Furries, Epicurus, and the Hedonistic Paradox

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.

About Corgi W.

Corgi is currently studying for a degree in philosophy. She enjoys writing and writing anthropomorphic fiction, and has a passion for philosophical debate.

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5 thoughts on “Furries, Epicurus, and the Hedonistic Paradox

  1. Thanks for your interesting post. I brought to my mind a lot of thoughts I have had about what you call ‘moving pleasures’ specific to furrydom. I have been involved in furry and have gone to conventions and so in since around 2004. Nowadays I consider myself a hobbyist, I draw furry art just for myself, for a break from life..

    One major thing is that, after doing courses in Sociology and Anthropology, I realised that the consumptive aspects of the furry fandom are not only facilitated by the technology of the capitalist global system (Paypal, Furaffinity, Furbid), but are also psychologically motivated by the ‘alienating’ effect of the wage labour of some people in first-world society (because there are no furries in Ethiopia or Syria.) So nowdays fursuits, artwork and porn are even more commodified, because with Paypal you can make some money selling porn or fursuits to people all over the world. And I think this is the basis of the growing social division furries (I think) into the camp of consumers of furry creativity and the camp of producers (and usually sellers) of furry creativity.

    Analogously, otaku culture in Japan, which is much more consumeristic.. The condition that lead the otaku to do otaku things, and lead otaku-geared media to be produced in Japan, is that their daily grind 1. gives them plenty of money 2. mentally and physically exhausts them, and 3. is NOT, for them in particular, a meaningful mode of forming relationships, or a meaningful way of contributing to something valuable.

    It is not so extreme in the first world outside Japan, but I do think in order to get and stay interested in the social parts of furrydom a person needs to feel, to a certain extent, like an outsider in one’s workaday life, and to feel like one’s workaday life is not contributing meaningfully to anything valuable (other than one’s bank account). And I also believe that the more exhausted and alienated by the workaday world among us more often commission fursuits and porn, and become the target consumer base of the career furries.

    This saddens me, because I’ve spent time with self-employed furry artists and know that quite often they look down upon certain of their customers, and especially their loyal customers. (See for example the tongue in cheek depiction of ‘bad furries’ on badfurry.com) I also suspect that self-employed furry artists tend to have a lot more social capital and social mobility than their customers. If they wanted to, they could move between different subcultures. Their ability to produce artwork is a saleable skill, and it displays and builds a certain measure of confidence (and confidence is itself a form of social capital in society). By dint of their commissioning activity, however, the furry consumers are more invested in and tied to the furry subculture.

    Is it a bad thing that they are more dependent on furrydom, you might ask. Maybe we all have some pervy creature-based fantasy that we would like to see realised by a cool, skilled artist (I know I do). But I think one of the major sources of Furry Drama is the activity of people who falsely believe that they have no viable means of existing meaningfully in society except as a furry. I suspect that only a few people have legitimate reasons to live as an otaku or furry, and these are people with lifelong neuroatypicalities, such as Asperger’s syndrome, OCD, Bipolar, or high-functioning autism .. or who are dealing with a history of severe childhood trauma. These are neuroatypicalities that mean that, however self-aware and well-informed and hardworking they become (traits I believe we should all aspire to), they will nearly always feel stressed, and like an alienated outsider, by a workaday environment with normal people, because their ways of reacting to things are on an entrenched level different from other peoples’.

    There is (obviously.. I shouldn’t have to say this) NOTHING culpable or blameworthy about having a chronic mental illness, or being autistic. I have deep respect for the people in my life who are dealing with autism and/or childhood trauma.

    The trouble is that there are many people who, I think, would not choose to be involved in furrydom if they were simply a little more informed, a little more self-aware, a little more skeptical of their immediate judgments about themselves and the world. And too many of this contingent frame their involvement in furrydom in a self-deprecating fashion that harms and marginalises those who are there for more genuine reasons. To really be frank, I see the elite artists as (at worst.. not to stereotype etc) people who, instead of leaving more psychologically vulnerable and/or neuroatypical people alone to empower themselves via furry creativity, sell things to them and thereby keep them passive and disconnected from each other.

    Then, just to add insult to injury, they (at worst) mock the very people they are selling to (badfurry.com, Shawn Keller’s mean-spirited old animations). As if those people don’t belong in furrydom, when the contrary is true – they form, and have always formed, its hard core, and more often than not have more legitimate reasons to be at the conventions than the elite artists (I mean that if you are gay and a computer nerd and you have Asperger’s syndrome and panic disorder you may have realised that furrydom is, in fact, the best way you may have of empowering yourself and finding joy in the indefinite future.)

    I certainly do not believe that furry is a bad way to be; for some it can be a lifechanging way to be. What I am saying is that a certain contingent of furrydom do not belong in furrydom. I am saying that, for these people, involving themselves, in more than a hobbyist way, in furrydom is counterproductive for themselves, their loved ones, and society generally. This is because they have various privileges and resources that mean that they, if they chose to, could contribute in a more meaningful way to society and/or the lives of others, and generally be happier and more at peace with themselves, if they did not make furry fandom their lifestyle. Resources, for example, such as a graduate degree, not having autism or a chronic mental illness, or being able to produce artwork in a variety of media.

    Please keep in mind that I’m leveling such criticisms not merely at people without chronic mental illnesses or autism who nonetheless are furry lifestylers, but at all kinds of people who inappropriately try to make life easier for themselves by kidding themselves that they belong in places which are by and for people with real problems, and who ignore their ability to do productive work which helps others and goes some way to ameliorating societal injustices.

    I used to be like this, I was even considering at one point selling furry porn for a living; but then I realised that I could make myself, my family, and random strangers much happier if I used my skills in other ways. My ideology of life has been strongly influenced by Peter Singer and his book The Life You Can Save.

    Thanks for reading :>

  2. Follow up to my earlier comment:

    Sorry, I think I’m being too harsh here and I really hope I haven’t generally confused and upset people..

    What I should have clarified is that I think the problem with furrydom is not with furrydom *per se* but with this wider culture of ‘the pursuit of happiness’ that we have in the West, that infects the motives with which people may come to and stay in the furry fandom. Just be true to your best self.. The self (whether a furry-identifying self or not) in which beauty, truth, and love inhabits. (I tell myself fervently – I admit I maybe have something of a guilt complex.. I hurt my friends and family when I was younger..)

    1. I found your comment above to be exceptionally well thought and insightful (in fact I’m a bit surprised nobody replied to it so far). I think everybody can feel that many furry artists have serious attitude problems and that some people cling too much to the fandom, but usually discussions about those problems are frutiless because they quickly turn into mockery of specific persons or into irrational discussions about too broad concepts like decency, morality, porn addiction etc., even thought those problems are actually very practical problems at the core. You framed such problems very well and the conclusions ring very true to me. I will save a copy of this comment in my collection of interesting analyses of the furry community. :-)

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