Every time you spend money, you cast a vote for the kind of society you want

Have you ever seen a thing and thought to yourself, “that thing there is both true and.. kind of disingenuous? Maybe a bit problematic?” Agreed with something while simultaneously thinking it’s fairly dodgy?

Take a look at this quote:

Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want

Yep. I can’t argue with the truth of the statement- the fact that our money does support the companies making the things that we pay for is not something that we can get away from. I’m generally in favour of people voting with their wallets. If my money goes toward a sustainable, local business that provides great working conditions from its employees and sources its products ethically? That’s obviously a hell of a lot better than that same money going towards a company that tears apart communities and environments.

But it’s a problematic statement to make, as well. Because- like more kinds of voting than most of us are comfortable admitting- voting with our wallets isn’t something that we can all do.

Can you afford to vote?

When I have money to spare, I buy ethically sourced products and try to be careful about where my money is going. I minimise the amount of my money that goes towards people that I know to be seriously unethical. It’s something that I keep in mind. I do my best.

But I can’t do it all the time.

It’s unavoidable that the people who are most screwed-over by our economic systems are those who are least able to exercise choice in what they spend their money on. If I’m completely broke, I don’t get to decide to spend my money on sustainable products. I need to eat and I need new socks and I get what I can afford. Yes, that means that sometimes I buy things made by people I know to be dodgy. Yes, I would prefer if it wasn’t so. But there’s not much I can do about it.

Except when there is.

Sometimes, of course, I’m not flat broke but I don’t have a massive amount of disposable income. Then I’m faced with only having the basics, all sourced ethically, or else getting some dodgy things and having money for little luxuries. That’s the choice. And a lot of the time, yes, I choose to take care of myself. Most people do.

I’ve heard a lot of people talk (often loudly) about how they only buy things that are organic, free-range, fair-trade, locally sourced, and all of the rest. I rarely hear that from someone who can’t afford not only their basics, but also the odd treat, that way. And yes, affordability is about time as much as it is about money. I can have cakes if I can buy them, or if I can bake them.

If I had enough disposable income to afford the things I need to keep going, the little luxuries that keep me happy, and to do so ethically, I’d do that. But if I have to make choices, then, well.. those choices will depend on a lot of factors. 

And I’m not sure those choices make as much of a difference as we tell ourselves they do.

What are we changing, really?

The idea that we should purchase ethically sourced and produced things from people who treat their workers well is a great one. And it definitely has the potential to make a certain amount of difference. But it’s not going to fix everything.

Not everyone can buy more expensive things that were produced ethically- the very system that makes it important leaves many of us without the resources to do it. When the problem is that people’s resources and work are being stolen from them or auctioned off for far less than they’re worth, are they really going to have much left over for buying things sold for what they are worth? Of course not. The cards are stacked against people from the beginning.

And it’s not going to fix things. Even if everybody in the world bought ethically sourced products from fantastic businesses all the time, we’d have, at best, a precariously balanced kind of good. We still have a system ripe for exploitation. One that would require constant vigilance on the part of, it seems, absolutely everybody in order for it to work to make a decent standard of living for everyone. Even a profoundly flawed system could work okay if everyone in it was decent, upstanding, good people who always work ethically towards the common good. But we don’t live in a world where that’ll happen, and we evidently don’t have a system that is robust enough to work with flawed people without leading to ridiculous exploitation.


Oh, I love talking about shame, don’t I? Shame gets on my nerves. A kind of shaming that really gets on my nerves is where people who are privileged to have enough resources to regularly support ethically sourced products and businesses (yay!) seem to think that absolutely everyone has a moral obligation to do the same.


The people who are most messed-around by a system are not those who have the greatest moral obligation to do something about it. They’re the people who often end up doing so, yeah. But that’s mainly because nobody else will.

But people- even people who aren’t in a great economic situation- have the right to make decent lives for ourselves. And blaming the worst-off people for a situation that is not of their making, because in some small way they don’t have much options but to contribute to it? That’s just not okay.


Every time you spend money, you cast a vote for the kind of society you want

The consistency of pro-choice, anti death-penalty perspectives.

Reading an article in the Guardian on Rick Santorum’s frankly disgusting views on abortion, I came across the following comment:

A problem with pointing out the inconsistency of opposing right-to-abortion and supporting the death penalty is that the same accusation in reverse can be made to liberals.

Really? I don’t think so. While it may seem that if one is inconsistent the other must also be so, I would argue that the consistency of the pro-choice, anti-death penalty position (and the inconsistency of anti-choice pro-death penalty viewpoints) comes from the values generally emphasised in each.

The anti-choice argument generally runs something like this: The primary right is to life, and all human life is sacred. Embryos and fetuses constitute seperate human life, and are therefore entitled to the same protections as other humans. Because of this, terminating fetal and embryonic human life is equivalent to murdering a person and should not be permitted. I gather that being in favour of the death penalty has something to do with punishing people who do bad things to the fullest extent possible, although to be honest it’s a perspective I’ve never been able to wrap my head around.

As a person who’s as pro-choice as I’m against the death penalty, the main difference is in the principles I emphasise. I see the right to bodily integrity as the most basic there is, more important even than the right to life- which is why I’m also very much in favour of the right to a peaceful death at the time of one’s choosing. Basically, I see our bodies as the one thing over which we should have near-absolute sovereignty, with the only exception being where this threatens the sovereignty of others. Given this overarching principle, there is no contradiction in being pro-choice and anti-death penalty. My body is mine, yours is yours. We are the only people with the right to decide to begin lives in our bodies. And we are the only people with the right to end lives in our bodies- whether that be a fetus or ourselves.

The consistency of pro-choice, anti death-penalty perspectives.

America, the death penalty, and Troy Davis.

Oh, America. Why do you keep on doing this to me? I don’t want to be so fascinated and horrified by you. I, honestly, don’t want to spend much time at all thinking about you. We live in an American-centric world, whether we like it or not, and sometimes it feels like I know more about you than about my own home.

Then you do things like this. And all of my knowledge doesn’t add up to one goddamn bit of understanding. I’m only glad that so many of your people share this with me.

I woke up this morning to find that you’d killed someone. No- not anyone you’d killed in any of your wars. And not yet another person dying from lack of decent medical care, or another life cut short from needless poverty. This death was deliberate.

This killing was premeditated. This killing was cold. This killing was carried out despite an utter lack of credible evidence to explain it. This killing was carried out under orders. Professionally. Systematically. With signed letters and stamped forms.

I don’t know if Troy Davis killed Mark MacPhail.

I don’t care if Troy Davis killed Mark MacPhail.

Whether Troy Davis killed Mark MacPhail is irrelevant.

What is relevant is that you, America, are a country with no hesitation about killing. Killing your own, killing others. You have killed hundreds of thousands of people in the past decade in retribution for the death of 2,977 of your own. Yesterday, you killed one of your own in retribution for the death of one.

Does it matter to you, America, who you kill? Does it matter if Troy Davis killed Mark MacPhail, or do you just spill blood to cleanse the blood that was spilled?

Here is my problem with the death penalty: it assumes that retribution is just.

Retribution is not justice. Even if it is fair, it is not just. If we as a society decree that killing is reprehensible, the only way to show that we believe this is not to kill. We do not kill when we are angry. We do not kill when we are hurt. We kill only when absolutely necessary to defend ourselves.

This does not mean that we do not hurt or that we are never angry. It does not mean that we don’t grieve, or that our grief and pain do not make us crave retribution. It means that we have decided that killing is reprehensible, so we do not do it. It means that we have decided that a civilised society does not kill. It means that, as civilised people, we accept that we must in this regard restrain our very human urges to lash out at those who hurt us.

If we believe that killing is wrong, then we lead by example or not at all.

America, you have disappointed me.

Added: I’d barely gotten this posted before seeing Greg Laden’s post, How to be against the death penalty and keep the kids off the lawn at the same time. Which pretty much surmises my own opinions regarding capital punishment in far less words than this. Go read it!

America, the death penalty, and Troy Davis.

A toast to all our saviours, each so badly behaved?

I’ve been thinking about our heroes, what we expect of them, and how we turn on them. Two things have happened in the last few days to bring this up. The first of these was, unsurprisingly, Elevatorgate. The second was some conversations I’ve had with a friend* about Kate Bornstein- someone who I think is lovely, and who my friend has serious criticisms of and doesn’t like because of this.

I’m thinking of what we ask of the people we admire from a distance. The people who we have heard of, who we know as activists, whose work we read and are inspired by. The people we look to as spokespeople.

I’m thinking about how quickly we reject them.

Here’s the thing. Dawkins, in my opinion, has behaved abominably in relation to ElevatorGate. However, any of his behaviour from now on can’t negate his past work. A Devil’s Chaplain will always be dog-eared holiday nights, finally making sense of my lack of belief. The Ancestor’s Tale will always be the book I read oh-so-carefully, in whose detail and scale I found such profound, mindboggling awe.

I think that we reject people so strongly, not in spite of having admired them, but because we did. Because it’s hard to reconcile the fact that inspiration and ignorance can come from the same person. Because it’s hard, I think, to accept that a person who taught you so much can be so clueless. It makes us question ourselves, question everything we learned from that person in the first place. Question the times we admired them, the times we defended them.

And that’s hard. That’s hard work. It means learning to see these people as our equals. Learning to look at everyone- even our heroes- critically. Learning to accept that they’re just people who are as flawed as ourselves, who mess up as much as we do.

It’s a lot easier to just reject them wholesale.

I’m not recommending that we leave Dawkins (or whoever) off. The guy messed up, and needs to deal with what that means and what it implies. Messing up has consequences. And it should.

I do think, however, that we should be conscious of how we react when people we admire do godawful, ignorant things. And before we reject them wholesale, think about whether we’re rejecting them because of the ignorant thing they did, or because of the inspiring things before that.

*If you’re reading this, I didn’t name you because, hello, privacy. I’ll pop your name in if you like, though.

A toast to all our saviours, each so badly behaved?

On face veils and collectively growing the hell up.

There’s been a massive furore this week about France’s new law banning face veils in public. As usual, I’m getting in to this one a few days late- which is, of course, several decades on the internet.

So I’ll be quick(ish). If French women people want to wear a thing, they should bloody well have the right to do so. That right should not be limited by other people’s ideas on what constitutes good fashion sense. That right should not be limited by other people’s ideas on what their clothing says about them. Perhaps some bare minimum of restrictions might be applicable on grounds of public decency. But that’s about it, and even that is a thing I’m a little uncomfortable with.

There are a few grounds on which I’d like to talk about this. You’ll notice, however, that absolutely none of them involve making assumptions regarding the motivations of women who wear face veils. This is because I’m not a woman who wears a face veil. I’m not a Muslim. Hell, I’m not even vaguely religious, and I don’t exist as a religious or cultural minority where I live. Going around ascribing motivations and narratives to a bunch of people I don’t know, about an area we don’t have in common? It’s not only bad form, it’s also quite likely to be out-and-out incorrect.


The major reason given for banning face coverings is that of security. If a person’s face is covered, you can’t identify them, and therefore they could get away with all sorts of mischief. It sounds plausible, doesn’t it? So I did a bit of googling to see if I could find out about all the crimes being committed by women wearing face veils. It seems reasonable to assume that legislators would only go to the trouble of banning a thing if it were already causing problems. Surely if it’s such a major issue, there would be no trouble finding out about the waves of veiled gangs robbing banks and service stations with impunity? No such luck. The major crime being committed by women covering their faces seems to be.. covering their faces. Oh, and also being the victims of assault by bystanders outraged at their fashion sense. Charming, that. Given that this is a bunch of people who’ve been subject to an awful lot of scrutiny, the fact that I can’t find any reports of them actually committing crimes is remarkable.

Participation and Democracy

The ability of women to participate in society while wearing veils on their faces is another issue that seems to come up, time and time again. If a woman covers her face, you see, she is immediately rendered silent and identity-less. She can’t speak for herself, because a thin layer of fabric absolutely prevents a person’s voice from being heard.

You know, I’m trying very hard to take this one seriously and lay off the snark. But, damnit, it’s just too easy. And it seems to me that if a person finds women wearing face-veils to be entirely silent and impossible to interact with, that’s most likely a problem on their side. I’ve never seen much difference in people’s ability to ask for directions, or complain about the weather or how crowded the bus is, or squee over awesome toys in the Science Museum, based on whether I can see their face or not. But then again, I’m not going around glaring at people because of what they’re wearing either. And I may not have ever worn a face-veil, but I have had some odd haircuts in my time. And the people who are inclined to glare at the woman with a shaved head simply didn’t get to chat to me at the bus stop.

Also, if someone is going to be reclusive due to their beliefs, or if they feel excluded from society because of their beliefs, forcibly altering their dress code isn’t going to change that. The only thing that’ll do that is if relatively privileged people get up off their asses and quit marginalising them.


Ah, this old chestnut. I love this one, I really do. You see, if a woman wears a face-veil, it’s sexist. If she wears heels, that’s sexist as well- except when it’s unprofessional not to, and they can’t be too high. Ditto to makeup. Also if she wears a bikini, it’s sexist. And so is a burqini! Covering up is prudish. Not covering up is slutty. If you shave your legs you’re a victim of the patriarchy, and if you don’t you’re a fuddy-duddy humourless unsexy feminazi. But like I said to the (impressively awesome) Nahida over at the Fatal Feminist, a veil is a piece of cloth. A piece of cloth! Pieces of cloth aren’t sexist. Pieces of cloth don’t infringe on people’s rights. People do that. And maybe- just maybe- the major thing that’s sexist isn’t face-veils, or bikinis, or heels or makeup or burqinis, but the fact that women are constantly judged as women for the choices we make in how we present ourselves.

Listen, it’s absolutely possible that some women who veil their faces feel pressured to do so. But if you take away their right to cover, then you should probably take away my right to shave my legs as well. Because I sure as hell do feel social pressure to do that one, and everyone knows that unless we make choices in an absolute vacuum they cannot be meaningful. Right? Also, all you need to do is confiscate our fabric and our razors, and sexism will miraculously disappear!

Totally Not Racist, Right.

Oh, this one. You see, in defending the face-veil ban, it’s been argued that it’s actually nothing to do with Muslim women. It’s just a general ban on covering your face. Which is unacceptable in our society, amirite?

Interesting, that. I suppose that’s why a few months ago in the Big Freeze, everyone was up in arms over all of the non-Muslims covering our heads with hats and our faces with big, chunky scarves. Rendering ourselves almost unrecognisable in layers and layers of jumpers, coats and gloves, with nothing visible but our eyes. Staying indoors as much as possible, only leaving the house when we absolutely had to, and definitely covering as much of our faces as possible without restricting our vision. I guess that for those couple of months this winter, practically the entire country were security risks, the victims of extreme sexism, and unable to participate in society?

Or is it okay to cover ourselves up if it’s because of the weather, but not when it’s our choice? A choice which is statistically more likely to be made by (gasp!) brown people? And this is not racist… how?

That bit about growing the hell up.

Here’s the thing. Whatever way you slice it, the ban on face-coverings in France is absolutely an attack on Muslim women’s right to freedom of expression. In extension, it’s an attack on everyone’s freedom of expression. As with all of our rights, my right to not cover my face is meaningless if it isn’t a choice. It’s meaningless as a choice if it would be imposed anyway. Taking away the rights of those who choose to express themselves in a certain- harmless*- manner invalidates all of our autonomy and right to self-determination. Doing so in a pointed attack on an already marginalised group only furthers their marginalisation. As a society, we need to grow the hell up and realise that there is no conflict between Muslim women and Western women. Many Muslim women are Western women, and many of those Western women want to dress how they please. In a society which supposedly values individual freedoms, who are we to take those freedoms from ourselves?

*There have been mentions of increased risk of vitamin D deficiency in people who cover up. This would be a sensible argument in favour of banning covering if there were no such thing as vitamin supplements, and if any and all unhealthy behaviours were banned. But you can take my cookies, my cherry brandy cocktails, and my occasional days spent doing nothing but playing video games from my cold dead hands.

On face veils and collectively growing the hell up.

Ethics and Morality: why I’m perfectly okay with being immoral, thank you.

Poster: Behind Closed Doors: The Truth about Campus Immorality. Image of the sillhouette of a man and woman (I assume) embracing.

One of the conversations I often have with the wonderful Cleo over at My Two Centses involves morality. We’ll be talking about something or other, and she’ll mention that she has difficulty with the morals of whatever-it-is, and I’ll feel a bit mystified because it doesn’t seem like a thing that’ll harm anyone to me. And then we’ll go on to have an entirely lovely conversation about it over a couple of glasses of wine or mugs of tea, depending on the topic and what time of day it is. Good times all around.

But it got me thinking about what morals are, what ethics are, and why we even bother trying to equate the two. At first glance they’re quite similar. But I think that there are major differences between how each of them are constructed and created which could do with a bit of investigation.
I started, as one does, with a Google search for definitions. Here are the first three definitions I get for ‘morality‘:

  • Concern with the distinction between good and evil or right and wrong; right or good conduct.
  • Ethical motive: motivation based on ideas of right and wrong.
  • Morality (from the Latin moralitas “manner, character, proper behavior”) is a system of conduct and ethics that is virtuous. It can also be used in regard to sexual matters and chastity.

And here is what I get for ethics:

  • ethical motive: motivation based on ideas of right and wrong
  • the philosophical study of moral values and rules
  • Ethics (also known as moral philosophy) is a branch of philosophy which seeks to address questions about morality; that is, about concepts such as good and bad, right and wrong, justice, and virtue.

Right, so the first two of each of these definitions are fairly similar. The real differences between the two start to become very apparent with the third.

  • Morality is virtuous. Morality can be used in regard to sexual matters and chastity.
  • Ethics seeks to address questions of concepts such as good and bad, right and wrong.

Morality is a system of conduct, while ethics is a branch of philosophy. A system of conduct tells you what you should do, and is relatively static. A branch of philosophy provides guidelines on how you should think about things, and generally needs to be open to revision to keep the philosophers in bread and butter, if for nothing else.

Given these definitions, I’m not too surprised that accusations of immorality get thrown about, in ways that accusations regarding ethics do not. It’s easy to accuse a person of immorality- all that they have to have done is broken one of the rules, or even to have appeared unchaste. To accuse a person of being unethical is more difficult, as well as being far more open to questioning and discussion. Morality’s focus on matters of chastity also makes it easy to see how a person could behave in a perfectly ethical yet entirely immoral manner.

Which is why I am perfectly fine with accusations of immorality. Immorality doesn’t preclude acting in an entirely ethical fashion. Immorality doesn’t automatically make one’s actions harmful in any way. Immorality is not necessarily the wrong thing to do, and morality does not necessarily describe the right thing to do. Not from an ethical perspective, anyway.

Ethics and Morality: why I’m perfectly okay with being immoral, thank you.

Weekend omnivory

The ethics of food is an odd one. It seems quite cut-and-dried: eat in a sustainable fashion. Local food, as veggie-based as possible. Steer clear of battery farms, stick to the organic, the free-range, the lovely produce down at the farmer’s market. Not a bother, eh?

Except that, of course, it is a bother. It’s a hell of a bother. And it’s a bother that is far more realistic for some than others. It’s a cliche that veg*nism is a middle-class privilege, but there’s some truth to that. Locally-grown, organic food is often harder to source and always more expensive than the alternatives. Eating well as a veggie or vegan takes more time, effort and thought than as an omnivore. And if you have food intolerances or allergies then, well, it’s a minefield.

Which is a thing that I had been thinking about in the past few months, as I’ve moved from an entirely omnivorous diet to what I like to call weekend omnivory. While I am by no means vegetarian, I keep my meat/fish-eating down to a day or two a week at the most, and veggie it up the rest of the time. What this means for me is that when I cook at home, it’s veggie, and I save my omnivory for when I’m out. The reason for this is pragmatic- it’s as easy for me to cook something delicious and veggie/vegan as it is to cook anything else when I’m at home, but if I’m travelling around the country with work or visiting friends, then it’s often significantly more practical to not be fussy.

The reason that I do this? A combination of ethics, pragmatism, and an awareness of my own needs. Sure, it would be better, ethically speaking, to cut out meat and dairy entirely. However, for pragmatic reasons it just ain’t gonna happen. However, there’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If I can cut out, say, 70% of my intake of animal products, then that’s a hell of a lot better than doing nothing. And, to be honest, I think that 70% is a hell of a lot more important than the other 30. More than twice as important, if we’re being nitpicky.

The other reason that I do things this way? Is my awareness of my own needs, which is something I’ve been reminded of in the past few days by some posts I’ve read over in Voracious, formerly the Voracious Vegan. Tasha, whose blog it is, recently reverted to omnivory, for health reasons, after over three years of veganism. Her post detailing why she did so is worth a read, by the way. As is her more recent post responding to the reaction to her announcement. Yikes.

I can relate to her situation. While I wasn’t vegan, I was vegetarian for about seven years, and my reasons for reverting to omnivory were a combination of pragmatism and health. Pragmatism because I was in final year of my undergrad, barely had time to sleep, never mind cooking, and the veggie options available on campus were rather lacking. Health, because in the months directly preceding my decision, I’d been plagued with an array of weird health problems which I won’t go into in much detail, but which did largely resolve themselves when I reintroduced meat to my diet.

That’s not an easy thing to say- as Tasha at Voracious is finding out this week. Either it means you just didn’t try hard enough, or else it’s seen as a vindication that veggie diets Just Don’t Work. Instead of simply meaning that at some times, for some people, they’re not going to work, but for other people they work just fine.

Which brings me back to sustainability. When we talk about sustainability and the ethics of food, it does seem cut-and-dried. But sustainability is about us, as well as about the world around us, and that is anything but. A sustainable diet* is not only one which is good for the environment, for animals, for others and the world around us. It’s also one which we can practically sustain, which both nourishes us and leaves us time to live our lives.

In short, it’s complicated. Oh, and weekend omnivory is awesome. If it works for you.

*Diet meaning the sum of what we eat, as opposed to weight-loss diets. They’re a whole different kettle of fish.

Weekend omnivory

On Creating an Ethic of Enjoyment

This is in some ways a follow-on from my post But I Like To Like The Things I Like To Like, from the other week.

Let’s set a scene here, shall we? Last Friday, in the work canteen. Me eating my (delicious) apple pie and custard, in a room full of steak-eating men and salad-eating women. The apple pie was good, and I’d quite sensibly justified the indulgence on the grounds that I’d done a lot of cycling in the past few days, and the chicken noodles I’d had for lunch hadn’t been a particularly generous portion. I’m very good, by the way, at justifying apple pie.

But why should I need to? And why is it so goddamn difficult to stop feeling like I need to?

It’s one thing to say that it’s a good thing to reject the idea that we need to justify our likes and enjoyments. However, without something to replace them, it’s nigh-on impossible to do so. So to start, let’s take a look at that delicious dessert again, shall we?

The context of apple pie and custard

Sitting in a canteen, eating a delicious apple pie, which I justified to myself because of having cycled a whole lot the day before, so I was due an indulgence. I feel a little guilty about the apple pie- I’ve spent money on it, and it’s something I’m eating purely for the pleasure of it. But that’s okay, because I cycled about a whole lot yesterday and the day before. Loads of uphills.

What does this say about how I view either of these things? Everything is being viewed in relation to each other, on a scale from ‘good’ to ‘bad’. My enjoyment of my delicious pie is marred by having to justify it. As is how much I enjoyed cycling to and from work and shops and people’s houses the day before. The cycling was framed in the context of “should do”, which meant that I couldn’t even enjoy that one on its own merits. The entire ethical framework at work here, you see, is one of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’. Of being a person who does the right things- working hard, taking care of myself and whatnot- versus ‘letting myself go’ and losing control.

That, my lovely readers, is one hell of an impoverished way to live one’s life.

Do Ethics Mean What I Think They Mean?

I should pause here to talk a little about what I mean by an ‘ethical framework’. I’m interested here less in whether we think that Act A is an ethical or unethical thing to do, so much as what the underlying framework is through which we make these judgements. What are the criteria by which we judge a thing as good, or bad, or neutral?

Pleasure and enjoyment have not, by any means, been seen as necessarily ethical things in the cultural context I come from. Good old Catholic Guilt runs deep, whether we like it or not, whether we believe a word of it or not. Beyond any questions of (dis)belief is the fact that we are, or were, raised to see sacrifice as somehow a good thing by default. This is, by the way, by no means limited to traditionally catholic cultural contexts- without even leaving christian culture I could mention the rather similar Protestant Work Ethic. Suffering/work are good, pleasure and enjoyment are suspect. Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, even pride are seen as barely forgiveable. Giving in to our desires too much is bad. These desires need to be fought. So we justify them, we allow ourselves little indulgences and we pay for them with ‘good’, sacrificial actions. But what if we could just toss all that out the window, and create a genuine moral framework based on pleasure, based on enjoyment?

An Ethic of Enjoyment

Let’s start from the premise that either we only have one life, or we really aren’t sure and should damn well better act as if we do. It’s the premise I start from, after all, and this is my blog. What’s the best thing for us, as individuals and as a society, to strive for within these short few decades? What makes us appreciate being alive, feel most alive and whole? It’s rather obvious to me that, while the specifics of course vary, it is maximising enjoyment, pleasure and joy which makes our lives most worthwhile. When you take away the potential for eternal rewards, it’s rewards here that matter. The things that make you laugh out loud, make your uncontainably happy, make you chuckle, make you smile. If we get to decide what is good and worthwhile, what is the ultimate virtue, why not make it happiness?

Let’s go back to lunch the other day, seen through a lens of an ethic of pleasure. The day beforehand, I had spent some time cycling about in the sunshine. This was lovely– the wind in my face, the sun on my back, the sense of satisfaction on reaching the top of a hill and coasting down the other side. Lovely! The next day I had delicious apple pie. It was lovely– scrumptiously moist, with a crunchy crust and a giant dollop of sweet, creamy custard. Lovely! Through this framework, the only problematic thing was the slight twinge of guilt and justification- these suck, there’s nothing to be gained from them, and they detracted from enjoyment.

But doesn’t that excuse… All Sorts?

It could be argued that living through an ethical framework based on pleasure, as opposed to control, throws the door open for all sorts of undesirable things. Going back to those seven deadly sins- if pleasure and enjoyment are our primary ethical principles, then how do we get anything useful done? And aren’t we all going to end up, well, selfish assholes? Don’t worry, I have three arguments against this:

Firstly, in order to increase my overall enjoyment, sometimes I have to do things that I don’t, well, enjoy. I really like having a house to live in, for example. Specifically, I like having this house. It’s got my stuff in it, I like my housemates, I have enough room, it’s got an awesome location. I also like having things like food and electricity in the house. If I want to have those things, I gotta go to work. Which sucks at 7am, but overall, the things I gain from going to work cause an overall increase in pleasure and enjoyment in my life. It’s about the big picture here.

Secondly, people enjoy doing altruistic things. One of the major things that we do to feel happy is doing good things for others. We’re social animals, we gain some of our deepest senses of satisfaction and joy from our relationships with others. I love making dinner for my friends, or finding/making something that I know they’ll enjoy, or spending time with them. And doing the work that we need to do to nurture our relationships with each other? Leads to an awesome level of increased happiness and satisfaction.

Thirdly, this opens the way to a guilt-free conception of altruism. I never said that this was about maximising only my enjoyment. It’s about happiness being our primary ethical principle. Instead of framing altruistic acts as decreasing suffering, we can frame them as working to increase society’s capacity for enjoyment. If happiness is our guiding principle, then there is no point feeling guilty about social structures which existed before we were born- the important thing is just to do what you can, to the extent that it is practical, and doesn’t prevent anyone from enjoying their own life.


I’ve more to say on this topic, I’m sure. But it’s a sunny day, and I want to go enjoy it.

On Creating an Ethic of Enjoyment