4. For Sam Harris when does “well-being” become a hierarchically superior moral value, above survival?

For Sam Harris, precisely when and why in biological history does consciousness disconnect, as an artifact of selection for survival, such that its “well-being” becomes hierarchically a superior moral value, above survival?

Utilitarianism (including Harris’s brand) is out of sync with the natural order, and thus a confusion of values ensues with pursuing well-being generally more than survival, and specifically when determining which “conscious beings” have intrinsic value over the rest of reality:
- As a general value, since we all have only a finite amount of personal energy to employ in this life, a utilitarian is bound to focus on how he or she can most easily and effectively improve well-being. Peter Singer’s moral prescriptions are great examples of this. According to Singer two of the main areas one should focus on are preventable childhood disease and the factory farmed wholesale suffering of agricultural animals. That’s the low hanging utilitarian fruit, whereby vast amounts of suffering can be quickly prevented, and well-being thus enhanced. A scientific pantheist on the other hand will see these admittedly fine causes as, none the less, secondary. To the scientific pantheist well-being is still good, and suffering is still bad. But, they are secondary to survival and to alleviating the civilization wide existential/survival threats of: climate change, nuclear war, pandemics, threats to biodiversity, AI, asteroids, super volcanoes, etc. Survival comes first, and we should work to build a civilization where creating and maintaining all of the conditions for the graceful survival of the civilization is a top priority, and where new technological ideas must be rigorously screened and regulated, or encouraged, based on if they are a threat or a boon to the sustainability of the civilization.

To be clear and explicit: the enlightened perspective (when viewing the Mandala above as a whole) is that survival precedes happiness and well-being as a value.  A scientific pantheist says this reality is inherently good (even sacred) enough that it is thus fundamentally better to suffer and not have complete well-being, then it is to be dead/extinct, and thus out of accord with life’s definition (and natural law mandate). Moreover, the scientific pantheist is far more likely to notice that, as increasingly secular humanity has cloven to the utilitarian creed, human well-being (at least) has recently somewhat increased (read Stephen Pinker’s Enlightenment Now), but so definitely have the number and degree of homo sapiens self created existential threats. This isn’t an accident or coincidence. It’s due to the skewed core values. Never before in recorded history has humanity, and a vast percentage of our fellow earthly species, faced existential threats of our own making. Now millions of species, the vast majority of humanity’s descendants, and human civilization, faces a vastly increased threat of premature death from climate change, nuclear war, population pressure, A.I., etc.. Welcome to the Anthropocene era; an era where human values are out of sync with the biological world.

-Specifically speaking, not only is subjective well-being hard to define (beyond simple physical pleasure and pain), but so also is the dividing line between conscious, or sentient, creatures (whose well-being alone we are to value) and the rest of life and the rest of the universe. It would seem that to the utilitarian a sequoia tree, a quartz crystal, a waterfall, or the planet Saturn, since they aren’t conscious or sentient, have indirect value at best, and no intrinsic value at all. But having a central nervous system, and thus the ability to suffer or experience pleasure, would make a gnat, a mouse, or a pig, intrinsically valuable. Beyond such a self/ego/consciousness referential conceit, and beyond the bizarre question of if a gnat can really ”value” it’s ephemeral well-being more than a venerable sequoia can. One has to wonder about the wisdom of constructing a meta-ethos where such peculiar boundaries between what is of intrinsic worth, and what isn’t, exist. Isn’t Einstein’s task (quoted above) more coherent?

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