Two destructive dogmas popular today are hedonism and narcissism.

Hedonism is a socially destructive ethical theory that asserts pleasure is the highest good and proper aim of human life. If you've heard someone whine, "But I just want to have fun," or, "I just want to be happy," they are hedonists.

Oscar Wilde, an Irish poet and playwright of the 1800s, summarized hedonism: "Pleasure is the only thing one should live for, nothing ages like happiness."

It sounds good because who wants to be unhappy, who wants to struggle to achieve, or work to earn, or love the unlovely? "Why should I care about your happiness—that's your problem? My goal, my reason for living is to experience bliss, even ecstasy, at any cost."

Of course, pleasure is good. We want to feel good, be loved, and enjoy life, but that's not what hedonism teaches. Hedonism teaches that people naturally and always seek pleasure and avoid pain. Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher, proffered, "Stranger, here you do well to tarry; here, our highest good is pleasure."

To be a hedonist, you don't have to snort cocaine using a hundred-dollar bill or be on a constant pursuit of sexual pleasure. A student who wants to play video games and refuses to study and do homework is a hedonist. A college student who parties every night, gets drunk, and ignores his classwork, is a hedonist. An adult who ignores others' suffering in favor of their own comfort and happiness is a hedonist.

Reality demonstrates pleasure is not all there is. Much of life is sorrow, disappointment, and pain. While today's trouble might be disappointing, frustrating, or heartbreaking, it can lead to great pleasure and satisfaction.

Hedonism is a perverted ethical theory that wreaks havoc on what has traditionally been called the Protestant work ethic. It leads to debauchery, and debauchery leads to a breakdown of society. After all, someone has to work— and for many, work is not only mandatory, it brings great pleasure.

Narcissism: In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a Greek god who fell in love with his image reflected in a water pool. As he stared at his reflection, he suffered from an excessive admiration of his own physical attributes. That is the origin of the personality disorder called narcissism. When someone is excessively preoccupied with personal power, prestige, and vanity, they are narcissists. In short, it is excessive self-admiration.

A narcissist can watch a 3-hour movie about himself and wonder why everyone else didn't enjoy it as much as he did. A narcissist thinks, "I'm always right, and you're always wrong." A narcissist will look into a mirror, admire themselves, compliment themselves, and before they leave, take another glance and be stunned at their beauty. Also, they will never recognize the beauty or intelligence of another or the rightness of someone else's opinion.

Remember Narcissus, the Greek god who fell in love with his image? The spell didn't last long. As he dipped down into the pool to touch his handsome face, he realized it was only a reflection, and he could not possess the object of his desire. So disappointed, so grief-struck, he killed himself, the ultimate act of self-centeredness.

“Bad Belief Systems” discussed so far in this series: Socialism, Hedonism, and Narcissism. More to come in future essays. Stay tuned.

©2020 Dr. Ronald D. S. Ross

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Ross is an author, speaker, publisher, and co-founder of Powerful Seniors. He lives in Loveland Colorado