Philosopher Leonard Katz wrote: "But Nature, as we now know, regards ultimately only fitness and not our happiness (...), and does not scruple to use hate, fear, punishment and even war alongside affection in ordering social groups and selecting among them, just as she uses pain as well as pleasure to get us to feed, water and protect our bodies and also in forging our social bonds".
People make use of suffering for specific social or personal purposes in many areas of human life, as can be seen in the following instances.
- In arts, literature, or entertainment, people may use suffering for creation, for performance, or for enjoyment. Entertainment particularly makes use of suffering in blood sports, violence in the media, or violent video games. A more or less great amount of suffering is involved in body art. The most common forms of body art include tattooing, body piercing, scarification, human branding. Another form of body art is a sub-category of performance art, in which for instance the body is mutilated or pushed to its physical limits.
- In business and various organizations, suffering may be used for constraining humans or animals into required behaviors.
- In a criminal context, people may use suffering for coercion, revenge, or pleasure.
- In interpersonal relationships, especially in places like families, schools, or workplaces, suffering is used for various motives, particularly under the form of abuse and punishment. In another fashion related to interpersonal relationships, the sick, or victims, or malingerers, may use suffering more or less voluntarily to get primary, secondary, or tertiary gain.
- In law, suffering is used for punishment (see penal law ); victims may refer to what legal texts call "pain and suffering" to get compensation; lawyers may use a victim's suffering as an argument against the accused; an accused's or defendant's suffering may be an argument in their favor; authorities at times use light or heavy torture in order to get information or a confession.
- In the news media, suffering is often the raw material.
- In personal conduct, people may use suffering for themselves, in a positive way. Personal suffering may lead, if bitterness, depression, or spitefulness is avoided, to character-building, spiritual growth, or moral achievement; realizing the extent or gravity of suffering in the world may motivate one to relieve it and may give an inspiring direction to one's life. Alternatively, people may make self-detrimental use of suffering. Some may be caught in compulsive reenactment of painful feelings in order to protect them from seeing that those feelings have their origin in unmentionable past experiences; some may addictively indulge in disagreeable emotions like fear, anger, or jealousy, in order to enjoy pleasant feelings of arousal or release that often accompany these emotions; some may engage in acts of self-harm aimed at relieving otherwise unbearable states of mind.
- In politics, there is purposeful infliction of suffering in war, torture, and terrorism; people may use nonphysical suffering against competitors in nonviolent power struggles; people who argue for a policy may put forward the need to relieve, prevent or avenge suffering; individuals or groups may use past suffering as a political lever in their favor.
- In religion, suffering is used especially to grow spiritually, to expiate, to inspire compassion and help, to frighten, to punish.
- In rites of passage (see also hazing, ragging), rituals that make use of suffering are frequent.
- In science, humans and animals are subjected on purpose to unpleasant experiences for the study of suffering or other phenomena.
- In sex, individuals may use suffering in a context of sadism and masochism or BDSM.
- In sports, suffering may be used to outperform competitors or oneself; see sports injury, and no pain, no gain; see also blood sport and violence in sport as instances of pain-based entertainment.
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