Last night, I ate my dinner too hungrily, and I burned the roof of my mouth. Now it’s eight in the morning, and it hurts to drink my tea. This is what I get for succumbing to my cravings. It’s nice to get feedback this instantaneous and clear! It’s not always so easy to see the harm in succumbing to animal desires.
That’s because the harm isn’t always so personal. It doesn’t always come right back to us. It flows downstream.
When you cut someone off in traffic, you get a little jolt of feeling, and then you refocus on what’s in front of you: your destination. The person you cut off, though, is staring at the back of your head as it recedes into the distance and wishing they could shoot lasers out of their eyes.
When you make a joke at someone’s expense, some people laugh with you. You all feel the pleasures and joys of scintillating conversation, and you move onto the next topic. But the person who was the butt of the joke might remember that shame for the rest of his or her life.
When you live an affluent Western lifestyle, you experience delights and comforts through goods made by the hard labor of others; you spend leisure time in fantasy realms while others mine the metals needed to make the devices that take you there; you choose what you want to eat from all the world’s delicacies, and they fly in a refrigerated airplane to you, while the atmosphere warms, the ice melts, the seas rise towards the homes of unknown, distant others.
A hundred years from now, what will people think of our generation if we just keep obeying our appetites?