Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Conversation With HamsterFueledRocket

I've been having a nice dialogue with HFR on my YouTube page, but the format is far too limiting for an interesting talk. Hopefully he'll accept my invitation to move the conversation over this way. Here's what we have so far...

HFR: Wow, you must be a sad, depressed character. Imagine the only creatures lucky enough to have developed consciousness using it to decide that consciousness is immoral and must be eradicated! My friend, you may not be greatful for having a chance at life but many people, all around the world are. If you really don't see a point to it you can always kill yourself , but don't go telling other people that creating life or having families is immoral.

Jim: Firstly, creating life is first and foremost a selfish act, especially considering there is no 'pre-life' from which anyone is waiting to be delivered. Secondly, some people ARE more or less happy to be alive, although self assessment in such an area is often understandably skewed. Even so, many others are thoroughly UNhappy, and when we procreate, we take the risk that our offspring might be one of those. Thirdly, everybody dies. Birth carries with it an automatic death sentence.

HFR: First,being concerned with your self interest, or selfishness, is not immoral. I direct you to a book entitled "The Virtue of Selfishness" by the late and great Ayn Rand. Second, yes there is a risk at unhappiness in life, but thats what makes success and pleasure have a meaning, you wouldn't play a game where everyone won every time. Third, yes we will all die, but without mortality life is meaningless.

Jim: Self interest at the expense of others IS immoral in most peoples' books. As far as your game analogy, what gives anyone the right to play a game of life and death with people who never agreed to the rules beforehand? In procreation's case, we're playing a game of Russian roulette with each new life, only the chamber's fully loaded. Finally, your statement that life without mortality is meaningless is, in my eyes, an unsupported euphemism, and might surprise those waiting for an eternal heaven.

HFR: Your philosophy is anti-life, anti-consciousness, anti-humanity. I suggest you leave your computer for a while and pursue your own personal happiness. Get back to me after you have fallen in love, seen a smile on a child's face and found a purpose in life. Then see if you still want humanity to end.

Jim: My philosophy is anti-suffering, and anti-death. I have loved, and do love, and have witnessed the birth of my two children. I don't want to see humanity end, but the fact is that it does, continuously...one precious life at a time. Look at what you've said. Fall in love. Do things that will make me happy. In short, pursue MY personal happiness. Can you see how all these are selfish pursuits used as a justification for continuing a process that includes suffering and ends in death?

HFR: Don't you see the beauty in duality? If we all lived forever in a permanent state of happiness, how could we know what happiness was? Why would we appreciate life, if we knew it couldn't end? Why would we enjoy pleasure if we never felt pain? Conscious life is the most beautiful thing in the universe, and the only thing that can even appreciate beauty. How can you wish for it to end permanently?

Jim: I don't see the beauty in genocide, or pancreatic cancer, or starvation, or torture, or depression, or emphysema, or rape, or any number of aspects of this experiential 'duality' you speak of. In fact, many people live their whole lives experiencing mostly the negative pole of your 'duality'. Seeking to cast suffering in a positive light is understandable given the circumstances, but simplistic, and ultimately dreadful. Can you not see that? It's simply a way to rationalize the way things are.

Continued (hopefully) in the comments section...

UPDATE: I'd just like to add that it's great to be back discussing this very important subject. I sort of got derailed for a while, trying to sort out my thoughts on religion on another blog, getting involved with trolls and flamewars et al (although I DID also meet some frightfully nice people along the way). Hopefully I'm done with all that for a while. Lately, I've been getting some really heartfelt responses via YouTube and my Wordpress blog (antinatalism.info), and I'm feeling the urgency again. You are, by and large, a very encouraging bunch of people, and I appreciate your various thoughtful approaches. Thanks much!

31 comments:

HFR said...

the reason I started harassing you (sorry if I was rude earlier) is, my sister told me that she heard about "antinatalism" on some forum she frequents. we got into a big fight, so I decided to do some research and found your video. sorry if I took my anger out on you a little. but now i'm calm and can have a mature conversation.

HFR said...

you seem to see things like rape and genocide as making up the majority of any person's life. I don't know what scary city you grew up in (Detroit maybe) but I grew up in Stockton California, Forbbes magazines #1 most miserable city in America. My family is definatly not rich and I know what it feels like to feels like to wish i was born into an easier world, but at no point did i ever wish i wasnt born. I think this is why my sister was drawn to this line of thinking, she sort of resents my parents for not being able to send her to collage. but just because things can be hard, just because life can have painful moments, is this a reaso to completly "eradicate" it?

metamorphhh said...

Welcome, HFR. And for the record, I didn't sense any harassment at all. I've been doing a lot of religious debate, dealing with some internet trolls along the way. Believe me, your comments seem like the epitome of rationality in comparison.

I don't see the negative aspects of life as totally dominating factors, though the sad fact is that they are in some lives. But that's the problem; we have no way of knowing which lives will receive the short end of the existential stick, now do we? You mentioned risk earlier, and that's fine when talking about our own lives, about the risks we are willing to take personally. You feel what you feel, as does your sister. But what if your sister's misery continues, and grows, until every waking moment is hardly bearable? Right up until the moment of her death, perhaps? Was it really worth putting her through all that, simply because you evaluate your life differently than she does hers?

As far as 'eradicating' life goes; well, every life is finally eradicated in death, is it not? But consider: no life, no eradication. If your sister passes before you do, you will most certainly mourn her disappearance from your life. But what if she had never appeared? Do you mourn the countless offspring that your parents might have had? Philanthropic antinatalism isn't a destructive philosophy. Rather, it is a call to put an end to this existential game of Russian roulette, where everybody ultimately has a bullet with their name on it. It's the most vicious of circles.

CM said...

I'm really glad you're back, Jim. How's the book coming along?

HFR, please stop taking Ayn Rand seriously. She is full of crap. Her idea that life is the ultimate value because it makes other values possible is nothing but an assertion. The existence of people who do not value life (certainly not as an end in itself) and offer rational arguments for not doing so should have immediately made it clear to you that it's time to revise your notions about values. Instead, you just assume everyone is depressed and their opinions are somehow invalid.

Have you ever considered that the reason your sister is drawn to this line of thinking is because it makes sense? Stop trying to invalidate the conclusions of those who don't agree with you, and think about how they might have reached them; at least you would understand
a portion of the antinatalist line of thinking, if not necessarily agree with it (I think that it's impossible to understand it fully without agreeing, though, unless one's systems of ethics is based on one's self-interest alone).

I could just as easily say that you think the way you do because of optimism bias which is a well-documented phenomenon, and that while it is adaptive, it leads you to make inaccurate predictions about the probability of bad things happening to you and overestimate your extent of control. It doesn't mean that you are somehow inherently unable to reason logically or see through your biases eventually, and that any view you hold is automatically false. People who identify as antinatalists usually had to do a lot of thinking and analysis to reach the conclusions that they did because this position is so uncommon and goes against everything they have been taught, and confers a huge evolutionary disadvantage on those who hold it (i.e., we're not likely to reproduce; Jim already has, but you can find out how he feels about it from this blog). Believing that life is a gift is a default position that rarely gets questioned, so you should at least give us credit for thinking outside the box. I would invite you to do the same.

metamorphhh said...

Hiya, CM! The book's in its editing stages.

Certainly there's an emotional element attached to this subject, and it often takes a little time and interest to see through the presuppositions behind the almost universal pronatalist position. I really do like your point about optimism bias. I was just thinking today about the expression 'life affirming', and how most folks automatically give the green light to ideas it's attached to. We have a great need to paint life with the brightest colors possible, don't we? We SO want the world to line up with our hopes and dreams. Witness the fantasies built down through the ages to rationalize the schism between reality, and what we want reality to be. The desperation behind these attempts is palpable.

But much like religion, once you get outside the indoctrination (and we're ALL indoctrinated), it all seems quite straightforwardly logical, doesn't it?

Chip said...

HFR,

It may interest you to know that I initially came to antinatalism through a quasi-Randian route. What happened was, I got stuck on Murray Rothbard's discussion of "children's rights" in "The Ethics of Liberty."

While Rand is perhaps conspicuously silent as to what if any obligations parents have toward their children, Rothbard, in that work, explicitly argues that libertarian deontology -- specifically the famous "non-aggression axiom" -- means that parents have NO positive obligations whatever toward their offspring, not even to prevent them from starving. Rothbard's argument is presented in coldly logical terms, which is ironic, since it's pretty clear upon reflection that he avoids confronting the deeper logical implications of the very negative rights that he extols. Which is to say, he fails to see that "non-aggression" (or "non-coercion," as Rand would have it), when you breath it all the way down, means antinatalism.

No one has the right to use another person as a means to an end says Rothbard, says Rand, says objectivism. And coercion -- defined as the initiation of force -- is a cosmic no-no. But as procreative agents, parents literally force their children into existence every time. Consent is not contemplated for the simple reason that consent is impossible. Therefore procreation is, obviously in my view, an initiation of force -- an act of aggression, or coercion. The seriousness of the harm is revealed in many ways, not least of which in the plain fact that every child who is summoned into existence by another's imposition of will, must eventually die. That's mean. And that's violative of the first principles of liberty.

Whatever its merits or faults, Rand's concept of the "virtue of selfishness" proceeds after the premise that individuals should be free to pursue their own ends provided they do not initiate force against others in the process. I don't think it is possible to justify creating new people in a manner that is consistent with this view.

filrabat said...

Chip said it all! Can't do any better.

Besides, thanks to entropy, the last energy sources in the universe will cease to give off life-giving heat and light one say anyway. As I said on Jim's youtube page, the last [i]genuine[/i] stars (balls of fusing hydrogen and helium, etc) will stop shining in about 100 trillion years. Therefore, there will be a last generation anyway. To my mind, this renders reproduction pointless (unless you happen to be religious. Even then, there's the "risk of damnation" for your descendants thing).

metamorphhh said...

Filrabat:

Yep, and depending on the religious tradition one follows, it's a pretty 'damned' big risk, too! (narrow is the path, and few there be that find it, et al)

Even if the universe turned out to be eternal, I don't know why procreation would become any less pointless, anyhow. The bringing into existence of generations of suffering and death is still just as bad, even if there's an endless bucket of existential fodder to keep filling up the pews.

extinctionist said...

Hey Metamorphhh,

I started a new antinatalism site at http://discarnate.co.cc

Be sure to add me to your blogroll, I'm a big fan of your stuff here and I want to help stop this unnecessary coercion.

timcooijmans said...

No hard feelings HFR, but I really, really, sincerely want to say that shiny happy talk like that stuff about seeing smiles on children's faces makes my hair stand on end. I refuse to believe that those who use this kind of loaded imagery actually think a smile on a child's face (or a rainbow or whatever it is today) is something special.

It reminds me of the dishonest defensive madness I encounter everywhere I go: if I disclose my antinatalist position before getting into a discussion with someone about life, they will almost always deny having felt bad about anything, at all, EVER. If I don't disclose my position beforehand, they will almost always happily concede that yeah, life sucks, but what can you do?

HFR: Don't you see the beauty in duality? If we all lived forever in a permanent state of happiness, how could we know what happiness was? Why would we appreciate life, if we knew it couldn't end? Why would we enjoy pleasure if we never felt pain? Conscious life is the most beautiful thing in the universe, and the only thing that can even appreciate beauty. How can you wish for it to end permanently?

The duality you speak of is exactly the point. You can't have good experiences without the bad. In fact, if we felt roughly happy all the time, with minute variations between happiness experienced from one moment to the next, the minimum of happiness experienced would become the new definition of unhappiness. Consciousness is a terrible thing, and I say that from the deepest depths of my heart. If that doesn't mean anything, I don't know what does.

(By the way, I really like seeing some discussion going on here again, Jim.)

metamorphhh said...

Tim, what you say resonates deeply with me. It's my belief that very few people will acknowledge the depths of their unhappiness, and even those who do will often renege when faced with the obvious conclusions. Denial runs deep.

Anonymous said...

I believe in what you are doing.

Anonymous said...

Hi there! A few months ago, I favorited the YouTube video whose comments section sparked this discussion, and I just now re-watched it. And I just wanted to say, it resonates with me now more clearly than ever. Thank you for saying exactly what I've been thinking for a long time, but couldn't fully formulate and put into words.

Anonymous said...

So how's the book coming along?

your host said...

Anon:

Finishing up as we speak. Very soon.

Anonymous said...

Do you feel like posting another excerpt from your book?

jo3 said...

i was thinking... if we approach the idea of an afterlife, a pre-life or reincarnation from a nihilistic view point we cannot assert that they definetly dont exist. From this we cannot know that any form of pre-life wouldnt entail suffering, perhaps even suffering greater than that experienced in life. Therefore its possible that life is a break from some form of hell, and that reincarnations may be continuous breaks from this hell... therefore phased extinction would trap all "souls" in this hell permenantly. It seems we cannot know for certain that suffering would end unless we could prove atheism. Therefore antinatalism is an opinion dependant on the presupposition of another belief system. Does this mean that antinatalism is a religious view and not a philisophical one? How do we know that this existence is the only form of existence which involves suffering?

...this is just one problem that i often debate in my head over the universal morality of antinatalism.

yours respectively,
a committed atheist and antinatalist. peace!

your host said...

jo3:

If the non-belief in a 'pre-birth hell that we go back to between reincarnations and which we will be stuck in forever and ever if antinatalists get their way' is to be counted as a presupposition, then all I can offer is that, perhaps, some presuppositions are less viable than others.:)

From there, you ask if this doesn't make antinatalism a religion. My answer is, only if you stretch the meaning of 'religion' to include any and all presuppositions about existence, including warrants for basic human reasoning. No, we cannot categorically 'prove' atheism, or anything else for that matter; at least, no in the ultimate sense. But the evidence to date seems to weigh in for consciousness as an emergent property of the brain, and against mind/body dualism.

We do what we can, with what we have. Anyway, if what you posit winds up being the reality of the situation, we're screwed up the ass no matter how you look at it.

Mupetblast said...

Hey, sorry late to the conversation.

Chip,

But as procreative agents, parents literally force their children into existence every time. Consent is not contemplated for the simple reason that consent is impossible.

But how can a child be forced into existence when there was no child to be forced into anything to begin with? And if consent is impossible, then so is coercion.

Chip said...

Muppetblast,

In essence, you're describing the non-identity problem. Because the situation with procreation is sui generis, it's easy to get stuck here. Fortunately, it's just as easy to get unstuck with a slight tweaking of working concepts and a reality test.

To depart from the Randian language that I adopted for the sake of argument, I think the view that actions toward non-persons - or pre-existent potential persons - are neutral or meaningless is adequately refuted by any number of thought experiments. One that stays with me is that of the "Austrian Basement," in which Sister Y, using a real-life story, asks us to consider the case of a woman who is imprisoned and repeatedly raped by her father in a dungeon-like basement. The victim has several children by her rapist-father, each of whom is doomed to be murdered or tortured in the scheme of their severely limited horizons. That's bad enough, but when Sister Y introduces a new wrinkle - that the imprisoned victim discovers a means of furtively practicing birth control - those who reject the idea that procreation can be harmful on the merit that you propose, i.e., that there is no one to be harmed, are compelled to reject the moral dimension of her action or inaction.

But this proves difficult because the consequences are so clear. If she uses contraceptives, this means that more children will not be born into the hell her rapist-father has created; if she refrains, more lives will surely be birthed, and these lives will be largely defined by atrocious suffering.

I believe it is reasonable to intuit that no human being would choose such an existence, and even if one in a million would, the absence of their prior consent remains a matter of fact. The technical question of whether they, in their pre-existent "state" - are "coerced" begins to seem more semantic than salient. Because it is. Because they are. Like all of us.

Everyone who is brought into existence will suffer and die, whether in a rapist's dungeon or in the normal course of affairs. pre-existent potential persons experience no deprivation and no harm, under any accepted application of these concepts. To argue that a person's presequent inability to "consent" should nullify or render neutral the ethical consequences of the harm and suffering they are sure to endure once they are summoned to existence, is, I submit, to seek a logomachian refuge in the face of reality. You know in your bones that bringing a child into a torturous life is a harm. If you know, based on your genetic profile or through prenatal screening, that your child will suffer from Tay Sachs, you have a pretty good idea of what they're in for, even if they don't yet exist. The impossibility of their consent, is itself a category of non-consent. Create them anyway, and they will suffer immeasurably during a mercifully and predictably short life. But you knew this would - or could - happen, and you did it anyway. To someone else. By any reasonable definition, I think that's coercion. And if it's not, it's indecent. The idea that it's neutral seems difficult to sustain.

On a more practical level, I question your assertion that "if consent is impossible, then so is coercion." I'll rest on one counterexample. It is literally impossible for a person in a coma to consent to anything. Does this mean that mutilating or killing the comatose is not coercive?

Here is a link to Sister Y's "Austrian Basement" essay:

http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com/2008/07/austrian-basement-and-beyond.html

Mupetblast said...

Chip,

You've convinced me. Ok, the strict application of consent here won't do any good in the prima facie awful situation of the Austrian Basement. I see that hinging an ethical quandary solely on an intial act of express consent is wrongheaded.

As for the person in the coma, yes I think it is not coercive, assuming they are in a permanent vegetative state (a kind of coma is it not?). If they are expected to awake, a kind of retroactively coercive act will most likely have to be accounted for which brings it into the realm of morality. From a consequentialist standpoint you can see how this differs from the AB dilemma. I'd say the experience of suffering is what counts. (Admittedly this neglects the potential psychic harm to friends and family of the 'trespassed' coma patient.)

You know in your bones that bringing a child into a torturous life is a harm.

Sounds like Ethical Intuitionism, which is helpful to your argument in the case of a truly torturous life-in-waiting, but not so much for the broader anti-natalist argument that being brought into existence in the first place is a harm. Nobody disputes the horror of the AB, but life itself? Eh, it's got its ups and downs.

I realize that from a "first, do no harm" perspective, ala the doctor's credo, this won't fly, but this isn't necessarily the right standard by which to judge the creation of new life.

Constant said...

It needn't be intuitionism, you can also view it as constructivism, which is more plausible.
That would be: You do, as a matter of fact, accept some ethical proposition (e.g. that it's immoral to have babies in the Austrian Basement). Starting from that, you can investigate whether you're being consistent in your acceptance of ethical propositions, and repair your system if you're not.
On that grounds, and argument for antinatalism could be constructed, though it takes time. First, it has to be shown that life in itself is no value, which is easy.
Then it can be shown that there are cases where having children is immoral. (AB) And then, together with some premises about imposing risks on others, one can try to demonstrate that it's not possible to consistently distinguish those cases were it's immoral from those where it's immoral. So either it would always be immoral, or always permitted. Unfortunately, the latter position might not be inconsistent (I'm not sure about that), and only because it has horrible consequences, that doesn't mean people won't take it. People are horrible.

Chip said...

What Constant said, more or less.

We begin with intuition, test it against hard cases, and work toward a general theory. The forceful element of Benatar's asymmetry, to me, is the absence of deprivation for those who never come into existence. There is no waiting room packed with souls clamoring to be. True, once one is, life is most often on average a mixed bag of good and bad, or ups and downs, as you put it. Of course, the ups could always be higher and the downs always lower, yet the fact remains that the whole relativistic gambit could have been avoided without depriving a being of anything at all.

I don't think it's even a close call. It's just that our neuro-wiring gets in the way. We are evolved to replicate our genes, and to justify the same. Viscerally.

It is often the case that people emerge from comas, just as people emerge from non-existence once the catalytic chemistry is set through human agency. I think the prudent route is to construe the absence of a capacity for consent, perhaps with some reasonable exceptions, as a constraint against the infliction of potential harm.

nedbrek said...

Let me inject a little theistic perspective into this discussion.

If the purpose of life is about us (our stimulation, fulfillment, happiness, whatever) - then the world is an abject failure. I agree there.

What the Bible tells us is that the purpose of the universe is to glorify God - that is, to express His attributes (primary being wrath and mercy).

The dysfunction of the world, then, is not an overwhelming failure (just our own local moral failure).

Rather, it points us to our need for God.

your host said...

nedbrek:

One thing I admire about the theistic worldview is the recognition that existence is fucked up. The difference is, you think it's fucked up relative an objective perfection, while I think it's fucked up because of one of its prime components i.e. suffering.

However, even if you're right, and especially if you're right, why keep feeding the fire? Or is God's 'glory' predicated on an endless fuel supply to stoke his hellfires? Of course, there are other oodles of problems with the theistic worldview whose discussion are most likely beyond the purview of this particular blog. My antinatalist outlook is founded in personal empathy, and I really couldn't give a damn whether or not some otherworldly super-warlord's tastes for 'justice' are satisfied.

nedbrek said...

"you think it's fucked up relative an objective perfection, while I think it's fucked up because of one of its prime components i.e. suffering."

Not sure I follow. I agree that suffering is real, and not pleasant. I am able to cope with suffering, because I understand that God is glorified in it. Also, that God does not cause suffering, that it is the result of man's disobedience (sin).

"why keep feeding the fire? Or is God's 'glory' predicated on an endless fuel supply to stoke his hellfires?"

Perhaps I am not understanding again... Christianity holds that Jesus is going to return (any time). At that time, the old world will pass away, and a new one created. One free of sin, and the accompanying suffering (for those saved). The sufferings in Hell get into matters of justice, which I agree is off topic.

Constant said...

What the Bible tells us is that the purpose of the universe is to glorify God

Which makes it morally virtuous for us to refuse to give god new children to instrumentalize them. Of all religions I know, if any has an impact on the question of antinatalism, it is always that they provide an enormously strong argument for it.

The dysfunction of the world, then, is not an overwhelming failure (just our own local moral failure).

Plus god's moral failure, but that's really a different discussion.

it points us to our need for God.

What you wrote suggests to me that it's the other way around.

nedbrek said...

Constant, "Which makes it morally virtuous for us to refuse to give god new children to instrumentalize them."

Are you saying that moral virtue is to resist God's purpose?

your host said...

nedbrek: If one's own moral proclivities contradict God's, then most definitely. Unless you'd advocate that might makes right. Of course, I'm sure you'd argue that morality flows from your god, but not everyone believes that.

nedbrek said...

"morality flows from your god, but not everyone believes that"

Yes. Is there an existing post on "natural morality" (or what have you)?

Otherwise, I will look forward to it.

Constant said...

Actually, I even think that God would be the wrong kind of entity for morality to flow from.

I think ultimately, every argument for the acceptance of a normative statements has to refer you to other normative statements you have already accepted. Fortunately, every human being accepts some normative statements: no-one is without desires and preferences.

Fortunately, almost everybody even accepts some moral statements, and, probably for evolutionary reasons, there seems to be some convergence. Starting from this, you can apply the procedure of concistency checks and, I think, also persuasion (in ambiguous cases) that I hinted at above to reach a reflective equilibrium.

Hopefully, this (at least hypothetically) converges for many people to a set of norms which we can then call morality and which it is by definition immoral not to accept.

Of course, you can still rather accept your god's imperatives. But then you are, by definition, not being moral (except, of course, if the two norm systems happen to coincide, which they don't seem to do).

This doesn't give you an absolute moral truth in the way many people would have it. But in fact, I think the notion of absolute normativity is actually meaningless. I believe that it lies in the nature of normativity that the above is the best we can do. This is a necessary fact; the existence of a god wouldn't change this. You can add god to this world and 2+2 will still be 4.