From: "Russell Blackford" <RussellBlackford@bigpond.com>
Sent: Friday, August 31, 2001 6:38 PM
> What worries me, however, is that I've seen on this list an
> high level of impatience with, and lack of imaginative identification
> other people's current and historical sufferings. It's higher than I've
> encountered in any other forum.
This message has continued to trouble me since I read it, and has caused me
to think deep and hard about "other people's current and historical
sufferings." The truth is I think about these things a lot and on bad days,
I despair. But, even on bad days, I tend to bring an analytical approach to
the subject and, ultimately look for solutions.
So my recent musings - prompted by Russell's comments - first sparked a
mental exercise in which I simply started making a list of all the
situations in the world today that are instances of human suffering that I
care about (some of which are included below). This led me to try to
synthesize as clearly as possible what I think the causes of human suffering
are. I've come up with a list of three root causes:
The more I've thought about it, the more it seems to me that all suffering
boils down to an instance of one or more of these three things. As a
rational humanist, I take a broad view of "ignorance," so that it includes
superstition. As a transhumanist, I take a broad view of "disease," so that
it includes aging. As a libertarian, I take a broad view of "injustice," so
that it includes many more infringements of individual liberty that are
tolerated by the mainstream contemporary ideologies.
If I apply these categories to the world I see around me, I see a LOT of
suffering. Right now, we're all of us condemned to die from the aging
process, so we're all sick. But of course, far short of that, a huge
portion of the human race stands exposed to death by disease, especially if
we include malnutrition in that category.
Most of the world lives in thrall to some kind of irrational superstition,
so again, there's plenty of suffering out there. Again, though, short of
this, large numbers of human beings are illiterate. Even among those who
can read, knowledge of even the most basic outlines of the workings of the
natural world and of human culture and history is pretty thinly distributed.
Based on my social and political values, the part of the world suffering
from basic injustice is far the largest. This is such an overwhelming
problem that I do sometimes despair that any kind of rational and fair life
will ever be possible for most of humanity.
So, selections from the catalogue of horrors:
<> Africa - so messed up in so many ways that just saying the word causes
<> Latin America - barely better than Africa.
<> Southeast Asia - only slightly better than Latin America.
<> The Middle East - I get more angry than sad, but the depth of hatred and
injustice there is a tragedy nonetheless.
<> The majority of the human race that lives without basic civil liberties.
<> Shallow ideological caricatures that pass for "policy" in the "advanced
Social and cultural:
As I thought of my list of root causes of suffering, I could see them at
play in each of these "sad spots" in the world and each of the items on my
list of political and social ills that plague humanity. Consider Africa:
Tens of millions will die from curable diseases, after living shortened
lives full of pain and loss. Many of the problems could be solved by the
simple spread of knowledge - simple knowledge of better farming and hygiene
techniques, for instance. Beyond this, the tribalism and ethnic hatred that
drive the current meltdown of the post-colonial civic order in Africa derive
from basic injustice; the injustice of judging people on the basis of
imagined group characteristics, the injustice of kleptocratic, militarized
state organizations and the injustice that naturally occurs in the absence
of the rule of law.
I do believe that this suffering can be ameliorated, and I happen to think
that the technological advances we as transhumanists advocate will help to
do so greatly. I also think that application of extropian values of
openness and toleration, based on the intrinsic value of the individual as
the prime locus of moral rights and duties is the ONLY solution to the
social and political aspects of these problems.
Vice-President, Extropy Institute
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