The abolition of suffering has been advanced for many years as a transhumanist ideal by IEET Fellow David Pearce. Recently, the Longevity Party engaged in a debate about it’s value.
Should “abolishing suffering” be included on the platform of the LP? Would the elimination of pain cause serious side effects, for example, would it cripple social activism and art?
Participants included IEET contributors Ilkka Vuorikuru, Nikki Olson, David Pearce, “The Praxis” author Dirk Bruere, and other members of the LP. Below is the transcript of the conversation (spelling and grammatical errors have been left unchanged):
Ilkka Vuorikuru: Here’s a question. Should we have policies that makes SSRI (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) medicine more widely available? I myself am not sure what the right answer would be, but yesterday I gave some thought for it. Here is the argument for it: If the human brain reacts to it’s environment and if the “modern way of life” (urban living and working) raises the risk for depression and mood shifts, the should it not be good, if we could medicate the masses? There are two alternatives: either we create a “sporty feel good society” (cultural change) or we create an easy access to mood medicine (medical change). The first takes a long time and the latter works faster. Also, people who use SSRI medicine tend to be on a better mood and therefore they could be interested in making the social change for a happier and better society.
Hank Pellissier: my first instinct is to definitely agree—yes it should be more widely available.
Ilkka Vuorikuru: The good side to this is that this (somewhat Transhuman alternative) is possible as we speak.
Ilkka Vuorikuru: The use of antidepressants is a global phenomenon. But, they are often seen as medicine. The other option would be to see them as a “lifestyle pill” or something that has a positive and a “natural” connotation. That would be a base for a new kind of a working/living culture. Is there any research etc. done on the topic?
Marko Koskinen: I quite doubt the effect of these pills. Not that it wouldn’t do the job at the moment, but for a longer run, I would guess that they prevent the natural healing of physical and mental problems, because they hide the actual problems that cause the depression… It’s easier to take a pill than change your lifestyle, and if you get the good feeling from the pill, then why bother changing the lifestyle anymore?
Alberto Mura: In general i wonder what you guys think about David Pearce abolition program… (here a sort of manifesto http://www.abolitionist.com/) I fear that the problem of future good drug abuse now is a bit understimated by transhumanist communities, and that mood pharmacological remedies could push umanity in a sort of whoolen nirvana =/
Dirk Bruere: At Zero State we are generally in favor of the Abolitionist program, and it is being written into the Consensus manifesto and international principles. I would hope that Longevity parties also embrace it. Surprisingly, it may well be the easiest H+ tech to implement. http://cdfp.org/
Hank Pellissier: I rather agree with Dirk above. I am quite a fan of David Pearce, in fact, I think I will let him know we’re discussing his ideas here. I am in favor of the abolition of suffering as a transhumanist goal. But let’s see if I can get david here to defend his POV…
Dirk Bruere: I should add that David is heavily involved with ZS
David Pearce: Most transhumanists are life-loving optimists who would like to live indefinitely. But there are hundreds of millions of depressive people across the world for whom time hangs heavy and life goes on too long. Unless we edit our genetic source code, I fear this terrible burden of suffering will continue, generation after generation. Today’s drugs can only be stopgaps IMO. The SSRIs, for example, can have a useful emotional buffering effect. But they also tend to flatten emotions and kill libido - with all sorts of implications for personal relationships.
Of course even most depressives don’t want to grow old: “Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life - full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.” (Woody Allen, Annie Hall)
David Pearce: Marko, whereas mu opioids tend to promote “liking”, dopaminergics tend to promote “wanting”. Whether via tomorrow’s designer drugs or gene therapy, we could be hypermotivated as well as blissfully happy. That is the beauty, I think, of recalibrating the hedonic treadmill to promote information-sensitive gradients of well-being - instead of aiming for a uniform happiness.
Dirk Bruere: How difficult to do a gene tweak in Humans to accomplish this?
Alberto Mura: Dear David, sincere greetings. I share your worry for mood diseases, which are certainly one of the afflictions of modern world, but I think that the egg (Woody Allen’s) point is a strong example of how deep and unconditional love we could feel for a rough life. My fear is that emotional competition (internal and external) is fundamental for real satisfaction, and thus happiness. When I feel good I feel special. I fear that if everyone can reach a similar state of mind through pills I could feel in some ways cheated. This is my point. Thanks for your time, and forgive my poor english.
Dirk Bruere: I feel that everyone ought to be given the choice. As soon as we consider prohibition to be a valid response to such tech we are extending a vast and failed “war on drugs” right into the heart of H+.
David Pearce: Dirk, yes indeed, the issue of choice is critical. To anyone who disagrees with phasing out the biology of suffering, I’d simply ask: when unpleasant experience of any kind becomes technically optional, would you force anyone to suffer again their will? If so, then how much, for how long, and enforced by what means?
David Pearce: Alberto, could you possibly clarify? Would you seek to prevent someone being happy - whether by drugs, gene therapy or any other “non-natural” means?
Alberto Mura: I have not a clear opinion, but in some ways I think that happiness needs unhappiness to be strong as we know it. Satisfaction emerges from differences, and a genetic or drug program will flatten some of this differences. These are my worries.
Marko Koskinen: My point is that emotions are crucial information for our species to survive, and if we remove the connection between our emotions and our environment, then I fear that this natural survival mechanism doesn’t work for us anymore. We’re seeing it right in front of us all the time. People are just pumped up with drugs so that they can work their 8-12 hour work shifts without questioning the system. Our problems isn’t our feelings, it’s the system we live in. We need to change the system, not our feelings. I agree that it should be a matter of choice though. Because we cannot force social change.
Dirk Bruere: The whole effect of H+ tech is to force social change. I think making people happier will be the most benign aspect of it.
David Pearce: Alberto, intuitively pain and pleasure are relative. But just as some depressives live lives characterized entirely by gradients of ill-being - which can be steep or shallow - conversely there is no technical reason why life can’t be animated by information-sensitive gradients of bliss. The dips can be arbitrarily shallow.
Marko Koskinen: Do you know what emotional discharge is? Or emotional release? Healing people’s hurts is not impossible or even hard. It’s actually an inborn ability. You can see it in children. When they get hurt, they start to cry. And if they’re allowed to cry enough, their mind is clear again and they’re back to enjoying life. The problem is that our system prohibits this natural healing from happening, thus creating depressed and sick people. Being hurt is not the problem, being prevented to heal is.
Alberto Mura: @David so your suggestion is turn a “pain-pleasure” information system into a “less pleasure- more pleasure” one? It is a good point I guess…
David Pearce: Alas a lot of the reasons people get depressed have little to do with the well-being of the individual - and a lot to do with the inclusive fitness of our genes [in the ancestral environment of adaptedness: http://www.biopsychiatry.com/depression/index.html
David Pearce: Alberto yes. And it’s not mere theory. We merely need to consider as case studies the happiest hyperthmic people today. One example of a hyperthymic person who is extremely productive [and I use his “case” by express permission!] is the transhumanist Anders Sandberg: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders_Sandberg
Marko Koskinen: Ilkka, to the original question: If we drug people to conform to the existing society, how can we assume that the people would be more eager to change it? Thanks for raising this question. It’s really interesting.
David Pearce: Cowed depressives are easier to govern than active citizens. Other things being equal, raising mood decreases subordinate behaviour - and promotes active engagement with the world. Compare the depressve tendency to keep one’s head down…
Alberto Mura: @David I read about the hyperthymism studies in your paper on abolitionism. Great prospetive. But the idea of implant genetic optimism in future babies sound a bit scary to me. Indeed there will be a lot of productive scientist, but the number of artist will soon turn to zero. It’s a slimy ground. A complete reprogramming of human brain (emotions, feelings, mood) with a sort of pleasure upgrade seems to have the power of defeat unhappiness granting the same gradient of currently behavioral diversity, but too enthusiasm may lead to underestimate the risks. Loose a single bit of human potentiality would be a calamity.
Mike Magwire: Why do you need art when you are perpetually happy, and superior genius? Genetically altering the outlook is a tricky thing, but when death has been transcended what has anyone to worry about, save new disease?
Ilkka Vuorikuru: Marko. Your question is valid and in my hypothetical example it can be answered in two ways. First, we should not assume the word “drug” to connotate passiveness. The SSRI medicine acts to release serotonin which is the “feel good” chemical in our brain. Most depressed people experience a great flux of energy after receiving the treatment. This makes them active in their lives.
Second answer: you are right about the fact that a mere “pill” can’t institute change. But, no pill exists in a cultural vacoom. That would mean that it should be administrated with a firm policy that people understand and accept. It should be experienced on a personal level. After that, the positive effects of SSRI medicine would possibly instigate social change.
Of course, any medical intervention should be rationally explored. Who knows, maybi it turns us into happy drones
David Pearce: Alberto, should we choose to conserve, say, physical disabilities and ill-health on the grounds they’re all part of life’s rich pageant? Or should we aim to endow all our kids with invincible superhealth? Other things being equal, enriching mood is likely to increase diversity. It’s depressives who tend to get “stuck in a rut”, exhibiting “learned helplessness” and behavioural suppression. Happier people are typically more motivated to explore the world and respond to a broader range of rewarding stimuli. An exuberant love of life makes diversity more likely, both for the individual and society as a whole.
Marko Koskinen: David, I quite agree. But I think that the pill-treatment should always be accompanied by some kind of therapy, otherwise people will become dependant on the drugs and are probably less likely to create much social change. The biggest problem with western medical system is that it rarely looks at the problems, just at the symptoms and tries to target them, rather than targeting the problems.
Dirk Bruere: I think the idea that good art somehow requires the artist to be suffering is largely incorrect. It certainly does not seem true of many (most?). Leonardo, for example? OTOH, what great artists share with most great people is obsessiveness. That is not something we are talking about eliminating.
Mike Magwire: 3 year of solitude, only to return to the collective. Vs 75 years of solitude, like a road trip threw solitude. The perceptions of melancholic ideals, are always relative, until there nothing like there origination. There’s nothing inhuman about stability.
Dirk Bruere: These arguments were raised before when anaesthesia was introduced in medicine and especially childbirth ie pain is natural and removing it is somehow wrong.
Alberto Mura: @Dirk In my experience Art seems to be about a cocktail of contradictory feelings, which, although they may not be strictly negative, through their dissonance result deeply disturbing: artists are so often dragged by a global sensation of defeat, inadequacy and pain.
I accept a prospective of re-design of people mood, but only if it will give back at least the same gradient of human richness. Some kind of art must be replaced with a new type of creativity, with new taste and perfume.
Dirk Bruere: I suspect that historically artists were “often dragged by a global sensation of defeat, inadequacy and pain.” because they were obsessed with art and it just did not pay, leading to poverty and consequently defeat, inadequacy and pain.
Curtis Maxfield: an artist that does not know suffering will lack contrast on many different styles of art because art is about the full range of emotions even music. proceed as planned if you want to listen to the sun screen song the rest of your life.
Nicole Olson: I agree that greater and greater freedom with regards to medication is a positive direction to go, with greater and greater individual responsibility regarding administration, but current medication of this kind is hardly anything to long for access to imo. Much room for improvement.
Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Interim Managing Director and Fundraiser. He was IEET’s Managing Director on January-October in 2012, and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.
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