“People tell me it’s a sin to know and feel too much within…” Bob Dylan I think a lot about an essay by the philosopher Peter Zapffe called The Last Messiah. In it he writes about a hunter whose job it was to supply food for his people. For whatever reason, he began thinking about the animals he hunted in such a compassionate way that he found it impossible to kill them anymore. This destroyed him, of course. Because he starved to death. Zapffe (1) felt that nature had created an impossible moral quandary for human beings by creating a brain that could feel compassion in a world that had to feed upon itself. Because of this quandary, he felt that it was necessary to repress this kind of compassion (feeling) in order to keep our sanity and to continue living. He discussed 4 ways in which we do this. All involve artificially limiting the content of our consciousness. This essay haunts me. It presents the ultimate challenge for the feeling person. It contains something that we need to think about, but can’t because it’s too threatening to face. We see limited individual attempts to address this quandary, but all necessarily must end in hypocrisy: Peta, Greenpeace, vegetarianism, etc. All are an expression of this “excessive” consciousness. Our scientific and philosophical inability to understand what consciousness is, forces us to consider the belief that consciousness exists in all things...living and non-living . How does a feeling person deal with this, if true? Now, even vegetarians must anguish. If only human beings were photosynthetic!
Zapffe, Peter Wessel, The Last Messiah .Translated into English by Gisle R. Tangenes for Issue #45 of Philosophy Now (2004)