Thursday, 12 July 2007

Suffering and Why is It?

It seems to be that, the higher up the hierarchy of the Animal Kingdom you go, the more capable of suffering a species is. I am not referring to moving up the hierarchy in the form of a ladder of course.... This is often wrongly believed, to be how the evolutionary process happens, one species being higher up the wrung than another. This of course is a false analogy, it suggests forethought in nature, in moving from, single celled organisms, up through every complexity of species, until nature arrives at mankind, suggesting that nature somehow planned to arrive at us.

The evolutionary process isn't like a ladder at all. It is more like a thick bush, with many, many branches, going off in one direction or another. When one species becomes extinct, then this is, analogous to a branch on the bush wilting away.

All I mean in terms of hierarchy, is brain development. The more well developed a brain is (in terms of complexity), then the more capable of suffering the species carrying that brain seems to be. Thus, a Caterpillar is more capable of suffering than an amoeba, a bird is more capable of suffering than a caterpillar, a dog is more capable of suffering than a bird, an ape is more capable of suffering than a dog and a human being is more capable of suffering than an ape, and of every other animal altogether.

When people are terminally ill, they will often say, why me? ...This infers of course that they were some how selected out at random and 'chosen by nature' (leaving peoples belief in God aside) and it is thus, their turn to suffer. But the fact is that nature is blind, it simply doesn't care, indeed, it couldn't care, it has no self-awareness of you me or anyone else.

The correct answer over the question 'why me?' is of course, simply: 'that's how it is'. It is that simple, what that really means, is that there is no 'why question', beyond that of the illness itself. Of course, this in of itself, is not very comforting, so people will look for reasons, for why it is happening to them. But of course, in reality, terminal illness that leads to suffering, is happening to millions of people everyday. But, when you 'alone' seem to be suffering, it is hard to look beyond yourself and see that others are suffering too.

This why question, is often irrationally used in other areas of life too. For example when a Tsunami hits and kills many people, individuals will often say why? But of course we have a perfectly good explanation of why? - We live on a cooling planet, and as such, land mass, like cooling plastic that's been on a hot plate and then put in ice, will shrink and crack, it's that simple. There is no 'why?' beyond the physiological explanation than land masses move about, and when this happens under the ocean, it sometimes causes a tidal wave, that's just how it is.

When the brakes on your car wear down, you don't ask why? ...You simply realize it is wear and tear. Entropy through age creeps up on us. We all have to die of some illness or another, despite the fact that doctors often put natural causes on the death certificate, it is not quite that general of course. We all basically die of some illness or another (barring death by accident). Even just calling it old age is not really an answer, there is a route cause illness, behind every 'natural death', including that called old age. Old age comes with a weakening of the immune system and in that sense old age is the route cause. But it is that weakened immune system, that lets illness take hold, that at a younger age, our immunity would fend off.

None of this seems very comforting of course. But as a very secular minded individual, I would much rather face up to how reality is, rather than pretend, just because the pretense might seem comforting. To know that when one is ill, that there is no 'why me?' question that need be answered, other than the answer of the illness itself, I find that comforting in itself. If you face up to something as it actually is, you are more able to deal with it.

Having said all that, minimizing suffering, is of course very important. Nobody should ever have to suffer, if they are terminally ill. We now have medicines that can relieve pain. Mental anguish is of course a different kind of suffering, and is far harder to treat. But whether a person is suffering through physical pain, or through mental anguish, then the best we can do as a society is to advance technology, to the point where all such suffering is either totally eradicated at best, or at least minimized as far as possible. In the meantime, all of us should show as much compassion as possible, just as when we suffer, we would want others to be compassionate towards us.

If a dog is terminally ill and in severe pain, we put it 'to sleep' out of compassion and an overwhelming desire to end its suffering. Why can we not show the same dignity toward our fellow human beings, who are, it seems more capable of suffering than dogs. This is where religion once again raises it's 'ugly head' and feels a need to be our moral adviser, in telling us what is good for us and apparently euthanasia is a wicked sin. When my time comes and if I am in severe pain, I will have no hesitation in looking for the helium bottle, if I cannot find relief from my suffering in any other way.

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