The question of suffering is one that traditionally has been discussed within the academic philosophical school known as utilitarianism which in Para-Christian style advocates ‘sacrificing’ others in the interest of so called ‘utility’ as usually defined as generally minimizing suffering and generally maximizing happiness.
Of course this is more or less what Christianity claims that its famous pharisaic rabbi did on behalf of humanity generally by becoming executed by the Roman authorities in Jerusalem in the Roman Province of Judea.
However, it is also a fact that totalitarian political ideologies (Ba’athism, Communism, Fascism, Gaddafism, Islamism, Juche, Kahanism, Nazism and Slorcism) as well as the Animal Industry of Evil base themselves precisely on utilitarianism. This is so as the meta-ideology of utilitarianism is a verified slippery slope as indeed the road to hell is paved with good intentions. A philosophical school advocating sacrificing persons by means of zero-sum calculations is therefore certainly not the appropriate field of science to progress with regard to the question of suffering.
Rather, an applied science of suffering needs to emphasize maximizing the invention of tools designed to reduce suffering and therefore by extension also increase happiness. The reason we as Animals suffer is that we were equipped with nerves by what is known as evolution. Yet, indeed a plant too has nerves yet does not have a central nervous system, no brain and therefore there is no one to experience suffering because a plant is an individual but not a person as there is no agency of sentience and therefore no possibility whatsoever of experiencing anything, let alone suffering. The evolutionary introduction of nerves thus preceded the evolutionary introduction of sentience on planet Earth.
An applied science of suffering therefore needs to study structural suffering and how systems (whether aging, biological, bureaucratic, cellular, discursive, ecological, economic, gendered, genetic, ideological, intellectual, legal, linguistic, medical, military, psychological, religious, sexual, social, technological, zoological etc.) can be altered and even supplanted in the interest of reducing suffering and therefore indirectly also produce more happiness. A science of suffering therefore needs to study the typically structural, indeed systemic nature of everyday suffering. Not that there is no random and coincidental suffering, but it is rather that nearly all suffering is structural and therefore systemic in nature and so an applied science of suffering needs also study and measure the relative success of interventions in systems as intended to reduce suffering and/or produce more happiness.
An applied science of suffering would therefore be transdisciplinary in seeing its task to intervene in systems with the intention of measured and verifiable intervention. An applied science of suffering would see its task as reducing suffering generally and irrespectively so of taxa (genus, race, species etc.) An applied science of suffering would not be a subset of the racial supremacist ideology of Humanism but would rather evaluate the relative efficacy and ethicalness of all forms of interventions as indeed intended to “do good” whether these attempts are cultural, ideological, military, political, religious or philosophical. Indeed many systems invented for the purpose of “doing good” are known to produce significant suffering as systems generally do indeed tend to produce suffering to varying degrees.
A science of suffering would therefore be devoted to the study of how systems structurally produce suffering; indeed the structurally unethical nature of systems themselves. There is indeed an implicit assumption in philosophical schools that it is the system itself that reduces negative aspects when in fact it is the system that produces the structural suffering. Indeed, systems are precisely not ethical despite the presumption that systems reduce suffering which of course they sometimes do.
An applied science of suffering would be committed to ethical engineering, ethical innovation and ethical entrepreneurship as effective means towards reducing suffering and thus indirectly cause more happiness. Innovation and engineering can indeed both reduce and increase suffering. Yet, the importance of finding effective technological means towards reducing suffering can hardly be exaggerated. Compare for example different users of uptodate computers who deploy Windows PC, Apple and Google Chromebook. Since users of personal computers with Windows operative systems typically experience far more technological nuisances than do typically users of Apple computers and Google Chromebooks is there no doubt whatsoever that the Windows operative system causes far more suffering to its users.
It is common in bureaucratic forms that too little space is left in the form for writing the required information. This is highly peculiar and indeed this may produce a feeling of more less severe anguish for the citizen/resident who is required to fill in the form with too little space for providing the requisite information. Although providing more space for writing would certainly be appropriate can bureaucratic forms rather become supplanted by computerized systems whereby anyone eligible for receiving say a housing benefit will be electronically notified that s/he is eligible for the benefit and can subsequently accept receiving the economic benefit by a mere click on the computer.
Why do bureaucratic forms tend to cause anguish for those expected to fill in the forms? There could be more reasons such as the form being otherwise incompetently designed and in causing doubt about how to properly fill in the form due to obscure instructions. While the relative suffering involved in filling in a bureaucratic form may certainly seem individually relatively insignificant in comparison to relatively more severe forms of suffering, the total sum of such ostensibly “insignificant” suffering worldwide is literally gargantuan as is indeed the total sum of “small suffering” throughout the life of a person. A science of suffering however should be devoted to studying all forms of suffering, including seemingly “minor” forms of suffering. While suffering is typically caused by pre-existing systems of various kinds, prevention of suffering is typically poorly understood and so political, ideological and philosophical methods for reducing suffering are typically ineffective and often both tactically and strategically misguided.
A science of suffering is however not supposed become yet another utilitarian calculus, an economy of suffering where reduction of suffering is essentially treated as a zero-sum game. Rather, methodological pluralism and innovation need to be emphasized as more and more tools (discursive, economic, logical, medical, methodological, technological, terminological etc.) need to become made available for a general politics of reducing suffering that certainly should not be reducible to philosophy let alone any particular philosophical school. An applied science of suffering therefore needs to seek more and more means whose efficacy and ethicalness obviously need to to be substantially verified.
Much like a government annually presents a budget so could a government present an annual program for reducing suffering that would also in detail explain how suffering has been successfully and ethically and indeed verifiably so reduced during the past year. While it is difficult to exactly measure suffering in neurological terms, suffering could be more approximately measured using simple questionnaires as applied and aggregated on a mass scale and so the annual reduction of suffering as compared to the previous year should be measurable and need be nearly optimal indeed and importantly so without sacrificing contextually innocent others or causing further redundant suffering. This means that an applied science of suffering and indeed the government itself need to become quite swift in embracing innovative, verified and ethically creative tools for reducing suffering in society and environment, i.e. in non-human societies as well. Indeed, the mathematically calculated budget of reduction of suffering may come to be recognized as no less important in political life than the budget of money. Indeed, companies should be legally required to publicly describe in an annual report how they every year reduce and avoid causing suffering.
One area of law where utilitarianism runs supreme are the laws of war which allows for killing civilians provided that 1) this is not actual purpose but is rather an unwanted aspect of striking military targets and 2) that the expected civilian death toll is proportionate to the expected military gain, meaning the expected military utility. Israel is typically criticized for defending itself and its citizens in wartime and it is typically demanded that Israel when waging defensive war must do so without actually killing any human being or at least must there not be any civilian casualties whatsoever. This is of course a typical example of structural contemporary Anti-Jewish prejudice which assumes that any death toll (whether combatant, civilian or both) is evidence of war crime and/or crime against humanity. This of course has roots in medieval Anti-Jewish prejudice where rabbinic Jews in Islamdom and Christendom where legally prohibited from bearing arms and could therefore only defend themselves and their property by hiring Muslim/Christian body guards.
Nevertheless, this is an issue that is far too important to be left to Anti-Jewish bigotry as indeed the principle of proportionality in the laws of war literally are a utilitarian zero sum game. Why then are there still so many civilian casualties in contemporary armed conflict? One reason is that contemporary wars are typically asymmetric with terrorists/guerrillas/militias hiding within civilian populations themselves and thus under the laws of war militarize what would otherwise be protected civilian targets. Another reason is that weapons are still developed to become as destructive as possible.
Anyone genuinely concerned about minimizing civilian casualties in wartime should therefore also be concerned about rather developing weapon systems that are more accurate and therefore typically less powerful in physical impact. Smart small weapons such as smart micro-drones that would be effective in targeting individuals and groups of individuals need therefore be developed in order for war to not only become more effective but also in causing increasingly fewer non-combatant casualties, including minimizing casualties among non-human persons as well.
Once weapons are developed for pinpointing rather than for intended widespread destruction can the laws of war of war also change. However it is an important point to make that such paradigmatic change in research and development in defense industries around the world must come first and legal change only later as military self-defense would otherwise in principle become effectively disabled which for example would make it impossible for liberal democracies to defend themselves against onslaught by hostile dictatorships, something which would effectively make it impossible for liberal democracies and therefore open societies to even survive.
This is indeed a case of how an applied science of suffering will not only study the systemic nature of the causation of suffering (i.e. mass destruction and legal utilitarianism) but also engage in technological innovation that would enable and precipitate legal change.
Indeed, suffering is statistically measurable, albeit individual suffering can still not be accurately measured, yet mass suffering can indeed be statistically measured by aggregating the results of individual questionnaires. Just as GDP (Gross Domestic Product) can be measured so can Gross Domestic Suffering, Gross International Suffering and Gross Ecological Suffering be statistically measured as well.
Indeed, an applied science of suffering would be completely transdisciplinary in harvesting every ethical tool possible for minimizing suffering yet without engaging in the utilitarian practice of sacrifice of contextually innocent persons. Utilitarianism is indeed a slippery slope and so an applied science of suffering must not be limited to philosophy generally or to utilitarianism specifically but must indeed like critical theory become active everywhere in science and indeed throughout human and non-human society alike.
The Eurolect – Politics of the Para-Christian documentation project