Ideas about two kinds of pleasure

I have observed, from a variety of evidence, that there appear to be two routes to emotional satisfaction. Each of these two routes, of course, is actually a wide class of narrower routes, and many parallel streams run through our overall emotional states. However, I have observed that in each person, one group of streams predominates. For me, the observations that I present here are consistent with individual observations from many aspects of my physical, mental and spiritual environments, and, as might be expected, I have found this agreement most agreeable to my own prejudices. I have correlated points from my own theological views (I am a pentecostal protestant Franciscan lay-person), my understandings of many Bible passages, a social ethic that is unsympathetic to those who don't make the effort to get things right in their lives, my second-hand folk psychology, my personal experience of brain chemistry imbalances and psychotherapeutic drugs, and my own feelings in general.

With so many aspects contributing to this classification, it is difficult to choose names for the two routes: they could be named theologically or psychologically or socially or neurologically, for example. I have chosen to name them from a `spiritual' viewpoint, and have called them `spiritual' and `carnal', although these meanings for these words are not quite their usual meanings.

I can, perhaps, describe these mostly clearly by starting with a pharmaconeurological observation (from little more than folk psychology, I'm afraid--I have no training or non-trivial learning in this area): that narcotic drugs are both pain-relievers and pleasure-givers (or pleasure-simulators, according to your reading of the term `pleasure'). These drugs mimic susbstances occurring naturally in the brain, the endorphins.

From this observation, I jump to a conclusion (and this is a weak point in my arguments, which I would like to verify with a friend trained in psychology): that pain-relief and pleasure-induction are ranges on the same spectrum of effects. Taking a hypothetical background level of pain (meaning any indication of one's situation being less than perfect), increasing levels of pain-relief lead at first to a cancelling-out of the effects of the pain signals, and then once the pain relief is more than enough to balance the pain, to pleasure. The pain-relief mechanism could be likened to an authoritative voice murmuring repeatedly ``It's all OK really... It's all OK really... It's all OK really...'' into the ear of the mind.

The basic animal response of a human to an unpleasant situation is to seek relief from the pain -- to cancel out the incoming message that there is something wrong. This can be observed in many forms, including the taking of pain-killer drugs. An extension of this response is to use the same mechanisms to provide what might seem at first to be pleasure in what appears to be a neutral situation, but, I think turns out to be relief from a background level of ambient unhappiness. Classic examples of this are the taking of alcohol and tobacco. I am aware that I may be misunderstanding the actions of these, and would appreciate input from someone trained in neuropharmacology; it does appear to me that these drugs improve the taker's apparent lot by temporary hiding of real problems.

This response is what I term `carnal' (from a root meaning `fleshly'). The carnal response to life (in fact, to problems encountered in life) is to hide from the truth. The term `carnal' does have derogatory connotations; while I myself see it with those connotations, I am also putting forward the idea that objectively, the responses described above are a definite pattern or syndrome.

There is another way of responding to life and its pressures, and this is what I term the `spiritual' approach, although it might also be called the `practical' approach, or even, in some forms, the `ascetic' approach. Whereas carnality attempts to suppress pain and pretend that it is not present, spirituality attempts to solve problems more radically, either by dealing with the source of the pain, or by re-learning responses to it -- it faces up to, and takes on, the real pain that is present.

Looking further at how these views fit my personal prejudices, I see that people who I approve of are spiritual, and people I dislike are carnal: people I really loathe all turn out to be strongly carnal.

Other attributes of spiritual and carnal include, respectively: contentment and exhilaration; deep and shallow; earthly and heavenly; lasting and fleeting. The carnal approach is always self-centred; the spiritual approach leads eventually to being not self-centred -- although not necessarily other-centred.

Serious approaches to religious faiths seek to increase the tendency of the disciple to make a spiritual response to each situation; followers of these traditions find that the natural pull of carnal reactions to problems atrophies as they become `spiritual' people. For myself, I am observing this from a Christian viewpoint, and can find many Biblical quotations (taken in context) that encourage this approach. I am aware that it is also relevant in other religions; in each religion, it is taken often in its purest form by those committing their lives to discipleship above all else including family life by taking their place in celibate communities: monks, nuns, fakirs, hermits, solitaries, staretzi, poustiniks, and many other titles. Perhaps the most classic example of such a spiritual person is the contemplative monk of a strict tradition such as the Trappists, with their unremitting strict discipline, early rising, hard work, and deep peaceful contentment. In contrast with this is the type of drug abuser (or `recreational drug user' as the politically correct would have it) who takes anything that will give them a kick, and meanders along the street begging for money, driven only by the urge to replenish the supply of chemicals that for a short time give the message ``It's all OK!'' when it isn't OK.

Bible quotations referring to this dichotomy include (from memory, I'll do them properly once I've looked them up in the concordance at home): Jesus: "My peace I give unto you, peace which the world cannot give." Isaiah: "Why do you buy that which is not bread, and eat that which does not satisfy?" Paul:

Note that, particularly in Paul's writings, these two approaches are personalized as enemies of each other: the carnal cannot be spiritual, and the spiritual cannot be carnal. Note also my own observation that one approach or the other predominates in each individual, and that anything appearing to be a balance between the two is always only transitional.

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