Is it better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied?


This funny cartoon reminds me of a famous JS Mill quote:

It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is only because they only know their own side of the question.

As an avid reader and fan of JS Mill’s Philosophy, I used to agree with him that it is better to be a dissatisfied human being because the pig does not know what is genuinely good or bad and so cannot think of ways to prevent or reduce their inevitable dissatisfaction or suffering.

But then, on the other hand, if mental happiness and satisfaction are the goal, isn’t it better to be ignorant yet satisfied? The point comes down to what gives life genuine, lasting meaning and happiness or temporary pleasure and satisfaction. From the Buddhist perspective, lasting happiness is the goal and so it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied. Although, it may seem as though the ‘ignorance is bliss’ maxim is true at times, ultimately, this is based on a very fragile and temporary state of satisfaction which is easily shaken, such as the pig not getting its food on time etc.

There is a similar thought experiment called ‘The Happy Slave’. The Happy Slave complex is, simply put, a person in a position of submission who finds happiness in their utterly powerless situation.  The happy slave convinces himself that his work means something, ensures himself that he’s made strides for himself, and ultimately is fine with being powerless – at least he’s not dead, right?

The question is whether or not a person who knows the slave is a slave (i.e. exploited, unfree, in a totally powerless situation) should ‘enlighten’ the slave about their predicament?  Or should they leave them be, ‘happy’ yet ultimately wronged and exploited? Again, this is a question about what is more important in life,  happiness based on truth and justice or happiness based on injustice and lies? If one ‘enlightens’ the slave, he may become unhappy, disillusioned, cynical and even aggressive. Yet, if one doesn’t tell the slave he may remain happy only because he is not aware of the truth. If happiness is the goal here, then some might argue one should not interrupt the slave’s ‘blind happiness’. However, some might argue that as it is not a genuine happiness (because it is based on lies and injustice) then one has a moral duty to inform the slave, with the hope that it may then lead them onto a more truthful and genuine state of happiness. It’s a difficult choice to make but I am more inclined to the latter.

How can there be any genuine happiness, peace or contentment if it is based on oppression, lies and injustice?


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