Furries, Epicurus, and the Hedonistic Paradox

09 Oct 2015 |

Furries want to be happy.

"Surely that's not unique to furries, all humans want to be happy", you might reply. To an extent I would agree, happiness is largely what people appear to be aiming for in life. Yet few groups of people seem to embrace it more than furries. At almost any convention you will find hundreds of permanently smiling fursuits; costumes specifically designed to make the wearer feel good, and deliver a sense of joy to those around them. Online, thousands of dollars pass from commissioners to artists, in exchange for illustrations of the buyer's fursona. Sex is an undeniably large part of the fandom, and that is partly, in my mind, because of it's association with pleasure. On the surface there does not seem to be anything intrinsically wrong with these things; fursuits, pictures, sex, and porn, all provide a great sense of joy, ideally without harming anyone. It would seem that one of the key tenets to furry is hedonism; pleasure equals good.

Now, let's go back to an earlier form of hedonism and imagine what Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher, would do if he wanted to be a furry. Like most furries, Epicurus would agree that what is pleasurable is good and what is painful is bad. So why would his opinion of the community matter? Well, if we could sit him down, he would probably laugh, and call the entire community a contradiction to happiness.

There is a lot to Epicureanism, but the position can be broadly summed up as follows: the more you have, the more you've got to lose. One can live a good life by learning to be happy with the bare minimum. In practice, Epicurus and his friends all pitched together, bought a big house, did their own gardening, and lived from only what they grew themselves (a rather boring diet, especially by our modern standards). Epicurus also distinguished between what he called "static pleasures" and "moving pleasures". The former is something that we can always access and experience, things such as resting after a long day, feeling at peace with oneself when laying down, etc… The latter are transient things, which occur one moment and are gone in the next, activities such as eating good food, drinking wine, and even having sex.  A "static pleasure" is the joy that comes with the removal of one's needs (the need to eat, drink, or sleep, for example), whilst a "moving pleasure" involves the excitement of the senses, beyond what is needed to survive. Of the two, Epicurus argues that the former it superior, whilst the latter will inevitably lead to pain.

To bring it back to furry, I should first say that I'm not an Epicurean, and I won't argue that anybody should live in the way that Epicurus advised. But that does not mean that what he has to say is useless. Let's imagine that Epicurus came to the twenty-first century and wanted to be a furry. For a start, would he want a fursuit? Probably not, they cost a lot of money, drink could be spilled on him, and he would inevitably have to remove it. Would he commission art? I imagine he wouldn't want that either, he'd say that any pleasure he could get from it would only be fleeting. Would he indulge any fetishes he had, or lust after sex? No, he would see the pleasure as temporary, and would think that later it would cause him pain.

With these gone, one might ask "what would he do then? How could he possibly be a furry?" Indeed, hitherto, the Epicurean view of the community seems rather critical and pessimistic, there would be no fursuits, commissioned art, or the sexual freedom that many furries prize. But there are positive things that Epicurus would focus on.

For a start, he would say that friendship must come first. The Epicureans prized friendship above all else, and this would be what they most respected in the community. Furries like to make friends. A convention is described as a "large family" by some, and this is something that Epicurus would say should be the community’s focus. It's very easy to only think about popularity, money, or having a good time, but the most long-term happiness a person can get from the community is, to me at least, the ability to make friends. A true friend will provide infinitely more pleasure than fursuiting, art, or sex.

Second, Epicurus would say the community needs to avoid drama. In the same way that he kept to the garden where he and his friends dwelt, he would advise furries to stay away from anything dramatic in the community. So long as whatever was happening in the community did not affect his own pleasure, as a furry, Epicurus would refuse to take part in any of this "they said X" business that happens more frequently than most of us would like.

Thirdly, I believe that an Epicurean garden of furries would be incredibly creative. People would be free to draw, write, or compose what they wanted. Money would not be a problem, since they would have whatever they wanted on the doorstep. When not with their friends, this community of furries would be able to come up with whatever it is they wanted, without a deadline or a client ordering them about what to do. I imagine some very strange things would come from such a place.

To draw attention to the title of this article, "the hedonistic paradox", I think that it's time I bring it in. The hedonistic paradox (also known as the "paradox of hedonism" or "the pleasure paradox"), is a general observation which says that happiness is not something that somebody can obtain directly. It is common wisdom that, often, those who focus most on their own happiness have a tendency to end up as the most unhappy of all.

Whenever I think of this, my mind always drifts to furries. How can a community that has such a focus on happiness be filled with people who are, by and large, no more happy than any other group of people? To me, I think it is partly due to the focus of the community. A lot of "furriness" is outwardly focussed: creating a character, buying art of it, commissioning a fursuit, and so on. This makes me wonder if any of these things really help in attaining long-term happiness, as opposed to bringing only a temporary moment of joy. "Post-con depression" is commonly reported problem, which stems partly, I think, from the fact that these kinds of pleasures cannot last. I'm not calling these things bad, or mocking the people who enjoy them – by themselves they are fine - but I often question the negative effect that they can have on people when they have to come back down to reality. The nine-to-five job probably seems even more soul-crushing after a weekend
of partying and suiting.

For me, a solution would be the middle-ground between the current community and Epicurus. To me, furry is a love of anthropomorphics. I like pictures and stories with human-like animals, and enjoy the fact that I live in such an age where I can find others with that interest.

I am not arguing that we should get rid of the fursuits and porn. I myself do not wish to participate, but I understand that they are important for a great many people. I do believe that there is a healthier attitude to take towards them, however. Making friendship the main thing to be gotten from the furry community, giving money to artist without needing the art to be personal, and paying more mind to the charity events that the community does are better than the more inwardly focussed efforts.

In short, I suppose that this is what the article has been trying to say this: a calmer, more peaceful attitude towards things would be better. People would be happier if they were less concerned with their characters, money, and the drama, instead treating the community as a place to make friends, and as a creative outlet. I feel that many in the community could avoid the hedonistic paradox by adopting a more modern Epicurean approach to things.