The Hedgehog’s Dilemma

What an interesting subject.  It could be anything!  After all, hedgehogs must have fucktons of dilemmas, not the least of which would be the fact that they’re actual hedgehogs, which must suck.  They’re tiny, kind of stupid and if a hedgehog were to fall onto its back, it would be fixed by its own quills to the very earth, and what would be a minor embarrassment for most creatures would quickly become a deadly yet broadly humorous predicament.  Or, less literally, perhaps its a Victorian take on the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, where our blue hero finds himself forced to choose between social convention and true love, between what’s expected and the unexpected, between filial obligation and the obligations of the heart.  SPOILER:  like every single Victorian story ever, he will choose the latter in a highly dramatic yet obviously telegraphed “reveal”, to the consternation of his mother, sisters and that damn stodgy old Vicar.  Much corset-induced fainting and hmmphing ensues.

Seriously, you can’t respect a people who constantly wrote about flouting their own fucking values.  What’s that?  You say we do that nowadays too?  You say that humanity isn’t and can never be a homogeneous mass that subscribes to a homogeneous morality and that the flouting of the values held by the majority is perpetrated by a free-thinking artistic and creative minority and portrayed for the amusement and edification of those for whom the shackles of public judgment and condemnation weigh heaviest?  Well I don’t see how that in any material way changes what I said in the opening sentence of this paragraph, now GOOD DAY, SIR.

I know I shouldn’t write it down when I argue with myself, but I did it, it’s done and I’m not deleting it.  No, this is just some dumb old philosopher’s thingamabopper.

Imagine, if you will, a family of hedgehogs shivering in a wintery forest; I’m assuming hedgehogs live in forests, and I don’t care enough to look it up, so just roll with me on this.  It’s freezing cold, as often happens in the wintertime, and even kind of stupid hedgehogs know to huddle together for warmth.  Hedgehogs, though, are quite heavily quilled, and if they simply huddle closely, they will stab each other.  Thus, they are forced to remain somewhat apart and find an acceptable compromise between freezing to death and poking little bleeding holes in their loved ones.

The Dilemma was the idea of one Arthur Schopenhauer, a philosopher often criticized for his pessimistic ideas, making him a fellow misanthrope.  He related the above idea and posited that human social interaction works in exactly the same way:  if we are unreservedly open to the people we know, we cannot help but to hurt them, be it a minor pain or a mortal wound.  Conversely, if we withdraw completely, there will be no possibility of warmth for us, and thus to participate in society is to implicitly acknowledge that you will, regardless of your intentions, hurt people, and will in turn be hurt.  It’s interesting, because assuming it’s true, then from certain perspectives it follows that it’s actually unethical to even interact with another human being.  Of course, generalizations tend to not be true to some extent or another, and even if this one was absolutely true, any reasonable person would have to reject the notion that saying hello to somebody makes you an awful person.

Philosophers aren’t always reasonable, though; much the same sort of logic is used to argue in favor of another of Schopenhauer’s ideas, antinatalism, which is pretty much what it sounds like.  David Benatar, for example, argues that to give birth to a person is to indirectly do harm to that person, and thus procreation is immoral, backing his long lost sister Pat’s insistence that love is indeed a battlefield.  Still, if you stuck a gun to his head and offered to undo the great wrong that his mother and father committed against him, I’d be almost certain that he’d decline your kind altruism.  It’s the kind of argument that makes sense semantically, but instantly becomes nonsensical when made tangible in the real world.

The Hedgehog’s Dilemma is different, in my opinion; for such a simple metaphor, it’s very apt.  It does seem incomplete, though:  hedgehogs quills protrude down and back from the head, and with some care and attention to angles, they are perfectly capable of huddling as close as they like as their quills nestle flat and harmlessly against their loved ones.  It is heedlessness that creates the dilemma in the first place, not mere proximity, and it’s as true for hedgehogs as it is for humans.  Closeness only equals pain when one is reckless, and I certainly wouldn’t agree if Schopenhauer meant to imply that to show some care is to establish any kind of distance.  Not even a little.  Contrarily, apathy and recklessness become more and more likely the farther away one is from another, emotionally and socially speaking.  Certainly one is vulnerable to someone close, but there isn’t necessarily pain.  It isn’t even necessarily likely.

And so I present The Compleat Hedgehog’s Dilemma by bluinthisligget.  Take that, you dead German bastard!

No, I’m kidding.  His book The World As Will and Representation actually sounds awesome.  I also got some German in me on my mother’s side, so I’m allowed to say that.  Comments/opinions from my readers would be most welcome.