L’impératif hédoniste – Chapitre 5

5. Conclusion.

« The world of the happy is quite different from the world of the unhappy. »

5.0 Puppet-Masters Without Strings.

One’s attitude to the abolitionist project will be largely a function of the mood in which this manifesto is read. If it succeeds, then the judgement of our blissful descendants on paradise-engineering is likely to be unequivocal. The self-authenticating value of heavenly states of consciousness, and the need to underwrite them genetically to safeguard mental superhealth, will seem compelling. At the other extreme, a significant minority of our contemporaries, diagnosable even today as (sub-)clinically depressed, will welcome the prospect of universal happiness. For a post-Darwinian era of genetically preprogrammed well-being promises a release from their chronic suffering and malaise. Sadly, salvation in the guise of gene-therapy may arrive too late for many of us.

The greatest resistance to the prospect of real-life heaven-on-earth will most likely come from medically ill-named « euthymics ». Euthymic mood is statistically typical of products of the present human genome. It’s the mood in which we perform our standard « reality-checks ». Alas our normal waking discontents are only a brutish parody of mature post-Darwinian mental health. To someone of today’s « natural » cast of mind, however, the assent expressed by genetically-enhanced post-humans to lifelong bliss will count for little. After all, a contemporary sceptic may observe, the crack-addict in the throes of an uncontrolled cocaine binge is untroubled by self-doubt either. His rational acumen and practical wisdom are seriously open to question. Likewise, any endorsement of the abolitionist project expressed by depressives will be dismissed too. The sceptic will argue it’s just a cognitive pathology consequent on their morbid state.

So we have a bit of an impasse. In what mood should this manifesto be appraised? Is there a more-or-less cognitively neutral type of affective state from which the moral worth, and/or practical advantages, of all other affective states can best be judged? When does a mere processing-bias or a cognitive filter take on a hallucinatory aspect that entails certain possibilities are intellectually closed to the victim? Could one be living one’s whole life in the grip of an affective psychosis that has infected one’s belief and value system to the core?

This whole discussion might seem objectionably psychologistic. All that really counts, one will be told severely, is logical rigour of argument. Rationally, mood doesn’t matter. So why extend a woolly, touchy-feely invitation to evaluate the abolitionist project in a blissed-out and presumably uncritical state of mind as well? Surely the essence of paradise-engineering can be understood and appraised, for good or ill, right now?

Unfortunately it’s not that simple. We are not disembodied inference-engines. Abstract platonic propositions can be accessed only by abstract platonic minds. From a naturalistic perspective, there are only spatio-temporally located thought-episodes playing out in flesh-and-blood mind/brains. Their causal sequence of states may partially simulate, but cannot literally instantiate, some notional platonic realm of abstract inference. Anything that physically tends to optimise one’s reasoning processes in the natural world should not be lightly dismissed. For in practice the affective, volitional and cognitive aspects to one’s thoughts are only notionally separable. Mood and meaning interpenetrate. One’s conception of the very nature of Reality itself depends, in large measure, on where one presently finds oneself in the affective spectrum. Perhaps « depressive realism » is realistic relative only to its promordial Darwinian context. There doesn’t seem to be any cognitively neutral affective state from which all the others can be impartially judged.

Sadly, medical science cannot hope to resolve the question of putative Ideal Mental States – or whether we should aspire to them if they exist. Which of an organism’s psychophysical processes should be classified as pathological or healthy would seem very much a conventional – though not arbitrary – matter of culture, social negotiation and personal prejudice. Mental health and soundness of judgement will tend to be defined, in part, by contemporaneous statistical norms for the population as a whole. And if the average hedonic base-line of our species will indeed be ratcheted upwards via the insertion and orchestrated expression of germ-line « paradise-genes » in our offspring, then the nominal good health of one age can become the terrible psychopathology of a more enlightened era. In retrospect, perhaps all Darwinian hominoids will strike posterity as sick in mind and body alike.

So if one finds oneself viscerally hostile to the idea of universal happiness, and if by contemporary standards one falls within the statistically normal range in one’s emotional repertoire, then just how seriously should one contemplate the following possibility? Today we are the victims of what our successors will reckon an atavistic mood disorder. This disorder infects all our thoughts as well as all our feelings and volitions. It is a historical condition no less epistemically defective than are dream-psychoses from the perspective of the waking state.

Is the worry one might be locked in such an affective psychosis just the product of idle scepticism? Given the cognitive inaccessibility of most of the generically ecstatic states alluded to here, perhaps one wouldn’t know if one were so afflicted. After all, damaged and disfigured minds may have limited self-insight. Nor would one necessarily have the conceptual resources even to grasp what was at stake if one suffered from such a neural deficit. Pure, « unearned », genetically-driven bliss of even the mildest flavour detracted from the inclusive fitness of one’s genes in the ancestral environment. Constitutionally happy freaks-of-nature got eaten or outbred. Hence unipolar euphoric mania today is vanishingly rare; unipolar melancholic depression and chronic dysthymia are all too common. Is one’s potential unease, if not revulsion, at the prospect of paradise-on-earth an incidental cultural by-product of natural selection? Or has selection pressure ensured that one is genetically predisposed to be biased against the idea of enduring bliss in the first instance?

5.1 Could Life Really Have A Happy Ending?

It’s time to take stock. Most of the more exotic delights sketched out in this manifesto will probably never be enjoyed by the reader. They require a level of theoretical understanding and biomedical expertise that we simply do not yet command. Many of the practical difficulties that the abolitionist project must overcome have been skated over here with the kind of blithe disregard for detail that only an ignorance of nitty-gritty technical complexities can bestow. If, however, a single major government, charitable foundation or segment of the global power elite were to sanction the necessary research and development, then gradients of sustainable, chemically-underwritten euphoria are quite tantalisingly accessible, even now, to those of us who want psychological superhealth. Better still, germ-line gene therapy can then turn gradients of lifelong ecstatic well-being into the natural post-human condition. A hereditary condition of invincible well-being may prove to be the foundation on which any advanced civilisation is built. The option of rewriting the vertebrate genome, and redesigning the global ecosystem, extends the prospect of paradise-engineering to the rest of the living world.

Admittedly, in the absence of concerted international action to promote at least a skeletal world-wide counterpart to the national welfare-state, the wretched plight of much of the world’s population means that any instant dash to raw, unempathetic euphoria on the part of a materially privileged minority would be premature. It would be selfish in the extreme – though not necessarily more so than the life-styles of competitive individualism, rampant consumerism and incompetent recreational drug-abuse that many of us live at present. Yet one of the providential blessings of the abolitionist project is that – with a decent bit of planning – it can supplant the old, quasi-zero-sum approach to the allocation of life’s rewards. If properly managed, the route to felicific enlightenment ahead will soon be genetically open to all. Lifelong well-being needn’t be the preserve of the affluent few. Nor need lifelong well-being be the reward solely of the morally good and « deserving ». In fact with a combination of cognitive-enhancers (« smart drugs ») and gentle euphoriants, there is no reason why the old age of the sympathetic reader shouldn’t herald, not a slow, spirit-sapping decline, but a period of beautiful experiences and glorious self-fulfilment. Thus later life can be a time immeasurably richer than anything (s)he has enjoyed before.

Many people will have internalised too many of the life-impoverishing hang-ups of humanity’s biological past to contemplate playing a pioneering role and participating in the era ahead; just as misplaced prudery prevents many people from enjoying sex. But life, one may think, should climax in an orgasmic celebration of being, not a fatalistic world-weary fade-out.