Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dead Cats and Philosophers

So, I was out and about on my bike this morning, pedaling to one clinic to get some blood samples drawn, then to another across town to pick up my blood pressure meds. Pretty nice ride early on, though it got really friggin' hot later in the day. However, I survived. I can't say the same for a certain cat I passed, though, lying in the road with its head caved in. Hopefully it was sudden and painless, considering the alternative of slow and painful. Either way, the sight was a real punch in the gut of my moral aesthetic sense, not to mention a wet blanket on my general mood.

It's no secret that most people believe life is generally a good deal. And even though their reasons for bringing children into this world are basically selfish ones, they tend to justify their actions by telling themselves that they've really done their kids a favor. On the other hand, they are faced with the problem of dead cats on a daily basis. Dead cats, and canine parvovirus, and sickle cell anemia, and ethnic cleansings, and tsunamis, not to mention big mortgages during economic downturns, and violent husbands, and bitter, vitriolic wives, and let us not forget the biggie- death. We are all future dead cats of one stripe or another, and everyone knows it.

So, how do we deal with this problem of dead cats? Well, most people don't deal with it at all, really. Their stomachs clench. They make a face, and mouth a silent "Ewww!" They tell their children in the back seat "Don't look! Don't look!" or "Play with your Gameboy!" or "Jesus loves the little kitties, and this is how He brings them home." But mostly, they try to sweep it out of their consciousness just as quickly as possible, so that life can go on being good just as before. Because deep down, everybody knows he's a dead cat in the making, and he really doesn't want to think about that. This is why people get so mad at pessimists, and especially at pessimistic antinatalists, because we keep rubbing dead cats in their faces. Nobody likes that. Can't blame them, I suppose.

Anyway, I got to thinking about the people I've read over the years who've actually tried to deal with the problem of dead cats instead of simply ignoring them. And you know what? All their answers that fall short of antinatalism are ABSOLUTELY FUCKING LAME! The theists tell us that all good little cats go to heaven, while the bad little cats are consigned to alleys-turned-gauntlets filled with eternally thrown boots and catcalls, with no clean litter boxes to be found. The Buddhists tell us that cats are illusions, including the pain they feel when the Atman lights their tails on fire. The dumbass existentialists encourage us to fuck the dead cats and pretend their silence is purring acquiescence. Alan Watts, god love him, posited that if life were REALLY so abhorrent that the universe would simply stop producing cats and close the curtain for good. And Will Durant, my favorite synthetic historian, only managed to salvage a shred of optimism by maintaining that even though a cat's life is generally a miserable one, and always ends poorly, each one can find some solace in feeling that he, and he alone, is the King of the cats!

I guess that's enough for meow.

Fly-ridden kitten
Ear to the ground
One with the pavement
Rockin' with the sound

Waitin' for the chariot
To come and take you home
Away from all this busyness
Of rubber tires and chrome

11 comments:

filrabat said...

Alan Watts, god love him, posited that if life were REALLY so abhorrent that the universe would simply stop producing cats and close the curtain for good.

This both makes no sense, yet a lot of sense; depending on how you take it.

*No sense: The Universe would end life in a similar manner as a conscious, active agent. This is just anthropomorphizing, The universe is ultimately made up of matter, energy, the rules of physics, and nothing else. It will "decide" to end the game only when it gets too old to support life according to our present laws of physics. Even at the present, life itself is just a probability game. You might as well the dice on the craps table will favor you when it decides to favor you.

Makes sense: Well, the universe (or, if you prefer, God) made humans - creatures with brains that CAN think outside the DNA-neurochemical box, although usually only when sufficiently motivated to do so (e.g., we've mastered, if not completely eliminated tribalism, slavery, and so forth). If we can think outside the box regarding tribalism (including racism and ethnocentrism) and slavery - both considered "just human nature" at one time - then why not think outside the box regarding, to use Johnathan Rauch's words, how long the people show must go on?

metamorphhh said...

filrabat:

I agree with both your points, and in fact there is some nuance in Watts' statement (paraphrased here from memory) having to do with his idea of what a 'self' entails; an idea I share, btw.

Still, I feel his is ultimately a copout- or to be more generous, perhaps- a holdout for some mysterious and hitherto undiscovered principle that makes life worthwhile, thus tipping the existential scale toward the side of optimism. I could just as well say that death is explained by the elan vital discovering over and over again in every particular manifestation that life is a horror, and so committing suicide. Maybe Mainlander was closer to the mark than he's given credit for.

Oli said...

What i don't understand about your position is that it seems to me that the criteria you are using to judge that human life is not beneficial are in themselves a property of human consiousness.

Suffering and evil do not 'exist' without human observation. If you believe that human should not reproduce in order to minimise suffering and evil, wouldn’t you be left with a cold, valueless world that would be indifferent to suffering?

metamorphhh said...

Oli, I'm not sure I get the point you're trying to make. Are you saying that animals don't suffer if human beings aren't around to label their suffering? That seems a bit farfetched. Or are you saying that without conscious 'valuers' in the world, the concept of 'value' would disappear? But, why would I care about a world indifferent to suffering where suffering doesn't exist? Sort of like getting worked up about the lack of square circles, the way I'm parsing it. I'm just not seeing the problem here, but maybe I'm missing your point. Care to go into it a bit more?

Anonymous said...

PING: Sister Y

If it were men who could have abortions, antinatalism, in the true, practical sense, could make a great deal more headway. Don't ya think?

CM said...

Anon-

Here. "Nearly 20 percent of women at family clinics across northern California reported that their partner tried to coerce them into having a child, sometimes using methods such as poking holes in condoms or flushing birth control pills down the toilet".

There is a longstanding societal expectation that women's value is centered around breeding, so it's no surprise that many women have internalized it. But at the risk of being obvious, it takes two to get pregnant.

Sister Y said...

I think it is unquestionably true that there would be a reduction in breeding if each birth were required to be the conscious, voluntary decision of both parties to the conception.

I would not support forcing pregnant women to abort against their will, but I am completely in favor of getting rid of child support based solely on genetic paternity.

Giovanni Dannato said...

Can correctly applied reason bring you successfully to anti-natalism and/or suicide?
Of course it can.

But is something the right idea just because it can be reasoned out that way?

These sort of anti-life, anti-natal arguments have certain self-defeating implicit problems.

-If members of this community truly believe as they say, why are they still here?

-If no one will remember anything anyway at life's end, why strip away the illusion of the value of life?
The idea of truth is meaningless in a hollow universe.
If you are not willing to kill yourself, the next best thing is to cultivate ignorance or drug yourself out of your mind until you are dead.

Basically, like other schools of nihilistic thought, this vision of the universe self-eliminates:
If ever you arrive at this idea the most reasonable thing is not to have this idea.
Or not to exist, in which case you are not there to hold the idea.

The Plague Doctor said...

I see Gluon the Ferengi has followed my link. For a self-proclaimed "heretic" who "deconstructs the set of common social beliefs we’ve been taught from an early age and take for granted", you sure seem willing to endorse self-delusion and ignorance!

"If members of this community truly believe as they say, why are they still here?"

Because they don't want to die!

filrabat said...

PART ONE

Can correctly applied reason bring you successfully to anti-natalism and/or suicide?
Of course it can.

But is something the right idea just because it can be reasoned out that way?


If it’s correctly applied, then that means it’s hypothetically possible for antinatalism to be true. Same for suicide. This alone makes antinatalism at the very least a quite legitimate topic to ponder rationally. (though right from the start you assume antinatalism consistently followed necessarily leads to suicide of the individual holding antinatalist beliefs. This is a non sequitur, for many legitimate reasons exist that may prevent an antinatalist from committing suicide. In fact, I’d argue that suicide could make an antinatalist more hypocritical than one who doesn’t .) at the very least a legitimately debatable topic)

These sort of anti-life, anti-natal arguments have certain self-defeating implicit problems.

-If members of this community truly believe as they say, why are they still here?


For religious antinataists, it’s that many believe that suicide is a sinful act, and therefore leads to Hell. Even without religious reasons, there's still the issue of anguish we'd cause surviving friends and family members (in direct violation of our cardinal principle of suffering prevention). Therefore, implying we should commit suicide = implying we should be hypocrites.

-If no one will remember anything anyway at life's end, why strip away the illusion of the value of life?
The idea of truth is meaningless in a hollow universe.


Truths exist in this universe whether any life with a brain exists or not. E=MC^2 was true even before the first life ever formed in this universe. Same thing with the laws of mathematics: four stars plus five stars equaled nine stars even before the first life forms appeared. Because pain comes from our nervous system - a physical object made up of atoms just like all other matter is - it's still true that nerves will create pain due to the laws of chemistry and physics in other animals, regardless of whether we're around to experience it (just like a hypothetical live T-Rex or Saber Tooth would were there any left).

In addition, you’re focusing on the wrong situation – post-life instead of pre-life and present life. The issue is not what happens after we die (barring religious beliefs) – the focus is on why we should force new life into existence in the first place, particularly given that a person can’t agree to be born into this kind of world in these kinds of overall circumstances (specifically the rules of the game of life – which they may find objectionable to the point of immorality, (i.e. if life is so unfair, then maybe new people don’t deserve to be forced into this existence)

filrabat said...

PART TWO

If you are not willing to kill yourself, the next best thing is to cultivate ignorance or drug yourself out of your mind until you are dead.

That assumes truth-seeking is less important than breathing oxygen. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the same essential mistake hard core Seven-Day Creationsts/Intelligent Designers make when they say “if you accept the theory of evolution, you’re going to Hell”. The only difference is that instead of “breathing oxygen” they stress a rigidly literal interpretation of the Bible.

Unless you can prove that it’s more important to breathe oxygen than it is to seek the truth no matter where it leads, I don’t think you have a case with that comment; for essentially asking us to live in fear of the truth (i.e. construct a bunch of lies just to make life more bearable).

Basically, like other schools of nihilistic thought, this vision of the universe self-eliminates:
If ever you arrive at this idea the most reasonable thing is not to have this idea.
Or not to exist, in which case you are not there to hold the idea.


Nihilism says there are NO morals in this universe. Child molestation ? “OK in my book” says the non-hypocritial nihilist. Same thing with other outrageously cruel activities. Likewise a moral nihilist says there’s nothing good about walking 100 miles through Zambian savanna, braving dangerous animals, heatstroke, and dehydration to get AIDS medication to a remote village with an HIV-positive child. That is what nihilism is.

In fact, antinatalism is ultimately based in suffering prevention, which is a value any civilized person holds in some form. We just see the best way to prevent future suffering is to not have children in the first place (and don’t bring up murder or omnicide, pan-genocide or whatever. We think such things only create more of the very suffering we seek to prevent.

Also, as stated above, it violates our clear-cut rule of “freedom of choice”. This blog only seeks to inform and defend our points – NOT to force others to follow our philosophy who don’t want to).