Four Noble Truths: a preface for ending suffering
Why desire is in charge of us, punishment will eventually fail, and addiction is the root of suffering.
The root of all suffering is addiction. We can end suffering by healing from all addictions. Simple, right? Ha. This is a work of logic, not psychological or medical science, and I am writing it in the order it came to me:
Truth One: Desire rules. All other rules are made up.
All morality is unscientific. Every moral judgment you have is based on an assumption you can’t prove is correct. If you think something is morally wrong, you can keep asking “Why is that wrong?” again and again. Eventually you’ll hit a question you can’t answer, and realize that you actually don’t know. The only explanation you’ll be able to give is “Because I don’t want it.”
We don’t do things because they are morally right. We don’t avoid doing things because they are morally wrong. We do things because we want to do them, and we don’t do things because we don’t want to do them. This is the entire science of reward, punishment, and behavioral conditioning: condition behavior you want by associating it with reward, and eradicate behavior you don’t want by making the subject associate the behavior with punishment. Because they want to avoid punishment, they’ll want to avoid the behavior.
The act of punishing something is ultimately an act of judgment: Behavior A is judged as worthy of reward, Behavior B is judged as worthy of punishment. You can ask “Why is Behavior B worthy of punishment?” continuously, and eventually you’ll hit a question you can’t answer. You’ll realize, once again, that you actually don’t know. The only answer you’ll be able to give will again be “Because I don’t want it.”
You reward things because you want them, and you punish things because you don’t want them. Why? Because you want to. There is nothing more objective or moral to it than that. This is why the truth of all society is ultimately anarchy.
The problem is that sometimes, people want to do things you don’t want them to do, even more than they want to avoid the possible punishment for doing so. What you want most always wins out. This will always be true, no matter the act or the punishment. You cannot eradicate unwanted behavior with punishment eternally or always. Even the threat of violence or death does not stop humans universally or always; if it did, the world would have no martyrs and no murders.
Truth Two: Safety comes from freedom and abundance.
The only way to fully eradicate an unwanted behavior is to make it universally unwanted, meaning that no one would ever have any reason to do it. This is why freedom, counterintuitively, is directly correlated with safety. We typically think of safety as imposing necessary limits on freedom and vice versa, which is an understandable miscarriage of logic.
Rather, the freer we all are to meet our needs, and the more abundant the satisfaction of our needs is, the less need we each have to harm one another in order to get our needs met. The less need we have to harm one another, the less we’ll want to.
The only way to eradicate the behavior of humans harming one another is to create a world of such abundance and freedom that no human would have any need to harm anyone else, for everything they needed would be available. This is why a peaceful society is one in which everyone’s material needs are met, and no society that lets needs go unmet can ultimately be peaceful.
Truth Three: A need is not a craving.
The devil is in the details, and that detail is the word “need.” A need is only ever a state of being. When you are cold, you need warmth. Every possible strategy to attain warmth is just that: a strategy to meet your need. Confusing the strategy with the need itself will create suffering. This is true of more nuanced or “non-physical” needs as well: when you are isolated, you need connection. When you are disempowered, you need empowerment. When you are hurt, you need healing. When you are imbalanced, you need to be in equilibrium.
When we believe we need a particular strategy to meet our needs, we enter a state of craving (what Buddhism calls tanha) and our relationship to this strategy becomes addictive. On a philosophical level, that is what an addiction is: the belief that a strategy is a need. This is true of addictions to heroin or exercise, sex or coffee, individual people or status, money or fear. An addiction is always to a “form.” A form is something we define conceptually, such as an object, substance, action, role, identity or thought.
We can tell we have a craving when we experience suffering without a particular form, or when we have an inability to experience a state of contentment and homeostasis without believing we have that form. The continued craving for the form will invariably (though not immediately) produce suffering. From this, we get the Buddhist Noble Truth that craving is the cause of suffering.
We typically think that suffering is the cause of craving; this is not so. Being in a state of need is the cause of need. Craving is the misidentification of need: the conditioned association that a need can be met only through a certain form. A need is only ever a state of being.
Truth Four: Detachment from craving is the path to abundance.
The less we attach to particular forms to meet our needs, the easier our needs are to meet. We will be able to achieve our state of equilibrium more easily when we have more options to meet our needs. We have more options to meet our needs when we are able to reach contentment and homeostasis without requiring particular forms. Satisfaction becomes abundant.
When we release attachment to the forms that meet our needs, and act only towards a state of need-satisfaction through all available forms, we can live in what Taoism calls “flow.” Needs arise to create satisfaction, and satisfaction arises to create needs.
For more, see this earlier article: Anarcho Te Ching.