Here's a Dumb Idea: To Eliminate All Suffering, Eliminate Predators!
I have written that our fear of suffering is becoming so neurotic that it threatens not only the recognition of human exceptionalism, but our rationality itself. Not only does the desire to eliminate suffering shade over into a desire to eliminate the sufferer, but the concept has become so elastic that it even now includes the suffering of nature.
Case in point: One of the world's most notable transhumanists, George Dvorsky -- whom I saw advocate "uploading" animal consciences into computers to end the suffering caused by predation -- has found a fellow transhumanist who wants us to spend resources and energy in a ridiculous attempt to end predation in the animal kingdom. From "The Radical Plan to End Life's Predatory Species" over at io9:
Should animals be permitted to hunt and kill other animals? Some futurists believe that humans should intervene, and solve the "problem" of predator vs. prey once and for all.
Why should we do such a stupid thing? BECAUSE WE MUST END ALL SUFFERING!
British philosopher David Pearce can't imagine a future in which animals continue to be trapped in the never-ending cycle of blind Darwinian processes. It's up to us, he argues, to put our brains, our technologies, and our sense of compassion to good use, and do something about it. It's part of his overarching Hedonistic Imperative, a far-sighted "abolitionist project" set with the goal of achieving nothing less than the elimination of all suffering on the planet. And by all suffering, he means all suffering.
Pearce is so morally confused -- because he rejects human exceptionalism -- that he apparently believes that our reaction to a lion taking down a zebra should be the same as if we saw a snake eating a toddler:
From the perspective of the victim, the moral status or (lack of) guilty intent of a human or nonhuman predator is irrelevant. Either way, to stand by and watch the snake asphyxiate a child would be almost as morally abhorrent as to kill the child yourself. So why turn this principle on its head with beings of comparable sentience and sentience to human infants and toddlers?
With power comes complicity. For better or worse, power over the lives of all sentient beings on the planet is now within our grasp. Inevitably, critics talk of "hubris". Humans shouldn't "play God". What right have humans to impose our values on members of another race or species?
The charge is seductive but misplaced. There is no anthropomorphism here, no imposition of human values on alien minds. Human and nonhuman animals are alike in an ethically critical respect. The pleasure-pain axis is universal to sentient life. The wishes of a terrified toddler or a fleeing zebra to flourish unmolested are not open to doubt even in the absence of the verbal capacity to say so.
No. "Wishes" isn't the issue. The fact that the toddler is a human being with greater importance than the zebra should matter most to us morally. But when you give up human exceptionalism, well, a rat is a pig is a dog is a snake is a zebra is a mouse -- we're all the same.
Okay, how would Pearce end suffering caused by predators?
First, wipe them out, the way we would the malaria-spreading mosquito. Second, if people don't want to do that, use genetic engineering:
I'm not personally convinced that we need such predatory species to survive in any shape or form -- not even genetically "reprogrammed" to be harmless to their usual victims. But let's assume otherwise. Can the twin principles of conservation biology and compassionate ecosystem design be reconciled?
In principle, yes. If we really want to preserve free-living crocodiles, snakes and tigers and deliver a cruelty-free biosphere, then the carnivorous members of tomorrow's wildlife parks will need to be genetically and behaviorally tweaked -- with neurochips, GPS tracking and abundance of other high-tech safeguards to prevent accidents.
It's good to be a philosopher. Even though your ideas have zero chance of success, you get paid to come up with ridiculous theories, use big words to be taken seriously, and receive awed coverage by the best magazines (as has Pearce).
Transhumanists like Dvorsky and Pearce deny human exceptionalism. But it would take a very exceptional species to eliminate predation in the natural world. Indeed, that these guys want to eliminate all suffering demonstrates the same thing.