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.