Something to know—Two humans, Cameron and Rayla, run this blog—you can read more about us if you are interested, but for the meantime, we just want to say this particular post is written from Rayla’s point of view, but we do our writing together, and it is a reflection of both of us.
Jàmm rekk - “Peace only”
When I graduated, I was lucky enough to participate in a program called Global Citizen Year. I spent the first year after high school living in Tivaouane, Senegal (which is in West Africa if your geography is a little rusty.) I like to tell people that Senegal is the westernmost country on the hump of Africa when they are looking for specifics (without a map).
I lived with a Muslim family (my host father had four wives). I actually chose to go to Senegal (over Brazil or Ecuador) because I wanted to live in a culture where the dominant religious narrative was something other than Christianity. While I certainly learned a lot, there is one lesson that always jumps out at me. It revolves around a local saying I heard from multiple people:
“Senegal is 95% Muslim, 5% Christian, and 100% African.”
At first, I took this as a statistic, people were just explaining population to me. I didn’t really comprehend what they were getting at until holidays started rolling around. During Tabaski, one of the largest Muslim holidays (commonly known as Eid al-Adha), I finally saw what they were trying to show me. My family’s Christian neighbors and friends came over, they helped with cooking, they ate with us, and spent the day with my Muslim family, celebrating this Muslim holiday.
On Christmas, this happened again but in reverse. My family went to a Christian friends’s house, while I accompanied a man named Kouly Mbaye (my language teacher) to his predominantly Christian village. In both places, this pattern played out again; Muslims and Christians celebrating together, helping with the preparation of food and enjoying the day together.
What they mean when they say “Senegal is 95% Muslim, 5% Christian, and 100% African” is that underneath their religions, there is something deeper, a culture they all share. It is amazing. All of my preexisting notions about how Christians and Muslims interact were completely toppled. There is a brotherhood in Senegal that was deeper than religion, and it helped them create a society where two religions that butt heads almost everywhere else in the world can not only coexist, but support each other.
When I reflect on my time in Senegal and this poignant memory of Muslims and Christians coexisting, there is a visceral response in my body. It’s painful, as if this beautiful memory can’t be real against the backdrop of my understanding of the rest of the world. I am reminded that there is a divisiveness in our world that no one really knows how to mend, and yet, I am even more so inspired by my memories of Senegal. The meta-culture of Senegal helps the Senegalese Muslims and the Senegalese Christians to coexist.
The Rest of the World
This path of thinking has led us to an idea; imagine what a meta-culture built on consent, curiosity, and self-awareness could do for the entire world. We need meta-culture, now more than ever, because it will allow people to find the common ground needed to cross identity lines and build a better world together.
This idea isn’t about some sort of new intrusive culture that seeks to infiltrate, take the place of, or homogenize other cultures (as has been true of imperialistic belief systems). When we say meta-culture, we are talking about a set of underlying values found within more than one culture.
In some ways, we think Hedonism is a global meta-culture. It would be incorrect to say that every single person is a Hedonist—as of today, there really aren’t that many people devoted to pleasure. That said, Hedonistic logic applies to everybody in a way that the logic of other religions and ideologies does not.
Take dogs, for instance. They might not think in terms of ‘devotion to pleasure’, but they can’t help being fairly devoted nonetheless. They spend most of their time meeting their basic physical needs and keeping safe from danger. They avoid pain meticulously. When they aren’t busy with survival upkeep, they play. It is a simple life, and while some of the bone chewing and butt sniffing details might not apply to all of us, we humans aren’t so different. Of course, neither are cats or rats or crocodiles.
As far as we can tell, life generally survives and thrives by following the hedonist algorithm; avoid the things that give us pain and pursue the things which give us pleasure. Seeing this algorithm everywhere, particularly in humans, we are led to see Hedonism as a potential meta-culture.
Without meta-culture, it can be difficult for people from different backgrounds to understand each other. Through the lens of Christianity, Buddhism can look an awful lot like sin and idolatry, keeping Buddhists from the glory of god. Through the lens of Buddhism, Christianity can feel like just another illusion, imprisoning Christians and keeping them from the path toward Nirvana. It can be difficult to see the utility of other belief systems from inside your own.
Alternatively, If you believe that god is almighty and only by following his rules can you get into Heaven and experience eternal joy, following those rules, even if it sucks right now, will inevitably lead to the highest net pleasure. Christians are acting hedonistic in context of what they believe about the nature of reality. Similarly, if you believe that the pleasures of the sensual world are a fleeting illusion and that the only way to escape suffering is through non attachment and the eight-fold path, zero net pleasure is effectively the highest it gets. In their context, Buddhists are also acting hedonistic.
Through the lens of hedonism, it's possible to see the value in all belief systems, as they are all simply different ways that humans pursue pleasure.
We aren’t saying that you have to be a hedonist to see the value in other people’s beliefs, but when Hedonism is the meta-culture, Christians can see how Buddhism makes Buddhists happy, respect that, and even potentially utilize some Buddhist practices for enhancing their own happiness—and vice versa.
The Power of Meta-Culture
For all the people who experience Hedonism as a meta-culture, it is far easier to be curious, and therefore, accepting, about unfamiliar religions and ideologies. Anytime we see something we don’t quite understand, we start by recognizing that everybody is seeking happiness, and everybody simply does so differently. This isn’t an excuse for cultures that act violently to continue doing so, but it helps us to remember that everybody has their own definition of pleasure.
Real Hedonists know that wisdom is everywhere. We are always curious to learn more, particularly because it might help us to be better devoted to our pleasure. Hedonists often practice a sort of proactive agnosticism. This includes listening to unfamiliar people about their beliefs, visiting unfamiliar places of worship, and respectfully trying the unfamiliar rituals of other cultures (with permission).
Through experimenting with different spiritual practices, people have a higher likelihood of finding something that works for them. While searching for their perfect hedonistic lifestyle, a Hedonist may come to find, perhaps via practicing qigong, that Taoism and its teachings are perfect for them. This is beautiful.
Similarly, we hope it is obvious by this point, that any person could self identify as Hindu, Jewish or a Satanist and act in line with the principles of Hedonism as well. This too, is beautiful; Hedonism is not exclusive. Hedonism is a truly expansive and flexible belief system, and this is one of the things that gives it genuine potential as a meta-culture.
Truly widespread Hedonism will enable people from other belief systems to act hedonistic and distill their belief systems into their better forms. Our hope is that if Real Hedonism catches on, some of the more harmful traits of other religions will become less acceptable.
We imagine a world where the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad are just as highly regarded as they are today, but consent is so pervasive that they cannot be spread by violence. I caught a glimpse of this when I lived in Senegal, but the meta-culture that supports peace there does not have the universality necessary to become worldwide. In a world that feels characterized by division, we need something that can help create unity.
What does the world look like when all religions can communicate their wisdom and drop the violent parts, the unnecessary power structures, and oppressive traditions?
A Hedonistic meta-culture will mean that the religions of the world will have to become more consensual, curious and self aware to stay relevant. We will retain our diversity and finally be able to work together—and if we can work together, building paradise may not be so hard.
Is there any reason that a Hedonistic Meta-culture would not work for you?
Please respond in the comments or in email.