Pleasure as an Organizing Principle

Brown notes that “activism is so often associated with pain and suffering; really dire, serious people insisting we have to suffer, to sacrifice, to protest, to forego so many of the sensual pleasures of life.” She goes on: “…people are already so overwhelmed and depressed, why would they want anything to do with such a movement?”

I believe there is a basic switch happening at the heart of society, from pain to pleasure as the primary organizing principle. It is being driven by our desperate need for sustainability, in every sense of the word: sustainable bodies, sustainable careers, sustainable communities, and a sustainable planet. What is pleasurable is easy, and what is easy is sustainable.

What If We Already Know How to Live?

If so, the human dilemma is no longer defined by a scarcity of knowledge, but a friction between knowledge and behavior. Smoothing this friction, and the bulk of philosophical work as we search for our bearings in the digital age, is a matter of design. Philosopher Felix Guattari coined the term “ecosophy” to describe the threaded relationship between subjectivity — our mentalities, those deep pools of consciousness where ‘how to live’ arises as a question to begin with — and the larger social & material environments in which we live:

“Without modifications to the social and material environment, there can be no change in mentalities. Here, we are in the presence of a circle that leads me to postulate the necessity of founding an ‘ecosophy’ that would link environmental ecology to social ecology and to mental ecology.”

More recently, Mark James’ eco-behavioral design (EBD) describes behavior change as an ecological outcome, arising from the relationship between environmental factors rather than individual willpower. So, as with Guattari, changing behavior requires a change in an individual’s larger ecology of being.

Geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths in subculture evolution
“Slightly evil” defense of a subculture requires realism: letting go of eternalist hope and faith in imaginary guarantees that the New Thing will triumph. Such realism is characteristic of nihilism. Nihilism has its own delusions, though. It is worth trying to create beautiful, useful New Things—and worth defending them against nihilism. A fully realistic worldview corrects both eternalistic and nihilistic errors.
The firm that was sold for $160 million, my VCs didn’t want to sell, as they felt there was an opportunity to go “bigger.” This is emblematic of our lottery / Hunger Games economy, where the gestalt is to go big or die trying. This creates a small class of uber-winners and many more people who wake up at 40 with no economic security or prospects. It’s “go big or go home.” Deaths of despair are skyrocketing, and the innovation ecosystem feeds it.
Are you a baby? A litmus test
Technology babies us all the time. “Never talk to a wage worker again!” the embarrassing Seamless ads promise in so many words. “Everything you could dream of without leaving your apartment! Community without communing with a single soul!” Putting aside the marginal good these apps do for people who rely on them, their ads are clearly focused on a capable, upper-middle class that’s learned to take its neuroticism a little too seriously. They exploit what probably started as compassion-driven conversation about burnout into a recursive push for comfort at all costs. When we stretch that ethic to its limits, we make simple things like taking a phone call or being honest with a friend into something much scarier than they actually are.