophy

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