Tom Merle remarked in a comment that “our western free market societies are really built on greed”. (I must add that the communist experiment was just as much built on greed: on direct greed for power, without the transmission chain of a sophisticated financial system.) He quoted the now infamous words of Gordon Gekko as spoken by actor Michael Douglas in the movie Wall Street: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed…”
The Epicurean communities, on the other hand, have always been based on a cooperative, non-competitive attitude and behavior.
How could such as subspecies not only survive for 2300 years but also positively thrive and flourish for almost 800 years?
Had they followed the laws propagated by evolutionary biologists they must have died out long time ago – just like many small religious communities, including Christian ones, based on non-competitive cooperation. The Scandinavian type of socialist economy based on cooperation could never function, either, according to mainstream economists. But, in fact, it not only does, but makes its “players” happier, more content and less stressed than the people forced to “play” by the rules of a competitive system based on greed. And numerous religious sects (like the Amish in the US), cults, fraternities and sororities, based on non-competitive sharing are still up and running.
I am not sure about the future of anything in general and Epicureanism in particular, but I can imagine that it might continue as a narrow or broad alternative anabranch or backwater, a tolerated or persecuted minority for another few hundreds or thousands of years. It might turn into mainstream only if and when the present mainstream lifestyle based on competitiveness and greed will prove to be a dead end …and leaves enough survivors for an Epicurean revival experiment.
My wife and my daughter made me a joint Christmas present, David Sedaris’ book ”Me Talk Pretty One Day “and I started reading the shortest short story practically during the breaks of our Mad-Libs game laughing out loudly (LOL) occasionally, i.e. about every 23 seconds.
Between the age of 16 and 26 I was convinced that I would become a brilliant short story writer and stopped to simply and purely enjoy the short stories I was reading. Instead, I started studying the techniques used by the authors.
After having given up this ambition I could just relax and enjoy them again.
About two or three years ago I chanced upon Sedaris’ “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim” in an airport bookstore but the book mysteriously disappeared as soon as I got back to Germany and miraculously reappeared again as I unpacked the cardboard box with my most beloved books in America. My wife and daughter must have seen it on my night stand and heard me chuckle while reading it so they decided to add another volume to my pleasures.
While enjoying every single sentence I remembered DeWitts’s words:
Epicureanism presented two fronts to the world, the one as repellent as the other was attractive. Its discouragement of the political career was repellent to the ambitious, its denial of divine providence to pious orthodoxy, and its hedonism to timorous respectability. Its candor, charity, courtesy, and friendliness were attractive to multitudes of the honest and unambitious folk. (Epicurus and His Philosophy)
…and I felt happy to belong to that multitude:-)
Faith, Hope and Love belonged to the top Epicurean virtues 300 years before Paulus of Tarsus started his apostolic activities. They were not only preached but also widely practiced as constitutive elements of the Epicurean conduct of life.
The content of the words was somewhat different, though. They were regarded by Epicureans as virtues that necessary tools toward living a happy life in stress-FREEDOM, i.e. in peace, safety and tranquility. They were considered important, but not the most important virtues:
“Had Epicurus chosen to name the virtues most necessary for the happy life the list would have included Honesty, Faith, Love, Suavity, Courtesy, Considerateness, Gratitude, Patience, and Hope but the greatest of these, he would have said, was Honesty.” (DeWitt: Epicurus and His Philosophy)
In Epicurus’s doctrine of salvation Faith was a prerequisite of serenity . (He was referred to as “savior” [Greek ‘soter’} by his followers 300 years before that epithet was used by Paulus.) Epicureans felt faith not only in doctrine and leader but also in friends and friendship.
"We do not so much have need of help from friends in time of need as faith in help in time of need." (Paulus reformulated the same feeling as "faith which worketh by love".) The supreme function of faith was to banish fears and uncertainties from life.
The Greek word philia, "love," was applicable to more sorts of attachments but mainly to love of friends, neighbors and mankind. When Epicureans spoke of peace, the reference was to amicable relations with neighbors - and the word neighbor is almost as frequent in their writings as in the New Testament.
The love of Epicurus for his native Greece is on record (he went to Athens for two years of military service and he preferred to live in Athens even in the days of its tribulations), but his philosophy was valid for all mankind.
The Epicurean attitude toward friendship was quite special "Of all the preparations which wisdom makes for the blessedness of the complete life by far the most important is the acquisition of friendship."
Epicurus advised his disciples to seek peace and safety through friendship. He did not recommend it indiscriminately, though: "That man has best forestalled the feeling of insecurity from outside who makes relations friendly where possible, where impossible, at least neutral, and where even this is impossible, avoids contacts […]
He was also capable of expressing himself on the topic of friendship with a depth of feeling that cannot be exceeded: “The truly noble man concerns himself chiefly with wisdom and friendship, of which the one is an understandable good and the other immortal.” Epicurus himself declared it more necessary to have someone to eat with than something to eat.
Among several resemblances between Epicureanism and Christianity is the exaltation of Hope as a factor in happiness. To Paulus Hope meant the expectation of participating in the grace of God. To Epicurus, on the contrary, it was one of the definite attitudes to be chosen to achieving happiness: Toward the past one should be grateful, in the present patient and cautious, toward the future hopeful.
The proper attitude toward the future was set forth with lucidity: “It must be remembered that the future is neither altogether within our control nor altogether beyond our control […]”. Epicurus taught that we should “feel bound to hope for the best, contemplate the worst, and endure whatever shall come.”
DeWitt notes that in both Greek and Latin hope and expectation are denoted by the same nouns — elpis and spes respectively. The Hope that chiefly makes for happiness is confident expectation, whether in Epicureanism or Christianity. The wise man lives in the present, facing the future with confident expectation because of preparedness. Confident hope or expectation is equivalent to faith.
It was Epicurean doctrine also that Horace was disseminating when he gave the advice “to believe that every day that dawns will be your last” This living in the present possessed the advantage of forestalling fear and apprehension, a chief enemy of serenity.
The overall attitude is succinctly expressed in two words by Horace, nil admirari, “never to be taken by surprise”. This is not to be confounded with Stoic apathy; the Epicurean did not suppress his emotions but controlled them by preparedness.
How I apply Epicurus’s teachings in my present situation? I try to live as much as possible in the present and reciprocate the love and care I receive from my family and friends and especially from my best friend, my wife. I have faith in medical science and hope that they will be able to make an accurate diagnosis and apply the appropriate treatment. I have also faith in the beneficial effects of the Epicurean principle of preparedness and I am prepared also for other alternatives, including a short life prognosis, respectively a low survival probability. Preference of life’s quality over its length is an effective medicine against death’s sting.
Finally the happiness of a nation has become the pursuit of its government:
One of the main functions of religion is the satisfy the fundamental human need for belonging and produce an emotion of elevation. Jaakko Wallenius proposes Epicureanism as a “new”, rational religion on his blog
My reponse was:
Christianity (as Buddhism and Islam, too) started out with dropping out into alternative communities and has continued to satisfy the fundamental human need for belonging. Epicureans did have their small communities for 800 years (300 BCE-500 CE) but 21st century Epicureans do not have functioning (NON-virtual) communities, the minimum necessary condition to fulfill the role (=satisfy the need) of a religion. (Democratic/meritocratic egalitarianism does work very well WITHIN closed communities and I do not think that Eism would ever aim at establishing itself as a state religion.)
How about starting a NON-virtual Epicurean community, gather experience, share its learnings?
The discussion on Facebook might produce new insights:
Science proves Epicureans to be right about the immense value of friendship: some baboons groom their buddies for long lives.
Female chacma baboons that maintain close, lasting friendships live considerably longer than their peers who switch companions more frequently, a new study finds in ScienceNews