I saw a video last week of a leopard trying to escape a pack of lions. It jumped into a tree but they nabbed it before it could get all the way up.
It spent the last few minutes of its life helpless with no friends or family around, just the pack of lions patiently circling. They waited until the leopard became too weak to fight any longer, then they killed it.
Every time I see a video like this I feel so fucking bad for that animal about to die, as I’m sure most of you do.
From the macro-perspective, you’ll hear the term “circle of life“, or the idea that all of nature works harmoniously together to make one lovely life cycle.
I buy that notion. Life on earth has existed for billions of years. For it to survive as long as it has, it must work in some sustainable cycle.
But I wonder why SUFFERING has persisted so thoroughly.
That leopard I watched was suffering. It knew it was going to die. It was likely in horrible pain. And it laid helpless as a few stronger animals looked on with zero regard for how it felt, just as it had done to countless animals before.
What blows my mind is that nearly every animal that has ever existed experienced a similar fate, be it dying of a predator, starvation, disease, etc. That type of unimaginably horrible suffering is one of the unifying aspects of the circle of life – we will all suffer.
No human or animal likes to suffer. But for some reason humans feel bad seeing others suffer in a way that animals clearly don’t. Empathy… or something.
That brings me to two possibilities:
1) Eliminating suffering is the next step in evolution
You can argue that humans developing empathy is a core reason to why we became the dominate species on earth! Despite what some hardos might say, our instinct to look away or kill quickly IS evolutionary and doesn’t make us betas.
But can the circle of life persist if you remove suffering? Through 4 billion years of evolution we haven’t seen an ounce of empathy until humans (I think). It seems hardwired that the suffering of others is NOT necessarily a bad thing, survival is more important.
It also seems impractical that humans, even over the next billion years, will replace the existing structure of nature with some suffer-less way of life. I don’t know how you would do that unless you start completely anew on Mars or something, which honestly isn’t that far-fetched.
2) Suffering isn’t bad
Humans act as if suffering is the worst thing possible. We dedicate enormous resources globally to ending suffering in countless ways. We’re trying to create the suffer-less world despite it being a permanent part of life to this point.
Is it possible that suffering just isn’t a bad thing? Should we let it happen? What is ‘bad‘? These are philosophical questions that have been asked for millennia!
I can view the notion of suffering is not bad from a high level and say “well we’re heading towards a heat death anyway so what’s the point.”
But from the immediate view, I can’t wrap my head around saying suffering isn’t bad. Evolution came up with ‘bad‘ would be my answer. There’s a reason we ALL instinctually turn away when we see the lion about to kill the zebra. I don’t think it’s a construct, I think it exists in all of us.
So I lean towards possibility #1. That suffering is bad. That evolution, after long enough, attempts to rid itself of suffering. Whether that happens on this planet or not, I don’t know. As I said, it seems too difficult to reverse what’s already in place, but it seems logical that if we have to move elsewhere, there won’t be the traditional ‘circle of life‘. If we pull it off the way we hope to, there will be very little suffering.
But in the meantime, the existing structure will persist, and suffering will be a part of life on earth seemingly no matter what. Have a good weekend!