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.