Monday, March 3, 2008

To Live Happily is to Lie Heartily

At an extent.

I happened to catch something on the downstairs T.V. out of the corner of my eye last night, on my way back from the kitchen after having fetched a fistful of Doritos. A woman and her two young daughters were sending some rather large, colored balloons skyward, after attaching notes addressed to 'Daddy' (I gather he was a soldier killed in Iraq, or something). Some guy obviously involved in instigating this nonsense was assuring the kids that their father would soon be reading their letters in heaven. I've gotta tell you, the whole deal gave me the willies, and that's laying aside the tasteless exploitation of childrens' pain for entertainment value.

Once again, it occurred to me how much the palatability index regarding human existence, is artificially inflated and maintained by an egregious mountain of lies. There is this ocean of hard truths out there, walled up behind a piss-weak facade built largely of deceptions both overt and subtle. We buy into them, we pass them along; we internalize them to the extent that anyone who dares to point them out faces knee-jerk ridicule, and sometimes even threat. But rather than make a list here, I'd like to suggest that they all boil down, more or less, to this one truistic palliative, "It'll all work out ok."

That, my friends, is why I ended up having children. Oh, I had the doubts, the skepticism (though not fully formed as yet), the anxiety about doing something I knew in my heart of hearts was probably not the best idea. But, as was my wont in those days, I turned to my then-wife, and she would allay my fears with those magic words, "It'll all work out, honey. Everything's going to be all right." It was the permission I needed to grasp at a life affirming faith; to choose feeling better about things than a truly reasonable approach would warrant.

I have two children now- daughters. One's already a legal adult, with the other following along shortly. I love and cherish both of them, though I'll openly confess the way has been thorny at times (still is!). I hope the best for them, but I have very few illusions left. Yes, they will have moments of joy- in between the tedium, the anxiety, the banality, the loss, the suffering, and the dying. And, of course, the self-deception, with which they will try and strike an imagined balance between the very unbalanced poles of human experience. It won't be easy for them; I've taught them to cultivate clarity, which is, perhaps, the greatest of my many sins. There is another truism...'ignorance is bliss', but that one's far beyond my reach these days.

I've also encouraged both of them (with great vehemence, at times) NOT to have children. One's in love, and of an age not to pay particular respect to an old man's 'advice'; though I'm still hopeful that the logic I've ingrained in her since she was 4 will eventually win out. The other one seems to understand the way the deck is stacked; at least, so far. Of course, this could have all been avoided by simply sticking to my guns at the beginning (isn't 20/20 hindsight the BEST kind of hindsight?), and I wouldn't miss them any more than I miss all the other potential sons and daughters I might have hypothetically sired had I never wised up.

One more thing: to those whose simplistic rejoinders to the antinatalism stance condense to, "If you hate life so much, why don't you kill yourself?", my responses are (and not in any particular order...

You already know.
Why do you even bother?
Oh, and...go fuck yourselves (now THAT'S responsible fornicating!)

*It strikes me to point out that I'm just having a little fun with that last Tourettical outburst there. It's not even aimed at any critic of mine; rather, it's just a little snark at the simplistic rejoinders I've seen around the net in response to the idea that one shouldn't bear children. So, no offense to anyone who might happen to take offense; unless, of course, you're one of the ones I'm referring to. Then, by all means take offense!*


TGGP said...

I actually don't know why you haven't killed yourself. Chip says the main reason life and procreation is awful is precisely because of death, but for you everything one experiences while living is awful or at least doesn't make up for the awfulness.

In my short experience, things have always worked out though I might have worried before.

your host said...

First things first- I haven't killed myself for a variety of reasons, familial duty, and the knowledge of the harm I'd inflict on my children probably chief among them. There's also the thing about doing irreversible harm against oneself; an obstacle that I'm surprised almost anybody is able to get around. There are other psychological constraints, I suppose. The moment of death doesn't actually bother me; it's all the shit leading up to that moment.

As far as experiences...well, that's a mixed bag, isn't it? And certainly not equally distributed throughout the species, eh? And that's my point, the one that many folks seem to be missing. One might be blessed beyond measure in his personal life; a rarity, to be sure, but it COULD least, in a relative way. But almost no one fares as well as our hypothetical Mr. Lucky, and for millions upon millions of people, life is shit, and between THOSE two extremes, there is a spectrum of good luck versus bad luck, happiness versus awfulness, etc. Any my point is that it isn't worth the risk bringing a life into the world, that has even a small chance of getting the horrible end of the stick. That's why my site is called 'antinatalism' in the first place...see? And yes, no matter what good fortune I or anyone else might experience, it isn't worth bringing other lives into the world who might not fare so kindly.

I think the point you might be missing here is encapsulated in your last sentence:

"In MY short (personal) experience, things have always worked out (for ME), though I might have worried before (about MYSELF, or someone else I cared about). Which is sort of like saying "Violence is totally worth it, because I've never been shot". I'm glad things have worked out for you so far, but you're much too intelligent to truly believe your particular sort of luck (so far) is the universal condition.

Admittedly, my take on life also emerges from the particular sort of person I am; I can't claim to be totally objective here, nor can anyone. That's why I put forth arguments, and await counter-arguments. Ultimately, where we come down on the question has a lot to do with our emotional makeups, and the pre-suppositional frameworks in which those emotions justify themselves, and are justified (vicious circles within vicious circles). It's my contention that many pro-natalists (not all of them) ofttimes act against their own philosophical best interests, giving rein to viewpoints which, examined more closely, actually collide with their own sensibilities.

Take lying, for instance; the topic of this particular post. Now, lying is ostensibly a bad thing in most peoples' eyes, most of the time. At the same time, life is supposedly a good thing. And yet, down through history, folks have found it necessary to justify many aspects of life through the 'art' of the lie; out rageous storytelling is part and parcel of the universal motif, as it were. And if you were to ask many adherents why they believe in these obviously fictitious apologues, they might answer something like "my life wouldn't be worth living without them."

Hope I've made myself clear here, tggp...thanks for the challenge.

TGGP said...

That's one of the best responses I've seen to any comment I've written. I can't think of much else to say.

your host said...

I may be longwinded, but I'm...uh...uh...where was I going with that?

Ann said...

Life is always bad, at least from the antinatalist perspective. Death is not good either but it is one of the many possible harms, possibly the least harmful one.

If death is the ultimate harm one can be certain of, why do we generally take the long and knotty road leading to it? Why opt for more suffering rather than less? To what end?

your host said...

The best thing, of course, is to never get on that road. Of course, that decision is made by our parents, and we have no control over their decision. Once on the road, the choice of whether or not to voluntarily step off gets a bit trickier; that call is ultimately personal.

Your final question is part and parcel to my antinatalist stance; we travel from nowhere to nowhere, IMO, and for no reason at all. At least, for no GOOD reason. And while we may find the journey more or less satisfying, according to the casting of the dice, our progeny might not be so fortunate. It's simply not worth the risk.

Thanks for your participation here, ann.

Ann said...

Thanks for having this space, host. Strange how a couple of years ago, one would get almost no search results for this term. I have to say I'm glad Chip made me aware of this book. I had been thinking VHEMT needed serious reform.

It is peculiar that Benatar does not mention VHEMT at all, he seems to avoid the green issue or viewing us as the plague of the planet. I wonder if it is to avoid the question about the morality of suicide, or merely not to be labelled as an eco-terrorist.

your host said...

Hi, ann. Personal matters have put the book review on the back burner, though I might manage something in the next couple of days. But from what I gather (Chip's actually written about this at some length in various places), Benatar's position is pretty strictly philanthropic; perhaps like me, he believes that the suffering of humans is unique in it's depth and breadth, due to our psychological complexity. But I don't think he would take the green position, other than strictly by coincidence of ultimate goals.

I suppose the human race COULD be looked upon as a 'plague on the planet' in terms of environmental damage; but then, there are many plagues, and many vehicles for extinction, past and present. To my way of thinking, the end of humankind would mark the end of the worst sorts of suffering. That's the kind I'm concentrating on in my writing. And short of a rogue comet, or the sun exploding, I'm not really sure how to address the rest.

Curator said...

In addition to immediate effects on one's children (a special case, as I've discussed, and I want to talk more about that with you guys), there may be selfless moral reasons to avoid or at least postpone suicide. If any of us thinks we can prevent harm (for instance, by getting the antinatalist view out in the open and maybe prevent a few babies from being born), that in itself could be a reason to stick around for a while, even if we have decided that life is not worth continuing. A reason is not a duty, but it's still a reason.

your host said...

Agree, curator; in my mind, the question of whether to continue a life is separate from the question of starting a life in the first place, though it could be argued that the two touch here and there.
I guess that fact is embodies by your scenario of a potential suicide sticking around to preach antinatalism. Whether I see that as a reason or a duty...hmmmmmmmm. Too close to call.

I'm finding your approach to antinatalism via the angle of suicide really interesting, btw. Opens up the field in inquiry, in my mind, anyway. I can't count the number of times I've seen the question 'why don't you just kill yourself?' aimed at antinatalists...any clarity injected into that discussion is much appreciated. Thanks.

Ann said...

hmm imagine the critics of antinatalism running into this thread and thinking they have a good reason to rant about why we don't kill ourselves. hehe. i however agree.

Iheartfashion said...

I don't want to address the anti-natalist debate. I agree that life is hard and painful at times and good outcomes for our children are never guaranteed, but for me the positives outweigh the negatives (and I'm no optimist!)
Obviously, I think your whole philosophy has been shaped by your unfortunate life experience (and how could it not be), but this certainly isn't the experience of every other human. To play armchair shrink, you are pretty certainly depressed and this colors one's outlook and prevents rational thought about anything. I'm disturbed by the message you send your two daughters in encouraging them never to have children. You say if they'd never been born you wouldn't miss them any less than all the other children you've never had. But they have been born! It seems like an unnecessarily cruel comment. I'm sure your suicide would inflict harm on your daughters, as you say, but your thoughtless rantings about how miserable and unfair life is do them a disservice as well.

your host said...


First off, welcome to my blog! You say...

" I don't want to address the anti-natalist debate. I agree that life is hard and painful at times and good outcomes for our children are never guaranteed, but for me the positives outweigh the negatives (and I'm no optimist!)"

If you mean the positives outweigh the negatives in your personal life, I won't quibble with you. It's a subjective assessment. Oh, I could go into the ways we delude ourselves in order to cope, but I'll abstain for know the drill.

"Obviously, I think your whole philosophy has been shaped by your unfortunate life experience (and how could it not be), but this certainly isn't the experience of every other human."

You're probably at least partly right about the life experience thing, though certainly not wholly; I've felt this way since I could think, though it took time for my feelings to concretize into a definable worldview. And no, my experiences are not those of 'every other human'. Some have it better, some have it worse. I'm an antinatalist precisely because we can never predict who will have it worse; and furthermore, since procreation is a generally selfish affair, we could certainly do without it, considering the stakes, and some of the recipients thereof. Oh, and everybody dies...I almost forgot to mention that.

"To play armchair shrink, you are pretty certainly depressed and this colors one's outlook and prevents rational thought about anything."

Who says? Perhaps I'm depressed exactly because I've come to face the facts. The theory of 'depressive realism' is still a fairly new one, and is under attack from various quarters. But then, what else would one expect, when it's human nature to disown the parts of reality we don't like? I could just as easily say that YOUR worldview is influenced by various lies and coping mechanisms you've acquired from your surrounding culture. It's all well and good to wax eloquently about the 'circle of life' until somebody you love is squeezed to death inside it. Life goes poorly for all of us at times, almost always for some, and most certainly for all of us near and at the end. All easily avoided by refusing to procreate.

"I'm disturbed by the message you send your two daughters in encouraging them never to have children."

Perhaps you are. I'm much more disturbed by the prospect of bringing more lives into the world, thereby signing their death sentences, not to mention the possible and sundry nastiness they might encounter on the way to their graves. Perhaps you can't imagine any situation where you might think to yourself, 'it would have been better if so-and-so had never been born'. But if you truly can't, I'd offer that you're just not trying hard enough. And if you can imagine something suitably horrible within the spectrum of human experience (it's really not very hard), simply remember that the hard roll of the dice might fall on anyone, at any time...including on someone you care about.

"You say if they'd never been born you wouldn't miss them any less than all the other children you've never had. But they have been born! It seems like an unnecessarily cruel comment."

Yes, they have been born, and I regret it, and they understand why. They also know that I feel this way exactly because I DO love them so much. Is it cruel to tell somebody the truth? Sometimes, I guess. It hurt when I found out Santa Clause wasn't real...but I should have never been lied to in the first place. Don't you find it in the least ironic that we often work so hard to shield our children from the truth? We invent gods and heavens precisely because we find the unvarnished truth about the world horrifying, so we mitigate, and we storytell, and we turn blind eyes. I've never been very good at that, even before I experienced some of the more sobering things in my life.

"I'm sure your suicide would inflict harm on your daughters, as you say, but your thoughtless rantings about how miserable and unfair life is do them a disservice as well."

My suicide WOULD harm my daughters, which is precisely ONE of the reasons that I've never carried it out. And though my thoughts may be rant-like at times, rest assured that they are NEVER thoughtless; I leave that part of the equation to the other side, who seem quite capaable and ever diligent in hoisting that banner.

Life IS often miserable, and generally unfair...though not always, of course. But there's absolutely NO way to determine which direction any particular life will go. Oh, except at the end, of course...the way of the grave. That's the one sure thing about always ends. And often tragically. Procreation is playing russian roulette with somebody else's life, the end, all the chambers are loaded.

Thanks for dropping by, and adressing the antinatalist debate from your perspective. Civil challenges are always welcomed here. Take care.

Rebecca said...

I get the "why don't you just kill yourself?" question often as an antinatalist. From my boyfriend, and amazingly, from my parents! (I'm actually working on a short play based on the conversation that led up to them yelling at me that I should just kill myself.) The short answer is, "because I'm not suidicidal." DUH. If you say you're suffering because of cancer, people certainly don't say, "Just kill yourself!" But they're perfectly comfortable saying it to someone who wants to protect future potential life from existance. It's very odd to me.

Anonymous said...

Hey Man,
I really like your bent of mind & way of thinking.

I think Antin-natalism is really cool.I wish I had never been born.

Keep going.Spread the awareness.

Anonymous said...

I can't thank people enough for putting up information on anti-natalism. I am not very good with words, and hate trying to put my thoughts into words.

I totally look forward to my death, and even more now as a result of "A view from Hell blog" and some of its links.

I don't intend to live much longer. I have been alive for the past 10 years saying I am just late. One thing that has made those years worth it, has been my reading "A view from Hell blog". Thanks so much for all of your effort and for staying alive as long as you have, because it at least allowed me to go to my death with a much calmer peace of mind.

If I could help humans, it would be to educate them about death, and make it pain free and easily available.

I am still enjoying the the book "Two arms and one Head".

Anonymous said...

Yes, and it could possibly be argued that the lie is so integral to life as we know it because the fact of our being here in the first place is a lie in itself - perhaps the biggest lie of all!

Anonymous said...

How does a true antinatalist have children? Did I miss something? Adopted? Acquired through marriage?

Oxy Moron said...

Anonymous November 27, 2015,

Through mitosis.