Friday, April 11, 2008

On Reflection

I've been posting to this blog for a few months now. Thinking back, I guess antinatalism has been my default philosophical position for probably 20 years or so (ironic, perhaps even hypocritical, since my younger child is only 17). Still, with my focus much sharpened on the issue due to the writing, I feel myself shifting into a new and rather interesting headspace.

I spent most of my twenties as a fundamentalist Christian; yes, the bible believing, heaven vs. hellfire sort. I eventually abandoned that worldview, and after an interim period of feeling like I was living in some sort of intellectual vacuum, a new sense of self emerged. A more informed, thoughtful one, I hope. I'm feeling that way again, like I'm pushing against some sort of membrane of understanding; or maybe, of feeling. Not sure where the dividing line is between those two, sometimes.

Anyway, I'd like to express to the reader what I'm feeling right now, and as succinctly as possible. In a nutshell, here it is...I believe I'm losing my capacity to worship life. In fact, and in retrospect, I think it's already gone, and I'm just living on the echoes of its ghosts. This is quite interesting to me, because before this recent change, I never realized I WAS worshipping life. It's taken this 'stepping away' by means of objective examination of all those pre-suppositional euphemisms that we take for granted. You know the kind...'life is basically good', or 'things ultimately work out for the best', or even 'hope for the best', as if that solves anything. All the little life affirming attitudes we hang onto, in order to avoid that abyss of existential depression in the face of 'tough, bare facts'.

It's the same thing I felt when I stepped back from the god I worshipped, finally facing my doubts, and my distaste. In one sense the act was almost instantaneous; and indeed, there has been some of that in my disillusionment regarding life. But it's also been a process, and some definite thresholds to cross in my journey away from 'faith' of all kinds. Some might call my new attitude 'nihilism'; and, if be it. Although, I'm not really renouncing life itself, I don't think. But I've taken it off its pedestal, and am no longer in awe of it; awe being the attitude that the religious mindset seeks to inculcate in its followers. I don't feel arrogant about any of this, but neither do I feel humbled anymore. Interested at times, curious, confounded, angry, joyful, intrigued...but no longer humbled in that 'Wow, it's all so incomprehensibly glorious!' kind of way. Because in the end, it's all just stuff hurting other stuff, killing other stuff, and eating other stuff. My life is a flagpole planted on a mountain of countless murders, and soon enough I'll be supplanted, and become part of that ever growing mountain, as will my children, and theirs (god forbid!).

Sorry, it's a 'hard truths' sort of afternoon. Peace.


Chip said...

You sound like a character in a Houellebecq novel. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.

your host said...

I stopped somewhere in the middle of 'Platform', and 'Elementary Particles' still awaits on my shelf.

Anonymous said...

Um, maybe I'm missing something... but isn't the assumption "suffering is intrinsically bad" just as much an assumption as "life is intrinsically good"?

your host said...

I don't see that life is wholly good or bad, anonymous. What I see is that both suffering and death are intrinsic to life; and both are 'bad' within my personal moral framework (death being bad not in itself, since IMO non-existence is actually good, but in the sense of the suffering usually leading to death, as well as the suffering of those left behind).

I also believe that I'm not alone in my feelings here; in fact, I think they're fairly universal, but that through self and cultural manipulation (motivated, no doubt, by various evolutionary survival drivers, both genetic and memetic),
there's a disconnect between our true feelings, and our rational processes.

Admittedly, on an emotional level life seems 'bad' to me, and I've sometimes used this analogy to illustrate what I mean by that. Take some of the 20th century's lauded 'monsters'...Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot...what have you. Now, if we were to carefully evalute any of these mens' lives in full, we would surely discover a mixed bag of so-called moral traits. They weren't demons, after all; they were men, and surely had SOME saving graces. But from an emotional standpoint, we tend to judge such people according to the aggregate of distinguishing moral markers, and if they seem top heavy to one degree or other, according to our own capacities for moral judgement, then we deem them either 'bad', or 'good'.

This is the way I judge life, anonymous. Yes, at times it can be joyous, bountiful, forgiving, and aesthetically pleasing. On the other hand, it is unjust and ruthless, blind and torturous. And, of course, it kills all of us in the end...ofttimes in a quite painful and/or lingering manner. On balance, and according to my own set of scales, life is a big fat jerk, no matter its redeeming qualities.

Hope I've answered you adequately, anonymous.

your host said...

Upon further reflection, anonymous, I think we can see that suffering is self-evidently 'bad' within the context of our own, subjective experience; the evidence of course being that the automatic reaction to suffering is to immediately try and alleviate it. There are exceptions to this rule, but I think the response is ubiquitous enough to deem it a universal characteristic of pretty much all sentient life.

You might argue that the same could be said about the attitude of life being intrinsically good; but, this isn't really equalling out the equation, since 'life' is the context in which both suffering AND happiness are played out. Now, if you were to say 'blowjobs are intrinsically good', I'd probably get onboard.

t said...

Well you're lucky then; I lost my ability to 'worship' life 10 years ago at the age of 11 when I lost my faith. And we, as antinatalists are fundamentally pessimistic about the world anyway. There's nothing sacred about life, it's just a bizarre and tragic accident.

And I agree, suffering is neither intrinsically good nor bad, but suffering is bad because it is decidedly unpleasant.

But back to the host's point, the premises behind antinatalism make for sociopathy. When I hear about death, war, etc. I no longer care as much as I once did. The same for abortion; it irks me when I hear pro-choicers talk about minimizing the number of abortions. No, on the contrary we should be paying people to have them.

your host said...

Good post, t. This idea that life is sacred is put forth by all the proponents, from various religious fundamentalists, to the more liberal stripe of religionist, and even by the so-called 'secular humanists'. When I hear Richard Dawkins or the late Carl Sagan waxing eloquently on the 'sacredness of being', I'm tempted to put my hands together and start singing, "This is the day that the Lord hath made...I will rejoice, and be glad in it".

Regarding your point about war and death, I think I know where you're coming from, and I can relate up to a point. When I see a 'feed the children' sort of commercial, for instance, the same part of me that feels the horror of these peoples' situation, also understands that many of the people rescued from the harsh realities of their time and place will go on to breed, thus feeding the cycle with whole new generations of new meat. This fact underscores the necessity of a clean break with the self-defeating behavior of procreation (self-defeating in the sense that procreation ultimately acts against our better sensibilities).

I ALSO agree with you concerning the abortion issue, which probably lands me slightly askew of others who generally support my position.
That's because my entire focus is on experiential suffering, and I don't concern myself with the slippery slope arguments; I'm not big on transcendental ethical approaches, I guess. I suppose I'm a situational ethicist; that has its own problems, but I'm willing to tackle them on a catch-as-catch-can basis.

There I go, running off at the fingers again. Thanks for dropping by and contributing, t. Looking forward to hearing more from you.