Crushed by Suffering

Question from Dominic:
How do you deal with senseless suffering–like heartless cruelty imposed on innocent animals? There is such a thing as crush videos where women, mostly in high heels, enjoy crushing small animals on the floor in a gruesome, lengthy process to provide sexual satisfaction for the viewer. Those who produce it say it is allowable because of free speech and also because the dark web has no censorship unlike the surface web. Isn’t it true that without absolutes in the moral area everything is permissible?

Answer by SmartLX:
Yes, I know about crushing videos. There’s room for debate over whether the women who participate enjoy it, or are simply doing what the punters will pay to see as in other kinds of pornography, but animals are tortured and killed regardless.

Just because everything is “permissible” in a high philosophical sense doesn’t mean everything is actually permitted in a practical sense. Cruelty to animals is illegal in most countries and the makers of these videos are prosecuted if caught, for cruelty to animals if not for the videos themselves. No one argues in court that killing the animals for pleasure is fine, only that once the videos are made they’re protected by free speech. They do the killing in ways that make it hard to attribute to anyone. (The “dark web” makes the videos easier to produce and distribute but doesn’t affect their morality, so it’s irrelevant.)

Regarding the free speech aspect, in the United States the videos were outlawed in 1999 after they came to light. The ban was struck down as unconstitutional, but only because it was too broad and mistakenly encompassed all kinds of non-fetish videos involving wildlife and livestock. There was another law in 2010 that did what it could in the circumstances, banning interstate commerce of the videos. The issue was badly handled overall but the government and the courts have done what they thought would protect the animals and punish their tormentors at every stage.

To focus on your main point, if an absolute basis for morals were needed to create an ethical society a secular legal system would be impossible, because the only moral absolutes are those asserted by religions on behalf of their gods, and those are dependent on a shared assumption that the gods not only exist but have the same morals claimed by the religions. Fortunately, it’s possible to have an objective basis for morals and ethics using a more reasonable assumption, such as that the needless suffering of helpless animals should be prevented where possible. This isn’t backed up by any moral imperative baked into the universe (indeed nature completely disregards it and wolves happily eat bunnies) but it has such a near-universal consensus (far more reliable than a simple majority) among humans that those who like to cause or watch the suffering can be justifiably classified as aberrant. We feel quite comfortable calling the videos “wrong” without a hypothetical ethereal lawgiver to tell us we’re right, and while philosophical discussions might poke holes in the word they don’t change how we feel, and importantly how we act.

While it’s beside the point you were making, there’s still that first question of how to emotionally deal with the suffering of animals. It’s not as complex for atheists because we don’t have to wonder why a loving god would allow it. It happens, it’s awful, we feel their pain, we do what we can to prevent it, we give the animals in our lives enjoyment by playing with them, and so on. We accept that some things about the world suck, but not everything, so there’s still joy to be found and good to be done so we look for that. Boom, a high-level work-in-progress guide to living in the real world.

2 thoughts on “Crushed by Suffering”

  1. Some offer as a reason that there is no God because of violence of any kind. They claim how can an all knowing, all powerful, omnipresent, being sit idly by and permit such actions. They say that even if there is a God, that they could never accept Him as their God. But I would like to counter such beliefs, that how can a God who is trying to teach us to be more as we are meant to be. Take away our decision to aid those who are in need of our help. How can a God who is asking us to be like Him, take away the opportunity to choose to either be like Him or be the opposite of who He is. How best would be the way to allow each and every one of us whether we really desire to be loving or mean. Than to sit idly by and allow our characters to develop, just as we want ourselves to be. And even more, how can God, who was willing to die for our sin, take away our opportunity to shine as we go through the trials and tribulations, through the pain and suffering, to prevent us from knowing that He does keep His promise, that He is always with, even to the end. We have to allow our children to earn their scrapes and bruises, in order for them to achieve. It is the same way for us with God. He allows us to pass through the valleys, so that one day we can walk the heights of heaven along with Him. Psalm 23

  2. As humans, we have evolved to empathize. When we see (or hear about) videos of the sort you have mentioned, most of us feel revolted and pained. That is what being human means to us (feeling pained/ disgusted by such things).
    The fact remains that there are a miniscule (in percentage terms, though probably large in absolute number terms) fraction among us who get their jollies by watching such videos. They represent aberrant behavior of the harmful kind (the kind where you end up harming other living beings) … and thus we have laws evolved for dealing with such stuff.

    That said, the laws aren’t perfect, and misguided proponents of freedom of speech sometimes fail to tell the difference between free speech (that just creates noise, sometimes) and free action (that may actually harm living beings – or propagate the idea of harming them for making a quick buck). But that’s how the world is – its a reflection of how we all are – a lot of good, some bad, and a bit of the unspeakable.

    If we are to believe in god then we are in danger of replacing one misguided set of actions by another. If we are to believe in higher principles which are logical extensions of the cooperative/ live-and-let-live behavior that is somewhat evolutionarily programmed into us (along with the usual selfishness), I think we are much better off – and that’s usually how laws of the land evolve as well. There is no need for moral absolutes – the only principle that needs be followed is that of no intentional physical harm / positive overall utility for all living beings with as little negative outcomes for individuals as possible. These are biological/ economic alternatives that can be much more impactful than ill-framed moral absolutes.

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