Should we commit suicide?
In a cruel world perhaps we should embrace the skull beneath the smile.
When the British in India decided to punish those involved in the mutiny of 1857 one technique used to dispose of the mutineers was to tie the guilty parties before a cannon and then blow them to pieces.
This trick — learned from the Mughal Empire (multiculturalism is about more than exchanging culinary achievements, apparently) — was rather messy since the vacuum created by the body blocking the cannon’s muzzle caused the entrails and viscera to splatter the cannoneers.
British women rode their horses towards the bloody mist to be refreshed by the blood of those who had murdered their brothers, husbands, and children.
Their horses turned from black and white to roan red in the blood-mist.
These details I gained from a sensationalist, popular history of the Indian mutiny published in the 1960s.
The latter detail seems a little fantastical to me, for I cannot quite believe that a horse could close the distance to the cannon soon enough after it had been fired for the women to be drenched in blood.
But it is not impossible.
And, as someone who has dated quite a few British women, I can quite believe they would bathe in the blood of their enemies.
We tell ourselves that we have advanced beyond this behaviour, though I cannot believe this is so.
We say we have identified the problem: Religion, nationalism, imperialism, socialism, totalitarianism, Marxism, capitalism, and many, many others.
But this is so much distraction. The real problem is us.
The Holocaust, the Gulags, the Cultural Revolution, the Rwandan genocide, the Yugoslav civil war, the Syrian civil war, and so on, and on, and on— and so forth.
Human history is, at one level, one long blood trail mixed with semen.
We are experts in pain.
So far I have written about war, but this hardly accounts for all the suffering humans inflict on each other, and themselves.
There are the rapes, the crimes, the betrayals, the petty cruelties committed just to see what happens, the failed love affairs, the looks of disgust, the hateful words spat at strangers, the pleasure of the bully, the taunt, and the cats skinned alive on video.
Aside from what humans inflict upon each other, we must also account for what nature inflicts on us. The exquisitely slow deaths from cancer (pain is always exquisite; why?). The bizarre mental illnesses that destroy a person’s ability to appreciate the world. Old age itself, which leaves us at the end impotently hollowed out in our own ordure.
Worse still is the terrible pathos that comes about from the gap that occurs when we create illusions to conceal this foetid reality from ourselves.
I heartily prefer flu over seeing the cheery birthday greetings cards in an old people’s home. Sentimental words mixed with the sugary smell of premature decay is noisome.
Then again, I do get a small thrill from seeing what people have written in the cards.
Indeed, we are so disordered that we cannot express love and affection for each other except in the most indirect, covert ways lest we fall into sentimentality.
When love is communicated it is all done — as magicians know— with mirrors.
We much prefer to be hated and to hate because hate is almost never fake.
So much better to be sincerely hated than for someone to say, “I love you,” without meaning it.
Pain has dominion over the Earth.
And even the desire for pain to end creates pain.
We know that everything we create and build will come nothing and be forgotten. No matter how large our empire or how wide our fame it will all be as if we never existed.
Children give us a little immortality, though they may die prematurely or fail to reproduce.
On the longest timescale the universe will experience heat death — the movement is to stillness.
Our fascination with weapons has furnished us with a tool for our delivery.
“War is the father and king of all: some he has made gods, and some men; some slaves and some free.” Heraclitus (535–475BC), Fragments.
We have the means to end this pain by nuclear euthanasia, as John Dolan has suggested.
War has given us the nuclear weapon, along with the potential to end all life (and so pain) on Earth.
We should do so because pleasure is the absence of pain; so even accounting for any future pleasures that may be seen to offset the pain to come, we know that non-existence with pain totally absent is a greater good than existing (or potential) pleasure counterposed to pain.
Therefore, we have a moral imperative to end life on this planet.
But here I must disappoint you.
What makes human beings unique — in the universe so far as we know — is that we are, as Schopenhauer and Bryan Magee noted, material objects that are aware of our materiality.
This uniqueness is not a reason for us to continue life; but it does mean that we, unlike any other creature, can use our consciousness of ourselves as organised matter to create values.
Our values precede many aspects of how we perceive the world.
Importantly, our values decide what importance and weight should be given to the concepts ‘pleasure’ and ‘pain’.
Since our values are a prior, organising factors in pleasure and pain these two attributes cannot be used to evaluate values.
We cannot say that our values are valueless because our values cause us pain for that presupposes that pain creates value itself when it does not.
We live beyond pleasure and pain.
Our values cannot transcend pleasure and pain but we cannot be held under the gun by pain either.
Ugly world, you shall live.