Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cataclysmic Astral Phenomena Are Best Viewed With Your Head in the Sand

From the 'watercooler conversations' thread. This interchange between commenters filrabat and CM highlights the disconnect many opponents of antinatalism experience when reason collides with a cherished belief i.e. that bringing new people into the world is a good thing:

Last Days on Earth, about ten disasters that could render humanity extinct or nearly so. @ 2:32 a woman's answers the question "What would you do if you learned a giant asteroid were about to hit the earth soon?" that she'd have kids, even if she acknowledges there'd be a certain selfishness in it. Most of the video posts commenters REALLY tore into her! Still, I think the only reason they did so is that the consequences were immediate and staring in our face. Apparently, most of us are good at taking the ultimate good step ONLY when the threat is imminent and obvious. Even so, it shows we CAN choose if we're sufficiently motivated.

By filrabat on Watercooler Conversations on 4/26/11

filrabat- the comments on that video are a gold mine! "bring one more person into the world to suffer and selfish" "so you are going to bring more life into existence just to expect death?" Apparently, these people think their children will be immortal and suffering-free. Priceless. But I suppose if push really came to shove, everyone would quickly "realize" that a life that lasts for several years in a collapsed society followed by burning to death is better than no life at all...

By CM on Watercooler Conversations on 4/26/11

Each person inhabits a world whose particulars are unlike any other, a world unique in terms of space, time, and all the subjective moments which serve to delineate one from all the rest. World after world, rising out of the dust of chaos. Patterns of force deriving their energies from the entropy of the universe, formed of the last gasps of stars that once burned brightly, but are no more. Vortexes whirling like dervishes in the midst of flux and decay.

For each of these worlds, there's a giant asteroid on the way. Its path is straight, its target is clear, and its existence is absolutely undeniable. What's the difference between placing a child in front of a loaded gun, and bringing it into a world where it must one day face the giant asteroid? Deniability. Psychological distancing. Ambiguous, ungrounded feelings of hope that "oh, everything will probably turn out alright."

Then again, we put our children in front of loaded guns all the time, don't we? There's that national/cultural/species vicarious immortality rearing its ugly head once again. Stand up for what's good and true. Defend the dignity of the human spirit. Always buy savings bonds. But whatever else you do, for crissakes- DON'T LOOK UP!

There's a giant asteroid coming with your name on it.


Karl said...

David Attenbrough has a (from the conventional perspective) taboo-breaking article on overpopulation in The New Statesman.

Karl said...

Again, the link appears to be too big. You can get the article through the New Statesman homepage.

Sister Y said...

Here's the link to the paper. Wow, what an amazing essay. I especially like this:

"The fundamental truth that Malthus proclaimed remains the truth: there cannot be more people on this earth than can be fed.

"Many people would like to deny that this is so. They would like to believe in that oxymoron 'sustainable growth.' Kenneth Boulding, President Kennedy's environmental adviser 45 years ago, said something about this: 'Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad - or an economist.'"

metamorphhh said...

Sister Y- Yeah, that part made me giggle.

Karl- I guess I'll never get used to the idea that conversations about population control are 'taboo breaking', though I know you're right. I guess it's because the subject was always being discussed when I was young. I had the idea back then that overpopulation was pretty much universally seen as a very big problem. When did things change, and why? Was it part of the conservative/religious backlash, or did it become a liberally engendered 'personal rights' issue, or both? It seems like I turned around one day, and suddenly nobody was talking about it anymore.

Anonymous said...

Tota flebilis vita est. . . . mortalis nata es, mortalesque peperisti. putre ipsa fluidumque corpus et causis repetita sperasti ram inbecilla materia solida et aeterna gestasse?

All of life is lamentable. . . . You are born destined to die; you have given birth to children so destined. Had you hoped, a body corrupt and fluid and buffeted by chance, to bear solid and lasting matter out of weak?

--- Seneca, Consolatio ad Marciam 11.1


Marcia actively mourned the death of her son for over three years. In De Consolatione ad Marciam, Seneca attempts to convince her that the fate of her son, while tragic, should not have been a surprise. She knew many other mothers who had lost their sons; why should she expect her own son to survive her? The acknowledgement, even expecation, of the worst of all possible outcomes is a tenet of Seneca's Stoic philosophy. While Seneca sympathised with Marcia, he reminded her that "we are born into a world of things which are all destined to die," and that if she could accept that no one is guaranteed a just life (that is, one in which sons always outlive their mothers), she could finally end her mourning and live the rest of her life in peace.

Anonymous said...

The inhabited world... in huge conflagration it will burn and scorch and burn all mortal things... stars will clash with stars and all the fiery matter of the world... will blaze up in a common conflagration. Then the souls of the Blessed, who have partaken of immortality, when it will seem best for god to create the universe anew... will be changed again into our former elements. Happy, Marcia, is your son who knows these mysteries!

Anonymous said...

--- a woman's answers the question "What would you do if you learned a giant asteroid were about to hit the earth soon?" that she'd have kids ---

Apparently this woman wants to give birth to a hero. Haha...


Glyndwir has remained a notable figure in the popular culture of both Wales and England, portrayed in Shakespeare's play Henry IV, Part 1 (as Owen Glendower) as a wild and exotic man ruled by magic and emotion ("at my nativity, The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes, Of burning cressets, and at my birth The frame and huge foundation of the earth Shaked like a coward." — Henry IV, Part 1, Act 3, scene 1). In the late 19th century the Cymru Fydd movement recreated him as the father of Welsh nationalism, revising the historical image of him and joining him in popular memory as a national hero on par with King Arthur.


At my nativity
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes,
Of burning cressets; ay, and at my birth
The frame and huge foundation of the Earth
Shaked like a coward.

Why, so it would have done at the same season, if your mother's
cat had but kitten'd, though yourself had never been born.

I say the Earth did shake when I was born.

And I say the Earth was not of my mind, if you suppose as
fearing you it shook.

The Heavens were all on fire, the Earth did tremble.

O, then th' Earth shook to see the Heavens on fire,
And not in fear of your nativity.
Diseased Nature oftentimes breaks forth
In strange eruptions; oft the teeming Earth
Is with a kind of colic pinch'd and vex'd
By the imprisoning of unruly wind
Within her womb; which, for enlargement striving,
Shakes the old beldam Earth, and topples down
Steeples and moss-grown towers. At your birth,
Our grandam Earth, having this distemperature,
In passion shook.

Cousin, of many men
I do not bear these crossings. Give me leave
To tell you once again, that at my birth
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes;
The goats ran from the mountains, and the herds
Were strangely clamorous to the frighted fields.
These signs have mark'd me extraordinary;
And all the courses of my life do show
I am not in the roll of common men.

--- King Henry IV, Part 1, Act 3, Scene 1

Karl said...

Jim, it's interesting that you raise that issue. I was at a talk the other week with John Gray and James Lovelock and one of the audience suggested the taboo on overpopulation came from the rise of Human Rights discourse in the 70s. It was a fascinating conversation. Here's a link:

Karl said...

My links never come out:-) Just put Artangel John Gray James Lovelock into Google and off you go.

Anonymous said...

Nos e tanto visi populo
digni, premeret quos everso
cardine mundus?
in nos aetas ultima venit?
o nos dura sorte creatos,
seu perdidimus solem miseri,
sive expulimus!
abeant quaestus, discede, timor:
vitae est avidus quisquis non vult
mundo secum pereunte mori.

Have we, above all men, been chosen
To crash beneath a world dislodged?
Is this the final moment of our age?
Pity the fate that gave us life,
Only to lose the sun, or banish it ourselves.
But cease, complaints, and leave us, fear!
Eager for life is he who does not wish
To die as the world around him perishes.
(Thy 875–84)

It is one of the ironies of the conjuring up of the cosmic cataclysm that the speakers pretend they have the option of surviving the general collapse.

--- quoted from Senecan Drama and Stoic Cosmology, p. 152f

Anonymous said...

eo itaque fortior adversus coeli minas surge et, cum undique mundus exarsit, cogita nihil habere re tanta morte perdendum. quod si tibi parari credis illam coeli confusionem . . . si in tuum exitium tanta ignium vis excutitur, at tu solatii loco numera tanti esse mortem tuam.

Confront the threats of the heavens, and when the universe is in flames around you, consider that in such a mighty ruin you have nothing to lose. But if you can bring yourself to believe that that convulsion of heaven ... is aimed at you ... then you may surely regard it as some consolation that your death is costing so dear.

--- Naturales quaestiones, 2nd book

Karl said...

Joseph Conrad:

"There is a – let us say – a machine. It evolved itself (I am severely scientific) out of a chaos of scraps of iron and behold! – it knits. I am horrified at the horrible work and stand appalled. I feel it ought to embroider – but it goes on knitting. You come and say: ‘This is all right; it’s only a question of the right kind of oil. Let us use this – for instance – celestial oil and the machine will embroider a most beautiful design in purple and gold.’ Will it? Alas, no! You cannot by any special lubrication make embroidery with a knitting machine. And the most
withering thought is that the infamous thing has made itself: made itself
without thought, without conscience, without foresight, without eyes, without
heart. It is a tragic accident – and it has happened. . . .
It knits us in and it knits us out. It has knitted time, space, pain, death,
corruption, despair and all the illusions – and nothing matters. . . ."

metamorphhh said...

Karl- Found these Conrad quotes on Wiki:

Faith is a myth and beliefs shift like mists on the shore; thoughts vanish; words, once pronounced, die; and the memory of yesterday is as shadowy as the hope of to-morrow....

In this world — as I have known it — we are made to suffer without the shadow of a reason, of a cause or of guilt....

There is no morality, no knowledge and no hope; there is only the consciousness of ourselves which drives us about a world that... is always but a vain and floating appearance....

A moment, a twinkling of an eye and nothing remains — but a clot of mud, of cold mud, of dead mud cast into black space, rolling around an extinguished sun. Nothing. Neither thought, nor sound, nor soul. Nothing