Life lessons from… Epicurus
Like many Arts students, I aspire to a life of inertial academia – always learning, never doing. Our talents are best spent pondering the immensities of an ambivalent universe, filling out Centrelink forms and ’finding oneself’ on a Contiki tour of the Far East. God forbid we ever acquire some marketable skills—other than a knack for making decidedly mediocre lattés and a propensity to knock over retail displays—and enter the workplace. Third Century BC Greek author and philosopher Epicurus had a word for the ideal student’s condition: ataraxia, the purest form of happiness.
1. Whatever’s up there probably isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
This continues to get Epicurus—and probably this columnist—in hot water. Epicurus tackled the ’god’ problem with brutal materialistic logic. It went something like this. God is good and all-powerful, right? He tends to his flock etc. Now explain why is there evil. Either (A) that being cannot eradicate evil, and is therefore not omnipotent; or (B) he/she/it can eradicate evil but chooses not to, and is therefore not benevolent. It is more likely, Epicurus postured, that the god(s) we worship – if indeed they exist – are unconcerned with us mere mortals. There is no point appeasing a petty deity; just do as you please.
2. Settle for mediocrity.
Take on as little responsibility as possible. You should only do the minimum work required to pass a capstone subject/stay above the poverty line. We should not learn in order to be assessed or have our knowledge quantified, but to enrich our experience of the world around us. Don’t go for that internship for its own sake if you don’t want to do it. Instead, if your passion is restocking corporate kitchens with biscuits and contending with lecherous colleagues, be satisfied as a lowly tea lad(y). Want a qualification? Epicurus recommends a breadth course in the School of Life.
3. You can have too much of a good thing.
To the philanderers, hedonists, and general hooligans; don’t think that this is a moral Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. Epicurus had the foresight to note that spending your days drug-addled, inebriated, and comatose is not conducive to long-term happiness. Many pleasures contain the seeds of pain. His idea of pleasure was a simple life of philosophical conversation among friends under a tree on South Lawn. What Epicurus wanted was wholesome, clean fun.
4. Avoid politics.
It doesn’t matter which century or continent you’re in, investing in politics is never worth it. There’s no point waiting on the world to change. The hopeless machinations of politics will only leave you anxious and jaded. Don’t bother voting either. Take the fine like a man—with your raw-egg-protein-supplement shake. Better to live in blissful obscurity, Epicurus suggests.
“I was not. I was. I am not. I do not care.”—Epicurus’ badass epitaph.