THE AMORAL LOGIC OF ANTI-HURT
(MODIFIED NEGATIVE UTILITARIANISM)
What we wish to discuss here is a logical truth that would appear to transcend morality, and operate independently of any value or value system – hence it being amoral (not to be confused with immoral). And yet at the same time it underpins most or even all of our ethics and values. Please note that this essay is not justificatory or praising of what we will call “anti-hurt”, but is rather an objective exploration of it, and its contentious issues. It may need to be read a few times to be more fully understood. But let’s first outline the essence of this principle in a nutshell. Firstly:
Only the phenomenon of hurt actually does hurt, and only its absence can be regarded as ‘bliss’. Secondly, hurt simply should-not-be, while bliss should-be. We find that the need to reduce hurt (should-not-be) takes priority over absence of hurt (bliss), and at the same time implies it, such that the greater the hurt reduced, the greater the bliss. Anything else is simply non-hurt, and thus equivalent to bliss, such that the details of which are irrelevant.
Naturally this statement may not make much sense without analyzing it first, so let’s discuss our first topic:
THE HURT-BLISS DICHOTOMY (OR DIMENSION)
Firstly, let’s define the word “hurt”¼ We will find that within its usual definition, it’s an ambiguous word that incorporates many synonyms – most notable of which would be pain and suffering, but also including such others as anguish, discomfort, stress and vexation, terms which may be seen as negative and horrible, though not necessarily, as negativity and horribleness are themselves such synonyms. Hurt can further be distinguished between mental and physical, animal and human, etc, etc. However, in accordance with the particular definition of hurt we will use for our purposes, these terms refer to qualities (or other matter such as meaning) which merely correspond to hurt. They are not actually hurt at all, as hurt only exists in terms of quantity, and only manifests itself thru the medium of qualities. (And as for the word harm, this doesn’t necessarily refer to a quality of hurt at all, as one can experience harm without any hurt being present, such as having a tooth removed under anaesthetic).
As well as indicating quality, some synonyms of hurt do also indicate quantity of hurt, which is the only variable in the essence of hurt (See DIMENSIONS OF HURT section). For instance, the quality of mild discomfort would correspond to a small quantity of hurt, while the quality of agony would correspond to a much larger amount.
Properly speaking in accordance with this definition, hurt is the only phenomena which ever bothers anyone or anything, anywhere - in any true sense, as opposed to its qualities, which do not. Essentially, there is no hurt but the hurt itself, and as we said to start with, it is only hurt that actually does hurt. So if someone stubs their toe and says “that hurt”, they are literally referring to that hurt, rather than the quality of throbbing pain. Also, it is only hurt which lends these qualities their gravity, as it were, or else their sting, for hurt is always the active ingredient in its qualities. For without the gravity or sting of hurt these qualities wouldn’t be anything like what they are. In fact, they would be qualities associated with the absence of hurt, which we can call bliss. So for instance, hell minus its hurt would become heaven. As with hurt, we will use a particular definition of bliss for our purposes.
Bliss is simply the absence of hurt, for without hurt there is only bliss. Conversely to hurt, bliss is “blissful” by its intrinsic nature, and is the only phenomenon that doesn’t bother anyone or anything. And like hurt, it too shall be defined in terms of quantity, as opposed to quality. As such, synonyms such as pleasure, joy, happiness or even numbness refer to qualities of bliss, rather than actual bliss per se, which is a quantity of hurt (ie. its lack). Thus, any given amount of hurt also refers to a given amount of bliss. For instance, the hurt associated with the quality of pain is arguably more “blissful” than the hurt associated with agony (depending on what context these terms are used in). Of course, theoretically, bliss can’t be measured in the same definitive way that hurt can, unless its infinite bliss (or zero hurt) minus quantity of hurt. So as with hurt itself, it’s easier just to express it in units called hurts. (See also DIMENSIONS OF HURT section).
Thus, we have a dichotomy of hurt and bliss, but this dichotomy is an illusion, as both concepts imply the other. Any given amount of hurt simultaneously entails both hurt and bliss (absence of further hurt) at the same time, such that hurt-bliss is essentially one, whereby only the degree of hurt differs. Instead of a dichotomy, it would perhaps be better thought of as a sliding-scale continuum from absolute bliss (or zero hurt), onwards. It’s just easier to think of hurt and bliss as being somehow distinct.
If we look beyond the veneer of qualities and indeed meaning itself, we can surmise that basically everything in the universe is comprised of either varying degrees of hurt or its absence (absence of course meaning non-hurt or bliss). This is perhaps what Buddha meant when he said “existence is suffering”. And in a certain sense, we only ever really notice hurt-bliss; the rest is just filler. It may be easier to think about the hurt-bliss dichotomy as a dimension like space or time and if we employ the use of a symbol. In yin-yang fashion, we can use a circle or square divided into red and white ((\) or [\] – you get the idea) to represent hurt and bliss respectively, as I believe these colors best reflect these concepts. (The red is on the left of the reverse slash, signifying the preferred reduction of hurt over time). This conveys the simple idea of seeing reality in “red and white”, as it were (analogous to black and white). Though in practice, it would be various shades of pink (just as black and white have shades of grey). For once again we must remember that hurt and bliss are both aspects of the same thing, as they are intrinsically linked. They are not separate, asymmetrical phenomena, but rather exist as a sliding-scale continuum. It’s just easier to think of them as distinct, something that will be required in the next section on Anti-hurt.
When one divides the universe into hurt and bliss, as the hurt-bliss dichotomy does, this makes it more possible for a second objective principle to emerge (which is our primary logical truth). By “standing outside our subjectivity” with an “impartial god’s-eye view-from-nowhere” (that we strive for in the physical sciences), we can state this truth as follows:
When hurt and bliss are both “distilled” side by side without any outside factors (which are essentially bliss or hurt anyway), somehow it should become abstractly apparent that by its intrinsic nature, bliss will always be logically “preferable” (for want of a more objective term), than hurt. In short, bliss should-be while hurt should-not-be, so this is a prescriptive logic. (The actual literal reduction of hurt is a different matter again, which is anti-hurt in practice and can be called “stop-hurt”). As absence of hurt entails bliss, then removal of greater hurt always has priority over (increasing) existing bliss or reducing lesser hurt. For the greater the hurt that is reduced, the more bliss that is created, which is logically preferable. Remove the hurt, and the bliss takes care of itself. And we’re only “better off” (in an objective sense) without hurt as all else is equally bliss anyway.
We can call this prescriptive logic anti-hurt, as it is “against” hurt in “favoring” bliss. (Although terms such as “against”, “favoring” and “preference” convey a subjective value or quality, rather than the objective truth to which they should rightfully refer for our purposes). For outside of our subjective inclinations there is no “preference”. Terms such as “should-be” for bliss and “should-not-be” for hurt (as opposed to “right” and “wrong”), are perhaps more objective, although even these terms don’t escape their subjective, emotional connotations. Nonetheless, all these terms will have to suffice.
As we have just noted, we can basically say that hurt simply should-not-be while bliss should-be. In a certain sense, anti-hurt is the only “real” truth, or at least the only truth that “matters” in real terms, though not necessarily to us as subjective positioned subjects. Two plus two may well equal four, but it may as well equal 42 as far as anti-hurt is concerned, as all this belongs to the realm of bliss (should-be), and thus the details are irrelevant (except insofar as it causes hurt). Through this logic, we have also derived an ought from an is, contrary to what Hume and many in philosophy have said about this being impossible.
However, logical truth is one thing, matter-of-fact reality is another. For although the actuality of bliss is really “all-that-matters”, the abstract logic of anti-hurt can only suggest that it be so, and hopefully thereby make it happen. For while this logic may influence bliss, ultimately the reality of hurt-bliss is, figuratively speaking, divorced from logic. For either there is hurt or there isn’t, and ultimately, that’s all there is to it. It makes no difference to existing hurt that it should-not-be. The only difference that can be made to the level of existing hurt in accordance with logic is if it can be reduced or prevented in some way. This can happen either without any of our doing or thru our actions as “free” agents. This process can appropriately be called “stop-hurt”, and is the only aspect of anti-hurt that is of any real “value”, if value is what we give it, as indeed we probably should (as a means to an end).
As with quantity of hurt, anti-hurt is also variable, in that it is in direct proportion to that quantity, such that the greater the hurt, the more so it should-not-be, but only as a matter of priority. We are not saying that lesser hurts are necessarily any more “trivial”, such that they should be dismissed. It’s just that when the opportunity to reduce hurts is limited, it makes sense to prioritize in reducing the larger hurts foremost as they are more urgent. In other words, urgency – yes, triviality – no (although what constitutes triviality is clearly subject to the kind of debate philosophers have about what is perfection? And is probably trivial in itself, ironically). Since all other considerations are equivalent to non-hurt or bliss, they are simply moot (except insofar as they are a means to further bliss).
Some hurt however, may be justified in reducing a greater hurt, but only if it is absolutely necessary (such as using interrogation pressures or even torture to extract information from terrorists, and thus prevent mass terror). Also, some hurt may be required to avoid the long-term hurt that would result from harm, such as touching a hot stove. Or a hurt (with a quality such as shame) may be necessary to retain proper moral action, and thus reduce further hurt. But any hurt that doesn’t serve to reduce greater hurt than itself is essentially in vain, especially as it too should-not-be. And of course, there may be easier, less hurtful ways of reducing hurt that benefit those who reduce it as well. One may say “no pain, no gain”. But the only gain that counts is the overall net reduction of hurt, above and beyond the necessary pain that’s put in. That’s despite the fact that while we may always seek to reduce hurt, we often do so at the expense of increasing it along the way, such as someone who climbs Everest for the sake of a brief ecstacy at the summit.
The principle of anti-hurt is made all the more clear when one considers that all hurt (like bliss) is equally commensurable and necessarily part of the same overall aggregate, regardless of where or how it occurs - whether it be animal, human or whatever. Of course, one may make a legitimate (and vexing) distinction between deserved and undeserved hurt, as well as believe that some hurts simply should be, per se. But we will discuss these issues further in the section on INTUITION.
THE SUPPOSED ASSYMETRY BETWEEN HURT AND BLISS
Importantly, unlike the (perceived) asymmetry between pain and pleasure, there is no such asymmetry between hurt and bliss. That is, there is no irreconcilable differences between them, as they are on the same sliding scale. When defined simply as the absence of hurt, it’s strange to think of bliss as being attached to and encompassing qualities such as happiness and pleasure. It’s as if these qualities have “value” in their own right, as if they are somehow more “blissful” than bliss itself (ie. are more than just absence of hurt that, say, numbness would have). However this is an illusion which is analogous to saying that one can have more than 100 percent of anything. For as long as we are conscious, we have no idea what absolute, 100 percent bliss would be like. (Of course, pleasure can be much more enjoyable than bliss – an important but moot distinction which I’ll get to in a few moments).
Curiously enough, no amount of pleasure could ever exceed the bliss of zero hurt. In reality, zero hurt with no frills attached would be just as blissful as extreme ecstasy with zero hurt, and would in fact be more blissful than experiencing such ecstasy with the slightest degree of discomfort - such as when we’re ecstatically happy, we often still have the miniscule hurt of our worries and anxieties lurking in the background. And when measuring hurt, the lower end of the scale may actually be quite pleasurable, such as winning the lottery while needing to pee. But as Epicurus (perhaps an early “antihurtian”) asserted, “true happiness is to be without pain”, by which he meant “true bliss is to be without hurt”. For any amount of hurt exists over and above any amount of bliss, even if the bliss reduces it. Of course, the absence of consciousness would be a perfect example of absolute bliss, but our subjective appraisal of this is based only on hurt-infused consciousness – eg. “wouldn’t it be horrible not to exist”, when ironically the only thing that’s horrible (hurtful) about this is the very existence of one contemplating not to exist.
Interestingly enough, suicides tend to find all existence as horrible, which is probably why they don’t generally seek the existence of happiness in heaven. Not to exist would be the ultimate heaven, and if one were completely free of hurt, as non-existence entails, they would not seek out further bliss because that would be impossible. Indeed, we only seek the bliss in happiness and pleasure to dispel the hurt of discontentedness or desire, without which we probably wouldn’t bother. Buddhist nirvana gives us a clear understanding of absolute bliss, because it involves the extinction of needless attachments to qualities such as existence that we might value in say, a Christian heaven, along with the hurt they may entail (eg. worry about the fate of loved ones) – with that hurt being the crux of the matter.
However, having said that all of the above, I must concede the previous point I made that pleasure can be much more enjoyable than absolute bliss (zero hurt), and we must acknowledge that bliss and enjoyment are in one sense distinct entities, tho they be one and the same. It’s a remarkable claim, but I suggest that enjoyment has no priority over absolute bliss because one is equally and absolutely content with either – contentment being the answer here. Indeed, any extra pleasure beyond zero hurt never exceeds absolute contentment. It may seem paradoxical, but remember that, as enjoyment is non-hurt, it is essentially bliss anyway. If one were to experience mega-extreme ecstasy of 100 billion hedons (units of pleasure), one could well ask, wouldn’t this be more “blissful” than zero hurt, or if not blissful, then at least outweigh it somehow? One might even argue illogically that it would be more blissful even with a slightest degree of hurt involved. But since we have no idea of what zero hurt would be like, we cannot make this claim. (See also “The Pinprick Argument”, on which this should cast some much needed light).
An apparent paradox upsets this cosy arrangement however. For while we are not conscious, existentially it’s as if the bliss we experience doesn’t count for anything. Thus, a full night sleep (without any dreams) will be over in the blink of an eye, where we are back to the same worries we had before, and in effect, its like we never experienced any bliss at all. Similarly, if we were frozen in cryogenic storage when we die, we may go on for a million years of pure bliss in the form of zero consciousness, but if and when science brings us back, its as though the bliss never happened. (Unless we are never brought back, in which case the hurt never happens, and in effect there is only bliss). On the other hand, if we experienced pure pleasure for millions of years and suddenly forgot this, this too would - like our dreams - appear as though it never happened. But at least we would have experienced the full bliss with the passing of time, in between hurt, and that’s an important distinction. We can call this the “paradox of the long night sleep”, which will become relevant in the section on “spaced hurt” in the DIMENSIONS OF HURT section.
It may also be asked, what if one were to enjoy hurt? (or if hurt and bliss simply co-existed). Would this be somehow more blissful than the absence of that hurt? Of course, one could argue that if they enjoy hurt, then it is not really hurt at all. Or else, this enjoyment would greatly reduce the level of that hurt experienced (just as hurt in turn reduces the bliss). But that slight degree of hurt would nonetheless still be present, over and above any bliss accrued by the enjoyment. Hence it would still be more blissful for that hurt not to exist. Even if hurt and bliss “co-exist”, they are not separate at all, but rather opposite sides of the same coin, for any given occurrence of hurt-bliss can only exist at one point (not two), on the hurt-bliss sliding scale. So if one for instance gets a “thrill” (hurt-bliss “combined”) from swimming in a cold lake, clearly they were not that ecstatic to start with before they got into the lake - hence the bliss being in fact greater in the water than out, even if it apparently involves more hurt than before. For in reality, being cold involves less hurt than being bored and staying dry, whereas a true thrill would involve neither types of discomfort – but only the bliss.
Interestingly enough, any amount of bliss (or lesser/non-hurt) doesn’t reduce hurt that exists in any case. And subsequently, the overall magnitude of hurt doesn’t exist as an average between extremes, but rather as a cumulative totality, which includes all of its worst examples. So for instance, it would be inaccurate to say that on Earth, hurt is “on average” tolerable, when there are any given number of examples of it being greater than tolerable, right up to its cumulative totality in fact.
And any amount of bliss (or enjoyment) cannot “justify”, “outweigh”, or “cancel out” any amount of hurt, as when people say that the joys of this world outweigh its sorrows (which is essentially saying that lesser hurt justifies greater hurt). Sure that bliss can reduce that hurt (such as fun reducing boredom), but is relevant only insofar as it does. For what hurt it doesn’t reduce, still exists – and that’s the sticking point. Indeed, to say that bliss justifies hurt is like saying that the vast emptiness of space somehow outweighs all the suffering on earth, which makes no sense at all. As we said above, logically we’re only ever “better off” without the hurt since all else is equally bliss anyway (up to and including extreme ecstasy or indeed nothing at all). Remember that reducing hurt takes priority over bliss, and in fact entails it. Reduce the hurt and the bliss takes care of itself. And just to re-cap, anything that isn’t hurt (ie. “non-hurt”) is just as blissful as any other state of affairs which contains no hurt. As this is equivalent to bliss, the details are essentially irrelevant. Thus as for any extra pleasure and enjoyment, they’re only relevant insofar as they displace the hurt.
Indeed, without hurt, “anything goes”, as like in a dream where there wouldn’t be any real consequences. But as it is, there is hurt, and so consequences remain important. In effect, we have a kind of “conditional nihilism”, where almost anything goes. I say “almost” because hurt-bliss and it’s attached qualities (or matter such as meaning) come as part of a package, and the best we can do is to either follow or manipulate this package to maximize bliss, but in a good way with much due caution.
The subjective realm of understanding which most appears to contradict anti-hurt is that of intuition. That’s not to say that anti-hurt never accords with intuition, for it very often does so in an opaque, perhaps subconscious, manner. Indeed, it is arguable that virtually all judgments of wrongness are based on a given degree of hurt, and rightness on a given degree of bliss. For things deemed as wrong give us a certain level of discomfort, while those deemed as right provide a feeling of relief – and it’s here that should-be and should-not-be come into play. Indeed, the persuasive force of intuition is (almost) always reinforced by its logical underpinnings, although strangely enough intuition can seem more convincing than the logic behind it, as for instance the concept of goodness as opposed to simply should-be, which may appear dry and sterile in comparison.
As we discussed earlier, the quantity or gravity of hurt is what makes its qualities what they are, without which they would be qualities of bliss. It follows that the subjective morality of right and wrong can also be regarded as qualities of hurt-bliss in their own right. Loosely speaking then, when the quality of wrong is accompanied by hurt, then the wrong by extension appears as though it should-not-be, while the quality of right (when accompanied by bliss), appears as though it should-be, hence why the word “bless” is probably related to bliss, as blessings appear as though they should-be. And indeed, these appearances are relevant insofar as they achieve their logical underpinnings or goals. For as we said before, hurt-bliss and its attached matter (including qualities) come as a package (in fact you can’t have hurt without quality), so we must either follow or manipulate these variable qualities in order to maximize bliss. Preferably we would do this without the hurt becoming erratic. In other words we need a stable “baseload bliss” in the same way that a reliable electric current is baseload.
As an example of manipulable qualities, if one regards lying as wrong, it is the associated quality of moral discomfort, as well as the real or imagined displeasure of the person lied to should they find out, that is essentially defined (or given gravity) by hurt. However, without the associated hurt, suddenly the sinister lie changes its qualities and becomes merely a white lie. (Remember red and white?). Who says a leopard never changes its spots? And all this on account of the level of hurt having been reduced.
Without hurt, “negative” moral qualities are completely benign. If they still feel horrible or objectionable, that’s only because there’s still hurt there. Perhaps controversially, the hurt of guilt and shame is the same as righteous hurt, and the fact that it seems morally worse is a quality that only exists because of hurt – perhaps because the hurt is more pronounced than normal. Basically, only hurt makes the quality of “wrongness” what it is. So really we’re saying that wrongness should-not-be only because of the hurt, while goodness should-be only because of its bliss. But surely you may say, there are some hurts which should always be seen as good (and thus should-be), such as a certain degree of deserved hurt for the wicked. (Although if such hurt doesn’t reduce other hurt – particularly that of the innocent – then that hurt too is in vain).
As a solution, some may claim that hurt-bliss and its qualities can’t be separated or divided because they form a type of gestalt, in which one can’t “see the wood for the trees”, as it were. That may well be the case subjectively because we can’t imagine qualities without their hurt or bliss. But objectively hurt is completely separate from its gestalt with quality, hence the resulting contradictions between the validity of logic and the intrinsic nature of intuition.
While clearly anti-hurt may often accord with intuition, it is not always obvious to us because it very often contradicts it as well. Indeed, anti-hurt can be counter-intuitive in the extreme. All it takes is for a quality of hurt to be valued (as right or good), and subsequently for the accompanying hurt to be seen as should-be. And just about all of us would believe that surely there are numerous things of intrinsic value, irrespective of what anti-hurt has to say on the matter. Indeed, it may appear that many of these subjective qualities very much “constitute reality”, even to the point of bedrock certainty (and there are many such apparent certainties both for and against anti-hurt). For instance, the ability to feel pain (as well as joy) is seen by many as a priceless gift, although objectively it could be argued that people don’t always know what’s best for them, or else they see the “gift” of pain through rose-colored glasses as a blissful quality.
That’s probably what J.S. Mill felt when he said it is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied. Irrespective of the reality, what he thought was worse (satisfied pig) was only so because it was hurtful to him to think of a “wretched” pig as having a “better” life than his beloved fellow man. And conversely, it was more blissful to him to think of humans dissatisfied, perhaps in the way that sorrow is often seen as “sweet”. As such, moral qualities can seem “worse” or “better” than they really are (which is usually - though perhaps not always - equated with more or less hurtful), often on account of hidden hurt or bliss that isn’t consciously acknowledged.
Intuition can also ignore hurt altogether, particularly so if it doesn’t fall within one’s moral radar. While most of us will get upset over trifling discomforts that affect us personally, to many of us, the majority of hurt that occurs in the universe – let alone the world - we couldn’t care less about, or else feel powerless to reduce. This is especially so for hurt that occurs in nature and isn’t subject to human qualities of right and wrong, good and bad, such as the animal bloodfests on the African plains. The fact that these are a tourist attraction meant to titillate our tragic emotions - rather than being the subject of human intervention - emphasizes this point. Indeed, human morality is vastly inadequate for dealing with most hurt that occurs, even just on this tiny speck of rock we call Earth.
Our moral qualities usually only encompass localized hurts which apply to our subjective sensibilities only, such as finding abortion wrong only because we personally are uncomfortable with it, rather than the actual hurt suffered by the fetus, or indeed alternatively if that fetus were to have a full life (See David Benatar’s Better never to have been). Another example would be animal rights activists’ distaste at the prospect of in-vitro meat, simply because a few animals are still (painlessly) used, and it’s the principle at stake! Thus we can distinguish between localized, token hurts that affect us personally as positioned subjects, and overall, net hurt (whereby the former often - but not always - indicates the latter). Of course, token hurt can be quite useful for empathy and the understanding that other hurt besides one’s own need also be reduced. Yet whether we apply moral qualities to any of these things makes no difference to the amoral fact that the overall hurt simply should-not-be.
The logic of anti-hurt transcends our sense of self, as well as our values and subjective illusions in general. (Although intuition may legitimately confound us into believing otherwise). But generally, if it applies in one instance, then it applies in all, for ideally there are no double standards. For all hurt is equally commensurable to all other hurt, which is necessarily part of the same overall aggregate. Ie. hurt is hurt (whereby only its amount differs), regardless of where or how it occurs, and whether one cares about it or not.
The fact that we care more about reducing human than animal hurt may have something to do with the fact that as social animals, any given hurt to one of us more widely affects the hurt of the rest of us. But that’s mainly if we belong to a common egocentric group such as the first world, as opposed to the rest of the world. A solution to one’s indifference to hurt they don’t feel or care about is to pretend it’s a hurt they care about, as if it was experienced by themselves or a loved one. In this way we can invoke the subjective to solve the objective.
It must also be said that while anti-hurt may not be so readily contradictory towards itself, intuitions and qualities are very often contradictory and inconsistent towards each other. They may appear absolute, yet their relative nature betrays their supposed certainty, as any moral relativist will tell you. So what constitutes reality at its deepest level? Sartre said something to the effect that “everything is as it appears, and nothing else”, though we could equally say that nothing is as it appears. For sometimes logic is predominant to our understanding, and at other times intuition is, as both can appear to be equally true. Perhaps our minds just aren’t built to comprehend what is absolutely true, assuming there is such a thing. Therefore, it would pay to at least be impartial to these apparent truths, before we consider their validity for ourselves, for in any case nothing is absolutely certain (although anti-hurt does potentially add a lot of certainty to the nebulous field of ethics). In other words, let logic inform intuition, and vice versa.
But let logic and intuition complement and add to one another as well. For instance, the seemingly sterile and impersonal nature of logic may not be the best way to achieve bliss. It may require the so-called “supernatural magic” of intuition as much if not more so, which itself may be a type of logic at some deeper level.
An open-mind would need to consider that anti-hurt is so counter-intuitive that according to this logic, it would make no difference whether we punish the guilty or the innocent, so long as the overall net hurt is reduced; although we could prioritize in reducing innocent over guilty hurt. Where hurt is seen as deserved, there is usually an element of free-will choice involved. And indeed, many religions justify all hurt as the result of free will being abused. But whether or not we accept free will as predetermined, the fact remains that any choices we make are grounded in bliss. If one chooses to be evil, that choice is still in the realm of non-hurt – and thus bliss, and so is the meaning of their deservedness of that hurt. Thus it remains that logically only the hurt should-not-be (though intuition tells us otherwise).
An old line in ethics is that “an is does not imply an ought”. As such, it does not logically follow that because we acted a certain way (which “happens”, or “just is”, as it were) that hurt should follow. This is perhaps captured in the intuition of forgiveness, or “hate the sin and not the sinner”, whereby the sinner shouldn’t hurt because of the sin. However, this attitude requires a change in the direction of intuition, rather than aligning it with anti-hurt, for the hate of non-forgiveness is merely directed elsewhere (ie. towards the sin). Also, forgiveness is usually only offered for-giving (literally), something in return, such as remorse. As you can see, its not so easy to reconcile logic with intuition, that say at-one-ment or atonement would have.
Anti-hurt may be hard to accept (and nor perhaps should we always accept it), and not surprisingly, it may create new hurt as far as our moral tastes are concerned. For instance, as a further example, it would be morally obligatory to end life on earth if indeed, that were the best way to reduce maximum hurt, which may seem absurd to life-lovers, but make perfect sense to the deeply depressed. However, the paradox of the long night sleep might mean that we would spontaneously re-enter consciousness again after trillions of years of future big bangs and churning though the void, only to have never expereinced the true bliss of non-existence that the conscious passing of time would entail, Existentially, it would be like an instant rude awakening.
While the Earth may not be logically or morally sustainable, implementing “Earthanasia” may create more hurt than it alleviates, just as most suicides are painful to those involved. Therefore, it’s probably better to eliminate hurt on Earth through biotechnology and then on other planets/worlds, than to go through all the bother of evolving again (assuming that would even happen), or lingering and festering until the sun dies out or loses our orbit. Of course, it would be touching to think that overall, there’s less hurt with so-called “intelligent” life than without it. But it’s not the case that the need to survive is greater than the need to reduce hurt, but rather it IS (an expression of) the need to reduce hurt, even though this may create other hurts in the long run. However, these concerns have largely been dealt with by (negative) utilitarians and other consequentialists, so they are not all new. (See Hedonistic Imperative).
Because of these issues, it may be necessary to implement anti-hurt (or rather, stop-hurt) in ways which bypass these unsettling dilemmas. For instance, it is better for subjects never to be put into the position whereby they are tempted to choose their deserved hurt. Prevention is better than cure, and for many things it is better never to have been in the first place. This is perhaps what God felt in retrospect when he was so dismayed by sin and suffering in Sodom and Gomorah, that he regretted ever having created the Earth. But God’s mistakes need not be ours, and unlike him, we don’t necessarily have to play God to help rectify them. For there are probably easier ways to fix his mistakes (stop-hurt) than euthanizing the Earth.
Because anti-hurt increases our overall level of certainty in ethics, it can be used as a rough meta-ethical basis for our moral decisions, which can be then regarded as a type of “metric morality”. In this way we can make logic explicit and thus much more efficient, thereby galvanizing everyone to work towards a common objective (pun intended). Unfortunately, people can be incredibly ignorant, selfish jerks by nature, who refuse to see the bigger picture. And indeed, most problems in the world are at root perpetuated by selfishness, as politics is driven by greed rather than reason. When they don’t dismiss it as a joke, individuals and groups such as big business tend to regard ethics as “just a theory” (ala global warming), as opposed to hard, indesputable profit. After all, nobody has ever proven how destruction of the planet is ever right or wrong, or indeed how anything is ever right or wrong - at least until now.
People will always rationalize their own self interest above reason. However, perhaps the logic underpinning ethics will compel them to search outside their own egos and be more persuasive in addressing priorities that actually count, rather than resort to token-hurt or quick-fix do-gooder policies such as unfettered multiculturalism, whose real motive is for the sake of cheap labour, often at the expense of third-world countries who lose their best and brightest. It also floods the first world with people whose culture may be vastly at odds with the hard-won institutions of the West, which threatens to undermine the fruits of the enlightenment. For just as slavery and colonialism was once accepted because it was economical, nowadays its opposite extremes of reverse-colonialism and left-wing bigotry are in fashion for the same reason. But this is a debate which - like population control, or preserving the aesthetics of ethnicity - needs to occur without being restrained by all the usual historical baggage and loaded assumptions which occur in both the Right and Left.
But while there are numerous issues which need addressing, the greatest priority should be to address the most urgent existential risks such as capping global warming. For if scientific predictions are correct, we could effectively be living in the 1930's before World War II, only that global warming and a possible ice age would be much more dire. Of course there are doubters, but if the biosphere has been stable for the past 10,000 years, and if the climate is so unpredictable, then why mess with nature and risk it all at this stage of history, especially when we still have no other planets to move to while the Earth recovers. And although we had climate change when the Vikings were around, remember that that was followed by a miniature ice age, which is too big a risk to take. Therefore, massive research into alternative or renewable energy such as solar or even nuclear fusion (like fission during WWII), is probably essential, especially with the prospect of peak oil. Although fusion would entail a huge technological revolution that with current values would be unsustainable, perhaps anti-hurtianism would fill that ideological and moral gap. Of course in the meantime, many of us can go (at least partly) vegetarian (ie. avoid meat which creates the most greenhouse gases), which would offset some of the worst effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, the meat industry (like “big oil”) should get serious and invest in in-vitro meat technology to cover their losses.
Maybe I’m being ridiculously optomistic because people are usually too apathetic or stupid to care (pardon my cynicism), but if we attach all worthwhile causes to something as radical as antihurtianism, then maybe the message will get through.
IS ANTI-HURT (AH) ANOTHER NAME FOR NEGATIVE UTILITARIANISM (NU)?
Anti-hurt is more or less the same thing as NU, if not a logical extension of it, and the title we give anti-hurt very much gets to the point, as opposed to NU, which employs moral terms and qualities, while for anti-hurt there is nothing either negative, positive, nor useful (ie. having utility) about it, except insofar as we make it so for us. About the most conceivably useful thing about AH is stop-hurt, but whether we give it meaning is up to us.
Because its directly based on logic, anti-hurt employs more objective terms such as should-be and should-not-be, rather than “right” and “wrong”, as right and wrong are merely qualities in which the opaque logic of anti-hurt mostly resides. The same goes for “pain”, “suffering”, and “harm”, which are negative qualities only, as opposed to the hurt they refer to, which oddly enough, could also be regarded as positive – eg “opportunity to grow”. NU and utilitarianism generally, places values on hurt (among other things), be they positive or negative. But anti-hurt doesn’t “value” (or de-value) hurt at all, as logically or objectively it already knows what’s best for us – ie. to be free of overall net hurt as much as possible. Values are a subjective illusion, like sense of self. But the amoral logic of anti-hurt transcends these illusions, or at least would only appear to do so in a limited fashion as far as intuition is concerned.
NU does not only refer to the need to “negate the negative”, as the name might suggest to us. It also implies a supposed asymmetry between the so-called “positive” and “negative”, or between pleasure and pain (hurt). For anti-hurt however, there is no such asymmetry, as pleasure is simply a quality associated with low levels of hurt (ie. bliss), while any extra pleasure beyond zero-hurt never exceeds the absolute contentment of zero-hurt.
At the heart of utilitarianism is the maxim, “the greatest good for the greatest number”. In antihurtian terms this could perhaps be re-phrased as the greatest should-be (bliss) for the greatest aggregate of hurt-bliss (including all of reality). Without wishing to nit-pick, the word number is slightly problematic here because it presumably refers to number of minds containing hurt. But as we shall see in the DIMENSIONS OF HURT section, minds are simply separate vessels that perpetuate the illusion of separate hurts, when in fact objectively, hurt can be considered as a totality that transcends these selves, and perhaps can – at least theoretically – be measured as such. For all hurt is equally commensurable to all other hurt, which is necessarily part of the same overall aggregate. Nonetheless, any given mind is essentially only aware of the hurt pertaining to it only.
In reference to Kant, anti-hurt (or rather, stop-hurt), can be regarded as the only one true categorical imperative (“act as though your moral law were universal”). All of Kant’s imperatives are flawed because they only apply where the imperative reduces the hurt. For instance, “thou shalt not lie” generally reduces hurt as a rule. But where it doesn’t, clearly the imperative doesn’t apply. Anti-hurt or stop-hurt on the other hand, is an imperative that always does apply where others don’t. Nonetheless, it still should not be treated as an infallible sacred cow, as clearly there are intuitive cases that threaten any secure notion of the categorical. As Nietzsche said, “certainty is a greater enemy of truth than lies”.
DIMENSIONS OF HURT
So far we have talked about how hurt simply should-not-be, a type of logical understanding which is different from intuition in general. In one sense hurt is fairly one dimensional when stripped of its qualities. However, upon closer inspection, we find that it does consist of some complexity, understanding of which may one day help to form a future framework towards stop-hurt (ie. reduction of overall hurt). Nonetheless, at least at this stage, measurement is highly speculative and academic at best, and should perhaps be left to mathematicians and logicians for the most part. It may be far more prudent to just use common sense in prioritizing and implementing stop-hurt. The logic or theory of anti-hurt in itself may be enough of a guide to do this, though we should also consult our intuitions in general, as logic and intuition can “inform” each other, and I’m not that convinced that logic is always correct. But in most cases, logically useful (or “stop-hurt-ian”) morals can be directly based on logic rather than indirectly on say folk wisdom or religion, which can be sloppy at best or morally “retarded” at worst (if I may use that term). And even in our modern world, our values are still rather primitive. In an antihurtian world, life would largely go on as before, though a great many things would be reformed, which deep down we knew we should do anyway, but just didn’t have the explicit logic to prove it. And a lack of clear logic leads to false consciousness.
But for now, let’s get back to our dimensional theory¼ First, as utilitarianism’s founder, Jeremy Bentham noted in his hedonic calculus, pain (ie. hurt) can be measured at a most basic level as a combination of intensity and duration (over time). Although technically duration is really just the accumulation of present intensities, it is necessary to include this on a separate scale. This is because the level of actual hurt experienced (let’s call this HIRT – ie. “hurt in real terms”), increases as those present intensities accumulate, as shown below.
In reference to the graph, one may be deceived into thinking that intensity and duration are equal multiples of HIRT, such that any point along each axis need simply be multiplied with its counterpart. However, this is clearly not the case, as its obvious that intensity makes up a far greater component of HIRT than does duration, especially as that intensity increases. Thus HIRT also applies to intensities in a singular instance, barely using the duration scale. For instance, if we have a metric scale of intensity from zero to ten (much like when a doctor asks us to rate our pain), in real terms, an eight to us would seem more like an eleven, while a ten (threshold of bearableness), may seem more like twenty! (some would say 100). And how this appears is not necessarily an illusion. For the higher up the scale we go, even incremental increases are exponential when considered in real terms. This is roughly illustrated in the chart below (NB: this and other charts may involve different information than on previous charts).
This is in stark contrast to HIRT when applied purely on the duration scale alone, which increases in a much more gradual exponential curve.
A further scale that can measure HIRT is that of occurrences of HIRT. These can be categorized as either one of two types of sliding scale, namely same-self / isolated, and spaced / grouped together. These have a marked influence on the actual level of HIRT.
Same-self means that hurt occurs to the same subject rather than being spread out amongst different subjects. Although the “literal” level of hurt may be the same, clearly in real terms HIRT is higher when applied continuously to the same subject. Thus, one minute of stress spread amongst sixty different subjects is less overall HIRT than one hour of stress for one subject. On the other hand, isolated refers to the hurt that each of the sixty subjects bears for one minute. As opposed to same-self, these hurts are isolated because they are not experienced by the same subject, and therefore accrue less overall HIRT. Nonetheless, all HIRT still transcends the concept of self when considered in totality.
By spaced, we mean that overall HIRT is less when it is spaced out over time, but only if the full bliss of that space in between hurts is experienced over the passing of time, as in the paradox of the long night sleep. For instance, if one subject had to endure one hour of stress, it would be less severe if they endured one minute of it each year over sixty conscious years, rather than all at once, the latter of which we can call grouped together. (This does not include the extra stress that might result in anticipation of that hurt - be it spaced or not - since that would increase HIRT in any case, which is another consideration altogether and not connected to this example).
In the following graph, we can either somehow combine occurrences with duration, or else create a separate axis altogether, which lines occurrences up side by side. Some other type of graph might need to be devised to determine the different degrees of HIRT for same-self / isolated and spaced / grouped together occurrences. In any case, we could say that same-self and grouped-together accrue greater intensity of HIRT, while isolated and spaced accrue less HIRT (hence the use of arrows).
From the above graph, its clear that HIRT can be measured across the occurrences axis in the same way that it is measured across duration, as occurrences is really a lengthy duration split and lined up side-by-side (with intensity as an afterthought - though an important one). Of course the variables of occurrences can alter established HIRT considerably. From all this it is at least theoretically possible to have a sum total of all the HIRT in the universe (it’s magnitude), and from there be able to prioritize stop-hurt. (That’s unless the figure is infinite, in which case all stop-hurt would have no effect whatsoever, except in our own sphere of influence, for any infinite amount remains so, no matter how much is added or subtracted. See Nick Bostrom’s infinite Ethics). But whether this could ever be ascertained is wildly speculative at best. In any case, common sense may be a more reliable indicator.
After considering all of the above, we may think of a couple of other paradoxes which may apply. Firstly, although duration may well be infinite, its impossible for intensity to be so, as any given hurt must have a given intensity. Thus, “fortunately” HIRT cannot be literally infinite, but that’s not to say that theoretically it can’t be horrific, to say the least.
Secondly, infinite lesser hurt may never amass to higher HIRT. So for instance, an infinite number of days with mild hurt (such as in the movie Groundhog Day), may never amount to the same level of hurt as a more pronounced “day in hell”. This is perhaps analogous to Zeno’s Paradox, whereby constantly increasing half the distance of a given length by half of the remaining half, you never actually get to the end of it. Perhaps measurement of hurt could be factored in the same way. Clearly, these and many other issues will arise in the course of examining anti-hurt, but hopefully we’ve made a good start already.
e-mail: Dan Geinster
The Hedonistic Imperative, by David Pearce
Negative Utilitarianism, by David Pearce
The Pinprick Argument, by David Pearce
Better Never To Have Been, by David Benatar
Infinite Ethics, by Nick Bostrom