Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reply to Aschwin de Wolf Critique- Introduction

I’ve been thinking about how best to approach Aschwin de Wolf’s critique of antinatalism, and have decided on something similar to my response to TGGP’s essay from some time back. The downside to this approach is that I run the risk of being pedantic and/or repetitive. Then again, when did that ever stop me before? The upside is that I can take my time, stretch it out through several posts, and thereby cover my ground more thoroughly; as well as, I’m hoping, more thoughtfully. As an emotionally driven writer, I tend to write hurriedly with my eye on the finish line. Usually I’m ok with that, but I’m really bending over backwards this time, for two reasons-

1. I sincerely appreciate Aschwin’s effort in putting together this article, and feel it’s only fair to return at least that expenditure of energy in my reply.

2. Aschwin’s essay is ‘loose’ enough to allow me to make a rather comprehensive philosophical statement as I proceed along the course of his various observations and criticisms. At the end of all this, I hope to have produced a bookended declaration containing answers to most of the questions people frequently ask. I’ll be touching on history (particularly the history of philosophy and religion), psychology, morality and ethics. I also hope to delve rather deeply into the ‘philosophy’ of transhumanism, the various aspects of which I’ve always been interested in, and even more so these days.

That said, I’d also like to mention that this endeavor will be a true group effort, in that any insights offered by commenters will be considered part of the creative process here, and fed back into subsequent posts. I’m under no illusions that I have all the angles covered, and will seriously consider any relevant ideas and extrapolations as we move along. On this ride, backseat drivers are welcomed! :)

Finally, I beg your patience, as well as your valuable input. Your intellectual energy keeps me motivated more than you might suspect. Feel free to critique, ask questions, and contribute as you see fit. Any ideas at facilitating communication around here are also appreciated. The ‘watercooler’ thread seems to have been a particularly beneficial addition to the blog. I’m also of a mind to better highlight the websites of those who regularly contribute here. I’ll work on that.

Ok, so this has been the teaser. Next post, we get to the meat of the thing.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

'Confessions of an Antinatalist' Review in 'Cryonics Magazine'

Aschwin de Wolf at Cryonics Magazine has written a very nice treatment/critique on antinatalism, featuring my book, as well as The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, by Thomas Ligotti, and Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence, by David Benatar. I'm planning on using Mr. de Wolf's review as a launching pad for several posts in the near future, so stay tuned.

P.S.- Aschwin just mailed me to let me know he'll have an html version up at his blog Depressed Metabolism very soon. I've also invited him to participate in the discussions. Looking forward to some fascinating interchanges from this extraordinary group of people (I'm talking about all you bloggers and commenters who bless this blog with your presence, naturally :)).

Here's the link.

UPDATE: Since Thomas Ligotti's book is included in this review, I thought folks might be interested in reading a negative reviewer's thoughts from TCATHR's Amazon page:

By San Francisco Book Review
This review is from: The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (Hardcover)
As a reader and amateur philosopher, I am conflicted. The less said about Thomas Ligotti's //The Conspiracy Against the Human Race//, the better. As a reviewer of books though, I don't have any other option. I must review the book no matter how terrible I believe it or its author to be. Already I am off to a bad start. But, then that may be a good thing and you'll stop reading this review now and make your way down the page to a book that deserves your time and consideration! If not, then prepare for the worst. //Conspiracy// is a work of "pessimist" philosophy by an author of horror fiction. I'm being kind by not putting the word philosophy in quotes, too. This book's main thesis seems to be that life is terrible and awful and nasty. Furthermore, that consciousness is a cruel joke that Nature played on humans, despite the fact that Nature itself has no meaning or purpose. Mostly it's the ravings of an impotent teenager who is so upset that existence doesn't conform itself to expectations that nonexistence, for all, would be better. By the end of the introduction I hated the author; by the end of the second chapter I was willing to help Mr. Ligotti end the misery that is his life.

Reviewed by Jonathon Howard

The flip side of optimism bias? Lest we forget that PollyAnna has teeth.

Polly Anna turns her head
Ignoring this and that
Her heart is full
Her eyes are round
Her point of view is flat

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Living in the Epilogue

Interested readers might want to check out this essay from our own Sister Y. She's outdone herself this time in the best of senses, methinks. Blew me friggin' away.

The Doomsday Button Revisted

This post is prompted by some recent conversation in the ‘watercooler’ section of the blog. There’s a rather spirited debate going on between two ostensibly opposing viewpoints which, for convenience sake, I hereby dub the ‘absolutists camp’, or ‘AC’, and the ‘situationalist ethicists camp’, or ‘SEC’ (you know who you are :)

The debate kicks off with this question from the SEC- “Would you torture a baby to end world suffering?” Apparently, the SEC representative was quite shocked and dismayed upon discovering, in another forum, that many commenters there were opposed to the idea.

The representative from the AC, on the other hand, seems at least as shocked and dismayed at the SEC’s blatant disregard of what the AC considers the cardinal principle informing antinatalist sensibility e.g. ‘thou shalt do no harm’. Or, alternatively worded, ‘thou shalt not coerce’. In fact, the AC is so morally outraged at this apparent schism from the Official Antinatalist Credo that they are threatening to revoke any and all antinatalist privileges previously extended to the members of the SEC, including though not limited to frequent flyer miles, complimentary e-harmony guest passes, and 50% off on hula lessons!

At this point, I’d like to suggest that another, and perhaps more appropriate, set of labels for our two combatants might be consequentalists v. idealists. The hitch here is that consequentialists can also be idealists, and, in fact, are in this case. The difference is that idealists of the first order load their ideals from the front end; that is, their ideals strictly inform the process by which their ideal ends might be achieved, EVEN when this formula becomes self-stultifying. Which it often does.

The consequentialist, on the other hand, sees no problem with breaking a few eggs along the path to what he understands to be the tastiest omelet ever baked up. “Do the math!” he adjures. “This is the way things get done.” He writes off the idealist as a pussy/Pollyanna lacking the testes to achieve his goals.

Meanwhile, the idealist dismisses his opposition as a study in contradiction, rationalizing away the very ethical precepts he supposedly adheres to whenever it becomes convenient to do so. The consequentialist is merely a means-to-an-end, I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, amoral moralist.

Here’s the thing. ALL of us are consequentialists to some degree or another. I suppose the immediate polarization here partly stems from the precise language used in the original proposition. ‘Torture a baby’ is a buzz-phrase with an immediate emotional impact, rendering the thought experiment ‘beyond the pale’ of serious consideration in many minds. It’s not that it’s a bad question, except that it allows for a rather comfortable, automatic dismissal in those inclined toward idealist attitudes; which we all are, in certain situations. Fortunately, this particular question is easily tweakable in the context of a debate where one party holds strictly to a non-coercion policy. Would the idealist allow the breaking of a kid’s arm to end world suffering? How’s about giving him an indian burn? Would he step on an ant to cure cancer? What if his wife had cancer? And so on.

On the other hand: Would the consequentialist have the balls to torture the baby him/herself? It’s all very easy to posit as a hypothetical, isn’t it? Sort of like meat eaters who rage against all hunting. As an antinatalist, my greatest ideal would be the cessation of all life, everywhere...but would I torture a baby to achieve it? Honestly, I’m not sure I have the balls. Beyond the self-serving issues, like wanting to be seen as a good guy in the end, there’s a basic conflict in my personality regarding desiring an end to suffering, and committing suffering in order to bring about the end product of my desires. Or maybe the conflict is in the working out of the philosophical premise itself; after all, the desire to end suffering is grounded in the emotional matrix, is it not? The reason follows afterward, and only makes sense to those who exist above a certain empathetic threshold, and are willing to flesh out those impulses to what I see as the foregone conclusion i.e. philosophic antinatalism.

However, conflicting emotions are NOT the same thing as a contradictory mindset, or a philosophy. As far as I can tell so far, antinatalism holds more water than any its detractors. When you consider that the two major challenges generally boil down to ‘You can’t consider the welfare of someone who doesn’t exist yet’ and, ‘Suffering is GOOD for you!’, you begin to sense the desperation of those who feel driven to argue for the existential status quo, don’t you?

Oops, I’ve gotten off on a tangent again, haven’t I? Back to consequences; and more to the point, the consequences I actually care about, which are experiential consequences. And now I'm finally to what I was referring to in the title of this post (emphasis on the word ‘finally’). We’ve talked about it before, that little magic button that would make the world go ‘poof!’ (virtual snap inserted here). Would you push it? Seems like an appropriate question about here. I certainly would, probably with a few qualms, though none of them are ethics-based. At least, I HOPE I would...there’s that question of balls again. Perhaps I’d ask one of the antinatalist ladies to do it; they seem to get along without them just fine :) (Or should that be :( , followed by a groan? I can’t decide :))

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My First Official Video!

Ugh, what a process; like slogging through quicksand. But for better or worse, here it is...

I'm working with the notebook's mike, so the sound quality is iffy, as is the source of the sound :). Not sure if contemporaneous speaking is my thing, but since there's another audience out there to be had, I guess I'll keep plugging away at it, as time and motivation permit. Anyhow, there you go.

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!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Watercooler Conversations

Per commenter Plague Doctor's request, a place to chat outside the parameters of a particular O.P.'s subject matter. Thanks for the suggestion!

Drawing Distinctions

Heads up for an interesting taxonomic approach to the antinatalism question. Sister Y has classified the major positions thusly-

1: Pronatalism. "All reproduction is morally innocent (or morally required)."
2: Situational context-dependent antinatalism. "Everybody should have babies except starving people in the third world, drug addicts, and AIDS patients."
3: Universal context-dependent antinatalism. "Our world is so bad that no one living in it should reproduce; but if things got much better, it might be okay."
4: Pure antinatalism. "No beings should ever be brought into existence if they will suffer at all - which they will."

Obviously, 1 and 2 are off the table as far as I'm concerned. 3 is no more tempting for a couple of reasons, the most obvious being that life exists in a constant state of existential flux. Having achieved utopia, what possible guarantees of everlasting prolongation can be secured? Shit happens. Beyond the question of endurance, there's the matter of those lives brought into being between then and now- how can the coercion and sacrifices ever be justified within a normative moral framework? There's also the problem of varying subjective standards to deal with. How can we know that our little utopia will measure up to somebody else's future measuring stick, unless everybody is exactly the same? It's been tried before.

Now onto number 4, and a question that's never really occurred to me before. What IF, in a far distant future, some paradise is manufactured which is somehow guaranteed to be both sufficient for all and sustainable throughout eternity. Imagine a day when suffering of any sort is abolished once and forever, swept out of the universe like a herd of unwelcome dust bunnies. Under these conditions, would procreation automatically become a moral act? Why? Perhaps it could be said to be not an immoral act, but I'm not so sure this is the same thing. Is a harmless act automatically a moral one? Or does a moral act entail some substance or form of moral necessity, no matter how oblique? I may be splitting hairs here, but equating non-immorality with morality is leaving me just a little bit queasy...perhaps for no good reason, I'll confess. It's an open question, and I invite debate.

UPDATE: The reason I bring this up is because it occurs to me that all purposeful action requires, or is impelled by, SOME sort of necessity. In a theistic context, the question has always been IF God is entirely sufficient unto Himself, what could possibly provoke Him to an act of creation? The pat answer has always been that He does such for His own pleasure; but of course, wasn't He always perfectly 'pleased' to begin with?

Pursuing this line of inquiry to its outer limits, I am logically persuaded to conclude that absolute perfection- or purity, if you will- when defined under the aegis of unalloyed non-necessity, doesn't look a whole lot different from non-existence to me. If, indeed, there's any difference at all. It seems to me that a positive moral action is always conceived to fill a gap, the kind of gap which just doesn't exist in a fundamentally ideal state (or non-state, in the case of non-existence). Which brings us full circle to the concept of Negative Bliss. The place where we started. The place we're all headed back to, eventually. In this light, existence seems to be nothing more than sediment temporally shaken up from the bottom of a crystal clear lake otherwise untroubled by any eddies, or winds of chance. Why muddy the waters?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Frequently Asked Questions

By semi-frequent request, I'm hammering out a FAQ for the blog. I'd appreciate any and all input, and will post it as soon as it's adequately fleshed out. Thanks in advance for your participation.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Now That I'm Back...

Every once in a while I promise myself that I'm going to concentrate on cleaning up this blog a bit. You know, tighten up the writing, more professional, less personally revealing, yada yada yada. I'm still trying, but I'm really not sure I have it in me. What it all boils down to is that this blog is about my children, and about my love for them, which is probably awfully perplexing for the folks who don't know me, considering the subject matter. In the end, I'll probably leave such heavy lifting to the other folks around here; they seem to be much better at it, anyway.

Contrary to what I've gleaned from many folks' experiences, raising my children was an unadulterated joy. I loved every minute of it (well, most of them, anyhow). I just never want to leave the impression that I ever think less than the world of them. They are the wellsprings of my best feelings, and I will love them, effortlessly, until that last minute when I cease to exist. As bad as I believe life is, I would suffer it for eternity if I could be there for them. One day I won't be, and that's what hurts more than anything.

Back Online

Thanks to one and all for keeping things going during my absence. Looks like I've got some catching up to do. I thought I'd start by addressing the most recent comment, and go from there. First, here's the unabridged comment-

Anonymous said...
Hedonism is a theory of value that states : happiness is the only intrinsic good and stress is the only intrinsic bad. My understanding was that Negative Utilitarians, like Classical Utilitarians, are hedonists (or 'negative' hedonists, if they deny the intrinsic, positive value of happiness). This is a claim about what actually is universally valuable, the fact that some people have a positive attitude towards stress or a negative attitude towards happiness is irrelevant. You make it seem as though you 'personally' value your pleasure but you don't 'personally' dis-value your own stress, you regard all stress as intrinsically bad as a matter of fact. Again, the opposite of suffering is not the absence of suffering, the opposite of suffering is happiness. Since every positive has a negative, anyone who claims that stress is intrinsically bad has to concede that happiness is intrinsically good. Also, as a minor point, consent (in my view) is of no intrinsic, moral value. Consent is only required to prevent unwanted, or stressful, states of mind (petting a dog does not require his or her consent since it's assumed that the dog will not suffer as a result). If suffering did not exist, we would not require the consent of unborn children to create them. Alas, it does so I'm with you.

If you claim to be a hedonist, then you have to accept that being unconscious is of neutral value, neither good or bad. Hedonists are consequentialists, the consequences of an action are what make it good or bad. An action that increases suffering or happiness can not be considered good or bad even if the actor had good or bad intentions (only intentions are moral/immoral, actions are just good or bad based on the actual effect that they have on the emotional state of mind of everyone affected by the action). Not all deaths are painful, at least not in theory. From a hedonist point of view, only stress is harmful.If someone was killed painlessly in their sleep, this death would not be harmful, at least not for the deceased. If you claim that something besides stress is harmful, you've abandoned hedonism (since hedonists deny that life itself or the entities that experience happiness/stress have any intrinsic value/dis-value, only happiness/stress have intrinsic value/dis-value).

I'm not really criticizing the NU view because it's the view I'm leaning towards. The worst, logical conclusions to classical utilitarianism (ie. raping a small child if it will produce a greater amount of happiness for, say, 10 people) are far worse than the worst conclusions of NU (ie. killing someone in their sleep, if it could be done without causing any stress to them or their friends, family members etc. to prevent them or someone else from stubbing their toe). It's better to be unconscious than it is to suffer but, it's also better to be happy than it is to be unconscious, which is why I hope the bio-abolition of suffering becomes a reality. Why hasn't this possibility been mentioned by anti-natalists like Jim Crawford and David Benatar?

I'd like to begin by tweaking the commenter's definition of hedonism a bit, not as a matter of contention, but to possibly expand the parameters of the discussion. This reference from my laptop Webster's seems sufficient-

1. Philos. the ethical doctrine that pleasure, variously conceived of in terms of happiness of the individual or of society, is the principal good and the proper aim of action.

I suppose the two definitions might be reconciled through argumentation; still, I'm thinking that the one offered by anonymous is somewhat oversimplified, collapsing any levels of nuance or context down to a matter of immediate gratification v. discomfort. This isn't to say the conversation can't go down that road; for instance, one might believe that a simple pinprick definitionally negates an eternity of guaranteed bliss. However, one can just as easily believe that the pain of a pinprick, while 'intrinsically bad' when considered in isolation, can still be folded back into the 'hedonistic good'- say, for instance, when it serves to move you out of the path of a runaway train. Perhaps the point can rightly be made here that I'm making concessions to reality thereby mitigating a purely hedonistic outlook. That's probably true. Then again, I've never found pinprick-type arguments very convincing, especially from an emotional angle. Hell, if that's all we had to worry about, I doubt I'd expend the efforts I do writing on this subject.

Now I'll touch on two or three other points, briefly, and wrap this up-

Also, as a minor point, consent (in my view) is of no intrinsic, moral value.

I'd argue that the issue of consent IS a moral value in the context of certain moral frameworks. Furthermore, IF consent is gleaned to be an essential part of an overall moral schema, that makes it intrinsic, doesn't it? And while the statement "If suffering did not exist, we would not require the consent of unborn children to create them" seems quite relevant, I'm not so sure it rises to the level of logical necessity. At least, I can imagine a reality where suffering doesn't exist, but the rule of consent might still apply.

If you claim to be a hedonist, then you have to accept that being unconscious is of neutral value, neither good or bad.

Unconsciousness- or substitute non-existence, if you will- is of neutral experiential value to the non-existent, granted. I suppose this is because the term 'value' always has a relational context, while 'non-existence' and the 'non-existent' are really one and the same thing. However, unconsciousness DOES have value relative to consciousness. Positive value, in the case of sleep breaks in-between torture sessions, for instance.

How does this relate to antinatalism? For the antinatalist who sees life as intrinsically bad simply because there is ANY suffering, even a pinprick, a neutral (non-existence) becomes a positive relative to life, in the same way that a zero stands closer to the positive set of numbers than a negative one (-1) on a number line. For this sort of antinatalist, it's a matter of extending sympathy borne out of simple self awareness towards those who might someday exist, but don't yet.

There's another sort of antinatalist who feels that while all lives are not necessarily, intrinsically bad, the risk of a bad life far outweighs the right to create new life, especially when there's no possible way of of procuring even uniformed consent from the 'giftee'.

I'm both kinds of antinatalist, by the way :)

...which is why I hope the bio-abolition of suffering becomes a reality. Why hasn't this possibility been mentioned by anti-natalists like Jim Crawford and David Benatar?

I actually address this in my book, and more than likely have touched on the subject somewhere in this blog, though the exact location escapes me at the moment. In a nutshell...

1. We don't know if such a possibility is a real possibility.

2. Even if accomplished, there are no guarantees of maintaining such an 'abolition of suffering'. Things might just as likely revert, or even get worse as technology advances.

3. In the meantime, the stepping stones to our imagined utopia are wrought of suffering, and laid in death. Procreate for the Future! A towering gravestone built in homage to a dream.

Anonymous- I realize you were addressing the O.P., but I thought I'd offer my own slant on things. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, and welcome! (if you're new...there are about a dozen anonymous's running around here). Welcome as well to any other newbies, and my gratitude to all participants of this blog, old and new. I'll be around.

Btw, for those concerned I indeed DO have a roof over my head, and it's not the roof of my '86 Mazda. Four walls, even! 'Nuff said.

Monday, September 13, 2010

It's Official!

As of last week, I have officially joined the ranks of senior citizenry; or, is that citizenship? The pants are hiked up, better to show off my white penny loafers, the 'Ultimate Matlock DVD Collection' is on order, and I'm feeling damned cranky! *shakes fist at the sound of children playing outside my window* Although for some reason, Glen Beck still seems like an idiot to me...must be the fluoride in my Milk of Magnesia. Damned Commie bastards!

On a somewhat more serious note, my apologies for neglecting the blog of late. My head's wrapped around moving right now, but hopefully that'll be over in another 3 or 4 weeks, and maybe I'll be able to get my head together again and write something worthwhile. In the meantime, thanks to all the contributors here who've made my absence pretty fucking unnoticeable, I must say :) Good show to one and all.

Meanwhile, over at the Hoover Hog, Chip Smith has written something worth reading, and he's given his permission to print it here in full. The original has a lot of embedded links that I can't seem to transfer over here, so feel free to wander over there and click, click, click them at your leisure. I just wanted to have a copy over here for reference. Enjoy.

One Man's Exquisite Treasure

In considering the question, "who should exist," economist Robin Hanson perhaps intentionally avoids grappling with the articulated view that the answer could or should be, "no one," proposing instead a framework that Sister Y aptly characterizes as "something like R.M. Hare's Golden Rule, plus economic efficiency." Essentially, Hanson argues that a being should be brought into existence if it would want to exist and can pay for the ride.

When pressed to address the obvious objection that it would seem to be impossible to know with perfect confidence whether a specific being would or would not "want to exist" prior to being created, Hanson comes off as mildy put upon. "It seems odd that I have to specify this in such detail," he sighs in a related thread, "but ... [f]or some creatures we know with great confidence that if they existed, they would prefer to exist." Not surprisingly, he goes on to cite himself as an example of just such a creature. So just do the play math and rev up the clone machine already. Never mind that the objection hasn't been answered. Never mind that other questions remain. This little piggy prefers to exist, and there are more like him in the imaginary queue. What more need we know? People making isn't ethically problematic; it boils down to a recruitment quiz drafted on the fly. Antinatalism is probably just a form of signaling, anyway.

I'm late to the festivities as usual, but, obviously, I think Hanson's recipe is wildly overconfident. I think his discussion of an important question is uncharacteristically careless and flippant, and I think his use of moral language is tellingly selective and profoundly misplaced. I don't think he has thought seriously about the nature and resonance of suffering. I think he wrongly equates pre-vital nonexistence with some kind of qualitative or experientially deprived state and that he fails to consider the evolutionary basis for "a preference for existence" that nevertheless rests on force and entails nontrivial harm and risk. Finally, I am inclined toward the conclusion that Robin Hanson, a prodigiously intelligent and interesting thinker who I often read with admiration and polite envy, is being disingenuous about most of it. I'll try to explain.

By sleight of noun and verb, Hanson's preferential test can of course be asserted to justify subordinate existential states that would strike most people as undesirable or absurd. We may know with great confidence, for example, that if "some creatures" were introduced to heroin, they would prefer continued access to heroin. Can this toggle be invoked to support the claim that such people, identified in advance, should be introduced to heroin, "if they can pay for it"? I suppose Hanson might respond that, unlike being alive, being addicted to heroin is economically inefficient, that it entails countermanding negative externalities, or something. If that is true (and ceteris paribus, it might not be true at all), there would seem to be no shortage of contending preference-based asymmetries to supplant the 'if' and 'then' with similarly dubious implications. If some creatures were to light up, they would cultivate a preference for smoking and remain productive, perhaps even saving society some significant cost in end-of-life care. If some creatures were afflicted with heartbreak, they would nurse their limerance to produces beautiful poetry and music. If some creatures were chemically endowed with psychotic genius, they would guard their angst-inducing delusions while contributing to the advancement of knowledge. There must be countless subjective preferences that, once actualized, will ensure their own demand and buy their own ticket. Are we thus encouraged to create such preferences where they do not as yet exist? Is it OK, as Sister Y asks, to slip someone Ecstasy without their knowledge? Or, per Seanna Shiffrin, to drop gold bricks on impoverished villagers, improving their lot while breaking a few bones?

Or is there something special about the life-preference as such, even if the flowery scent is most probably an artifact of natural selection? And if life-lust is sui generis -- as it certainly is in when considered in the context of existential (rather than subordinate or post-vital) asymmetry -- should we be obligated to create miserable Golems? I don't think Hanson cares to explore such questions because doing so would tend to undermine the meta-ethical qualification that he assumes should be obvious. Creating preferences may be good or bad (regardless of efficiency) when those affected are already existent, but the idea that never-existent beings are benefited by being brought to life (or conversely that they suffer by not being brought to life) is mistaken. It is mistaken regardless of what degree of confidence may be assigned to the likelihood that they would want their existence once created. More on this later.

Though his position at the outset is presented in insistent terms of economic efficiency, Hanson's stance of disinterested positivism is belied at later turns when his tone assumes a curiously emphatic moral cast. Perhaps irritated by the incipient noise of antinatalist discourse (yes, I'm speculating), I think Hanson insinuates a sly subtext into his reasoning. More precisely, I think he means to turn the tables on those who don't cop to his unscratched pronatalist bias. If I'm right, the tell may be evident in his Hareian suggestion that potential procreators should be guided by a strong positive obligation toward those as yet nonexistent critters nested in the static of pre-flight zilch -- you know, the ones who presumably "want to exist" and can pay for it.

I think Hanson is being worse than coy when he writes:

If asked what gives you the right to prevent the existence of creatures who could fully pay for themselves, you might respond that you need no right, if you have power and a will to use it. Or perhaps you’ll say ethics assures you it is simply impossible to be unfair to creatures who don’t yet exist. But wearing my efficient economist hat, I cannot support such naked selfish aggression, even if I thought it would work. And knowing how hard is coordination, I have serious doubts re feasibility. If you can identify large negative externalities, I will help you to find ways to price them, to discourage the creation of creatures who cannot fully pay for themselves, and the theft of legacy assets. But if not, I prefer to help creatures who can pay for their existence obtain that exquisite treasure.

Emphasis mine. Notice how the deck is shifted with a wink. Notice how the clumsily situated econ-argot serves as misdirection. Rather than consider the agent-specific question of whether and why it should be just (or decent or right or moral) to create a new being out of lifeless chemistry, Hanson cursorily assumes away the arguments of antinatalist objectors, only to unfurl conspicuously judgmental language (what gives you the right ... naked selfish aggression) to place a burden of presumptive guilt on those who, for whatever pre-defined-as-bad reason, would fail to summon ostensibly life-craving beings into existence given sufficient (and, at present, impossible) epistemological vantage. It is in failing to create such new beings, or, more accurately, in actively preventing their existence, according to Hanson, that we commit "selfish aggression" by denying, what he, oblivious or not to his profound metaphysical arrogance, describes as "that exquisite treasure," which is to say -- aesthetically, I suppose -- life.

It's hard to know what to unravel first. One way to begin is by observing that the moral burden Hanson assigns to those who have the ability to create new life (under presently impossible conditions) carries bizarre implications and rests upon a concept of "aggression" that bears no relation to common usage of the term. Under his proposed injunction, every spare moment that is not devoted to creating utility-maximizing lives that are somehow (impossibly for now) predetermined to want their existence -- is a moment in which a potential procreator stands under shadow of suspicion for inflicting violence upon teeming nullities of untapped potential life-preference. Taken seriously, such a view would place every moral agent in an absurdly untenable position. Step away from the happy consciousness emulator for a bit of down time, and you reveal your "naked aggression" by denying those potential someones the "exquisite treasure" to which they are surely and emphatically entitled. There can be no rest for the existence-mixing barkeep, given such stakes. Original sin seems like a shoplifting offense by comparison.

Even if we permit that Hanson's moral rhetoric may be less than sincere (as it clearly is), his confidence in ascribing preference and future-resourcefulness to pre-existent beings in order to enjoin (rather than justify) their creation is questionable on his own terms. Leaving aside the first-order problem of epistemic uncertainty that I don't for a moment forgive, constancy of preference remains a big problem. If we allow that a pre-existent being's optimistically speculated potential to desire its own existence once created constitutes a valid reason to initiate that potential being's actual life, should we not be compelled to insure against events that could radically change this preference? I would argue that the problem of sustainable preference is relevant even and perhaps especially with reference to the far-flung futuristic scenarios that Hanson prefers to entertain. Check back a thousand years later when -- oops! -- a coding glitch in the latest consciousness simulator has led to a quantum holocaust. In a dynamic universe aswarm with unknown unknowns, stochastic variables are predictably inevitable and certain to thwart our best intentions from time to time. There might also be mischief, of course, and life-loving sadism to account for. And minds that change.

During a recent news cycle, we learned about the horrific fate of a lovelorn woman. Perhaps Dr. Jacquelyn Katorac, preferred existence at one time. It seems likely enough, really. Perhaps when she was a littel girl, or when she was in medical school lost in study, or when she first fell in love with the man who would later reject her affection -- perhaps at such times she was disposed to affirm her life in terms that would neatly satisfy professor Hanson's existential criteria. Perhaps she once regarded her life -- or all life -- as an "exquisite treasure." I don't think such conjecture is unreasonable. But if we submit, arguendo, that this woman -- by all accounts well situated to pay for her existence -- once and perhaps greatly preferred being to its alternative, as most of us do, we are in a position to consider what she would have been denied had she never been born, and to further consider this counterfactual against the terrifying reality that she actually experienced in the final days and hours of the precious life that she never asked for.

I wonder how and whether Dr. Katorac's preference shifted when, in a state of jealous desperation, she made what her unrequited lover would later characterize as "an unbelievable error in judgment" by trying to gain access to his home through an open chimney. Robin Hanson may not feel troubled to dwell over the acute panic and the white-hot shockwaves of implacable regret that this woman surely must have experienced as her body became wedged within the the hot and unyielding crampspace of a brick and mortar stack. He might not feel pressed to contemplate the agony that must have come in waves as her descent locked and her mind raced in shambolic retrospect over the choices (if they were even choices) that led her to such a position. Were Dr. Katorac's arms raised above her head when her progress down the chute was retarded by brute physics? Or where her arms locked at her side, or in some awful pretzled contortion? Which would you prefer? As time pressed on and the heat became unbearable, did she succumb to sleep in her wedged position only to awake in a renewed state of panic? Did her mind drift into some passive state, or was punishment constant unto her death? Did she hold out hope? Were there spiders in the chimney, as there usually are? Did she piss herself? Did she regress to cry out for the mommy who created her? Every quale and detail is fucking relevant. Because it happened in real physical space to a real living human being, who but for a chance meeting of gametes, would have been prevented and denied ... what?

It may be observed that Dr. Katorac is but one individual, and further that her suffering resulted from choices that she made freely, if under strange duress. I doubt the latter part is true, but cling to this if it helps. It hardly matters, because we know that her fate is and will be multiplied in the deaths and sufferings of countless others, most of whom, we may speculate with equal or greater confidence, were constitutionally endowed with an adaptive preference for life. I could more easily have chosen a clear-cut victim by example. Perhaps a raped and tortured child, as the textbooks prefer. There have always been more than a few. But I want to stay with the good doctor dying in the chimney. To appropriate a Hansonian term, her plight feels "near." And I sincerely wish, as she must have wished, that none of it had happened. It didn't have to. It never does.

As Hanson finds cause to fake outrage over the plight of the never-weres who may never be, he should take pause to consider, in good faith and with some imaginative effort, the profound horror that some certain quantity of once-life-affirming beings will absolutely endure no matter what degree of caution is exercised to ensure that they gratefully accept and embrace the "exquisite treasure" that he prefers to enthrone. If Dr. Katorac had never been brought into existence, the nearly inconceivable ordeal that marked her end would likewise not have been. That much, I submit, is simple. But to confront this existential counterfactual in particular (which we may do in countless other instances and iterations) is to confront the equation that Hanson and other overconfident pronatalists seem content to loosely rhetoricize without overmuch reflection. Hanson assures us that it is possible to be "unfair" to a nullity, indeed he is confident that we behave aggressively toward some whose existence we "prevent."

Can this be true? No, it cannot.

A nullity is not an entity. Those who are never born are deprived of nothing because they are nothing eternal. Hanson's glib assertion that we can aggress against those who would, if created, prefer existence is bullshit. Tested against reality, his words collapse into meaningless ether. Hanson fails to explain how or why those hypothetically posited would-be life-lovers are or could ever be deprived or harmed in any way by being left to the default infinity of stateless non-vitality to which they -- we -- will all return as a matter of course anyway. If some actual, experiential deprivation could be shown to manifest through the ostensibly negligent (or inefficient) inaction that denies a potential quantity of gristle-and-nerve the "exquisite treasure" of inhaling and exhaling and craving pizza, then Hanson might have some ground upon which to prop his Darwinian bias, perhaps by reference to a hedonic ledger that pits the banked suffering of uncorked souls against the benefits of a mostly rewarding and productive life that nevertheless may end up rotting in a chimney. Trouble is, souls are make-believe, and the ledger doesn't yield to whim. Where there is no person, there is no personal experience. Zip. Nada. Like the time before you were born, and after you die.

A world in which Dr. Katorac is never brought into existence a world in which she experiences nothing and is done no violence. The world in which she was brought into existence is the real world in which she actually experienced throes of agony that most of us are loath to imagine. While the actions that led to her creation, and perforce to her ordeal, may logically, if arguably, qualify as "aggressive," the inaction that creates no cluster of subjective experience cannot meaningfully be described as exacting any tangible harm or deprivation against a person who might otherwise have been. To argue otherwise is to relinquish reason to mysticism.

Robin Hanson is no mystic. Like all of us, he is more likely entranced by his own biased life narrative. His vacuous assertions cannot change the fact that nothing is nothing, and the imaginary harm that he posits will remain impotent and meaningless before the real and unpredictable pain that sentient beings will experience in the real and unpredictable world that he feels so blessed to perceive, thanks to a cosmically indifferent scheme of happenstance and blind natural selection. I want to hammer this much because it's one thing I know for sure. Where there is no being to be deprived, there is no deprivation, no harm, no aggression. No then or now. No tomorrow. No yesterday. Nothing ever. While the moral (and economic) relevance of beings who do not yet exist may be propositionally considered insofar as their creation is being contemplated, a nobody cannot lay claim to any preference or desire, and a nobody cannot be harmed by the denial of a preference that a somebody insists it would express if only it could.

The asymmetry looks back and yawns. The argument isn't going away.

No one should ever have children. There is no good reason to bring another being into existence. Life is not a treasure, exquisite or otherwise. It's just one damn thing after another, until it ends in death. If you're lucky, it won't hurt too much. If you're luckier still, it won't be at all.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Should Drug Addicts Be Sterilized?

Philanthropic v Eco-Antinatalism

I've been reading over Filrabat's delightful series on antinatalism this morning. It's quite a treat, both thoughtful and compelling. He has a section in there dealing with so-called ecological antinatalism, outlining the differences between that mode of reasoning and the one explicated by proponents of philanthropic antinatalism. He makes a lot of good points. I can't say I disagree with a one of them.

Having said that, I feel the need to emphasize that from the angle of practical application, philanthropic and eco-antinatalists are on exactly the same page i.e. the voluntary extinction of the human race through non-procreation. Though there's something to be said for philosophical purity, I also recognize that both sides are motivated by empathetic concerns. And even though I'll readily admit that eco-antinatalism is ultimately grounded in what I feel to be a romanticist's fallacy- as if nature somehow becomes divine when divorced from human nature- still, our differences fall outside the scope of our shared concern, which is that humans should stop breeding.

The only reason I bring this up is because I think it's important to recognize that folks coming from different pre-suppositional bases can be moved toward common goals. If someone in the New Age bookstore is persuaded to remain childless for the sake of 'Mother Gaea', I may be intellectually put off, but in the end a node of suffering goes unmanifested, and a life is saved. It would be the same if a fundamentalist Christian were talked out of having a child because of the risk of eternal damnation. Of course, I would love it if everybody saw things my way, and for the same reasons, but until that day when pure enlightenment rains down upon all of humanity, I'm willing to settle for what I can get :)

On the other hand, if you're one of those antinatalists motivated purely by misanthropy, you're one sick puppy, and I hereby revoke your membership! :O

Commenter Modern Man Said:

I made the mistake of staring at a pregnant woman today; the resulting existential dread was unbearable.

During my approximately three mile commute to work, rarely a day goes by when I don't see at least a small handful of very young women pushing baby strollers. Ofttimes, these are double and triple deckers, with more in tow! My general reaction is one of nausea. In fact, I'm feeling a bit of that now just writing about it. I suppose this is the existential dread Modern Man is referring to. It's not only the knowing, but the understanding that these parents are utterly oblivious to the horrible futures some of these children will face.

I was out walking the dog late last night. Somewhere nearby a window was open, and I could hear the lyrics of a rap 'song' repeated ad nauseam-

I wanna make love to you.
I wanna make love to you.
I wanna make love to you...

Chanting along was the voice of what I imagined to be a girl somewhere in her mid-teens-

I wanna make love to you.
I wanna make love to you.
I wanna make love to you...

Over and over again, in an abstracted monotone reminiscent of a chantey sung by zombies during their evening repast of human fricassee (dem bones, dem bones, dem huuuuman bones). It gave me the shivers, because I knew she would indeed be making love, again and again and with different partners, most likely popping out babies like watermelon seeds. Naturally I'm generalizing, but in my neighborhood the odds are on my side. Procreation is commonly a mindless endeavor around these parts; outwardly discouraged at times, but tacitly supported in ten thousand ways by society at large. I have no hopes for directly reaching any of these people. My ideas are foreign and hostile, and will find no purchase in a lower working-class culture where almost all energies are invested in scraping out a living, with a little left over for cheap recreation ala baby making. It's discouraging.

I suppose antinatalism could rightly be termed 'elitist' in the derogatory sense of the word. Who am I to tell people what to do with their own bodies? In the final analysis, is this philosophy simply the other side of the authoritarian coin already occupied by the anti-abortion movement? I don't believe it is, but I can certainly appreciate the defensive posturing of those who are afraid I want to 'violate' their rights as citizens. And to be perfectly honest, I would violate those rights if I had a realistic opportunity of doing so. In my eyes, I'm saving lives, pure and simple. I guess that makes me an ideologue. Hopefully, not a blind one.

Of course, some cogent arguments from the other side might someday prove me wrong. I've yet to see any of those, though I'm still waiting.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Voice Out of the Past

Almost exactly a year ago, and after years of searching, I managed to find an old friend through Facebook. He moved into our house as a renter after my parents' divorce. He's actually mentioned briefly in my book. We lived recklessly together for a time, and/but eventually wound up living in the same religious cult for many years.

Funny, after finding him we didn't really communicate much after the initial contact. He sent me an email Christmas card to which I didn't reciprocate, and that was about it until a couple of days ago, when I got a message that started like this-

Thought I'd say hi. Your daughters are doing really well, congrats.:) I had a heart ablation procedure last weekend, so I'm indigent for sure now. I remember asking the doc to not let me wake up.

After relating some of my own recent trials and travails- including a rather nasty upcoming one, I'm afraid- he returned with this-

Life is definitely not kind as we would like. The Buddhists got it right, in NW timberland lingo, "Life's a shit sandwich and then you die." The Buddha called it suffering. Anyway, if you make it this way, there will always be a place for you in my home. Don't forget to occasionally use the public libraries to maintain online communication. An iPod touch for $150 will keep you connected with everyone; that's pretty important. Please keep in touch. Don't fade on us. :)

I may immediately file a bankruptcy when the bills have come in. Been there. Done it.

Love from your friend

It's hard to write beyond this point. How do I express the hatred I feel for an impulse that creates a person like this? This guy and I go way back, into our teens. We've suffered emotional and physical violence together, as well as inflicting it upon each other on occasion. We've loved, and lost, and lost again. I feel him falling away between my fingers, along with everything else; as I am falling away through others' fingers. Loss, loss, loss. It's the way of things.

Anyway, this and Shadow's thoughtful missive have me feeling a bit maudlin, and Seinfeld's almost on, so I guess that's it for tonight. I really need to write some poetry, but I don't seem to have it in me these days, if I ever did. Anyway, blessings to Rich, and to you all. See y'all on the flip side.

P.S. Don't be concerned about that 'nasty upcoming' part. I'm always overly dramatic when I'm feeling maudlin; comes with the territory :)

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Well, I'm typing here this morning after having been up all night in excruciating pain (more to come, at least for the next few days), suffering through a bout of some mysterious intestinal disorder which flares up every year or so. It's resulted in several surgeries in times past, but no real answers. I've learned to live with it, and this particular attack is one of the milder ones i.e. I'm not crawling around on the floor and puking up black stuff. Ain't life grand?

Sorry I haven't posted much lately. Noodling my way through some difficulties, the details of which I won't bore you with. Also, I've recently joined a gym...trying to make sure I'm in really good shape when I die:) Anyway, my thoughts have been a bit scattered of late.

Fortunately, Sister Y over at TheViewFromHell, has taken up the gauntlet, and is more than adequately representing the subject we're all here for. It's been really nice to see her back, hasn't it?

Meanwhile, Chip Smith of The Hoover Hog fame is still ironing out his freethinking manifesto, which I'm sure we're all looking forward to reading.

Lastly, my book got a VERY nice review over at the Spanish Inquisitor, a very good atheist blog I've frequented for the last couple of years or so. Check it out, if you're so inclined.

Ok, I guess that's about it for now. Looks like I'll be chillin' for a couple of days, at least, so if any epiphanies fall out of the ceiling in the meantime, you'll all be the first to know. Until then, best wishes to one and all.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Real Reason More Women are Childless

Here. Interesting article and comments section.

Contributed by commenter Karl.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Our First Entry!

And it's a goody, contributed by commenter and host of TheViewFromHell, Curator AKA Sister Y. The ball, as they say, is rolling.

UPDATE: I went ahead and started a new blog dedicated to an antinatalism pamphlet (link top left margin). Send your pdfs to the email listed there, and I'll post them. Thanks!

DOUBLE UPDATE: Compoverde has contributed a flyer as now, as well. You can view it at the aforementioned link. Totally awesome!

Flyer 1

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Atheist Forums

Good conversation thread happening here.

Toast in the Machine

A poem advocating condom use.

Freud opened the hood up,
and what did he see?
A fistful of pistons,
but an absence of me.

And Minsky, my old friend
(and a really smart guy,
(though he waffled on free will)
still supposes A.I.

All my dreams? 0’s and 1’s
going mano a mano.
And those bats in the belfry?
Just a grotto of guano.

It seems we're all tubes
with an 'in', and an 'out'.
We wiggle, and niggle,
and squiggle about,

but are rarely aware
of the motives inside-
which themselves are just beggars
gone along for the ride.

We scrape out a living
on this big ball of dust,
while self-replicating DNA
scrapes out an us.

And we love, and we bitch-
but mostly, we eat. ,
And we borrow, and lend,
and pretend we're not meat.

We perform, and we prattle.
We thank, and we think.
We poop, then pronounce
that our shit doesn't stink.

And before we go down
in the ground, we ensure
that our pipe dreams extend
just above the manure

long enough to disgorge
vision’s seed on the breeze,
on the off chance tomorrow
might cure our disease-

A new sun! A new world!
In a future so bright
as to justify aeons
spent alone in the night.

Brand new bodies to house
our vicarious selves,
with a thousand new gurus
to line our bookshelves,

who’ll assure with a wink
and a word from beyond
that we’ll all live forever
if we’ll only press on.

Then we pray to the sky,
suing stardust for mercy,
cashing in the old ghost
for a ride in the hearsie.

The story’s much older
than mold or sliced bread.
Everybody gets burned,
and we all wind up dead.

And so, if you’d value
your daughters and sons,
keep that twist-tie secured,

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Kicking Against the (pin)Pricks

I really like this article, enough so that I think I'll spend some posts arguing against several of its premises, conclusions and wild speculations. Stay tuned!

The Asymmetry Simplified (hopefully)

As you know, I’ve been looking for a concise argument to support Professor Benatar’s fundamental asymmetry. Here’s a decent summary of that asymmetry by one of its critics, Ben Bradley-

THE PRIMARY ARGUMENT OF DAVID BENATAR’S Better Never to Have Been is an argument for the claim that coming into existence is always harmful, because it is always worse for an individual to begin to exist than never to have existed (Benatar 2006: 30-49). Thus, it is always morally wrong to procreate.

I’ll begin by citing the first paragraph of commenter CM’s critique of Mr. Bradley’s critique-

Ben Bradley's BENATAR AND THE LOGIC OF BETTERNESS spends a lot of its time knocking down strawmen. The very first sentence of part I is a mischaracterization. Professor Benatar only uses pains and pleasures as exemplars of harms and benefits (p. 30, BNtHB), and makes no claims about hedonism being true or false...

Just so. Furthermore, it is unnecessary to ‘prove’ hedonism’s truth or falsity. That’s not to say that hedonism, or

the ethical doctrine that pleasure, variously conceived of in terms of happiness of the individual or of society, is the principal good and the proper aim of action.

can’t be shown to be a universal aspect of normative human values. It can, even when we take into consideration ostensibly mitigating defeaters. However, there’s really no need to pursue that tangent, since Bradley himself accedes to hedonism’s precedence as our presuppositional starting point. With that out of the way, I’d like to proceed with what I hope to be a very brief argument based on an idea we talk about a lot here- namely, that for practical purposes it is impossible to isolate existential ‘pleasure’, or happiness, from its own relativistic context. That is, happiness can be defined as much by the avoidance of suffering as by the accrual of so-called positive experiences. We might call these the positive and negative poles of happiness. Naturally, we could argue over which pole holds more sway regarding the overall human condition, but again...unnecessary to my argument. Let’s agree to call it 50/50, and leave it at that.

That said, everything else boils down to some very basic utilitarian math. Which better serves the hedonistic imperative, existence or non-existence? Regarding existence we’re stuck with a mixed bag, both on the personal level and in terms of humanity as a whole. The principles informing hedonism are never fully actualized. At best, preference utilitarianism (either positively or negatively emphasized) winds up being a wash in the present tense, and this doesn’t even begin to speak to the future risk of suffering becoming so predominant as to obliterate the hedonistic objective (this risk, of course, is already actualized at any given time within a sub-set of humanity in toto).

On the other hand, happiness’ fulfillment at the negative pole- that is, happiness as defined by lack of suffering- is ALWAYS fully realized in non-existence. To put it metaphorically, non-existence is the left hand of God; Buddhism’s Nirvana, or ‘blowing out’. On an experiential level, I’ve come to think of this ‘state’ as Negative Bliss.

To sum up: The goal of hedonism is never fully actualized within existence via either positive or negative utilitarian reckoning, and always fully actualized within non-existence via negative utilitarian reckoning. To put it another way-

positive happiness fully actualized/-1
negative happiness fully actualized/-1
final score/-2

positive happiness fully actualized/-1
negative happiness fully actualized/+1
final score/0

The asymmetry is validated.


Ok, this is pretty cool. In preparing this post tonight, I'd pulled up this link. The essay is entitled 'The Pinprick Argument', which is basically an argument used as a defeater of negative utilitarianism on the grounds that its logical ramifications are counter-intuitive.

Anyway, I never got around to reading past the first or second paragraph until AFTER I'd finished my own little argument and posted it. The whole thing is basically just another regurgitation of futurist 'happy pill' thinking, but I DID run across this interesting paragraph somewhere in the middle-

If the abolitionist project succeeds, whatever its ultimate time-scale, then should the negative utilitarian be morally satisfied with such an outcome? In an important sense yes: s/he will have discharged all his or her moral responsibilities. If this epoch-making transition in the history of life on Earth comes to pass, then it will be a revolution far more momentous and profound than anything to date. Moreover, unlike positive utilitarianism or so-called preference utilitarianism - neither of which can ever be wholly fulfilled - NU seems achievable in full.

In other words, even this transhumanist agrees that antinatalism is the sounder argument but for the fact that most people don't like it on an 'intuitive' level. So much for intuition.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sort of Another One on Singer

Not exactly. More an opinion about population control vis-a-vis environmental concerns. But Singer is mentioned, and the tension existing between Singer's ACTUAL position versus Benatar's is addressed in an indirect way.

Chuck Colson on Peter Singer

Not surprisingly, our former Watergater now born-againer dots the by now familiar i's, while his Senior Partner in the clouds crosses the lower-case t's. Today I thought I'd zoom in on some loaded and subtly deceptive phraseology which seeks to make antinatalism what it is not.

This time, Singer is considering the idea of not just getting rid of the elderly or the disabled, but total human extinction.

To start with, tying the word 'extinction' to the phrase 'getting rid of the elderly or the disabled' is problematic, inferring an active elimination of already living beings. Human extinction by way of procreational attrition is a far different thing. Applying Colson's logic to the personal, we are then obliged to define any successful attempt at preventing a pregnancy as murder.

'Extinction' is a buzzword these talking heads get a lot of mileage out of. With it, they conjure up images of the Gulag, people forcibly marched into ovens, and the general damage and violence brought to bear in an attempt to exterminate a large number of people. Admittedly, such forces might be utilized in a farflung future where antinatalist doctrine holds political sway. However, violence isn't a necessary component, and could be avoided completely if everyone simply recognized the suffering they were inflicting upon the newly conceived.

On the other hand, there ARE examples of the kind of violent extinction Colson is afraid of; all he has to do is leaf through the bible under his arm to find them.

Utilitarianism seeks to increase happiness and reduce the amount of pain. Nothing reduces pain like eliminating everyone capable of feeling it.

Again, Colson is using the word 'elimination' here to generate a defensive feeling, as if Singer (Benatar) is promoting violence to rid the planet of people. Others have even gone so far as to label antinatalism 'genocide'. All this for advocating a voluntary act i.e. non-procreation. We're not talking about elimination. The very process of life takes care of that on its own. We're talking about circumventing the process altogether, thus SAVING lives, not eliminating them.

Then again, Colson's God seems to be one of those pack rat types who saves EVERYTHING, including that majority of souls He disapproves of. That's why He prefers stockpiling them in His basement and sticking needles in their eyes for eternity, rather than just living and letting live. Or die, as the case may be.

Sure, the remaining animals would could still feel physical pain, but every animal's pain, i.e., being eaten, is more than balanced out by the happiness being felt by those doing the eating. The net increase in happiness would be undeniable in a "kumbaya/circle of life" way of thinking.

And of course, animals, many of whom abandon their young before they are actually born don't feel guilt about what they are doing to future generations. It's great to have a selfish gene.

I found this particularly amusing, since the system he's disparaging is the one his God set up. By the way, Chuck, 'kumbaya' is a spiritual song, and literally means 'Come By My God'. You know, 'Yah' as in Yahweh.

They could do it because they had already decided that there wasn't anything inherently sacred and worthwhile about human life.

Bypassing a discussion of what 'inherently sacred and worthwhile' even means (nothing, in my view), what's this got to do with voluntarily NOT having children? Being a devout Christian, I'll assume the Chuckmeister doesn't believe in a backlog of souls floating in the void, waiting for their chance to take the stage. That being the case, just how much sacred and worthwhile human life is necessary to fill the quota? I mean, God plans on putting an end to this earthbound production pretty soon, anyway...doesn't He? And is every adjuration to 'pull out and come on my stomach, sweetie' a slap in the face of sacredness, then?

Then again, there is this. Whoops! My bad.

To them, the future lay not in God's hands but in their own—they, not God, decided who did and did not have a future.

So all family planning is out, then? Leave it all in God's hands, and God'll decide when enough is enough? Is this the way it works in your Christian community, Chuck? Christians just keep on squirtin' out them youngin's until God, in His Infinite Mercy, finally renders them barren somewhere in their mid to late fifties? Puleeeze! And conversely, if people actually ARE allowed to make their own decisions regarding the number of children they have, might one of those 'allowable' numbers be 'zero'? Or is there a minimum requirement for every Godfearer on the face of the Earth? I'd like to see that chapter and verse, if you don't mind.

As I said, Singer is "nicer" than that. He's not a monster. Instead, he wants us to imagine being monsters together

Thus spaketh Chuck. Hear and obey, oh ye faithful of the Lord. And remember, if you're not popping them out like bunnies, Straight from the horse's...

Monday, June 28, 2010

What Children are For, and How We May Use Them

Ok, I said I wasn't writing anything tonight, and I'm not, really. Just wanted to point you here.

Musical Interlude

Not much to say tonight, so I thought I'd post this improv piece by Keith Emerson at the California Jam. All my friends went...I had to work :( Right down the street from me, too. Ugh! Anyhow, I hope you'll take 10 minutes out of your evenings and give yourselves a real treat.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Talking Skull on Peter Singer

Just wanted to share a couple of comments from this site. By this point, I don't think any other commentary is necessary. Just thought some of you might like to play the 'spot the fallacies, non-sequiturs and selfish motives' game-

Are we not animals? Is not the goal of every other single animal on the planet to reproduce and carry on their genes to the next generation. Well if some "intellectual" thinks we should not have kids because they will not have perfect lives then that person is forgetting the whole purpose of life. Without children there is no future and there is no hope.

Life is a constant struggle and to decide not to continue your genes to the next generation because of some imaginary beliefs is really silly but I guess thats natural selection at work. I have 3 kids and plan to have as many as I can before I die. Nothing can surpass the joy of having your own children and guiding them into the future. I feel sorry for anyone who decides not to have children as they will miss out on some of life's most important experiences.
Or all the stupid people will have loads of kids and in a few thousand years life will be like that movie Idiocracy.

I think sometimes in our modern world of computers, cell phones, and not being forced to struggle daily to survive we often forget what is really important. What is the point of being intelligent or rich if you cannot pass this down to the next generation. I remember as a child shortly after my dad died, a person told me he had died but lived on in myself and my siblings. I am a part of him as my children are a part of me. I will die to but part of me will live on in them. I see that everyday in them and how parts of their personality or traits remind me of my childhood. Sure they might have hard lives and encounter lots of obstacles but where there is life there is hope and a world without children is a world without hope.
It is an individuals choice to have children or not to but I could not imagine life without my children now that I have them and they have enriched my life in so many ways. Truly the greatest job is to be a parent.

Commenter CM's Critique of Ben Bradley's Essay

What Good Is The Logic of Betterness?

Ben Bradley's BENATAR AND THE LOGIC OF BETTERNESS spends a lot of its time knocking down strawmen. The very first sentence of part I is a mischaracterization. Professor Benatar only uses pains and pleasures as exemplars of harms and benefits (p. 30, BNtHB), and makes no claims about hedonism being true or false; other theories are discussed and taken seriously by him in Chapter 3, as well.

Then (almost immediately), Ben Bradley alleges that David Benatar views the absence of pain in (A - X exists) as intrinsically better than its presence in (B - X never exists); it is unclear why Professor Bradley thinks that. David Benatar states that "absent pleasure is relatively (rather than intrinsically) bad [in (A)]" (p. 41, BNtHB). It would seem reasonable to infer from the above that he also views the absence of pain as relatively (rather than intrinsically) good, especially since we are making the comparison with reference to the (potential) interests of X. For some reason, Ben Bradley does not consider that last point very important, and refuses to take it into consideration "for simplicity's sake" (see footnote 1).

A major part of Ben Bradley's paper is devoted to descriptions of how the asymmetry self-destructs when the concept of values is introduced, down to sarcastically asking how the values of absences are to be weighted. He says nothing about Professor Benatar's discussion of these very issues (pp. 45-9, BNtHB), where the latter shows why it is mistaken to assign values in this case and illustrates by revisiting his Healthy and Sick analogy; if the assignment of values were appropriate there, never getting sick (H) would be worse than getting sick and recovering quickly (S) if "the amount of suffering that [the presence of capacity for quick recovery] saves S is more than twice the amount S actually suffers". But such a conclusion is clearly absurd. Again, recognizing the fact that the asymmetry is to be understood only within the context of individual-affecting values (p. 37, BNtHB) would have saved Ben Bradley a lot of unnecessary trouble.

After doing a bit of googling, I stumbled upon this Google book preview, in which Roderick Chisholm (one of the betterness theorists) postulates that "the only bearers of intrinsic value are actual states of affairs - just those states of affairs that occur, obtain, or exist" (p.55). This, then, seems consistent with my interpretation of Professor Benatar's arguments above. However, the expanded list of intrinsic goods and bads proposed by Professor Chisholm presupposes the existence of someone and is therefore irrelevant to our case. While I am neither a logician nor a philosopher, the two quotations mentioned above seem straightforward enough.

If, like Ben Bradley claims on page 2, "pleasure must be intrinsically better than the absence of pleasure", how about we just grant him that and say that the absence of pain in (B) is non-intrinsically better than the presence of pain in (A)? If intrinsic values are only relevant to existers, we must think beyond then if we want to compare non-existence with existence. It doesn't follow that such a comparison would require us to redefine every axiological concept; we can simply continue applying such concepts to existers and come up with new concepts that help us make ethical decisions about potential people with regard to their potential interests. Otherwise, we are again forced to face the non-identity problem, or even logic of the larder (with regard to people; not that the fact that Henry Salt's essay applies primarily to non-humans makes it any less persuasive).

In contrast with some of the other reading material we have been exposed to lately, Ben Bradley's discussion note at least attempts to engage Professor Benatar's arguments. Whether or not it has done so successfully is a different question, however. A useful way of describing this paper would be to say that it is relatively, rather than intrinsically, good.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Benatar and the Logic of Betterness

Just thought I'd throw this out there for discussion. Not sure if anyone's touched on this particular essay yet.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Antinatalism- A Path to Transcendence?

In the previous comment thread, new commenter Cactus Jack writes-

...I always felt that there was something not quite right about this whole show (being life) on this planet, and it seems as though the not quite right aspect was life itself. Before reading the contributors work I had never even considered the concept of antinatalism, let alone it being an option. I don't suppose it's a natural line of thought, must need to be learned. Now that you all have dismantled any objections I may have had with antinatalism before reading older posts, a state of despair has made itself felt. You know, the whole evolutionary thing, passing on genes, meaning of life. Any thoughts? I'm just concerned for myself (very selfish I know, blame human nature) that it may be a long and miserable life down this road.

To which commenter Karl replies-

Cactus Jack, you've hit the nub of the problem. Once you've transcended the conditioning to procreate, you're left in the void.

Commenter Compoverde's advice?

Refrain from procreation. Stay adrift. Look at the void head on. Do not give yourself a false sense of identity, anchoring your meaningless existence into one of a parent. Life is meaningless. Understand this, and do not pass the inherent meaninglessness to another generation. Don't enslave or condemn another human being to suffering and meaninglessness because you are having an existential crisis and you want to anchor yourself.

The commenter Shadow nails the whole thing down with this emphasis-

Look at the void head on!

Cactus Jack remarks on the feelings of despair he is experiencing as the exposure to antinatalist thought sinks in. The reaction many people have to these ideas is that life becomes meaningless. But what has changed? A pro-natalist lies down to sleep, dreams a nightmare. He awakens drenched in sweat, clutching at his sheets. He is now an antinatalist.

But nothing in his room has changed. The same sun shines down upon his face as yesterday. Nothing's really different, other than his perspective on things. And it occurs to him that life never had any meaning in the first place, other than that which he personally cast upon it. The world is the same. He is different. He has simply lifted the curtain, and seen the void behind it.

What's left, then? Utter despair? Suicide? I'm reminded here of Dante's Inferno, and of the saying at the gates of hell, "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate", or "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." I think a lot of people would post this message on this blog if they could :) Cactus Jack's own sense of hopelessness seems on the surface to vindicate this warning. And yet, when I read a lot of the comments, I can't help but feel that some have managed to accommodate themselves to that initial dread, perhaps weaving hopelessness with purpose, and punched through that void, much like Dante escaping hell by going through the very center of it. Or if not exactly fighting through, learning to face it until they're not quite as afraid anymore.

I'm also thinking of transcendence via the 'heroic journey' motif, with the twist that instead of fighting to slay the dragon head on, antinatalism is taking the more practical route of simply burning all the crop it feeds upon. Brave knights usually end up with their heads stuck up on pikes, anyway :)

Ikkyu Sojun is a personal hero of mine. Eccentric, iconoclastic Zen priest and poet, he often walked about with skulls attached to his belt to remind others of the transience of personal existence-

nature's a killer I won't sing to it
I hold my breath and listen to the dead singing under the grass

As horrible as it can feel sometimes, there's something uplifting about staring into that horror without flinching...isn't there? We spend so much of our lives turning our heads to the side and considering existence askew, maybe the very act of looking forward is its own vehicle of enlightenment, yes? Meaninglessness remains, but it is a meaningless imbued with clarity, which seems to make a difference. At least, to some. Be well, my friends.

Only One Koan Matters...You (for Ikkyu and Mori)

Sad, boisterous, lecherous, drunk, suicidal-
Ikkyu embodied the flux of human existence.
He found transcendence in the dung of his master, Keno,
and spiritual release in the mouth of a 19 year old blind girl.
What wisdom coats your dead tongue, Mori?
Does he carry your skull on his belt, as he walks the fields beyond the moon?
Give us a kiss, sweetheart, and then another round
on me.

The Last Messiah by Zapffe, contributed by Karl. Good read. Thanks to Zapffe and all here for inspiring this morning's post.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Another Tragic Figure Bites the Dust

Commenter Shadow got me leafing through the old poetry archives tonight, and I came upon an old sonnet that I think is good to end the night with--

Another Tragic Figure Bites the Dust

Another tragic figure bites the dust.
Another life of hope and dreams goes south.
Another curving hip, and lucious mouth
fall down into the acid mists, and just

because- no other reason can I give
to justify the way it all goes down.
One day the bus of us pulls into town;
we stay a while, but then it's time to live

no more. We leave as fast as when we came,
not knowing where our destination lies.
The mourning mourners mourn the one who dies,
then saunter off to carry on the game.

No matter where you go, it's all the same-
the book of life's motif is pretty lame.

Half a Life

I'm reminded of this episode of 'Star Trek TNG'. One Dr. Timicin (played ably by David Ogden Stiers) comes aboard the Enterprise with a plan for saving his home planet's dying sun. The plan ultimately fails, but the thrust of the episode involves Timicin's impending death by euthanasia. It seems that on his world, people are put to death when they reach the age of sixty. It's a cultural tradition named 'The Resolution', formed in the days of rampant overpopulation, and is also justified as 'a means of ridding their culture of the need to care for the elderly.' (Wiki).

Counselor Troi's mother happens to be along for the ride on this mission, and naturally, being the horndog that this character always was, she immediately sinks her empathetic claws into Dr. Timicin. Unsurprising, she is shocked and outraged at such a 'barbaric' tradition, and immediately sets about putting the kibosh on the whole deal, getting everybody involved and instigating a diplomatic froufrou. At one point in the episode, I remember her self-righteously riposting to Timicin's 'care for the elderly' argument with something like "Why SHOULDN"T our children take care of us? They OWE us!"

She actually gets Timicin to go along with her little vicarious rebellion for a while, pissing everybody off in the interim (as that character always did), but in the end he decides he's not the man to fight this fight, and acquiesces to the cultural norm. I really liked this episode, as I thought the writers created a genuinely balanced tension between the two world views, and didn't cop out with a convenient condemnation of Timicin's choice. They came close, mind you, but at times you could sense Troi's over-the-top denunciations as something close to visceral prejudice. An approach that I felt was quite refreshing.

There was another episode I remember liking, I think it was 'Star Trek Voyager', where one of the 'Q' continnum was imprisoned inside a comet to keep him from committing suicide. Seems he was experiencing Deific Strength ennui, and just wanted to blow the scene. The rest of the 'Q' were definitely against the idea, because if one Q were allowed to do it, why, it might bring into question that all was peachy in Paradise!(Q style) Sound familiar?

Here's that episode. I looked it up just for you, dear reader, so make sure you read it. I just did, and found it extremely relevant to what we talk about here. Appropriately, the episode was entitled 'Death Wish'.

Enjoy the day!

UPDATE: Just in case you don't feel like reading through the Wiki, I thought I'd cut and paste the last couple paragraphs for you, solicitous guy that I yam-

Quinn shows the court the Q continuum (or rather how it would be interpreted by their limited human minds) as a road stretching around the entire planet with one rest stop, a country gas station and store, and some Q standing around, bored. Quinn describes immortality as dull, that it is only possible to experience the universe so many times before it gets boring. Q tries to dismiss it and makes a poor attempt to show that the other members of the continuum are happy, but Quinn sees through it and confesses, to Q's surprise, that it was Q's earlier unrestrained behavior in an attempt to make his life fun that was the motivation for his own actions. He makes an impassioned speech comparing his eternal boredom to suffering from a terminal biological disease for which suicide is the only humane release, and that being forced to live for all eternity against his will "cheapens and denigrates" his life, and indeed all life. Janeway is clearly moved by this and agrees to grant him asylum. Keeping his part of the bargain, Q makes him human. At this point Quinn chooses his name.
While trying to decide where to assign Quinn so that he won't use his knowledge to evolve humanity overnight, Janeway and Chakotay receive a message from the Doctor that Quinn is dying after ingesting a poison. After realizing that the Doctor did not keep any of the poison on hand, and that the computer would not replicate it due to its harmful nature, Q then appears and admits that he was the one who gave Quinn the poison. He's taking up Quinn's rebellion against the staid order of the Q.

Between Disability and Dust

There's a couple who've been coming into the restaurant for as long as I've worked there, maybe a couple times a week. She's around my age, but her companion's a much older man. Her father. They don't talk much; just sit in the corner and eat their breakfast burritos in relative silence.

The other day, she came in by herself and ordered something to go. While she was waiting, she suddenly burst into tears. "I don't know what to do! I've been taking care of him for such a long time, and as he gets older, it's consuming my life. He doesn't want things to be this way, but he's gotten to the point where he can't do anything by himself. He has to be constantly monitored. The bills are piling up. And I have no life of my own."

This is my greatest fear. I don't want to do this to my children. Of course, I have no money so my options are few. I worry about having to end my own life when circumstances make it necessary- mostly, about the method- realizing that my suicide will do its own damage; though in the long run it's most likely the best alternative.

I wish...I wish...I wish there was a societal recognition of this problem, with a governmentally sanctioned solution for those who don't want to just sit back and 'let nature take its course'. In case I'm not being clear, I'm talking about government assisted suicide, specifically euthanasia centers where people who don't want to live anymore can be put down humanely. I don't want to leave my children with the image of a gun in my mouth and the back of my head blown out. But when you get to be my age, you have to start thinking about these things. Nothing I'm considering in the short term, mind you. I'm still hoping to go peacefully in my sleep :) Unfortunately, that doesn't happen very often.

I don't really like the idea of dying; the process, I mean. It represents a loss of control. At this point in my life, that's pretty much all that's left- and I feel it slipping away. All the signs of aging are jostling for position now, making their proximity felt in numerous ways. I'm not a kid anymore, although 12yrs old feels like yesterday, and that's what hurts the most. To look back and see all those years barely out of grasp, a dream just beyond your fingertips. Then to look forward, and see a wall rushing at you, and to know there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. And your kids standing on the sidelines; trying to live their own lives, trying not to think about the bad shit life is going to throw at them until the very last minute, when they're forced to, and the chips- or body parts, as the case may be- fall where they may.

It's all such a tragedy.

This horrifies me to no end.