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Too Much Is Eventually EnoughLet's start by looking at a familiar pair of extremes. What if there's something pleasant you want? On the one hand, you might say if it feels good, do it; that's hedonism. On the other hand, you might say if it feels good, don't do it; that's Puritanism, or maybe asceticism.
The thing I really want to talk about is a related pair of extremes. What if you're over on the hedonistic side of the scale, and there's something pleasant you want, but you realize that you want more of it than is healthy? On the one hand, you might try to exercise some restraint; that's moderation. On the other hand, you might allow yourself as much as you want; that's indulgence.
The way I put it, it sounds like indulgence is inherently unhealthy, doesn't it? Well, it turns out that isn't necessarily so. For me, at least, there is a natural balance: if I indulge myself, eventually I want less of whatever it is.
Candy is a good example. I'm sometimes tempted to stir up discontent among children by telling them that as a grown-up, I can have all the candy I want. And, it's true, I can in fact I do. Of course they wouldn't understand the sad reality: it's possible to have had enough candy.
Anyway, the point is, indulgence is not an unreasonable approach. In fact, in at least one respect it's better than moderation. If you restrain yourself, that won't change the fact that you want too much of whatever it is, so you'll have to keep restraining yourself; but if you indulge yourself, eventually your desire will drop to a healthy level, and you won't have to restrain or indulge yourself.
So, if done on purpose, indulgence is a way of not fighting your mind. I know that seems to contradict what I once said about not resisting temptation, but really it doesn't. Indulgence is not the same thing as not fighting your mind; that doesn't mean it can't be used as a means to that end.
However, you do have to be careful indulgence works for me, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't work for everyone. Take compulsive gamblers, for example. I don't really know anything about what's going on there, but they seem to be doing something they want to do, and there doesn't seem to be any end to it so it sure looks like indulgence doesn't work for them. So, before you decide you're going to indulge yourself in everything, you might want to experiment and make sure that it works for you.
As for how indulgence works, I have almost no idea the one thought I have is that maybe it has something to do with novelty. As one does more and more of the same thing, perhaps the desire for new and different things gradually comes to outweigh the original desire? That idea reminds me of the first part of Diaspora, but I can't find a good quote, you'll just have to go read it.
I don't know if it was a left-over streak of Puritanism, or what, but it used to be that when faced with something pleasant, I'd almost immediately start worrying about exercising restraint. So, it is something of a change for me, to indulge myself or, rather, to indulge myself and not feel guilty about my lack of moderation. It was a slow change, by the way, taking place over many years.
Finally, here are some mostly unrelated but very catchy phrases that I thought I would propagate. The first is so catchy that I still remember it verbatim, even though I haven't seen it in print since high school (?). It's from some book or story by Heinlein.
Moderation is for monks.
The second is what the essay title is derived from. I'm sure it originally comes from somewhere, but a quick peek on the internet doesn't reveal where, and I don't care enough to investigate further.
Too much is not enough.
@ September (2004)