: A Philosophical Critique of Desire (2003)
Preface & Chapter 1
What is Painless Civilization?
> General information about this book
(Ch.1 Ch.2 Ch.3 Ch.4 Ch.5 Ch.6 Ch.7 Ch.8)
*Translated by Kenny Gundle (Preface and Section One of Chapter One were made by Masahiro Morioka)
*Page numbers in the original are marked by [(preceding page) / (following page)].
I wonder if contemporary society might now be being swallowed up by a pathology, the pathology of “painless civilization.” I would like to deliver this book to those who are in the midst of anxiety covered over with pleasure, in the midst of repetition without any joy, and in the midst of an endless labyrinth without exit, but are nevertheless willing to live their lives without regret in a corner of their minds.
The first part, from Chapter 1 to Chapter 6, originally appeared serially in a magazine from 1998 to 2000, and then was completely rewritten for this book. The original serial publication provoked a massive response among people who were interested in philosophy.
I then wrote the conclusion, Chapter 7 and Chapter 8, newly for this book. In Chapter 8, the secret of “painless civilization” is finally uncovered.
When we feel, in contemporary society, a vague anxiety as if we are totally wrapped in a transparent film, we might be sensing the existence of “painless civilization” in an intuitive manner. This book is an endeavor to give a name to this kind of feeling that the readers would have experienced at least once in their life. [1/2]
Chapter 1: What is Painless Civilization?
1 Painless Civilization
A civilization without pain and suffering seems to be the ideal of the human race. However, I wonder if people might end up with losing sight of joy, and forgetting the meaning of life, in a society pervaded by pain reduction mechanisms and filled with pleasure.
I first came up with the words “painless civilization” when I attended a lecture by a nurse working for one of the largest hospitals in Japan.
She talked about an aged female patient in the intensive care unit she was taking charge of. The patient had an injury in the brain. The patient was attached to monitors and given intravenous nutrition and drugs. The nurses gave sensitive care to the patient in the room in which the temperature was properly controlled. The patient’s condition was improved, and became steady, but the nurse had an unspeakable feeling during the care of the patient. [3/4] Every time when she dried the patient’s body with a towel, or changed the position of the patient in bed, the question came to her “What on earth are we doing?”
This is because although the patient did not have a clear consciousness, she was still alive in a state of peaceful sleep. Given proper medical treatment and nursing care, the patient kept sleeping deeply and peacefully. The patient would probably never wake up again. Given nutrition and drugs, and with her body kept clean by sensitive nursing care, the patient would keep sleeping pleasantly in the room in which the temperature was comfortably controlled.
A human being who keeps sleeping with a peaceful expression, wrapped in an perfectly controlled environment. No need to work. No need to study. No worries of life. Free from daily tasks. No pain, anxiety, or fear. All the patient does is just stay in a state of comfortable and peaceful sleep protected from all those worries.
The nurse said, “I wonder what contemporary civilization aims to create in the end might be the state of a human being like this.”
Aren’t the activities of contemporary civilization nothing but to create, on a social scale, this kind of human being sleeping peacefully in intensive care units? Isn’t contemporary civilization systematically trying to create humans, in the intensive care units named cities, the humans who look at first sight to be working cheerfully and playing merrily, but in fact just sleeping peacefully in the deep layer of their life? If that should be the case, then, who set the trap? Why has civilization progressed in this direction? [4/5]
2 Human “Self-Domestication”
Although perhaps a small detour, in order to fully understand the shape of this “painless civilization” I would like to consider the relationship between human beings and domesticated animals. The reason for this is that people in an intensive care unit, frankly, rather resemble cattle in the middle of a livestock factory. Imagine a row of chickens kept in small cages where the light and temperature are artificially controlled, an adequate amount of food is provided by means of a conveyor belt, and life becomes only a matter of earnestly eating and sleeping.
Are not the same things humans do for livestock now being done for people? And isn’t this what we have come to call civilization?
People treating themselves as livestock is the meaning behind “self-domestication.” E. von Eickstedt proposed the concept of human self-domestication in the 1930s. He thought that people, under the influence of an artificial environment, are living in a domesticated animal-like state. As proof, he pointed out that characteristics of the human figure are transforming just like those of domesticated animals. This way of thinking was soon inherited by Konrad Lorenz and Hideo Obara.
In order to think deeply about painless civilization, it is necessary to first examine their works on self-domestication. I want to take a simple look at these theories while consulting the literary works of Hideo Obara, whose thoughts on self-domestication developed its own distinctive course. (See for reference: Hideo Obara, Pettokasuru Gendaijin (Modern Man Who are Making Themselves Pets), NHK Books, 1995. / Kyouiku Wa Ningen O Tsukureru Ka (Can Education Form Human Essence?), Noubunkyou, 1989. / Jikokachikuka Ron (A Theory of Self-domestication), Gunyousha, 1984). [5/6] After that we will return to the problems of modern people and society.
Human beings tamed wild goats and sheep as domestic animals about seven thousand years ago. Although putting goats and sheep out to pasture is greatly different from caging up hens, Obara sorted out the characteristics he saw in both types of domestication in the following manner.
Firstly, the domesticated animals are placed into an artificial environment. To a greater or lesser extent, domestic animals live out their daily existence enclosed in space that is under the control of humans. These animals are not permitted to go outside of the human-prepared system.
Secondly, food is automatically provided to domesticated animals; they need not search out their own sustenance because the owner prepares it for them. The necessity for domesticated animals to utilize an ability to seek their own food disappears.
Thirdly, domestic animals are far removed from the threats of nature. For example, they are protected against invasion of natural enemies, drought, and other climate fluctuations.As the death of domesticated animals would be a great loss to people, owners protect these animals to the greatest possible extent and implement various devices for that very reason.
The fourth attribute of domesticated animals is that their breeding is controlled.Humans artificially bring together the male and female animals to produce offspring; the number, birth interval, etc. are controlled in order to suit the convenience of people.This kind of controlled reproduction could be called the essential reality of domesticated animals (Yutaka Tani persuasively points out the intervention in reproduction and breast-feeding that comes into existence with animal domestication. See for reference: Kami, Hito, Kachiku (God, Man, and Domestic Animals), Heibonsha, 1997).
The fifth characteristic of domesticated animals is that they are selectively breed, in other words artificially selected, by humans.For example, wild wolves were domesticated by humans and became dogs. They were converted and made into a new species that perseveres with, and is obedient to, humans. To be ceaselessly reformed into something more useful to humans is the destiny of domesticated animals. [6/7]
The sixth characteristic of domestic animals is that the form of their physical bodies change. For example, wild boars were domesticated into pigs, but the physical body of the domestic pig changed. Their snouts shortened and bodily hair fell out while the amount of fat increased, their tusks degenerated, and their sexual cycle changed.
Obara pointed out the above points, but I would like to continue on and add two more.
Therefore, a seventh characteristic is that the death of domestic animals is controlled. In other words, humans devote all their effort to the survival of useful domestic animals, and then forcibly kill when the time comes for the animal to die. A pig is forced to continue to live until it becomes fat and filled with delicious meat, and once it can be put out for sale as food then it is compulsorily killed. Domestic animals are completely denied an “unexpected death.” Death is always determined by humans.
The eighth point is that domesticated animals are seen to take an attitude of “voluntary servitude” towards humans. Think about feeding a domesticated animal: in exchange for food, these animals will learn to toil at manual labor, become obedient, not run away, or perform tricks. Once this condition is accepted, even more a moment, from then onwards it is probably all too difficult to break way.
Incidentally, “self-domestication” refers to the fact that humans have driven themselves towards this kind of domesticated condition.
Let us look at these points in turn.
The first characteristic is living in an artificial environment. Humans established cities and converted the space we live in, to the utmost degree, into an artificial environment. We carry out our lives surrounded by houses, roads, water and sewer systems, automobiles, trains, and electricity. Waking up early, riding a train to one’s place of employment, and working in an air-conditioned office bears a certain resemblance to a chicken in a livestock factory. [7/8]
The second characteristic, regarding the automatic provision of food, is the very condition of people living in cities. How many people living in cities hunt for their own food in the mountains or fish their own food out of the sea? The great majority of people buy ingredients and finished items at the supermarket, spend a short time cooking, and then eat. As long as people have money, their food is very nearly provisioned automatically.
Humans have conquered the natural threats referred to by the third characteristic in the course of developing civilization. We maintain the rivers that flood, invented houses that typhoons cannot destroy, and have established a stable supply of food through the mass production of agricultural goods.
The fourth characteristic, managed propagation, is indeed a strength of present-day technologies such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and sterilization. These interventions in our reproduction, however, gave rise to great problems in bioethics in recent years. These techniques were first developed with domesticated animals and then subsequently put to use with humans. Under the name of infertility treatments, these technologies are now the foundation of a large industry.
Humans have also consistently demonstrated the fifth characteristic: selective breeding. Eugenics appeared at the end of the 19th century. Many advanced countries enforced legislation and policies designed to prevent the birth of “inferior people.” Modern medical science is undertaking the same control over “quality of life” for humans as is done for domesticated animals. Although Obara does not touch on it, contemporary reproductive technologies such as selective abortion and genetic screening are typical examples where our self-domestication is most directly apparent.
According to Obara, in regards to the changes in bodily appearance that make up the sixth characteristic, the same transformations that appeared in domesticated animals can also be seen in humans. For example, he saw the appearance of curly or frizzled hair, changes in the number of vertebrae and the bones of limbs, and fluctuation in skin pigmentation as obvious examples of physical changes seen only in humans and domesticated animals.
Now, how about the two points that I added? [8/9]
For the seventh point, regarding control over death, contemporary civilization shows a clear direction towards control over human death. In addition to doing everything possible to cure disease and extend life until deteriorated by aging, a strong current of thought now advocates providing a comfortable, painless death once one realizes that life may no longer be lengthened. It appears that civilization is progressing towards its goal of thoroughly removing all “unexpected death.” The idea of “a right to self-determination about death” also sits above this current.
The eighth characteristic was that of voluntary confinement. Humans seem to be bound with voluntary shackles to the social system that provides us food, stability, and amenity. For example, no matter how often global environmental problems are discussed, only solutions that do not threaten to slow the current economic growth ever appear. This is because we do not wish to relinquish the system that guarantees our present standard of living and comfort. And even if it means being bound by the system, we want to continue living, in our hearts, under its influence.
As described above, almost every characteristic of animal domestication can also be applied to the people living inside contemporary civilization. Through domesticating ourselves like cattle, people began civilization. With this, we have come to bear the burden of both the comforts and sorrows of domesticated animals.
The theory of “self-domestication” is of deep interest. However, there is something left unclear by Obara in this theory of self-domestication. Obara points out that “the situation of humans living in contemporary civilization appears similar to that of the domesticated animals we make use of,” but this is not pushed forward; the relationship between our self-domesticated “bodies” and “existence” is left unconsidered. By thoroughly investigating and thinking deeply about these issues, we will inevitably be shown through the theory of “painless civilization.” [9/10]
3 Desire of the Body
The theory of self-domestication argues that civilization is equivalent to the domestication of the human race by human hands. I have a hunch that thinking in this way will allow us to explain a certain unspoken feeling of incompleteness and uneasiness being carried by those of us who are inside this society. By this theory we are humans, but at the same time we are cattle. I want you to imagine a pig expressing its sadness as it tries in vain to move about in a pigsty, or a pig that it fed to its heart’s content yet is dispossessed of its life’s radiance. The people living inside contemporary society, who live in cattle yards called cities, are simply pigs that are provided with food and safety but have had the radiance of life snatched away.
The theory of self-domestication teaches us this way of seeing our civilization. Pushing beyond Hideo Obara’s analysis, from here I want to search out how contemporary civilization appears to us by extending the theory of self-domestication to its utmost limits. First, I want to think about the “desires” of those of us who are pressing forward civilization. After that, I will consider our personal “joys” that are crushed because of our desires. Having gone through the previous discussion, we stand only one step away from the theory of painless civilization.
Now, let us first consider “desire.”
We have come to wish for a life full of pleasure and minimal pain. We feel it is better to have as little pain and suffering as is possible. It is better to be filled with pleasure, amenity, and stimulation.Of course, I do not mean that we only seek intense stimulation. We are people who benefit from comfortable pleasures and stimulation that fits with our mood and circumstances. [10/11]
Furthermore, we wish for a stable life that follows along our own expectations; not a life where unexpected accidents spoil our plans; and not a life where we must part with those who are important to us midway through. We want our lives to follow the course we laid out beforehand, with all its achievements coming step by step. It should be a life where even if various things occur along the way, in the end there is a happy ending and we can breathe a sigh of relief that it all turn out well. It should be a stable life where an appropriate amount of savings were put away, our plans for old age come to pass, and the things we decided upon occur one-by-one each day.
In addition, we wish to live a life where we can do many of the things we want to, acquire many of the goods we want, and avoid as much as possible those things we do not want to do. Being able to do most of the things we want to is a primary desire held by humans. For example, as automatic laundry machines came into our homes, the time we had previously devoted to doing laundry became time to spend on ourselves. Or as another example, the introduction of bullet trains and airplanes made it so we can go further in less time. We think it is better to maximize our time spent on the things we like, such as sports or hobbies, and minimize odd jobs to the fullest extent possible.
This is the kind of desire that our civilization has pressed forward.
Of course, there are various forms of desire. Within their multitude, however, the type of desire described above appears to a consistent, basic human desire.This desire is born out of humanity’s “embodied” condition.
To this consistent and basic human desire I wish to give the name, “desire of the body.”
I am able to differentiate “desire of the body” into the following five dimensions. [11/12]
1) Pleasure seeking, agony avoiding
There is a desire inside of us to pursue pleasure, amenities, and comfort while warding off suffering, distress, and hardship to the greatest possible extent. So ingrained is this desire that it is often called an instinctive human appetite. However much we decide to control it by reason, we are drained by pleasantness and comfort; this is the human condition.
2) Maintenance of stability and the status quo
Once acquired, we wish to maintain a pleasant condition as long as possible and without change. We seek to prevent external hindrances from coming in and destroying our pleasant condition by whatever means necessary. We cling to our vested interests and try to protect them.
3) Expansion and Exploitation
While continuing to protect the pleasant condition we have acquired, if possible we magnify the pleasant condition and gradually enlarge the scope of our vested interests. This desire supports capitalism and competitive society, as well as the desire to control other people and hold influence.
4) Sacrificing others
When we seek to protect our own pleasant condition or enlarge it, we sometimes come to conflict with other people. In such a case, our desire tends to make us think that there is no problem even if others are sacrificed. Again, this is a deep-rooted desire that is etched into each of us. Due to this desire, social disparities are constantly being reproduced.
5) Control of One’s Life, Living Beings, and Nature
This is a desire to control our lives within a defined range that is laid out in advance. [12/13] Or, similarly, there exists a desire to control the quality of life to be born and to control the natural environment in accordance with human convenience. This, again, is one form of our “desire of the body.”
Translator’s Note: The Japanese words “人生- Jinsei” and ” 生命- Seimei”are difficult to render in English while maintaining their full meaning. Jinsei, translated here as “One’s Life,” means the life of a person from birth (or conception) until death. Seimei, translated here as “Living Beings,” refers to life more generally, and includes not only human life but the life of all other living organisms. Seimei also means dynamic energy of life that keeps living beings alive. While in many cases the word seimei is to be translated as “life,” sometimes I choose other words, such as “living beings” or “human life,” according to the context.
The five types of “desire of the body” mentioned above profoundly determine patterns of human behavior. Furthermore, the “desire of the body” has become the set-in-motion driving force of our civilization.
Contemporary thought has interpreted “desire” as the movement of expanding, that is, the movement of wanting more and more. It has been argued that capitalism, which expands its frontier continuously and propagates without limits, is something that set the very foundations of contemporary society into motion. Keishi Saeki said the following: “Desire constantly wants something new, something filled with excitement, or some undeveloped wilds. Thus it extends infinitely. Desire is nothing but the movement of infinitely expanding itself and widening its frontiers.” (“Desire” and Capitalism, Kodansha Publishers, 1993. pp.92-93.)
However, that which drives forward our current civilization is not only the expanding desire “I want more and more.” There is a more comprehensive flow of desire that incorporates the desire for expansion. This is, namely, the aforementioned desires that together constitute “desire of the body:” seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, not relinquishing what has been procured, trying to expand one’s vested interests, not minding even if another person is sacrificed, and aiming to confine one’s life, living beings, and nature within a forecasted range.
“Desire of the body” is an individual’s seeking of pleasure, avoidance of pain, and steady accumulation of various things, all while maintaining one’s own comfortable “framework.” Because accumulation proceeds alongside the preservation of this framework, there is a boundless increase in the contents and an infinite fattening occurs. [13/14] In addition, because a person with this desire is unwilling to change his or her framework even when in conflict with another person, there cannot be genuine dialogue; instead, the focus becomes personal expansion, “even if I must push out the other person.” Underlying contemporary society, this kind of desire is at work.
So then, why is it that this kind of desire is given the name of “body”?
To begin with, it is within the “body” that the disposition to avoid pain and seek pleasure resides. If our hand touches something hot then we draw it away, and we try to stay in a comfortable environment as long as possible. The “body” removes any foreign substances, attempts to maintain itself through the immune system, and steadily grows by taking in nourishment. We can find herea desire to magnify its own domain, while attempting to maintain its equilibrium and the status quo.
The “body” is the idea that comprises the above dispositions of our flesh, but at the same time, it is the idea that broadly comprises various functions of our human heart or mind, such as the desire to cling to what is comfortable. The urges and desires that arise from the body cannot be helped. Even if we try to curb desire through reason or conscience, uncheckable desire boils up from the bodily dimension, controls our emotions, and puts reason and conscience to sleep. Not only that, but in order to realize our desires, we will also fabricate favorable logic and fool ourselves. To procure material pleasure, sometimes another person is sacrificed. As mentioned above, it is this desire, lurking within our bodies, that is working as a driving force that motivates contemporary civilization.
However, if we focus only on this aspect of the “body,” doesn’t our image of the body become a little too negative?
Within the “body” there is certainly a positive element that rouses us; this I know. [14/15] I realize that there are longstanding phrases such as “knowledge of the body,” “awareness comes from the body,” and “the bodily energy that transforms humans from within.” It is certainly true that people can, as a result of this kind of positive force, change and improve from within.
However, it is not through the term “body” that such things will be expressed; I wish to describe them using the term “life.” Out of what we usually mean by “body,” I am taking the seeking of pleasure, avoidance of pain, the maintenance of a comfortable condition, and the will to exploitative expansion of favorable conditions and calling this “body,” and emphasize its specific meanings. Then, inside of the crowded general concept of “body,” I want to salvage the image of an inner force for human change and the power to transcend personal limitations by referring to them with a fresh term: “life.”
I want to make a clear distinction: “body” will refer to our seeking of pleasure, avoidance of pain, maintaining of comfortable conditions, and pushing to expand favorable conditions; “life” will refer to our power for inner change and the ability to transcend one’s own limitations. In Painless Civilization, the word “body” is used with this particular connotation attached. Please pay particular attention to this point.
....... (To be continued)
(Last modified Aug.27, 2006.)