Friday, May 1, 2009

A Defense of Suffering, or a Nietzschean Explanation for the Emo Subculture

This past week, abolitionist David Pearce has been guest blogging on Sentient Developments. For those who don't recall my first posts abolitionism is a current of transhumanism that is devoted to eliminating all suffering in sentient organisms. Pearce's posts have suggested going so far as to alter predatory animals so that they can not inflict pain on their food (probably by making them into herbivores). Anyone who's taken Biology in high school knows that an ecosystem with no carnivores or parasites is unsustainable so I will not comment on that here. I am posting to state why I wholeheartedly disagree with the notion that suffering should be eliminated.

In case you haven't read enough of my blog to realise it, I am a fan of the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche, and am probably one of the few transhumanists who admits to it, one of his ideas was the Will to Power, the concept that the most basic instinct of all life was to not only live but to succeed. Related to that concept he speculated that without external challenges for man to strive to overcome, man would turn inwards and become self-destructive. As for his specific ideas on suffering, he didn't state it as so but it can be summed up simply: suffering allows one to appreciate the better parts of life. Which brings me to my hypothesis on the origin of the "emo" subculture, they don't know how good they've got it.

Our general quality of life improves with each generation, it's gotten to the point where many teenagers (who make up the majority of "emos") barely have to do any work outside of school in order to go to college, as opposed to the 19th century when only the upper classes needed that little effort. Without sufficient challenges in life and fairly little suffering to provide perspective they come to feel that their comparatively care-free lives are harsh and cruel, or at least that's what they claim in their ridiculously whiny blogs. Fortunately it's just a stereotype that emo kids cut themselves or commit suicide at a higher than normal rate (and just so you know, the emotional disorders that result in self-cutting and suicide are completely different), but the suicide rate among teenagers is still one of the highest for the Western world. I think that if all high school students were required to spend a week or two living like pre-industrial farmers, the emo subculture would die out in less than a generation.

Abolitionists want to engineer humans and other animals so that they can no longer suffer, they would also have to completely remove the Will to Power for this to work. To me this seems like it would result in what Nietzsche called the Last Man, a weak-willed individual who takes no risks and seeks nothing more than comfort and security, not to mention being incredibly lazy. In order for a society to be able to move forward at least some members of a society would need to retain the Will to Power or some equivalent drive, these Uebermensch need not necessarily be human, they would more likely be posthumans or super intelligent AI (I suspect that this is the role that the Minds in Iain M. Bank's The Culture stories fulfill). I would prefer that all members of society retain their drives to succeed, as it would make life a little more interesting if anyone could at least try to become the leader.


davidpearce said...

1) We can run an ecosystem by e.g reprogramming/phasing out the carnivores and using depot contraception for the herbivores to prevent a population explosion.
Is this technically ambitions? Yes, but it's computationally fairly modest compared to some of the other schemes futurists contemplate.

2) dopaminergic "power drugs" are not merely euphoriants and painkillers. They also enhance motivation. Instead of making us weak-willed, dopaminergic drugs (and gene therapies) could make us stronger.
See e.g.
I'm not arguing that this form of well-being is necessarily desirable. Arguably, enhanced dopamine function in alpha males increases existential and global catastrophic risk. But Nietzschean devotees of the will-to-power needn't worry that the abolition of suffering will turn us into milksops...

Dave Pearce

Anonymous said...

Hi there

Thanks for writing this blog, loved reading it

Anonymous said...

Great post, I am almost 100% in agreement with you

Anonymous said...


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