The Spectacular Fall of Modern Hedonism: Why Short Term Pleasures are Losing their charm

In our “all-so-advanced” society, everything has become tacky, politicized, and short-lived. Many people are fed up with being slaves to desires. Moreover, decadence and stupidity are spreading like wildfire with the advent of the greatest scam and marketing campaign in history.

Yet, I was happy to see people slowly awakening to a new way of thinking. We’ve been had throughout history, and the short term pleasures of this world are already losing their charm to many nowadays. There’s a lot of discontentment around and that’s actually a very good thing.

So let’s start from the beginning…

The definition of Hedonism as maximizing short term pleasures

Hedonism is an old school of thought that states that the most important good in the world is pleasure. So the maximization of pleasure tends to be the primary concern of people who ascribe to such thinking. Though it’s ancient, it’s very much alive nowadays.

fall of hedonism, short term pleasures

As idealized by Aristippus of Cyrene, a student of Socrates, Hedonism seeks to fulfill the spiritual void inherent in people with short term pleasures (sometimes, that meant with pure garbage). It arose either from the very naive thinking that receiving instant pleasure makes you happier and not receiving puts you in a worse position (poorer, losing time or risking yourself) or from pure nihilistic reasons like “if we are destined to die at any moment, let us enjoy life to its fullest right now”.

Basically, it is pure selfishness, dressed in a philosophical garb, the antithesis of closeness to Hashem. It doesn’t take much thinking to see how short term pleasures can bring a lot of destruction, to one’s life and world as a whole.

Unfortunately, life is not all about that, so it’s hard to find adherents to Hedonism who have fulfilled lives, if not downright impossible. Most of the people in the world are forced to do painful, frustrating, and tiresome chores during the day, so it doesn’t really take much to realize that going against one’s inner nature is disastrous. Few things can match the pain of going against one’s own nature.

It’s an uphill battle, but one that people are willing to engage in, even if it will destroy them in the end.

A related scientific study

As one would expect, one of the ideas contained in the hedonistic philosophy is the liberalization of sex. Why, that is the single highest possible form of short term pleasures attainable in this world. And if it’s “not hurting” anyone, how bad could it be? It’s just an individual thing, right?

Unfortunately for many, it doesn’t matter how stubborn their ideas are, reality is what reality is.

There’s a fascinating study called Sex and Culture by professor J.D. Unwin, a British secular Ethnologist. In it, he analyses 80 primitive tribes and 6 known civilizations over a period of 5.000 years and finds out that there’s a positive correlation between cultural achievement of a people and the sexual restraint they observe.

Surprised yet?

According to Aldous Huxley, an English philosopher:

“Unwin’s conclusions, which are based upon an enormous wealth of carefully sifted evidence, may be summed up as follows.:

“All human societies are in one or another of six cultural conditions: zoistic, manistic, deistic, rationalistic, expansive, productive. Of these societies the zoistic displays the least amount of mental and social energy, the productive the most. Investigation shows that the societies exhibiting the least amount of energy are those where pre-nuptial continence is not imposed and where the opportunities for sexual indulgence after marriage are greatest. The cultural condition of a society rises in exact proportion as it imposes pre-nuptial and post-nuptial restraints upon sexual opportunity.”

Aldous Huxley

The study is long, but one of its main ideas is that sexual energy can be put into the advancement of civilization. Nations that were restrictive of sex advanced more whereas those that didn’t, either perished or remained… primitive.

We can see that nowadays very easily.

What’s behind all that?

Sometimes it takes a genius to state what should’ve been obvious and convince everyone else of the truth.

The Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon), one of the greatest Jewish medieval philosophers already stated that 999 men out of 1000 die of excessive “spilling of seed” while 1 dies of something else. This might sound absurd given today’s scientific researches but it’s not too difficult to conciliate these 2 positions, and here’s a fascinating secret on why this is so:

Sexual energy is the most powerful form of spiritual energy.

Let’s stop for a while and let this sink in.

Basically, sexual energy is the same the drive to creativity and the main fuel to transcendence and hasagot (spiritual attainment).

It can be used to propel one to great heights or degrade own to great abysses. Like C4 explosives, it must be used with great care. In good hands, it can bring great blessing to oneself and the world. But in the hands of children (as many have been educated), it brings great destruction in the Olamot Elyonim.

Now, of course we can find scientific research that will tell you that there’s nothing wrong with wasting sexual energy. The world never lacked proponents of short term pleasures.

The problem with Hedonism

$cientists say “it’s a natural part of human experience, stimulates areas in the brain, has health benefits, so on and so forth”.

What they miss is just the devastating spiritual effects that come along with it and are felt in all areas of a person’s life.

Let’s explain.

One of the key principles in Kabbalah is that whatever happens in the microcosm (the individual) happens in the macrocosm (family, society, countries and the universe as a whole), and vice-versa. The disarray and internal frustrations of meaningless sex (or other types of misconduct in this area), are not only restricted to the woes of the individual (who is also a small world, according to the Jewish sages). It has a direct effect to the Jewish people and the world at large as well.

Therefore, one who wastes his sexual energy will never feel fulfilled.

It’s a never-ending abyss. Like a drug, short term pleasures suck out more and more out of the individual. People who fall inside it find it ever more difficult to get out of it. Life becomes a mess and some of the effects included are feelings of depression, lack of self-esteem and lack of sensitivity to others, fatigue, laziness, and egotism. These are all things that prevent a person from achieving true spirituality, inner peace, and happiness in life.

This, by the way, applies both for men as well as for women.

It’s just the effects are felt differently in each of them.

That’s Hedonism. It just sounds fancier when you give it a Greek word.

The situation nowadays

The realization that Hedonism doesn’t bring happiness, is dawning on people. A little laugh and a little pleasure here and there are certainly not happiness. Simcha, in its truest sense of the word, is much deeper than that.

Though the majority are still sunk in physicality, I believe their numbers are decreasing.

In their quest for meaning and purpose, they look for glamorous zen or taoist philosophies, but sometimes are left just as disappointed. If you want a real spiritual-religious system, must, by definition include all parts of a healthily functioning society based on trade and law. It cannot be restricted only to monks and priests because, obviously, not everyone can be that. Plus, if everyone abandoned the search for materiality, the world would collapse. There would be no food, education, security and health.

Something to think about

The question is: where’s the balance? Can we have a fully spiritually functioning society that knows between good and evil, truth and falsehood?

It pains to say that today everything has also become too politicized.

The so-called “cultural war” has been intensified by the Left’s desire for domination (yes, I’m getting political because it affects everyone in our little planet).

Every single place where the Left was granted the means to power have slowly deteriorated and is now on the verge of self-destruction (if that didn’t happen yet). The Left has been promoting sexual immorality, inversion of values and tampering with moral imperatives, things which should not have been questioned.

Yet, thankfully, it’s losing its power now.

It’s all very beautiful and the phenomenon even has spiritual foundations for it.

So, what’s that all about?

Spiritual interactions

All interactions in the world can be classified as either one or a mixture of 2 forces as explained by Kabbalah: one which seeks to bestow to others and one which seeks to take from others. This interaction is present in the healthy relationship between a teacher and a student, a parent and a child, a husband and his wife, and many others. The former is a natural giver, and the latter is a natural taker.

An addendum: it just so happens that often, the relationship is inverted. The prototypical relationship between a husband and his wife dictates that the husband gives (because of his giving over his seed). However, there are cases in which the wife gives to the husband. That can be that knowledge, honor, children, and many others. This interplay of forces is often blurred and difficult to discern, but the most obvious act is that which happens when they are intimate.

This 2-way relationship can also manifest in an unhealthy way. This can happen when a robber “takes” for himself what’s not his. Or, when a man “gives” too much to improper recipients like his love to forbidden women. Whether people like it or not, rules maintain our society in working order and prevent it from falling into anarchy.

The end result

This means, there are moral, divine imperatives that can’t be tampered with.

Ignoring these imperatives is like passing a fence that’s before an abyss. And that has lead to the downfall of civilizations, as professor Unwin expounded.

This is one of the reasons why Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag stated that the desire to receive is the root of all sin. Sin, as is also often misrepresented in Media, is basically the shattering of one’s soul, the real you and your connection to divinity.

People who don’t overcome their egotistical nature to take are prone to feed it through sinful ways. There are times when receiving is done for the sake of giving. One example is when an elevated person (a king or an elder) kindly receives a gift in order to give joy to the giver. Or when a toddler gives his drawing of the parents and they kindly put it on the fridge for display, ignoring all artistic considerations.

Conclusion: the inevitable fall of hedonism

As history progresses, people are slowly awakening to the realization that Hedonism is not good, but the exact opposite. Short term pleasures don’t fill their spiritual void.

There’s only one way to acquire true fulfillment in life. That’s through transforming our desire to receive into our desire to give. When we do that, we emulate Hashem.

Again, I can’t stress enough: this is something that can ultimately only be experienced. No amount of writing can do justice to the feeling of having a purpose in life.

Short term pleasures seeking doesn’t make sense no matter how much one strives for.

And, “science” is also beginning to admit it doesn’t know all the answers of the universe. This happens especially when it comes to the realm of the mind and soul.

To be truly free is to stay true to one’s true self and emulate the Creator. He is the ultimate giver. Anyone can aspire to that and everyone is welcome in the journey.

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Chaim Apsan

Chaim is a teacher and Kabbalah enthusiast. He loves helping Jews connect with true Torah teaching and enhancing their spiritual growth. With a focus on meditation, he guides individuals on transformative journeys of prayer, contemplation, and connection with Hashem. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and kids, and is committed to sharing the wisdom and power of Kabbalah in a genuine way.

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