Thank God for Human Suffering

If I could snap my fingers and remove suffering from the world, I would not do it. I would not even consider it. We need suffering. We need agony. We need torture. I am not crazy, so I would remove my ability to suffer. We don’t need that; but if I could make everyone and everything experience eternal happiness in the afterlife, I would never allow it. No good. Wouldn’t be right. 

 The way I see it, if we could manage suffering efficiently, if we could make the agonized cries of those we deem worthy strong enough to really reach us, then the world would be a better place. If we could prevent evil men from victimizing the innocent, for example, it would still be inadequate, as it would not properly deal with evil. It would only restrain it. Caged evil is depressing. One of the main reasons the world is not perfect is because it lacks sufficient agony where we good people need it most.

We should not put bad people to death in order to save money. It’s more cost-effective to keep them alive. We should never hold people down and kill them while they cannot move as a deterrent to others who would commit crime or to address recidivism among murderers. Those are childish reasons for killing, developed by puny minds. We should put some people to death because they should be punished. They deserve to suffer. As good people, we deserve to enjoy their suffering.

So let’s create an axiom to represent the principle:

Among the world's many problems is this: not enough agony.

It sounds paradoxical for sure, but it is really quite simple. Sometimes when we add torture to the world, the world becomes a better place. In order to get the earth as close as possible to a state of perfect goodness, we need to keep it filled with the kind of agony we sanction. Of course it goes without saying that we must ensure the agony is directed where it should go, to those we deem worthy to receive it, in order to one day make the world the better place we know it has the potential to become.

Some people, like Nazi war criminals, for example, would not have done what they did unless they were of completely sound mind and as reasonable as we are, only evil. We know this because, otherwise, they would be “not guilty by reason of insanity,” which is clearly not the case. They are guilty all right.  

This takes us to our second axiom:

The love of evil is completely rational.

Since the evil man chooses to be evil, welcomes it, looks for it, he should suffer. Of course, I realize that an evil man is not especially receptive to the notion of embracing goodness, mostly because of his evilness, so most of us have an advantage over him in our effort to cast off evil impulses. Here it is: to be willing to shun evil, you must first not be evil, or the choice is beyond you; but that really misses the point, now doesn’t it? Yes, because the point is pain, agony, suffering, sorrow, anguish, and all of other good ingredients that flow from indulging in our desire to torture the appropriate people as we make the world a better place. Knowing the virtues of such things, we have to be very careful to use torture for good, to carefully apply it to the people we want to harm, to the worthy ones, I daresay, to the chosen ones. We must be ever-vigilant, lest we accidentally cause agony upon someone we, as good men, have not decided should bear it.

This takes us to our third axiom, which, in its most complicated form, would read something like this:

Torturing a man is only reasonable when we decide he deserves torture, meaning he freely commits evil acts, not because he is inherently evil, which would take away his choice, but because he is evil by choice, possessing a completely sound mind, as we, or any good man, would define one, and completely mentally fit enough to opt for good. The man who should be tortured is the man who makes decisions to wrong others in situations where we would never have made the same decision. Of course, we wrong others also, but we are human, not perfect. The evil man, the man who needs to suffer, is the man who wrongs others with wrongs greater than any wrongs we can personally tolerate. Let us not forget, however, that he must also be mentally healthy enough to be held accountable for his evil actions. This level of moral competence should be defined by us on an ad hoc basis as we decide whether the world can be improved by administering torture to this person or that.

OK, that is too long for an axiom. Let me try again. Here is axiom number three: 

Torturing a man is reasonable when we declare that it is, if and only if, we also declare the man to be of sound mind and to be evil.

So let’s recap what we know: 
  • Among the world's many problems is this: not enough agony.
  • The love of evil is completely rational.
  • Torturing a man is reasonable when we, as self-proclaimed good men, judge that he is of sound mind and that he is evil by choice.



Many thanks to Papamoka for teaching me how important it is to keep suffering in the world, and for his dedication to always eating recycled steaks. 


No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks. ~ Mary Wollstonecraft

Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it ~ Clint Eastwood’s intellectually honest answer to Little Bill Daggett who informed him that he doesn’t deserve to die.




35 comments:

  1. I take it that this is, from start to finish, a satire of a certain right-wing viewpoint; and doesn't at any point express the view of Mr John Myste?

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  2. I see you're taking some stabs at "choice" and free will here.

    If I run all this through my verbal irony filters, then I see that one of your arguments appears to be that: Evil deeds are done by evil people. Since no one can help being an evil man prior to the fact, then no one can help committing evil deeds. Therefore punishing them is unfair, vindictive, and superfluous.

    The problem here is your unsubstantiated assertion that evil deeds can only by committed by some entity, some thing called "an evil person" which exists in this evil state prior to doing anything evil, and that it's this state of evilness which drives it commit evil. You have this idea chase its tail for a few sentences and consider that a case. As a person who believes in free will, I would counter-argue that anyone of us is capable of committing evil acts. There isn't some special recipe of the soul needed to make us do it. If someone presented either one of us with a baby right now, we could drop kick it across the room. Nothing would stop us from doing it. And it would be in so doing, in making such a choice, that we would define ourselves as evil men...rightfully deserving of punishment, by the way, or at least put somewhere where we wouldn't have access to babies in the future, for safety's sake.

    Or to paraphrase that great Existentialist philosopher Forrest Gump, "Evil is as evil does."

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  3. To save you the trouble of a rebuttal, I can tell you the stalemate that our debate on the subject would almost inevitably lead to. You would say, "Only a monster could do such a thing", while I would say, "Only someone who has done such a thing could be a monster." Certainly you can see how either view can be compelling. On the one hand, I can see how someone would argue that a normal, well-adjusted, person would never drop kick a baby. On the other hand, you must see how someone could argue that you would be hard-pressed to declare someone "evil" until after the fact, after they've...done something evil. Suppose even that you had the luxury of rooting around in their psyche. You'd say, "Look! They have all these dark and disturbing impulses." Well who among us doesn't have dark and disturbing impulses? Does that alone make us all evil? You'd say, "Yes, but look here; he was fantasizing about kicking babies for weeks ahead of time." Well, fantasies of this sort - especially under this sort of hypothetical disclosure - themselves constitute a sort of action. Granted, it's mental rather than physical action, safely and thankfully ensconced in thought rather than deed, but still it was how the person chose to occupy their thoughts. The point is: If you go back - without the benefit of hindsight - before the deed, before the fantasy or the intention, then wherefore is this "evil", what state does it exist in?

    You begin to see the impasse?

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  4. Vincent,

    Except for the "right-wing" part, you hit the proverbial nail on the head. It turns out that this was a pre-emptive strike against a theoretical post from a liberal. In fact, all every time I discuss this issue, it seems it is me vs. another liberal.

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  5. Bryan,

    Your second comment had me laughing out loud, for real. You reminded me of a short at the beginning of "A Bug's Life" where an elderly man, who is very passionate about winning, plays chess against himself.

    I will not revisit the determinism argument with you, as I got beat up pretty bad the last time I tried.

    To be perfectly frank, I believe, lets say purely on faith, that evil does not really exist as a thing. It is a word we use to describe things we find unconscionable, or to put it another way, morally insane.

    The idea, therefore, that someone "deserves" to suffer, or that the world is improved with the suffering of others, so long as they are the "right others," is ludicrous. Adding suffering to the world does not improve it, and whatever the reason, people are what they are: desires, environment, mental capacity, evilness, or something we have yet to imagine.

    The original statement that started all of this was when I suggested that if all people, when they died, could go to the mythical heaven and live in eternal bliss, then this would be my choice, to which my mother protested because the bad people do not suffer in that scenario.

    I cannot understand why we need to see something suffer. I don't.

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  6. Oh I agree that retribution never solves anything. There may be practical reasons to put someone away so that they continue harming people, but "an eye for an eye" isn't helping anyone see any better. I believe I even expressed a similar sentiment around the time everyone was cheering over Bin Laden's death. It's out there somewhere in the blogsphere...or whatever you call it.

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    1. that should be "so they CAN'T continue harming people"...yeah, a little different.

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  7. You should never commit a punishment on a criminal you would not expect an innocent person to endure, because sooner or latter, some will have to.

    Not only do I think torture and the death penalty should be verboten, I think prison conditions need to be improved.

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    1. All punishment will sometimes find the innocent, but to me that is not the point.

      I think you should never "punish" anyone in the name of justice. Punishment should be used as a form of deterrence, and nothing more.

      Torture, including the death penalty, goes too far for too little. Those of us who are morally sane should attempt to exalt the moral standing of humankind, not diminish it.

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  8. Now I have to do a rebuttal... You suck John! I was baited into this malaise.

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  9. @John
    At the risk of being the butt of a joke by taking the philosophical question seriously...

    You said, "Torturing a man is only reasonable when we decide he deserves torture, meaning he freely commits evil acts, not because he is inherently evil..."

    That's pretty clear. Defining evil is about the evil act.

    In the same paragraph you say, "Let us not forget, however, that he must also be mentally healthy enough to be held accountable for his evil actions."

    Again, perfectly clear. But if we're looking at evil based on the act, what does mental health have to do with it? If someone who is mentally unhealthy commits an evil act, why is that not just as evil -- and just as needing of accountability -- as someone who is mentally healthy?


    @Bryan
    "Evil deeds are done by evil people"

    I read the exact opposite: Evil deeds are evil deeds and no one is inherently evil

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    1. I think you're taking what I said a bit out of context. I also went on to say, "anyone of us is capable of committing evil acts." But whatever...

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  10. Heathen,

    I agree that no one is inherently evil, totally.

    I also think that if a mentally challenged person tortures a cat, most people consider the mentally challenged fellow not to be guilty of his actions, and so should not be accountable. If you agree with this, then you think one must be mentally healthy enough to be held accountable where retribution is concerned.

    I believe he should be stopped, but not punished for punishment sake and not put in pain for the love of putting him in pain.

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  11. Papa,

    As I recall, you sent me an email requesting this post and I reluctantly complied.

    It is I who was goaded into it, I believe, unless their is a sinister third party we should name. Let's call her... Hmmm. How about Andorina or something? I have always liked that name.

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  12. I forget who said it, but there is a view that all crimes or in this case acts of evil can be looked at as mental errors or deficiency. Torture, while possibly satisfying, doesn't effect the root of the problem. It's like trying to stop a leak by putting a bucket underneith it, you've done something, but nothing that'll have any long term affect.

    I always thought it was funny with Kant, said when we come to the particular case of capital punishment, it is both permissible and obligatory in the case of murder. The only thing that is proportional to the crime of killing another person is the execution of the murderer. In fact, if a society were abut to dissolve itself, but it had murderers awaiting execution, "the last murder lying in prison ought to be executed" before the society dissolves itself. Why? Two reasons: (1) "that everyone may realize the desert of his deeds" and "that bloodguiltiness may not remain upon the people." "For otherwise they might all be regarded as participators in the murder as a public violation of justice."

    Either way intersting post, for the first time in a while.

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    1. Odds,

      Two reasons: (1) "that everyone may realize the desert of his deeds" and "that bloodguiltiness may not remain upon the people." "For otherwise they might all be regarded as participators in the murder as a public violation of justice."

      I consider the both reasons to be a utilitarian one at best, and meaningless for a dissolving society. I would never torture someone just so everyone would know that “justice” was done. I prefer a society where torture in general is frowned upon and I in now find the concept of unhandled “blood-guilt-ness” to be anything other than an emotional invention by a confused emotional people.

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    2. I stand in agreement, as my first paragraph probably indicated, but I thought the quote/idea was interesting.

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  13. Yeah, it's not like our Heavenly Father has allowed all of that to go on for less than nano nano-second in comparison to the whole of eternity in order to give Him opportunities to receive a very special kind of love from as many of us as will but want to give Him the full benefit of their considerable doubts, whom He promises pour out His gratitude upon for the rest of eternity...or is it?

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    1. Can you rephrase that, please?

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  14. Brilliant....Good post

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  15. John, I have missed your writing. That said, my first thought was how well you pointed out absurdity by being absurd.

    I would like to take issue with one of your subsequent comments, however. You stated, “Adding suffering to the world does not improve it, and whatever the reason, people are what they are…” I disagree with this. While I seriously wonder about those that enjoy suffering, I personally am grateful for the times in my life when I had to endure it. (after the fact, of course!) It was often at those times that I reached epiphanies that changed my life. It was through suffering that I grew and became stronger. At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark greeting card, without being drenched by the occasional rain shower, we can never fully appreciate the warmth of the sunshine.

    How many admirable people in this world are worthy of that admiration and thus made the world a far better place through their examples simply because they have endured suffering and agony, and triumphed greatly in spite of it?

    Living in a world devoid of any suffering would make for an intellectually weak society that often is found lacking of character. It is the hottest forge that tends to create the strongest steel. And since I am down to my last fortune cookie now, I will leave you with this final thought: taking the path of least resistance makes for crooked rivers and crooked men. Sometimes enduring and overcoming suffering instead of finding ways to avoid it by taking the path of least resistance is the very essence of what makes a person of great character.

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  16. Mr. Paine,

    disagree with this. While I seriously wonder about those that enjoy suffering, I personally am grateful for the times in my life when I had to endure it.

    I would also like to express my gratitude for the times you have suffered, conservative.

    At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark greeting card, without being drenched by the occasional rain shower, we can never fully appreciate the warmth of the sunshine.

    I am OK with not appreciating the sunshine, but just experiencing it as it is with no painful contrast.

    Living in a world devoid of any suffering would make for an intellectually weak society that often is found lacking of character.

    I think you just described our suffer-laden society.

    It is the hottest forge that tends to create the strongest steel.

    Your point is well-made, Fortune Cookie.

    However, I see our overall point. The kind of suffering I am talking about, primarily killing someone because they “deserve to die,” does not make the world or the victim a better place and it does not improve his character, sir.

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  17. "..There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

    The brooding Dane had a lot on his mind, what with "to be or not to be" and serious mother/stepfather issues.

    We all contribute one way or another, directly or indirectly, to suffering, both our own and others. Evil has little to do with it, apart from how we may see ignorance as evil.

    Perhaps the broader consensus for what "real evil" is, would be the purposeful causing of suffering in others for personal gain or enjoyment.

    All of us are, to a certain degree, "not guilty by reason of insanity". Absolute sanity is impossible within our emotionally distrubed primate brains.

    Didn't someone say it's all about "bad chemicals"?

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  18. There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

    That is one of my favorite quotes. I cite it often! It may not be on my quotes page. If not, I shall rectify that as soon as possible. Thanks for reminding me.

    Perhaps the broader consensus for what "real evil" is, would be the purposeful causing of suffering in others for personal gain or enjoyment.

    I agree, especially with the second reason.

    All of us are, to a certain degree, "not guilty by reason of insanity"

    This fact does not indict us, but tends to exonerate us (in my less than humble opinion).

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  19. Hmmm, no one trotted out the dead horse "morality is relative anyway" slogan to neutralize the stigma associated with their own bad behavior while reserving the right to point it out in others especially if it interferes with your ability to get your eight dollar latte. Must be tough to be a hipster these days.

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  20. Don't be a drama queen, Anon. The Latte is only around 4-5 bucks.

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    1. Anonymous and ubiquitous says...

      Damn ! I've been overpaying.

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  21. AnonymousMay 15, 2013

    Oh John, how I have missed you! I didn't even bother putting a name on this because I don't recall which name I used a year or more ago. In any case, I'm going out of town and won't be able to revisit until early next week. But for this moment, I am smiling.

    Nothing is the antidote to the void and cosmic disappointment that I occassionally experience, (certainly not love) like your particular kind of observational display and satire. So I tip my hat to you, sir.

    We are emotion-based beings. So naturally, that's how we navigate the justice system, both in our minds and inside courthouses and jails. Your mother made that comment because emotionally, it makes sense. Why would we want our tormentors, the predators among us, to live in bliss along side us? Or escape justice? So like the boy in the Neverending Story, Hell exists because we continually create and recreate it out of our imaginations, to satisfy an emotional need.

    Bette Midler once said that she thought wars were started because of boredom. And I don't see why that's any less good of a reason than all the others, like oil resources, or dispute over a border, or violation of UN rules, or WMD. Having an entirely emotional reason, a feeling, direct something so important shouldn't be surprising because other emotions (hatred, fear, jealousy, love, etc.) claim their fair share.

    Hatred of an evil doer has qualifications, though. Your mom, along with the rest of us, want to send people to hell who experience enjoyment over hurting others. Because as you pointed out, there's no fun in frying a mentally ill person in the electric chair. We need them to truly be evil, to exact our revenge. Therefore, yet again, an emotional state needs to be involved. We read through crime stories looking for exactly that - some indication of remorselessness, of the perp remembering the rape, murder, or beating with fondness, like we remember going to disneyland. Then, that door to Hell swings open.

    I tend to agree, or "feel" as you do, that there's no good in suffering, for anyone, ever. But I understand why some people come to a different conclusion.

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  22. I tend to agree, or "feel" as you do, that there's no good in suffering, for anyone, ever. But I understand why some people come to a different conclusion.

    Oh, so do I (Felix?). I understand why they would want this: they are evil!

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  23. I'm delighted to see this discussion thread breathe new life into the post. Serendipitously, it chimes with a view expressed in my latest post in which I quote Oscar Wilde's letter from gaol, De Profundis, in which he gives praise and thanks for suffering, unjust as he feels his shaming and incarceration has been.

    With that new perspective on the matter, I return to your original post, whose viewpoint seems to have ricocheted from someone else's assumed stance; but which nevertheless affects an acknowledgement that suffering plays a vital role in the world.

    And from that perspective, I find your post, satire or not, to be grotesquely unbalanced, in the sense that, as far as I can see, there is no acknowledgement of repentance as a force for good.

    Perhaps today the man who's been tortured, or imprisoned unjustly, or even imprisoned justly, responds with nothing more redemptive than hate, or the lust for revenge.

    Perhaps I am wrong to judge today's culture by yesterday's standards, wherein repentance was a healthy process whereby one's intolerable burden of guilt or oppression could be lifted.

    Perhaps the backlash against Christianity has swept away our awareness of repentance as a sovereign virtue and balm to the troubled soul; and we can only talk in the borrowed language of psychologists or neurologists, without having studied those disciplines.

    I'm no Christian (as you know, John) but honestly there is nothing worthwhile to be gained here, in any sphere of public life (of which your blog is undeniably a part and a mirror) if we set aside morality. Morality is nothing if it is not a dispassionate attempt to see the whole picture, and respect every component part; not react like partisans, shooting indiscriminately for their own tribal advantage like some god-forsaken irregulars in the lawless trouble-spots of the world.

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  24. Morality is nothing if it is not a dispassionate attempt to see the whole picture, and respect every component part

    I am not sure where you are going with this. Are you suggesting that suffering, that perennial blessing, is necessary for morality to exist? If so, that is a large leap that makes the assumption that morality does exist, outside the confines of our imaginations, and additionally, that suffering is good, which I could perhaps accept in some ways as a method of correcting an aberrant being. However, even if I were to believe that, it would do nothing to convince me that one "deserves" to suffer, which is an idea I feel certain we invented, though not intentionally, to ease the dissonance created by our need to see someone suffer, which conflicts with our assumption that we are “good.” If they deserve agony, then we can be good and still enjoy their pain. I guess we can define good that way, since we are the ones defining it.


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  25. No, I am not suggesting that suffering is necessary for morality to exist. My sentence that you quote isn't related directly to the concept of suffering or the concept of punishment.

    Morality exists, and not just within our imaginations. The idea of a code of behaviour is universal and I'm suggesting that it has a natural basis, just as religion has a natural basis.

    I suggest that the common basis for both religion and morality is the deep awareness (deeper than consciousness, which is able to concoct all kinds of imaginary things) of a unity in creation. One way to conceive of this unity is to ask the question who we are, discounting imagination (such as myth, religion & cultural heritage), but including the best scientific knowledge; which tells us that we are, in a sense, our DNA, a substance forged through the impact of everything in the universe.

    Cosmology and evolutionary theory make it clear, when we look at the whole picture, that we are fruits of a single tree, so to speak; parts of one whole. The best morality comes from respecting all the other parts as we demand respect for ourselves. "Love thy neighbour as thyself." "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

    That is what I mean by morality. Its relevance to your post is simply explained. If we punish by inflicting suffering, it can have no other moral justification than to inspire repentance. Other than this it is pure cruelty, and morally indefensible.

    I make no judgement, however, as to whether a particular form of suffering will be likely to inspire repentance.

    And if I am to define repentance, in a non-Christian way, I'll call it simply a change of heart.

    There are different kinds of suffering, some self-inflicted, some inflicted by others, and some which just happen. Not for a moment would I entertain the idea that suffering is good for anyone else, unless that person feels it to be so.

    But when I suffer (through my own hand, someone else's or through blind fate) I should be forgiven if I try and mitigate the pain by believing it is doing me good. If I do believe so, it's not a question of a true or false belief, but a symptom of my repentance.

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  26. If we punish by inflicting suffering, it can have no other moral justification than to inspire repentance. Other than this it is pure cruelty, and morally indefensible.

    We are in complete agreement, it would seem, almost as if we were fruits of the same tree.

    I have no problem being fruit. I am honored to grow on your odd tree.

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  27. Anon AgainMay 28, 2013

    Vincente, what is it about prison that has many of us tempted to wonder what good there must be in it, if one found oneself there. Certainly many works have been created in prison, from Mein Kampf to Folsom Prison Blues. But this is, I feel, making the best of a bad situation, not a requirement to redemption or inspiration. It's like a musician discovering he could write really great music if he gets high, but then again, the drug use is destroying his creativity at the same time.

    Suffering also destroys. There's no good in it. To achieve redemption, one certainly has to go through pain, so you could say the concept of pain is necessary, in some situations. That I'll agree with. You have to travel through the figurative fire to get to the other side. The temporary pain is what stops the suffering.

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