Thursday, April 9, 2009

Unspoken Truths

I remember the first time I made the statement "I hate life!" out loud. I won't go into the details, other than to say it was in front of my then-wife. Her eyes opened wide, and she cried, "Jim, NO!" as if I were revealing some deeply hidden family secret. But the cat was out of the bag, and we both knew it. I had committed irreparable treason against the mythology that upholds human existence. I actually remember thinking the words, but trying to hold them in behind clenched teeth. Of course, once spoken I knew that I'd felt this way for an awfully long time. Hell, I even knew that I knew. But speaking the words, that open acknowledgment in front of someone I, it was devastating, and our world was never the same again.

Do I regret it? Not really. I've always been sort of a truth hound, and after all this was just a minor component of existence's generalized suffering. Not nearly as bad as getting one's fingernails pulled out, or passing out from near starvation every night, like so many millions around the world do. The marriage had been on the rocks for quite a while, anyway, mainly upheld by another bevy of lies, and hopes for brighter tomorrows. Life goes on.

On another note, I found this comment on a blog today-

"There's not a great deal of suffering in life. The odd break-up, the odd death. But there's a world times a lifetime of pleasure to be had."

I surely wish I could find this planet these people are beaming their opinions down to Earth from. I know a lot of people who'd be willing to re-locate.


TGGP said...

Your remark about being a truth hound reminds me Robin Hanson has been wondering who loves truth the most. Maybe you should tell him you do!

your host said...

LOL! I went over and read the piece. Amusing, if not particularly substantial. Seemed more like a bit of playful rhetoric than anything else; of course, maybe that's all it was meant to be. I'm not really familiar with the author or his agenda. I thought the comments section dismantled it adequately <:)

Anonymous said...

On a note somewhat related to your post, jim, I have had similar conversations with my mother. She is a generally depressed person, and she complains about life frequently. She has mentioned to me that her father was the same. I recently began to open up with her about how I wish I had never been born, and although I've never taken the conversation quite this far, I pretty much blame her for my existence. I blame my father "less" because my mother did not share with him the fact that she was trying to get pregnant with me (based on things she's said, I think she had me in order to buy herself more time at home before having to go into the work force--thanks, Mom). But I digress. I don't think Mom realizes that her choice was very selfish and that I can't help but resent her for it. Sometimes I'm tempted to speak the unspeakable truth that about my resentment, but I always fall short because I realize what's done is done, and nothing constructive can come out of it. Unfortunately, I seethe inside, especially when Mom comments on how cruel the world is, and how awful the struggle to survive can be. How can it be lost on her that she could have prevented yet another generation from suffering the same? She had so much power to prevent future suffering, and she abdicated (probably just to be able to stay out of the work force for those first 5 years of my life). I'm sorry to say it, but how selfish, and how short-sighted of her!

your host said...

I'm in about the same situation with my own mother, Anonymous, though the days of blame are mostly behind me. I also believe my older daughter holds some of the same feelings towards me, especially during those times when things aren't going so well. I acknowledge her feelings. After all, she has a good point, and I'll gladly bear the brunt of her angst if it makes her more aware of the true situation regarding existence and bringing new lives into the world.

Since I really don't believe in free agency regarding the 'will', I really don't blame anybody in a moral culpability sort of way. We are what we are, driven by forces that stretch back to the big bang (and beyond?). I'm just trying to take the rational course as I see it, and make my little contribution towards ending this horror of living existence. We all make decisions which later we come to regret. In fact, existence itself precludes ANY of us from walking away with clean hands. But heralding the antinatalist message is a good step towards redemption, don't you think? In fact, when I'm feeling particularly down on myself, I reflect on the fact that my efforts have, perhaps, succeeded in preventing one whole lifetime of suffering, and that makes me feel a lot better.

Hang in there, Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Empathy is extremely difficult for those less harshly treated by life. However much the evidence is presented to these people, their worldview only truly encompasses the parochial world of themselves, their family and close acquaintances. Suffering is necessarily subjective and its perceptions are unique to each individual. As you say, Jim, we are "as we are" and an over-optimistic view of life is likely to persist as long as there exist events to reinforce it. If folks' feel that their ennui-filled lives are enhanced by children, then they'll have babies. Period.
Unlike you, I cannot see any evidence for any underlying groundswell of antinatalist yearning (there are of course, certain demographic changes brought about by economic, sociological and genetic factors, but these are not , IMHO, acting to annul the fundamental selfhood that is at the basis of procreative tendency). I.E. People are selfish. They'll remain so until there's a damn good evolutionary reason for anything else. Very sad, like so much in life, but there we are.

Anonymous said...

I personally think the way in which antinatalism is presented in this blog is not going to encourage many folks to seriously consider the decision to have children. You connect certain events with "suffering", exaggerate their "importance" out of all proportion, extrapolate from microcosm to macrocosm, and hardly ever mention any events which make folks happy. It would be all too easy for the uninitiated to think that this is just a group of basement-dwelling, depressed deviants who perhaps find some catharsis in venting their spleen on this blog.

Now, let's be clear - I am an antinatalist myself. However, that is NOT because I regard life as intrinsically full of suffering, or because I believe that suffering always outweighs happiness. I am an antinatalist because I feel RESPONSIBLE for the welfare of any potential children I may have. If they don't come into existence in the first place, then the POTENTIAL for severe pain in their lives does not come to fruition. In other words, I do not conduct a statistical analysis of the situation, assigning various probabilities to "severe pain", "pain", "happiness" etc. The fact that there is a NON-ZERO probability of severe pain for that potential child is enough for me to take the decision not to have children. If my child were to suffer from severe pain, either mental , physical or otherwise, I would be solely responsible for that pain. It is because of my decision that the POTENTIAL for that pain would come to be REALIZED.

So, in fact I would say that this philosophy, far from being negative or nihilistic, is actually an affirmation of the ALTRUISTIC nature of human kind - the fact that we can consider gambling on another's life to be irresponsible, wrong and essentially an abuse of our power, is indicative of great progress. Our philosophy is "pro-responsibility" more than it is "antinatalist" (per se).

your host said...

Anonymous-I'll admit that part of my effort here is to highlight the 'intrinsic suffering' of existence. My emphasis on the universality of suffering is in some measure meant as an antidote to attitudes reflected in statements like the one in the post you commented on-

"There's not a great deal of suffering in life. The odd break-up, the odd death. But there's a world times a lifetime of pleasure to be had."

This is the standard 'rose colored glasses' outlook I'm speaking against. I also don't believe I've exaggerated suffering's role or universality in the 'macrocosm' in the slightest bit, though you're free to disagree, of course.

As far as focusing on the potential for any given life to suffer severe pain, I've written about that many times on this blog. I've also tried to demonstrate that antinatalism is rooted in empathetic human sensibilities, though I'm sure I could always do better getting the point across. It seems you think there's too much negativity, and that it's all too much of a downer to the average reader? Perhaps. Then again, perhaps there's more nuance to the problem of suffering than the potential for severity that it seems you'd like me to zone in on.

Honestly, I'm not sure what your beef is. But I'll consider what you've said, and I'm glad you took the opportunity to vent your spleen :)