Wednesday, March 24, 2010

And, Here It IS!

This is a rebuttal to TGGP's essay critiquing antinatalism. To read the original, uninterrupted essay, go here.

“You have to be pretty smart to be that dumb”. I forget the context in which I first heard that phrase, but I'm sure it wasn't as accurate as it would be applied to antinatalism. Antinatalism, or the belief that nobody should ever reproduce, has got to be in the running for most counter-intuitive idea of all time. We're positively rigged against it down to our bone marrow.

This phrase, 'rigged against it down to our bone marrow', is part of the rhetorical overkill often thrown up by the opponents of relatively unpopular ideas. Makes it sound as if antinatalists are railing against gravity, or the right of plants to produce chlorophyll. What you're really talking about are genetic predispositions. Unfortunately for this argument, there are conflicting impulsions even at the biological level, and this barely scratches the surface as we scale up to consider humanity in toto. There we encounter a dynamic fraught with competing desires and values no longer based solely on primal organic chemistry. It's a land where genetic proprietorship is forced to do business with meme-ish supplanters, in an abstract jungle where tooth and claw are sometimes forced to give way to new creatures born of complex psychological necessity. Evolution on an interstadial plane of existence, if you will, where the old imperatives are forced into retreat in a climate of new ideas and change impelled by those ideas.

Speaking more specifically, how much is the urge to reproduce simply the urge to fuck? Which species besides man contemplates little booties and bassinets whilst in the throes of sexual union? For that matter, I'd venture to say that a sizable percentage of new humans enter the world through heedless humping than not. Pronatalists might consider this fact an affirmation of their hypothesis, with the biological imperative working behind the scenes to get what it wants. But then, how do they explain birth control, up to and including abortion? If everything is grounded in biology, surely that includes the ideas and methods that seemingly run against the grain, yes? Or must we postulate some sort of mind/body dualism to account for this kind of conflict?

I would posit that the 'belief' in mankind's 'need' to procreate (as opposed to simple coitus with childbirth as the not always desired result) is simply the other side of the contrarian coin, born just as much out of the gestalt of mass psychology as its opposite ideological pole. As far as the idea that antinatalism is counter-intuitive is concerned, I offer a somewhat drawn out yawn. So what? All new ideas are counter intuitive, until they aren't anymore. And the plain evidence against the notion that human procreation is hardwired is glaringly displayed in every human being who chooses not to breed. Millions do so, and for a number of reasons.


So of course some miserable German philosopher had to come up with it. I haven't read Schopenhauer, nor the more recent acolyte of the creed, David Benatar. I don't really have any intention to either. A few uncredentialed weirdos on the internet are good enough for Wikipedia, and they're good enough for me. You can strike out the “good” part, they're enough. It's a credit to the magnitude of their misplaced brain-straining that they can come up with something so mindbogglingly absurd.


Ah, the blissful solace of rumination unencumbered by depth or detail! "Look, Ma! I just skipped a rock- now I know how deep the ocean is!" Fertile ground for confirmation bias, if nothing else.


My immediate knee-jerk reaction when somebody tells me I ought not do something is “Hey, fuck you, buddy. I bet electricity tastes delicious” or something along those lines. I'm not crossing off any of my options on some yahoo's say-so. Give me a good reason why I don't want to.

"Not that I'm actually interested in exploring those reasons to any depth." (see previous paragraph). And from what I hear, electricity tastes quite a bit like bbq chicken...cajun style!


You say it's just inherently bad. I say it's too bad you've wasted your breath and my time.

Of course, most antinatalists aren't offering such a simplistic maxim, though some allow room in their arguments for deontological breathing space.


You can claim it causes harm, it's immoral, or that man qua man as a rational being must act in accordance with some of your favored principles. I say if instructing people on how to murder someone and get away with it is wrong, I don't want to be right.

This is just disturbing. Now who's being counter intuitive? Not to mention philosophically sociopathic. I should also point out that a lot of those principles you mention emerge directly from most 'rational' beings' moralistic sensibilities- and we ALL have them to some degree, except in cases of...er...there's that 's' word again. No, strike that. Even sociopaths generally have a warped ethos of some sort, 'counter intuitive' though such may be to most of us. Antinatalism simply extends said principles into the existential nooks and crannies many folks are reluctant to explore, lest they find their own world views coming up less than consistent. After all, everybody wants to be consistent, right?


Your natural law hocus pocus is weak voodoo, as is devastatingly argued by L.A Rollins in The Myth of Natural Rights, recently republished by Nine Banded Books with more great additional material than you deserve (Buy a copy today! And another tomorrow!).

Again, who said anything about natural law? Oh, right, you don't read the literature. *forehead smack* And yes, buy, buy, BUY!


Right then and there I refuted or neutered the doctrine, at least in application to this Ego.

If by this you mean that you've refuted the doctrine by Law of Personal Disagreement, I am forced to concur. :)


But I'm an aberrant case (as if adherents of such a marginal doctrine as antinatalism weren't) and nutcases make nutty-flavored law. As it's doubtful that you're satisfied with just that measly preceding paragraph, I intend to show how a number of arguments for it are unsound. I'll also explain a bit about the nature of humanity (presumably including you, dear reader) and life itself ignored by philosophers that will show just how flawed and futile the stillborn antinatalist “movement” really is.

Ah ha! Now we're to the meat of the thing. Proceed, fellow aberrant!


The concern antinatalists have about the desirability of bringing into existence people that will suffer is not limited to antinatalists themselves. Derek Parfit's famous “repugnant conclusion” asks whether a utilitarian should prefer a population dwindling to one very happy person or a nigh-infinite number of people almost miserable enough to prefer nonexistence. Almost. There are two schools of utilitarian thought: total utility and average utility. The former prefers larger populations even if everyone is less happy; the latter is only concerned with the quality rather than quantity. You might think that antinatalists can claim the latter theory, with all its attendant arguments and respectability. That's not the case.

Of course, the pre-suppositional elephant in the room is that there MUST be SOMEONE left to exist; either the super-duper happy happy joy joy guy ensconced in the raptures of his belly button, or the horde of shoulder shrugging worker ants trudging through the motions whilst intoning the mantra "At least we're not in Philadelphia. At least we're not in Philadelphia. At least we're not...". There are variations of these two themes that we could go into if only I were of a mind to, which I'm not because I embrace neither, obviously. I opt for the third option, which it looks like we'll be addressing shortly.

Utilitarian antinatalists embrace a third, hitherto unknown, variety of utilitarianism: phony utilitarianism (there have of course been previous kinds of baloney, but this specific flavor is new). They embrace an asymmetry where the bad is taken into account but the good is not. It's good to prevent bad but not bad to prevent good. Classical utilitarianism sought the conditions for man's flourishing and had as its ultimate goal happiness. They didn't know whether someone's happiness was desirable as an addition to some ghostly stock of joy or a tweaking of the collective scale of satisfaction. They didn't know what to do with “utility monsters”, unmeasurable subjective states, cardinal vs ordinal arithmetic and other things (because 'utils' are as imaginary as karma, but that's another story), but happiness certainly counted for something. These phony utilitarians care not a whit for it.

The 'classical' utilitarianism you mentioned previously focuses on maximizing the good. There's no need to go into what they mean by 'good' at this juncture, I don't think. Suffice it to say that negative utilitarianism focuses on minimizing the bad. I don't think that makes it a 'phony' utilitarianism. In fact, I'd say that minimizing the bad is the primary goal of those who want to do good; at least, in most cases. The only problem I see regarding negative untilitarians is their unwillingness to take the ramifications of their philosophy all the way. Namely, extinction. Antinatalists simply take that last, necessary step. Conversely, you might call antinatalism the maximization of the good via prevention of the potential for bad.


Think back to your cherished memory, your wedding day (or night),


I'd rather not, and thanks loads for bringing that up!


the birth of your favorite child (and don't claim you love them all equally),


I do. Then again, you're not a father, are you? Sometimes experience counts.


or the simple pleasures of speculating on a monkey knife-fight. Who can deny that these constitute some redeeming goodness in the world? The phony utilitarian does. He (and it is going to be a he, among the weaknesses of women is an inability to reach certain heights of imbecility) says “Shut up about those precious moments, you're distracting me from the agonies of existence. You know I stubbed my toe this morning?”.

Nice caricature. In reality, the antinatalist experiences his/her own version of goodness in the world. In fact, there's no 'mood' requirement to get into the club, strictly speaking; although, being a pessimistic philosophy, antinatalism probably draws more than its fair share of depressive personalities. But there are plenty of couples wandering about who live relatively happy existences, and yet choose to remain childless because "we just don't think it's a good idea to bring a child into this world right now." As a matter of fact, one could do away with the fundamental Benatar asymmetry altogether, and rest his antinatalist proclivities on commonsense risk assessment.

Let's pretend for a moment that life is as unadulteratedly good as the most fervent optimist thinks it is, and do away with any discussion concerning cognitive biases and the like. That is, life is good for some. For no one possessing even a modicum of rationality grounded in real-life experience would argue that SOME lives don't turn out perfectly horrible...would they? And there lies the problem. Fate is a capricious whore, and doesn't care who she fucks over. When we bring a new life into the world, we take the very real chance of delivering that life into the open arms of future personal disaster. In my mind, that's enough of a reason for a sympathetic person to abstain from breeding, and instead adopt some needy child into a more fortuitous situation. Or buy a puppy (although puppies shouldn't be born, either).

Oh, and btw...my monkey carries a Glock!


Some thinkers on the problem of theodicy (not necessarily the same thing as theoidiocy) have suggested that we could not even comprehend or properly appreciate good without the experience of bad to compare it to.


And yet, it's really not that hard to imagine experiencing suffering unattended by good. I remember the late Alan Watts remarking on the exquisite detail worked into medieval renderings of the Christian Hell, while visions of heaven remained somewhat staid and undefined. That's because suffering is much more real, as anyone who has suffered a stretch of tremendous physical pain can tell you (including yours truly). Yet another glimpse into the existential asymmetry of pain vs. pleasure.


The phony utilitarians denies any good that they can compare bad to. It's just nothing but bad.


This is simply more overstatement that's already been addressed.


Their optimal end-state is the same as the evil space alien race called “The Hey” from The Tick: The Big Nothing. Not that it would be good, just not bad by virtue of not being anything.


In other words, what we came out of, and what we go back into after we die, without this little needless and unasked for burp in the middle. I have no argument here.


Even the believer in maximizing average utility, affirming the desirability of having just one jolly person, can't even consider the option. I'm not saying it's such an affront to their delicate sensibilities that that they denounce it and its malevolent proponents, but that they can't. Average utility gives no basis for evaluating such a condition. You get a divide by zero error, no answer, a completely undefined gap about which nothing more can be said. The only remaining branch of utilitarianism is then that of the promoters of constant growth toward near-suicidal malaise.


And if you could guarantee me one perfectly jolly person, or a whole world of them for that matter, I wouldn't be an antinatalist. But you can't. This segues into ideas about that most fundamental of geekdom's masturbatory fantasies, the 'singularity', which you mention further down the page, and which I'll address a little later.


Will Wilkinson once argued against the pro-natalism of Ed Glaeser and Bryan Caplan by accusing them of what he called the “lucky souls fallacy”. The idea is roughly that there are a bunch of souls holding lottery tickets and hoping their number comes up so they can be born. They imagine they are doing someone a favor by bringing them into existence and getting to partake in its delights, as if there was an existing person with preferences who can actually be given a benefit. Ironically enough, these souls resemble the free-floating disembodied somnambulist wraiths that Hans Herman Hoppe identified as the inhabitants behind the “Veil of Ignorance” proposed by Wilkinson's favorite ethical philosopher, John Rawls. Antinatalists similarly commit the “unlucky souls” fallacy of imagining a harm being done by being brought into being. While the pro-choice and pro-life folks debate whether a fetus (or even a zygote) has a right not to be aborted, the antinatalists date rights to before conception. They defend the rights of non-persons to non-birth, or of sperm and eggs to live out their lives as singletons. Let's think of these helpless nothings, if we prick them do they not bleed? Crying foul over a nonbeing's involvement in a sexual act it didn't have the consent not to give, the antinatalist magically turns one rape into two.


Ugh, that 'problem of identity' nonsense! This notion questioning the appropriateness of taking into consideration the future welfare of potential beings is just SO MUCH HORSESHIT. What do you think baby showers are about, for crissake? Let's amp up the ludicrousness here a bit, shall we? Why even make plans for tomorrow? After all, tomorrow is an abstract concept that never actually comes into existence, and the you of tomorrow is not the you of right now. In fact, he's an ABSTRACT ENTITY.

That's enough of that. Moving on...


The notion of rights was always a limited one, which has expanded for reasons of moral sympathy or power politics depending on your level of cynicism. At its most expansive it may include animals, plants or even “the environment” or “the Earth”. Perhaps a few such as animists may attribute rights to nonexistent spirits, but at least they mistakenly believe those are real. The antinatalist will tell you that something simultaneously does not exist and has rights. To me, that is a simple error in logic.

Technically, the antinatalist who doesn't believe in 'natural rights' would bestow those rights devised out of a sense of moral sympathy unto the potential new life. Naturally, this language is somewhat metaphoric, as what we're really doing is considering the consequences of our actions regarding the person in potentia who is to become existentially manifest.


An entity must exist to have any properties at all. Any statement of the form “X has Y” contains the implied statement that X exists.


What, numbers don't have properties? How about ideas? Just joshin' with you a bit, but now that I think of it...hey, I know! Let's consider pre-birth entities to be ideas, and post-birth entities to be ideas brought to fruition. Ever question whether this or that idea is a good one, and worth implementing?


It is not accurate to say “The king of France is bald” regardless of the presence of any follicles, because France has no king (their loss).


On the other hand, do we really want a bald king? Or, imagine a bald queen! THINK of the scandal! *gasp*

It is true that one may speak of the properties of imaginary beings as in “The diarist of Go Ask Alice is a deceased drug-addict”, in which case the facts of our statements are imaginary as well. You're not going to take seriously the suggestion that you leave out cookies for a fat Santa or pray to an omnipotent God if you don't think they exist.

The difference being that Santa is simply imaginary, and not a potential being-in-waiting. This idea can be parsed further, perhaps in the comment thread. Will the sun come up tomorrow? Maybe, maybe not. When and if it comes up, will it be a giant version of my bowling ball? Nah! Methinks there's some conflation going on here.


Antinatalists don't generally believe that God exists, but if he does, they claim, all the more reason not to have children! I recommend these atheists try convincing Middle Easterners that the true meaning of Islam is peace and tolerance. The reasoning goes that it's possible (or probable, depending on how liberal a doctrine of salvation you believe) that your kid will wind up in Hell, and that's infinitely bad. They seem to have overlooked that minor detail in Genesis of God instructing us to “Be fruitful and multiply”. It didn't contain an addendum of “Eh, if you feel like it or whatever”.


Part of the wonderfully loony history of religion is the invention of justifications for getting around ancient edicts after modern sensibilities have rendered them...well...insensible. Nobody worries about picking up sticks on Saturday anymore, or mixing their linens, or having to use up their whole weekend genociding the people next door because they let their kids watch 'Family Guy'. Especially since both Jesus and St. Paul hinted at the fact that in the' Last Days' (and it's ALWAYS the 'Last Days') it might not be a good idea to have children along for the ride. And even if this weren't so, at best your argument points out yet another logical inconsistency in the scriptures. THERE'S some breaking news!

I think you'll find very few women these days who believe they're divinely sanctioned to drop babies until their wombs expire; at least, not in the so-called enlightened world. But a lot of these women still believe in eternal punishment for unbelievers. Of course, being loving parents they probably tend to blot out the risk that their children might end up on the wrong side of the soteriological fence. But it's certainly something to consider if you're of that frame of mind.


If God wanted to minimize the number of souls in Hell, He wouldn't have created us in the first place. Nor is there any reason for a Christian to try to minimize the population of the underworld. Vox Day opens his The Irrational Atheist by telling you he doesn't care if you go to Hell, and while he is obligated to spread the Good News what you do with it and the fate of your soul is your own decision and none of his concern. Thomas Aquinas was once asked if it was okay once in heaven to take pleasure in the misery of the damned, and he replied that it is always correct to be pleased by the enactment of God's will.

All true. Fortunately, most Christians are invested with more human sympathy than these throwback examples of uncaring sociopathy.


Furthermore, this conception of Hell predominant in pop culture owes more to heavy metal and Dante's Inferno than the Biblical text. The Old Testament doesn't discuss it at all, because who cares what happens to Gentiles? Jesus' parables do mention the unfaithful amidst “gnashing and wailing of teeth”, but the context is in being locked out wedding party (representing the Kingdom of Heaven). They'd only be immersed in fire if the city was burning down, in which case the bride and groom have little to celebrate either. That version of Hell is simply the complete absence and separation from God. The reason it's so bad is that God is the pinnacle of perfection in terms of love and the good, so you definitely want in the party.

Variegated versions of Hell's blueprints are a dime-a-dozen. Whatever thickness of metaphorical patina one wishes to overcoat one's understanding of the damned afterlife with, it still all comes down to off-the-scale suffering, forever and ever, amen. The devil remains in the details, no matter what those details ultimately turn out to be.

The antinatalist however pays as little attention to the upside of the afterlife as to that of its earthly predecessor.


Bullshit. The afterlife you speak of is simply the utmost polarization of the ends of the existential asymmetry. A few lucky souls get to experience the end-product of the deific singularity, while everybody else resides at the bottom of Heaven's Outhouse. Anybody who's not bothered by that is a prick, plain and simple.


Is life really what it's cracked up to be, or not worth it? The antinatalist says its awful, though they admit the idea strikes the vast majority of humanity as absurd. This accords with the evidence that most people don't commit suicide despite the ease with which they could do so painlessly, the lengths people will go to in preserving their lives and their self-reported happiness with life.


Suicide requires a desperation that overrides lots of other competing concerns. Contrary to your rather blithe assessment, doing harm to one's self isn't all that easy. As far as that 'self-reported happiness' is concerned, there's a little phenomenon concerning cognitive bias and distortion that should probably be addressed, but which would run too long to do it justice here. Something for the comment thread, perhaps?


Even those who do attempt suicide cannot be confidently said to prefer the sweet release of death. As Charles Duhigg of Slate noted in The Economics of Suicide, those who attempt to kill themselves and survive improve their lives significantly compared to people who contemplate it but do not make the attempt. The more serious the attempt, the greater the improvement. What's going on? The act serves as a signal of distress that results in positive attention and assistance, and considering that there are 20 attempts for every successful suicide, the odds aren't that crazy. It's a high-risk move, but so is base-jumping, running with bulls or selling crack on the corner.


Ah, suicide as a thrill seeking endeavor. I have to admit, this one gave me a good chuckle. Once again, suicide is generally an act of desperation, and while it's true that some reconsider their options after the attempted act, it's just as true that there are many grossly unhappy people who stick around for reasons other than personal welfare.


When asked why they themselves haven't fled from the hell of existence, antinatalists sometimes cloak themselves in altruism. Of course I'd love to die, but I have so many commitments to other people and they'd be so sad. This claim casts doubt on how bad life is.


No, it doesn't. It simply speaks to the conflicting priorities internal to most people. We do things that we don't like all the time, simply because failure to act would make things worse. Many people hate their lives, but many of those same people ALSO take into consideration the harm their suicide would do to their loved ones. The fact that we make choices between both positives and negatives every day is so apparent that I really don't know why we're even talking about it.


These living victims of our suicide have value in their lives, and part of that value comes from our own lives. If a life can bring joy to others, is it not then altruistic to bring life into the world?


The idea that relational values existing between people who are already here somehow justifies bringing new life into the world seems beyond spurious to me. What has one got to do with the other? However, I'll give this argument the benefit of the doubt, and assume that what's really being said is that new life brings joy to others. But how is this being altruistic? The potential offspring doesn't contrive itself into existence, so there's no altruism coming from that corner. And unlike the ubiquitous euphemism that life is a 'gift' bestowed upon the new child, in reality there was never really anyone there to receive such a gift in the first place, was there? So who is the parent giving this gift to? Him/herself, of course. The child is a gift of the parent, to the parent. "Hey, lookee me! I baked a cupcake, and now I'm eating it! What an altruist I am!"

Naturally, one could claim that their child is a gift to the world. I wonder if slaves were given as birthday presents in the old days.


It seems to me a glaring asymmetry that subtraction causes harm but addition is no benefit.

This logic is a bit misapplied, but we've sorta/kinda already gone over this, so I'll leave it alone. My fingers are getting tired.

I don't even believe their excuse is honest. If they survived a plane crash or a wreck at sea and everyone they knew already believed they were dead, would they then kill themselves? I really doubt it.

I couldn't say. Depends on the person, and the circumstances.


A more clever reason is that they fear death, and life is a curse precisely because it results in death.

This assessment is part of the story, though not all.


The latter point may become false within our lifetimes thanks to the work of transhumanists and the technological singularity, but for our purposes we can ignore that.

Or, let's not ignore that. At least, not completely, since singularity ideation is the Heaven of those optimists who aren't generally deistically inclined. There are problems here on more than one front. For one thing, the feasibility of such a thing is not historically justified. Unlike potential life, which manifests itself from moment to moment in a trillion flavors, potential utopias generally kick the bucket in the first trimester. As far as I can see, there's no reason to believe things will ever be any different, nerdling visions of neato Borg-ish fashion accessories notwithstanding. In fact, I hereby designate this dilemma the 'wish-thinking faceplants into harsh reality' fallacy.

Secondly, accepting for the moment the extremely improbable scenario that this nerd-ish Nirvana does someday enter the existential picture, who's to guarantee that it'll stick around, or not morph into something perfectly hideous? Static fantasies are nice for daydreaming and Sunday school, but not much else.

Then, of course, there's the fact of the generations of bones and flesh propping up this futurist's wet dreams. What of them? Fuck 'em, as long as somebody in the far distant future who doesn't exist yet reaps the hopeful benefits? NOW who's investing rights on non-existent entities?

Why is it that death is horrible? Precisely because we cherish life so much. This logic would tell you not to give someone a cake because then they would eat it and (horror of horrors) not have it anymore! Death is simply the cessation of life and so any argument resting on the demerits of death contributes to the merits of life.


There's a valid point being made here, though it's oversimplified. There ARE things about life that everybody cherishes. Unfortunately, death always comes with the package, thus souring the milk somewhat. Like I've said elsewhere, a birth certificate might as well have the death certificate printed on the back. Would most people acquiesce to the fact of death, if they could choose otherwise. The answer is obvious.

Of course, death is more than merely the conclusion of life. Much, much more. For the recipient, it often entails disease, tremendous pain, loss of ego status, fear of the unknown, regret, guilt, the knowledge of loss to loved ones, and a host of other negatives that go beyond simply "I don't want to die because I love life so much."


Perhaps most, even nearly all, lives are great.

This one made me choke on my tea! What a grossly naive, uninformed statement.


But shouldn't the very tiny possibility that our offspring might end up with horrible lives that they wished never to have been cursed with dissuade us? No.

Yes. When there's no necessity for playing Russian roulette with an innocent bystander, even if there are 10,000 empty chambers to 1 loaded chamber in the gun's cylinder, a moral person does not play.

Tiny probabilities have tiny force. It's possible that I'll be struck by a meteor as I go to pick up my mail, that we're all the dream of a magic beetle that began a second ago and all our memories are false, that all the children we never have will pester us in the afterlife about not loving them enough to create them. We discount possibilities that, though feasible, are not likely. The fact that you're reading this means you know English and have free time to waste, which indicates that your children will be among the luckiest on the planet. And there is no more reason to ignore their good fortune than the possibility of misery.

Here, you're simply overstating the positives, and understating the negatives. Next time you doubt the relative misery of a significant sample of the human race, check out the stats on alcoholism, drug addiction, as well as prescription anti-depressants. Next, run over to Barnes and Noble and check out the self-help section, and ask yourself just who are these authors writing these books for. Lastly, consider that most people are adherents of religions that promise ultimate escape from this existence into another, better one, and think about the sort of mass self-assessment, generally on a sub-conscious level, that might motivate and maintain such fantasmagorical edifices in the first place.


Among the most laughable claims is that even though most people claim to be happy and even believe themselves to be, they're really miserable and just don't know it. This idea stems back to the Marxists of old perplexed as to why the workers of the world did not develop class consciousness and unite to overthrow capitalism. It was called “false consciousness”, and the idea was sorely needed to explain by people were going over the Berlin wall from east to west or why boat-people fled the worker's paradises of Cuba and Vietnam.

Actually, this idea stems back to psychological analysis, where it was revealed that our apparent, more or less stable personalities are like parachutes floating on a sea of repressions. This is so well documented that it's really not worth addressing further here.

The idea is that some thinker in their arm-chair understands the depths of your soul better than you and can invalidate any of your choices and preferences.


No, it's not. The idea is actually that we are often less than transparent to ourselves. Again, concepts like psychological denial and cognitive bias are mainstays of modern medical discourse, and can be recognized at least to some degree by anybody who pays attention.

It is of course completely unfalsifiable, which is why Karl Popper held up Marxism as a premier example of nonsense that was taken seriously by people who should have known better. I could just as easily claim that everyone, including antinatalists, mistakenly believes that life is not at all times positively euphoric. You have no reason to take that seriously, and no more reason to believe to believe the opposite.

Just because analysis can be mistaken doesn't automatically invalidate all analysis. As far as the negative utilitarian Karl Popper is concerned, he's just another NU who couldn't take the last logical step into antinatalism. Seriously questioning the value of life is the toughest of the tough ones from a psychological standpoint. That's why I've titled my blog 'The Greatest Taboo'.


That's not to say I'm completely above second-guessing people and claiming they don't completely understand what's going on in their minds.

Which pretty much invalidates what you've just said previously. However, do go on :)


Robin Hanson argues in Was Cypher Right?: Why We Stay In Our Matrix that though we believe that we care about things such as “love, humor, talk, story, art, music, fashion, sport, charity, religion, and abstract ideas”, our actions do not seem consistent with valuing them so much as our status or reproductive fitness. This is explained by our “selfish genes” which seek to maximize their number of copies and construct our brains toward that end. We are not conscious of our real desire to spread those genes for the same reason that a White House press secretary is kept in the dark about the administration's actions and motives: all the better a front that can be given to others.

The whole genetic angle regarding human understanding and motivation requires an epistemic study that I'm not really willing to launch into here. Frankly, I'm burning out. Hey, I've been typing for, like, two hours here! Gimme a break already!


In that list of superficial concerns I would include ethical philosophy or morality. We try to convince others that our behavior is good and they should change theirs to accord with our preference, yet ordinary people commit seemingly unimaginable sins all the time. Professed antinatalists even have children.


Though I'd imagine there are exceptions, as there are to almost everything in life, in general antinatalists have children BEFORE they become antinatalists, and not after.


Life is not for living. It is for reproducing, and our bodies are vehicles are constructed by our genes for that purpose. In The Ancestor's Tale Richard Dawkins dates the origin of life not to metabolism but to replication with inheritance. That's the difference between fire and living beings. The sensations and emotions we experience and the thoughts we think exist for a reason. The reason is that the genes that result in them were able to make more copies. We judge things as positive when they are apt to result in more descendants and negative when they do the reverse.

Life is neither for living NOR reproducing. Life, at the level you're talking about, cares for nothing. Replication happens under some conditions, then stops when those conditions change and are no longer conducive for replication. Replication thrives in some environments, retreats in others. Antinatalism is an environment- made up of memes instead of genes, but nonetheless real and effecting. Granted, it's a rarified environment, and not many life forms live there. But, who knows? Environments change; sometimes gradually, sometimes unexpectedly fast. Slavery is slowly on the retreat, as is misogyny. Why? Because the environment is changing. What was once ubiquitously accepted is no longer. Why? Has the human genome rearranged itself? Or is the picture less straightforward than mere genes-to-action? Once again, I find such assessments overly simplistic.

When you get kicked in the balls your genes and those of your unborn children are crying out in pain, and your feeling of satisfaction as you smoke a post-coital cigarette (they aren't as up to date as the Surgeon General) is them patting you on the back.

Don't mistake metaphor for the reality informing it.


So what is the motivation of parents? Are they Stirnerite egoists looking out for their own interests or devoted to their children's well-being? Both really. We share half our genes with our offspring, so we have a large stake in them. We created them for our reasons of spreading our genes, but their mission in turn will be to spread their own genes which has a lot of overlap with our goal. Our children are a part of us, our “extended phenotype”, and in our concern for ourselves we love them as well. Love is adaptive and our children's genes know how to tug at our heart-strings to get as big a share as they can, even if it means taking some from their less cute or demanding siblings (including the helpless unborn ones). These areas in which our genetic interests come into conflict were most famously explored by Robert Trivers, who also explained how we self-deceive in order to better deceive others. Even your noble aspirations to rise above the selfish nature are likely futile, because they were created by those same selfish genes. Any successful attempt to live rightly is going to have to swim with the tide to have any hope, and there can't be anything that fits the bill less than antinatalism.


I've already spoken to this part, I think.


Moving beyond the actions of the individual, what can we say about the antinatalist movement or meme? It is doomed to failure. Within America there has already been an antinatalist sect, the Shakers. You may not have heard of them because they're gone, having not-bred themselves out of existence,. Success from an antinatalist perspective, right? Of course not. More babies are being born now than when they were around, and why should an antinatalist care if is their children or others that are being born? It is really a victory for non-antinatalists, who were able to take up the space otherwise occuppied. In evolutionary game-theory terms this is an extreme Dove strategy that will in short term be outcompeted and replaced by Hawks.

This is actually a good argument. It's true that, in talking someone out of procreating, I'm just creating a space for somebody else to fill. That won't stop me from acts of dissuasion, but there is a certain sense of futility that I have to live with. My hope is that human empathy eventually develops to the point where antinatalism either takes off like a virus, infecting all, or that people with the right motivations and access to powerful modes of persuasion get on the bandwagon, and are able to make the difference.

Naturally, I realize that my hopes are about as realistic as those of the futurists. However, the advantage of my viewpoint is that nonexistence can't fall apart, or work against its own ostensible motivations. Another asymmetry, it seems.


Even if antinatalists made a perfectly compelling case against it, humanity would come to consist of people incapable of understanding it. Some mutant variant would arise giving resistance to antinatalism, because like the guy from Jurassic Park said “Life finds a way”. The only hope for preventing procreation would be to hit humanity faster and more powerfully than it could respond to. In other words, wipe it out. Furthermore, just as the disappearance of dinosaurs permitted the explosive rise of mammals and then humanity, the remaining animals species are just human-substitutes in waiting.

This is also true, and I realize that extinction of the human race is just part of the problem. However, it's a very significant part, especially since humanity's psychological depth and complexity makes it the prime recipient of the worst kind of suffering, in my opinion. We do what we can.


There's no reason once our niche is open they couldn't evolve the same capacity for suffering that we possess. So it's best to exterminate all life on earth, and they'd better make absolutely sure they don't leave the tiniest bacteria alive.


Yes, this would be best. Again, we do what we can.


But why just focus on this planet? With such a big universe it's likely life will arise somewhere else and spread across its galaxy, cruelly bringing trillions and trillions of its species into existence. That means an apocalyptic imperative to exterminate everything anywhere in the universe, quite a big task. Better pray we don't live in an infinite universe (still a likely possibility as far as we know), containing an infinite amount of living and reproducing things which it is logically impossible to reduce or increase.


These are possibilities, but there's not much that can be done with our finite resources. Then again, maybe there's an antinatalist dimension jumper somewhere out there with greater resources than I, along with an inclination for cleaning up the place(s). Maybe he's even read my book!


After mocking antinatalists for their nonsensical and futile beliefs, I should confess that I myself have no kids and have made zero progress toward fathering any. I see it as quite likely that I'll die childless.


There's the spirit, and genes be damned!

I don't feel any ethical imperative to reproduce or refrain from doing so, and my complacency serves as further evidence to me that my genes are not fit for this environment. I can live with that. I'll be replaced by enthusiastic spawners, which I don't see as a problem but an antinatalist must.


Hm, in your case it seems those supposed genetic imperatives have gone sleepy-bye. Oh well, you know how yawning can become infectious? Maybe...

Get used to it. And go squeeze out some crotch-fruit.


Or, don't.


Ok, TGGP. That's a wrap. Looking forward to the thread on this one. Thanks for the exercise...I'm bushed!

21 comments:

Chip said...

What a terrific exchange!

metamorphhh said...

I enjoyed it, Chip. I tried to keep the snark to a minimum, but I thought a little was called for. Hope I toed that fine line.

metamorphhh said...

Ugh, just went through the posted version, and spotted some typos. Oh, well. Maybe I'll fix 'em later, maybe not. Got my mind on tonight's bowling league.

Jeff said...

Bravo.

What is the internet version of a standing ovation? Clapping Out Loud? I send a COL Jim's way.

Jeff said...

p.s.

I don't really know how things come across on the internet, but I want to point out that my appreciation for Jim Crawford's writing is about as sincere as it gets. Directed towards Jim: THANK YOU.

metamorphhh said...

Jeff:

Thanks for the support. It helps to know the readers are...um...well, reading! LOL!

Ok, enough of that. Off to down a pitcher of beer and roll a few. We're in second place, behind the worse team in our league. Why, you ask? I'll tell you why. Because they have a handicap of, like, 200 pins per game, that's why! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Jeff said...

Jim,

My support probably does more harm than good. "With friends like these..." and so on.

The writings that you, Chip, Benatar, Ligotti, Zapffe etc. have created, combined with my own observations on life and the world, what it means to be alive in the world, have convinced me to not have a child. That is pretty much the best form of support that I provide.

Anyway, the moolah that will come your way when I buy your book is something, I guess. I might buy a few copies and place them strategically in public places. I'm not kidding.

Somebody needs to make extensive commentary on the exchange between you and TGGP soon so I can go back to being a reader rather than a writer.

metamorphhh said...

Jeff:

I'm happy you've made the decision not to procreate. That's not to say that having and raising children isn't a fulfilling endeavor in many, many ways. But for a person of insight and empathy, recognition of
the risks and inevitable destination of these beloved souls adds a nightmarish tinge to the whole affair.

I have two daughters who mean practically everything to me. My actions have condemned them to suffering, to the risk of great suffering, and to death. It's a horrible knowledge I live with every day of my life. Frankly, I don't understand how any parent of conscience doesn't feel the same way. Actually, that's not true. I fully grok the cognitive dissonance going on. The various coping mechanisms, private and social, that help people lie to themselves. I just can't relate. Not anymore.

You say you're a writer? Do you have a blog? I didn't see one on your profile. Anyway, thanks for the support, and for buying the 50,000 copies of my book. That's the number you were inferring, wasn't it? :)

TGGP said...

A C.O.L from me too. I'll respond more substantively later.

metamorphhh said...

TGGP:

Thanks! Hope you don't mind my cutting your essay up like that. You hit on so many points, it seemed the best way to address them. I recommend that my readers read the original, as my commentary might serve as somewhat of a distraction to the flow of your piece.

CM said...

That was great. I have to confess that I've always thought TGGP was an antinatalist himself, so I was a bit surprised to read that interchange. But then again, whenever I try to read his blog, I have to give up pretty quickly because half the time the posts are about stuff I know so little about that I might as well be trying to read Cantonese (I flatter myself that this essay was a sole exception, though). Great points as usual, though, Jim.

The whole "lucky souls fallacy" thing reminded me of something. It seems pretty shameful now, but at one point in my life I actually joined the Mormon church voluntarily. Anyway, that's exactly what they believe. That God just stumbled upon some "intelligences" that were there before he got appointed god, converted them into souls by fucking his many wives (don't ask...), and now we all have to provide physical bodies for them so they can become gods themselves. That almost convinced me to start breeding, even though I had absolutely no intention to do so before I joined the cult (I wasn't really an antinatalist per se, but thought it was immoral to breed while there were orphaned and abandoned children in the world). It scares me shitless to think that I would probably have started popping'em out by now had I not come to my senses and ditched the magic undies.

metamorphhh said...

C.M.,

I'd love to hear more about your conversions (in both directions).

Chip said...

The "lucky souls fallacy" finds more secular expression in the famous anti-abortion arguments of Don Marquis and RM Hare. Both worth reading and easy to find on the interwebs.

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps most, even nearly all, lives are great."

TGGP, take note.

metamorphhh said...

Anonymous:

Great link, quite illustrative of the human predicament, which seems to be hidden in plain sight. Suffering is everywhere.

Anonymous said...

I might be a little late to the party, but this is brilliant stuff. I'm a recent "convert" and I've been looking for some good material on Antinatalism to read. I'm only 19 years old, but I think I've made the decision never to procreate. I come from a traditional culture (Saudi Arabia) that expects you to get married and have kids as soon as you graduate from college, so telling my parents that I won't be giving them any grandchildren is going to be quite a shock. But it's unavoidable, and they'll have to respect my decision.

Anonymous said...

Hi 19 year old Anon. Glad you found us! Hopefully you will find some resources and support on this and related pages and in some of the recent books that have come out that deal with antinatalism, such as Jim's book (host of this site), and Benatar's and Ligotti's. I wish you strength and serenity in paving your own way in life and sticking to what you believe is right, in the face of anticipated adversity (based on what you've said). I hope we'll be hearing more from you.

Garrett said...

You're only late if you've procreated. Otherwise, you're right on time :) I'm in the USA, and while we have a similar culture (largely formed by Christian rather than Muslim heritage) here in regard to family planning, I imagine yours potentially carries greater risk for ostracism. I certainly hope your family won't try to stone you if they ever discover your true feelings ;) You'll find some great content and an awesome support group here!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind replies. And don't worry, there is no risk of stoning or ostracism :). While I'm from Saudi Arabia and I lived most of my life there, I'm an American citizen and I go to college in Michigan right now. My parents can't force me into anything and I don't think they want to, but I just think they'll be shocked and/or disappointed when they hear that I didn't find much about life worth passing on to another generation.

Anonymous said...

"So of course some miserable German philosopher had to come up with."

What baloney! Schopenhauer quite enjoyed his life and achieved a l o t more than a l o t of those pro-lifers, who are more often than not wasting their time with some petty career that does not mean anything in the end, condemned to be forgotten and of no use to any future persons they find so desirable. He was a highly educated person, fluent in at least six languages, studied a broad range of subjects at the university, listened to lectures by Schelling and Fichte, and, of course, was a brilliant stylist.
I stopped reading after this, maybe I return later; but this kind of anti-intellectualism is hard to stomach.

Karl said...

@Anonymous: Bravo on defending Schopenhauer! He is surely the most slandered and villified philosopher who has ever lived, and of course we all know why: he spoke the truth about human life. An otherwise intelligent friend of mine once said he thought Schopenhauer was "a buffon". I asked him had he read any of his works. Answer: no. That's the kind of brainwashing and defence barriers we're facing. I'm planning on rereading The World as Will and Representation again shortly as out of all the philosophic systems available, Schopenhauer's is the most coherent, accurate and satisfying. And I hope to one day make the pilgrimage to Frankfurt to see the great man's house!