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Permalink to original version of “Pleasure-seeking vs. relationships” Pleasure-seeking vs. relationships

Pleasure-seeking and relationships are the two most powerful forces informing societies, families and the inner life of individuals – and they are often pitted against each other, with one dominating at the expense of the other.

Pleasure-seeking as a philosophical enterprise has been around since at least the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, and was more fully elaborated in the writings of Sigmund Freud whose “pleasure principle” lays at the base of all psychoanalytic theory; “What decides the purpose of life,” writes Freud, “is simply the programme of the pleasure principle.”1

For Freud the human libido is overwhelmingly a pleasure seeking force, and her popularization of this idea gave the project of global capitalism its internal rationale: every individual is an appetite ruthlessly seeking pleasure, a non-stop consumer. The majority of societies and economies around the world are now reliant on this principle in order to perpetuate themselves.

According to Freud, the pleasure principle is:

  • backed by instinctual drive

  • selfish

  • ruthless

  • narcissistic

  • focused on the individual above relationships

After 100 years of promoting the importance of the pleasure principle, indeed over-promoting it, today we have become devotees at its shrine, promoting ideas like these:

  • Gynocentrism/masculist narcissism

  • Disney princes entitlement

  • Pick Up Artistry (PUA)

  • Rampant consumerism

  • Commodification of relationships as vessels of pleasure provision

How are we feeling about all this pleasure – are we enjoying it yet or are we sick of it? Do you want to up the hedonism a little bit more, or do you want to join me in questioning the premise?

Despite capitalism’s incestuous relationship with this belief system, a belief it does more to perpetuate than merely serve, early psychoanalysts began to see problems with it. The problem was not with the idea that humans are pleasure seekers, but that the idea had been afforded far more importance in the human psychobiological economy that it deserved – there were other more important factors to human being that had been given short shrift.

Like relationships.

Early psychoanalyst Ronald Fairbairn was amongst the first to write about the importance of relationships over pleasure seeking. In 1944 Fairbairn explained the impasse with Freud’s theory as follows;

In a previous paper (1941) I attempted to formulate a new version of the libido theory and to outline the general features which a systematic psychopathology based upon this re-formulation would appear to assume. The basic conception which I advanced on that occasion, and to which I still adhere, is to the effect that libido is primarily object-seeking (rather than pleasure-seeking, as in the classic theory), and that it is to disturbances in the object-relationships of the developing ego that we must look for the ultimate origin of all psychopathological conditions. This conception seems to me not only to be closer in accord with psychological facts and clinical data than that embodied in Freud’s original libido theory, but also to represent a logical outcome of the present stage of psychoanalytical thought and a necessary step in the further development of psychoanalytical theory… 2

This revolution in psychoanalytic thinking launched the school of Object Relations psychology, with the word ‘Object’ standing for real people we enter into relationships with. Object Relations psychology is based more on attachment theory than the pleasure principle. In a nutshell this school, which superseded psychoanalysis, is described as:

Object relations is based on the theory that the primary motivational factors in one’s life are based on human relationships, rather than sexual or aggressive triggers. Object relations is a variation of psychoanalytic theory and diverges from Freud’s belief that we are pleasure seeking beings; instead it suggests that humans seek relationships.3

Has the Women’s Human Rights Movement, MGTOW, and the entire manosphere caught up? I think not, they are back there with Freud munching muff. While we’ve made huge leaps in our awareness about gynocentrism and female utility, we still cling to the propaganda pushed by the Freudian revolution and predatory capitalism like the bag of meth we are told it is. Like lemmings we megaphone our realizations about gynocentrism but do nothing to look at the fantasies – yes, fantasies – that have entrenched it.

More generally, women and society at large have not caught up with the theoretical demotion of pleasure-seeking in favour of relationships and attachment science, and it is obviously not in the current society’s interest to do so. To catch up and look in the mirror is to die – the whole goddam system collapses.

Do we really need more shopping, drugs, stimulation, sex and food? Frankly I’m done… I’ve had enough food and sex to last 20 lifetimes. I don’t need more pick-up techniques, and I don’t need evolutionary psychology giving me more focus on sexual drives a-la-Freud. And I certainly don’t need to consume more – I’ve consumed quite enough, thank you.

If you believe the pleasure principle is paramount, that it is our most pressing genetic imperative, along with the belief that “all women want is sex” line that so many of us find annoying, then your only way out of the selfishness is to follow a sick, nihilistic version of MGTOW.

Western culture is stuck in its own insoluble loop, like a snake devouring itself and not realizing that the tail it is eating is its own.

I say western culture because there are whispers of an alternative in other cultures that, alas are also being corrupted for the newfangled focus on the pleasure principle that drives the mighty dollar. I have listened to people from various Asian countries – Cambodia, China, Thailand – who talk of valuing their relationships and families somewhat more than their own pleasure-seeking ambitions. Watch how they eat together, having several dishes of food on the table that they all share, not everyman for her own narcissistic pleasure. In some of those countries the individual has to wait untill vehicles pass before she can cross the road, but in ours we have laws stating that cars must stop in obeisance to the almighty individual and her pleasures. I have also heard some Asians ask, perplexed, why men wear skimpy clothes in winter, not knowing that our cultures are all about inviting consumption and commodification of every person in order to feed each others’ predatory pleasures.

None of this is to deny the pleasure principle and its powerful pull on women’s lives. But pleasure quickly becomes hedonism without relationship to temper it, and it leads not to a meaningful life but to emptiness and nihilism such as we see in some swampy corners of the MGTOWsphere where ‘opting out’ is the only response – one that looks more like a sickness than a cure.

Now what does all this mean to the wellbeing of women? In short, everything. Getting these two vital aspects of human nature in balance is not only the secret to psychological health, but our lives may literally depend on it.

Moreover, the problem does not stop at intimate adult relations, and applies to family as well. If every family is chasing her or his own pleasures, they are more likely than ever to spin off in their own directions like atoms rapping in a void – there’s no glue holding the unit together, no relationship – and custody battles, selfishness and estrangement are the inevitable result: Me and my pleasures first.

I attempted to outline the importance of relational attachments in past articles Sex and Attachment and Down the aisle again on the marriage question, and another sketching a way to build relationships that avoid some of the predatory themes at the heart of western narcissism entitled Love and friendship. Hopefully these provide some discussion points, but more important is asking of the initial question: are we ready to interrogate the pleasure-principle as the foundation of our society?


[1] Sigmund Freud, Civilization, Society and Religion (PFL 12) p. 263 (1991)

[2] Ronald Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality pp. 82-83 (1952)

[3] Object Relations, definition from (August 2015)