Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Depressed Antinatalist

It's been suggested that antinatalists are depressed. Ok, let's run with that assumption, then consider this hypothetical scenario:

Your 15 yr. old daughter is a crack addict. She spends most of her evenings sucking strangers' cocks to support her habit. She gets beat up, oh, let's say...two, three times a week, and sleeps in an alley underneath some brush.

Your 19 yr. old son had both his legs blown off in Iraq. He also suffered a fairly substantial head injury, but on good days, he almost remembers who you are.

Your wife has a severely painful case of stomach cancer; her prognosis is 6 months.

Your brother, Herb, is a violent alcoholic; he's prone to knocking the family around a bit, but they wont leave him because...well, where would they go?

Your sister, Helen, was a Peace Corp volunteer; she disappeared down in Central America a few years ago.

Your other sister, Pat...twice divorced, works at jobs she hates because, frankly, it's the only sort of work she can get. She often talks about killing herself, but is afraid because your parents taught all of you that Hell awaits those who commit suicide. Instead, she smokes 3 packs of cigarettes a day, and watches a lot of T.V.

Given these circumstances, isn't it somewhat likely that you might find yourself...depressed? Would you really consider your depression to be unusual, or somehow not warranted?

Question: What's the difference between this hypothetical situation, and the actual one (allowing, of course, that there is a difference).

Answer: In the actual situation, all of these people exist, but they don't happen to share your last name.

I've touched here on a few of the uncomfortable aspects of human existence. There are many others, suffered individually and en masse. To say about your own life, "My life is good", is one thing; ultimately, you are the judge of that. But to make the blanket statement, "Life is good", is to simply ignore reality. To objectify an ideal in such a way is, in my opinion, a mere coping mechanism to make yourself feel better about your own life. It also speaks volumes about the degree to which artificial and conflated ideas about meaning and destiny inform our feelings concerning life's worth. In so many ways we are encouraged to buy into 'life affirmation' mythologies, specifically engineered to keep our eyes off the specifics tragedies which are so embedded in the very process of human existence; and, indeed, in all of life.

A personal story:

Several years back, I was having lunch at an outdoor food court, after a visit to Barnes and Noble. At some point, I made the mistake of feeding a sparrow; soon, my table was inundated with a drove of the little beggars. Finally, and with some bemused frustration, I turned my large order of fries upside down, and let them have at it. A few moments later, a couple approached me, and the man said, "Excuse me, but might I ask what book you are reading?" I showed him the cover; it was a biography of the physicist Stephen Hawking. "Ah!" and he nodded as if to revelation. "Seeing a man like you gives me hope that life MUST be worthwhile." Or, something to that effect, though I'm pretty sure that these were close to the exact words. Then they walked off, leaving me more than slightly amused at what I descried to be a blatant attempt at 'Rorschach affirmation' in the face of some doubts he was obviously having, revealed in the emphasis of his words to me.

Thus we pass through this world half asleep, as it were, playing these little games with ourselves; overlooking this, superficially re-interpreting that, being careful to keep the tentacles of our sympathy from reaching into too many dark places, lest they invite empathetic overload and fry the circuits of our precariously maintained axiological comfort zones. In short, 'ignorance is bliss'; emphasis on the 'ignor(e)' part.

One more thought experiment, and then I'm done:

Someone might attempt to mitigate here, saying, "Well, then; life might not be good, but neither does it suck. At worst, it's a mixture." From a technical standpoint, I'm in no position to argue this. However, let's distill this view down into a single, hypothetical personage (I refuse to use Hitler as my example, but if it works for you, go for it!). Imagine a grossly dichotomous personality; world-class philanthropist by day, infant sodomizer/murderer by night. In most eyes, would this person be a good person, or a bad person? Oh, and if you try to sidestep my rather obvious implication by arguing, "Neither! He's a sick person." Well, you've still made my point, haven't you?

And while some of us have been fortunate enough to come out on the relatively positive end of this equation, others most certainly have not, and I see no evidence that this game of chance is likely to fundamentally change soon, if ever. To my way of thinking, it just isn't worth the risk of harm, no matter how small (and the risk is more than small. And's a sure thing).

Don't have children.


TGGP said...

I think your hypothetical "sick person" seems more bad than good to us because philanthropy is relatively normal to first-worlders while infant sodomizer/murderers are a rarity. Then, on average, things could still be alright.

Anonymous said...

You're probably right; but, then again, I suppose that's another example of how we casually narrow our focus to rosy up the picture. Of course, I only used these extremes in the first place to solidly color in the metaphor. However, when we consider life as a whole, the horrors at that end of the spectrum are too numerous to count, and grow in number indefinitely while life goes on.

Anonymous said...

The hypothesis of depressive realism is relevant to your position. The extent to which depressive realism holds is debatable, but the concept itself is an interesting one.

Anonymous said...

I'd agree a more realistic outlook necessarily emerging from a depressive state is a questionable hypothesis; perhaps even a dubious one. It seems more likely that depression naturally flows from the realistic outlook, instead.

TGGP said...

Thanks for the link, Utilitarian.

jim hogg said...

Hi M. Since my late teenage years I've thought of life as a zero sum game: to appreciate the highs we have to plumb the depths; thrill comes at a price; happiness and sadness will tend to balance each other out over the course of a life. It's how I saw it then, and when I look into my own life since, and the lives of others (so far as any of us can), my view hasn't changed a great deal. I thought then that having children might be a selfish act in some cases, or an act of obligation (family expectation/social pressure), whether for good or bad or any reasons, in others, or simply urge driven (selfish - evolutionary)), or error etc. That it might be done for the sake of the children to be and the lives that might lie ahead for them, seemed to be a presumption too far. We're all actual or potential tools of evolution imv, which can't help but blindly promote the development of life forms in whch the dice is loaded in favour of wanting to live/spinning the end result positively in our case. But with time on our hands, freedom from immediate threat (for the most part), the scope to look at our situation, then we have the opportunity to transcend the blind forces that brought us here, and for me the outcome is the position you're arguing for. A few days ago I had a listen to The Band doing It Makes No Difference, from The Last Waltz (around 77 - Rick Danko on lead vocals) on youtube, and after listening and enjoying I noticed that there was a 97 performance of the same song by Rick Danko. I thought, yes! still doing it and clicked on . . . Within seconds the tears were streaming down my cheeks because of what had become of him: a bloated, wasted mess, who could no longer do it . . . a truly sad experience which made me very conscious of the trajectory of life - accelerated or not by heroin, drink etc. He died less than 2 years later at 56. He'd seen the highs no doubt, but boy he must have seen some lows too. Huxley's dystopian world needed drugs and distraction to make life supportable, and his utopian (slightly?) Island needed psychological props as aids to make life supportable, though the outside world, the main body of humanity was always going to encroach and destroy . . Religion: I've said too much already, but, I see it still as a comforting delusion for those who fall or are steered, into its clutches . . . sometimes I think about its attractions, for atheism can be a cold place . . and yet, even with its comforts, does the zero sum equation get loaded positively enough to make it all worthwhile . . . I really can't see it. Apols for rabbitting Sir. Best, jim

Anonymous said...

Thanks for dropping by, Jim. Your well balanced cogitations are most welcomed here; feel free to contribute as often and as long as the mood hits you.