Monday, June 30, 2008

Two New Antinatalism Blogs

At least, new to me...

Anti-Procreation Movement
Condemned to Existence

You're on the blogroll...welcome aboard!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Myth of Natural Rights and Other Essays

I haven't read it yet...just a little pre-plug. I'll offer a review at first opportunity.

Considering where I come down on deontological positions, I imagine I'll enjoy it (plus, you really can't go wrong with NineBandedBooks. See my review of their last offering... ).

Check it out!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Polish Artist Beksinski

Found murdered Tue Feb. 22, 2005 11:41 AM ET

"We all see death before our eyes...I am not an exception. Personally, I am more afraid of dying than death itself. This is not a fear of emptiness but of suffering - and this is what I am most afraid of."

Odds and Ends

You'll find some discussion touching on the economic utility, pro and con, of breeding here (thanks to tggp)...

An essay about parenting and diminished happiness here...

And the article about the high school girls who made a pact to get pregnant here...,8599,1815845,00.html

But for folks who would look beyond selfish interests, let me remind those of you who plan on having children one day that all of them will suffer at various points throughout their lifetimes. Some will suffer horribly, cursing the day they were born, and cursing YOU for bringing them into existence. Also, a reminder to those fundamentalist monotheists out there, who believe a little(sic) suffering on earth is a small price to pay for heavenly bliss in the hereafter: remember, even the biblical Jesus warned you that the path to salvation was narrow, and that few would find it. There's a damned good chance YOUR son or daughter will screw up, and spend an eternity suffering torments the likes of which we can't even imagine now. You may justify this by telling yourself that it was by your child's 'own free will' that such a thing came to be...doesn't seem like much solace, though. Considering even the smallest risk of such a calamity, wouldn't it better 'were they never born'? Just seems like plain old common sense, to me.

Last, but not least, a nice Ian Anderson flute solo here...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lyin' in a Demographic Winter

Chuck Colson, that epitome of virtue in retrospect, is decrying the so-called 'birth dearth' here...

It's your basic 'non-breeders are selfish' rhetorical bullshit, filled with alarmist concerns about the non-sustainability of growth economies vs. dwindling populations. Or, in this case, numbers that aren't growing fast enough to keep up with the equations, since the world's population has more than doubled since Mr. Colson has been onboard. Here's the telling paragraph...

"...the “birth dearth” is largely the product of our values. Clearly, our society believes that individual self-satisfaction—measured in terms of material prosperity—is more important than the creation and welfare of future generations. The irony here is that our material prosperity depends on those future generations."

So, which generation finally gets to settle into its 'material prosperity', instead of settling for the proxy-satisfaction of passing on the baton? Is life just a relay race with no finish line? What is this obligation to create future generations that he's talking about? If we ended it all right here, right now, how and why would we be worse off than if we keep filling up all the empty spaces on the planet until we're standing on top of each other? Add to this Mr. Colson's obvious belief, rooted in his fundamentalist Christian worldview no doubt, that we're all headed down the chute towards hellfire, and you wind up with the remarkably paradoxical argument for conscripting more and more sailors onto a sinking ship, in order to have more hands to man the buckets. As somebody once said in a Monty Python movie, "It's a simple question of weight ratios!"

One more thing: why this concern about bringing more people into the world from right-wing Christians, who believe that Jesus is gonna show up any day to scoop up the chosen, and damn the rest? For Christ sake! How much kindling does Jehovah require to keep those hellfires stoked, anyhow? Get it over with, already!

Of course, the real answer to my question is just another twist on the 'children as cannon fodder' argument/justification. Chuck and his ilk want new generations of taxpayers to support them in their old age, and heaven can wait. Ultimately, it all comes down to utilization of the young by the old, rationalized by an appeal to vicarious immortality of the multi-generational sort. 'Feed us! Clothe us! Stand in front of the guns aimed at us! And your reward will be that, someday, you'll be in our postion, and your children will be coerced into doing the same for you.'

Ah, that sweet, sweet circle of life!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW: 'The Happening'

I WANT MY 10.50 BACK! Ok, it was a matinee, so I only spent 8.50; but...c’mon! Weren’t those 90+ wasted minutes worth anything???

The one-hit wonder, M. Night Shyamalan, will NEVER see another dime of my money (ok, two hits if you count ‘Unbreakable’, and I’m willing to make concessions there). But what has he done for us THIS millennium? And yes, technically ‘Unbreakable’ WAS made in 2000, but...who cares?

In ‘Signs’, the Hitchcockian wannabe son of Philadelphia offered up a God who:

1. Inflicted a young boy with severe asthma.
2. Blessed a little girl with an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
3. Ruined a man’s budding sports career.
4. Cut a minister’s wife in half, causing him to lose his religious faith.

All this to drive off an alien invasion by creatures who ran about haphazardly on foot, were naked, afraid of water, possessed no weaponry that was effective beyond 6 inches, and who displayed a curious lack of ability when it came to opening doors. I’ve often imagined what the mop up operation must have been like, vigilante survivors canvassing the countryside and shooting strays, ala ‘Night of the Living Dead’. Only in this case, it would be posses of 10 year olds sporting super soakers, and water balloons. Teach them damned aliens to mess with Americuns, I’d say!

In ‘The Village’, a group of disenchanted neo-luddites sequester themselves away in a sort of anti-Disneyland (The WORLD of YESTERDAY!) inside what had to have been the world’s longest chain link fence, then teach their younguns that the bogeyman lurked just outside the compound waiting to eat them up, lest they stray and discover the ‘mysterious secret’. Unfortunately, they failed to account for possible illnesses or accidents in their plans, so when somebody gets knifed by the local ‘special person’, what do they do? What any reasonable person would do in such a situation, I suppose. They decide to SEND THE BLIND GIRL INTO THE WOODS! Yeah, that’s what they do, alright. Yup, that’s what they do. Yeppers. Yep, they...uh...send the...uh...blind girl into the woods. Yup. That’s what they do.

By the time ‘The Lady in the Water’ came out, I’d pretty much sensed the way the wind was blowing, and wisely skipped it. Everybody said it sucked, and I patted my wallet, and smiled to myself.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, the trailers for ‘The Happening’ started showing up. Sigh...yes, I was intrigued. Why were those folks stabbing themselves in the head, and taking short walks off long buildings? And that lawnmover scene...YIKES! Of course, I was skeptical, and I discussed the pros and cons of attending with my boss (a movie buff who, after renting ‘The Village’ from NetFlicks, actually spit into the envelope before returning it). Finally we struck a deal...I’d go check out ‘The Happening’, he’d see ‘The Hulk’, and later we’d compare notes, and maybe save two admissions between us. And so, right after work on Friday the 13th (YES, and you don’t need to point it out!), I walked into a matinee showing of M. Night’s latest ‘event’.

THE TREES DID IT! There, I’ve spoiled it for you, and I’m GLAD! GLAD, do you hear me? GLAD!!! Of course, they telegraph this to the audience about five minutes into the movie, and pretty much say it straight out about 20 minutes in; so, no great loss. After that, it’s basically Zooey Deschanel and Mark Wahlberg running around Pennsylvania Dutch country with one after another disposable character (and yes, most of them ARE disposed of), being chased (metaphorically, of course), by trees, grass, and various sorts of creepy looking hibiscus bushes (I made that ‘hibiscus’ part up...I have absolutely no idea WHAT kind of bushes they were). Oh, and near the end, there’s a cameo by Betty Buckley as a crazy woman, in one of the most ridiculous cases of ‘pad the film, pad the film, pad pad pad the film’ I’ve ever seen.
After that, the crisis was over, there were a couple of obligatory wrap-up scenes, and then, the end...or, IS IT??????????????????????????????????????

Now, the reason I’m offering this movie review on my antinatalism blog, is because here we have another case of an ‘end of the world’ flick (at least, from a human perspective...this was definitely a‘green’ scenario’), that totally cops out at the end. Not only does the threat end abruptly, and after only a day or so, but the female protaganist winds up preggers. It’s just another case of mixed-message denial ala ‘Children of Men. "Wow, we’ve really fucked things up this time! Say, how’s about we breed another passel o’ critters, and do it again?!" And this right after adopting the child of Marky Mark’s best friend, who killed himself along with all the others, during the 24hr suicide spree (Wow! I just realized that I'd failed to mention the natural environment was making people commit suicide...silly me!). But of course, adoption just isn’t the same as breeding 1, or 2, or 12 of your own, I guess (The uterus is NOT a clowncar!).

If the extended DVD version comes out with the aftermath story, where crowds of theatre-goers around the country emulate the Betty Buckley head-banging scene on the backs of the chairs in front of them, maybe it’ll be worth a watch. Otherwise, skip this piece of crap, and spend the money on a vasectomy. You really don’t want to have kids subjected to this kind of stuff when it shows up on TV at 2 in the morning, 20 years from now. Or, maybe in 6 months.


M. Night is now quoted as saying, " This is the best B movie you will ever see, that's it." Meanwhile...

His movie sits at 21 on the RottenTomatoMeter as of this writing.

People are dedicating blogs to the sole purpose of warning the public about how much 'The Happening' sucks.

Many critics are predicting 'Worst Film of the Year' status, and some are predicting this marks the end of the M. Night's career.

As far as the 'best B movie' ever? Puleeaaseeeeeeeee! Please consider the following list an alternative, and superior, source for your B movie entertainment needs:

The Blob
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
Forbidden Planet
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
It Came from Outer Space
The War of the Worlds
When Worlds Collide
Death Race 2000
Night of the Living Dead
The Fly
The Tingler
The Clonus Horror

And one of my all-time faves:

The Day the Earth Caught Fire

And of course, there are loads of MST3K treatments floating around in the video stores, as well as online. Buy, rent, or download, and enjoy! And skip 'The Happening'. Trust me on just ain't happening.

Good night, M. Night.

*My daughter is pissed because I forgot some modern B classics, so I'll add them here:

They Live
Escape from New York
Maximum Overdrive

Oh, and let's not forget Vincent Price's 'The Last Man on Earth' and it's 70's remake 'The Omega Man' with Chuck Heston (the jury's still out on Will Smith's 'I Am Legend'.

Ugh...this could go on forever!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Don’t Eat Virtual Toast in Bed- You’ll Get Simulacrums in the Sheets!

I woke up this morning thinking about this essay over at Overcoming Bias...

So, the question of the day is this: How would you feel if you discovered you were living in a make-believe world, ala a StarTrek holodeck-type simulation? Everything around you...the sky, the rocks and trees, the birds, the bees, as well as your loved ones, all mere projections; either on an empty stage, or in the theatre of your mind (the brains-in-vats scenario). No interior lives other than your own; just computer simulations programmed to adjust to your responses, making you feel like you’re interacting with agents much like yourself. Would you feel deceived? Annoyed? Devastated?

I played the game myself this morning, trying to imagine the world as a series of Matrix-like zeros and ones as I drove my daughter to school. Somewhat upsetting at first, as her conversation with her friend in the back seat turned to static in my ears. It also got me to thinking about how much emotional black ink we pack into our assumptions, since in a virtual world, nothing will have changed from an experiential POV. The only difference is my belief that the person I’m talking to is something like me inside. Why is that important to me? I watch movies and television programs, experiencing the whole range of whatever feelings are appropriate to the plot and characterizations. Of course, with movies there’s the whole context of ‘real’ life which is supposedly being simulated on the screen; but in my virtual world, I’d imagine that a lifetime of emotional history up to the point of my ‘disillusionment’ would probably fill the bill. So, what’s my worry?

There’s a lot of psychic unpacking to be done when considering thought problems like this one. Many layers of belief, unexamined presumptions and the like. But at the end of all the self examination, would you consider yourself harmed by the discovery that the world wasn’t like you thought it was? The author of the OB essay says he would be. I thought the same thing, for about the first five minutes of my experiment. But then I got to thinking about it from an antinatalist perspective, and I grokked a wonderful truth. I realized that my virtual world was absolutely free of suffering! (except for my own, of course). But the idea that I was the only creature in existence actually suffering momentarily filled me with a great sense of relief, and of joy, and I realized (not for the first time) how much my sense of personal misery is tied into the knowledge that all the world groans under the weight of its own existential pain. ‘Twas a wonderful, if shortlived, respite. Made for an interesting morning.

If you play this game, and find yourself in the same position as me at the end,’re still concerned about the possible sufferings of the folks who placed you into this virtual world, just replace ‘holodeck virtual world’ with ‘solipsistic projection’ and you’ll do just fine. I promise (but, then again, WHO am I?).

UPDATE: A followup question:

Would you grant human consciousness with its inherent characteristics (the capacity for self reflection, happiness, suffering...whatever) to one of your simulacrums, then send it out into a virtual world of joy and perils (remember, in this case the safety protocols are turned OFF, including the defenses against experiencing all the extremities which exist in the 'real' world)? Or would you decide to just leave things as they stand? This seems like a pretty true analogy of what's going on when someone decides to birth a child, which is why I bring it up here.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bringing it Back Around

People who are never born, never suffer, never die, and never miss the good stuff. It's all about the negative bliss, folks! *gets beak back on the chalkline*

My head hurts.

Deontology, Duty, and Death

Sister Y over at ‘The View From Hell’

has me brushing up on my ethics theory this week (damn, her prolificacy is maddening!). You can read some of the more salient posts and comments here...

Now, ethical theory has never held a lot of interest to me, for reasons which will become clear as we proceed (I think). But Sister Y has laid out the case so clearly (and fairly, I might add), that I feel obliged to add my own two cents, though I fear my insufficiencies will forever leave me flailing and gasping for air at the kiddie’s end of the pool. That said, we begin...

I guess I should start by defining deontology in its broadest terms. My Webster’s defines it thusly...

‘The ethical doctrine which holds that the worth of an action is determined as by its conformity to some binding rule rather than by its consequences."

This as opposed to consequentialism, where the rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by its consequences (predicated on prediction or ‘common knowledge’, I suppose; otherwise, things seem to be running backwards here). It seems that utilitarianism would fall under this umbrella, though I don’t doubt there are some technical differences of which I am unaware. From here we move on to what I would describe as the ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ views of deotology...

STRONG VIEW: Moral absolutism, whose edicts are arrived at either through divine command (God says it, I believe it), or by discerning and/or concretizing certain universal moral maxims (Kantian categorical imperative mumbo jumbo).

WEAK VIEW: Here, there’s more of a focus on the intrinsic ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of actions, where the appeal to a transcendent authority is replaced either by ‘moral intuition’, or by a sort of looping-back of universal consequentialism into prima facie pre-suppositionalism.

Speaking first to the strong view, and skipping over the obvious doubts concerning the existence and nature of any particular deific moral lawgiver, the natural question seems to be, how does one judge whether any given divine maxim is morally ‘right’? Of course, the moral absolutist would counter by pointing out that the very nature of the situation takes such concerns out of our hands; God says it, and that’s it! But isn’t that just another way of saying that ‘might makes right’? Is this a good starting place in ascertaining ethical standards? History might say otherwise- not to mention how this plays out in the sub-deific world, where gods rule by proxy, and there’s no way to determine how well His prophets and surrogate sovereigns are translating the workings out of His ‘perfect will’ here on earth. Furthermore, there’s the matter of psychologically internalizing these supernal moral schemas; is there to be any attempt at harmonization with our natural humanistic sensibilities, or are we simply called upon to ‘bite the bullet’?

As far as the weak view is concerned...first of all, I’ll admit I have a real problem with distinguishing between the concept of ‘moral intuition’, and ‘it feels good to me!’ It’s true that we can frame this in such a way that our intuitions take on a quasi-objective quality, by appealing to universal sentiments (themselves having their roots in biological and sociological evolution) and subsequently deriving somewhat comprehensive, ‘inherent’ maxims from there. But all this smacks of a certain rarified artificiality to me; chimeras rising from the misgivings of half-repentant agnostics. "Pass me a slice of that categorical imperative, but hold the lawgiver (or is that, raw liver?). Firstly, it’s empirically observable that ethical systems are temporally hammered out, and that even the moral pre-suppositions upholding those systems change over time-changes often motivated by the very ethical systems which they spawned (Oedipal osmosis? Hmmmm....).

Secondly, and more telling, I think, is that no matter what value is placed on this or that action, this or that proposition, the desirability of that value (or lack thereof) is ALWAYS measured in terms of a cause/effect relationship. Murder is ‘wrong’ BECAUSE we don’t like ‘wrongful’ death...etc. And even if we revert back up to the strong view, what are we left with? ‘Murder is wrong, because (name your deity) says so, AND if I go against (name your gender)’s will, there’s a possibility things may not go well with me (name your poison). And this brings me to my third point, namely that...

DEONTOLOGY IS INCOHERENT! Not because there’s no ultimate lawgiver. Not because there’s no sure way of determining ultimate moral values, much less of fashioning a consistent, across-the-board approach vis-a-vis ethical practices. But because morals and ethics are inextricably bound to consequences of one kind or another. Period.

Now, that’s not to say that all of us aren’t ipso facto deontologists from time to time. Given a particular situation, most of us will fall back on ‘that’s just wrong’ from time to time; it’s the end-product shorthand of even the most deconstructive of us. But it’s a philosophical misstep to give the idea any more credence than that. The concept just won’t stand up to any sustained critical analysis.

At this point, I’d like to paste an excerpt that’s part of an essay by Sister Y over at TheViewFromHell...hoping she doesn’t mind...

To reason is to think systematically in ways anyone looking over my shoulder ought to be able to recognize as correct. It is this generality that relativists and subjectivists deny. Even when they introduce a simulacrum of it in the form of a condition of consensus among a linguistic or scientific or political community, it is the wrong kind of generality - since at its outer bounds it is statistical, not rational.The worst of it is that subjectivism is not just an inconsequential intellectual flourish or badge of theoretical chic. It is used to deflect argument, or to belittle the pretensions of the arguments of others. Claims that something is without relativistic qualifications true or false, right or wrong, good or bad, risk being derided as expressions of a parochial perspective or form of life - not as a preliminary to showing that they are mistaken whereas something else is right, but as a way of showing that nothing is right and that instead we are all expressing our personal or cultural points of view. The actual result has been a growth in the already extreme intellectual laziness of contemporary culture and the collapse of serious argument throughout the lower reaches of the humanities and social sciences, together with a refusal to take seriously, as anything other than first-person avowals, the objective arguments of others. . . .Many forms of relativism and subjectivism collapse into either self-contradiction or vacuity - self-contradiction because they end up claiming that nothing is the case, or vacuity because they boil down to the assertion that anything we say or believe is something we say or believe. I think that all general and most restricted forms of subjectivism that do not fail in either of these ways are pretty clearly false.

Thomas Nagel, The Last Word

Here’s the problem: Truth statements are objective only as measured against pre-supposed, or agreed upon, frameworks. Even in mathematics, ‘proof’ is only valid insofar as all the values of all the factors are agreed upon. Change one value, and POOF! It all goes to hell. And ethics is all about shifting and sliding values, our relationships to rules, laws, unspoken prejudices and desires, and of course, to each other...are they not? That’s not to say that the truth of a thing in itself collapses, but we’re talking about perception here, not fact. Now, what Sokal did in his spoof of deconstructionism was not to eliminate the inherent subjectivism inherent in these discussions, but to point out the inconsistencies in postions not well thought out...i.e. a lot of folks at the left end of the political spectrum will say something like ‘all cultural practices are relative’, inferring that they all have equal value. Problem is, when pressed with examples of cultural atrocities, they’ll often find themselves at odds with their own moral sensibilites; in this way, their beliefs are self-contradictory.

But as I hope I’ve pointed out, deontology is likewise self-contradictory, because it employs consequentialism as a way of eliminating same. In a sense, it posits a ‘meta-consequentialism’ as a justification for its own existence, then says ‘ok, that’s enough. It all stops here.’ And as far as Nagel saying that subjectivism is just a way "used to deflect argument, or to belittle the pretensions of the arguments of others’, I’d respond in kind that deontology is just an attempted end-run around its own consequentialist orgins, where intellectual rigour is replaced with a bid for ultimate authority (no matter the mitigating language involved). In fact, his ‘Last Word’ seems more like an ad hominem sermon than any kind of reasoned treatment (ugh! 2 hours sleep is making me wrap up).

*I just proofed what I’ve written, and the text has taken on the blurred appearance of the business card in ‘American Psycho’ (shhh, it’s a secret!). Feel free to correct, hack away, or otherwise decimate. Oh, the title? I was in a ‘D’ mood when I started this thing, that’s since shifted down to an ‘F’, so...fuck it. Oh, and don’t have kids!*