If you really want to ban pleasure forever, force people into it. Forbidden pleasures still can have a special sweetness, increasing the allure of what might have passed unnoticed. But make people do what they might otherwise enjoy and it is removed from the realm of happiness, forever.
The first question we should ask ourselves, then, is not about what we tend to prohibit (never was alcohol enjoyed so much as during prohibition) but what we force people to do and experience. The Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose has a marvelous passage in his book on The Road to Reality:
“No doubt there are some who, when confronted with a line of mathematical symbols, however simply presented, can see only the stern face of a parent or teacher who tried to force into them a non-comprehending parrot-like apparent competence – a duty, and a duty alone – and no hint of the magic or beauty of the subject might be allowed to come through. Perhaps for some it is too late…”
To start with basics: if a culture forces women into physical interaction and men into “being men” – is it trying to make sure that women never enjoy their sexuality, a psychological genital mutilation? Then a rapist and a ruthless husband may not act so much out of frustration as wanting make sure that women will never feel pleasure again.
When untold millions of teachers and parents force children to learn, in hostile environments and in an unnatural sitting position certain to call for anti-ADD medication, are they trying to make sure that the children don’t enjoy learning and thereby possibly surpass their parents? – This is especially effective against possible upstarts in poor neighborhoods: let’s make sure that the very school buildings look like prisons; let’s make sure we force them like rats through a maze; let’s make sure that nobody wants it and then make them eat shit, for their own good. That’ll teach them not to want to learn!
When we force children to eat healthy foods, are we trying to keep them from becoming too healthy and thus a possible threat?
When we force people to behave ethically (Kant claims that we can only be ethical if we do it out of respect for duty alone) are we trying to undermine our inclination to be ethical, the joy and happiness of interpersonal pleasure, a rising sense of fulfillment?
When piano teachers stick sharp pencils under the hands of the eager young musicians and make them learn stupefying exercises and scales, instead of allowing their fingers to dance across this musical toy invented for pleasure: are they secretly trying to kill young talent while pretending to train it for musical combat with military efficiency?
If there is some truth in all this, then abuse, child abuse, spouse abuse, employee abuse, abuse of trust, abuse of positional power, all that starts long before its many ugly extremes. Abuse starts when we force others to do anything “for their own good,” because then we make sure that they do not to want to do what is good for them.
Having grown up with such insidious abuse, we may have lost awareness of our own motives, but they are nonetheless part of a social sickness.