Saturday, 12 March 2011

Suffering in the world


Since we are creatures of this world, we are motivated by a desire to attain pleasure and to relieve suffering; yet since we are transcendentally-orientated creatures this desire cannot be primary.


So long as we perceive suffering in the world - even if that suffering is just insufficient pleasure or mere boredom - then we will be motivated to end it.

Indeed, we are motivated to end suffering everywhere and for everyone for all time - simply as a matter of security.

(Because so long as suffering happens, it could happen to us - and if there is no more suffering, then we need not fear it.)


But suppose that there was no such motivation to end suffering - either because all suffering has been ended, or because all suffering as been ended so far as we know.

What then?


Do we imagine that when all suffering has been ended then we can shift our aspiration to higher things?

Do we really think that is what would happen?


Is this, in fact, what we observe?

Are the societies that suffer least, those which aspire highest?

Are those individuals who are most free from suffering, also those individuals who have their sights set on the highest ideals?


 Do we, in a word, conceive high ideals as luxury goods?


(And what is our society's idea of higher things, anyway? Well, obviously we don't mean religious ideals, because as a society we don't believe in God, nor even the immortal soul. And spirituality without religion is just psychotherapy - so just another way of seeking pleasure; not higher at all. Like the lifestyle arts - restaurants, clothes, holidays... merely fashions, therefore the opposite of 'high'. Ummm - The Arts?  Shakespeare, Beethoven, Rembrandt - that kind of thing... oh, I forgot, we are beyond all that now; shock, disgust, subversion - that's what we like, isn't it. Not exactly 'high'. Philosophy and Science?... well, this is just getting embarrassing, we've just got rid of these and replaced geniuses with committees of sensible bureaucrats. How about having unrestrained and passionate political discussions in bars and cafes, is that it? Exploring new forms of sexuality and morality - are these the higher things? Somehow it doesn't seem right... Simmering self-loathing and slow cultural suicide? -Now you're talking! Those are the sort of high ideals that we love.)


Or could it be that high ideals are, in some way or another, a product of suffering - or, if not exactly suffering, of a state of discontent?

Um - yes, that is right.

Isn't it?

It is our suffering that prompts us to look beyond the mundane.

(Prompts us - but does not force us.)


Is suffering then good?

Obviously not.

As worldly creatures we are, and must be, motivated to escape suffering in some sense.

But suffering is - if not good - surely necessary in this world.

And - surely - a primary devotion to the elimination of suffering (i.e. the new religion, the new 'Christianity' indeed) is therefore not merely utopian or futile - but is actually evil.


Repeat: although suffering is obviously not good; a primary devotion to the elimination of suffering is actually evil.

Because suffering is a prompt to look higher, to look beyond.


I am saying that it is - not that it ought to be: suffering just is that which prompts us to transcendence; suffering that ultimately derives from the perceived insufficiency of the world.

We just are creatures who perceive the world as insufficient.

And the only way we can get rid of this perception is to kill it.


We cannot make the world sufficient, we can only kill the perception that the world is insufficient.

But we can do that: for most of the people, for most of the time.

And that is, of course, precisely what we are doing.


Indeed, although we are, and must be, and should not try not to be, creatures of this world; a primary devotion directed at anything of this world (including the elimination of suffering) is evil.

Our primary devotion must be The Good - the transcendental Good, a something not of this world.


Or else we (and everyone else) might as well be dead, or never live in the first place, as the surest means of avoiding suffering...

... just as we 'put down' a suffering animal; whom we suppose not to have a soul, and whose role is to serve humans and/ or be happy - and if the animal can no longer serve humans nor be happy and is suffering, then it might as well be dead

- so we kill it.

And anything else we suppose not to have a soul - from humane motives - to eliminate suffering.


Here is the hard bit.

The real sin here is not in the killing, whatever its scale, but in the reason for killing.

A soul-less society of soul-less individuals (that's how we perceive ourselves), killing soul-less entities as and when... necessary; because it is rational to kill soul-less entities when they suffer, or will suffer, or may cause suffering...

Note the paradox.