Abolitionism is the bioethical school and movement that endorses the use of biotechnology to maximize happiness and eliminate suffering. “Abolition” is used for the name of this movement, in the context of “the abolition of suffering". Abolitionists propose paradise engineering, i,e., the use of technologies like psychopharmaceuticals and genetic engineering to replace the signalling role of pain as it exists today with information-signalling gradients of well-being.
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Abolitionism is primarily inspired by Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian ethic. David Pearce’s abolitionist manifesto, “The Hedonistic Imperative”, serves as both an inspiration for the group’s theories and as a demonstration of how the world can convert abolitionist philosophy into reality.
Many people regard the attainment of the highest possible level of happiness as the most important aspect and primary goal of their lives. Humans have been found in studies to achieve a “baseline happiness,” sometimes called the hedonic treadmill, a pre-determined happiness setpoint that a person will return to throughout their lives no matter what happens to him or her, regardless of income, and regardless of the occurrence of events that most people theorize would make a person permanently happy or permanently sad, such as a lottery win or the death of a close relative.
According to evolutionary theory, humans evolved through natural selection and follow genetic imperatives that seek to maximize reproduction, not happiness. As a result of these selection pressures, the extent of human happiness is limited biologically. Through advanced scientific research, especially in the fields of neuroscience, biotechnology, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and psychopharmacology, Pearce theorizes in his manifesto that humans can overcome their genetic propensity for depression and suffering. Generalizing from this scenario, abolitionists see the very possibility of suffering as an undesirable aspect of humanity, and believe humans can and should re-engineer the brain to achieve lifelong super-happiness. Some hope that this could be accomplished not only through technology already in the pipeline, such as genetic engineering, but also through future technological developments, such as mind uploading.
Abolitionism requires as a premise that emotions have a physically manipulable, not spiritual, source, such that by altering the human brain we can fundamentally change the way that humans experience life. Abolitionists believe that where biological evolution has failed to create happiness for all people, technology can take over and eventually create a new type of posthuman that feels only happiness and never suffers involuntarily while retaining and possibly enhancing its external functionality.
Recent laboratory breakthroughs have bolstered the idea that happiness is physically based and can be influenced through scientific methods. In 2006, Guillaume Lucas of McGill University and his colleagues published results indicating that depression may become treatable or preventable through gene manipulation. Mice born without a gene coding for the expression of a potassium channel found in depression-related neurons have resistance to depression (as tested by standard behavioral measures in the rodent model) comparable to that of naive mice treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
An important discovery that boosts the case for the potential to abolish suffering is the example of deep brain stimulation of the brain's pleasure centers. The direct electrical stimulation does not create tolerance proving that there is a potential to overcome the brain's anhedonic homeostatic mechanisms. Pacemaker-type neurostimulators have been shown to reliably increase observed happiness without causing detriments to functionality: these interventions have proven to actually increase various cognitive and social aspects of human functionality.
Neuroscientist R.J. Davidson has developed reliable means to objectively quantify affective states using fMRI and EEG - demonstrating that happiness can be measured. Davidson's technological innovations also provide a more accurate means of assessing happiness than that provided by subjective questionnaires.
The term “abolitionism,” used to describe the use of biotechnology to eliminate suffering, was first proposed by Lewis Mancini in 1986, in a paper published in the journal Medical Hypotheses. Abolitionism makes no distinction among sentient creatures— all are deemed worthy of being saved from suffering by biotechnological intervention.
As a form of transhumanism, abolitionism deliberately defines its rationale and method of determining value according to a prime ethical directive with a focus on eliminating involuntary suffering, whereas transhumanism promotes a collection of values including the well-being of all sentient beings without addressing the question of whether or not involuntary suffering should eventually be eliminated completely.
Literature relating to the abolitionist project
- Responses to commonly raised objections about the abolitionist project
- The Hedonistic Imperative
- This Perfect Day
- Buddhism and Abolitionism
- Critique of Huxley's Brave New World
- Utopian Surgery: Early Arguments Against Anaesthesia in Surgery, Dentistry and Childbirth
- Utopian Pharmacology: Mental Health in the Third Millennium, MDMA and Beyond
- Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer? (pdf)
- "Interview with David Pearce". Archived from the original on 3 January 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-03.
- Natasha Walter. "The most precious commodity". The Guardian (London). Archived from the original on 8 February 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-03.
- David Lykken and Auke Tellegen. "Happiness Is a Stochastic Phenomenon". Retrieved 2007-01-03.
- RA Easterlin. "Will Raising the Incomes of All Increase the Happiness of All?". Archived from the original on 2006-11-26. Retrieved 2007-01-03.
- Raymond Bohlin. "Sociobiology: Evolution, Genes and Morality". Retrieved 2007-01-03.
- Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. "The Abolition of Suffering". Archived from the original on 5 January 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-03.
- Heurteaux C, Lucas G, Guy N, et al. (Sep 2006). "Deletion of the background potassium channel TREK-1 results in a depression-resistant phenotype". Nat Neurosci. 9 (9): 1134–41. doi:10.1038/nn1749. PMID 16906152.
- news article; discovery of a gene therapy for depression