In an excellent essay on the often-underappreciated value of friendship and the high estimation intellectuals have placed on it throughout the centuries, Daniel Akst works in references to Asimov, Aristotle, Emerson, Thoreau, Byron, Freud, Cicero, Goethe, Bacon, Montaigne, Wordsworth, the Beatles and Tony Soprano, just to name a baker’s dozen, but somehow manages to ignore Epicurus! As Ebonmuse once summarized it:
Epicureanism put the emphasis on pleasure, not as mindless hedonism but as reasonable indulgence in the good things available in life. Valuing intellectual pleasure more highly than sensual pleasure, it recommends the cultivation of friendship, an ethic of simplicity, and an attitude of tranquility in the face of life’s trials. Ironically, “epicure” in popular parlance has come to refer to a connoisseur of food and drink, which Epicurus arguably considered the least important of life’s pleasures.
But that’s a minor quibble. It really is a great essay; there’s too many good parts to even excerpt.
I agree that Barbara Ehrenreich’s “cult of conspicuous busyness” is the most corrosive factor that prevents people from developing and maintaining more meaningful relationships outside of their immediate families and spouses; hell, I think it’s responsible for ruining all sorts of leisurely pursuits, from artistic appreciation
to writing worthwhile letters
. I nodded vigorously and murmured, “Preach it, my brutha”, as he decried the “remorseless eroticization of human relations that was bequeathed to us by Sigmund Freud.” I huzzahed to see him turn his attention to our “wildly inflated view of matrimony”, i.e. our ridiculous romantic notions that our spouse should be our soulmate, our One True Everything. And I was pleasantly surprised to see someone else suggest that it might not be completely crazy to turn down a chance at a higher-paying job if it meant having to move and leave a close circle of friends behind. I used to think that as a teenager, and quickly dismissed it as me being weird.
Part of what I like so much about the Epicurean mindset is that it avoids idealizing friendship out of an ascetic aversion to all that icky, earthy sex. There’s nothing “higher”, “better” or “deeper” about love that doesn’t involve sex, it just emphasizes different aspects of human interaction, and for some people, intellectual stimulation is just as, if not more important, than physical infatuation. The impulse to reproduce oneself is conjoined with the impulse to preserve oneself as the most basic, preprogrammed urges common to all life. And while humans are just as much animals as any other species, conscious reflection and selective choosing among pleasures is much more refined, for those of us who enjoy taking a little bit of elitist pride in ourselves now and again. If need be, sex is something you can have with a total stranger you pick up in a nightclub. But it’s a lot more rare and valuable to find people who can alternately invigorate and challenge you intellectually while resonating with you emotionally.