Monday, September 13, 2010

It's Official!

As of last week, I have officially joined the ranks of senior citizenry; or, is that citizenship? The pants are hiked up, better to show off my white penny loafers, the 'Ultimate Matlock DVD Collection' is on order, and I'm feeling damned cranky! *shakes fist at the sound of children playing outside my window* Although for some reason, Glen Beck still seems like an idiot to me...must be the fluoride in my Milk of Magnesia. Damned Commie bastards!

On a somewhat more serious note, my apologies for neglecting the blog of late. My head's wrapped around moving right now, but hopefully that'll be over in another 3 or 4 weeks, and maybe I'll be able to get my head together again and write something worthwhile. In the meantime, thanks to all the contributors here who've made my absence pretty fucking unnoticeable, I must say :) Good show to one and all.

Meanwhile, over at the Hoover Hog, Chip Smith has written something worth reading, and he's given his permission to print it here in full. The original has a lot of embedded links that I can't seem to transfer over here, so feel free to wander over there and click, click, click them at your leisure. I just wanted to have a copy over here for reference. Enjoy.

One Man's Exquisite Treasure

In considering the question, "who should exist," economist Robin Hanson perhaps intentionally avoids grappling with the articulated view that the answer could or should be, "no one," proposing instead a framework that Sister Y aptly characterizes as "something like R.M. Hare's Golden Rule, plus economic efficiency." Essentially, Hanson argues that a being should be brought into existence if it would want to exist and can pay for the ride.

When pressed to address the obvious objection that it would seem to be impossible to know with perfect confidence whether a specific being would or would not "want to exist" prior to being created, Hanson comes off as mildy put upon. "It seems odd that I have to specify this in such detail," he sighs in a related thread, "but ... [f]or some creatures we know with great confidence that if they existed, they would prefer to exist." Not surprisingly, he goes on to cite himself as an example of just such a creature. So just do the play math and rev up the clone machine already. Never mind that the objection hasn't been answered. Never mind that other questions remain. This little piggy prefers to exist, and there are more like him in the imaginary queue. What more need we know? People making isn't ethically problematic; it boils down to a recruitment quiz drafted on the fly. Antinatalism is probably just a form of signaling, anyway.

I'm late to the festivities as usual, but, obviously, I think Hanson's recipe is wildly overconfident. I think his discussion of an important question is uncharacteristically careless and flippant, and I think his use of moral language is tellingly selective and profoundly misplaced. I don't think he has thought seriously about the nature and resonance of suffering. I think he wrongly equates pre-vital nonexistence with some kind of qualitative or experientially deprived state and that he fails to consider the evolutionary basis for "a preference for existence" that nevertheless rests on force and entails nontrivial harm and risk. Finally, I am inclined toward the conclusion that Robin Hanson, a prodigiously intelligent and interesting thinker who I often read with admiration and polite envy, is being disingenuous about most of it. I'll try to explain.

By sleight of noun and verb, Hanson's preferential test can of course be asserted to justify subordinate existential states that would strike most people as undesirable or absurd. We may know with great confidence, for example, that if "some creatures" were introduced to heroin, they would prefer continued access to heroin. Can this toggle be invoked to support the claim that such people, identified in advance, should be introduced to heroin, "if they can pay for it"? I suppose Hanson might respond that, unlike being alive, being addicted to heroin is economically inefficient, that it entails countermanding negative externalities, or something. If that is true (and ceteris paribus, it might not be true at all), there would seem to be no shortage of contending preference-based asymmetries to supplant the 'if' and 'then' with similarly dubious implications. If some creatures were to light up, they would cultivate a preference for smoking and remain productive, perhaps even saving society some significant cost in end-of-life care. If some creatures were afflicted with heartbreak, they would nurse their limerance to produces beautiful poetry and music. If some creatures were chemically endowed with psychotic genius, they would guard their angst-inducing delusions while contributing to the advancement of knowledge. There must be countless subjective preferences that, once actualized, will ensure their own demand and buy their own ticket. Are we thus encouraged to create such preferences where they do not as yet exist? Is it OK, as Sister Y asks, to slip someone Ecstasy without their knowledge? Or, per Seanna Shiffrin, to drop gold bricks on impoverished villagers, improving their lot while breaking a few bones?

Or is there something special about the life-preference as such, even if the flowery scent is most probably an artifact of natural selection? And if life-lust is sui generis -- as it certainly is in when considered in the context of existential (rather than subordinate or post-vital) asymmetry -- should we be obligated to create miserable Golems? I don't think Hanson cares to explore such questions because doing so would tend to undermine the meta-ethical qualification that he assumes should be obvious. Creating preferences may be good or bad (regardless of efficiency) when those affected are already existent, but the idea that never-existent beings are benefited by being brought to life (or conversely that they suffer by not being brought to life) is mistaken. It is mistaken regardless of what degree of confidence may be assigned to the likelihood that they would want their existence once created. More on this later.

Though his position at the outset is presented in insistent terms of economic efficiency, Hanson's stance of disinterested positivism is belied at later turns when his tone assumes a curiously emphatic moral cast. Perhaps irritated by the incipient noise of antinatalist discourse (yes, I'm speculating), I think Hanson insinuates a sly subtext into his reasoning. More precisely, I think he means to turn the tables on those who don't cop to his unscratched pronatalist bias. If I'm right, the tell may be evident in his Hareian suggestion that potential procreators should be guided by a strong positive obligation toward those as yet nonexistent critters nested in the static of pre-flight zilch -- you know, the ones who presumably "want to exist" and can pay for it.

I think Hanson is being worse than coy when he writes:

If asked what gives you the right to prevent the existence of creatures who could fully pay for themselves, you might respond that you need no right, if you have power and a will to use it. Or perhaps you’ll say ethics assures you it is simply impossible to be unfair to creatures who don’t yet exist. But wearing my efficient economist hat, I cannot support such naked selfish aggression, even if I thought it would work. And knowing how hard is coordination, I have serious doubts re feasibility. If you can identify large negative externalities, I will help you to find ways to price them, to discourage the creation of creatures who cannot fully pay for themselves, and the theft of legacy assets. But if not, I prefer to help creatures who can pay for their existence obtain that exquisite treasure.


Emphasis mine. Notice how the deck is shifted with a wink. Notice how the clumsily situated econ-argot serves as misdirection. Rather than consider the agent-specific question of whether and why it should be just (or decent or right or moral) to create a new being out of lifeless chemistry, Hanson cursorily assumes away the arguments of antinatalist objectors, only to unfurl conspicuously judgmental language (what gives you the right ... naked selfish aggression) to place a burden of presumptive guilt on those who, for whatever pre-defined-as-bad reason, would fail to summon ostensibly life-craving beings into existence given sufficient (and, at present, impossible) epistemological vantage. It is in failing to create such new beings, or, more accurately, in actively preventing their existence, according to Hanson, that we commit "selfish aggression" by denying, what he, oblivious or not to his profound metaphysical arrogance, describes as "that exquisite treasure," which is to say -- aesthetically, I suppose -- life.

It's hard to know what to unravel first. One way to begin is by observing that the moral burden Hanson assigns to those who have the ability to create new life (under presently impossible conditions) carries bizarre implications and rests upon a concept of "aggression" that bears no relation to common usage of the term. Under his proposed injunction, every spare moment that is not devoted to creating utility-maximizing lives that are somehow (impossibly for now) predetermined to want their existence -- is a moment in which a potential procreator stands under shadow of suspicion for inflicting violence upon teeming nullities of untapped potential life-preference. Taken seriously, such a view would place every moral agent in an absurdly untenable position. Step away from the happy consciousness emulator for a bit of down time, and you reveal your "naked aggression" by denying those potential someones the "exquisite treasure" to which they are surely and emphatically entitled. There can be no rest for the existence-mixing barkeep, given such stakes. Original sin seems like a shoplifting offense by comparison.

Even if we permit that Hanson's moral rhetoric may be less than sincere (as it clearly is), his confidence in ascribing preference and future-resourcefulness to pre-existent beings in order to enjoin (rather than justify) their creation is questionable on his own terms. Leaving aside the first-order problem of epistemic uncertainty that I don't for a moment forgive, constancy of preference remains a big problem. If we allow that a pre-existent being's optimistically speculated potential to desire its own existence once created constitutes a valid reason to initiate that potential being's actual life, should we not be compelled to insure against events that could radically change this preference? I would argue that the problem of sustainable preference is relevant even and perhaps especially with reference to the far-flung futuristic scenarios that Hanson prefers to entertain. Check back a thousand years later when -- oops! -- a coding glitch in the latest consciousness simulator has led to a quantum holocaust. In a dynamic universe aswarm with unknown unknowns, stochastic variables are predictably inevitable and certain to thwart our best intentions from time to time. There might also be mischief, of course, and life-loving sadism to account for. And minds that change.

During a recent news cycle, we learned about the horrific fate of a lovelorn woman. Perhaps Dr. Jacquelyn Katorac, preferred existence at one time. It seems likely enough, really. Perhaps when she was a littel girl, or when she was in medical school lost in study, or when she first fell in love with the man who would later reject her affection -- perhaps at such times she was disposed to affirm her life in terms that would neatly satisfy professor Hanson's existential criteria. Perhaps she once regarded her life -- or all life -- as an "exquisite treasure." I don't think such conjecture is unreasonable. But if we submit, arguendo, that this woman -- by all accounts well situated to pay for her existence -- once and perhaps greatly preferred being to its alternative, as most of us do, we are in a position to consider what she would have been denied had she never been born, and to further consider this counterfactual against the terrifying reality that she actually experienced in the final days and hours of the precious life that she never asked for.

I wonder how and whether Dr. Katorac's preference shifted when, in a state of jealous desperation, she made what her unrequited lover would later characterize as "an unbelievable error in judgment" by trying to gain access to his home through an open chimney. Robin Hanson may not feel troubled to dwell over the acute panic and the white-hot shockwaves of implacable regret that this woman surely must have experienced as her body became wedged within the the hot and unyielding crampspace of a brick and mortar stack. He might not feel pressed to contemplate the agony that must have come in waves as her descent locked and her mind raced in shambolic retrospect over the choices (if they were even choices) that led her to such a position. Were Dr. Katorac's arms raised above her head when her progress down the chute was retarded by brute physics? Or where her arms locked at her side, or in some awful pretzled contortion? Which would you prefer? As time pressed on and the heat became unbearable, did she succumb to sleep in her wedged position only to awake in a renewed state of panic? Did her mind drift into some passive state, or was punishment constant unto her death? Did she hold out hope? Were there spiders in the chimney, as there usually are? Did she piss herself? Did she regress to cry out for the mommy who created her? Every quale and detail is fucking relevant. Because it happened in real physical space to a real living human being, who but for a chance meeting of gametes, would have been prevented and denied ... what?

It may be observed that Dr. Katorac is but one individual, and further that her suffering resulted from choices that she made freely, if under strange duress. I doubt the latter part is true, but cling to this if it helps. It hardly matters, because we know that her fate is and will be multiplied in the deaths and sufferings of countless others, most of whom, we may speculate with equal or greater confidence, were constitutionally endowed with an adaptive preference for life. I could more easily have chosen a clear-cut victim by example. Perhaps a raped and tortured child, as the textbooks prefer. There have always been more than a few. But I want to stay with the good doctor dying in the chimney. To appropriate a Hansonian term, her plight feels "near." And I sincerely wish, as she must have wished, that none of it had happened. It didn't have to. It never does.

As Hanson finds cause to fake outrage over the plight of the never-weres who may never be, he should take pause to consider, in good faith and with some imaginative effort, the profound horror that some certain quantity of once-life-affirming beings will absolutely endure no matter what degree of caution is exercised to ensure that they gratefully accept and embrace the "exquisite treasure" that he prefers to enthrone. If Dr. Katorac had never been brought into existence, the nearly inconceivable ordeal that marked her end would likewise not have been. That much, I submit, is simple. But to confront this existential counterfactual in particular (which we may do in countless other instances and iterations) is to confront the equation that Hanson and other overconfident pronatalists seem content to loosely rhetoricize without overmuch reflection. Hanson assures us that it is possible to be "unfair" to a nullity, indeed he is confident that we behave aggressively toward some whose existence we "prevent."

Can this be true? No, it cannot.

A nullity is not an entity. Those who are never born are deprived of nothing because they are nothing eternal. Hanson's glib assertion that we can aggress against those who would, if created, prefer existence is bullshit. Tested against reality, his words collapse into meaningless ether. Hanson fails to explain how or why those hypothetically posited would-be life-lovers are or could ever be deprived or harmed in any way by being left to the default infinity of stateless non-vitality to which they -- we -- will all return as a matter of course anyway. If some actual, experiential deprivation could be shown to manifest through the ostensibly negligent (or inefficient) inaction that denies a potential quantity of gristle-and-nerve the "exquisite treasure" of inhaling and exhaling and craving pizza, then Hanson might have some ground upon which to prop his Darwinian bias, perhaps by reference to a hedonic ledger that pits the banked suffering of uncorked souls against the benefits of a mostly rewarding and productive life that nevertheless may end up rotting in a chimney. Trouble is, souls are make-believe, and the ledger doesn't yield to whim. Where there is no person, there is no personal experience. Zip. Nada. Like the time before you were born, and after you die.

A world in which Dr. Katorac is never brought into existence a world in which she experiences nothing and is done no violence. The world in which she was brought into existence is the real world in which she actually experienced throes of agony that most of us are loath to imagine. While the actions that led to her creation, and perforce to her ordeal, may logically, if arguably, qualify as "aggressive," the inaction that creates no cluster of subjective experience cannot meaningfully be described as exacting any tangible harm or deprivation against a person who might otherwise have been. To argue otherwise is to relinquish reason to mysticism.

Robin Hanson is no mystic. Like all of us, he is more likely entranced by his own biased life narrative. His vacuous assertions cannot change the fact that nothing is nothing, and the imaginary harm that he posits will remain impotent and meaningless before the real and unpredictable pain that sentient beings will experience in the real and unpredictable world that he feels so blessed to perceive, thanks to a cosmically indifferent scheme of happenstance and blind natural selection. I want to hammer this much because it's one thing I know for sure. Where there is no being to be deprived, there is no deprivation, no harm, no aggression. No then or now. No tomorrow. No yesterday. Nothing ever. While the moral (and economic) relevance of beings who do not yet exist may be propositionally considered insofar as their creation is being contemplated, a nobody cannot lay claim to any preference or desire, and a nobody cannot be harmed by the denial of a preference that a somebody insists it would express if only it could.

The asymmetry looks back and yawns. The argument isn't going away.

No one should ever have children. There is no good reason to bring another being into existence. Life is not a treasure, exquisite or otherwise. It's just one damn thing after another, until it ends in death. If you're lucky, it won't hurt too much. If you're luckier still, it won't be at all.

61 comments:

CM said...

Good to see you back, Jim, and happy belated birthday! On the bright side,
as a senior citizen, you are now more likely to start interpreting your memories in a positive light and develop the ability to ignore negative information. So make sure you don't go all life-affirming on us!:) Good luck with the move.

Todd said...

It's funny. That last paragraph, taken out of context, seems almost like a scathing parody of the world-weary, cynical misanthrope. But you and I both recognize it as a statement of profound compassion for our innumerable fellow conscious beings who have had the terrible misfortune of being born capable of suffering.

From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for expressing so clearly what I had long felt but never verbalized: that the most loving thing I could EVER do for my (potential) children would be never to sire them in the first place.

jem said...

I'm 40 and childless and so most of my eggs have withered. But I feel so protective of them, just as they are, safe and painfree in their state of terminal nothingness. I imagine I feel the same level of maternity as a pregnant woman does who marvels and guards what is growing in her womb. I'm protecting and securing the non-suffering of my offspring by not creating any and sometimes that feels exhilarating.

filrabat said...

Good to see you back, Jim. Hope the moving's going well. Looking forward to reading of your posts. BTW, don't forget to read my link in the reader-contributor links.

jem said...

And Jim, I hope you're moving to a less stressful neighborhood, maybe one with some trees and property. Assuming you don't live in a gated community, it must be very difficult to live in So Cal these days. I finally read your book and it was a real pleasure. Your experiences in the cult should be the subject of your next book!

Compoverde said...

No one ever mentions the political ramifications for being born. Two things: 1) How can you justify bringing into the world a being who did not consent to it (and can not consent to it)? The only thing I can think of is "precedent" and tradition. Birth has always been considered a traditional part of society, so that should not be questioned (so was slavery though!). 2) How about the social contract? I did not consent to being born into a world set up like this. Who said I wanted to be a part of this?

Cactus Jack said...

Compoverde: My thoughts exactly. I was involved in a conversation the other day where the disgusting notion of birth being in a potential child's best interest was raised. From what source do people obtain this revelation? It would appear but another justification for a blatantly selfish act. How best to convey the dreadful truth about birth to people without giving them the feeling that the rest of their life will remain unfulfilled? And also that I'm not just a downer with an unhealthy world view? On another note, I just finished Ernest Becker's Denial Of Death. Recommended reading I must say, and although not addressed in the book, it is I believe another reinforcement of the antinatalist position.

filrabat said...

You hit the mark on that one! The only way to make the consent issue irrelevant is to have an absolutely painless perfect world. Short of that, we'll have to invent a time machine to look at what that the born individual's future would hold.

Because neither is exactly realistic, then that renders the general birth issue morally problematic. Just as with the death penalty there's ALWAYS the chance of executing the wrong person, so with birth there's ALWAYS the chance of foisting upon a person a bad life. Even if that bad life will be due to his or her own errors in judgment, those bad choices could be prevented by not giving birth to that individual in the first place.

In the end, though, humanity will die off, so any benefits that the world experiences from anyone's existence will cease once the last human dies. It'll be as though we never existed in the first place.

Garrett said...

Yup, people just can't seem to accept that it stems from a basic understanding of individual consent. Where there can be no consent given, there must be no action taken. It's called erring on the side of caution. Regardless of whether or not we personally harbor a hatred of this world (though I'm convinced we all should, for more reasons than I can list), each human being understands that it is wrong to do things to others that they do not wish to have done to them. Yet 99.999% seem to do it anyway. This life affirming crap that manifests itself in reproduction rather than hard work and creativity is utterly selfish and immature.

Several years ago, I finally had to come to terms with the fact that I had to apply this same logic not just to humans, but to all sentient beings. I ended up giving up on a career working in nature conservation and with big cats. It broke my heart. I've never gotten over it and I suspect I never will. It's not always easy to do the right thing, particularly when it means giving up the things you love most. Yet sometimes, love means letting go.

Anonymous said...

Garrett, you bring up something interesting... Does your antinatalistic view mean that you not only oppose facilitating creation of new humans, but also of other species? By engaging in conservation-oriented activities, did you feel you would be bringing (or helping to bring) into existence other beings who could not consent, and therefore you didn't feel right about it? Just wondering... Once you start asking questions as an antinatalist, there's no telling where it can go. Life truly must be easier for those who don't think much.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11340881

BTW, here's yet more evidence that Woody Allen is a (closet?) antinatalist. Wonder if he ever visits this site!
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/15/movies/15woody.html

Anonymous said...

Another fun reading I ran into on this depressing Sunday morning, this time from vintage, peer-reviewed, academic lit. Based on the abstract (I can't access the full article at the moment), it seems as though the wish never to have been born is not (or at least was not) too uncommon, actually. The article appears to conclude (among other things) that one must have a "poorly adjusted personality" in order to have such a wish! Heaven forbid it be viewed simply as rational thought, without applying harsh judgment.

The American Journal of Sociology © 1932 The University of Chicago Press.
Abstract
Although juvenile suicides in the United States are negligible, the wish never to have been born occurred to about 30 per cent of a widely scattered sample of adolescent boys and girls. This wish occurred most frequently among children with high scores (poor adjustment) on a test of neurotic traits and also among those rated by their teachers as poorly adjusted socially, emotionally, and on conventional moral traits. It also occurred most frequently among children from homes which lacked harmony and intimacy between parents and children. Social contacts were less closely associated with the wish than were home conditions. The wish never to have been born, which may be considered as an evasive attempt at adjustment, indicates both a poorly adjusted personality in the child and lack of unity and harmony in the home.
(http://www.jstor.org/pss/2766670)

filrabat said...

I agree with garret about the animal pain aspect. Although I do believe in nature conservation (especially for animals with advanced nervous systems), it's only to the extent that humans have an intrinsic right to exist. Translated into practical terms, it means animals have a right to exist only if humans DO, in fact, keep breeding. My reason: it's that given that all higher animals' nervous systems have the same basic neurological biochemistry, I don't think animals' pain sensations are substantially different from our own.

Nevertheless, I'm against deliberate animal extinction because it's unfair to say humans have a right to choose to continue childbirth yet insist animals have no such rights in any capacity.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still a philanthropic antinatalist. It's just that part of philanthropy, I strongly believe, is freedom of choice. Human extinctionism should be achieved via persuasion and voluntary means.

filrabat said...

The post about children with antinatalist thoughts being poorly adjusted:

In which sense: in the objective truth seeking or merely in the sense that health is defined as "ability and desire to stay alive". In that case, what's so great about health? Sure, it's unhealthy for your brain to clearly misread reality (i.e., thinking you're the POTUS or the Archangel Gabriel, etc.), but I don't think wishing you'd never been born rises to that level.

That goes to show that even if psychology becomes an objective science one day, it'd still be informed as much by philosophy as by science. After all, a cold clinical/logical description of a phenomenon is one thing; the conclusions drawn from that phenomenon are another thing entirely.

Garrett said...

That's exactly right, Anon. In my view, it's aiding and abetting. I've actually been an antinatalist my entire life. This wasn't something that just came up overnight for me. I've simply known from the time of my earlist memories that making more sentient beings was morally wrong (just like murder, but worse) and I've always been shocked that anyone could think otherwise.

I share a similar feeling with filrabat though, in that I don't like to directly interfere with the lives of others. Likewise, I demand the same respect from others toward myself; I won't tolerate anything else.

After spending a lot of time working to build a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa, I started to question what I was doing there. As more money came in from short term volunteers and regulars donations, the more the plans from the owners began to turn into wildlife "reintroduction". I could't in good conscience be a part of doing anything other than protecting those native animals who were already established on the land. I had no interest in taking part in creating more unnecessary pain in the world. With the owners desires to re-create the "circle of life" in all of it's cruel and insane predatory glory, I decided enough was enough, and I would no longer take part. http://www.enkosiniecoexperience.com/EnkosiniRangerProgram.htm That's me on the quadbike in the top pic, hiding behind the gumtree pole wall, and standing in front of the red quadbike. Good, but painful memories at the same time.

Garrett said...

Bearing that in mind, I've always had an affinity for the great cats (lions, tigers). A couple months after returning to the US, a certain apprenticeship became available. When the opportunity arose for me to become an apprentice for a professional tiger trainer, I jumped at it! I was thrilled with prospect of working with the animals I've always adored, however, as with everything in this life... it has it's dark side. The humans who claim to care deeply about these animals would unknowingly betray their claims during my private conversations with them. The more I spoke one on one (the owner included) with people there, there more I found that money and power was their true motivation. Cubs would have to be almost instantly taken from their mothers and reared by humans. A constant flow of offspring had to be maintained throughout the year in order to have enough tiger cubs to satisfy the public's lust for photo ops. For the masses, it was something that was really nothing more than a passing interest or novelty to most of them. But to me... these were like my children, and I couldn't stand to see people dragging them back and forth to public events, whipping them with sjamboks, of dragging them across the ground on a choke-chain to meet the throngs of people outside or to perform for them. It's wrong and exploitative. It creates a facade. Soon people convince themselves that maybe exploitation isn't really exploitation at all. Maybe... it's just a complex form of symbiosis! Yeah, that must be it! Not only is there nothing wrong with it, but it's mutually beneficial! *Buzzer* WRONG.

I may have had a short lapse in judgement and been taken in by something false, but at least my hypnosis wore off and I was able to break away from it. But... now I work in a call center, making $9.00 an hour and my life feels like a routine. An endless chore, the likes of which I wish to never re-live again nor a burden that I would want placed on anyone else (non-humans as well). If there is any truth to reincarnation, I swear I won't be so forgiving the next time around. I would likely dedicate my entire being to the utter destruction of all things. This damned cycle isn't life, it's death. It's slavery. It's greed and exploitation. That's what I'm fighting here. I fight not by imposing my will, rather, by allowing others to make their own mistakes so they can see where they are going wrong. It's hard to take it all in stride though and even my patience has it's limits.

Ciao

Garrett said...

http://www.enkosiniecoexperience.com/EnkosiniRangerProgram.htm

Broken link, oops! Sharing for informational purposes, please don't be taken in by these sorts of things, like I was. It was a huge mistake. Goes doubly so for animal breeding programs!!!

Garrett said...

Add (Program) then (.) then (htm) for full link. Some kind of link blocker in place I guess :/

Ann Sterzinger said...

Garrett: "This damned cycle isn't life, it's death. It's slavery. It's greed and exploitation."

Well put!

Anonymous: Funny how failure to adjust to the world is assumed to indicate koo-koo. "That frog seems really upset that the water's getting hotter -- well, he must be mad."

CM said...

Regarding the whole well-adjusted thing: there are situations that "normal" (and presumably rational) people, including working adults, psych majors and grad students, consider too horrible to adjust to. Like poverty or quadriplegia. But in reality, most poor people and quadriplegics are happy. This report (I believe it was cited in BNtHB) mentions a survey of quadriplegics, in which 93% of participants said they were glad to be alive (and 84% considered their lives average or above average). In contrast, only 18% of the medical professionals surveyed thought they would be glad to be alive after such injuries.

It seems that people are able to recognize suffering for what it is, unless two conditions are met:
1) it's happening to them
and
2) there is nothing they can do to change the situation. Then, of course, it's more advantageous to change their outlook (and I'm not implying it's a conscious, intentional process). The amount of shit people can adjust to appears to be virtually unlimited, so it's no wonder that all the shit that a typical life contains doesn't even register.

CM said...

Garrett-

you seem like a really principled person.

Garrett said...

Thanks Ann, and thank you, CM... I try. In some ways, it does get easier with age and wisdom. But I had to really want to grow. I'm not sure where I'll go from here but I truly appreciate all the wonderful insight from people like you on this blog and elsewhere :)

Cactus Jack said...

Garrett: A tough decision but for all intended purposes the right one. I just despair at the amount of ongoing suffering both within our own species and the countless others. The factory farming industry in particular causes me great distress and many a sleepless night. The sheer number of suffering, sentient beings at any moment of any day is almost unbearable. And for all the miseries that humans inflict on all species I have for us unbridled sympathy. Although many of us cower behind religious banners, I believe the paradox of the human condition is still acknowleged deep within most people. Ernest Becker wonderfully illustrates this:
"Man is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carries the gill-marks to prove it. His body is a material fleshy casing that is alien to him in many ways- the strangest and most repugnant way being that it aches and bleeds and will decay and die. Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and to have to live with."
What a situation in which to shove somebody! Absolutely revolting. For me, the courage to be able to bow out of this awful situation has become a high priority. It's a pity that the world won't stop with me, but at least my own suffering will cease. Becker again:
"To live a whole lifetime with the fate of death haunting one's dreams and even the most sun-filled days- that's something else." It sure is......

Anonymous said...

God I love you people. I would marry you all (or at least have you over for dinner).

Kalki02 said...

One of the mainsprings of my pessimism, looking back, was reading Cleveland Amory's Man Kind?when I was a teenager in 1974. He details the suffering caused by hunting, trapping, poisining, etc. to wildlife. For years I could not get out of my head a photo in the book of a fox in a leghold trap. His fur all standing on end, his eyes pools of suffering and terror.

Anonymous said...

What humans are willing to do to animals is truly abysmal and generally incomprehensible to me. It seems that with every passing year, I get more and more sensitive to this issue. A decade ago, I became vegetarian because of it. 8 years ago, vegan. Even that is "not enough". Daily I am sickened by the reality that just by existing and not being able to prevent these things, I'm part of the problem. Predation in nature is, admittedly, horrible, but somehow it seems more justifiable than the things humans do, such as setting legtraps for pelts, engaging in widespread factory farming, "training" (read torturing) animals to do tricks in circuses, rodeos etc. Homo sapiens suck in ways other species will probably never achieve, unless they evolve our "superior" cognitive abilities, facilitating them to be just as diabolical and sadistic as we are. Killing other beings because you are following your instincts and need to eat them or die is one thing. Killing animals to wear their fur for glamor, or training them to entertain you and keeping them in prison in the interim are other things altogether.

Shadow said...

God I love you people. I would marry you all (or at least have you over for dinner).


I second that.

Garrett said...

Cactus Jack, Kalki02, and Anon: My thoughts and feelings exactly. It's also become my goal to be able to leave this strange place behind. Of course I'm torn. I pity the victims of this voracious meat grinder and I don't want to remain an attached enabler. Yet there are people I personally know who also understand how I feel, and have begged me not to leave them alone in this world. There's a certain guilt associated with knowing that I am a part of the problem no matter what I do. Of course, I'm vegan but I agree it's never enough in itself. Yet, if I spent much of my time speaking out against the horrors of things such as the factory farming industry, people would just attach labels to me, like "bunny hugger", or "pussy". They use the tired old excuse of blaming nature. Saying things like, "Living things eat other living things to survive. We may think it is wrong but it is just natural!" Hmph... as if that somehow makes it acceptable for you to engage in such behavior. Sick. I think I get better results from leading by example and just keeping my mouth shut unless asked in a sincere manner. Humans tend to become just as emotional and defensive about meat as they do with their genetic lineage. I really think it's because people are truly neither compassionate nor creative (and yes, that also includes me). In my opinion, people who think more along the lines that antinatalists do, are more aware, connected, and alive. Ironically, it's because of that sensitivity that we cannot stand being here!

Garrett said...

You are all temporarily trapped in a world which stifles your passion, creativity, and love. At some moments the pain that comes with this awareness is nearly unbearable. I wish this burden had never been placed on you nor any other. I also hope that each of us can take some small comfort in knowing that this abomination cannot endure forever. I would never harshly judge any living soul for willfully ending their tenure here. If I knew you, I might miss you but I am not so selfish as to think that it is all about me. For if I, a lowly little human, trapped within a cage of flesh can come to this most basic understanding... and if God exists, (assuming it is feels empathy, love, and cares even in the least) then it most assuredly must be far more understanding than myself in every way. If there is one bit of wisdom I can impart to anyone, it is this:

Love always triumphs over fear. Even if this whole mess is just an exercise in futility. Remember that "life" can only break down what it has created in the first place. Deep within, you know this world only created your cage; so that is the only thing it will ever be able to destroy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yd8T-THhCZM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDcnpGFwSEc&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6MFrTFfFp0

I am agnostic, I am not a Christian, and I definitely do NOT think humanity is divine. I do however, think Jon Foreman is an excellent songwriter with a knack for speaking to our condition. I think someone here may appreciate the links above.

Take care

Compoverde said...

Anyone who is into philosophy or logic.. how do I rebut this argument from a philosophy forum?


Benatar makes a category mistake by applying putative states to non-existing entities. Nothing cannot be subject to states of being and therefore to say that non-existing persons (contradiction in terms), by which Benatar means "nothing", are better off than living persons is simply false. In fact, Benatar goes so far as to ascribe rights to non-existence. Quite a feat of fallacious reasoning.

The argument is also rather unconvincing for several additional reasons;

1) he only views pleasure and suffering as considered by a single person and not the wider community, a utilitarian view could lead to a greater good for society as a whole despite the person suffering by providing such pleasure to the rest of society;

2) it is an unproven assumption that the absence of pain is good and not neutral - as the absence of good is - or even that the absence of good is not necessarily neutral is indeed still good. In other words, he doesn't answer how good or bad they are (it's even unconvincing why the absence of pleasure is bad and not neutral) and as such no value judgment can be made;

3) Benatar assumes a sort of indeterminate state of non-being before a person comes into existence or not-becomes into existence (e.g. a prospective, non-existent person at point in time A is not existing to reach point B where he is going to exist or not). However, non-existence cannot be determinate or indeterminate so the argument doesn't make sense;

4) Taken to its extreme, according to Benatar all sentient life can only suffer and non-existence would be preferable, however, in the absence of all life there is no sentient life to make value judgments as to whether existence is good or bad and such a world would therefore be indifferent, or "neutral", making the non-existence of life equal to existence without any pleasure and they are then equal;

5) Benatar's argument assumes also that a person's experience of good and bad things are not off-set against each other. Most people, even you since you refuse to kill yourself, find life worthwhile. Either because there is more good than bad in our lives or because of a biological imperative. If it's the former than there is more pleasure(P) to be had in existence(e) (minus suffering(good=G) due to existence) than to avoid through non-existence(ne) and lose because of the absence of pleasure(neutral=N). In other words, the asymmetry cannot answer if:

eP = Pleasure in existence (positive value)
eS = Suffering in Existence (negative value)
neN = absence of pleasure due to non-existence (0)
neS = absence of suffering due to non-existence (positive value equal to eS)

eP + eS > neN + neS
eP + eS > 0 + neS
eP > neS - eS
eP > 2eS

Basically, if you have twice as much pleasure in life than suffering you're ok. Then further considering that such judgments are personal and that some people bare certain sufferings easier than others and thus further distort the comparison between pleasure and suffering, the asymmetry will simply not do as a general rule.

If it's because a biological imperative than Benatar's argument fails because there is an overriding other reason for us to exist.

As you can tell, I'm hardly impressed by Benatar.

Compoverde said...

Anyone who is into philosophy or logic.. how do I rebut this argument from a philosophy forum?

Benatar makes a category mistake by applying putative states to non-existing entities. Nothing cannot be subject to states of being and therefore to say that non-existing persons (contradiction in terms), by which Benatar means "nothing", are better off than living persons is simply false. In fact, Benatar goes so far as to ascribe rights to non-existence. Quite a feat of fallacious reasoning.

The argument is also rather unconvincing for several additional reasons;

1) he only views pleasure and suffering as considered by a single person and not the wider community, a utilitarian view could lead to a greater good for society as a whole despite the person suffering by providing such pleasure to the rest of society;

2) it is an unproven assumption that the absence of pain is good and not neutral - as the absence of good is - or even that the absence of good is not necessarily neutral is indeed still good. In other words, he doesn't answer how good or bad they are (it's even unconvincing why the absence of pleasure is bad and not neutral) and as such no value judgment can be made;

3) Benatar assumes a sort of indeterminate state of non-being before a person comes into existence or not-becomes into existence (e.g. a prospective, non-existent person at point in time A is not existing to reach point B where he is going to exist or not). However, non-existence cannot be determinate or indeterminate so the argument doesn't make sense;

4) Taken to its extreme, according to Benatar all sentient life can only suffer and non-existence would be preferable, however, in the absence of all life there is no sentient life to make value judgments as to whether existence is good or bad and such a world would therefore be indifferent, or "neutral", making the non-existence of life equal to existence without any pleasure and they are then equal;

5) Benatar's argument assumes also that a person's experience of good and bad things are not off-set against each other. Most people, even you since you refuse to kill yourself, find life worthwhile. Either because there is more good than bad in our lives or because of a biological imperative. If it's the former than there is more pleasure(P) to be had in existence(e) (minus suffering(good=G) due to existence) than to avoid through non-existence(ne) and lose because of the absence of pleasure(neutral=N). In other words, the asymmetry cannot answer if:

eP = Pleasure in existence (positive value)
eS = Suffering in Existence (negative value)
neN = absence of pleasure due to non-existence (0)
neS = absence of suffering due to non-existence (positive value equal to eS)

eP + eS > neN + neS
eP + eS > 0 + neS
eP > neS - eS
eP > 2eS

Basically, if you have twice as much pleasure in life than suffering you're ok. Then further considering that such judgments are personal and that some people bare certain sufferings easier than others and thus further distort the comparison between pleasure and suffering, the asymmetry will simply not do as a general rule.

If it's because a biological imperative than Benatar's argument fails because there is an overriding other reason for us to exist.

As you can tell, I'm hardly impressed by Benatar.

Compoverde said...

Anyone who is into philosophy or logic.. how do I rebut this argument from a philosophy forum?

Part I: Benatar makes a category mistake by applying putative states to non-existing entities. Nothing cannot be subject to states of being and therefore to say that non-existing persons (contradiction in terms), by which Benatar means "nothing", are better off than living persons is simply false. In fact, Benatar goes so far as to ascribe rights to non-existence. Quite a feat of fallacious reasoning.

The argument is also rather unconvincing for several additional reasons;

1) he only views pleasure and suffering as considered by a single person and not the wider community, a utilitarian view could lead to a greater good for society as a whole despite the person suffering by providing such pleasure to the rest of society;

2) it is an unproven assumption that the absence of pain is good and not neutral - as the absence of good is - or even that the absence of good is not necessarily neutral is indeed still good. In other words, he doesn't answer how good or bad they are (it's even unconvincing why the absence of pleasure is bad and not neutral) and as such no value judgment can be made;

3) Benatar assumes a sort of indeterminate state of non-being before a person comes into existence or not-becomes into existence (e.g. a prospective, non-existent person at point in time A is not existing to reach point B where he is going to exist or not). However, non-existence cannot be determinate or indeterminate so the argument doesn't make sense;

4) Taken to its extreme, according to Benatar all sentient life can only suffer and non-existence would be preferable, however, in the absence of all life there is no sentient life to make value judgments as to whether existence is good or bad and such a world would therefore be indifferent, or "neutral", making the non-existence of life equal to existence without any pleasure and they are then equal;

5) Benatar's argument assumes also that a person's experience of good and bad things are not off-set against each other. Most people, even you since you refuse to kill yourself, find life worthwhile. Either because there is more good than bad in our lives or because of a biological imperative. If it's the former than there is more pleasure(P) to be had in existence(e) (minus suffering(good=G) due to existence) than to avoid through non-existence(ne) and lose because of the absence of pleasure(neutral=N). In other words, the asymmetry cannot answer if:

Compoverde said...

Part II: eP = Pleasure in existence (positive value)
eS = Suffering in Existence (negative value)
neN = absence of pleasure due to non-existence (0)
neS = absence of suffering due to non-existence (positive value equal to eS)

eP + eS > neN + neS
eP + eS > 0 + neS
eP > neS - eS
eP > 2eS

Basically, if you have twice as much pleasure in life than suffering you're ok. Then further considering that such judgments are personal and that some people bare certain sufferings easier than others and thus further distort the comparison between pleasure and suffering, the asymmetry will simply not do as a general rule.

If it's because a biological imperative than Benatar's argument fails because there is an overriding other reason for us to exist.

As you can tell, I'm hardly impressed by Benatar.

filrabat said...

Compoverde,

Love the idea of a philosophy form (presumably antinatalist philosophy).

As for "it's just natural" argument - well, as Benatar said in his podcast, lots of things about our behavior are natural but we don't condone them. Prejudice seems to be at least partially biological (i.e., natural), yet we don't condone prejudice.

I also add that it's also natural to steal from others, use deceit to get ahead in life, cheat on the spouse, or physically attack (even murder) people who anger you. But we don't condone these things either.

In the end, the "it's natural" argument degrades us as humans, for it implies that humans have no more capacity for moral and ethical behavior than animals do. Result: I find the "it's natural" arguments frankly insulting. Same thing with "it's just human nature" one, for 90% of the time the "it's just human nature" means "It's just the Human reptilian-complex part of the brain".

zralytylen said...

On the point of diet, it's worth noting that veganism isn't the best option under negative utilitarianism. Under NU, there's nothing wrong with killing animals for food (because they would have died anyway) but creating them for that purpose is forbidden (for reasons that should be obvious here). In fact, killing animals for food is even better than veganism because in theory, it should reduce the population of animals and thus reduce the net amount of suffering in the world. This is just something I find odd about those who become veg*n on purely ethical grounds.

Anonymous said...

zralytylen, as I tried to point out in my previous comment, it's not the mere fact of eating animals that bothers me, as a vegan. It's the fact that in order to supply the billions of people on this planet with animal food products, we imprison animals in hideous conditions where they generally suffer terribly for weeks, months, or years, before they're killed. This applies not only to meat, but also to eggs, milk, etc. It's the animals' suffering while they're alive that bothers me (and yes, also that they're bred in massive quantities... made to exist in order to satisfy our greedy palates). Get it? Just as you can't understand why an antinatalist would be vegan, I can't understand why an ethical antinatalist (whose desire is to reduce suffering) wouldn't be vegan. Unless, of course, one is also species-ist, in which case "they're only animals", so who really cares, right?

CM said...

Compoverde -

isn't that post from way back in April? Anyway, you don't need to rebut these so-called arguments; they are all answered in the book.

1) is false. See p. 49, and pp. 95-102 (Is there a duty not to procreate?) for the argument that the benefits to others do not outweigh the harm experienced as a result of coming into existence. See also pp. 128-131 (Treating future people as mere means), and see Figure 6.3 (p. 192) for a summary of permissibility of creating new people under various views of morality.

2) Prof. Benatar never claims that the absence of pain is good in the same way the presence of pleasure is good (i.e., intrinsically); it is good in the sense of "welcome" (p. 36).

3) Another straw man. "Absent pleasures in Scenario B [X never exists] [...] are not neutral states of some person. They are no states of a person at all" (p. 41).

4) I don't understand how this individual arrives at the idea that non-existence of life equals to existence without any pleasure. Amoebas exist, but their absent pleasure is not bad for them, so they don't deserve moral consideration. My non-existent son's absent pleasure is clearly not equivalent to my hypothetical son's experiencing no pleasure at all (unless he is brain-dead). Furthermore, we compare reality to hypotheticals and counterfactuals all the time. That's what goal setting is all about. Just because there wouldn't be anyone to make value judgments in an empty world, we can make a value judgment about it now. This also seems to be a variation of treating people as mere vessels of happiness (p. 37), except the poster uses value instead of happiness.

5) The issues with this argument are identified on pp. 46-47, and the Healthy and Sick analogy is also found there. See also Why life’s quality is not the difference between its
good and its bad
(pp. 61-64). See p. 220 for the discussion of the existence trap. Also, what filrabat said. Besides, all this posturing about biological imperatives is kind of ridiculous when virtually all adults in Western countries spend decades of their lives actively trying to avoid conception and over 25% of all pregnancies in the US are aborted (and this number would be much higher if it weren't for the fundies). The fact that parenting makes people less happy is widely publicized, and the childfree movement is on the rise. So much for the biological imperative.

You would basically have to rewrite the book to show this guy what's wrong with his arguments, since he won't bother reading it himself.

CM said...

I can't understand why an ethical antinatalist (whose desire is to reduce suffering) wouldn't be vegan. Unless, of course, one is also species-ist, in which case "they're only animals", so who really cares, right?

Or because they are constantly tempted by cheesy deliciousness? That said, I stocked up on nutritional yeast and other vegan basics today. Hopefully, I can gradually cut down on dairy and eggs and eventually eliminate them from my diet altogether.

Anonymous said...

Awesome! I lost the cheese cravings after about 3 months. Now cheese repulses me. Weird but true.

zralytylen said...

"[...] It's the fact that in order to supply the billions of people on this planet with animal food products, we imprison animals in hideous conditions where they generally suffer terribly for weeks, months, or years, before they're killed."

Indeed. This is precisely why I drew the distinction between killing animals already in existence i.e. in the wild and creating those animals to be killed i.e. the entire farming industry. The former should reduce the amount of suffering in the world by reducing animal populations while the latter obviously doesn't and is prohibitied under both NU and PA. Of course, ideally we'd hunt every sentient animal to extinction but this would be the next best alternative.

"Just as you can't understand why an antinatalist would be vegan [...]"

I do, in fact; I was merely providing a description of a pseudo-veganism by which the amount of suffering in the world could be reduced even further than through pure veganism alone.

Garrett said...

zralytylen: I see where you're coming from. It does make sense... to a point. However, it leaves out a very important part. I recognize the inherent right that all individuals possess, regardless of species. Regardless of your personal point of view. I'm referring to the right of self ownership. Apparently, a significant number of people disagree with me on this subject. That's OK. It won't change my view on the matter.

The sovereignty of "self" is the central theme of my antinatal views. I did not consent to becoming a part of this world... neither did anything else on this planet. In that sense, life consent itself must be likened to a "crap shoot". Some are born and love it, and others... well... I think you know where I'm going with this ;)

By forcing any living thing into this world, I would be forcing that entity to see the world my way. I'm not arrogant. I used to be, but I've changed the way I see reality, simply by accepting that some things just never wanted to be bothered in the first place. It never matters whether or not they do not YET exist. As long as living things exist, then potential beings will "exist". An essentially infinite number of gametes are in circulation between just two individuals. If they become actual, and do not like this reality... and I am in some manner responsible for their existence, then I have done them a great harm. By forcing something to leave this world to which they have become accustomed, whether or not they enjoy this reality, I have still chosen to impose my will and cause harm. I understand and accept that it is not my place to make such decisions for others. If you choose to impose your will on other entities, you are causing them harm as individuals. It does not matter whether you force them into existence or out.

Funny, this antinatal viewpoint really shouldn't need such long and drawn out explanations. Everyone knows what's right and what's wrong when someone else says, "Stop it, I don't like that!"
Does anyone really need a degree in philosophy to comprehend such plain language?

Compoverde said...

The poster at the philosophy forum had a response CM. I don't like it but here it is:
o get back to my "shitty" arguments you never managed to waylay (and still haven't, see below).

somebody wrote:
1) is false. See p. 49, and pp. 95-102 (Is there a duty not to procreate?) for the argument that the benefits to others do not outweigh the harm experienced as a result of coming into existence. See also pp. 128-131 (Treating future people as mere means), and see Figure 6.3 (p. 192) for a summary of permissibility of creating new people under various views of morality.


What is false? Is it false that Prof. Benatar does not take the utilitarian view? If so, why would it be false under a utilitarian point of view to say that the greatest good for society as a whole trumps individual misery? Is pretty straightforward.

2) Prof. Benatar never claims that the absence of pain is good in the same way the presence of pleasure is good (i.e., intrinsically); it is good in the sense of "welcome" (p. 36).


Semantic bullshit of course. If somebody is "better off" not suffering, we call this a "good thing". If you have a pain in your left hand and it goes away it isn't just "welcome", it is "better" than continuing to suffer. Just because Benatar uses a different word doesn't change what the consequences of his "theory" are. Nor have I argued for the presence of pleasure as intrinsically good anywhere, so to attribute it to me is false.

3) Another straw man. "Absent pleasures in Scenario B [X never exists] [...] are not neutral states of some person. They are no states of a person at all" (p. 41).


Obviously, I don't keep a copy of the book. I do believe that all these points originally arose in another discussion where someone interpreted Benatar as such (oh wait, that was either you or the guy arguing for the same position). If it is a strawman, I didn't put it up there.

Compoverde said...

4) I don't understand how this individual arrives at the idea that non-existence of life equals to existence without any pleasure. Amoebas exist, but their absent pleasure is not bad for them, so they don't deserve moral consideration. My non-existent son's absent pleasure is clearly not equivalent to my hypothetical son's experiencing no pleasure at all (unless he is brain-dead). Furthermore, we compare reality to hypotheticals and counterfactuals all the time. That's what goal setting is all about. Just because there wouldn't be anyone to make value judgments in an empty world, we can make a value judgment about it now. This also seems to be a variation of treating people as mere vessels of happiness (p. 37), except the poster uses value instead of happiness.


Love the sentence "my non-existent son's absent pleasure is clearly not equivalent" again, which goes back to the mistake of attributing states to non-existent things. It's a sentence that inherently makes no sense. In any case, I arrive at the idea by following the consequences of Benatar's statement, that non-existence is preferable (as if nothing can have preferences, sigh) to existence. He stated the absence of suffering is better, welcome or good (whatever term you want), e.g. positive. He stated the absence of good is not bad. So the absence of good is neutral.

However, a world that is indifferent towards valuation due to the non-existence of sentient valuation of life becomes incoherent (there will be no good or bad nor anyone there to commit Benatar's fallacy of attributing states to nothing).

But certainly, if nobody existed it becomes incoherent to talk about whether we are better off because non-existent things cannot have interests in outcomes of reality nor be better off because of their lack of suffering. However, I didn't make that specific argument again (but it keeps boiling down to it) to show that even if we follow Benatar's argument, the reductio ad absurdum leads to nonsense as well.

again references to a writer that I dispute has anything sensible to say is hardly going to be a convincing argument. If you want to make an argument, do it properly instead of these appeals to authority.

And yes, it is true that we continually consider hypothetical and counterfactuals but we compare them to what exists or probably would exist. The categorical mistake is to compare it with someone as if this person does not exist. In other words, the question is not whether we will suffer - which point is so obvious you can drive a truck through it - but how much a hypothetical baby would suffer and how this compares to an average life of people in similar situations. How we value live and "rate" our quality of living is of course entirely subjective and unpredictable as much as we would like to try, which is why any exercise to give a general answer whether there is an obligation to have kids or not

5) The issues with this argument are identified on pp. 46-47, and the Healthy and Sick analogy is also found there. See also Why life’s quality is not the difference between its good and its bad (pp. 61-64). See p. 220 for the discussion of the existence trap. Also, what filrabat said. Besides, all this posturing about biological imperatives is kind of ridiculous when virtually all adults in Western countries spend decades of their lives actively trying to avoid conception and over 25% of all pregnancies in the US are aborted (and this number would be much higher if it weren't for the fundies). The fact that parenting makes people less happy is widely publicized, and the childfree movement is on the rise. So much for the biological imperative.


See previous post with regard to the biological imperative and again, I can't argue against a page reference.

Compoverde said...

4) I don't understand how this individual arrives at the idea that non-existence of life equals to existence without any pleasure. Amoebas exist, but their absent pleasure is not bad for them, so they don't deserve moral consideration. My non-existent son's absent pleasure is clearly not equivalent to my hypothetical son's experiencing no pleasure at all (unless he is brain-dead). Furthermore, we compare reality to hypotheticals and counterfactuals all the time. That's what goal setting is all about. Just because there wouldn't be anyone to make value judgments in an empty world, we can make a value judgment about it now. This also seems to be a variation of treating people as mere vessels of happiness (p. 37), except the poster uses value instead of happiness.


Love the sentence "my non-existent son's absent pleasure is clearly not equivalent" again, which goes back to the mistake of attributing states to non-existent things. It's a sentence that inherently makes no sense. In any case, I arrive at the idea by following the consequences of Benatar's statement, that non-existence is preferable (as if nothing can have preferences, sigh) to existence. He stated the absence of suffering is better, welcome or good (whatever term you want), e.g. positive. He stated the absence of good is not bad. So the absence of good is neutral.

However, a world that is indifferent towards valuation due to the non-existence of sentient valuation of life becomes incoherent (there will be no good or bad nor anyone there to commit Benatar's fallacy of attributing states to nothing).

But certainly, if nobody existed it becomes incoherent to talk about whether we are better off because non-existent things cannot have interests in outcomes of reality nor be better off because of their lack of suffering. However, I didn't make that specific argument again (but it keeps boiling down to it) to show that even if we follow Benatar's argument, the reductio ad absurdum leads to nonsense as well.

again references to a writer that I dispute has anything sensible to say is hardly going to be a convincing argument. If you want to make an argument, do it properly instead of these appeals to authority.

And yes, it is true that we continually consider hypothetical and counterfactuals but we compare them to what exists or probably would exist. The categorical mistake is to compare it with someone as if this person does not exist. In other words, the question is not whether we will suffer - which point is so obvious you can drive a truck through it - but how much a hypothetical baby would suffer and how this compares to an average life of people in similar situations. How we value live and "rate" our quality of living is of course entirely subjective and unpredictable as much as we would like to try, which is why any exercise to give a general answer whether there is an obligation to have kids or not

5) The issues with this argument are identified on pp. 46-47, and the Healthy and Sick analogy is also found there. See also Why life’s quality is not the difference between its good and its bad (pp. 61-64). See p. 220 for the discussion of the existence trap. Also, what filrabat said. Besides, all this posturing about biological imperatives is kind of ridiculous when virtually all adults in Western countries spend decades of their lives actively trying to avoid conception and over 25% of all pregnancies in the US are aborted (and this number would be much higher if it weren't for the fundies). The fact that parenting makes people less happy is widely publicized, and the childfree movement is on the rise. So much for the biological imperative.


See previous post with regard to the biological imperative and again, I can't argue against a page reference.

Compoverde said...

4) I don't understand how this individual arrives at the idea that non-existence of life equals to existence without any pleasure. Amoebas exist, but their absent pleasure is not bad for them, so they don't deserve moral consideration. My non-existent son's absent pleasure is clearly not equivalent to my hypothetical son's experiencing no pleasure at all (unless he is brain-dead). Furthermore, we compare reality to hypotheticals and counterfactuals all the time. That's what goal setting is all about. Just because there wouldn't be anyone to make value judgments in an empty world, we can make a value judgment about it now. This also seems to be a variation of treating people as mere vessels of happiness (p. 37), except the poster uses value instead of happiness.


Love the sentence "my non-existent son's absent pleasure is clearly not equivalent" again, which goes back to the mistake of attributing states to non-existent things. It's a sentence that inherently makes no sense. In any case, I arrive at the idea by following the consequences of Benatar's statement, that non-existence is preferable (as if nothing can have preferences, sigh) to existence. He stated the absence of suffering is better, welcome or good (whatever term you want), e.g. positive. He stated the absence of good is not bad. So the absence of good is neutral.

However, a world that is indifferent towards valuation due to the non-existence of sentient valuation of life becomes incoherent (there will be no good or bad nor anyone there to commit Benatar's fallacy of attributing states to nothing).

But certainly, if nobody existed it becomes incoherent to talk about whether we are better off because non-existent things cannot have interests in outcomes of reality nor be better off because of their lack of suffering. However, I didn't make that specific argument again (but it keeps boiling down to it) to show that even if we follow Benatar's argument, the reductio ad absurdum leads to nonsense as well.

again references to a writer that I dispute has anything sensible to say is hardly going to be a convincing argument. If you want to make an argument, do it properly instead of these appeals to authority.

Compoverde said...

And yes, it is true that we continually consider hypothetical and counterfactuals but we compare them to what exists or probably would exist. The categorical mistake is to compare it with someone as if this person does not exist. In other words, the question is not whether we will suffer - which point is so obvious you can drive a truck through it - but how much a hypothetical baby would suffer and how this compares to an average life of people in similar situations. How we value live and "rate" our quality of living is of course entirely subjective and unpredictable as much as we would like to try, which is why any exercise to give a general answer whether there is an obligation to have kids or not

5) The issues with this argument are identified on pp. 46-47, and the Healthy and Sick analogy is also found there. See also Why life’s quality is not the difference between its good and its bad (pp. 61-64). See p. 220 for the discussion of the existence trap. Also, what filrabat said. Besides, all this posturing about biological imperatives is kind of ridiculous when virtually all adults in Western countries spend decades of their lives actively trying to avoid conception and over 25% of all pregnancies in the US are aborted (and this number would be much higher if it weren't for the fundies). The fact that parenting makes people less happy is widely publicized, and the childfree movement is on the rise. So much for the biological imperative.


See previous post with regard to the biological imperative and again, I can't argue against a page reference.

Compoverde said...

CM, would you be able to respond to that poster's arguments? He was trying to respond to your previous rebuttals.

Compoverde said...

CM, thank you for your very much for your responses to Benkei on the philosophy forum. I really hope he understands that he has to read the book before he makes these arguments. He does not realize that all the arguments he presents have been predicted and discussed at great length in the book itself.

CM said...

No problem, Compoverde. I shouldn't have assumed you had the book. Sorry I wasn't more specific before.

Love the way he thinks it's a logical fallacy to question his (mis)interpretation of David Benatar's arguments.

Saul Maxon said...

Re Anonymous Sept 19, I have access to most every online academic article, so if anyone wants that 1932 Amer. Jo. of Sociology article, I'll email it to you. My email address is on my Blogger profile. The article is by Ruth Cavan, a thinker in Social Disorganization Theory.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Social_disorganization_theory

Compoverde said...

I am a very big proponent of antinatalism and the general concept of negative utilitarianism, but a friend of mine brought up an interesting point, and I'm trying to see how to work through it. Maybe someone can help me.

He said that my argument can be overcome if there is a situation where there is a benefit that "outweighed" all the harms of existence for an individual, and that the individual himself preferred positive utilitarian grounds to negative utilitarian grounds. In other words if someone had an incident "A" that over came all incidents of harm "H", and that individual valued happiness more than avoiding pain, that person would have gained from being born and thus, in utilitarian theory, would be justified in being born.

He also gave an example of a child who is spanked when he says a mean thing to a stranger and the idea of the child learning for the rest of his life that being mean to strangers because of some physical trait they see, is bad. Wasn't the pain of spanking "good" for the child for every instance he came across that situation for the rest of his life? That little pain was outweighed by the benefit of not being mean to strangers.

Again, I am a thorough antinatalist, but I am having trouble formulating a response. Uncertainty, is a good one, but to me feels a bit like a cop out. You don't KNOW that the child will have more postiive and negative experiences and value pleasure more than avoiding pain. I think that is an okay argument but not compelling enough. I'd have to show that ANY harm is bad, even if there are benefits that might outweigh those harms for that individual.

filrabat said...

Compoverde,


I think harm and/or suffering prevention is pretty compelling, but as you said it's not compelling enough. IMO, it's not compelling enough becuase there's a strong subjective element in defining "too harmful" or even "harm" itself. Therefore, maybe you can try the "gambling" analogy. You are gambling that a child will have at least an adequately harm-free life - according to that child's definition.

Also, you might want to compare procreation to forcibly signing a contract. Even if the contract gives you $250K/yr for the next 4 years, it's still coersion because you didn't have freedom of choice. Besides, the contract may have terms that you think NO amount of money can adequately compensate for.

Curator said...

Nice analogy.

Tim Cooijmans said...

Compoverde,

The second case is like the old hand-on-the-stove story... Sure, it's good to keep your hands from burning up. But it would be better if you didn't need pain to do this. Hell, it would be better if you didn't NEED hands. What are they good for anyway? Eating? Playing cards? Masturbating? Life sure would be better if we didn't need to do all this. It's like one of the antinatalist comics (I think that was yours, Compoverde) about giving someone who's in perfect health a wheelchair. Gee, thanks, but I'd rather never need one.

The first case is more interesting, if I understand the point of it correctly. If, after the fact, the kid finds its life okay, then surely there was nothing wrong with having the kid? Regardless of the answer to that, it's a funny argument: people who use it argue, before the fact, that after the fact it could be argued that bringing the kid into the world was okay. Imagine a busted drunk driver explaining to the judge after the fact that no one was harmed. Then imagine someone who is planning to drive drunk argue that after the fact most likely no one will have been harmed.

As you all no doubt know I am far from being a moral philosopher, but I think most people think about morality the same way I do: you can do whatever you want as long as you don't affect other people's lives too much (unless they consent). This mindset seems to be rather libertarian today. Even so, there is no room for procreation in there. Procreation affects someone else's life more severely than rape or torture does. That would be the kid's life, of course.

Of course actual people are preoccupied with other things. They seem to spend most of their time letting themselves be annoyed by other people's kids, letting their kids annoy others, being impatient and frustrated with every little goddamn thing without noticing how shitty everyday life is until they are asked, in which case life is beautiful, and hoping we can stave off this global warming thing so their kids will still be able to get stuck in the snow on a deserted highway somewhere and starve to death by candlelight.

I am close to a few people who say I'm a bad person because of my compassion for people (and my consequent dislike for parents), and then go on to discuss how they're secretly happy when a major storm or flood wipes out tens of thousands of people. Because there are too many of them, they say. And these people have the audacity to tell me that antinatalism is nuts! If I were to wish this drowning or being crushed or starving on some pair of parents, that would be unspeakable. But when it happens to thousands in some far off place like Indonesia or New Orleans (yes, New Orleans; there's only niggers there anyways), it's perfectly acceptable to celebrate this. Damn I wish some ice actually did melt and flood this hellhole; most of The Netherlands is below sea level. Too bad I live on a hill.

Sorry guys (and girls), I been drinking.

Tim Cooijmans said...

Compoverde,

The second case is like the old hand-on-the-stove story... Sure, it's good to keep your hands from burning up. But it would be better if you didn't need pain to do this. Hell, it would be better if you didn't NEED hands. What are they good for anyway? Eating? Playing cards? Masturbating? Life sure would be better if we didn't need to do all this. It's like one of the antinatalist comics (I think that was yours, Compoverde) about giving someone who's in perfect health a wheelchair. Gee, thanks, but I'd rather never need one.

The first case is more interesting, if I understand the point of it correctly. If, after the fact, the kid finds its life okay, then surely there was nothing wrong with having the kid? Regardless of the answer to that, it's a funny argument: people who use it argue, before the fact, that after the fact it could be argued that bringing the kid into the world was okay. Imagine a busted drunk driver explaining to the judge after the fact that no one was harmed. Then imagine someone who is planning to drive drunk argue that after the fact most likely no one will have been harmed.

As you all no doubt know I am far from being a moral philosopher, but I think most people think about morality the same way I do: you can do whatever you want as long as you don't affect other people's lives too much (unless they consent). This mindset seems to be rather libertarian today. Even so, there is no room for procreation in there. Procreation affects someone else's life more severely than rape or torture does. That would be the kid's life, of course.

Of course actual people are preoccupied with other things. They seem to spend most of their time letting themselves be annoyed by other people's kids, letting their kids annoy others, being impatient and frustrated with every little goddamn thing without noticing how shitty everyday life is until they are asked, in which case life is beautiful, and hoping we can stave off this global warming thing so their kids will still be able to get stuck in the snow on a deserted highway somewhere and starve to death by candlelight.

I am close to a few people who say I'm a bad person because of my compassion for people (and my consequent dislike for parents), and then go on to discuss how they're secretly happy when a major storm or flood wipes out tens of thousands of people. Because there are too many of them, they say. And these people have the audacity to tell me that antinatalism is nuts! If I were to wish this drowning or being crushed or starving on some pair of parents, that would be unspeakable. But when it happens to thousands in some far off place like Indonesia or New Orleans (yes, New Orleans; there's only niggers there anyways), it's perfectly acceptable to celebrate this. Damn I wish some ice actually did melt and flood this hellhole; most of The Netherlands is below sea level. Too bad I live on a hill.

Sorry guys (and girls), I been drinking.

Anonymous said...

Compoverde,

The second case is like the old hand-on-the-stove story... Sure, it's good to keep your hands from burning up. But it would be better if you didn't need pain to do this. Hell, it would be better if you didn't NEED hands. What are they good for anyway? Eating? Playing cards? Masturbating? Life sure would be better if we didn't need to do all this. It's like one of the antinatalist comics (I think that was yours, Compoverde) about giving someone who's in perfect health a wheelchair. Gee, thanks, but I'd rather never need one.

The first case is more interesting, if I understand the point of it correctly. If, after the fact, the kid finds its life okay, then surely there was nothing wrong with having the kid? Regardless of the answer to that, it's a funny argument: people who use it argue, before the fact, that after the fact it could be argued that bringing the kid into the world was okay. Imagine a busted drunk driver explaining to the judge after the fact that no one was harmed. Then imagine someone who is planning to drive drunk argue that after the fact most likely no one will have been harmed.

As you all no doubt know I am far from being a moral philosopher, but I think most people think about morality the same way I do: you can do whatever you want as long as you don't affect other people's lives too much (unless they consent). This mindset seems to be rather libertarian today. Even so, there is no room for procreation in there. Procreation affects someone else's life more severely than rape or torture does. That would be the kid's life, of course.

Of course actual people are preoccupied with other things. They seem to spend most of their time letting themselves be annoyed by other people's kids, letting their kids annoy others, being impatient and frustrated with every little goddamn thing without noticing how shitty everyday life is until they are asked, in which case life is beautiful, and hoping we can stave off this global warming thing so their kids will still be able to get stuck in the snow on a deserted highway somewhere and starve to death by candlelight.

I am close to a few people who say I'm a bad person because of my compassion for people (and my consequent dislike for parents), and then go on to discuss how they're secretly happy when a major storm or flood wipes out tens of thousands of people. Because there are too many of them, they say. And these people have the audacity to tell me that antinatalism is nuts! If I were to wish this drowning or being crushed or starving on some pair of parents, that would be unspeakable. But when it happens to thousands in some far off place like Indonesia or New Orleans (yes, New Orleans; there's only niggers there anyways), it's perfectly acceptable to celebrate this. Damn I wish some ice actually did melt and flood this hellhole; most of The Netherlands is below sea level. Too bad I live on a hill.

Sorry guys (and girls), I been drinking.

(P.S.: I hate Google. They suck at software. I hate Picasa, I hate Google Earth, I hate GMail, I hate Android and I hate Blogger. Fucking shit.)

Tim Cooijmans said...

Awesome. Way to go, Google.

Garrett said...

Coming home to read all of the various thoughts on this matter is unbelievably therapeutic. Thanks all! I've had to sit right smack in the middle of a gaggle of wenches [no offense to our resident antinatal women here, you know I love ya ;)] yakking about their parents and children all day. Oh, and their so proud of themselves too! *barf* I've got to admit, sometimes it's hard to keep my mouth shut and play nice... but it has got to be done if I want to keep making money to feed myself. Shame. I need a vacation from this breeder society.

Compoverde said...

Anyone interested in making a sort of Antinatalist Manifesto? Something along the lines of the Humanist Manifesto but with concrete ideas about what we believe about antinatalism? This can be used if we start any sort of group and they wonder what antinatalists believe. Here is an example: http://www.americanhumanist.org/who_we_are/about_humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_II

Also, I have created a Wiki page, if anyone wants to start writing. We can all revise as we wish.

I have a created a Wiki page that anyone can edit. Please feel free to do with it what you want. My hope is we can collaborate on some core principles. This can be good for organizing any meet up groups and coordination activities.

Compoverde said...

Whoops, I realized that my two links didn't show up on my last post. The link to the Humanist Manifesto for a model is: http://www.americanhumanist.org/who_we_are/about_humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_II

The link to the collaborative Antinatlist Manifesto Wiki that we can all work on and edit is:

http://www.americanhumanist.org/who_we_are/about_humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_II

Compoverde said...

Ugh, this keeps happening. The Wiki is http://theantinatalismmanifesto.wikispaces.com/

Garrett said...

Aha! I see what you did there. Good stuff so far ;) I'm outta here for now, so I'll have to ponder a bit before I think about adding my two cents.