Friday, September 5, 2008
Meanwhile, a couple of new links concerning David Benatar's book...
Enjoy! (Thanks, Chip!)
P.S. I'd encourage anyone to read anonymous's recent comments; due to internet difficulties, I'm afraid I gave them less than my full attention in my haste to get them posted before I lost access again. I'd also like to extend my thanks to anonymous, and to the rest of you who take the time to comment here. Much appreciated!
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
To an Aborted Fetus
Well, I can’t say you really missed all that much,
and you were spared an ungodly amount of grief.
All in all, I’d have to say you came out on top-
at least, that is my belief.
And if, perchance, you survived your mortal state,
and are sitting on a cloud in heaven, sipping on something cold with ice,
then thank your mother that you missed your turn at this dreadful way station-
‘cause they say it’s a real bitch, having to be born twice.
Chapter 5 begins with a couple of biblical lamentations out of Jeremiah and the book of Job; probably not the sort you hear preached much in the cotton candy liturgy of the modern mega-churches. Here’s the Jeremiah verse:
Cursed be the day on which I was born: let not the day on which my mother bore me be blessed. Cursed be the man...because he slew me not from the womb; so that my mother might have been my grave and her womb always great. Why did I come out of the womb to see labour and sorrow?
Whatever justification some apologist might give for this verse, it’s quite obvious that somebody believes there are worse things than death.
This chapter deals with the practical question: When is the premature ending of existence justified, if at all? Or to turn that question around, when does existence actually start-both in the biological sense, and in the morally relevant sense? The biological question is a sticky one, trying to determine just when an ovum becomes independent in...what, essence?...from the host. In my own mind, this question will probably never be settled, because almost everybody is starting from an unjustified position. For many theists, as well as anyone else who believes in a ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ independent of its biological housing, the answer is clear, if not scientific. Actually, I SHOULD say it’s clear for those who believe the soul arrives at the moment of conception; my understanding is that some believe it might arrive later along the gestation period, though I’d imagine most would be reticent to pinpoint the exact time. Interestingly, their predicament is somewhat mirrored in the materialist who, notwithstanding his non-belief in spirit, nevertheless is adamant about finding SOME line of demarcation between non-personhood/personhood-even if that line is moved up to the literal departure from the womb...or beyond (think about it).
On the morality side, Benatar offers a small index of ‘interests’ gleaned from a history of philosophers talking about this stuff, and investigates which are truly relevant, or worth considering. He winds up centering in on the question of when a fetus attains ‘consciousness’, for it is there that he chooses to plant his flag of moral relevancy. From then on, the issues become quite complex; he cites others’ contrary arguments for moral status, as well as the right to abort, or lack thereof. I won’t tell you where Benatar comes down on the issue (BUY THE BOOK). Suffice it to say that I always find such conversations perplexing, somewhat convoluted, and ultimately wide of the mark. ALTHOUGH, in Benatar’s favor, I find his recognition of varying degrees of moral standing a good launching pad for what I have to say, as I now depart from the text, and try to offer a few coherent thoughts on the matter.
You know, I’ve been avoiding chapter 5’s review precisely because I knew it would eventually lead here- not because of WHAT I had to say, but because I didn’t know exactly how to say it. I’m not a very practical person as a rule, and to be frank, the question of fleshing out the pragmatic ramifications of antinatalism (besides the simple delivery of the message) falls generally beyond my interest (I suppose it’s the same reason I don’t vote). Reading this excellent post...
and the continuing conversation in the comment section really helped (thanks to Sister Y and the other participants). Along with this link from TGGP...
I think I finally broke through to SOME clarity, although the reader will be the final arbiter of that. So, here goes...
First of all, I need to stress that my position is one of philanthropic antinatalism, and that my definition of harm vis-a-vis this position is one of experiential suffering, solely. I do not rely on the abstract, deontological status of certain moral propositions- how CAN I, when it is my firm belief that such premises ALWAYS ultimately emerge from consequentialist principles; albeit, ofttimes by backdoor reasoning? (Rather than go further into this, you can read my opinion concerning deontology here...
This probably puts me at odds, to a degree, with some of my fellow antinatalists. For instance, by my definition death is not a harm; at least not for the one who dies, since his/her suffering/deprivation is at an end. Of course, all the suffering leading up to that death is a harm, and the harm continues to reverberate into the living world in all the particulars one might realistically imagine, as well as some which might pass unnoticed for their subtlety. Anyhow, I think I’ve made my point, and now I’d like to move on to a second...
For my purposes, I’d like to draw an analogy from what we THINK we mean by the phrase ‘doing good’, set against what it generally means in practical application. Again, we tend to approach this subject as we would a list; in this case, a ‘deontological’ list. ‘Here is a catalog of good things to accomplish, or fulfill, and the farther down the list I go, the better person I am’. Of course, when we really get down to the nitty gritty of doing ‘good in the world’, especially the recognizable and highly regarded KIND of good, we find that we are actually mitigating the ‘bad’. Think about it...all those TV commercials asking for your time and money...what are they showing you? All the atrocities of life, of course. A do-gooder is, practically by definition, somebody who goes around alleviating bad; and then, only to a degree, as there’s always more than enough bad to deal with. And that is because, as Benatar has clearly pointed out, life is fundamentally ‘bad’; or, to draw from the antinatalist’s lexicon, it is HARMFUL. It is DEPRIVED.
Furthermore, there is the predictive problem regarding our actions, tied into the so-called 'Butterfly Effect'. Existence is a complex composed of almost infinite interactions. Each and every action we take impacts the surrounding environment in countless ways, and what might seem 'right' now can easily morph into something terribly wrong down the road. I'm reminded of the old 'Star Trek' episode, whereby committing the singular act of pushing Joan Collins out of the way of a speeding car, Captain Kirk opens the door to Nazi supremacy on Old Earth, thus drastically altering the future (yes, yes-I'm a Star Trek nerd. Go ahead, get it all out of your systems). There's also the old Chinese proverb to consider:
"A Chinese farmer has a stallion. One day the stallion runs away. The village people come to him and say, "Ah, such bad luck!"The farmer shrugs, "Good luck, bad luck, who knows?"A few days later the stallion returns with three mares. The village people come to him and say, "Ah, such good luck!"The farmer shrugs, "Good luck, bad luck, who knows?"The next week the farmer's son breaks his leg taming the wild mares. The village people come to him and say, "Ah, such bad luck!"The farmer shrugs, "Good luck, bad luck, who knows?"A month later the Chinese army comes and demands all the young men soldier age. The farmer's son does not have to go because of his leg. The village people come to him and say, "Ah, such good luck!" The farmer shrugs, "Good luck, bad luck, who knows?"And so it goes..."
Thus, our good intentions can have the direst consequences.
This is why, when it comes to the practical questions concerning the antinatalist position, whether we’re talking about abortion, forced sterilization, letting disease take its course, extermination, and so on, we find ourselves at a loss for cogent, clear-cut answers. After all, philanthropic antinatalism is derived directly from the empathetic apprehension that life is a harm, and we want to rise above that to do the right thing. But no matter how we try to accomplish that ‘right thing’ we find ourselves, or the extension of our sympathetic principles, harmful in application to one degree or another. Or to put it another way, we want to feel good about ourselves, while denying the intrinsic harm in any position we take!
The general way we get around this otherwise stultifying psychological catch-22, is to narrow our focus to immediates, and placate any perceived negative consequences with ill-conceived postulates like "oh, it’ll all work out", or "the future will take care of itself". By concentrating on ‘doing good’ in the present, we can preserve the delusion that we are generally good, that life is generally good, and that "everything will work out in the end", although most of us know from experience that that ain’t so! We can support impoverished nations, pretending that our assistance doesn’t actually magnify all of the problems, intensifying the suffering that we’re ostensibly trying to lessen. We can unquestionably support the ‘right to choose’ no matter what the circumstances, putting into place quickly overburdened, tax funded institutions to pick up the slack. We can go to ridiculous lengths in support of any number of causes justified by immediate concerns, with no eye to the obvious, undesirous ramifications. And why? Because that makes us basically good people in a basically good world, and everything will eventually turn out right.
What am I proposing, then? That we suppress our humanitarian concerns in preparation for a harsh future? That we hack mercilessly away now, so we won’t have to do it later? But that would be to deny the very impulse that fuels philanthropic antinatalism. I am proposing nothing so spartan-ly utilitarian as that. Instead, I am simply asking for an honest reappraisal of ourselves, of our place in the world, and of life itself. An acknowledgement that our very existence makes us agents of harm; that our very existential commerce is based on the give-and-take of shared suffering, and that it will always be so until and unless we decide to end it- To undo it through the simple non-act of non-procreation. Of course, this non-act will itself engender its own brand of suffering; the loss of illusion itself can be painful, perhaps impossible to deal with for some people. But if we are impelled by the unimpeded vision of what being a lifeform on this planet entails, whilst simultaneously moved to sympathy for all life’s plight, including our own, we can power down this infernal engine by degree, work together to minimize harm as much as we are able, and finally end this madness of existential horror with dignity, and compassion. I’ll admit-my goal probably isn’t very realistic at all, people being what they are. I’ll also admit once again that, if I had a magic button that would do away with existence in the blink of an eye, I’d push it without hesitation, and in good conscience, knowing that I was doing no harm at all.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
A near contemporary of Arthur Schopenhauer. Nietzsche didn't seem to like him much...didn't see him as ubermensch material, I gather. Greatly influenced by Schopenhauer's 'The World as Will and Representation', he went on to write his own philosophical treatise, requesting it be published under the pseudonym 'Philipp Mainlander', because "...he would abhor nothing more than “being exposed to the eyes of the world” (antinatalism IS the GREATEST taboo, after all).
“Our world”, writes Mainlander in his Philosophy of Redemption “is the means and the only means of achieving nonexistence”. In his view, immortality, the eternal existence, is unbearable and agonizing even for God. But as God is eternal by nature, the only way to achieve nonexistence for the immortal God, who is beyond space-time and matter, is to transfer Himself into universe, that is to escape from the logically impossible into the logically plausible. “Thus”, continues Mainlander, “everything in the universe is directed towards nonexistence”. Therefore, Mainlander concluded, all mankind must ultimately realize that nonexistence is better than existence. When a person becomes enlightened in this awareness, he or she will end their existence by committing suicide and in this way complete the process of redemption.
Here is a theological view that turns prosaic intuition on its head, no? If nothing else, it serves as kick-ass allegory! WE are the culmination of God's death wish! The Divine lifeblood leeching into the vacuum...numencide by entropy. Wow, this is an exciting concept! Though, it's my opinion that the same end can more easily be achieved by non-procreative means.
Coincidentally, i wrote a collection of poems called 'Castaway' a while back, and ended it with a ten part haiku and triplet that feels appropriate right here. Oh, and thanks again, Compoverde...great links!
A Haiku Fable (Castaway epilogue)
when God slit his wrists
life issued forth forever
stained and innocent
with his dying breath
God tried to take it back but
it was an exhale
all existence fled
into the void riding on
that mephitic wind
dreamless sleep drifts on
a null sea blind radiance
a broken circle
pus from creation’s sore a
link becomes a chain
cilia writhe stretch
howl with the agony of
feed back looped wedding
ringed street smart ganglia fills
up the pussy space
now down to business time to
polish the mirror
all strays accounted
for the last has become the
whole we are not two
reflection is self
Narcissus is sucked in and
it begins again
Place the eye of an eagle inside the mind of a man…
Take him up to about 70,000 feet, and then…
Drop him, and hear the music of humanity…the end
Monday, July 28, 2008
Thus hangs the accusation upon the air again, that those who dare speak against the ultimate goodness of life be hypocrites for not committing suicide. You antinatalists, how dare you speak against conception, whilst loitering in the world you pretend to despise. Off with you then; to your guns, and nooses, and sleeping pills!
Aside from the fact that one can experience a personally satisfying life (at least, to some degree), while still recognizing the risks inherent in bringing new life onboard, is a potential suicide REALLY a hypocrite if he/she doesn’t actually go through with it? I’ve had several people comment on my generally negative attitude towards life in this vein..."Oh, you don’t really mean that. If you did, you’d kill yourself! You’re just...
2. Seeking attention
3. Being provocative
Are antinatalists, or anyone who’s just sort of down on life, arguing in bad faith, simply because they don’t take that final step and blow their brains out? I would counter with the argument that such an assertion is simplistic horseshit. It completely ignores the fact that the grand subtext behind the human condition is one of competing desires, duties, and fears.
I would now point you to one of the most famous soliloquies in all of English literature...
Hamlet 3/1- William Shakespeare
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action. - Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember'd.
To summarize: Life sucks for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it sucks so much that it would be far better to be done with it, right here and now. HOWEVER (and here’s the rub), there might be consequences which are worse than the ‘cure’ (suicide was deemed a mortal sin by the Church of England, I believe...and certainly there are more than slight religious qualms about it up to this day). Thus our ‘cowardice’ (fear of divine punishment) stays our hand. Hamlet is in no way equivocating in his negative value judgement towards life; rather, he is weighing consequences, and THIS is my point...
A person can dislike his existence to varying degrees, including up to the point where he’d just as well end it all; and yet, he might choose to endure out of fear, like Hamlet. Or out of love for people who depend on him, or out of a sense of personal responsibility to his friends, his community...whatever. Or maybe he just can’t bring himself to commit a violent act, even against his own person (this would be very tough for me, I think). In short, there are a host of imaginable reasons why a person might not like life, and yet refuse to take that final step. I really don’t understand why I need to explain this, ONCE AGAIN, but it seems that some folks need everything spelled out for them. So, here it be.
And for you who absolutely LOVE life- as you savor every precious moment, affirming to yourselves that, for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows...can you at least pull your heads out of your asses (though I’m sure they smell sweet) long enough to acknowledge that misery exists, that it’s not always curable, or even mitigable, and that there’s no way to adequately predict who might come out on the short end of the existential stick? If you can’t, then you are intellectually impaired, empathetically numb, and absolutely no use to me at all...
Maybe you should consider suicide (just kidding...seriously suggesting such a thing, ESPECIALLY to someone who might be seriously depressed, would be cruelly reprobate of me...tut!)
descending from emptiness to emptiness.
The earth-a boulder, its surface preoccupied by its own longing.
Every wish became another turn down the slope,
(or was it the other way 'round?),
though the din of the crushing became a song to those inclined to music
(or, did they just like to sing?).
When the prophet awoke, it was to the sound of his own screaming.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Gisle Tangenes describes the life and ideas of a cheerfully pessimistic, mountain-climbing Norwegian existentialist.
“This world,” mused Horace Walpole, “is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.” And for Peter Wessel Zapffe (1899-1990), humans are condemned to do both. We have evolved a yearning for metaphysical purpose – for intrinsic justice and meaning in any earthly event – that is destined for frustration by our real environment. The process of life is oblivious to the beings it makes and breaks in the course of its perpetuation. And while no living creature escapes this carnage, only humans bear the burden of awareness. An uninhabited globe, argues Zapffe, would be no unfortunate thing.
Born in the arctic city of Tromsø, in Norway, Zapffe was a luminous stylist and wit, whose Law examination paper (1923) – in rhyming verse – remains on display at the University of Oslo. Following some years as a lawyer and judge, he had a revelatory encounter with the plays of Ibsen and reentered university to attack “the ever burning question of what it means to be human.” The answer he reached is an original brand of existentialist thought, which, unlike the more optimistic views of Heidegger, Sartre, and Camus, concludes in a minor key. Among its earliest airings was a little essay called ‘The Last Messiah’ (1933).
The piece begins with a fable of a stoneage hunter who, as he leaves his cave at night, is stricken by pity for his prey and has a fatal existential crisis. This is a parable resonating with two archetypical tales of Western culture. Firstly, it recalls the Allegory of the Cave in Plato’s Republic, which also relates the eyeopening exit of a cave; secondly, it alludes to that origin myth of moral sentiment, the Fall of Man in Genesis. Zapffe chimes in with an exegesis to the effect that his caveman was a man who knew too much. Evolution, he argues, overdid its act when creating the human brain, akin to how a contemporary of the hunter, a deer misnamed the ‘Irish elk’, became moribund by its increasingly oversized antlers. For humans can perceive that each individual being is an ephemeral eddy in the flow of life, subjected to brute contingencies on his or her way to annihilation. Yet only rarely do persons lose their minds through this realisation, as our brains have evolved a strict regime of self-censorship – better known as ‘civilisation.’ Betraying a debt to Freud, Zapffe expands on how “most people learn to save themselves by artificially limiting the content of consciousness.” So, ‘isolation’ is the repression of grim facts by a code of silence; ‘anchoring,’ the stabilising attachment to specific ends; ‘distraction,’ the continuous stream of divertive impressions; and ‘sublimation,’ the conversion of anguish into uplifting pursuits, like literature and art. The discussion is sprinkled with allusions to the fate of Nietszche: the poster case, as it were, of seeing too much for sanity.
Lastly, Zapffe warns that civilisation cannot be sustained forever, as technology liberates ever more time for us to face our demons. In a memorably ironic finish, he completes the tribute to Plato and Moses by foretelling a ‘last Messiah’, to appear in a tormented future.
This prophet of doom, an heir to the visionary caveman, will be as ill-fated. For his word, which subverts the precept to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth,” is not to please his fellow man: “Know yourselves – be infertile, and let the earth be silent after ye.”
The Messiah’s ideas are developed at greater length in the treatise On the Tragic (1941), unaccountably never translated into any major language. The work is rigorously argued, yet so suffused with carnevalesque humour that one critic acclaimed its author as ‘the Chaplin of philosophy.’ Nor is there want of poetic imagery; at one point, for instance, a sea eagle bred in cage is evoked as an analogy to the human predicament. While unable to manifest its potential in captivity, such an eagle should doubtless perish if released into the open sky.
That dilemma highlights a fundamental concept of Zapffe’s tome: the ‘objectively tragic’ sequence, that is, any narrative in which excellence is linked to misadventure. Aristotle’s theory of tragedy in the Poetics centers on the debacle of a generally virtuous individual who makes a fateful error of judgment, expressing a latent flaw of character. By contrast, objectively tragic tales do not hinge on any fault of the protagonist; rather a manifestation of ‘culturally relevant greatness’ prefigures his demise. Such excellence either engenders the calamity or is else instilled in the protagonist by whatever does, for instance a disease. To clarify his model, Zapffe introduces a hierarchy of ‘interest fronts’: biological, social, autotelic (pertaining to whatever is rewarding in itself), and metaphysical. The latter one, essential to humanity, requires a dual virtue for objectively tragic sequences to unfold: (i) aspirations to secure a just and meaningful world; and (ii) intellectual honesty. Insofar as (i) alone is found in a character, whether real or a fictional, her response to absurdity and injustice should be to sacrifice lower-ranking interests on behalf of the metaphysical one. This sets the stage for what Zapffe labels a ‘heroic’ sequence of events. A tragic sequence demands the addition of (ii), and peaks with a devastating realisation that existence never will become satisfactory in terms of meaning and justice. For Zapffe, such resignation to futility marks the apex of many classic tragedies, from Prometheus Bound to Hamlet. His most intriguing case in point is The Book of Job, in the Bible, which given its seemingly happy ending was never anybody’s idea of a tragic tale. Yet on Zapffe’s reading, Job has the misfortune to uncover the Lord’s genuine nature: a benighted tyrant, mistaking might for right. Even martyrdom would be lost on this ‘godly Caliban’, and the disillusioned Job takes cover behind a mask of repentance. His is a timeless tragedy, for Jehovah ‘holds sway in our experience’ even today, as the symbol of ‘a familiar social and biological environment:’
“He represents… the blind natural forces oblivious to the human craving for order and meaning, the unpredictable strikes of illness and death, the transience of fame, the betrayal of friends and kin. He is the god of machines and might, of rule by violence, Moscow tribunals, party yoke and conquest, of copper pipes and armour plates. Job is not alone to face him with spiritual arms. Some are downtrodden in heroic martyrdom; others see the limitations of martyrdom as well, yielding in the outer things, but hiding despair in their hearts.”
The human condition is so structured, then, that objectively tragic sequences will readily arise (which is ultimately why they are described as ‘objective’.) Not only is humankind distinguished by an impossible interest, the need for purpose in a realm of pure causality; it also excels at comprehending that realm. We relate to the truth as do moths to a flame.
Thus the ‘thousand consolatory fictions’ that deny our captivity in dying beasts, afloat on a speck of dust in the eternal void. And after all, if a godly creator is waiting in the wings, it must be akin to the Lord in The Book of Job, since it allows its breathing creations to be “tumbled and destroyed in a vast machinery of forces foreign to interests.” Asserts Zapffe: “The more a human being in his worldview approaches the goal, the hegemony of love in a moral universe, the more has he become slipshod in the light of intellectual honesty.” The only escape from this predicament should be to discontinue the human race. Though extinction by agreement is not a terribly likely scenario, that is no more than an empirical fact of public opinion; in principle, all it would require is a global consensus to reproduce below replacement rates, and in a few generations, the likening of humankind would “not be the stars or the ocean sand, but a river dwindling to nothing in the great drought.” This rather less than life-affirming message is actually not without historical precedence.
In a preface to the 1983 edition of On the Tragic, Zapffe refers to “the insight, or Gnosis, that the Mystery of Life is amoral.” That is no mere figure of speech: his philosophy does indeed suggest the mystical viewpoint known as Gnosticism, influenced by Judaism and Platonism and flourishing early in the Christian era. Gnostic doctrines generally teach as follows. Our innermost selves began on a deific plane, the ‘Fullness’ (Pleroma), but were dispersed around the earthly shadowland, and locked into a cycle of rebirths, at the dawn of time. They may break free and reunite through Gnôsis: the awareness of their divinity, promoted by holy messengers. Yet the majority keep mistaking the dominion of death for home and partake in its reproduction, encouraged by cosmic slavers (archons) who serve the ignoble creator of matter – the deity of the Old Testament. As Hans Jonas noted in the 1950s, this esoteric lore resembles, to some degree, the outlook of modern existentialism. Both depict the human self as somehow thrown into, and incarcerated in, a foreign world, in which it mindlessly acquiesces unless woken by a sense of alienation. With Zapffe, the match appears closer than usual, for if he denies, like most existentialists, that humankind belongs in a heavenly home, he also echoes Gnostics in rejecting its continuance on earth.
Zapffe defended On the Tragic for his doctoral degree, not a risk-free act in the German-occupied Norway of the day; his friend Arne Næss, later the originator of ‘deep ecology’, took a break from resistance work to serve as opponent. After liberation, Zapffe turned down a professorship to live instead by his essays, monographs, poetry, plays and humourous writings.
Many of the latter address a favourite activity, the art of mountain climbing. This he extolled for being “as meaningless as life itself.” (Destinations included, incidentally, the spire of Tromsø Cathedral, whence he proclaimed that he could not ascend further by means of the Church!)
Some find his zeal as a mountaineer, humorist and early champion of environmental conservation rather at odds with his philosophical pessimism. According to another friend and eco-philosopher, Sigmund Setreng, this paradox is resolved by considering the ‘light bliss founded on dark insight’ of the bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism – a wakened sage who accepts the futility of human accomplishment. In any case, Zapffe lived as he taught in reproductive matters, staying childless by design. Apart from Berit Zapffe, his spouse through 47 years, his name is now borne only by one of the arctic mountains he pioneered. As for Mt. Zapffe’s philosophical counterpart, it presents an austere, yet impressive, vista of the earthly vale of tears. In a letter dated 1990, its conqueror described his ‘view from the final cairn:’ “The human race come from Nothing and go to Nothing. Above that, there is Nothing.” At the close of his last major writing, Zapffe answers all who despair of this view. “ ‘Unfortunately,’ rues the playful pessimist, ‘I cannot help you. All I have for facing death myself, is a foolish smile.’ ”
© GISLE R. TANGENES 2004
I especially liked this one-
"A coin is turned around before it is handed to the beggar, yet a child is unflinchingly tossed into cosmic bruteness." Peter Wessel Zapffe
Much is made of the fact that most people, when asked, say they're glad to be alive. I'm suspicious of this answer, for a number of reasons which have been outlined in this blog, and elsewhere; not the least of which is the universal concoction of fairytale afterlife vignettes (religion) into which almost all people in the world invest their post-mortal aspirations. Just the fact that there is ALWAYS a negative evaluation of 'here' when compared to 'there' (at least, for those who dedicate themselves to one of these scenarios...a telling feature of dogmatism-by-threat as a tool to reinforce dubious belief systems), exposes our true feelings about the quality of this life. This is why, in my view, religion is ultimately bad. It provides false hope, which translates to bringing future generations into the world. It allows people to assuage their guilt by believing that, some day, their children will live in an eternal paradise, and all the bad stuff in this life will disappear into the dusty footnotes of time long past.
Meanwhile, we suffer, and we die, and in between we produce new food for the monster of existence...
"It is said of the nihilist that ”to him, nothing is sacred”. He might reply that at least he does not sanctify the lie, the common compulsory living-lie; be it expressed as optimism about civilisation or as the falsettos and tightened throats of those who must hide the disconcerting facts to children, so these are not frightened witless even at the outset." - Zapffe
Monday, June 30, 2008
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Considering where I come down on deontological positions, I imagine I'll enjoy it (plus, you really can't go wrong with NineBandedBooks. See my review of their last offering... http://antinatalismoddsandends.blogspot.com/2008/04/man-who-saw-his-own-liver-book-review.html ).
Check it out!
Monday, June 23, 2008
An essay about parenting and diminished happiness here...
And the article about the high school girls who made a pact to get pregnant here...
But for folks who would look beyond selfish interests, let me remind those of you who plan on having children one day that all of them will suffer at various points throughout their lifetimes. Some will suffer horribly, cursing the day they were born, and cursing YOU for bringing them into existence. Also, a reminder to those fundamentalist monotheists out there, who believe a little(sic) suffering on earth is a small price to pay for heavenly bliss in the hereafter: remember, even the biblical Jesus warned you that the path to salvation was narrow, and that few would find it. There's a damned good chance YOUR son or daughter will screw up, and spend an eternity suffering torments the likes of which we can't even imagine now. You may justify this by telling yourself that it was by your child's 'own free will' that such a thing came to be...doesn't seem like much solace, though. Considering even the smallest risk of such a calamity, wouldn't it better 'were they never born'? Just seems like plain old common sense, to me.
Last, but not least, a nice Ian Anderson flute solo here...
Thursday, June 19, 2008
It's your basic 'non-breeders are selfish' rhetorical bullshit, filled with alarmist concerns about the non-sustainability of growth economies vs. dwindling populations. Or, in this case, numbers that aren't growing fast enough to keep up with the equations, since the world's population has more than doubled since Mr. Colson has been onboard. Here's the telling paragraph...
"...the “birth dearth” is largely the product of our values. Clearly, our society believes that individual self-satisfaction—measured in terms of material prosperity—is more important than the creation and welfare of future generations. The irony here is that our material prosperity depends on those future generations."
So, which generation finally gets to settle into its 'material prosperity', instead of settling for the proxy-satisfaction of passing on the baton? Is life just a relay race with no finish line? What is this obligation to create future generations that he's talking about? If we ended it all right here, right now, how and why would we be worse off than if we keep filling up all the empty spaces on the planet until we're standing on top of each other? Add to this Mr. Colson's obvious belief, rooted in his fundamentalist Christian worldview no doubt, that we're all headed down the chute towards hellfire, and you wind up with the remarkably paradoxical argument for conscripting more and more sailors onto a sinking ship, in order to have more hands to man the buckets. As somebody once said in a Monty Python movie, "It's a simple question of weight ratios!"
One more thing: why this concern about bringing more people into the world from right-wing Christians, who believe that Jesus is gonna show up any day to scoop up the chosen, and damn the rest? For Christ sake! How much kindling does Jehovah require to keep those hellfires stoked, anyhow? Get it over with, already!
Of course, the real answer to my question is just another twist on the 'children as cannon fodder' argument/justification. Chuck and his ilk want new generations of taxpayers to support them in their old age, and heaven can wait. Ultimately, it all comes down to utilization of the young by the old, rationalized by an appeal to vicarious immortality of the multi-generational sort. 'Feed us! Clothe us! Stand in front of the guns aimed at us! And your reward will be that, someday, you'll be in our postion, and your children will be coerced into doing the same for you.'
Ah, that sweet, sweet circle of life!
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
The one-hit wonder, M. Night Shyamalan, will NEVER see another dime of my money (ok, two hits if you count ‘Unbreakable’, and I’m willing to make concessions there). But what has he done for us THIS millennium? And yes, technically ‘Unbreakable’ WAS made in 2000, but...who cares?
In ‘Signs’, the Hitchcockian wannabe son of Philadelphia offered up a God who:
1. Inflicted a young boy with severe asthma.
2. Blessed a little girl with an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
3. Ruined a man’s budding sports career.
4. Cut a minister’s wife in half, causing him to lose his religious faith.
All this to drive off an alien invasion by creatures who ran about haphazardly on foot, were naked, afraid of water, possessed no weaponry that was effective beyond 6 inches, and who displayed a curious lack of ability when it came to opening doors. I’ve often imagined what the mop up operation must have been like, vigilante survivors canvassing the countryside and shooting strays, ala ‘Night of the Living Dead’. Only in this case, it would be posses of 10 year olds sporting super soakers, and water balloons. Teach them damned aliens to mess with Americuns, I’d say!
In ‘The Village’, a group of disenchanted neo-luddites sequester themselves away in a sort of anti-Disneyland (The WORLD of YESTERDAY!) inside what had to have been the world’s longest chain link fence, then teach their younguns that the bogeyman lurked just outside the compound waiting to eat them up, lest they stray and discover the ‘mysterious secret’. Unfortunately, they failed to account for possible illnesses or accidents in their plans, so when somebody gets knifed by the local ‘special person’, what do they do? What any reasonable person would do in such a situation, I suppose. They decide to SEND THE BLIND GIRL INTO THE WOODS! Yeah, that’s what they do, alright. Yup, that’s what they do. Yeppers. Yep, they...uh...send the...uh...blind girl into the woods. Yup. That’s what they do.
By the time ‘The Lady in the Water’ came out, I’d pretty much sensed the way the wind was blowing, and wisely skipped it. Everybody said it sucked, and I patted my wallet, and smiled to myself.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, the trailers for ‘The Happening’ started showing up. Sigh...yes, I was intrigued. Why were those folks stabbing themselves in the head, and taking short walks off long buildings? And that lawnmover scene...YIKES! Of course, I was skeptical, and I discussed the pros and cons of attending with my boss (a movie buff who, after renting ‘The Village’ from NetFlicks, actually spit into the envelope before returning it). Finally we struck a deal...I’d go check out ‘The Happening’, he’d see ‘The Hulk’, and later we’d compare notes, and maybe save two admissions between us. And so, right after work on Friday the 13th (YES, and you don’t need to point it out!), I walked into a matinee showing of M. Night’s latest ‘event’.
THE TREES DID IT! There, I’ve spoiled it for you, and I’m GLAD! GLAD, do you hear me? GLAD!!! Of course, they telegraph this to the audience about five minutes into the movie, and pretty much say it straight out about 20 minutes in; so, no great loss. After that, it’s basically Zooey Deschanel and Mark Wahlberg running around Pennsylvania Dutch country with one after another disposable character (and yes, most of them ARE disposed of), being chased (metaphorically, of course), by trees, grass, and various sorts of creepy looking hibiscus bushes (I made that ‘hibiscus’ part up...I have absolutely no idea WHAT kind of bushes they were). Oh, and near the end, there’s a cameo by Betty Buckley as a crazy woman, in one of the most ridiculous cases of ‘pad the film, pad the film, pad pad pad the film’ I’ve ever seen.
After that, the crisis was over, there were a couple of obligatory wrap-up scenes, and then, the end...or, IS IT??????????????????????????????????????
Now, the reason I’m offering this movie review on my antinatalism blog, is because here we have another case of an ‘end of the world’ flick (at least, from a human perspective...this was definitely a‘green’ scenario’), that totally cops out at the end. Not only does the threat end abruptly, and after only a day or so, but the female protaganist winds up preggers. It’s just another case of mixed-message denial ala ‘Children of Men. "Wow, we’ve really fucked things up this time! Say, how’s about we breed another passel o’ critters, and do it again?!" And this right after adopting the child of Marky Mark’s best friend, who killed himself along with all the others, during the 24hr suicide spree (Wow! I just realized that I'd failed to mention the natural environment was making people commit suicide...silly me!). But of course, adoption just isn’t the same as breeding 1, or 2, or 12 of your own, I guess (The uterus is NOT a clowncar!).
If the extended DVD version comes out with the aftermath story, where crowds of theatre-goers around the country emulate the Betty Buckley head-banging scene on the backs of the chairs in front of them, maybe it’ll be worth a watch. Otherwise, skip this piece of crap, and spend the money on a vasectomy. You really don’t want to have kids subjected to this kind of stuff when it shows up on TV at 2 in the morning, 20 years from now. Or, maybe in 6 months.
M. Night is now quoted as saying, " This is the best B movie you will ever see, that's it." Meanwhile...
His movie sits at 21 on the RottenTomatoMeter as of this writing.
People are dedicating blogs to the sole purpose of warning the public about how much 'The Happening' sucks.
Many critics are predicting 'Worst Film of the Year' status, and some are predicting this marks the end of the M. Night's career.
As far as the 'best B movie' ever? Puleeaaseeeeeeeee! Please consider the following list an alternative, and superior, source for your B movie entertainment needs:
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
It Came from Outer Space
The War of the Worlds
When Worlds Collide
Death Race 2000
Night of the Living Dead
The Clonus Horror
And one of my all-time faves:
The Day the Earth Caught Fire
And of course, there are loads of MST3K treatments floating around in the video stores, as well as online. Buy, rent, or download, and enjoy! And skip 'The Happening'. Trust me on this...it just ain't happening.
Good night, M. Night.
*My daughter is pissed because I forgot some modern B classics, so I'll add them here:
Escape from New York
Oh, and let's not forget Vincent Price's 'The Last Man on Earth' and it's 70's remake 'The Omega Man' with Chuck Heston (the jury's still out on Will Smith's 'I Am Legend'.
Ugh...this could go on forever!
Friday, June 6, 2008
So, the question of the day is this: How would you feel if you discovered you were living in a make-believe world, ala a StarTrek holodeck-type simulation? Everything around you...the sky, the rocks and trees, the birds, the bees, as well as your loved ones, all mere projections; either on an empty stage, or in the theatre of your mind (the brains-in-vats scenario). No interior lives other than your own; just computer simulations programmed to adjust to your responses, making you feel like you’re interacting with agents much like yourself. Would you feel deceived? Annoyed? Devastated?
I played the game myself this morning, trying to imagine the world as a series of Matrix-like zeros and ones as I drove my daughter to school. Somewhat upsetting at first, as her conversation with her friend in the back seat turned to static in my ears. It also got me to thinking about how much emotional black ink we pack into our assumptions, since in a virtual world, nothing will have changed from an experiential POV. The only difference is my belief that the person I’m talking to is something like me inside. Why is that important to me? I watch movies and television programs, experiencing the whole range of whatever feelings are appropriate to the plot and characterizations. Of course, with movies there’s the whole context of ‘real’ life which is supposedly being simulated on the screen; but in my virtual world, I’d imagine that a lifetime of emotional history up to the point of my ‘disillusionment’ would probably fill the bill. So, what’s my worry?
There’s a lot of psychic unpacking to be done when considering thought problems like this one. Many layers of belief, unexamined presumptions and the like. But at the end of all the self examination, would you consider yourself harmed by the discovery that the world wasn’t like you thought it was? The author of the OB essay says he would be. I thought the same thing, for about the first five minutes of my experiment. But then I got to thinking about it from an antinatalist perspective, and I grokked a wonderful truth. I realized that my virtual world was absolutely free of suffering! (except for my own, of course). But the idea that I was the only creature in existence actually suffering momentarily filled me with a great sense of relief, and of joy, and I realized (not for the first time) how much my sense of personal misery is tied into the knowledge that all the world groans under the weight of its own existential pain. ‘Twas a wonderful, if shortlived, respite. Made for an interesting morning.
If you play this game, and find yourself in the same position as me at the end, BUT...you’re still concerned about the possible sufferings of the folks who placed you into this virtual world, just replace ‘holodeck virtual world’ with ‘solipsistic projection’ and you’ll do just fine. I promise (but, then again, WHO am I?).
UPDATE: A followup question:
Would you grant human consciousness with its inherent characteristics (the capacity for self reflection, happiness, suffering...whatever) to one of your simulacrums, then send it out into a virtual world of joy and perils (remember, in this case the safety protocols are turned OFF, including the defenses against experiencing all the extremities which exist in the 'real' world)? Or would you decide to just leave things as they stand? This seems like a pretty true analogy of what's going on when someone decides to birth a child, which is why I bring it up here.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
has me brushing up on my ethics theory this week (damn, her prolificacy is maddening!). You can read some of the more salient posts and comments here...
Now, ethical theory has never held a lot of interest to me, for reasons which will become clear as we proceed (I think). But Sister Y has laid out the case so clearly (and fairly, I might add), that I feel obliged to add my own two cents, though I fear my insufficiencies will forever leave me flailing and gasping for air at the kiddie’s end of the pool. That said, we begin...
I guess I should start by defining deontology in its broadest terms. My Webster’s defines it thusly...
‘The ethical doctrine which holds that the worth of an action is determined as by its conformity to some binding rule rather than by its consequences."
This as opposed to consequentialism, where the rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by its consequences (predicated on prediction or ‘common knowledge’, I suppose; otherwise, things seem to be running backwards here). It seems that utilitarianism would fall under this umbrella, though I don’t doubt there are some technical differences of which I am unaware. From here we move on to what I would describe as the ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ views of deotology...
STRONG VIEW: Moral absolutism, whose edicts are arrived at either through divine command (God says it, I believe it), or by discerning and/or concretizing certain universal moral maxims (Kantian categorical imperative mumbo jumbo).
WEAK VIEW: Here, there’s more of a focus on the intrinsic ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of actions, where the appeal to a transcendent authority is replaced either by ‘moral intuition’, or by a sort of looping-back of universal consequentialism into prima facie pre-suppositionalism.
Speaking first to the strong view, and skipping over the obvious doubts concerning the existence and nature of any particular deific moral lawgiver, the natural question seems to be, how does one judge whether any given divine maxim is morally ‘right’? Of course, the moral absolutist would counter by pointing out that the very nature of the situation takes such concerns out of our hands; God says it, and that’s it! But isn’t that just another way of saying that ‘might makes right’? Is this a good starting place in ascertaining ethical standards? History might say otherwise- not to mention how this plays out in the sub-deific world, where gods rule by proxy, and there’s no way to determine how well His prophets and surrogate sovereigns are translating the workings out of His ‘perfect will’ here on earth. Furthermore, there’s the matter of psychologically internalizing these supernal moral schemas; is there to be any attempt at harmonization with our natural humanistic sensibilities, or are we simply called upon to ‘bite the bullet’?
As far as the weak view is concerned...first of all, I’ll admit I have a real problem with distinguishing between the concept of ‘moral intuition’, and ‘it feels good to me!’ It’s true that we can frame this in such a way that our intuitions take on a quasi-objective quality, by appealing to universal sentiments (themselves having their roots in biological and sociological evolution) and subsequently deriving somewhat comprehensive, ‘inherent’ maxims from there. But all this smacks of a certain rarified artificiality to me; chimeras rising from the misgivings of half-repentant agnostics. "Pass me a slice of that categorical imperative, but hold the lawgiver (or is that, raw liver?). Firstly, it’s empirically observable that ethical systems are temporally hammered out, and that even the moral pre-suppositions upholding those systems change over time-changes often motivated by the very ethical systems which they spawned (Oedipal osmosis? Hmmmm....).
Secondly, and more telling, I think, is that no matter what value is placed on this or that action, this or that proposition, the desirability of that value (or lack thereof) is ALWAYS measured in terms of a cause/effect relationship. Murder is ‘wrong’ BECAUSE we don’t like ‘wrongful’ death...etc. And even if we revert back up to the strong view, what are we left with? ‘Murder is wrong, because (name your deity) says so, AND if I go against (name your gender)’s will, there’s a possibility things may not go well with me (name your poison). And this brings me to my third point, namely that...
DEONTOLOGY IS INCOHERENT! Not because there’s no ultimate lawgiver. Not because there’s no sure way of determining ultimate moral values, much less of fashioning a consistent, across-the-board approach vis-a-vis ethical practices. But because morals and ethics are inextricably bound to consequences of one kind or another. Period.
Now, that’s not to say that all of us aren’t ipso facto deontologists from time to time. Given a particular situation, most of us will fall back on ‘that’s just wrong’ from time to time; it’s the end-product shorthand of even the most deconstructive of us. But it’s a philosophical misstep to give the idea any more credence than that. The concept just won’t stand up to any sustained critical analysis.
At this point, I’d like to paste an excerpt that’s part of an essay by Sister Y over at TheViewFromHell...hoping she doesn’t mind...
To reason is to think systematically in ways anyone looking over my shoulder ought to be able to recognize as correct. It is this generality that relativists and subjectivists deny. Even when they introduce a simulacrum of it in the form of a condition of consensus among a linguistic or scientific or political community, it is the wrong kind of generality - since at its outer bounds it is statistical, not rational.The worst of it is that subjectivism is not just an inconsequential intellectual flourish or badge of theoretical chic. It is used to deflect argument, or to belittle the pretensions of the arguments of others. Claims that something is without relativistic qualifications true or false, right or wrong, good or bad, risk being derided as expressions of a parochial perspective or form of life - not as a preliminary to showing that they are mistaken whereas something else is right, but as a way of showing that nothing is right and that instead we are all expressing our personal or cultural points of view. The actual result has been a growth in the already extreme intellectual laziness of contemporary culture and the collapse of serious argument throughout the lower reaches of the humanities and social sciences, together with a refusal to take seriously, as anything other than first-person avowals, the objective arguments of others. . . .Many forms of relativism and subjectivism collapse into either self-contradiction or vacuity - self-contradiction because they end up claiming that nothing is the case, or vacuity because they boil down to the assertion that anything we say or believe is something we say or believe. I think that all general and most restricted forms of subjectivism that do not fail in either of these ways are pretty clearly false.
Thomas Nagel, The Last Word
Here’s the problem: Truth statements are objective only as measured against pre-supposed, or agreed upon, frameworks. Even in mathematics, ‘proof’ is only valid insofar as all the values of all the factors are agreed upon. Change one value, and POOF! It all goes to hell. And ethics is all about shifting and sliding values, our relationships to rules, laws, unspoken prejudices and desires, and of course, to each other...are they not? That’s not to say that the truth of a thing in itself collapses, but we’re talking about perception here, not fact. Now, what Sokal did in his spoof of deconstructionism was not to eliminate the inherent subjectivism inherent in these discussions, but to point out the inconsistencies in postions not well thought out...i.e. a lot of folks at the left end of the political spectrum will say something like ‘all cultural practices are relative’, inferring that they all have equal value. Problem is, when pressed with examples of cultural atrocities, they’ll often find themselves at odds with their own moral sensibilites; in this way, their beliefs are self-contradictory.
But as I hope I’ve pointed out, deontology is likewise self-contradictory, because it employs consequentialism as a way of eliminating same. In a sense, it posits a ‘meta-consequentialism’ as a justification for its own existence, then says ‘ok, that’s enough. It all stops here.’ And as far as Nagel saying that subjectivism is just a way "used to deflect argument, or to belittle the pretensions of the arguments of others’, I’d respond in kind that deontology is just an attempted end-run around its own consequentialist orgins, where intellectual rigour is replaced with a bid for ultimate authority (no matter the mitigating language involved). In fact, his ‘Last Word’ seems more like an ad hominem sermon than any kind of reasoned treatment (ugh! 2 hours sleep is making me snarky...best wrap up).
*I just proofed what I’ve written, and the text has taken on the blurred appearance of the business card in ‘American Psycho’ (shhh, it’s a secret!). Feel free to correct, hack away, or otherwise decimate. Oh, the title? I was in a ‘D’ mood when I started this thing, that’s since shifted down to an ‘F’, so...fuck it. Oh, and don’t have kids!*
Friday, May 30, 2008
Thursday, May 29, 2008
But please understand! If she had never been, I wouldn't be going through this (at least, with this dog). Same goes if I had never been...and one day, my children will lose their father, and feel something like I do today. All the optimistic talk in the world won't change the fact that everybody suffers, and everybody dies. Even the greatest dog in the whole world.
You know, it could just as truthfully be called the 'circle of death'...fucking Elton John (lyrics by Tim Rice).
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
"If Benatar had convinced me that this asymmetry between pleasure and suffering was real, his conclusions would have been hard to argue with. Unfortunately, he didn’t explain why the absence of pleasure is only neutral, and not bad. "
Since we're talking about the pleasure of non-existent entities, I think the burden of proof falls on the reviewer to demonstrate how an imaginary person's non-experiences could possibly have anything BUT a neutral value.
"...Moreover, many people have profoundly unhappy lives (malnutrition, war, etc.). Even here, though, there is a way around Benatar’s argument. Certainly some people are more likely than others to have happy children. People in a country like the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, with its extended, brutal, ongoing civil war are likely to have children that profoundly suffer. But on the other hand, a very rich family in Switzerland might be relatively likely to have happy children. As long as the Swiss family has a high chance of having a happy child, it doesn’t seem immoral for them to give birth. This, of course, if we reject the asymmetry argument."
The problem is, the reviewer is playing a risk management game with lives other than his/her own. So the parents of the child in the DRC are playing russian roulette with 5 bullets in the chamber, while the gun held against the Swiss child's temple only has one or two. Not much of a justification to hang one's hat upon, methinks. I also think the nature and ubiquitousness of suffering is being underplayed here, and the fact that any new life is immediately given a pending death sentence is completely overlooked. Furthermore, since I think I've adequately demonstrated that the asymmetry argument was rejected out of hand, where does this leave us?
What are the interests of non-existing entities in coming into existence? The answer, of course, is zilch. Therefore, procreation is strictly a matter of self-interest to everybody BUT the potential child. It's a base utilization scheme, for whatever reason(s), where the utilized pays the brunt of the costs. As far as the 'good stuff' life has to offer, well...just because a slave is given trinkets by the master, that doesn't make the slave any less a slave. Every lifeform on this planet is a servant to life and its uncaring processes, until finally it is cast off onto the trash heap of history. But misery loves company, and so we keep bringing in fresh meat as a hedge against the idea of dying alone. Again, this is risk management in a venture that's doomed to fail, set against the sure thing of avoiding this nasty little adventure.
Think about it...an eternity of nothingness stretches behind us. A similar one stretches before us. Why go on creating these little episodes of agony in-between? Consider procreation in these terms, and you'll recognize the utter futility. Then, maybe Benatar's little asymmetrical argument might not seem so trivial, or easy to dismiss.
You can read the full review here- http://itsallendogenous.wordpress.com/2008/05/27/having-been-really-so-bad/ .
Do I have any hopes of making an impact? If I offered a fatalistic "no" to this question, I'd be lying. Even cynical antinatalists have their fantasies. But I also like to think that I'm a somewhat realistic person, and so I assuage my guilt with the little victories. My own children, for instance, seem to grok the skinny, and as far as I can tell, don't hold my predilections against me. And I actually take pains to discuss my beliefs with tangible passers-by, and sometimes they listen, and frequently they nod their heads, which is an encouragement (and an admitted ego boost).
And of course, there's this blog (and a few others). The ideas are in the air- memetic viruses infecting laptops, and optic centers, and discourse, and passions. Others carry the disease as well, and the possibility of interesting mutations is ever-present. Mass communication in the hands of the masses has opened up a Pandora's box of options; I mean to take advantage.
Because bringing children into an existence of suffering and death is wrong...and you KNOW it is!
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
A few seconds after my neighbor drove off, a hummingbird flew into my garage, hovered inches from my face for several seconds, spoke to me, then took off. Unfortunately, I don't speak hummingbird, so his message was lost. Still, it was a peculiar incident, and has stirred the little sparkly things in the kaleidoscope of my mind. Curiouser and curiouser...
Billy Graham: "There is NO God!"
Dr. Phil: "I really don't know anything."
Richard Dawkins: "I've accepted Jesus as my lord and savior."
Osama Bin Laden: "Could somebody get me a ham sandwich?"
The Dalai Lama: "Fuck everybody!"
George W. Bush: "The eschewal of obfuscation is my priority. Oh, and I'm gay."
Bill Clinton: " 'Is'...IS."
Gore Vidal: "I raped Jack Kerouac, and I'm glad!"
Tyra Banks: "Why are you choking me?"
John McCain: "Oh, you meant THAT Keating!"
Jesse Jackson: "Rizzle vanizzle white's alright nnngggggggggggg..........."
Jesus Christ: "Oh SHIT!"
Mohammed: "I was just keeping an eye on her, bro."
Gautama Buddha: "Enlightenment my ass! That antinatalism guy is the REAL boddhisatva."
Mark McGwyer: "My arms hurt!"
Harrison Ford: "Just kill me."
Will Smith: "I was typecast. I WAS TYPECAST!"
Mother Theresa: "On the other hand, I got these cool threads!"
Homer Simpson: "Stop drawing me...doh!"
Barbara Walters: "My face feels itchy."
Star Jones: "I was the one who put ants in her wrinkle cream."
Ringo Starr: "I was the best Beatle!"
Michael Jordan's 'doctor': "Michael Jordan is a robot."
Donald Trump: Couldn't speak through the pillow.
Much appreciated, folks!
If your answer is 'yes', they then offer you the choice of two scenarios...
FAST: All people fall over and rot.
SLOW: Universal human infertility.
Which would you choose? From my own point of view, the first choice is the obvious, morally correct one (I'm taking for granted here that the extinction is meant to be an instantaneous, painless one). And yet, I find my finger lingering above the button; I am hesitant. Why? Perhaps the second option allows me to feel a bit less responsible. After all, playing 'G'od is a pretty big responsibility. Deism's 'g'od is more my style, I think; make the opening move, then sit back and watch nature 'take its course'.
There's also curiosity. I have to admit, I would love to be there as everything winds down, a witness to genesis in reverse. Maybe its the drama queen in me. But, considering all the potential anguish as civilization dismantles, I hope I'd have the intestinal fortitude to make the hard choice, and opt for door number 1. It would be as if all creation went to sleep at the same time, and never woke up...by far the more compassionate choice, I think.
And while we're dismantling things, I'd just like to re-iterate that VHEMT's characterization of a post-human world as being a 'natural paradise' is a load of crap. All life is a circle of killing, eating, and exploitation; punctuated by suffering and death. It should never have been. Now I'll close with a line from the film 'The Great Race', circa 1965...
Professor Fate: "Push the button, Max!"
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Friday, May 23, 2008
Ouroborus, that hungry snake
found not of which he might partake.
In desperate straits, his tail he curled,
then ate himself, and shat the world.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Monday, May 19, 2008
The more I think about it, the more I find the whole notion of positively maintained bliss problematic. All my experience tells me that part of the essence of happiness is tied into a sort of relative comparison matrix; the crest of a wave, whose body is the whole of a person's spectrum of temperament. I'm not aware of any studies at present, but I suspect that extreme peaks of joy tend to flatten out pretty quickly. I'm not even sure if happiness removed from its unabridged frame of reference makes any sense at all.
Of course, a challenge can be raised regarding the subjective assessments I'm making in order to come to this conclusion. But regarding happiness, what other yardstick can possibly apply? Obviously, I can become more fully aware of the context of circumstances out of which my happiness emerges; comparing the actual state of affairs to my personal moral framework, for instance, to see if my feelings are actually warranted vis-a-vis consistency. But in the end, I'm still stuck with how I feel about things...happy, sad, or indifferent.
That said, I'm far from convinced that one can be intrinsically happy, any more than one can be intrinsically tall. It's all about context, and the context of existence is in constant flux. Even in the imaginary brains-in-vats scenario, surely its proponents envision the process of thought continuing, and probably at a faster and greater rate than hitherto known. And, as anybody knows, thinking is rarely a straight-line affair. Thoughts compete; they bump up against each other. They challenge one another. The very process of thought itself requires comparison i.e. relativity, and I see no reason to think that mood wouldn't follow this very same course.
Furthermore, the positive bliss enthusiasts make a HUGE speculative leap in their presumptions about just how high these 'peaks of bliss' can rise. Who's to say that future levels of happiness will be that much higher than they are now, on a good day? I suspect that we can tweak things here and there, but unless we're talking about refashioning humanity from the ground up, along with all the experiential stuff that makes us human, then a lot of this talk seems like an exercise in extreme overestimation to me. On top of which, if our imagined destiny IS that far divorced from our present human experience, who KNOWS what new, impossible to presently imagine problems might come along to give our freshly starched Shangrila a nice kick in the pants?
All things considered, I think much of this transhumanist stuff is talking-out-of-the-ass talk. It's been pointed out before, for instance, that our artistic visions of Hell are replete with details, including levels and degrees of suffering. But denizens of Heaven (when Heaven is depicted at all) seem to spend most of their time walking around in suits with thin ties, sort of staring into space like opium addicts. This is because we really can't get our minds around the idea of unadulterated, intrinsic happiness. That's why there's a Hell in the first place, so that those living in Heaven will realize that they're happy... by comparison.
Lastly, there's absolutely no guarantee that, once having reached whatever manifested 'promised land' one might care to imagine, eventually someone, or something, won't move in and muck up the works. To absolutely guarantee a perfectly maintained state of bliss for everyone, for all time, somebody's gonna have to have a set of reins on the whole frickin' universe. All I can say to that is...good luck with that!
Meanwhile, the ugly stepsister, Negative Bliss, stands waiting...
What do dogooders do? Why, they minimize the bad, to the best of their ability. They alleviate hunger. They mend wounds. They bury the dead. Most of what we recognize as 'good', is actually the absence of 'bad'. The more bad we manage to erase, the more good naturally comes into its own. And this is where antinatalism rides in on a white horse; for with every person never conceived, one full lifetime of potential harm is erased from the ledger. No, more than erased; it's never recorded in the first place! Thus one human unit of the negation of all suffering is fully actualized...negative bliss! And unlike the other kind, negative bliss is definitionally guaranteed to last forever, as applied to the potential person who never came to be. Potential people are invulnerable to harm, plain and simple. And why not? It's where we're all headed in short time, anyway. Why create vessels of suffering who will, in very short order, pass away into the negative bliss of non-existence, when the potential to never exist is there right now? Why bring this unfortunate manifestation into an existence of suffering, when the end is where we started from? It's like catching a crappy, smelly bus from your home, in order to get home...why not just stay in the house? Kick back, crack open a brew, and watch the game... relax!
In a negative bliss sort of way, of course.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
In the spirit of negative utilitarianism, I shall now coin a new term (ugh, upon googling, I found somebody else has already used it. However, I feel that my use is unique, considering the philosophical context...so THERE!) And that term is:
I’ve been reading yet another transhumanist outline for eventual human bliss over at http://www.repugnant-conclusion.com/ , and snagged the most salient section for your perusal...
1) radical enrichment of the pleasure centres. Irrespective of population density, suffering can in principle be abolished in all sentient life; and mind/brains motivated entirely by gradients of cerebral bliss. Ultimately, superintelligent posthumans may be animated by gradients of well-being that are billions of times richer than the range of hedonic tone adaptive for Homo sapiens in the ancestral environment.
2) a regime of global virtual reality, most memorably evoked in "The Matrix". The exponential growth of computer power (cf. Moore's Law) offers the prospect of lifelong immersive VR; a Matrix scenario minus its whimsical "Machines" dependent on pod-grown people for their bioelectrical energy. Most recently, Second Life and its cousins foreshadow what's possible. Next century's multimodal VR will be unimaginably more compelling.
On this "Paradise Matrix" scenario of reward circuitry enrichment plus immersive VR, the Earth's pain-ridden ecosystems can be progressively dismantled [though virtual wildlife safaris will be optional]. Each envatted mind/brain/virtual world can dine on genetically-engineered single-celled total nutrition mix, subjectively tasting (perhaps) like the ambrosial food of the gods. In mature vatworld Matrix models, the carrying capacity of the Earth runs to thousands of billions of interconnected (post-)humans. Each of these thousands of billions can enjoy lifelong well-being orders of magnitude richer than anything possible today. To maximise aggregate welfare on a cosmic scale, vatworlds could eventually be dispatched to seed and superpopulate other planets in our Local Group of galaxies - and indeed anywhere habitable or more-or-less terra-formable within our light-cone, saturating the universe with positive value.
I’m tempted to just fill up the rest of this post with the word ‘farfetched’, perhaps punctuated now and again with the phrase ‘geeks need women too’; but that would be overly pessimistic and unkind, methinks. Of course, beyond being highly speculative simply in terms of the logistics involved in paving this road to Nirvana, there are a lot of ad-hoc assumptions relative to the nature of happiness that strike me as extremely presumptuous. ‘Gradients of well-being that are billions of times richer’??? What the hell does it even mean to say that I could be a billion times happier than I am now? ‘Each of these thousands of billions can enjoy lifelong well-being orders of magnitude richer than anything possible today’. Assuming, of course, that there isn’t an as yet unperceived ceiling of hedonistic potential right above our heads. So far, I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary. And what if we discover that happiness is irrevocably relativistic in terms of both scope and degree. In other words, as Aquinas once postulated, enjoyment is enhanced in a field where suffering also exists, for comparison’s sake. If that’s so, our Matrix Heaven might require a Cyber Hell to be fully actualized. Come to think of it, the author might want to revisit the foundational film of his analogy, and listen to what Agent Smith had to say about the matter. The rose-colored hypothesizations exhibited in these masturbatory New Jerusalem scenarios really tickle me, sometimes.
But hey! Far be it from me to rain on little Poindexter’s sci-fi flights of fancy. After all, in the abstract world of all possibilities, anything becomes possible, right? However, in practical terms, all these transhumanist guys are gonna be dead long before any of this stuff ever becomes feasible, much less established across the board. So will their kids. And their kids. And THEIR kids. And here is where the term ‘billions’ really comes into play...BILLIONS of folks are going to suffer, and BILLIONS more will die before the culmination of this outrageously speculative scenario can even be hoped to be achieved. So what we actually have here are a few eggheads pumping up hope for a vicarious immortality as a justification to keep breeding, so that somewhere far down the line, some people who don’t even exist yet can play a TOTALLY AWESOME version of D & D, and maybe achieve a decent orgasm without ever having to touch a real woman. Once again, does the validity of the term ‘human sacrifice’ as applied to this situation escape everybody but me?
We are the future’s dirt, ladies and gentlemen; and whether the future kingdoms built upon that dirt are real or virtual makes very little difference to me.
Monday, May 12, 2008
Scattered on chance's wind are we,
as from creation's spreading tree
we fall, like children of an indifferent god
too busy keeping ledgers to note
the directions in which we fly,
or where, at last, we land.
We dance in tiny whirlwinds, and are lifted
up again; some dull, few gifted,
but none soar high enough to escape the lure
of the ever-siren's call:
a song of earth for feet of clay,
on which we make our stands.
Thus, we await our ends in careworn years,
behind the veils that mask our fears
of abandonment, as memory serves too well.
We wonder from whence comes our sustenance
at the final nod, when soil is turned,
and life cuts the last strand.
Chapter 4, ‘Having Children: The Anti-Natal View, begins with a wonderful quote from Flaubert...
“The idea of bringing someone into this world fills me with horror...May my flesh perish utterly! May I never transmit to anyone the boredom and ignominies of existence!”
Well, his feelings certainly come across clearly, don’t they? Hehehe! Anyhow, chapter 4 is largely a study of the pros and cons of procreation, and speaks to the ethical questions. What are our duties, and from what pre-suppostional frameworks are these duties derived? What are our rights, and where are these rights grounded? Personal autonomy? Entitlements from certain powers-that-be? Reasonable disagreement with the conclusion that life is ultimately harmful? Argumentation. Justification. Dissent. The intricacies involved preclude any succinct summing up on my part, I’m afraid (BUY THE BOOK), but I’d like to take a whack at the last little section of the chapter, which sports this header...
TREATING FUTURE PEOPLE AS MERE MEANS
Here, the author cites the hypothetical case of the parents of a child with leukemia, having a second child in order to provide a bone marrow transplant to the first child. Certainly a tough call (I’m thinking an ESPECIALLY tough call for a parent who’s become an antinatalist after the birth of the first child!). He then goes on to talk a little bit about cloning, and the ramifications implied (and who hasn’t seen one of those bad sci-fi movies, i.e. ‘The Clonus Horror’ or ‘The Island’, which was actually a clone of ‘The Clonus Horror’...I’m an MST3K dweeb, and know this stuff). But there’s one particular section I’d like to zone in on, and discuss. I quote...
“Clones and those children who are produced to save the life of a sibling are not brought into existence for their own sakes. This, however, is no different from any children. Children are brought into existence not in acts of great altruism, designed to bring the benefit of life to some pitiful non-being suspended in the metaphysical void and thereby denied the joys of life. In so far as children are ever brought into existence for anybody’s sake it is never for their own sake.”
NEVER for their OWN SAKE! In a perfect world, this would be tatooed across the foreheads of every person who ever called a non-breeder ‘selfish’. For procreation is THE most selfish act ever accomplished in a person’s lifetime. Children are brought into existence to be UTILIZED, in one way or another. Children as cuddly dollies. Children as signs of virility. Children as glue for bad marriages. Children as farm tools. Children as future income earners. Children as future caregivers. Children as offerings to the grandparents. Children as taxpayers. Children as soldiers. Children as a means to acheiving social and/or political power and/or prestige. Children as icons for sundry vicarious attainments. Children for proxy immortality. Children as offerings to God (sacrificial lambs ring a bell?). And the fact that we sincerely love them along the way doesn’t speak squat to the primal, selfish act of bringing them into an existence that will hurt them in many, many ways...and eventually kill them.
“You may look upon life as an unprofitable episode, disturbing the blessed calm of non-existence.”
If having a child as a means to an end seems wrong to the reader, try to realize that procreation is ALWAYS a means to an end, even if that end is to purchase the good feelings of being a parent. And of course, there are usually other, egoistic motives involved...otherwise, why not simply adopt? Remember, every new child brought into existence is ultimately a vessel for suffering, and for death. Always. Your children will suffer, and die. So will mine. Nobody gets left out. Well, except for those who never get ‘brought in’ in the first place. Get it?
Sunday, May 11, 2008
perturbations on the skin of a big bang bubble
that came out of nowhere, and is headed towards same-
we've no place to turn to, and no one to blame.
So, just how bad is coming into existence? Very bad, according to David Benatar. Then why is it that most people, when asked, tend to assess their own lives as good...to VERY good? The answer, says Mr. Benatar, is that there are various psychological mechanisms running in the background of our awareness which serve to mitigate, and even distort, our valuations of the world, as well as the true estimation of our own happiness. He categorizes these self-deceptive phenomena as...
1. The Pollyanna Priniciple- whereby we tend to use selective recall and projection to overestimate, or exaggerate, the postive aspects of a given situation, while downplaying or ignoring the negative.
2. Adaptation, accomodation, or habituation- where we change the dimensions of our hopes and expectations, as well as the actual interpretations of our subjective experience, in order to conform to changing, and often diminished, circumstances.
3. Comparison- instead of judging the quality of our lives against any kind of objective, idealized scale, we resort to measuring ourselves relative to other peoples’ happiness, or misery (as we perceive them).
He then goes on to outline three views about the quality of life...
1. Hedonistic theories- life judged according to positive or negative mental states.
2. Desire fulfilment theories- life judged according to the extent to which desires are fulfilled.
3. Objective list theories- life quality judged in relation to an ‘objective list’ of good and bads.
Obviously, there is some overlapping here...human conciousness is a pretty sophisitcated matrix, against which this rather stark outline seems awfully simplistic. However, the author does his best within the constraints of a chapter section, and establishes his case commendably, all things considered (BUY THE BOOK). His conclusion, of course, is that by whatever set or sub-set of theories we ultimately choose to gauge the quality of existence, life comes up short. The human species is running a race on a treadmill, knows it’s doing so, and so invents an illusory world of attainments to belie the fact. Thus the great and varied ‘life lies’, of which religion is probably THE prime example, as well as all the daily lies we tell ourselves and our children in order to cope (I just noticed how close ‘cope’ and ‘hope’ are...funny).
A WORLD OF SUFFERING
THIS is the part of the book I’ve been waiting for! For while the author’s arguments thus far have been excrutiatingly detailed, as well as acutely cogent, I’m afraid the flavor of his message has been a wee bit too sophisticated for the palates of his critics, if I’m reading them correctly. And so, dear readers... the LIST!
This list, with all the sub-categories it implies, MUST give even the brightest optimist pause to reconsider, before he allows that most misleading of all axioms, “life is good”, to fall off his tongue, and into the metaphorical (and literal) blood that all of God’s green earth is saturated with. Life is a killing and eating machine, folks, and Mr. Benatar takes up a few pages in rubbing our noses into this almost universally pooh-poohed fact. All of us will suffer at the hands of at least SOME of the items on this list, either directly or vicariously. And then, of course, each and every one of us will die, inflicting even more suffering on the ones we leave behind. Seeing that THIS is the reality that we choose to bring our children into, is it any wonder the author ends this chapter by pointing out that we “...play Russian Roulette with a fully loaded gun- aimed, of course, not at our(sic) own heads, but at those of our(sic) future offspring.”?
One other thing I failed to mention, that the author briefly touches upon, is the subject of suicide. It is estimated that around a million people take their own lives every year, with perhaps twenty to thirty times as many failing in the attempt, for various reasons. Recognizing the many psychological barriers against killing one’s self (fear of pain, fear of failure, shame to one’s self and to loved ones, familial duty, societal duty, etc.), it must be acknowledged that, at least for some, life is a horror beyond the capacity to cope. Of course, the knee-jerk response is to label these unfortunates as ‘mentally ill’, but I’m wondering...is there a context in which suicide can be seen simply as a failure to adopt the ‘life lie’ of the prevailing culture? I also question the capacity of people to be truly happy in the midst of universal (not to mention animal) suffering, without the dulling of the empathetic sensibility required to ‘shut out’ the unattractive elements of existence. If this is the case, and taken to its logical extreme, it might just be that the egotistic sociopath is the happiest of us all. Just a thought.