This post is a break from the normal schedule. It is a corollary to the “Philosophy Bites?” post a few days ago. I am going to try an answer one of the questions raised by readers of that post, in this case my old sparring partner Tom; who posted the following in the comments:
So, not to disagree with you, because I don’t, but merely to add to the argument, not so much in war, but in the scheme of moral judgements, where do you stand on killing for pleasure? and I don’t mean just for humans…
Note: Any complete answer could stretch to the length of a whole book. Ideas are not isolated but rather conjoined in a massive net of links comprised of concepts, indeed that is their purpose, and I am wary of giving a less than full account of an answer by the necessity to keep within a blog post length. Suffice to say, that this is a “clip notes” version. There may be much here that is lightly treated, but that is not (I hope) because it hasn’t been thought through.
Anyway, the short answer is this:
To kill purely for pleasure is to kill because one is grasping at desire.
This comes from not being able to “feel” anymore. The person is pushed into trying anything to feel again. To sate desire is the only modern way (or indeed requirement) to “feel” something. To kill because one desires seeing the pain of others is to dwell in extreme darkness. However, the new society; a society built around knowing itself, the society un-judging and filled full of people who know themselves will not produce people who kill for pleasure. This is because they would have too much understanding and natural respect for life.
Consider where the “pleasure” of these actions really comes from. Is it not from the illicit nature of the act? The illegality, the acting against the laws of the society brought without? The doing of “wrong” as a source of feeling something, anything? As the main character in “Natural Born Killers,” said, “…eventually you just become bad”.
Consider the school massacres in the US. Many people, many many people, have moralised as to why those guys killed their classmates. Some said it was the lack of prayer. Others claimed it was the access to firearms. Some even blamed the music and games they had. One guy claimed that they were “friendless” outsiders. As Chris Rock said, “I counted 4 of them, that’s more friends than many have. That’s enough for 2 on 2 in a half court!”
The truth is that these boys had lost themselves to such an extent that they couldn’t feel anything. Wrapped in a cotton wool ball of a society, a life with no meaning whatsoever, a culture of only saturating desire, where the highest virtue is to be on the top of a pile of people with, as Eddie Izzard says, “…enough money to grab it with both hands and jam it in your ears and go blarg!”
When satisfying desires are the only virtues, people lose touch with the sense of reality. They start to only define themselves as the “I” in contrast to the world of “not I”. They can only care about themselves, this I, this illusion they have identified themselves with.
They are essentially Super-Selfish.
Clearly, killing in this mentally degraded form is not going to follow the flow of natural justice. It is a symptom of a sickness in the mind and soul. Not in the way often imagined in court, which claims that they have lost the so called “moral self”, rather in the way that they have forgotten about anyone but the “I” that they imagine themselves to be.
But, you asked about the “animal world”. As I said in the article, I strongly suggest that we are not apart from the animal world; rather we are in it in every way. I don’t differentiate between human and animal. Therefore it is the same. The Killer Whales throwing sea lions to each other may be acting in some way other than “pleasure killing” (in the way we say of a psycho killer), but they may also not be. They may be acting from a pure natural instinct or even a societal pressure. We have no idea. They may be, as Nietzsche said of eagles, acting from a noble principle. A principle he hoped we would develop. In fact, I am sure we have got it – we just repress it for its brutality. They may be suffering every false perspective that we are. I don’t contend that “the animal world” is any better or worse than ours. Basically, because there is only one world and we exist in it in the same way as any other animal.
If I ran a court of law and a case came before me, I would consider it differently from one might expect. In the courts of today, a man may claim to have been “deranged” at the time of the crime. They say this as an excuse. It is not. One who kills in the mind of derangement would be instantly guilty in my court. Being of “unsound mind” at the time of the crime would garner a harsher treatment and punishment than not being. Being out of touch with the natural flow of what is right would be no reason for leniency; it is a damning thing to say in defence.
This is essentially because in the new society freedom comes from a sound knowledge of reality. A person who is freed from the chains of desire would not kill unjustly. Freedom, of course, also means the freedom to commit crimes, but – importantly – it also means knowing the consequences. Killing would garner being killed. Stealing would mean being stolen from.
This, of course, sounds simplistic. Bourgeoisie. What about stealing to prevent starvation?
Ah, well, this is where the new society differs from our own. One would never have to steal to eat or to live. The very concept of the poor is completely tied up with the equally horrendous concept of the rich. They are like a valley and a mountain. In our current society is a necessity that some “have not”.
Digression: I was once told by a teacher that they “don’t want everyone to pass their exams; someone has to clean the roads”. What a horrible concept. In some countries, like for example Japan, they respect all professions and those cleaning roads do so with pride. It is a strange and humbling thing to see for someone brought up in England, but no doubt slowly being eroded.
It is in the heart of capitalism to segregate people into whether they possess “things”, “stuff”, money, “riches”, etc. Society needs to come to know itself. Coming to know that the “I” that we obsess about is by its very nature a tool of grasping desire. It forces us into patterned illusion. So, we look at the “culture of celebrity” rather than look within, we desire what “they” have. Be it better bodies, money or success. We are intensely jealous of their success (usually success in some shallow and worthless realm) because we have been conditioned to believe that financial success and fame is the source of happiness. Take Jordan, or Paris Hilton. Both are only famous because people either want to be them or sleep with them. In a similar way as this looking up and wishing, we look down on others too. We look at such things as the TV show “Eastenders” to tell ourselves that, no matter how bad it is, we do not “sin” as much as those poor petty fuckers!
It is like the old Peter Cook and Dudley Moore sketch, where the three classes all look down on those below and up to those above. Indeed the entire “morality” inherited from Christianity is setup in this way. God sits at the top like a king, his half human son as a prince, the Pope, the Queens, the Lords, the Plebs. Such a structure from above is actually a reflection of our own society. Jesus’ real message was actually quite different and much more mystical.
“I am God’s Son…,” Jesus said. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 10:36 & John 14:9).
This doesn’t make sense to us in the West if we don’t have a religious hierarchy and thereby make Jesus an immortal son of God. If he had been born in India, and said those things in Hinduism, he would have not garnered even a raised eyebrow. From their point of view we are all “God” and the world is an “act” (in the sense of a play or performance). The spirit of God is “playing” at being us. The comment, “I am God’s Son,” would have been met with congratulations for finally working that out, not a stoning!
Our structure of life in the West, that flows from Christian morals into its Capitalist/Humanist successor, is setup to say that “you are not special”. You are not Jesus. No, you are not even Jordan. You are nothing until you climb over the rest, until you get all that you desire – something you can never do, and become “rich” in stuff. It’s an almost worthless existence.
As Tyler Durden said, “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”
All of this is to take our mind off the truth, which is that modern life sucks. It is fundamentally, insipidly and culturally bankrupt, puerile and meaningless under its own rules.
In the past we were told that we should become “rock stars” to be happy. In a very important way I “got this”, as at least “rock stars” create something; music. But, then this requires effort, talent and knowing oneself to be creative (try creating art while under illusion, you can’t (and before you mention drugs and music, consider that drugs often open reality not hide it)). In modern times you don’t even need to do anything creative. You just need to be rich. Richness is its own reward and access to fame. It is quite worse than pathetic.
So, while our society is ordered in this way and the world is lost in this way (the Capitalist way of doing things is truly taking over the world spiralling everything down the plughole) then killing can be performed for pleasure, but it is a form of mental sickness. A sickness of losing the connection with oneself and therefore the connection with the ultimate reality; the Dao.
In the new society killing would not and could not be performed for pleasure, but it might be performed for justice.
There is no calamity greater than lavish desires.
There is no greater guilt than discontentment.
And there is no greater disaster than greed.
Note: Of course, my personal philosophy is not pure Daoist. I am the product of my training and upbringing, not to mention my environment, genes and epi-genetics. In this vein, I make no claim to know the true Dao. Anyone who does hasn’t read the book. The very first line makes this clear. I don’t speak the Dao, but sometimes I feel it, and for me that is a source of great happiness.