Long ago, I poorly tried to cope with the suffering in the world by balancing it against human enjoyment. There are aspects of existence we find intensely enjoyable and we fervently pursue these experiences. We impart additional value and meaning to experiences we perceive as intensely pleasurable, and so these things become “important” to our lives. Perhaps we could use such experiences as a kind of respite from the horror. I saw this as a kind of consolation prize for having to suffer so damn much. A necessary hedonism to offset the agony. It doesn’t work because most of our suffering is unnecessary – and much of our unnecessary suffering revolves around the very objects of our pleasure.
The idea of some kind of balance or trade-off existing with suffering never satisfied me and eventually my views developed, but for a time I leaned toward this idea as much as I could in order to cope with my own, mostly self inflicted misery. It didn’t work. I just created new denials and false beliefs to support the original mistake, and I feel this kind of doubling down on our mistakes is a very common theme throughout the human experience – because of our emotional addictions and the expectations and beliefs supporting them.
Eventually I realized that suffering is simply abhorrent. That our own matter enslaves us with suffering to compel us to continue to exist in an environment too marginal to be very enjoyable for any kind of thinking and feeling life.
Further, suffering is the true driver of evolution. The well founded ideas of evolutionary adaption is based on the idea that when organisms develop mutations or cognitive tactics that enhance the survival of the affected organism, this organism will flourish and its obsolete predecessors who lack the advantageous trait may eventually die out.
Improved chances of survival to reproduce correlate with mitigation of some form of suffering the organism endured. The obsolete versions of the organism that lack the new and beneficial trait go on suffering whatever pressure or danger the adaption helps to mitigate.
And so it goes with people, too. We are still evolving and on some scales this is happening faster than ever before. If we were to survive long enough to see the changes, the impacts of our actions to date have already upended whatever course human evolution may have been following. There are many, many issues contributing to this and I can’t list them all, but the impacts of plastic pollution, PFOAs, heavy metals like Mercury and Lead, and small particulate pollution (PM 2.5) from coal pollution are all examples of environmental contaminants we have repeatedly unleashed on ourselves and our world on a scale that impact our reproduction.
These substances pervade the air, water, earth, and ice found everywhere in the world and they pervade our bodies, too. It is reasonable and safe to think that some of these substances have impacted our genetics and they’ve certainly affected our quasi-natural selection. Lead and Mercury toxicity both induce long term behavioural changes in their victims, as a glaring example.
We have so gravely damaged our world and its ecosystems with these and other pollutants that our future is certain to be dark. On some scales, what this means is that the choices made by generations of people living and dead to disregard the natural limits and properties of our environment have increased the amount of unnecessary suffering we will all endure in the years to come. There is no offsetting this with pleasure or happiness. It’s an ongoing multi-year process that will continue to worsen, and with it our quality of life will continue to diminish. In retrospect, we probably should have been more careful, eh?
I still believe suffering to be entirely abhorrent. I think unnecessary suffering is worse because we could have, at some point, made better and more honest choices to avoid it. I think unavoidable suffering is abhorrent, too, and generally I believe the best way to mitigate these kinds of suffering is through conscious and honest avoidance.
For example, when the village gets wiped out by the neighboring volcano, we wouldn’t rebuild on the spot and wait for it to happen again. We would move a safer distance from the threat, permanently, because we would accept its nature enough to accept that the problem will recur based on the belief that it’s not worth losing human lives and countless man hours of labour every time the Earth decides to belch fire.
Perhaps it’s not the best example, and there are many I could draw upon from various aspects of life, but I think the important takeaway from all of this remains the same as I’ve stated on other pages:
There is no idea so awful we should cower from its honest consideration.
There is no real thing so terrible that we should dishonestly reject its existence.
We must accept the abhorrent as honestly as we can so we might better distinguish which suffering we can mitigate directly, which we should try to avoid, and which we must learn to accept. We must honestly reject such things as are awful and changeable, and this means undertaking a willingness to change ourselves – the people we are and the people we want to be – because a great many of our current beliefs and expectations serve in their own ways to contribute to our collapse and extinction.
If we pretend we have no choice or agency to choose we are permitting the system we imagined into being to dictate who we can be, how we can think, and what we can value. This, too, is abhorrent. It’s another source of a great deal of unnecessary human suffering.