Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Day 11: No Pain, No Gain?

The Orgasm Pill is safe and effective; it has no side-effects. It guarantees all of the pleasure, with none of the potentially painful regrets, anxious worries, or awkward good-byes!

[Reader advisory: This post is more about suffering than sex, so proceed at your own risk.]

So, I asked my class, should such a drug be approved? Should we seek to design it? If we had it, would you take it?

I didn't quite use those exact words, but I'm pretty confident my students (they're smart) got the drift. The (much) broader question was: We want public policies to reduce suffering and increase happiness, don't we? Each time policies do this, we consider them successful....but how far should we go?

Yesterday, I learned that electricity and water are free to all Qatari citizens. That's right: free. They can use all they want -- Endless hot showers! Toilet flushing party games! Let's turn the AC on and open the windows! -- without any negative consequences, at least for the individuals doing the consuming. Scarcity has been eradicated; abundance abounds. Paradise, no?

Forget for the moment that this can't last forever. Nothing ever does. And remember that going without electricity makes life harder, and going without water makes it impossible. So kudos to the Qatari government for providing citizens unlimited amounts of these good things.


There were some murmurs from the students as we discussed this. No, they didn't really think that the policy of free "juice" should be extended to all people in the country (Americans tend to think similarly regarding the goods that their government provides). No, they didn't necessarily think that "getting something for nothing" was always a good thing.

Which almost brings us back to the Orgasm Pill (in fact, the example I used was a diet pill that allowed you to eat whatever you wanted -- anyone for a double order of the KFC double-down sandwich? -- without gaining weight or feeling ill). Cue the fireworks.

The students seemed to think that "the bad should come along with the good". Pain and suffering are what make us human, after all. More precisely, it is the recognition that we will experience pain and suffering that is our defining characteristic. Eliminate those things, and we are....well, what are we then?

Hmm. In the abstract ("posing a gotcha hypothetical") I might agree with this, so let me ask and answer some specific questions; I encourage the reader to do the same. Throughout human history, childbirth has been accompanied by great pain for the mother and the high odds that the baby would die: that was all a "natural" part of humanity.

Mark: If you could make pregnancy risk free, would you?
Mark: Yes.

Mark: If you could eliminate pain from childbirth, would you?
Mark: Yes.

Mark: If you could guarantee that your child -- all children -- would be born healthy, would you?
Mark: Yes.

Those who wish suffering for themselves can have it: it's all yours. Those who wish other people to experience pain: cut it out.

I offer no compelling finale. The (conceptual) Orgasm Pill...would I want it? Sure. Should I take it? Hmmm....

No comments:

Post a Comment