Hedonism offers far more problems than solutions

The month of December is now in full effect and with it comes a series of virtual certainties. For example, it is a good bet that a number of people will be getting smashed during or after finals week in an effort to forget about all those grueling hours of studying and test-taking. Some will also spend New Year’s Eve in a haze (be it literal or figurative) while pressing against warm bodies at a party or a club. And then there are others, such as myself, who will simply have none of it.

When it comes to hedonism – that is, copious amounts of sex, drugs and booze and other such debauchery – my attitude can be summed up in two words: no thanks.

Given some of the ideological stances I hold (I’ve argued for legalizing prostitution and against traditional notions of love), this might come as a real shocker. Why would someone who values freedom not partake in its many benefits?

In order to answer this, it is important to realize that I am not slamming hedonism from a traditionalist standpoint. Traditionalists, such as my colleagues McCaffery and Esposito, usually mean well, but offer arguments against hedonistic behavior that fall hopelessly flat.

The traditionalist argument often errs by presupposing nonexistent moral authority. “You shouldn’t be doing this” comes off sounding obnoxiously paternalistic more times than not.

If we are all consenting adults, then not one of us gets to make the determination as to what the others should and should not be doing.

Traditionalist arguments also confuse paranoia and possibility with probability and fact. Can promiscuous sex lead to developing a sexually transmitted disease? Yes. Does it happen in all, or even most, cases? Don’t bet on it.

I prefer to examine and, subsequently, criticize hedonism in a different light.

Consider, for example, that hedonism is inherently instinctual. “Do what feels right” is its driving principle and gratification of impulse is its goal.

Now consider this: we are all college students. We are here, presumably, to learn and apply, to think and evaluate and, most importantly, to get ahead in the world. If our instincts would guide us down the right path regardless, none of this would be necessary. And yet, it is.

Conclusion: doing what feels right won’t necessarily yield a result that is satisfactory and short-term gratification can easily translate to long-term angst.

My critique of hedonism also rests with the concept of personal choice and accountability. As far as I am concerned, any person who is of age has the right to do as he or she pleases with his or her body, provided two conditions are met.

First, that person must take responsibility for his or her actions.

Second, those actions cannot negate the rights of others.

Hedonism is far too often treated as legitimized escapism. How many times has “I was drunk” been used to explain a mishap or snafu and how many times have a series of heads nodded in understanding?

Bullshit! “I was drunk” is not a valid excuse inasmuch as the drinker makes the choice to drink in the first place. As such, he or she is still responsible for whatever comes of that choice.

Furthermore, allow me to be blunt (pun intended): getting wasted or stoned often results in behavior that is loud, annoying and infinitely idiotic. The likelihood that this kind of behavior will disturb others is very high and the minute that it does become disruptive, the right to engage in it is null and void.

Or, to put it another way: any asshole whose drunken chatter annoys me should take it elsewhere lest, for the sake of reciprocity, I blast some Metallica at high volume while said asshole is trying to sleep.

Having choice requires us to be conscientious, even if it sometimes kills the fun.

Next, I am going to posit (to a chorus of boos and hisses, no doubt) that hooking up at random can indeed be disastrous. I believe the act itself is harmless, but the context in which that act is understood (or, more likely, misunderstood) can have potentially devastating repercussions.

All human relationships, be they friendships, business partnerships or romantic couplings, are inherently transactional. Something is given and something is received.

In order for a relationship to be functional, that which is given should approximately equal that which is received.

The value of sex is very hard to measure inasmuch as it might mean different things to different people. Thus, the safest bet is merely to exchange sex for itself.

The only kind of hook-up that can function properly is one in which sexual gratification is the goal of all parties involved.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with all hook-ups. Sex is sometimes used to reward attention or flattery. It may also be used as a means of inspiring jealousy or elevating social status.

In some cases, the physical act is even presented as “proof” of an emotional attitude.

Because this violates the exchange principle, it is dreadfully problematic. That which is given may not equal that which is received in the eyes of both participants.

As such, someone can very easily believe he or she has been used or manipulated and discord ensues. Someone simply looking to get laid could wind up with far more (or less) than he or she bargained for.

Ergo, people should either have a very clear understanding of what they are getting themselves into … or not get involved at all.

Finally, I am going to close this piece with an admission. I lead a fairly boring, mundane life. I don’t go on great adventures or drive from town to town in a van solving mysteries.

It is probably good that I realize this. In realizing it, I also realize that downing shots of vodka, toking up or throwing myself at a miniskirt-wearing (preferably blonde) vixen isn’t going to make my life any more spectacular.

These escapades might help me forget how boring it is for a short while, but eventually I will return to reality and I’ll probably have a headache or a hangover or some lingering doubt or regret when I do.

And all of that static, quite simply, is something I can do without.