Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Philanthropic v Eco-Antinatalism

I've been reading over Filrabat's delightful series on antinatalism this morning. It's quite a treat, both thoughtful and compelling. He has a section in there dealing with so-called ecological antinatalism, outlining the differences between that mode of reasoning and the one explicated by proponents of philanthropic antinatalism. He makes a lot of good points. I can't say I disagree with a one of them.

Having said that, I feel the need to emphasize that from the angle of practical application, philanthropic and eco-antinatalists are on exactly the same page i.e. the voluntary extinction of the human race through non-procreation. Though there's something to be said for philosophical purity, I also recognize that both sides are motivated by empathetic concerns. And even though I'll readily admit that eco-antinatalism is ultimately grounded in what I feel to be a romanticist's fallacy- as if nature somehow becomes divine when divorced from human nature- still, our differences fall outside the scope of our shared concern, which is that humans should stop breeding.

The only reason I bring this up is because I think it's important to recognize that folks coming from different pre-suppositional bases can be moved toward common goals. If someone in the New Age bookstore is persuaded to remain childless for the sake of 'Mother Gaea', I may be intellectually put off, but in the end a node of suffering goes unmanifested, and a life is saved. It would be the same if a fundamentalist Christian were talked out of having a child because of the risk of eternal damnation. Of course, I would love it if everybody saw things my way, and for the same reasons, but until that day when pure enlightenment rains down upon all of humanity, I'm willing to settle for what I can get :)

On the other hand, if you're one of those antinatalists motivated purely by misanthropy, you're one sick puppy, and I hereby revoke your membership! :O


Karl said...

Jim, I reckon it's hard not to suffer from an at least theoretical form of misanthropy when one contemplates the suffering of the world. Apart from the horrific structural features of existence - imprisoned in time, old age, ill-health, death, loss and on ad infinitum - when once sees how much misery humans wilfuly inflict on each other, either through delusion or outright malice, it's difficult not to view our biped crew with at least a fair dollop of contempt and outrage. Benatar, in the conclusion to BNTHB, views misanthropy as being perfectly compatible with and indeed supportive of antinatalism. One has to temper this by recalling Schopenhauer's lines about how since each human being needs compassion and care to cope with life, this is what we owe each other and should act accordingly.

metamorphhh said...

Karl: Just funnin' about the misanthropy, although I try to balance it out in myself by viewing the human race as just another species of animal with some unusually virulent evolutionarily and societally spawned tendencies.

Compoverde said...

Jim, you have a point that we really should coalesce with other non-procreationists.. For example, the childfree movement, and others that might not necessarily be against procreation but certainly wouldn't want to promote it. I think that lady is doing a good active job.. we just need to target the middle and upper class as well haha.

filrabat said...

Thanks for the kind words, Jim.

I certainly recognize this as well - ecological vs. philanthropic antinatalism do come from different motivational bases. Even so, I'm starting to come to the conclusion, but not yet a definite one, that ecological and philanthrophic antinatalisms are both sourced in ethics - thereby making eco-antinatalism a form of ethical antinatalism to the extent that protecting other species and not causing them pain is an ethical thing to do. As you probably know, this is a continual "work in progress".

Still, not to sound selfish, but the thread title is Filrabat's World of Thoughts, meaning that on that blog I ultimately speak for me.

As you can see, there's plenty of stuff on there not even remotely germane to antinatalism.

Had the blog been specifically devoted to antinatalism, I will agree I should have said ecological and philanthropic antinatalists are natural allies. (and I'm tentatively thinking of that one, in fact). However, I think my disagreements do serve at least two unspoken but plain and obvious purposes.

1) Shows that antinatalism is far from monolithic.

2) Shows that my antinatalism is carefully thought out, rather than just based on willy-nilly emotional grasping at any "don't have children" message coming our way (which we need to show at this earliest stage of growing public awareness).

filrabat said...

Addendum: About Misanthropy.

I brought up misanthropic reasons on my blog, so I do recognize it as such. HOWEVER, I distinguish between at least three different types. I extensively talk about what I call "Soft, Genteel Misanthropy". So I think it is possible to be misanthropic about human nature without wishing ill on humanity. (though I concede it's questionable whether such a sentiment is a form of misanthropy at all, which is another tangent entirely)

In fact, I see Abrahamic religions in particular stemming from a form of soft, genteel misanthropy. After all, Christians in particular say "love the sinner but hate the sin". The most sincere Christians, Jews, and Muslims will not wish ill will on others despite the many aspects of human nature they hate. Then again, as I said, it's debatable whether "soft, genteel misanthropy" qualifies as a true misanthropy (though I obviously think it does).

The Plague Doctor said...

"On the other hand, if you're one of those antinatalists motivated purely by misanthropy, you're one sick puppy, and I hereby revoke your membership! :O"

Then, so long, folks...

(Misanthropy is one of the main reasons informing my antinatalism.
The other is concern about the well-being of my own potential children: I hereby coin the term "nepotistic antinatalism".)

Curator said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Curator said...

Plague Doctor - "nepotistic antinatalism" is exactly why I don't worry too much about the fact that antinatalism will never really catch on with the wider populace. At least it won't be any child of mine enduring meaningless suffering.

(Nor any blood relative - I have no cousins and only one sister, who also plans on remaining childless, so the suffering of our genes dies with us. It may be selfish, but it gives me great comfort.)

(I deleted the earlier version to add a comma for clarity.)

metamorphhh said...

filrabat: I agree with your assessments regard eco-antinatalism's shortcomings. I see nothing salvageable, much less divine, in this process we call life. But from a practical standpoint, I still consider its adherents to be on my side, and that's really the only thing I wanted to stress.

Plague Doctor:

'Nepotistic Antinatalism', eh? I like it. And like Curator, I find great comfort in the idea that my children will not bring more life into this world (at least, this is my great hope). For their potential children's sake, as well as for their own. Nothing wrong with selfishness when it's not at the expense of others.

metamorphhh said...

Or should I say, RELATIVELY at the expense of others? Since, unfortunately, part of the curse of existence is the interrelatedness of its parts in such a way that none of us walk away with perfectly clean hands. At best, we are monsters yearning for sainthood. A sad state of affairs, indeed.

The Plague Doctor said...

Though I should add: after reading their biographies, certain 'good' people who suffered a lot (for example, Turing commiting suicide after maltreatment by the hands of government) also get my sympathies, and I would have prefered it if they never had to be born. (I felt great disillusionment later in life after reading that a lot of my childhood 'heros' were in fact unhappy.)

The Plague Doctor said...


Chip said...

If we were a scientific breakthrough away from hatching a global swarm of nano-mites that would painlessly render all human populations sterile, THEN I might be persuaded to forge an alliance with the "Bad Gaians" (snort) so that OUR mad scientists could work with THEIR mad scientists until the deed is done.

Alas, those ain't the stakes.

When I discuss antinatalism with people who are reflexively predisposed to reject the idea, it is striking how often the other side assumes that my reasons are rooted in environmental extremism. As long as this misconception is regnant, I fear that people will latch to a convenient and profoundly false shorthand by which to dismiss our motives and reasoning without thinking it through. They'll simply assume that we value plants over people, and they'll have a good self-satisfied laugh over our presumably kookish priorities.

Personally, I find this tendency far more frustrating than the equally common entreaty to commit suicide. While the "just kill yourself already" reaction at least suggests that people are making a crude attempt at grappling with a central problem, the lazy tendency to equate our views with those of radical ecologists is wrong and frankly backward. It mislocates and fundamentally inverts our strongest points -- the points that proceed after commonly held intuitions about agency and harm and autonomy and human decency. If let to stand, I fear the utter wrongness of this already prevalent assumption will impede our earnest efforts to communicate effectively and draw the crucial distinctions that make our case something other than a joke.

None of this is to suggest that I have anything against Gaian opponents of human breeding. I don't. Just like us, they are intellectual dissidents whose ideas should be considered on merit. But this understanding should not blur the ethical differences that motivate and separate our views. PA is not EA. The philosophical gulf is chasmic, even when our hopeless goals share a common aesthetic.

Anonymous said...

You're assuming that everyone who's opposed to procreation for ecological reasons believes in the 'gaia' philosophy rather than simply wanting to prevent sentient beings from feeling the stress that global warming will cause.

metamorphhh said...

Chip: I'll agree that our kind of antinatalism will probably always be lumped in with the environmentalists, if for no other reason than the fact that eco-antinatalism is a small splinter group in the far broader environmental debate, which is a political hot potato on several fronts. That's not going to change in the near future, and the only thing to be done is to correct the misunderstanding when the topic is broached and engaged.

However, since we're talking about public perception, we also don't want to find ourselves represented like this, which can become a very real concern for us dissidents, I think.

metamorphhh said...

Now that I think about it, some of this probably depends on the circles one travels in. Nobody I talk to ever jumps to the 'whacko tree-hugger' conclusion, only because they are generally lower-working class people who tend to think along more personal lines, instead of global ones. Admittedly, the media will probably always go there first, but that's because the subject probably wouldn't be sexy enough nor appeal to a big enough slice of the demographic, unless tied a more well-worn theme like environmentalism. To tell you the truth, I suspect that amongst the general public philanthropic antinatalism is the harder sell, and probably seems kookier than the other; at least, on the surface.

Meanwhile, there's this other group of 'intellectual dissidents' who admittedly have taken a less than thorough inventory of the ethical baggage involved here-at least, from my pov- but who do have their empathetic feelers out, which I see as half the battle won. And remember, the baseline here is voluntary non-procreation, not the total annihilation of the biosphere. Or, for that matter, the forced sterilization of the populace. And as far as that's concerned, both parties are on board. The way I see it, any philosophical nudging can be done in the interim between now and then.

Chip said...


My "Gaia" comments may have been flippant, but I'm skeptical that the effects of recent global warming will add much to the already horrific state of being for most wildlife. Some species will probably fare better as the mercury rises, which is to say, not well at all. It was very hot long ago, then there was an ice age, then it warmed up a bit until there was a mini ice age. Since then, it seems to have been warming up again, and perhaps people can be held to account for the latest trendline. I'm not smart enough to know. But I do know that throughout all of it, animals have been born into a terrible plight. Fighting tooth and claw, being preyed upon or living as predators, and fucking when they can. So much fear and struggle and danger and birth and death and pointless survival. Fuck all of it. At least my cats have a cozy place to sleep.


You may be correct that EA is easier for "the general public" to grasp. This doesn't alter my view that it is based on a perverse and false romance and that its advocates are obtuse to fundamental problems of harm and suffering. I left Ayn Rand behind years ago, but I still find value in her counsel to "check your premises." Of course, I'm happy when people refrain from making new people for whatever silly reason, but where hearts and minds are in play, the content of the argument matters.

The Plague Doctor said...

Re: misanthropy: Suriname has just elected a convicted mass murderer as president. I rest my case!

Cuntagious said...

I guess I fall more on the eco-antinatalists side of the equation, but as you point out "we are on exactly the same page i.e. the voluntary extinction of the human race through non-procreation."

Somewhere along the line humans became radically seperated from the rest of nature, with disasterous results for all the other living forms.