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Originally Posted by ***
«As cruelty is part of life, why does it matter if people are cruel?»
Uhmmm cruelty is not part of life, for it is rather an interpretation (ours) of life and of some acts performed within it: trivial case, you see the lion devouring the gazelle, and you label it "cruel".
However this is a consideration that you cannot extend in order to lend it to human cruelty and justify man-made cruelty by its agency, proclaiming cruelty a tendency necessarily or fatally ingrained in all natural beings inasmuch as also the lion, that is an instance of Nature as much as we are, was supposedly acting "cruel". Which is what is normally done in order to "justify" cruelty.
Why can't you?
Because, as said, cruelty is an interpretation, not a fact: a quintessentially human intellection that unambiguously exists on its own right, and that only at a second moment, once it has been mentally processed and it has conceptually blossomed into being, can be ascribed to animals.
Indeed, it does not apply to animals: they do what they cannot avoid doing. Being there no alternatives, the idea of cruelty falls.
So, cruelty happens only when there was a possibility to do otherwise - or not to do it at all. If this condition does not occur, you may speak of violence but not of that peculiarity that cruelty is, and which demands a hefty absence of necessity to be appreciated in its undefiled and therefore more prototypical true colors.
It is in this regard that we can define cruelty for what it signifies as human ideation: doing some evil (that is, violence - though not necessarily uniquely physical) that is neither requisite, nor bound to happen, and for whose factual objectives there were alternatives that could have generated the same outcome or accrued the same benefit also without using those evil or violent means (and without implying significant marginal losses once we have renounced to its use - and beware, since cruelty is gratuitous as we'll see, cruelty never implies marginal losses once given up, for there can be no losses with what can be accredited and wielded gratis).
At this point we can approach a better definition of cruelty: cruelty means inflicting sufferings to another sentient being (preferably human, for it plays so much better in the screenplay of cruelty) in order to make it clear to such being that s/he is suffering gratuitously - that his or her pain is senseless: that it is in vain.
Indeed, if cruelty is done to animals, arguably they could barely understand whether it is gratuitous or not: they may well believe they're now a prey about to be eaten or in the course of being dismembered for the physiological needs of the predator. So the real ideation of cruelty stands entirely with the actor.
Such an actor, when acting on a human, wants to deliver a meaning. And the meaning is to convince him or her of the absence of meaning (of the given cruel act).
There isn't a purpose, except that of inducing this certainty: your sufferings are futile and the more they are futile the more I shall inflict them upon you. It is this disproportion what "needs" to be enacted, for cruelty to exist.
One should wonder why the actor finds important inducing this belief.
You ask why it is bad - can you answer how it could be good?
The only answer seems: because it makes me feel good.
Yes, but why does it make you feel good? Since it is something that only humans do, answering this question does not belong to the abstract idle, because cruelty is abstract in its premises, implications and consequences, and thence must account for itself uniquely on abstract grounds.
That is, you cannot answer physiologically saying things like: because it gives me a rush of adrenaline - you could have the same rush of adrenaline in many other ways.
You must justify it on the very same abstract grounds upon which it raised and stands: why inoculating the idea that one's sufferings are gratuitous makes you feel good?
At this point cruelty does not answer but shifts the burden - it simply keeps inflicting sufferings, in order to mean: you are the victim and you are the one supposed to answer this futile question - if you can, ah-ah!
Cruelty is the challenge posed by nihilism to the being in order to make him (the being that is victimized, that is) justify his ascription of meanings. Cruelty wants to say that meanings do not exist, that they are all arbitrary inventions (which cruelty may hold conveniently, for they are), that only the absence of meanings exists, that such is the only real meaning (real: whence its penchant for raging on the physical), and deems to prove it by creating so gratuitous a situation that ascribing to it a meaning shall appear ultimately utterly impossible.
Cruelty is bad because it denies the only thing that makes humans human: their ability to keep inventing purposes.
It is not bad ethically: it is bad phylogenetically because it denies the phylos that characterizes the human race, namely an evolved encephalon capable of abstract reflections and denotations.
For a human being, that equates to being bad ethically too: because ethics is our abstract invention to cope with our abstract absurdities.
Cruelty is one abstraction that wants to annihilate all abstractions. If cruelty wins, there is no more mankind.
In fact, as so beautifully Jean Paul Sartre once wrote:
«Of course that we can do without literature and philosophy. Actually, we can do even better: we can do without man.»
Indeed, the universe has existed for eons without us, and will go on existing for many more eons - again without us.
We are the futile.
It is not inventions (such as literature) that are not necessary or indispensable: it is us, the maker, what is not indispensable.
Cruelty is a way of reminding ourselves (beseeching the mocked at victim for an answer that, indeed, also the tormenter would like very much to obtain): we are not indispensable, and it would have been better (or, well: the same) if we would have never existed.
For a being that lives not only on the physiological level but also on the psychological one, namely who lives on meaning, meaning is all.
Deny the opportunity of meaning, and you have denied this very same being by denying what makes him or her different and unique.
The being that lives on meaning (wo/man), has one meaning (cruelty) by which it can obliterate all meanings. But since this operation is, after all, again a meaning though supposedly the final one, it has not really refuted meaning.
Consequently what is futile is the self defeating purpose of cruelty itself: by denying all meanings, it has still left one meaning of which it felt all the continuous urgency and imperious necessity, its own, and thus it has not vanquished neither our need for meanings nor its rationale - for whatever it might be.
Thence, cruelty is bad indeed. Even despite at so high a price, it proved unable to demonstrate its point: one meaning is left, thus meaning is still necessary so to be able to exist as humans. You still need to be human, in order to be inhuman - but that won't justify all that you have forfeited in order to become what you were already: human.