View Hedonistic Imperative
The Hedonistic Imperative is a manifesto written by David Pierce, which outlines a strategy to eradicate suffering in all sentient life. Its abolitionist project is ambitious, implausible, but technically feasible. It defends the abolitionist project based on ethical utilitarian grounds.
The manifesto combines far-fetched utopian advocacy with cold-headed scientific prediction. The Hedonistic Imperative outlines how nanotechnology and genetic engineering will eliminate aversive experience from the living world. According to it, over the next thousand years or so, the biological substrates of suffering will be eradicated completely. “Physical” and “mental” pain alike are destined to disappear into evolutionary history. Malaise will be replaced by the biochemistry of bliss. Matter and energy will be sculpted into life-loving super-beings animated by gradients of well-being. The states of mind of our descendants are likely to be incomprehensibly diverse by comparison with today. Yet all will share at least one common feature: a sublime and all-pervasive happiness. This feeling of absolute well-being will surpass anything contemporary human neurochemistry can imagine, let alone sustain. Posthuman states of magical joy will be biologically refined, multiplied and intensified indefinitely.
As genetic engineering and nanotechnology allow Homo sapiens to discard the legacy-wetware of our evolutionary past, our posthuman successors will rewrite the vertebrate genome, redesign the global ecosystem, and abolish suffering throughout the living world.
The metabolic pathways of pain and malaise evolved only because they served the inclusive fitness of our genes in the ancestral environment. Their ugliness can be replaced by a new motivational system based entirely on gradients of well-being. Life-long happiness of an intensity now physiologically unimaginable can become the heritable norm of mental health. A sketch is offered of when, and why, this major evolutionary transition in the history of life is likely to occur. Possible objections, both practical and moral, are raised and rebutted in the Hedonistic Imperative.
Contemporary images of opiate-addled junkies, and the lever-pressing frenzies of intra-cranially self-stimulating rats, are deceptive. Such stereotypes stigmatize, and falsely discredit, the only remedy for the world’s horrors and everyday discontents that is biologically realistic. It is misleading to contrast social and intellectual development with perpetual happiness. There need be no such trade-off. Thus states of “dopamine-overdrive” can actually enhance exploratory and goal-directed activity. Hyper-dopaminergic states can also increase the range and diversity of actions an organism finds rewarding. Our descendants may live in a civilization of serenely well-motivated “high-achievers,” animated by gradients of bliss. Their productivity may far eclipse our own.
Two hundred years ago, before the development of potent synthetic pain-killers or surgical anesthetics, the notion that “physical” pain could be banished from most people’s lives would have seemed similarly bizarre. Most in the developed world now take its daily absence for granted. The prospect that what we describe as “mental” pain, too, could one day be superseded is equally counter-intuitive. The technical option of its abolition turns its deliberate retention into an issue of political policy and ethical choice.
The Hedonistic Imperative