AR Philosophy > Morality Index

The Theory And Practice Of Hell

Each day we butcher millions of other sentient beings because we like the taste of their flesh. The functional development and intensity of suffering of our victims tends to match the capacities of human infants and toddlers. The contrast in our attitude and behaviour toward them could scarcely be greater.

Imagine the anguish caused by an oxyacetylene torch applied, if only to a few seconds, to your child's face. Unspeakably appalling? Yet each day we pay by our choice of food purchases to have other living creatures treated no less abominably. An over-statement? Surely factory-farming and the apparatus of mechanised killing, even in their worst excesses, can rarely be that bad? No, in a sense the reality is worse. What it's like for our victims is more terrible than we can typically imagine. In fact, on the few occasions in life when pain that's even relatively severe strikes us down personally, we are shocked into a spirit-sapping realization. The casual use of the word "pain" evokes only the palest shadow of the frightfulness of the experience which lies behind it. Pain is uniquely awful. The state-dependence of memory obscures this. The problem is not that our everyday language is emotive. It's that we can't use it to be emotive enough.

Jewish writer Hanna Arendt once wrote of the "banality of evil". For it transpires that most of the bureaucrats who actually organized the human Holocaust in the Nazi era were not sadistic psychopaths in the usual sense of the term. Many were devoted husbands, loving fathers and cultivated family men. They were motivated by a distorted sense of duty rather than a relish for bloodshed or suffering for its own sake. Somehow it seems the "dissociation of sensibility" between their feelings and the effects of their actions was complete. The same is true of most of our own vivisectors, abattoir managers and the bureaucrats in charge of the mass-killing apparatus. So they shouldn't be demonized. They must still be stopped.

Life in a state of Nature is nonetheless often little kinder than a life of barbarous abuse by Man. So should we respect the ways of Nature simply because they are "natural"? Or is homage to the pain-ridden products of selfish genes as harmful a superstition as any? In one sense, after all, animals no more need liberating than babies and toddlers need liberating: they need looking after. There is only one long-term way to abolish the ghastliness of suffering on a planetary scale. Such a strategy entails eradicating its biological roots via the systematic application of genetic-engineering and nanotechnology. This major transition in the evolution of life will replace the DNA-driven substrates of raw nastiness. Their molecular architecture will be succeeded by modes of consciousness more beautiful than anything we can currently imagine.

Counter-intuitively, there are grounds for speculating that the world's last aversive experience, probably some (relatively) minor pain in some (to us) obscure marine invertebrate, will be a well-defined event. It will be as precisely dateable as any other historical milestone; and far more important. For it will mark the end of the ugliest chapter in the history of life on earth.

Some people who care deeply about animals are still shocked at the implications of such an ambitious species-project. A great many animal-lovers would oppose the loss, for instance, of the symbolically-charged big predators in their traditional guise. This is in spite of the cruelty and suffering inflicted on the weak, the old and the vulnerable which their present carnivorous habits entail. To anyone of a vaguely humanistic or spiritual-religious disposition, a blueprint to end the primeval DNA regime might seem the vision of a soulless technocrat. Yet there's nothing soulful about rampant, pointless and utterly out-of-control suffering. The much-advertised "Death of God" shouldn't spell the loss of paradise, too; and there is only one scientifically literate way its promise is ever going to be realized.

So what can be done right now? Fighting the ideology that sustains the vast apparatus of oppression is indeed vital; but shutting down the apparatus itself is what counts.