20 Soups From Around the World

Editors Note: No recipes are contained in this post, none are linked, Bing is your friend.

Shortly before Christmas of last year (2018) I decided that I would make 20 (new-to-me) soups from around the world as my New Year’s resolution. Today, May 19th, I made the twentieth. Since the soups were to be new-to-me, that precluded many of my personal favorites that I had made previously: Tom Kha, Miso, Egg Drop, Etc…

I can’t vouch for the authenticity of any of the soups that I made, I googled recipes and read and synthesized the ones that sounded best/doable into one that I could make. Following is an annotated list of the soups that I made,

  1. 12/26/18 Getting a jump on the New Year, I started off with Pozole from Mexico. The version that I made was chicken and hominy. It was a good one to start with as it ended up being one of my favorites. I learned a new technique in boiling dried peppers, in this case ancho, then running them through the food processor; this gave the broth body and loads of flavor.
  2. 1/4/19 Next up was Sinigang from the Philippines, I don’t remember much other than it was sour ginger.
  3. 1/9/19 Goulash Soup from Germany, this was a hearty beef stew with lots of paprika of two different kinds. It was good but didn’t seem exotic at all.
  4. 1/16/19 Bolivian Chili, a tomato based vegetarian soup with chick peas instead of kidney beans and chunks of sweet potato. It was much better than the description would make you think.
  5. 1/21/19 Arstoppa, a Swedish yellow split pea soup. Subtle in flavor but very good. It didn’t take long to discover that most European soups were similar to the soups I grew up on, makes sense since I am German heritage from mid-West America.
  6. 1/28/19 Lohikeitto, a Finish Salmon soup with potatoes. Basically a typical potato soup with chunks of salmon. It was very tasty. I should note that we have food allergies in our household, so any dairy was substituted with soy milk and/or coconut milk.
  7. 2/1/19 Thukpa, a Tibetan noodle soup. This was quite flavorful and made with multiple types of meat, it is on my must make again list.
  8. 2/4/19 From India, Sambar; a spicy lentil vegetarian soup.
  9. 2/20/19 Gombaleves, a Hungarian mushroom soup. It was an odd soup but strangely enticing. Made with multiple types of mushrooms, some dried others fresh. The dried mushroom were re-hydrated and ground into the broth. It was a thick hearty vegetarian dish that was a big hit.
  10. 2/24/19 Laksa from Singapore, a curry like soup made with lots of galangal. Galangal is a rhizome similar to ginger or turmeric. This was the only soup on this list that I had made previously, and along with Tom Kha is one of my favorite soups. I chose to make this one with shrimp.
  11. 2/27/19 Cambodian Samlar Kako, a flavorful chicken vegetable with lemongrass, turmeric, and galangal. Turned out to be one of my favorites.
  12. 3/4/19 From Georgia, Lobio bean soup. This one was quite interesting with ground walnuts, pomegranate molasses, fenugreek and cilantro. It was definitely a unique bean soup.
  13. 3/22/19 Sopa de Peixe from Brazil. A spicy hot fish soup with coconut milk. Definitely one to make again.
  14. 4/1/19 Vietnamese Canh Cua, while usually made with crab, I chose to use shrimp instead. This is a sour noodle soup which, while tasty, I put in too much noodles and it turned out not as good as it could have.
  15. 4/10/19 Sopa de Fideo from Mexico, a chicken noodle soup.
  16. 4/15/19 Cock-a-leekie from Scotland, a chicken and leak soup made with dairy. It was OK, but required more work than it was worth.
  17. 5/8/19 Yemeni Marak Temani, a beef and potato stew. If there was a single favorite, this was it. First had to make Zhug, a chutney-like condiment made from cilantro. Then a spice blend called hawaij containing coriander, cumin, cardamom, and half a dozen other spices. Very flavorful, very tasty.
  18. 5/13/19 Irish Shellfish Chowder, basically it is potato soup that has been put through the food processor and then add shellfish. I used shrimp and scallops, it was ok.
  19. 5/17/19 Italian Kale and Chickpea soup, it has an Italian name but I forgot it. As with many of the European soups, it was a little boring.
  20. 5/19/19 Chinese Taho, I decided to rap up the 20 soups with a desert soup. This one involved making three things: homemade silky tofu, tapioca, and palm sugar syrup and combining them when serving. It was good and learning to curdle soy milk into tofu was a fun experience.

Overall, making 20 international soups was a fun and learning experience. I learned new cooking techniques that I will be using regularly in the future, it got me out of my comfort zone in using some of the more exotic spices, and I got to eat some really good food. Not sure what my next cooking challenge will be, my partner suggests 20 salads, but that doesn’t seem as fun. I know that I will be making a couple of cold soups this summer as gazpacho is the only one I’ve made.

Since we are getting back into the hot season, I will probably break out the One Pot and get back into experimenting with it. Maybe fermentation will be my next challenge.

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RIP My Sweet Girl

Shadow: May 22, 2003 to April 25, 2019

Photopaint of Shadow

Shadow, my loving and faithful friend and companion.

When the Man waked up he said, ‘What is Wild Dog doing here?’ And the Woman said, ‘His name is not Wild Dog any more, but the First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always.’—Rudyard Kipling

She was barely 3 months old when I got her, a bundle of furry energy. I had wanted a companion dog for some time. After settling on a breed (Australian Shepherd), it took me nearly 2 years to find the right one. I initially wanted a German Shepherd, but decided on something smaller–had I known I would get the world’s biggest Aussie…I wouldn’t change a thing.

Shadown as Puppy

At 3 Months

Like every new dog owner, I intended to be tough on her, I told myself she would develop no bad manners. All of that melted away within a day when she was mauled by a pit bull. She spent the night in the hospital and couldn’t walk by herself for nearly a week, I wasn’t tough on that dog, she was my baby girl. She recovered from the mauling remarkably well, her brown eye was weepy from a torn tear duct and she had little biting power due to a broken snout. These things never got in her way other than always losing at tug-of-war, even against puppies.

Shadow with grass

Shadow, somewhere above the Mississippi River.

Shadow was a food gulper. When I got her I thought I could teach her to not gulp by keeping her food bowl full, but that wasn’t the case. She got fat, a problem she would struggle off and on with for her entire life. But it earned her the endearing nickname, “Fatdog” which lasted her lifetime whether her weight was up or down.

Back in the oughts Google bombing was a thing. I set up a sub-domain under the term “ornerycritter” and seeded links so that if you typed “ornery critter” into Google and clicked the I’m Feeling Lucky button it would bring up a picture of Shadow. This probably spoke more to my over abundance of free time at the time than it did to Shadow.

Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace. ― Milan Kundera

After being mauled she became defensive around other dogs, so she and I attended Sirius Puppy School. We both learned a lot and she developed the good habits that would make her a great dog.

Shadow on the beach.

On the beach at Olympic National Park.

Shadow was a well traveled dog visiting 46 states by the time she was eight. I always promised her that we would go to Maine so she could get numbers 47 and 48, but we never made it…time ran out. We did go up to Minnesota last Summer as it was closer than Maine and we couldn’t free up the time needed for a longer expedition. Minnesota is similar to Maine; the great North woods, Moose, views of Canada, etc. She never said if she was disappointed with the switch but we did enjoy a final week long camping experience, even if she wasn’t up for hiking.

Shadow loved camping and visiting National Parks as much as I do. She did all the great parks from Olympic NP to Everglades NP and from Glacier NP to Big Bend NP, as well as most of them in between. We would take camping road trip vacations a couple of times a year, spending lots of time camping and hiking in the National Forests; no man could ask for a better travel companion.

John and Shadow

Me and Fatdog backpacking at Big Sur.

I always thought I would add a second dog when Shadow turned 6. But in 2007, with Shadow barely 4, I went through a dark time. Of course I did the worst possible thing to combat it, I got a puppy. A bouncing Blue Heeler who I named Smokey.

In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.— Edward Hoagland

Shadow didn’t enjoy Smokey as much as I thought she would, but she rose to the occasion and was a stalwart alpha to Smokey’s status seeking beta. However, having a young dog around who was always seeking confrontation led Shadow to age pre-maturely, she quit playing as every romp turned into a battle of supremacy. Shadow maintained her dominance till the end, but it had its toll on her personality. Still, I think she loved Smokey as much as I do.

Shadow and Smokey

Fatdog with her sidekick DooDoo playing in the snow of the High Sierras

Shadow and I lived in Berkeley, California for most of her life. She grew up hiking and playing in Tilden Regional Park and Pt. Isabelle Dog Park; two of America’s jewels both conveniently located within 10 miles of San Francisco. All summer long we would journey across the valley to spend weekends in the Sierra mountains. In the Winter we would often day trip into the mountains to play in the snow. In her senior years we moved to Columbia, Missouri where she got to experience life with four seasons.

I’m an introvert… I love being by myself, love being outdoors, love taking a long walk with my dogs and looking at the trees, flowers, the sky. –Audrey Hepburn

I am going to hijack this ode to Shadow and write just a bit about me. I thought I was ready to let her go. I mourned a little the first time she couldn’t hike all day, a little more when 10 miles got to be too much for her, and again when 5 miles was too much. I mourned for her the first time it took 45 minutes to walk around the block, a little more when I had to start carrying her up and down the half flight of stairs, and again when she couldn’t even make it around the block. I mourned her pain, I mourned her physical and mental decline. I thought this pre-mourning would make it easier to let her go when the time arrived. It didn’t.

She truly was more than just a dog, she was my friend and always faithful companion. It is more than just Smokey and I who will miss her, but everyone whom she touched. With friends from coast to coast, that dog will live on in memories far and wide. Goodbye my friend, I miss you, and always will.

Shadow with flowers.

Shadow grew up in the Bay area parks.

Dogs got personality. Personality will go a long way. –Quentin Tarantino

This photo story covers the first half of Shadow’s life.

I went ahead and did a photo story for the second half of Shadow’s life.

Multiple Victims of Militarized Police

Yesterday the local police ran over and killed a 4 year old who was on the sidewalk of a local high school. It is a terrible thing for everyone involved.

The little girl’s parents are obviously devastated, losing a child will have life long impact. One can only imagine their grief, something no parent should go through.

The officer who inadvertently ran over the little girl is also a victim. She must now live the rest of her life with this on her conscience. Imagine that you had to live with the knowledge that you had snuffed the life out of an innocent child.

Here is news coverage of the accident incident.
Here is the Highway Patrol’s initial accident crash report.

The child, her parents, the officer–all victims.

So who is to blame?

I would argue that the blame should rests with the decline in police officer standards and the militarization of the police. Before we continue, watch the following short video.

This video features the officer involved. There are a few things that can be gleaned from the video.

First, she is very petite. When faced with an adversary, say a drunken college student, her only option is a weapon with the potential for serious injury or death. The officer then becomes judge, jury and executioner solely due to falling police standards. This isn’t to argue against female police, simply to state that there should be some minimal standards for police, male or female. At the 2 minute mark of the video notice her gait, not only is she small but she has a physical handicap.

Second, even though we live in a city, the police insist on driving SUVs, and very large ones at that. Every single police car on our streets is an interceptor with built in battering rams. It is not mountainous here, there are no forest service trails to patrol; hell, we don’t even have dirt roads. There isn’t a rational reason why the police all need to drive giant SUVs (except, of course, to project dominance over the populace.) At the 15 second mark of the above video it is clearly evident that the officer can’t see over the hood of the vehicle.

And that in short is why a little girl is dead today. The militarization of the police is to blame. They insist on driving tanks in the city, WTF? Add to that the fact that the police have become adversaries of the general public, basically enemies of the people. No one sane wants to be cop, police departments are left to hire anyone they can, whether qualified or not.

So it was this woman’s dream to be a cop. Ask her today, if given a choice, would she have rather been told that she did not qualify physically to join the police or have to live with this child’s death on her conscience for the rest of her life which she would choose. I can only imagine that she would rather have been politely declined for the position.

The time has come for the police to get back in the business of protecting and serving the community. Until that happens they will struggle for recruits and terrible things like this little girl’s death will continue. It would be great if Columbia could be the start of that change.

On Patriotism

The Washington Post has an opinion piece up today called “Don’t let the nationalists steal patriotism.”

It is garbage.

Patriotism is nationalism and nationalism is patriotism and they are both unmitigated evil.

Patriotism is what we have while nationalism is what “they” have, we view one as being somehow different than the other. Yet, despite our contortions, they are synonyms.

I am simply going to wrap this up early with a few quotes from Tolstoy on patriotism.

This is the opening paragraph from Tolstoy’s 1894 essay “On Patriotism:”

Patriotism today is the cruel tradition of an outlived period, which exists not merely by its inertia, but because the governments and ruling classes, aware that not their power only, but their very existence, depends upon it, persistently excite and maintain it among the people, both by cunning and violence.

Later in the essay he writes:

Patriotism in its simplest, clearest, and most indubitable signification is nothing else but a means of obtaining for the rulers their ambitions and covetous desires, and for the ruled the abdication of human dignity, reason, and conscience, and a slavish enthrallment to those in power. And as such it is recommended wherever it is preached.

He follows that with a simple statement:

Patriotism is slavery.

In the same essay, he continues:

[P]eace between nations cannot be attained by reasonable means, by conversations, by arbitration, as long as the subordination of the people to the government continues, a condition always unreasonable and always pernicious. But the subordination of people to governments will exist as long as patriotism exists, because all governmental authority is founded upon patriotism, that is, upon the readiness of people to subordinate themselves to authority in order to defend their nation, country, or state from dangers which are supposed to threaten.

Elsewhere he wrote:

Tell people that war is an evil, and they will laugh; for who does not know it? Tell them that patriotism is an evil, and most of them will agree, but with a reservation. “Yes,” they will say, “wrong patriotism is an evil; but there is another kind, the kind we hold.” But just what this good patriotism is, no one explains.

Until patriotism is recognized as the evil that it is, we will always have war. And con-men and charlatans will continue to take advantage of us.

 

 

 

Midterm Elections 2018, Gut Response

Net result: Republicans expanded their control of the Senate while the Democrats took control of the House. The bottom line is that there was no blue wave, essentially there is no backlash against Trump’s first two years in office.

Random thoughts in random order.

1) The Democrats overplayed their hand on Kavanaugh, showing that #metoo has limits.  I didn’t really understand the intense opposition to Kavanaugh, he was as good as we would get with Trump and a Republican senate; that battle had already been lost in 2016. Sun Tzu teaches that if you want to win a war then you must choose your battles carefully. This is a lesson that the Democrats never learned. So the Democrats wasted their political capitol on a battle that was never winnable, energized the Republican base in the process, and it cost them some seats in congress.

2) Democratic leadership is not very likable. Every republican running for the House ran against Nancy Pelosi. She is a lightning rod (it is insignificant if rightly or wrongly). She is an astounding 78 years old, how can she be the face of the future?

3) Trump is smarter than we give him credit and his base is passionate. I have no idea what Trump believes in, I’m not sure that he knows, but he has re-shaped the Republican party in his image.

4) As of right now, I don’t see anything blocking Trump’s re-election. It would seem the Democrats are lining up a clown car of Septuagenarians and Octogenarians to challenge him in 2020. I am old enough to remember when the Republicans were the party of old stodgy people, my, how times have changed.

5) Our government is based on the checks and balances of 3 parts of government. Unfortunately the legislative branch has ceded its power to the executive. This imbalance makes us wobbly at best and headed for a serious crash at worst. Trump is not the problem, he is but a symptom. We need to fight the disease while managing the symptoms.

Commentary on Epicurus’ “Letter to Menoeceus”

Some time back I posted Epicurus’s Letter to Menoeceus. You should read that post if you would like to familiarize yourself with it in its entirety. Here, I’ve broken the letter up into segments (the headings are mine) and added commentary to each section. This translation of the letter is by Peter Saint-Andre (2011) and is licensed Creative Commons CCO (public domain).

If you are unfamiliar with Epicurus, or just want some more information, you can start with his Wikipedia page.

(continues below)

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Following you will find Epicurus’ letter in its entirety. It has been broken into topical sections with commentary following each one.

Epicurus Letter to Menoeceus (with commentary)

Who Should Study Philosophy

Epicurus writes

Let no one put off the love and practice of wisdom when young, nor grow tired of it when old. For it is never too early or too late for the health of the soul. Someone who says that the time to love and practice wisdom has not yet come or has passed is like someone who says that the time for happiness has not yet come or has passed. Young or old, it is necessary to love and practice wisdom, so that in old age you can be youthful by taking joy in the good things you remember, and likewise in youth you can be mature by not fearing what will come. Reflect on what brings happiness, because if you have that you have everything, but if not you will do everything to attain it.
Do and practice, then, the things I have always recommended to you, holding them to be the stairway to a beautiful life

Commentary

Here Epicurus answers the question, “when is the time to study wisdom?” The resounding answer is, now. It also must be noted that Epicurus does not prod us to study wisdom, he urges us to love and practice it. To love wisdom is to give it a high value. Learning—particularly of the sort that helps us live a better life—is to be sought after. However, he doesn’t let us stop there. No, he wants us to not only love wisdom, but to practice wisdom. That is, Epicurus wants us to live wisely. We live wisely by studying and then applying what we learn to the events that make up our day.

While it is not specifically touched upon in this letter, Epicurus writes elsewhere that friends are the largest reward of practicing wisdom.

Of all the things that wisdom provides for the complete happiness of one’s entire life, by far the greatest is friendship.
Principal Doctrine 27

For Epicurus, friends are important in that they bring us steady happiness, but they also offer security against the vagaries of life. Good friends are like an insurance policy against adversity.

Epicurus informs us that the love and practice of wisdom will provide happiness. If we can determine what will truly bring us happiness we will have everything. Later in this work we will discuss vain desires; for now let it be said that if we lack the knowledge of what will bring us happiness, we will spend a lifetime chasing vain desires in a failing attempt to achieve it.

The Epicurean Garden was the only school in Athens that, not only admitted women, but that gave them equal standing with the men. While in this letter, Epicurus only mentions the young, the old, and by inference the in-between; we also know that both sexes and all professions (at least those not precipitated by vain desires) are included.

This section ends with Epicurus urging us to “do and practice” his teachings, the rest of the letter reviews those teachings.

Don’t fear god

Epicurus Writes

First, believe that god is a blissful, immortal being, as is commonly held. Do not ascribe to god anything that is inconsistent with immortality and blissfulness; instead, believe about god everything that can support immortality and blissfulness. For gods there are: our knowledge of them is clear. Yet they are not such as most people believe; indeed most people are not even consistent in what they believe. It is not impious to deny the gods that most people believe in, but to ascribe to the gods what most people believe. The things that most people say about the gods are based on false assumptions, not a firm grasp of the facts, because they say that the greatest goods and the greatest harms come from the gods. For since they are at home with what is best about themselves, they accept that which is similar and consider alien that which is different.

Commentary

While modern atheists claim Epicurus as one of their own, it is clear from this passage that he was not an atheist. Epicurus does not reject the notion that there is a god—or even gods. Instead, he rejects the common conceptions of what god is. Epicurus viewed god as the grand creator, an eternal and blissful being who did not take part in the lives of men let alone any individual. Epicurus held up the pagan gods, not as saviors or punishers, but as models that could be held up as examples of virtuous behavior.

Epicurus was a materialist, only matter and the void exist. As such, even the gods are material. Epicurus’ view of religion is that the gods exist but they take no part in human affairs, perhaps we can label it as deistic polytheism.

This section of the letter brings to mind a quote attributed to Epicurus by a 3rd century Christian author, known as the Epicurean Paradox. It reads:

God, [Epicurus] says, either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or He is able, and is unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able. If He is willing and is unable, He is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if He is able and unwilling, He is envious, which is equally at variance with God; if He is neither willing nor able, He is both envious and feeble, and therefore not God; if He is both willing and able, which alone is suitable to God, from what source then are evils? Or why does He not remove them?

Whether this quote originated from Epicurus is unknown. However, if it is based on something that he wrote or said, we should view it as a condemnation of the popular view of god, not as a denial of the existence of god or gods.

Death is nothing to us

Epicurus writes

Second, train yourself to hold that death is nothing to us, because good and evil consist in sensation, and death is the removal of sensation. A correct understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable — not because it gives you an unbounded span of time, but because it removes the desire for immortality. There is nothing terrifying in life to someone who truly understands that there is nothing terrifying in the absence of life.
Only a fool says that he fears death because it causes pain ahead of time, not because it will cause pain when it comes. For something that causes no trouble when present causes only a groundless pain when merely expected. So death, the most terrifying of evils, is nothing to us, because as long as we exist death is not present, whereas when death is present we do not exist. It is nothing to those who live (since to them it does not exist) and it is nothing to those who have died (since they no longer exist).
Most people shrink from death as the greatest of evils, or else extol it as a release from the evils of life. Yet the wise man does not dishonor life (since he is not set against it) and he is not afraid to stop living (since he does not consider that to be a bad thing). Just as he does not choose the greatest amount of food but the most pleasing food, so he savors not the longest time but the span of time that brings the greatest joy. It is simpleminded to advise a young person to live well and an old person to die well, not only because life is so welcome but also because it is through the very same practices that one both lives well and dies well. It is even worse to say that it is good to never have been born, or: Having been born, to pass through the gates of Hades as soon as possible.
If he believes what he says, why doesn’t he depart from life? It is easily done, if he has truly decided. But if he is joking, it is a worthless remark to those who don’t accept it. Remember that what will be is not completely within our control nor completely outside our control, so that we will not completely expect it to happen nor be completely disappointed if it does not happen.

Commentary

Easing the fear of death is one of the primary objectives of Epicurean teaching. It is impossible to live a life of happiness if you are in constant despair about the afterlife. The second paragraph of this section contains one of Epicurus’ best known maxims. To paraphrase, “Death is nothing to us. Where death is, we are not. Where we are, death is not.”

It should be noted that this section begins, “Train yourself…” Once again highlighting the fact that Epicurus taught a practical philosophy, one that was meant to be both studied and lived. It is a familiar refrain for Epicurus to guide us toward action. Epicurus is often prescriptive in his exhortations, he is quoted by a 3rd century Neo-Platonist as having compared a philosopher to a doctor:

A philosopher’s words are empty if they do not heal the suffering of mankind. For just as medicine is useless if it does not remove sickness from the body, so philosophy is useless if it does not remove suffering from the soul.

In paragraph three, Epicurus informs us that the art of living well and the art of dying well are one and the same. For once one learns how to live without undue fears, dying is easy. Here Epicurus uses a food analogy, breaking down his teachings to make them more easily understood.

This section ends with another common Epicurean theme, namely, that most things (and the very future itself) are neither wholly within our control nor wholly outside our control. Keeping this in mind eases the disappointment of things not turning out as planned, while still providing the incentive to make positive impact on the world.

Pleasure is the absence of pain

Epicurus writes

Third, keep in mind that some desires are natural whereas others are groundless; that among the natural desires some are natural and necessary whereas others are merely natural; and that among the necessary desires some are necessary for happiness, some for physical health, and some for life itself. The steady contemplation of these facts enables you to understand everything that you accept or reject in terms of the health of the body and the serenity of the soul — since that is the goal of a completely happy life. Our every action is done so that we will not be in pain or fear. As soon as we achieve this, the soul is released from every storm, since an animal has no other need and must seek nothing else to complete the goodness of body and soul. Thus we need pleasure only when we are in pain caused by its absence; but when we are not in pain then we have no need of pleasure.
This is why we say that pleasure is the beginning and the end of a completely happy life. For we recognize it as the primary and innate good, we honor it in everything we accept or reject, and we achieve it if we judge every good thing by the standard of how that thing affects us. And because this is the primary and inborn good, we do not choose every pleasure. Instead, we pass up many pleasures when we will gain more of what we need from doing so. And we consider many pains to be better than pleasures, if we experience a greater pleasure for a long time from having endured those pains. So every pleasure is a good thing because its nature is favorable to us, yet not every pleasure is to be chosen — just as every pain is a bad thing, yet not every pain is always to be shunned. It is proper to make all these decisions through measuring things side by side and looking at both the advantages and disadvantages, for sometimes we treat a good thing as bad and a bad thing as good.

Commentary

This is an important passage and its significance cannot be overstated. Herein Epicurus explains the types of desires. Epicurus explains that these desires can be divided into three categories: 1) natural and necessary, 2) natural but not necessary, and groundless or vain.

Natural and necessary desires are anything that we need to sustain life, happiness, health and/or friendships. These are the most basic of desires; food, shelter, companionship, etc… These desires should be met as soon as they arise as their lack will cause pain. These desires are easily filled and even wild animals are capable of their fulfillment.

Natural but not necessary desires are those which stem from nature but are not necessary for the cessation of pain. Sometimes these desires require thought to see that they may be unnecessary. Examples would be the desire for rich or extravagant food when hungry when a sandwich will sate the pain of hunger just as well. We have the natural and necessary desire of shelter from the elements but the desire becomes unnatural when we add the desire for marble countertops or brass fixtures or even a larger house than necessary for our needs. These desires rely upon judgement to decide if they should be fulfilled. The main criteria of judgement is to ask what effect fulfilling or not fulfilling this desire will have on our natural and necessary desires. For instance, wanting to satisfy midday hunger is a natural and necessary desire; you should, therefore, eat lunch. But should you eat lunch out with your co-workers every day? Wanting lunch is natural, eating out is not necessary.

Desires provide pleasure to the extent that they provide relief from pain. A warm but ragged coat provides as much pleasure (absence of pain from cold) as a fine coat. Once the pain leading to the desire is sated, there is no increase in pleasure; once full you cannot increase the pleasure of contentment by eating more food. The opposite is usually the case with over indulgence in meeting a desire leading to discomfort and pain.

Natural wealth is both limited and easy to acquire, but the riches incited by groundless opinion have no end.
Principal Doctrine 15

Here Epicurus calls the third type of desires groundless, elsewhere they are translated as vain. Vain desires are neither natural nor necessary. They are the superfluous desires such as power, prestige, money or fame. Chasing these desires, and even obtaining them, cause pain in the body and mind. If you have power you must remain in constant fear that it will be lost. A simple and happy life of quietude cannot be obtained while fretting over where you will get more and more money or prestige or any other vain desire. Satisfying these desires is as bad as, or even worse, as trying and failing. It is far better to not desire them at all. Sometimes vain desires cause short term pleasure, the question then becomes at what expense to our future pleasures?

Self-Reliance

Epicurus Writes

Fourth, we hold that self-reliance is a great good — not so that we will always have only a few things but so that if we do not have much we will rejoice in the few things we have, firmly persuaded that those who need luxury the least enjoy it the most, and that everything natural is easily obtained whereas everything groundless is hard to get. So simple flavors bring just as much pleasure as a fancy diet if all pain from true need has been removed, and bread and water give the highest pleasure when someone in need partakes of them. Training yourself to live simply and without luxury brings you complete health, gives you endless energy to face the necessities of life, better prepares you for the occasional luxury, and makes you fearless no matter your fortune in life.

Commentary

Self-reliance comes up repeatedly in the teachings of Epicurus, usually translated as self-sufficiency. Closely tied to self-reliance is voluntary simplicity with the two being inextricable. To paraphrase the opening of this section, Epicurus writes that we should not seek self-sufficiency to be content with a little, but so that when we have a lot we can truly appreciate it. For when you depend on extravagance, it brings but little joy; but one who can be happy with a little will gain immense pleasure when extravagance offers itself. Again, Epicurus brings up “training yourself”, this time in reference to living simply. Training to Epicurus means study and practice, repeated until it becomes your nature.

For the practicing Epicurean, self-reliance is based in prudence and mental balance and is more psychological than physical. Remember that Epicurus put great emphasis on friendship, the self-reliance that he espouses does not mean that we should be rugged individuals struggling against nature. Instead we strive for balance, secure in our friendships and living within the constraints prescribed by nature. For the Epicurean self-sufficiency is about being content with what we have, and not in wishing for what we don’t have. Summing up Epicurus’ view on self-sufficiency, the Roman philosopher, statesman, and dramatist—Seneca—quotes him in a letter:

If you wish to make [a person] rich, do not add to his store of money, but subtract from his desires.

For Epicurus, self-reliance is about self-rule, or autarchy; by which he means self-sufficiency, self-control, independence, and self-sovereignty. In Vatican Saying 77 Epicurus is clear on the benefits of self-sufficiency:

The greatest fruit of self-reliance is freedom.

Without self-reliance, without an equal and mutual contract with friends, we become slaves to the vagaries of our existence, freedom itself becomes unobtainable.

Pleasure

Epicurus writes

So when we say that pleasure is the goal, we do not mean the pleasures of decadent people or the enjoyment of sleep, as is believed by those who are ignorant or who don’t understand us or who are ill-disposed to us, but to be free from bodily pain and mental disturbance. For a pleasant life is produced not by drinking and endless parties and enjoying boys and women and consuming fish and other delicacies of an extravagant table, but by sober reasoning, searching out the cause of everything we accept or reject, and driving out opinions that cause the greatest trouble in the soul.

Commentary

Pleasure, Epicurus defines it, is to be free of bodily pain and mental disturbance. When Epicurus originally declared that pleasure is the goal of life, the repudiation was quick and sure. First the Stoics and neo-Platonists decried and maligned the teachings of Epicurus, soon enough it was the early Christians piling on. When the Stoics were absorbed by the Christians, the last few remaining books by and about Epicurus were all but destroyed. It would be 1000 years before Epicureanism was rediscovered. All of this is to say that the world was not ready to wrap its collective mind around the concept of virtuous hedonism such as that espoused by Epicurus.

Had those persecutors only stopped and read, as you have, this passage from Epicurus’ own hand, they could have seen that Epicurus did not propose hedonistic debauchery as the path to a pleasant life. Epicurus calls out the debased pleasures–drinking, endless parties, sex, rich food, and an extravagant table—as not only being impediments to pleasure, but outright obstacles.

To understand Epicurus’ conception of pleasure, one must first understand that he differentiated between pleasurable states and pleasurable motions. Pleasurable motions are fleeting and caused by outside stimuli. These pleasures include such things as eating decedent food, playing with a puppy, sex, extreme sports, drug induced euphoria, etc… While often intense, these pleasures are fleeting and end as soon as the stimulus ends. When you finish the rich food, not only does the pleasure end, but there is often discomfort of the body and sometimes turmoil of the mind, not dissimilar to the effects of other pleasurable motions. Pleasurable states are pleasures of contentment, they are the absence of pain and discomfort of the mind and body. To be free from worry or not to be cold or hungry. Pleasurable states are the preferred source of pleasure. While not every pleasurable motion causes pain, so many do that they must all be held suspect.

Practical wisdom

Epicurus Writes

Practical wisdom is the foundation of all these things and is the greatest good. Thus practical wisdom is more valuable than philosophy and is the source of every other excellence, teaching us that it is not possible to live joyously without also living wisely and beautifully and rightly, nor to live wisely and beautifully and rightly without living joyously. For the excellences grow up together with the pleasant life, and the pleasant life is inseparable from them.

Commentary

Most translations of this passage use “virtue” in place of “excellence.” Here Epicurus is telling us that wisdom in practice is more valuable than the love of knowledge, and is in fact the source of every virtue. One cannot live happily without also living virtuously, likewise one cannot live virtuously without also living happily. Here Epicurus is informing us that we should live virtuously, not for some future reward, nor as an end in itself; but we must live virtuously as a precondition of the happy life. Wisdom is not something to learn, Epicurus tells us, it is something that must be done. Back in the first section of this letter, Epicurus extolled us “do and practice” these things, this bears repeating here:

Do and practice, then, the things I have always recommended to you, holding them to be the stairway to a beautiful life.

The happy one

Epicurus writes

In short, whom do you consider better than someone who holds pious opinions about the gods, who is always fearless in the face of death, who has reasoned out the natural goal of life, and who has understood that the limit of good things is easy to fulfill and easy to achieve, whereas the limit of bad things is either short-lived or causes little pain? Someone who laughs at destiny, which is asserted by some to be the master of all things? For he holds that we are responsible for what we achieve, even though some things happen by necessity, some by chance, and some by our own power, because although necessity is not accountable he sees that chance is unstable whereas the things that are within our power have no other master, so that naturally praise and blame are inseparably connected to them. Indeed he sees that it would be better even to cleave to the myths about the gods (since that leaves some hope of prevailing upon them through worship) than to be subject to the destiny of the scientists (since that way lies an inexorable necessity). And such a man holds that Fate is not a god (as most people believe) because a god does nothing disorderly, and he holds that Fate is not an uncertain cause because nothing good or bad with respect to a completely happy life is given to men by chance, although it does provide the beginnings of both great goods and great evils. And he considers it better to be rationally unfortunate than irrationally fortunate, since it is better for a beautiful choice to have the wrong results than for an ugly choice to have the right results just by chance.

Commentary

This section begins with Epicurus describing one who is truly happy. The first sentence is an abbreviated version of the Four Part Cure. The Four Part Cure (or Remedy), also called the Tetrapharmakos, is a key component of Epicurean thought, it goes:

Don’t fear god,
Don’t worry about death;
What is good is easy to get,
What is terrible is easy to endure.

The Four Part Cure is a summation of the first four of the Principal Doctrines. This, easily enough to memorize, couplet is not meant to be simply repeated in times of perplexity, it is meant to be ingrained through self-training and practice until it becomes our nature. The Four Part Cure is like a vaccine inoculating us against disease, in this case it helps prevent diseases of the mind. Worry about God, about death, about meeting our needs, or about enduring pain are as harmful to the mind as a cancer is to the body.

Epicurus then articulates that some things happen through necessity, some through chance and some through our own agency. It is those things within our agency that are of import and those who focus on necessity and chance cannot obtain the happy life. Epicurus does concede that it is better to believe in the myths of the gods (chance) than it is to believe in predestiny (necessity).

Go, and practice these things

Epicurus writes

So practice these and similar things day and night, by yourself and with a like-minded friend, and you will never be disturbed whether waking or sleeping, and you will live as a god among men: for a man who lives in the midst of immortal goods is unlike a merely mortal being.

Commentary

Epicurus wraps up the letter with an exhortation to practice these things. He doesn’t say read and remember, or study, but he says do them—every day and every night, alone or with a like-minded one. He promises that if we practice and do these things that we can live a life of bliss, not dissimilar to the gods, for anyone who lives a life of pleasure and joy is not like a mere mortal.

What Epicurus is telling us to do consists of internalizing the Four Part Cure, ending our vain desires while decreasing those desires that are natural but not necessary, giving preference to pleasurable states, and living a life of quiet simplicity amongst friends.

Epilogue

Since hardly anything else survived from the writings of Epicurus, we must have gratitude that this letter is among the surviving remnants. This letter is a treasure trove for exploring Epicurus’ ethics, this present work has barely scratched the surface of all that it contains.

All three of the key Epicurean ethical teachings are present in this work, two directly and one indirectly. The key ethical teachings are: The Four Part Cure, the classification and control of desires, and the preferred type of pleasure.

Epicurus’ ethical thought is also encapsulated in the Principal Doctrines (sometimes translated as Sovran Maxims) and the Vatican Sayings. Both of these works can be found in my book, “Back to the Garden: Epicurus and the Happy Life” which is available from MidMo.US.

Epicurus: On Desires

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After the Tetra Pharmakos (Four Part Cure), the control of desire is one of Epicurus’ main teachings.

Before desires can be controlled they must be recognized and classified. Epicurus wrote of three types of desires. First are those desires which are natural and necessary, food, shelter, companionship, the avoidance of pain, etc… Desires of this type are limited and easily fulfilled.   It is not only safe to fulfill these desires, but it is a necessity to avoid pain and discomfort.

Second are those desires that are natural but not necessary; rich food when a simple meal will do, a new car when the old one is still serviceable. These desires are not to be pursued because they often get in the way of our natural and necessary desires; however, should they present themselves, there is no harm in partaking them in moderation. For example, we all need shelter from the elements, but if you purchase a larger or fancier house then required, you increase the likelihood that you will suffer at least some distress about making payments, repairs, and/or upkeep.

Lastly are those desires that are neither natural or necessary, Epicurus called these vain and empty desires and they include such things as wealth, power, fame, etc… These desires are completely manufactured and can never be adequately sated while offering no positive correlation with a happy life. Most of these desires can be traced to the vain ideal of wanting the approval of others.

Epicurus urged his followers to , as much as they are able, live unnoticed…to live a quiet life away from public scrutiny. For those who thrive on power and fame must of necessity toil to keep it and worry that it will be diminished, making the happy life unobtainable.

Being aware of the type of each desire is the first step in controlling them.

For Epicurus, the happy life demands limiting your desires to those that are both natural and necessary, moderating and never overindulging those desires that are natural but unnecessary, and avoiding those desires that are neither natural or necessary.

“If you wish to make Pythocles rich, do not add to his store of money, but subtract from his desires.”
–Epicurus