Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Last Mile

This morning, I piled my beloved dog, Gypsy, into the car, and took her to the park (spent most of the day there). It will be the last time. Tomorrow morning, I'll drive her over to the vet, and hold her as the doctor puts her to sleep. I should be happy for her, and part of me is (negative bliss, and all that); but I sure don't want to let her go. Anyway, I just wanted to say that this is one of those days when I truly understand the opposition to the antinatalist creed.

But please understand! If she had never been, I wouldn't be going through this (at least, with this dog). Same goes if I had never been...and one day, my children will lose their father, and feel something like I do today. All the optimistic talk in the world won't change the fact that everybody suffers, and everybody dies. Even the greatest dog in the whole world.

You know, it could just as truthfully be called the 'circle of death'...fucking Elton John (lyrics by Tim Rice).

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Having Been Really So Bad?

Via Chip Smith of the Hoover Hog, we get another hasty review of David Benatar's 'Better Never to Have Been'...

"If Benatar had convinced me that this asymmetry between pleasure and suffering was real, his conclusions would have been hard to argue with. Unfortunately, he didn’t explain why the absence of pleasure is only neutral, and not bad. "

Since we're talking about the pleasure of non-existent entities, I think the burden of proof falls on the reviewer to demonstrate how an imaginary person's non-experiences could possibly have anything BUT a neutral value.

"...Moreover, many people have profoundly unhappy lives (malnutrition, war, etc.). Even here, though, there is a way around Benatar’s argument. Certainly some people are more likely than others to have happy children. People in a country like the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, with its extended, brutal, ongoing civil war are likely to have children that profoundly suffer. But on the other hand, a very rich family in Switzerland might be relatively likely to have happy children. As long as the Swiss family has a high chance of having a happy child, it doesn’t seem immoral for them to give birth. This, of course, if we reject the asymmetry argument."

The problem is, the reviewer is playing a risk management game with lives other than his/her own. So the parents of the child in the DRC are playing russian roulette with 5 bullets in the chamber, while the gun held against the Swiss child's temple only has one or two. Not much of a justification to hang one's hat upon, methinks. I also think the nature and ubiquitousness of suffering is being underplayed here, and the fact that any new life is immediately given a pending death sentence is completely overlooked. Furthermore, since I think I've adequately demonstrated that the asymmetry argument was rejected out of hand, where does this leave us?

What are the interests of non-existing entities in coming into existence? The answer, of course, is zilch. Therefore, procreation is strictly a matter of self-interest to everybody BUT the potential child. It's a base utilization scheme, for whatever reason(s), where the utilized pays the brunt of the costs. As far as the 'good stuff' life has to offer, well...just because a slave is given trinkets by the master, that doesn't make the slave any less a slave. Every lifeform on this planet is a servant to life and its uncaring processes, until finally it is cast off onto the trash heap of history. But misery loves company, and so we keep bringing in fresh meat as a hedge against the idea of dying alone. Again, this is risk management in a venture that's doomed to fail, set against the sure thing of avoiding this nasty little adventure.

Think about eternity of nothingness stretches behind us. A similar one stretches before us. Why go on creating these little episodes of agony in-between? Consider procreation in these terms, and you'll recognize the utter futility. Then, maybe Benatar's little asymmetrical argument might not seem so trivial, or easy to dismiss.

You can read the full review here- .

Back To Reality

Ok, I'm done with the fanciful hypotheticals for a while (unless one is required to accentuate a point, of course). My aim here is to demonstrate that procreation runs counter to decent human sensibilities- it's a bad thing. If we're going to act selfishly, why not act towards a 'higher' selfishness, in the direction of acquiring and maintaining a clear conscience? That's part of what I'm working out for myself on this blog.

Do I have any hopes of making an impact? If I offered a fatalistic "no" to this question, I'd be lying. Even cynical antinatalists have their fantasies. But I also like to think that I'm a somewhat realistic person, and so I assuage my guilt with the little victories. My own children, for instance, seem to grok the skinny, and as far as I can tell, don't hold my predilections against me. And I actually take pains to discuss my beliefs with tangible passers-by, and sometimes they listen, and frequently they nod their heads, which is an encouragement (and an admitted ego boost).

And of course, there's this blog (and a few others). The ideas are in the air- memetic viruses infecting laptops, and optic centers, and discourse, and passions. Others carry the disease as well, and the possibility of interesting mutations is ever-present. Mass communication in the hands of the masses has opened up a Pandora's box of options; I mean to take advantage.

Because bringing children into an existence of suffering and death is wrong...and you KNOW it is!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Noteworthy Cigarette Break

So, I went out into the garage for a smoke, and my neighbor across the alley came outside. We got to chatting, and I told him I'd taken a sick day, and was putzing around with my blogs. I briefly explained my take on procreation to him, half wondering what his reaction would be, as he's a very cheery sort of person, and seemingly wouldn't be predisposed to the notion of voluntary human extinction. Imagine my surprise when he revealed that he'd often thought along those lines himself; and, in fact, that these ruminations had informed his decision not to have children. Oh yes, there IS an undercurrent of rational discernment out there, folks.

A few seconds after my neighbor drove off, a hummingbird flew into my garage, hovered inches from my face for several seconds, spoke to me, then took off. Unfortunately, I don't speak hummingbird, so his message was lost. Still, it was a peculiar incident, and has stirred the little sparkly things in the kaleidoscope of my mind. Curiouser and curiouser...

Some Antinatalist Fun

Sick day. Bored crazy. So I made a 'famous last words' list. Feel free to contribute.

Billy Graham: "There is NO God!"

Dr. Phil: "I really don't know anything."

Richard Dawkins: "I've accepted Jesus as my lord and savior."

Osama Bin Laden: "Could somebody get me a ham sandwich?"

The Dalai Lama: "Fuck everybody!"

George W. Bush: "The eschewal of obfuscation is my priority. Oh, and I'm gay."

Bill Clinton: " 'Is'...IS."

Gore Vidal: "I raped Jack Kerouac, and I'm glad!"

Tyra Banks: "Why are you choking me?"

John McCain: "Oh, you meant THAT Keating!"

Jesse Jackson: "Rizzle vanizzle white's alright nnngggggggggggg..........."

Jesus Christ: "Oh SHIT!"

Mohammed: "I was just keeping an eye on her, bro."

Gautama Buddha: "Enlightenment my ass! That antinatalism guy is the REAL boddhisatva."

Mark McGwyer: "My arms hurt!"

Harrison Ford: "Just kill me."

Will Smith: "I was typecast. I WAS TYPECAST!"

Mother Theresa: "On the other hand, I got these cool threads!"

Homer Simpson: "Stop drawing me...doh!"

Barbara Walters: "My face feels itchy."

Star Jones: "I was the one who put ants in her wrinkle cream."

Ringo Starr: "I was the best Beatle!"

Michael Jordan's 'doctor': "Michael Jordan is a robot."

Donald Trump: Couldn't speak through the pillow.

Thanks... everybody who's commented the last few days. You're really classing the place up! I'd also advise any new readers to go beyond my original posts, and follow the threads. The challenges and discussions are what really serve to flesh this stuff out. Not to mention the fact that they're breeding grounds for new angles of approach.

Much appreciated, folks!

VHEMT's Magic Button

The folks over at the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, , an environmentally focused group, have posited a magic button whereby all human life can be eliminated in a single stroke. Since I don't believe in their premise that, without people, the earth was or ever will be a 'natural paradise', I'd like to expand their exercise to include the eradication of all life everywhere. Would you push it?

If your answer is 'yes', they then offer you the choice of two scenarios...

FAST: All people fall over and rot.
SLOW: Universal human infertility.

Which would you choose? From my own point of view, the first choice is the obvious, morally correct one (I'm taking for granted here that the extinction is meant to be an instantaneous, painless one). And yet, I find my finger lingering above the button; I am hesitant. Why? Perhaps the second option allows me to feel a bit less responsible. After all, playing 'G'od is a pretty big responsibility. Deism's 'g'od is more my style, I think; make the opening move, then sit back and watch nature 'take its course'.

There's also curiosity. I have to admit, I would love to be there as everything winds down, a witness to genesis in reverse. Maybe its the drama queen in me. But, considering all the potential anguish as civilization dismantles, I hope I'd have the intestinal fortitude to make the hard choice, and opt for door number 1. It would be as if all creation went to sleep at the same time, and never woke far the more compassionate choice, I think.

And while we're dismantling things, I'd just like to re-iterate that VHEMT's characterization of a post-human world as being a 'natural paradise' is a load of crap. All life is a circle of killing, eating, and exploitation; punctuated by suffering and death. It should never have been. Now I'll close with a line from the film 'The Great Race', circa 1965...

Professor Fate: "Push the button, Max!"

Sunday, May 25, 2008


I just finished watching Danny Doyle's film 'Sunshine'. Spectacular piece of work, IMNSHO. Reminded me of an updated version of '2001'. Faster paced, which I appreciated as I'm sorely in need of diversion these days. Of course, it got me cheering for yet another 'save the earth from destruction' scenario, which I should resent. But,'s only a movie. Now, on with my plans to destroy the earth. Let's see, I've got the paperclips, last year's SI swimsuit edition, and a 9V battery. Am I missing anything?

Life sucks.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Suffering In Toto...And Your Little Dog, Too!

Chip Smith over at the Hoover Hog offers this in regard to animal suffering. In their struggle to morally countenance the existence of life as a whole, people down through history have sought to manufacture scapegoats, the elimination of which would usher the world into the paradisical state to which life was intended. This ideation has been pursued to its logical extreme by the more radical factions of the environmentalist movement, who believe the post-human world will enter a phase of ecological harmony; yeah, all that 'circle of life' crappola. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that this 'circle' represents, above all else, killing, ingesting, digesting, and shitting. Life is both the initiator and benficiary of its own suffering, across the board. So in proposing the removal of, in my own opinion, the greatest recipients of suffering, I labor under no illusion that the problem of existence is solved once and for all. However, we do what we can...

Ouroborus, that hungry snake
found not of which he might partake.
In desperate straits, his tail he curled,
then ate himself, and shat the world.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The View From Hell

I've added a significant new link, The View From Hell, which addresses the subject of coerced existence from a more formally ethical perspective. Give it a read!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Negative Bliss-Fleshing it Out

Negative Bliss- the absence of any sentient state which can be described as less than perfectly blissful.

The more I think about it, the more I find the whole notion of positively maintained bliss problematic. All my experience tells me that part of the essence of happiness is tied into a sort of relative comparison matrix; the crest of a wave, whose body is the whole of a person's spectrum of temperament. I'm not aware of any studies at present, but I suspect that extreme peaks of joy tend to flatten out pretty quickly. I'm not even sure if happiness removed from its unabridged frame of reference makes any sense at all.

Of course, a challenge can be raised regarding the subjective assessments I'm making in order to come to this conclusion. But regarding happiness, what other yardstick can possibly apply? Obviously, I can become more fully aware of the context of circumstances out of which my happiness emerges; comparing the actual state of affairs to my personal moral framework, for instance, to see if my feelings are actually warranted vis-a-vis consistency. But in the end, I'm still stuck with how I feel about things...happy, sad, or indifferent.

That said, I'm far from convinced that one can be intrinsically happy, any more than one can be intrinsically tall. It's all about context, and the context of existence is in constant flux. Even in the imaginary brains-in-vats scenario, surely its proponents envision the process of thought continuing, and probably at a faster and greater rate than hitherto known. And, as anybody knows, thinking is rarely a straight-line affair. Thoughts compete; they bump up against each other. They challenge one another. The very process of thought itself requires comparison i.e. relativity, and I see no reason to think that mood wouldn't follow this very same course.

Furthermore, the positive bliss enthusiasts make a HUGE speculative leap in their presumptions about just how high these 'peaks of bliss' can rise. Who's to say that future levels of happiness will be that much higher than they are now, on a good day? I suspect that we can tweak things here and there, but unless we're talking about refashioning humanity from the ground up, along with all the experiential stuff that makes us human, then a lot of this talk seems like an exercise in extreme overestimation to me. On top of which, if our imagined destiny IS that far divorced from our present human experience, who KNOWS what new, impossible to presently imagine problems might come along to give our freshly starched Shangrila a nice kick in the pants?

All things considered, I think much of this transhumanist stuff is talking-out-of-the-ass talk. It's been pointed out before, for instance, that our artistic visions of Hell are replete with details, including levels and degrees of suffering. But denizens of Heaven (when Heaven is depicted at all) seem to spend most of their time walking around in suits with thin ties, sort of staring into space like opium addicts. This is because we really can't get our minds around the idea of unadulterated, intrinsic happiness. That's why there's a Hell in the first place, so that those living in Heaven will realize that they're happy... by comparison.

Lastly, there's absolutely no guarantee that, once having reached whatever manifested 'promised land' one might care to imagine, eventually someone, or something, won't move in and muck up the works. To absolutely guarantee a perfectly maintained state of bliss for everyone, for all time, somebody's gonna have to have a set of reins on the whole frickin' universe. All I can say to that is...good luck with that!

Meanwhile, the ugly stepsister, Negative Bliss, stands waiting...

What do dogooders do? Why, they minimize the bad, to the best of their ability. They alleviate hunger. They mend wounds. They bury the dead. Most of what we recognize as 'good', is actually the absence of 'bad'. The more bad we manage to erase, the more good naturally comes into its own. And this is where antinatalism rides in on a white horse; for with every person never conceived, one full lifetime of potential harm is erased from the ledger. No, more than erased; it's never recorded in the first place! Thus one human unit of the negation of all suffering is fully actualized...negative bliss! And unlike the other kind, negative bliss is definitionally guaranteed to last forever, as applied to the potential person who never came to be. Potential people are invulnerable to harm, plain and simple. And why not? It's where we're all headed in short time, anyway. Why create vessels of suffering who will, in very short order, pass away into the negative bliss of non-existence, when the potential to never exist is there right now? Why bring this unfortunate manifestation into an existence of suffering, when the end is where we started from? It's like catching a crappy, smelly bus from your home, in order to get home...why not just stay in the house? Kick back, crack open a brew, and watch the game... relax!

In a negative bliss sort of way, of course.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Hey, I Just Thought of Something!

You may look upon life as an unprofitable episode, disturbing the blessed calm of non-existence.
Arthur Schopenhauer

In the spirit of negative utilitarianism, I shall now coin a new term (ugh, upon googling, I found somebody else has already used it. However, I feel that my use is unique, considering the philosophical THERE!) And that term is:

And why not? Beats the hell out of the 'mere addition paradox' of positive utilitarianism, no? And unlike positive utilitarian utopias, non-existence is definitionally achievable (as opposed to highly speculative), and invulnerable to undoing. Honestly, I really perceive no downside here. Please feel free to comment if you disagree.
"A vacuum is a hell of a lot better than some of the stuff nature replaces it with"
Tennessee Williams

The Repugnant Price of Imaginary Paradise

Taking a break from the Benatar reviews for a moment.

I’ve been reading yet another transhumanist outline for eventual human bliss over at , and snagged the most salient section for your perusal...

1) radical enrichment of the pleasure centres. Irrespective of population density, suffering can in principle be abolished in all sentient life; and mind/brains motivated entirely by gradients of cerebral bliss. Ultimately, superintelligent posthumans may be animated by gradients of well-being that are billions of times richer than the range of hedonic tone adaptive for Homo sapiens in the ancestral environment.
2) a regime of global virtual reality, most memorably evoked in "The Matrix". The exponential growth of computer power (cf. Moore's Law) offers the prospect of lifelong immersive VR; a Matrix scenario minus its whimsical "Machines" dependent on pod-grown people for their bioelectrical energy. Most recently, Second Life and its cousins foreshadow what's possible. Next century's multimodal VR will be unimaginably more compelling.

On this "Paradise Matrix" scenario of reward circuitry enrichment plus immersive VR, the Earth's pain-ridden ecosystems can be progressively dismantled [though virtual wildlife safaris will be optional]. Each envatted mind/brain/virtual world can dine on genetically-engineered single-celled total nutrition mix, subjectively tasting (perhaps) like the ambrosial food of the gods. In mature vatworld Matrix models, the carrying capacity of the Earth runs to thousands of billions of interconnected (post-)humans. Each of these thousands of billions can enjoy lifelong well-being orders of magnitude richer than anything possible today. To maximise aggregate welfare on a cosmic scale, vatworlds could eventually be dispatched to seed and superpopulate other planets in our Local Group of galaxies - and indeed anywhere habitable or more-or-less terra-formable within our light-cone, saturating the universe with positive value.

I’m tempted to just fill up the rest of this post with the word ‘farfetched’, perhaps punctuated now and again with the phrase ‘geeks need women too’; but that would be overly pessimistic and unkind, methinks. Of course, beyond being highly speculative simply in terms of the logistics involved in paving this road to Nirvana, there are a lot of ad-hoc assumptions relative to the nature of happiness that strike me as extremely presumptuous. ‘Gradients of well-being that are billions of times richer’??? What the hell does it even mean to say that I could be a billion times happier than I am now? ‘Each of these thousands of billions can enjoy lifelong well-being orders of magnitude richer than anything possible today’. Assuming, of course, that there isn’t an as yet unperceived ceiling of hedonistic potential right above our heads. So far, I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary. And what if we discover that happiness is irrevocably relativistic in terms of both scope and degree. In other words, as Aquinas once postulated, enjoyment is enhanced in a field where suffering also exists, for comparison’s sake. If that’s so, our Matrix Heaven might require a Cyber Hell to be fully actualized. Come to think of it, the author might want to revisit the foundational film of his analogy, and listen to what Agent Smith had to say about the matter. The rose-colored hypothesizations exhibited in these masturbatory New Jerusalem scenarios really tickle me, sometimes.

But hey! Far be it from me to rain on little Poindexter’s sci-fi flights of fancy. After all, in the abstract world of all possibilities, anything becomes possible, right? However, in practical terms, all these transhumanist guys are gonna be dead long before any of this stuff ever becomes feasible, much less established across the board. So will their kids. And their kids. And THEIR kids. And here is where the term ‘billions’ really comes into play...BILLIONS of folks are going to suffer, and BILLIONS more will die before the culmination of this outrageously speculative scenario can even be hoped to be achieved. So what we actually have here are a few eggheads pumping up hope for a vicarious immortality as a justification to keep breeding, so that somewhere far down the line, some people who don’t even exist yet can play a TOTALLY AWESOME version of D & D, and maybe achieve a decent orgasm without ever having to touch a real woman. Once again, does the validity of the term ‘human sacrifice’ as applied to this situation escape everybody but me?

We are the future’s dirt, ladies and gentlemen; and whether the future kingdoms built upon that dirt are real or virtual makes very little difference to me.

Monday, May 12, 2008

David Benatar's 'Better Never to Have Been'...Chapter 4

Scattered on chance's wind are we,
as from creation's spreading tree
we fall, like children of an indifferent god
too busy keeping ledgers to note
the directions in which we fly,
or where, at last, we land.

We dance in tiny whirlwinds, and are lifted
up again; some dull, few gifted,
but none soar high enough to escape the lure
of the ever-siren's call:
a song of earth for feet of clay,
on which we make our stands.

Thus, we await our ends in careworn years,
behind the veils that mask our fears
of abandonment, as memory serves too well.
We wonder from whence comes our sustenance
at the final nod, when soil is turned,
and life cuts the last strand.

Chapter 4, ‘Having Children: The Anti-Natal View, begins with a wonderful quote from Flaubert...

“The idea of bringing someone into this world fills me with horror...May my flesh perish utterly! May I never transmit to anyone the boredom and ignominies of existence!”

Well, his feelings certainly come across clearly, don’t they? Hehehe! Anyhow, chapter 4 is largely a study of the pros and cons of procreation, and speaks to the ethical questions. What are our duties, and from what pre-suppostional frameworks are these duties derived? What are our rights, and where are these rights grounded? Personal autonomy? Entitlements from certain powers-that-be? Reasonable disagreement with the conclusion that life is ultimately harmful? Argumentation. Justification. Dissent. The intricacies involved preclude any succinct summing up on my part, I’m afraid (BUY THE BOOK), but I’d like to take a whack at the last little section of the chapter, which sports this header...


Here, the author cites the hypothetical case of the parents of a child with leukemia, having a second child in order to provide a bone marrow transplant to the first child. Certainly a tough call (I’m thinking an ESPECIALLY tough call for a parent who’s become an antinatalist after the birth of the first child!). He then goes on to talk a little bit about cloning, and the ramifications implied (and who hasn’t seen one of those bad sci-fi movies, i.e. ‘The Clonus Horror’ or ‘The Island’, which was actually a clone of ‘The Clonus Horror’...I’m an MST3K dweeb, and know this stuff). But there’s one particular section I’d like to zone in on, and discuss. I quote...

“Clones and those children who are produced to save the life of a sibling are not brought into existence for their own sakes. This, however, is no different from any children. Children are brought into existence not in acts of great altruism, designed to bring the benefit of life to some pitiful non-being suspended in the metaphysical void and thereby denied the joys of life. In so far as children are ever brought into existence for anybody’s sake it is never for their own sake.”

NEVER for their OWN SAKE! In a perfect world, this would be tatooed across the foreheads of every person who ever called a non-breeder ‘selfish’. For procreation is THE most selfish act ever accomplished in a person’s lifetime. Children are brought into existence to be UTILIZED, in one way or another. Children as cuddly dollies. Children as signs of virility. Children as glue for bad marriages. Children as farm tools. Children as future income earners. Children as future caregivers. Children as offerings to the grandparents. Children as taxpayers. Children as soldiers. Children as a means to acheiving social and/or political power and/or prestige. Children as icons for sundry vicarious attainments. Children for proxy immortality. Children as offerings to God (sacrificial lambs ring a bell?). And the fact that we sincerely love them along the way doesn’t speak squat to the primal, selfish act of bringing them into an existence that will hurt them in many, many ways...and eventually kill them.

“You may look upon life as an unprofitable episode, disturbing the blessed calm of non-existence.”
Arthur Schopenhauer

If having a child as a means to an end seems wrong to the reader, try to realize that procreation is ALWAYS a means to an end, even if that end is to purchase the good feelings of being a parent. And of course, there are usually other, egoistic motives involved...otherwise, why not simply adopt? Remember, every new child brought into existence is ultimately a vessel for suffering, and for death. Always. Your children will suffer, and die. So will mine. Nobody gets left out. Well, except for those who never get ‘brought in’ in the first place. Get it?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

David Benatar's "Better Never to Have Been'...Chapter 3

Pain and sorrow, toil and trouble;
perturbations on the skin of a big bang bubble
that came out of nowhere, and is headed towards same-
we've no place to turn to, and no one to blame.

So, just how bad is coming into existence? Very bad, according to David Benatar. Then why is it that most people, when asked, tend to assess their own lives as VERY good? The answer, says Mr. Benatar, is that there are various psychological mechanisms running in the background of our awareness which serve to mitigate, and even distort, our valuations of the world, as well as the true estimation of our own happiness. He categorizes these self-deceptive phenomena as...

1. The Pollyanna Priniciple- whereby we tend to use selective recall and projection to overestimate, or exaggerate, the postive aspects of a given situation, while downplaying or ignoring the negative.

2. Adaptation, accomodation, or habituation- where we change the dimensions of our hopes and expectations, as well as the actual interpretations of our subjective experience, in order to conform to changing, and often diminished, circumstances.

3. Comparison- instead of judging the quality of our lives against any kind of objective, idealized scale, we resort to measuring ourselves relative to other peoples’ happiness, or misery (as we perceive them).

He then goes on to outline three views about the quality of life...

1. Hedonistic theories- life judged according to positive or negative mental states.

2. Desire fulfilment theories- life judged according to the extent to which desires are fulfilled.

3. Objective list theories- life quality judged in relation to an ‘objective list’ of good and bads.

Obviously, there is some overlapping here...human conciousness is a pretty sophisitcated matrix, against which this rather stark outline seems awfully simplistic. However, the author does his best within the constraints of a chapter section, and establishes his case commendably, all things considered (BUY THE BOOK). His conclusion, of course, is that by whatever set or sub-set of theories we ultimately choose to gauge the quality of existence, life comes up short. The human species is running a race on a treadmill, knows it’s doing so, and so invents an illusory world of attainments to belie the fact. Thus the great and varied ‘life lies’, of which religion is probably THE prime example, as well as all the daily lies we tell ourselves and our children in order to cope (I just noticed how close ‘cope’ and ‘hope’ are...funny).

THIS is the part of the book I’ve been waiting for! For while the author’s arguments thus far have been excrutiatingly detailed, as well as acutely cogent, I’m afraid the flavor of his message has been a wee bit too sophisticated for the palates of his critics, if I’m reading them correctly. And so, dear readers... the LIST!


This list, with all the sub-categories it implies, MUST give even the brightest optimist pause to reconsider, before he allows that most misleading of all axioms, “life is good”, to fall off his tongue, and into the metaphorical (and literal) blood that all of God’s green earth is saturated with. Life is a killing and eating machine, folks, and Mr. Benatar takes up a few pages in rubbing our noses into this almost universally pooh-poohed fact. All of us will suffer at the hands of at least SOME of the items on this list, either directly or vicariously. And then, of course, each and every one of us will die, inflicting even more suffering on the ones we leave behind. Seeing that THIS is the reality that we choose to bring our children into, is it any wonder the author ends this chapter by pointing out that we “ Russian Roulette with a fully loaded gun- aimed, of course, not at our(sic) own heads, but at those of our(sic) future offspring.”?

One other thing I failed to mention, that the author briefly touches upon, is the subject of suicide. It is estimated that around a million people take their own lives every year, with perhaps twenty to thirty times as many failing in the attempt, for various reasons. Recognizing the many psychological barriers against killing one’s self (fear of pain, fear of failure, shame to one’s self and to loved ones, familial duty, societal duty, etc.), it must be acknowledged that, at least for some, life is a horror beyond the capacity to cope. Of course, the knee-jerk response is to label these unfortunates as ‘mentally ill’, but I’m there a context in which suicide can be seen simply as a failure to adopt the ‘life lie’ of the prevailing culture? I also question the capacity of people to be truly happy in the midst of universal (not to mention animal) suffering, without the dulling of the empathetic sensibility required to ‘shut out’ the unattractive elements of existence. If this is the case, and taken to its logical extreme, it might just be that the egotistic sociopath is the happiest of us all. Just a thought.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

David Benatar's 'Better Never to Have Been'...Chapter 2

To my readers:

David Benatar’s book, ‘Better Never to Have Been’, is an exhaustive treatise, and I have no intention of taking the scalpel to every philosophical fine-point, lest this review become longer than the book itself (tempting as the thought is!). My intention is to give you a little taste of the cream, and leave you to procure your own pudding. In other words: BUY THE BOOK (get used to seeing this little dictum). Preamble done...on with the review...

The scales are tuned, the portions weighed;
no order found, nor balance struck.
The jury finds we’re out of luck-
by sheer measure, all are betrayed!

To ease us into his argument that existence is always a harm, Mr. Benatar opens with the question, ‘is coming into existence EVER a harm?’ In other words, is there ever an agglomeration of disadvantageous life conditions under which it can be reasonably said “it would have been better if such-and-such a life had never begun?” Concrete examples are cited to flesh out this question. He then goes on to address the ‘non-identity problem’, whose proponents would assert renders the question meaningless, since comparing an existent entity to a fictitious, non-existent entity is invalid. This premise is refuted through some rather nifty argumentation (BUY THE BOOK). He then goes on to outline the differences between ‘starting lives’ as opposed to ‘continuing lives’; which, on the surface, might seem unnecessary, but it’s been my experience that a lot of folks often seem to get these ideas mixed up, i.e. “If you’re against bringing life into existence, why don’t you just kill yourself?”


On to the meat of the chapter, and about the only idea that most of the critic’s I’ve read actually address (one is forced to wonder if they got much beyond chapter 2). The fundamental asymmetry is thusly stated:

1. The presence of pain is bad.
2. The presence of pleasure is good.
3. The absence of pain is good, even if that good is not enjoyed by anyone.
4. The absence of pleasure is not bad unless there is somebody for whom this absence is a deprivation.

From this basic asymmetry flow several sub-asymmetries, as well as many pages of charts divided into quadrants, with much accompanying analysis (BUY THE BOOK). Refutations and alternate analyses are also addressed. Being a formally philosophical approach, parts of the argument might feel a bit redundant to the average reader, not less so because Mr. Benatar takes pains to consider and address the possible disagreements with his position. A necessity, to be sure, but he lays himself open to critics who might prefer to interpret diligence as convolution; or, at best, emotionally unpersuasive. However, keep in mind that this is just groundwork being’s only chapter 2, after all!

In my opinion, the real weight of the fundamental asymmetry lies in the term ‘deprivation’. From the moment life begins, we are deprived in one form or another; continuing, to one degree or another, throughout a lifetime, until the very moment of death. This fact cannot reasonably be denied; and, in fact, most of the human condition resides in the temporary patching of holes in this ubiquitous continuum of deprivation- whether it be in the constant devouring of food to temporarily satiate hunger, in the seeking of transient ‘highs’ to escape ever-encroaching tedium, or sadness, or despair, or in the grasping at tangibles as substitutes for emotional fulfillment (everybody knows the feeling of ‘buyer’s remorse’). The list goes on. Of course, in answer to this accusation against existence, one might simply posit the question, “Oh well, that’s life...what did you expect?” However, this is just a re-stating of the problem, as if offhand rhetoricizing somehow does away with the issue.

On the other hand, someone who never exists is NEVER deprived. Want me to prove it? Close your eyes, and conjure up an imaginary friend. Give him/her the physical attributes of your own choosing, as well as the emotional makeup you’d prefer. Really try and flesh him/her out to your heart’s content...make him/her as real as you possibly can. I’ll wait...

Now, open your eyes (of course, this is a bit of rhetoric on MY part...I didn’t REALLY want you to close your eyes, but you get my point). Stop thinking about your imaginary friend, and instead continue reading this. Is he/she gone?

Ok, now tell me...has your imaginary friend been deprived in any way, in any real sense at all? Of course not! And there’s my point...a non-existent person can only be deprived as much as your imaginary friend was, i.e. not at all. Perhaps YOU’VE been deprived, if you somehow became emotionally attached to your imaginary friend; but then, that’s just another case of the difference between the already existent, who live in a constant state of deprivation, and the non-existent, who by definition can never be deprived at all. No pain. No hunger. No fear. No death. And also, no missing out on the good stuff, such as it is, by the very fact that there’s nobody around to miss it. Contrary to the old adage, life is NOT a gift, since there is no one before the creation of a particular life to receive that particular gift. In reality, life is the bringing into existence a vessel of deprivation, a vessel that will eventually be shattered against the cold, hard wall of temporality...back to where it came from. Ashes to ashes, etc. Mr. Benatar’s question is...why start the process in the first place? That is also my question.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Potentiality vs. Actuality

I posted this over at the Lawnchair Philosopher, but the way it ended up going, I thought it would be appropriate in this forum, as well.

I woke up this morning with this gnawing at me, so here goes...

A while back, I posted this... ... on my antinatalism blog. Included is a quote by Richard Dawkins, which includes the following section...

"The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here."

Now, I'm no statistician, so maybe somebody could enlighten me, but couldn't the same point be made about every grain of sand in Arabia? Or, for that matter, for each and every atom in the entire universe? Looked at in this way, doesn't Mr. Dawkin's argument make every single sub-atomic occurrence happening in a particular time and place seem incredibly unlikely, and thus, unbelievably remarkable? This 'stupefying odds' invocation smacks of mathematical hucksterism to me, being an attempt to breathe a sense of awe into an otherwise quite unremarkable fact: namely, that existence is exactly what it is, and that potentiality (when used as above) is nothing more than the lubrication required for a good mind fuck. Not much different than the sort of analysis creationists use to calculate God into existence, in my view. Same spirit behind the attempt as well, i.e. worship.

In Mr. Dawkin's case, of course, it's life worship instead of god worship, with many of the elements of argumentation being eerily similar-Play with numbers to make the utterly commonplace seem extraordinarily unique. Ignore or downplay the negative or questionable aspects of your 'deity'. Subtly displace hard reasoning with emotional biases...'God is good; feel Him within!' Or, 'Life is good; feel the gentle rain on your face.'

Of course, I might be countered by the argument that this particular confluence of forces which created this world, this life, and these immensely complicated human brains could reasonably be understood as being an especially unique occurrence. I'd concur, but with one overarching caveat, that being a big, fat 'so what?' Ever since the orginal broken symmetries of the primordial universe (if it can be said that there was EVER an utterly homogenous state...not sure about that one), existence has tended to 'clump' ; sometimes in interesting ways, of which we are one (does it strike anyone else that finding ourselves the most interesting structures in the universe is a bit...narcissistic?). Still not a reason to wax overly optimistic...overall, life is an ugly mess, and everything alive suffers and dies.

That's all, folks!