Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Roots of Selfishness

Our very own Plague Doctor seems to have somewhat diverted a recent discussion about marriage, here,(a little ways down in the comments section); 'driving a stake', as it were, 'into the heart of the procreation[sic] myth'. His arguments, as usual, are concise and easy to understand. He even offers a link to this blog (check's in the mail). However, needless to say (it IS needless by this time, isn't it?), many of the responses had almost nothing to do with the arguments he actually made. Nothing new, eh? I DID want to highlight one statement in particular-

J says:
November 3, 2010 at 9:58 pm
@Plague Doctor

I looked at your site, and I’m really feeling you. I used to be a tremendous cynic too…before I had children.
Know what? Even if my kids died of cancer like that poor child in the slide show, I’d never regret having them. Not because I’d delude myself that I was stronger and better for having lost them or that it was God’s will that they died, but because the joy of having had them would still exceed the pain of losing them. Yeah, life hurts sometime. So what?

This is an attitude all of us have witnessed time and again in the course of these dialogues; although, I'm not sure I've ever seen it stated quite so unequivocally, which is the reason I've posted it here. The blatant self-interest is really pretty shocking. I suspect the commenter also felt this way upon re-reading what he/she'd written, since a little farther down in the thread there's a bit of an attempt to mitigate the force of the words. Unfortunately for him/her, the weight of the comment is really too comprehensive to minimize through retroactive context pleading. To summarize: What I desire ultimately outweighs ANYTHING that might happen to someone else as a consequence of my desires.

Of course, this attitude absolutely flies in the face of all the noblest of human ideals, as represented by any moral schema handed down through time that one wishes to choose. Self-sacrifice. Honor. Loyalty. Sympathy. Love. Respect. Caring. Indeed, the fundamental basis for morality is always an arrow pointing away from the self towards others. Morality and ethics, in the context of an isolated self, are meaningless terms. Naturally, people will differ as to the details, but such a declaration as the one I'm discussing here falls so far beyond the pale of ANY principled sensibility as to render it absolutely without merit in moral terms. Seemingly.

And yet, this is probably the natural response of almost all people, everywhere, to the antinatalist argument. Of otherwise good people. Charitable people. Caring people. In many cases, far, far better people than you and me. It's a thoroughly unjustified position to take; and by that, I mean unjustified according to most people's own moral sensibilities. The world of humanity is walking around in a fog of cognitive dissonance, clinging to and vociferously upholding principles which are in stark contrast to their own ostensible beliefs. Because, despite the sundry protestations made by folks who'd like to see themselves on the right side of the moral gladiator's pit (don't we all?), procreation is rooted in categorical self-interest, plain and simple. Worse, it is self-interest at the expense of others. Worse yet, those others are the very one's we're supposedly sacrificing part of our lives for- our children. But what most parents won't admit- can't admit, even to themselves- is that their 'sacrifice' is really only an investment in their own happiness, even when the cost of suffering and death is levied on the heads of their own children.

Read the comment again. It's outrageous! It's abhorrent! These are the words of a despicable human being! This is the attitude of a monster!

It's also the attitude of pretty much everybody in the whole world...including myself, once upon a time.

No offense to Nick Bostrom, but the real enemy needing to be slain is complacency; the complacency of those who never question the evil of delivering generation upon generation of people into the jaws of unavoidable* suffering and death, for what amounts to a whim of an evolutionary urge that rationality should have outgrown a long time ago. Perhaps it will, one day.

In the meantime- 'Yeah, life hurts sometimes. So what?'

*Did I say unavoidable? Only in the aftermath of the 'blessed event'. But suffering and death are ALWAYS avoidable, aren't they? Don't procreate. It's that simple. Of course, there'll be no one around to thank you for it, which is pretty much the point, isn't it? You know, altruism in the interest of others, and all that shit. If you really need to hear it, I'll say it for them. Thanks for not reproducing. Happy now?

Long live Negative Bliss!

24 comments:

Todd said...

"I used to be against rape, just like you. But then I went and raped somebody, and you know what? It felt pretty good. I think the joy of forcibly sticking my penis into someone DEFINITELY outweighs the pain of listening to their screams. Yeah, I suppose being violated like that is a real bitch... but so what?"

People are just downright unbelievable sometimes.

metamorphhh said...

I like to think that I would've made the right decision, if only someone had presented me with the arguments. Shaken me out of my complacency, you know? Made me face facts.

But who knows?

timcooijmans said...

This is a frustrating thing because it's so deeply ingrained in them that they don't know what they are saying.

They think it's nobody's business whether they have kids or not. Many things indeed are nobody's business. People are tired of hearing "don't do that" to everything they do, "don't eat that" to everything they eat, "don't think that way" to every thought they think. Postmodernism ingrained in everyone a deep sense of it doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter because it's complicated. It doesn't matter because you can't really make things perfect. It doesn't matter because people make mistakes.

All of this is splendid life advice. Honest to God. But it is just that: life advice. It does not apply to coming into life or leaving life. It simply fucking doesn't.

You can show people this fact and they might accept it rationally, but it's their emotions that count. Once the online discussion is abandoned, the rationally accepted fact is forgotten. Their brains' postmodernist wiring remains.

Our position is different from environmentalism or animal rights activism or whatever the hell else in that it is far more important. We have the genuine article. Antinatalism is The Only Thing That Matters because, if everyone listened to us, pretty soon there would be nothing that matters anymore. Not so with environmentalism or animal rights activism: listening to them would improve the situation somewhat for the environment or for the animals, but the resulting world would still leave much to be desired.

This is why antinatalism is different.

Right now we sound like any other group making normative statements. Why should people listen to *us*? Well, because this is the only thing that would solve all of our problems at no cost (except frustrated childwishes or lack of care for the elderly).

CM said...

I like to think that I would've made the right decision, if only someone had presented me with the arguments.

Given the fact that you accepted the arguments after reproducing and becoming invested in the decision, I don't doubt it, Jim.

The website, though... WTF. The host's response to PD (i.e., "you can teach your kids your way") is priceless.

I swear, sometimes I think that most people are basically just high-functioning parrots whose thought process consists of nothing but cliches and heuristics. They appear to be simply unable to register or process ideas that are not embraced by a sizable mob, nor can they evaluate propositions and arguments at face value without making assumptions (antinatalism is automatically assumed to be about preventing overpopulation, the interests of prospective parents, or that it implies suicide). I suppose saying this makes me look arrogant and misanthropic, but I honestly have no other explanation. I don't think it has as much to do with postmodernism as with how humans have evolved to process information: quality is sacrificed for the sake of speed and efficiency.

Mike Stivic said...

Such a powerful entry. Thank you Jim. One of the most disgusting elements of the rampant procreation is that people don't bother to consider the serious issues surrounding having children. It is insane and grossly offensive that people automatically think having kids is good and so easily discount the arguments against it. This is one of the things that really does make me angry at my own parents. For Christ's sake, couldn't you people even consider these questions? Looking around, it's unbelievable how few do.

filrabat said...

Jim,

That post shows how deeply engraved into our DNA and brain the survival instinct is. It's not surprising - nature has a minimum 3.8 billion year headstart on us - that's 190 million human generations if you take 20 yrs to a generation (typical in preindustrial times, especially preagricultural ones). Actually, that's MANY more replications of genes, given that the vast majority of our ancestry started reproducing well before 20 yrs passed. As for our first ancestors with nervous systems...still much shorter.

So we're asking people to go against BILLIONS of generations of neurological programming.

Again, not surprising. Darwinian evolution simply favors the promiscuous and those with the will to live. Still, this logic itself is the achillies heel.

In the end, it means "we have to survive because we want to survive; and we want to survive because we have to survive; and we have to survive because..uh...because we just DO!" If that isn't a self-referential claim, then I don't know what is!

Cactus Jack said...

In circumstances such as these, when all moral consideration has been discarded, I believe all the antinatalist can do is take an optimistic approach. On current projections as we understand them, the earth will not eternally be suitable for life and this situation will be no more. How else are we to deal with these opinions when reason has been forfeited in this way?

Why S? said...

filrabat is right. Most of us are driven by an evolutionary need to propagate. It's a lot to ask the average person to overcome. For this woman, putting her own needs above her potential offspring's is a matter of biological necessity.

For some reason, a few of us are able to put reason over hormones. Sadly, we are the anomaly.

Mike Stivic said...

I don't think it's anywhere near too much to ask people to restrain from procreating. The physical manifestation of the urge is sex and people can still do that.

It can be said that we have an evolutionary need to eat meat but millions of people are vegetarians for ethical reasons.

And there are plenty of people who do, without incredible difficulty, subvert the "need" to procreate by using contraception, including vasectomies, often for their own reasons that have nothing to do with the kind of philosophical arguments made here.

If people are easily able to not have children for, say, financial reasons (I don't want to put a kid through college someday) or because they want to travel throughout their whole lives and just have fun with their spouse, then I think they can manage doing it for the much, much, much, much more serious reasons put forward by people like David Benatar and Jim Crawford.

Safehouse said...

It's weird but i get J. I think deep down he knows what he has done and he gives no justifications which is beautiful. "Yeah, i'm selfish, it's for me". END.

Some months ago there was this woman with the same attitude, she knows what life is about and accepts it. We know it too BUT we FIGHT IT.

Jim is somewhat unique in this situation but do you think some of us will become like J? I remember a guy posting here that his partner (wife,girlfriend) wanted children and he didn't want to lose her. So what do you do? Do you become like J? I think MANY TIMES this is how a J is born. Tired of fighting, just giving in. J, the tragic human.

:p

metamorphhh said...

Mike- Thanks. Your argument perfectly mirrors my own. The way I see it, rationally informed cultural and societal influences arise precisely to blunt or otherwise channel negative, evolutionarily driven predispositions in more benign directions. So-called basic 'drives' are diverted in service to this or that 'higher' moral principle all the time. Why not procreation?

metamorphhh said...

Safehouse- I can't say that I find the attitude beautiful, although I'll agree that honesty is always refreshing. However, my suspicion is that, in almost all cases like this I've run across, that the import of the words aren't really getting through the cognitive dissonance. If you read a little farther down the thread we're referencing, after Plague Doctor points out the objectionable nature of J's statement, J returns with some extenuation in an attempt to palliate her earlier comment.

"Tired of fighting, just giving in." I can certainly relate to this. Although, in my own case, I believe I might have acted differently if I'd been exposed to some thought that ran counter to the status quo. The seed of antinatalism was already planted in me through the dawning realization that life was NOT a gift. But the light was too dim, and clarity came too late for me. I'm hoping this blog adds a little to the overall candlepower.

filrabat said...

Why S,

Clearly the procreative urge (or rather, the urge to engage in acts that cause procreation, whether intended or not) IS hard to fight.

OTOH, we used to believe slavery, racism, sexism, homophobia, and a whole host of other social ills were "natural". After two generations, we're well on our way to eliminating racism and sexism. After one generation, a good running start against homophobia. Slavery's virtually eliminated from public respectability the world over.

THE POINT: People CAN overcome their natures. To say otherwise is to say we have no more capacity for reflective thought and self-control than do wild animals. So it's QUITE possible to choose antinatalism - even if in many cases it takes some hard knocks by life to make ourselves do so.

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Gromit said...

"I'm hoping this blog adds a little to the overall candlepower."

Well, it does. Everytime a person decides not to procreate, a number of lives are saved. And since you've convinced me, I'd say that you, personally, have rescued innocent people from the burden of existence. And that's something you should be proud of. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Killer, Gromit. I'd been wondering whether the online propaganda would ever result in new recruits. You've honestly made my night!

How did you happen upon this site, if you don't mind my asking?

metamorphhh said...

Mine too! Thumbs up for the group effort.

Anonymous said...

I'm feeling quite down about people I know that are starting to have kids. Someone is due in December and other people are starting to think that it is time. The talks have been intensifying over the year and there was a particularly bad moment for me about a month ago when my Sisters BF’s mother expressed her longing for grandchildren. Her kids and their partners don't seem particularly keen for children at the moment but not much was said about it until others started breeding. I just hope that no one is guilt-tripped into doing something they don't want to do. In all other respects I like the women so I felt especially alarmed by the tone of desperation, albeit fueled with alcohol.

Fortunately, my sister seems to be quite resistant to the idea of having children and, about a year ago, pleasantly surprised me when she spoke about not wanting children because "they would have to go through dramatic experiences like school just because" she had bought them into existence. There were startled looks on some of the faces and I would love to know what they were thinking. Unlike me, depressive, my sister is well adjusted so it’s great that they can’t pin that on her. I just hope that they don’t put it down to an abusive childhood because our childhood was not like that.

Gromit said...

Anonymous, I stumbled on the site the same way a lot of people stumble upon Antinatalist blogs. For the past few months I've been thinking about why the hell people who've gone through so much misery keep bringing more and more innocent children into existence. So I thought I can't be the only person who's considered this. After some Google searching, I found this blog and a host of other good material. Right now I'm reading up on Antinatalism (Shopenhauer, Benetar, etc.). And I'm also planning on reading Confessions of an Antinatalist and Better to Never Have Been as soon as I get the chance.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Gromit. To be more to the point, I was wondering specifically how you got here because I have had "antinatalist" tendencies for almost 3 decades in my estimation, yet I could only put an actual *name* to this phenomenon recently. Therefore, when I started wondering whether others of like mind were out there on the internet, I didn't really even know what to search for. If one doesn't have the luxury of a succinct vernacular for the concept, it may take one longer to stumble upon us... and that's too bad... My gut feeling is that a lot of people are de facto antinatalists, but because this community is so diffuse, and doesn't have a lot of succinct-n-catchy phrases to capture the belief system, there are potentially a lot of lost souls out there who may never find us, their brethren. Amen.

filrabat said...

@Anon, Nov 23, 2010; 1:10 pm

Unlike me, depressive, my sister is well adjusted so it’s great that they can’t pin that on her. I just hope that they don’t put it down to an abusive childhood because our childhood was not like that.

Filrabat: My response is now on the "Ill Conceived Arguments" page, in the left-hand sidebar

Anonymous said...

I will quote from my blog.

As homo sapiens sapiens, we have evolved a neo cortex, the outermost part of the brain, over millions of years to give us the ability to multitask, invent language and compartmentalise both sensory and abstract information. We no longer rely solely on the limbic system, as did previous species of the homo genus. The limbic system is that part of us that operates on emotion and feeling. Having no capacity for language, it is responsible for the adrenaline rush, fight or flight, etc. Though it is no longer the primary force behind our choices and actions, it is residual. For instance, sometimes you have a ton of data in front of you, and though you understand it (neo cortex at work), you may not feel quite right about it (limbic system at work).

Having said that, the fact that the limbic system is no longer the ultimate determining factor behind our choices and actions as a species makes it absurd for one to say that s/he cannot control the body with regard to sexuality and reproduction.

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francoistremblay said...

Reproduction is the ONLY area of human life where everyone seems to agree that it is GOOD to treat others as a means to an end.

Treating other human beings as a means to an end is pure evil. It means reducing them to objects for your own pleasure, completely ignoring their values and needs.