Sunday, April 20, 2008

Better Never to Have Been- David Benatar

FINALLY! I've got the book in my grubby little hands, and I'm of a mind to discuss it here, on this very blog! I think I'll do a chapter by chapter thing; if nothing else, it'll keep me from zipping through it and perhaps missing some salient points, as is my wont.

So, I've read the introduction, and as that really doesn't seem to be much more than a chapter outline, I think I'll skip over it, except to say this:

A week or so ago, Chip Smith of the Hoover Hog and myself were part of an extended blog-chat concerning antinatalism. At some point midway in the discussion, we were rather obliquely accused of somehow working in concert in a 'collusion to convert'... so to speak. Our conversation, we were told, seemed 'tinned' (Britspeak for 'canned'?); and at one point we were censured, much to my amused bemusement, for being 'overly polite' *chuckle*.

Two things I noticed in Benatar's intro; the first being that his approach to the subject seems not so very different from my own (overlooking the vast chasm in scholarship between us, of course). Even our phraseology seemed to almost suspiciously coincide at times; for example, he uses the expression 'cannon fodder' to describe children being bred for the primary purposes of the breeders' vested interests, or for the larger interests of a culture or society (see my essay here , 4th paragraph down).

Of course, and as Chip attempted to explain over at , and I quote, "If our arguments sound similar, it’s because our reasoning proceeds after similar premises. There aren’t many of us antinatalists around, so it should be no surprise that we make similar noises." And as antinatalism is a somewhat narrowly defined issue, i.e. STOP BREEDING!, I think all us antinatalists might be forgiven if we tend to overlap from time to time. 'Nuff said about that.

As for my second point-Now, admittedly it may be too soon to justify my suspicions; however, so far Mr. Benatar's writing style seems just a bit too conveniently...dare I say it?...polite! Is there conspiracy in the works? To find THAT out, you'll just have to tune back in to this ongoing review, dear reader. Time will tell...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Dialogue With a Bear

I've been having a mostly cordial discussion over at , and wanted to post this recent comment of mine to this blog; so, here goes...

Unfortunately, when we procreate, we aren’t the ones taking the risks. Our children will be the ones to bear the new generation’s fill of pain through disease, starvation, mental illness, murder, war, the sundry accidents that maim and kill, etc. etc. Of course, since I’m an atheist, and don’t believe in an afterlife, it’s all for nought, since we wind up in the same place we started from i.e. non-existence, though our friends and loved ones will add our loss to their own personal lists of suffering.

But for those who believe in an afterlife, the stakes are even greater, and the situation more dire. According to the bible, most of us will enter a metaphysical torture chamber the likes of which makes this earthly existence seem like a heaven in comparison, with absolutely no hope of escape, forever and ever, amen. If your religious beliefs are of an eastern fare, we’ll all enter the circle of re-incarnation, experiencing lives of pain and loss over and over again.

Imagine you’re standing in front of a panel with a red button in the center of it. You are told that, if you push the button, there’s a five percent chance that someone’s child will be taken and tortured for the rest of its life. And the kicker is that you’re not forced to push the button; you can simply walk away, refusing to play the game. No harm done. Would any sane person push the button?

Now consider Jesus’ words:

Matthew 7:13. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat
:14. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

Let’s be generous and say that, oh, 25% of humanity passes the test. That leaves 75% of the earth’s population destined for eternal damnation. That’s more than 4.5 billion souls headed for hellfire, with another 3/4 of a billion on their way, for every billion new people added. Now, if the raw numbers don’t give you at least some pause, consider that a few of those just might wind up being people you care about. Perhaps your children, or grandchildren. Of course, you can niggle over the percentages if you like, but my point won’t change one bit. Just pick the child you love the most, and imagine that they’ve gotten their theology wrong, and are destined for a date with eternal torment. Can you honestly say that it wouldn’t have been better if they had never been born?

Here’s what Jesus had to say:

“The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

Of course, Judas Iscariot is being referred to here, but doesn’t the same apply to anybody who happens to miss the Heavenland Express? As a Christian, your position is much more horrible than mine, because you are forced to affirm a system in which the preponderance of eternal human souls will experience unimaginable sufferings…forever! Being an ex-Christian myself, I understand the mental hoops one has to jump through in order to justify; nay, praise such a state of affairs. But I don’t appreciate them…they force one to turn a blind eye to many fundamental realities about existence.

Is this the ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ you speak of that gives life value? If so, I think your premises deserve a little more examination. Whether metaphysical or secular, the price of admission to this ride is just too steep. It’s all about the risks, Bear, and the insult to human sensibilities in taking them.

Friday, April 11, 2008

On Reflection

I've been posting to this blog for a few months now. Thinking back, I guess antinatalism has been my default philosophical position for probably 20 years or so (ironic, perhaps even hypocritical, since my younger child is only 17). Still, with my focus much sharpened on the issue due to the writing, I feel myself shifting into a new and rather interesting headspace.

I spent most of my twenties as a fundamentalist Christian; yes, the bible believing, heaven vs. hellfire sort. I eventually abandoned that worldview, and after an interim period of feeling like I was living in some sort of intellectual vacuum, a new sense of self emerged. A more informed, thoughtful one, I hope. I'm feeling that way again, like I'm pushing against some sort of membrane of understanding; or maybe, of feeling. Not sure where the dividing line is between those two, sometimes.

Anyway, I'd like to express to the reader what I'm feeling right now, and as succinctly as possible. In a nutshell, here it is...I believe I'm losing my capacity to worship life. In fact, and in retrospect, I think it's already gone, and I'm just living on the echoes of its ghosts. This is quite interesting to me, because before this recent change, I never realized I WAS worshipping life. It's taken this 'stepping away' by means of objective examination of all those pre-suppositional euphemisms that we take for granted. You know the kind...'life is basically good', or 'things ultimately work out for the best', or even 'hope for the best', as if that solves anything. All the little life affirming attitudes we hang onto, in order to avoid that abyss of existential depression in the face of 'tough, bare facts'.

It's the same thing I felt when I stepped back from the god I worshipped, finally facing my doubts, and my distaste. In one sense the act was almost instantaneous; and indeed, there has been some of that in my disillusionment regarding life. But it's also been a process, and some definite thresholds to cross in my journey away from 'faith' of all kinds. Some might call my new attitude 'nihilism'; and, if be it. Although, I'm not really renouncing life itself, I don't think. But I've taken it off its pedestal, and am no longer in awe of it; awe being the attitude that the religious mindset seeks to inculcate in its followers. I don't feel arrogant about any of this, but neither do I feel humbled anymore. Interested at times, curious, confounded, angry, joyful, intrigued...but no longer humbled in that 'Wow, it's all so incomprehensibly glorious!' kind of way. Because in the end, it's all just stuff hurting other stuff, killing other stuff, and eating other stuff. My life is a flagpole planted on a mountain of countless murders, and soon enough I'll be supplanted, and become part of that ever growing mountain, as will my children, and theirs (god forbid!).

Sorry, it's a 'hard truths' sort of afternoon. Peace.