A Conversation with Lord Wotton.

Emanuele: What’s the role of pleasure in your life philosophy?

Lord Wotton: There is the philosophy of pleasure, and the pleasure of philosophy. The first is fleeting, and more pleasure you experience, the harder it becomes to find new sources. The second is everlasting, but subtle in ways that cannot be appreciated by most. The philosophy of pleasure is life, but destroys life. The first drink is beautiful, the ten thousandth destroys you. We all know this, and yet we can rarely escape. A life of moderation has its own veil of sadness. One must practice moderation in moderation, otherwise life is just shades of grey. We seek higher highs, and we pay with lower lows.

Emanuele: So you’re saying that we seek pleasure, even when we know it will destroy us?

Lord Wotton: It is our destruction that gives us pleasure, not the pleasure itself. We all live in disappointment. Our dreams fade the moment they are conceived. Less than a fraction of a percentage of our dreams ever go even partly fulfilled. The torrent of time speeds up as we live, and why blame the common person for finding refuge in temporary pleasures of the flesh? Drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

Emanuele: So you are saying that we indulge ourselves to escape reality?

Lord Wotton: Is there any difference between the drunkard, the gambler, the heroin addict and the Buddhist monks in Nepal and Laos, or the ancient philosophical traditions of Western Europe? These are just different forms of escape from the moment we rise to the moment we finally rest each day. None of us want to face reality, and we find pleasure a convenient refuge.

Emanuele: That’s ridiculous. You’re not advocating for heroin addiction instead of meditation?

Lord Wotton: In the end, both are a form of escape from everyday consciousness, and both practitioners eventually die. What’s the difference?

Emanuele: The difference is in how they have lived, in their relationship to society, and to the people they care about.

Lord Wotton: Now we’re moving from the philosophy of pleasure, into the pleasure of philosophy. In other words, how to live despite the allure of pleasure. We are born, then we die. Does it matter what happens between these two events? Perhaps yes, just based on the fact that the statistical chances of this happening in the first place are incredibly rare, it makes sense to consider what to do with the time we have.

Emanuele: So what should we do?

Lord Wotton: Life is short, do as much as you can.

Emanuele: That doesn’t answer my question.

Lord Wotton: Perhaps you’re asking a stupid question. Instead of focusing on what you should do, you should focus on why you are doing it in the first place. Let me ask you a question: why did you bother waking up this morning? Why not throw yourself off the nearest bridge, or step in front of a car?

Emanuele: There are still things I want to do with my life, and I still have the will to live. If I died today, I would feel that I have not yet fully lived to my potential as a human being, that my purpose would not have been fulfilled. That I have not experienced what there is to experience.

Lord Wotton: Ah, that word experience, which is really another word for pleasure. We run around, trying to constantly do new things, and experience everything the world has to offer — is that not the pursuit of pleasure? How many goals do you have to accomplish before it is enough? How many new places do you have to see before you are ready to die, to accept death? The answer is that it will never stop, that you will never be ready — at least with your current attitude. Do you want to know why I wake up in the morning? Because it is harder than staying in bed. Whether we like it or not, we all follow the path of least resistance. We do what is easiest, what is most likely to give us the most pleasure and help us avoid the most pain. Are we any different to an insect in this regard?

Emanuele: So should we act differently?

Lord Wotton: No! That is the point, you cannot run away from pleasure in the same way that you cannot run away from yourself. Instead of avoiding it, embrace it. Learn from it, gain the ability to appreciate it in ever more subtle ways. Drink from the cup, but know when you have had enough. Youth should indulge while the old should already have indulged. This is why as you get older, your life should get simpler and more utilitarian. If you’ve lived properly, you’ve already tasted life’s pleasures. So the philosophy of pleasure is for the young, while the pleasure of philosophy is for the old.

Emanuele: When do you go from being young to being old?

Lord Wotton: You’ve got it the wrong way around. It is not your age that defines if you are young or old but how you approach pleasure. When you move from the philosophy of pleasure to the pleasure of philosophy, that is when you’ve grown up, when you’ve stopped being a child. For most people, this never happens, and that’s why we live among a band of children. When you look at the potential of the world, it is pathetic what we have managed to accomplish as a civilisation compared to what we could accomplish.

Related Essays