Hell Must Be Destroyed

Singer called the movement that grew up around him “effective altruism”, and its rallying cry was that one ought to spend every ounce of one’s energy doing whatever most relieves human suffering, most likely either feeding the poor or curing various tropical diseases. Again, something his opponents rejected as impossible, unworkable, another example of liberal fanaticism. Really? Every ounce of your energy? Again, they could have just read their Bibles. Deuteronomy 6:5: “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
Then Singer changed his tune. In the 1970s, after the sky cracked and the world changed, he announced that charity was useless, that feeding the poor was useless, that curing tropical diseases was useless. There was only one cause to which a truly rational, truly good human being could devote his or her life.
Hell must be destroyed.
The idea of billions of human beings suffering unbearable pain for all eternity so outweighed our little earthly problems that the latter didn’t even register. He began meeting with his disciples in secret, teaching them hidden Names he said had been vouchsafed to him by angels. Thamiel put a price on his life – quite a high price actually. Heedless of his own safety, Singer traveled what remained of the civilized world, making converts wherever he went, telling them to be perfect as God was perfect, and every speech ended the same way. Hell must be destroyed.

An angel appears on Earth. This genderless being connected to God shows up on every screen on Earth at once and asks us if we are interested in drastically improving life on Earth. A large enough portion of those who hear the message (which gets a coverage of 80%+ of people worldwide) see into their souls and find the willingness to make life better, and then they see into their hearts and see the warmth of hope, and so they resolve to agree to do whatever is necessary to help the angel improve life on Earth. And thus the angel says “thanks to the collective desire to make it so, I shall change some things about how the planet is programed, and you will see a 99% reduction in suffering and a 20% increase in overall happiness.”
And so the angel gets to work.
A year passes, and nobody can really tell the difference from before. Most people’s day to day experience is perhaps even slightly more tedious and slightly more boring. What happened? After a few years it is clear that no major change has happened, and indeed affective psychologists report a mild but very generalized decrease in people’s engagement with their day to day activities and increases in feelings of being a bit disoriented. Did the angel scam us? Or did people fail to do their part? Or why are there no improvements? A large enough mass of people asked this question that the angel felt the need to provide an update. He comes back down and appears in all of the planet’s screens and says:
“Everything went according to plan. It is just that your society hasn’t reached the point of scientific development where you are able to measure the quality of experience of sentient beings. You aren’t quantifying pain very well.”
“Here is what I did. Above of all, I focused my energies on trying to prevent some of the worst experiences, which in aggregate happened to be an ethical catastrophe. I managed to reduce how bad these experiences were by about 99.99%.”
“I started by reducing how bad cluster headaches feel. They are now only about 44,000 dolors per second (d/s). They used to be around 450,000,000 d/s. You see, when most people get a fleeting headache, we are talking about headaches that range from 0.5 to 1d/s. You know, the type of headache that people are willing to wait out, and perhaps some people will ask for a little aspirin or some placebo of some sort and then get on with it. Most headaches are of this kind. But even if you bundle all of them together we are talking about a rounding error relative to the suffering caused by other types of headaches, the bad ones. Migraine, for example, tends to get to about 1,000 dolors per second, and sufferers have a hard time communicating the fact that it is not just a lot worse, it is a thousand times more painful than the “normal” ones. But even then that does not register relative to one of the really really bad ones, like cluster headaches, which as I said can spiral up to values close to a billion d/s. As it happens, on your planet there are simple chemical tricks to reduce that particular type of pain (e.g. LSD), so I just went ahead and got rid of the bulk of it very easily. It’s still super painful by human standards, but not by my standards, like it was before. To have a cluster headache now is just as “indescribably bad” as before, meaning it goes beyond people’s ability to imagine and make sense of. But that doesn’t challenge the fact that the 99.99% improvement I did is an ethical victory of civilizational magnitude.”
“Next I went on to reducing how bad it feels to have kidney stones, bone pain, and various kinds of particularly bad neuropathies in people with schizophrenia. By the time I had taken care of about the dozen or so worst kinds of pain, I had already overdelivered by an order of magnitude and was starting to run into diminishing returns. So I decided to go on to helping other planets in my quest to prevent as much suffering as possible.”
“I apologize I used about 0.13 hedons per second (h/s) from mundane experiences to implement one of those cosmic pain diminishing plans. In order to increase the amount of happiness in the world as I promised I made the experience of showering about 50% more enjoyable and the experience of listening to music about twice as good. As you can see, the bathing industry did take off, but not many thought much of it. And the musicians were able to tell that music was awesome again and wondered why, but most people seem to have attributed their increased musical enjoyment to what they imagined had been their own hidden musical talents all along.”
“Thank you, and keep enjoying your drastically improved planet.”


Thus, people realized that the world was indeed a lot better. Well, some did. And others complained, but it was ok.

Thanks to Michael Aaron Coleman and Jonathan Leighton for inspiring this piece. Michael suffers from cluster headaches and has described their phenomenology in gruesome detail. He says that in a 0 to 10 scale, cluster headaches are solid 10/10. But he also says you really need a different scale to make sense of this monster. He once used the phrase “minus one million hedonic tone”. He says that morphine makes the pain go from 10/10 to 9/10, if at all, maybe more like 9.5/10. Thankfully, LSD in small doses (~25 micrograms) makes it go to 1/10. DMT also works, but 5-MeO-DMT does not (and yet it still expands time, so not a good idea). Jonathan is the Executive Director of the Organization for the Prevention of Intense Suffering (OPIS). He works on identifying cases where intense suffering can be prevented on a massive scale and doing what has to be done. I recommend getting in touch with him if this is a particular interest of yours.


  1. Ra · June 28

    I was pretty about this until we get to the part where the angel doesn’t immediately delete factory farming, liberate all the animals humanity has enslaved, and rewire nature to remove wild animal suffering.

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  6. jprwg · May 7, 2019

    If cluster headaches were really 450 million suffering units a second while migraines were 1000 a second, that’d mean you’d be indifferent in a choice between:
    a) one second of cluster headache, and 2 days and 14 hours and 30 minutes (approximately) of positive experiences at 1000 hedons a second – experiences as good as a migraine is bad
    b) 2 days and 14 hours and 30 minutes and one second (approximately) of continuous migraine

    I’m finding that very hard to believe. (But perhaps it really is true and I’m wrong to doubt it?)

    • algekalipso · May 7, 2019

      Hi jprwg!

      The capacity to make rational comparisons breaks down above 6/10 pain in the traditional scale. Above that level, verbalizing and cogitating become impossible due to the heavy qualia selection pressures of the state. So your comparison, although applicable to people to who might be detached from the situation in question, is not a question you can meaningfully pose to someone enduring a cluster headache. I’ve interviewed a sufferer and went over a number of possible comparisons, and in every case “a single second” of cluster headaches seemed worse. That said, the 450 million suffering units per second might indeed be hyperbola. More realistically, we might be talking about 100,000s, assuming migraines are 1,000 and ‘normal’ headaches don’t usually go above 10. Kidney stones, giving birth, and bone cancer, are some of the other extremely bad beasts out there, and according the people who have experienced them and also cluster headaches, cluster headaches are way worse. I’ll be posting a number of quotes from sufferers who attest to this in the near future.

      Make sure to have a DMT vape pen on hand just in case the demon strikes… I think we all should take that precaution.

      • Dave Kinard · May 9, 2019

        I think there’s a fundamental problem with this kind of reductionism of valence.

        As we know from Tversky’s work, people will rate an experience as subjectively better if it got better as t went on, even if more overall pain was experienced.

        But this only hints at the complexity of valence. To take a well known example, no, it doesn’t matter how many people get a speck of sand in the eye, it never equals out to a lifetime of torture.

        Simplistic numerical grades like that just don’t scale. Not to say there isn’t some mathemtical model that could measure this, but it would be way, way more complex.

        As a relevant personal example- I have the autoimmune disease AS. It is a degenerative autoimmune disease. I have also had kidney stones. Yes, kidney stones are more painful then the worst pain I have had with AS. But I would gladly say, trade having kidney stones once a year for not having the illness. It’s not about the pain. It’s about the secondary effects of uncertainty and ability that then have complex effects that extend outward that effect my entire life.

        I’m not sure “pain” is quite the right measure of this. Or, perhaps more relevantly, I don’t think you can easily reduce these things to utils.

        various experiences are contextual and re-evaluated based on their future effects on experiences and so on.

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  10. casebash · December 4, 2018

    “Michael suffers from cluster headaches and has described their phenomenology in gruesome detail” – Can anyone link to something he’s written?

    • algekalipso · December 4, 2018

      I interviewed him about it some months ago and took many notes. I will post a summary of it soon (granted his permission, of course).

  11. Khannea Sun Tzu · December 4, 2018

    I have cluster headaches. The angel was spot on correct.

    • algekalipso · December 4, 2018

      I’m sorry for you 🙁 I think that a possible effective altruist enterprise could justifiably be making LSD accessible to people with cluster headaches. Or even to the families of people with cluster headaches in case one strikes out of the blue for the first time in someone. Strange policy, but I think the cost-benefit calculus would come out on top.

      • Adam Phytophile · September 5, 2019

        If I am not mistaken, it is psilocin which has been attributed to stopping cluster headaches, while LSD and other ergot derivaties, including ergotamine itself, are well known for stopping migraines. I have not personally seen evidence that the reverse is also true, but do leave it open to possibility. Hydergeine is a more accessible ergaloid, for those suffering from migraines, FWIW, and can be rather easily sourced on the internet, or at least it could. One can probably find an importer of ergotamine sulfate as well, although that is a watched substance due to being a potential precursor to LSD.

        • algekalipso · September 5, 2019

          Hi Adam!

          Thanks for reaching out.

          Not to sound like a contrarian, but I do believe you are mistaken 🙂 It is easy to check in e.g. any cluster headache forum (clusterbusters.org) or facebook group (incl. the cluster headache meme groups) that people reference LSD as being very effective, roughly at the same level as psilocybin. The survey we conducted and analyzed* also showed that LSD was on par with psilocybin. A promising non-psychoactive alternative is 2-Bromo-LSD, which is both useful for migraines and CHs.


  12. Khannea Sun Tzu · December 4, 2018

    I have cluster headaches. This would be very auspicious. And yes, the Angel would be spot on correct.

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