By Jon Cogburn
As far as I can tell, my dogs Charlie (chihuahua mix) and Leonard (wiener dog) experience the most amount of pleasure each day in the thirty or so minutes before dinner (some combination of treats, what we're eating, and dog food). From a theological perspective, I would say that behavior manifests what D.Z. Phillips mistakenly characterizes as religions faith, a heightened sense of expectant hopefulness. From a biological perspective, I'm sure that something is going on with dopamine levels (and who knows what else) in certain parts of their dog brains.
Cocaine doesn't work by producing anything akin to physical pleasure, but rather brings the user to feel a heightened sense of hopefulness, both the feeling that all sorts of good and important things are possible, and the feeling that the user will be able to play a non-trivial role in achieving these good and important things. Cocaine users are like Charlie and Leonard in the run-up to dinner, except that Charlie and Leonard don't act like assholes in the run-up to dinner. And, after they eat, my dogs just find someone (often one another) to snuggle with and take contented naps, whereas cocaine users have to pay back their hopefulness with a bleak descent.
Luckily, there are ways for human beings to increase a sense of expectant hopefulness that don't make us act like assholes, don't give us heart attacks, and don't have to be payed back with long periods of anhedonic bleakness. For most of us, exercise, meditation, and small acts of kindness reliably produce the benefits of pharmaceuticals, without the debilitating drawbacks. If the Thomist tradition is to be believed (and it should be) having a good relationship to truth (working diligently to understand and share one's understanding of it), beauty (appreciating and creating it), and goodness (primarily the daily small acts of kindness but also more sustained charity) are also necessary parts of finding hopefulness and evading the bleak.
Neo-liberal metaphysics to the contrary, human beings are not lizards. We don't crawl out of our eggs and embark upon solitary lives. Loneliness is both a cause of bleakness and in many cases a result of it. And, when ex-President Obama said, "you didn't build that" he was enunciating a profound truth. Sociality both makes possible our proper relationship with truth, beauty, and goodness and results from it.
Human beings experience an important variety of expectant hopefulness which is intrinsically social. This is when you take yourself to be an important part of something that will produce some combination of more understanding, more beauty, and more goodness.
I think of this variety of hopefulness as Dum Dum happiness, because of Iggy Pop's song (above and right) mourning the breakup of his band. The "Dum Dum Boys" aren't just The Stooges, but his own happiness. Pop is also eloquent in interviews about how good it felt to be an integral part of a group who (rightly in this case) felt like they were creating something new and important.
This is a common thing with bands. For example, in the recent Netflix Eagles documentary various members several times talk about how they thought that they were tapping into and participating in something unique to southern California in the 1970s, how great it felt to be a part of that and be a part of a band. The internal feuds happened when some of the non-Don Henley and Glenn Frey members felt like their inputs were being marginalized. Somehow, unless the albums contained more country songs and Henley sang less, they no longer felt like they were integral parts of the band.
This isn't just rock bands though. In one of his last interviews Leonard Cohen talked about what it was like to be in college in Montreal with his little group of poetry friends. They smoked, hung out in cafes, and couldn't get dates. But they felt like poets were the legislators of the world and that sharing their poems with one another was part of something of transcendence import.
Art movements are like this too. The force of China Mieville's The Last Days of New Paris obtains in part because in the fictional world art movements are every bit as important as participants in those movements (here surrealists) feel them to be.
I've had quite a bit of Dum Dum happiness in my life: playing music with people, being part of a cohort that survived the first two years and candidacy exams in graduate school, co-writing philosophy with friends, being part of the philosophical blogosphere before it was denuded by facebook, helping my wife with her novels, and being a Dad.
Sociality is a dangerous thing though. It's very, very easy to lose sight of the fact that hopefulness comes from correctly engaging with truth, beauty, and goodness. You start out in a little room trying to make something beautiful and then it's a blast to make beautiful things with other people and then it's even more of a blast if other people show up and appreciate what you are up to. To some extent the point always was to get other people to show up, since understanding and created beauty are constitutively communicative, as are acts of kindness. But this just means (at least in the case of truth and beauty) that you have to create something that is such that if other people did show up, it would be worth their time. It doesn't mean that the measure of truth or beauty is whether people show up. Unfortunately, other people showing up is addictive and it is very easy to lapse into thinking that that was the point all along. Once that happens, you are going to be disappointed. No matter how popular you become, it won't be enough. Bleakness follows.
I don't know why Mark Fisher died. The eulogistic assertion that he was depressed is so uninformative as to be tautological. Depression makes people more likely to commit suicide. Nobody who isn't depressed kills himself. So "he was depressed" tells us nothing.
I'm sure there's some characteristic brain stuff going on with habitual depressives, similar to what's going on when mid stage drug addicts and alcoholics are not in their chemical sweet spots, or when late state drug addicts and alcoholics are awake. Most of us can escape this bleakness with taking care of our body and better aligning ourselves with truth, beauty, and goodness. With the exception of a few dumb kids, the suicides I've known closely all tried their best to do these things but couldn't make it work.
Fisher himself had important things to say about the ways late capitalism both makes us "sick" (in some real normative sense and in the sense that sickness is constituted as a social category) only to sell us cures which are often worse than the illness.
Foucault goes too far with this stuff.
Hunter gatherers live in communities of about 160. In a community of 160 it's pretty easy to feel like you are contributing in a meaningful way to something important. Hunter gathers live in a constant state of dum dum happiness because each of them is the best in their community at something valued by the other people in the group. But of course there's no way to recreate this at the level of a "global community" (scare quotes to denote oxymoron). Facebook is so warped because it sort of feels like it's doing it, but it isn't. "Liking" and not "liking" various sentences, links, and pictures is no basis for a community, and doesn't in the end produce anything like dum dum happiness.
Fisher's original k-punk blog (archived here, distinct from the newer one here) was an integral part of the speculative realism blogosphere when I found it around 2007. If you go back far enough into the archives you'll see why it was so exciting and fun.
Prior to facebook's ascendance, the philosophical blogosphere was a tremendously rewarding thing, a lot like being in a band. It started with speculative realism. You had all of these graduate students in continental schools where they are supposed to be writing book reports on the Mighty Dead all of the sudden doing critical and speculative philosophy on the interwebs. It felt important in the same way that the poetry club of McGill University felt to a young Leonard Cohen. You'd wake up each day to see what philosophers across the planet were doing on each other's blogs. It and fatherhood pulled me out of my post-tenure funk.
And, to the extent that "punk rock" means anything valuable, in the early days the philosophical blogosphere was punk rock. In 2007, only a few hundred people had read Graham Harman's Tool Being, but we all started blogs. We all read k-punk. We all felt like we were contributing to something worthwhile. We recognized one another and it brought us joy.