The Principle of Pleasure

The Principle of Pleasure

This is one of those topics that you just know. One of those that you yourself understand, but find it somewhat tricky to put into some semblance of coherent speech. We all, to varying degrees, know what pleasure is. We all know what we enjoy, and we can all express; to an extent, why we enjoy something.

This is also one of those posts that’s taken far too long to write.

Dictionary definition of ‘pleasure’

Y’see, the very definition of pleasure isn’t quite enough as such, “a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment” is rather vague in the context of lifestyle habits or pursuits. As I discovered today, there is a rather beautiful term enshrined in English law called “the covenant of quiet enjoyment” which basically boils down to this:

The covenant for quiet enjoyment is therefore a covenant that the tenant’s lawful possession of the land will not be substantially interfered with by the acts of the lessor or those lawfully claiming under him.

In other words, tenants should be left to enjoy the premises they rent from landlords quietly that does not mean undisturbed by noise. When a man is quietly in possession it has nothing whatever to do with noise … “Peaceably and quietly” means without interference – without interruption of the possession. Your roof, your rule.

This, I think, is a cornerstone underlying the pleasure principle. It is, fundamentally “quiet enjoyment” without interference from anyone else. No diktat, no overbearing State. Just you and whatever takes your fancy, be that smoking tobacco, popping a tobacco flavoured tea-bag into your mouth, or taking a puff on your personal vapouriser.

But that is only one aspect of the pleasure principle. Y’see, pleasure in itself is entirely subjective. Everyone enjoys, or derives pleasure from, a wide variety of things. No-one knows specifically why they enjoy something. What is known is that when an individual experiences pleasure, be that as one David Dorn succinctly puts it - horizontal nudy prod; listening to music, reading a book or indulging in a tab, a vape or a sinful cup of coffee, there is a biochemical change - the reward centres of the brain light up like a christmas tree and you experience pleasure and a sense of satisfaction.

That sense of satisfaction leads me to the second half of this point - the psychological aspect - where it is generally accepted that the mind has a strong, though not always fulfilled tendency towards pleasure. The mind seeks pleasure.

Both Sarah Jakes and David Dorn have described the pleasure principle in the context of vaping or, in Dave’s case the context of nicotine enjoyment. If you haven’t read either post, I highly recommend that you do. This post, is more of a foundation - to an extent. Y’see, one of the things that grinds my gears is the comment from certain elements of public health and tobacco control that smokers regret starting.

Bullshit. Y’see, smoking (and by extension vaping) is a consistent trigger for a smorgasbord of endorphins which, as mentioned earlier, gives you the experience of pleasure and a sense of satisfaction. As likened at the recent A Night at the Pleasure Zone (see Dick Puddlecote here and here for a full write up):

“when it comes to pure unadulterated pleasure it’s my Porsche that wins - the sumptuous leather, the thrill of the mid-engine thrum, the raw acceleration power under the pedal.”

Can’t say I disagree with the parallel, though I would lean more toward an Aston Martin - well, you wouldn’t say no to one of those would you? But then, each to their own. It’s a good thing we have this little thing called “freedom of choice” isn’t it?

Y’see, smokers quite rightly enjoy smoking, which as someone who once smoked I can certainly attest to enjoying it, just as vapers/snus users/coffee drinkers/base jumpers enjoy what they imbibe or do. This is something that many within public health spectacularly fail to grasp. Pleasure is an essential, and fundamentally good part of being a well rounded homo sapiens. Without pleasure, life would indeed be rather dull, boring and incredibly samey.

Of course, some pleasures carry a degree of risk, which is absolutely fine and dandy. Us human beings are more than capable of deciding for ourselves how much risk we want to take - although I would question the sanity of those that enjoy things like base jumping or skyscraper parkour, for fuck sake it’s a long way down - by weighing the pros and cons of such risk. Smokers and vapers have decided that the pleasure derived from the imbibing of nicotine either in combustible tobacco or vapourised aerosol far outweighs any potential risk.

The experience of pleasure, triggered biochemically by the act of smoking/vaping/whatever, also helps in stressful situations. The “calming effect” as it were. That effect is simply a counterweight to the level of stress being experienced, and hospital visits are among the top entries on the list of most stressful situations. The effect of that pleasure varies, with some (according to the Pleasure of Smoking report) citing the physical effect - the sensations themselves, the throat hit, the nicotine hit. Others are more individualistic such as taking time for oneself to smoke.

One aspect of smoking, and in some cases vaping also, is the socialised pleasure. With smoking bans pretty much everywhere, some of which include vaping also, the social outlet is missing. It is a recognised aspect that having a pint with a smoke is a highly pleasurable activity pursuit. A coffee and a tab just doesn’t have the same kind of effect, though many do find that just as pleasurable; after all caffeine, like nicotine, is a mild stimulant and also has very similar properties to nicotine with regards to the triggering of opioid receptors which have a large part to play in the experience of pleasure. As mentioned by Dave Dorn:

Tobacco Controllers demonized it as a way of forcing behavior change, but now some of them admit they told lies about it. Some - Prof John Britton being just one amongst many - have posited the notion that nicotine in Ecigs and caffeine are siblings - that neither, in the amounts they’re used in, are anything other than relatively benign.

Both caffeine and nicotine, in appropriately large quantities can have adverse effects on the human body. But that doesn’t stop us from consuming them in one form or another. We don’t go around calling heavy coffee drinkers “addicts”; and I would posit that if nicotine was consumed in a similar fashion, there wouldn’t be such a hoohah surrounding it. It isn’t the job of public health to be the pleasure police, though some extremists within public health, and tobacco control especially, certainly seem to believe that if something is pleasurable, then it must be a terrible public health crisis that must be acted upon by invoking The Children™ argument and imposing Orwellian measures to prevent us Proles from having just a sliver of enjoyment in an otherwise dystopian world.

Pleasure then, allows us to be human. It can allow us to enjoy life, in whatsoever manner we choose (the covenant of quiet enjoyment), or it can help us cope with stressful situations by providing an essential counterbalance. Of course, some pleasures can impose some negatives on us, but isn’t that all part of being human? The ability to balance risk/reward, pleasure/pain?

If only public health & tobacco control, and I’ll admit that some do, believe in this principle then it would follow that the measure of “wellness” among the population would certainly increase. But of course, nanny knows best. If there’s any chance, no matter how slim, that simple pleasures such as smoking, vaping, or drinking can be of any harm then it must be heavily restricted.

For the good of your health of course. Why not let us enjoy our vices quietly? Why not let us have the freedom to choose our own pleasures and to enjoy them in whatsoever way we want? Let us, the public, decide what level of “good health & wellness” we desire to have, instead of having that level defined for, and imposed on, us.

After all, it’s not as though what we choose to enjoy is significantly harming others? Leave us to our covenant of quiet enjoyment.

(image credit /