Wednesday, December 5, 2012

AntiNatalism And Dissection

Seeing as this post delves into the (defamation-magnetized) area of Natalism vs. AntiNatalism, I’ll just mention right off the bat that disingenuous remarks alluding to anti-natal driven genocide, cultism, eugenics, crypto-fascism, death-worship, hedonism, cowardice, emotional frailty, depression-blurring-perspective, “mommy didn’t love them enough”, “you’re a pussy” and so on will be aptly ignored in the interest of sidestepping all too familiar time-sinks. This is intended to put proponents of AntiNatalism on the immediate defensive. The diversion works only when discussants and onlookers ignore how the brisk aggressor never earned possession of offense. Guilty of redundancy enablement are fellow objectors to Natalism who still see purpose in explaining themselves, as mere messengers, to the dullards eagerly regurgitating such charges.

I typically wouldn’t even mind this, but the long-refuted character assassination ploys –– coupled with philosophy/psychology entanglement –– are being milked for all they're worth. Spirited arguments of this nature have been next to impossible to sit through for a long time now, yet they still manage to find new ways in which to get more egregious by the week; over four years later. Any gasbag that chimes in with their 2 cents by evaluating the psychology and personal life of the messenger lambasting Natalism unapologetically seems to attract enough bait-bitters who'll fruitlessly engage –– as if the accusations dished out against the lazily posited "Quintessential AntiNatalist" are worthy of being debunked, on account of some ingenuous misunderstanding on the part of the gasbag.

Such noise hardly differs from any other armchair psychoanalyses permeating the internet. The difference here is that far more DNAtheists seem to uprate the efforts of the pseudo analyses as long as the objective is the maligning of AntiNatalists' credibility. Public dissenters of Natalism who bother with this tripe or accept sketchy aphorisms about the "Archetypal AntiNatalist" emissary carry a share of the blame for AntiNatalism's current lack of intrigue and the formulaic, painfully cyclical debates so pervasive on YouTube.

At some point you have to put your foot down and quit humoring perennial straw. If it hasn’t gone away the first 500 times it's been refuted, it's unlikely to go away once you refute it for the 501st time. Or the 5001st time. Of course, I’m unable to confirm that the psychology of every last dissenter of Natalism is impervious to the psychobabble charges regularly levied by Natalists and their sympathisers, but since none of it applies to my cogent understanding of what the AN position entails, this factor suffices as the disqualifier of any such hullabaloo. The more overblown the charge, the less apposite.

The other disclaimer to stress is that readers shouldn't misconstrue what I’ll be conveying a bit later in this post for a shameless appeal to relativism intended as a conversation stopper. In debates where the ethics behind specific routine behaviors are contextually challenged, appeals to relativism are, have always been, and will forever be pure cop outs aimed to passively deflect from accosting the targeted behavior itself. Spitting at ambiance, the goal is to steer away from the bull's-eye through a backhanded method of inoculating victims (of the targeted behavior) with the belief that their having been victimized is only their opinion, and that the state of victimhood, by being an opinion, is just as vulnerable to dismissal as any other opinion.

All opinions are equally qualified/unqualified, sayeth the status quo upholder, so naturally the sensible thing for the victim to do is to pipe down and diplomatically toe the predominant culture line; since rolling with norms preserves stability. This dandy piece of advice is doubly reinforced if the victim shows signs of toying with ambitions to convert any of his/her marginalized values into legislation, as doing so would overturn the established cultural laden value judgments which have already been etched in stone as policy. Gleefully I might add.

But if we are to flirt with an adage like “One man’s right ends where another's begins”, the majority's failure to grasp the oxymoronic disposition of reproductive rights becomes transparent. Taking this quote to its logical conclusion leads to a recognition that there is no such thing as reproductive rights in any meaningful sense of the term, unless we conflate abilities with rights. This conclusion remains abhorred not due to discreet analyses of the aftermath of birth itself, but simply due to the habitual nature of procreation, as with any other endeavour held sacrosanct by way of taboo.

Granted, this alone is not enough to sink the Natalist battleship, since I'm focusing in on a nuance deprived quote which can be applied to rationalize a case against the formation of civilization itself, and because "rights" and "legality" are artificial contrivances anyway. The point is that the aforementioned majority has informed those who classify themselves as victims of the targeted behavior (in this case procreation) that the contemporary victim has one appropriate mode of response. If the victim is to make a pesky enough fuss around those who insist upon the unacceptability of overturning the legal status of this particular majority-approved value judgement, the victim is free to do so verbally while simultaneously cowering to that same judgment legally. In the end, the victim is to accept "tough shit" one-liners and choke on relativism’s hapless double-standard, so as to not offend the sensibilities of the disagreeable.

It's a classic double-edged sword that post-modern precepts always revert the conversation back to, with the sharpest, pointiest edges of each tip reserved squarely for those in the AntiNatalist camp. At best, a few will concede the reality of the double standard, but will persist that if AntiNatalists are to push for their agenda and values, they ought to do so in a proper supplicatory manner with the goal revolving around reproduction's eschewing having to be voluntary. But to arrive at this opportune compromise is to mistake the victims for attacking their antagonist with a sword, rather than a shield.

The eagerness to dismiss even the guise of a "general harm=generally a negative" value foundation upon which productive discourse may thrive - when it comes to this one issue - is quite telling given the number of basic concessions which have already given rise to essential value coalitions, all equally woven to nothing but the fabric of mind-dependency, but nonetheless tacitly accepted throughout many a value strife under the modern era in the West.

Refraining from appealing to relativism during all other value clashes in recent history (murder, torture, rape) proved to be the catalyst which led to widespread civility; an outcome those of us living in the West reap most of the benefits of. The driving force behind all this was a value foundation. Pushing for the coalescence of an incisive argument explaining why a given act is worthy of scathing critique, with something like subjectivity or objectivity, will always amount to special pleading. Wrap your minds around the fact that "Moral Realism vs. Moral Relativism" and "Natalism vs. AntiNatalism" are entirely different issues with separate sets of criteria for animadversion.

So I ask that you keep in mind that the purpose of this post is in no way to justify using appeals to relativism as replacements for pointed arguments, and that I wholeheartedly condemn tactics of this “Nothing to discuss here” dastardly nature. Now, if you’re genuinely aching for this brand of “Let’s argue about how we can’t argue” neuron wastage, arguments targeting 'Moral Relativism' itself (separate from any specific behavior) have found a home on the forums of Sam Harris’ site and numerous philosophy forums alike, so knock yourself out. You won't be missed.

On with the show.

Many apologists for Natalism have developed a knack for declaring the AntiNatalism/Nihilism overlap as not merely a possibility, but an inevitability. This is because both AntiNatalism and Nihilism accurately describe life as being entirely purposeless, despite the phenomenon of consciousness tied to sentient life’s hip. Impressive and perplexing as it may be, consciousness is nowhere near illusive enough an attribute to rationalize a sloppy purpose leap around. Granted, it's AntiNatalists and Nihilists that primarily make up the seldom few who recognize this, but to view Nihilism as some built-in component or seed from which AN position emerges, is putting the cart before the horse. Ditch the "built-in" notion, and we’ll talk.

Unfortunately, for every life-affirmer who adopts these assimilation tactics when it comes to any esoteric outlook that Joe Shithead is likely to dismiss as pouty, there seem to be twice as many AntiNatalists who jump in and return the favor by declaring the impossibility of any such overlap, applying reasoning along the lines of:

AntiNatalists can't be Nihilists cuz AntiNatalists are organically immune to all that is Nihilistic due to their belief that “Suffering Matters” while Nihilists believe that “nothing matters”.

The Natalist apologist often replies by pointing to definitions of Nihilism and extrapolating purported connotations such definitions carry when applied to their oversimplified interpretation of the AN position, which goes something along the shallow lines of “My life sucks, therefore all consciousness should cease".

Both sides are technically wrong here, and this is non-negotiable. Just as one can categorically condemn Natalism under the “Suffering Matters” banner - and in doing so remain uninfluenced by Moral Nihilism - so too can any Moral Nihilist condemn Natalism under a number of ad hoc banners without believing that “Suffering Matters” or while remaining wholly indifferent to the question of suffering’s relevance in the grand scheme of things.

Basically, a number of breeders and Natalist apologists falsely infer that, from a straightforward predilection for the discontinuation of reproduction sprouts an accompanying belief that value judgments are mind-farts. They go on to presume a cliché progression of superficial angst or unearned misanthropy on the part of the AntiNatalist, while the AntiNatalist makes the mistake of conflating the non-necessity of such a thought process with the impossibility of it. But as tons of fables demonstrate, believing that “Suffering Matters” universally does not lead to a conclusion that the suffering at hand is unworthy of even the tiniest unit of pleasure; past, present or future (much less the idea that the proposal of a “worthiness” metric is even palatable in the context of any suffering/pleasure ratio), nor does the belief that “nothing matters” exclude the Nihilist from accepting the AntiNatalist position on prescriptive grounds. What possible prescriptive grounds? Several just off the top of my head:

A distaste for the nepotistic "Blood is thicker than water" form of prejudice, for one, and the familial servitude that comes with it (which is often the bread and butter of Natalism). This recognition also incorporates the extension of autonomy to any stable minor, but differs from other examples in that its main focus is the denunciation of the worship of blood-relations, especially when the apish "Blood>Water" outlooks manage to convince otherwise rational individuals that their commitment to immediate family members or even extended relatives ought to take precedence over their commitments to non-familial relationships of more substance and involving individuals of far more character than the immediate family/relatives. It's easy to see how this broader view is largely unflattering to the currency of Natalism.

A similar AN-friendly theme that Nihilists, Virtue Ethicists or Deontologists may very well subscribe to, is a disdain for the Nuclear family. It's not that uncommon of a sentiment anymore and is only bolstered by the time adulthood rolls around, since the young adult is exposed to new information containing progressive schools of thought and is now is able to pick up on the insidiousness of having been bombarded at the most tender and impressionable age with traditionalist gibber, regularly vaunting family values. Such values aim to subordinate any semblance of anti-familial values and ultimately dress them up as noisome deviance, or if we look far back enough, to interlace those contrarian values with an outright mental disorder.

On a personal note, I myself allowed this repulsive thinking from adults to have a limited negative effect on my philosophical confidence which deterred me from staying focused enough to have the vigor necessary to reject Natalism as early as I rejected Theism (I fortuitously stumbled across Atheism the moment I recognized that adults genuinely believe in God, which was around the age of seven). Instead, I experienced the brunt of this rabid familialism as a kid/teen due to having had the audaciousness to be nonchalantly outspoken about my anti-familial, pro-meritocratic sensibilities. I did this around adults who firmly believed that rejecting familialism can only be the product of deviance/mental sickness, rather than an innate form of social meritocracy. I'd watch TV shows glorifying emotional interdependency, chiefly among family members, and casually ask "Why can't shows have more realistic characters who don't fall into a depression every time they have a falling out with a family member who the character didn't like all that much to begin with?". Obviously by that stage I hadn't yet developed the social-schemery-skills to understand that a question of this nature coming from a youngster was just asking for trouble.

To no one's surprise, the family driven emotional makeup of innumerable adults is, in fact, depicted in the relationships still observable in reruns of your average 80s/90s Network sitcom. This, in and of itself, is not the issue though. The issue arises when memes and cultures start dictating that the proper self-analysis for the emotionally self-reliant should result in an epiphany which sees the diagnosers feeling uneasy with themselves due to their condition and that the best remedy for lacking a dependency for familial bonding, is procreation. Readers of this post surely don't need me to provide a laundry list of all the shows/movies/poems/songs that revolve around an anti-hero who's a complete and utter reprobate – detrimental to himself/herself and everyone around him/her – but whose one saving grace is his/her biological child and the unparalleled love he/she feels for the kid. The same shows/movies/poems/songs have a tendency to, in the third act, offer salient lessons about how the best tenets of human emotion are precisely those which enable us to find such parent/child relationships irresistibly charming and heart melting. It's easy to see how the existence of this cultural diarrhea can elicit a rejection of Natalism from individuals who aren't necessarily in it strictly for the 'Negative Utilitarianism' inspired reduction of suffering as the paragon imperative; the type that the pure AntiNatalists like to claim as the lone AN goal-post.

The latter group's goal-post is also one of exclusionary 'Non-proximate Consequentialism', posturing as something other than the undeterred Consequentialism that is it, while falsely assumed to be interchangeable with every conceivable rejection of Natalism. Apologies to any unipolar ethicist who rejects Natalism, you will probably not enjoy hearing this, but the familial-apatheist / emotional-sovereignty cornerstones of AntiNatalism have infiltrated your moniker. The overlap will remain necessary as long as cultures continue peddling memes which cast righteous dependencies on familial bonding as a virtue while molding the absence of such dependencies as a vice, or as something that warrants diagnosis/therapy. Once we become mindful of these undercontemplated anomalies, we begin to see how our overlapping cornerstones repudiate Natalism out of profoundly sundry motives.

Another example can consist of a belief that people should devote their lives to higher intellectual callings rather than sacrifice bits and pieces of themselves to all the mind dulling baggage that comes with raising kids. Though pure AntiNatalists may find this example unsatisfactory given their view of intelligence as nothing but a problem solver. Under this worldview, craving intellectualism is homogeneous with a craving for a reduction of suffering. From a purely evolutionary standpoint, the organic role of intelligence isn't rooted in solving problems of sentient beings. Its only aim is to process reality. Evolutionists who are well versed on the evolutionary explanation behind the function of our intelligence still aspire to gain knowledge purely for its own sake, or ostensibly percolated by ego-indulgences. I admit to being guilty of this myself at times. In fact, I just caught myself doing it a second ago by swapping the perfectly applicable "pervaded" with the pretentious "percolated" when describing the dynamic at hand. I did this because "percolated" sounds better. Plus "pervaded" looks a bit too much like "perverted". I also offered this very follow-up defense of the swap because of ego, since pretentious people who take the time to point out their own pretentiousness are often thought of as being authentically self-deprecating, and therefore humble or down to earth. In any event, ego happens to the best of us and it can influence aspects of any outlook, including the position of AntiNatalism.

Another way of arriving at AntiNatalism through impure methods is unadulterated repulsion at the process of childbirth. Call it an overreaction, but the moment it results in common utterances like "No woman should ever put herself through that horror for any reason" I'd cavalierly label it AntiNatalism lite. Having a zero-tolerance view of the birthing process can also be the straw that breaks the camel's back, as many in the child-free movement are drawn to AntiNatalism lite merely by their partiality towards mainstream views on fitness, or a blanket repulsion at the state of pregnancy itself, sparred by that same favoring of barbie-doll esthetics.

Everyone reading this has probably known at least one person whose condemnation of procreation revolved around one of these propensities where plain harm is a non-priority, or where plain harm has been positioned a few notches lower on the value tier. Some of these viewpoints may prove to make perfect bedfellows for the sensorial focused 'net product' that is Consequentialist in nature, but such overlaps are largely coincidental. Point being, the position of AntiNatalism does not have to be synoptically concerned with proverbial quarrels pinning 'Moral Realism' versus 'Moral Nihilism' versus 'Moral Relativism', just as advocates of age-of-consent laws didn’t have to innately concern themselves with those exact "subjectivity vs. objectivity" squabbles in order to clamor for the particular legislation they clamored for. This means that Nihilists can too be AntiNatalists.

Apparently stuff like this needs to be elucidated around YouTube AntiNatalists, due to the number of emotionally charged AntiNatalists I've seen exhibiting scornful hostility towards 'Moral Nihilism' while the more neutral-to-Nihilism AntiNatalists make no attempts to set them straight. Last I checked, having a phobia of Nihilism is about as rational as having a phobia of Atheism on account of Atheists not having the 10 Commandments to rely on to guide them through ethical quandaries.

So to the AntiNatalists who seem to believe that a Nihilist cannot be a real AntiNatalist, “because suffering!”, as if suffering-as-lone-criteria-for-procreation-critique is some undisputed axiom: It’s not. Some people just flat out hate the species and don't give a hoot about suffering, yet favor extinction. I myself don't even positively favor human extinction, nor do I positively favor any species' perpetuation. Aspirations to disassociate one branch of AN underpinnings from the other impure kind, reeks of Muslims who still claim that the 9/11 hijackers weren’t true followers of Islam, “because religion of peace!”. No True Scotsman overload. We see it with religion, we see it with economic doctrines (That’s not REAL Capitalism/Communism/Socialism…), we even started seeing it with Atheism (Dawkins foolishly suggesting that the blatantly Atheistic Soviet Union was still kinda sorta religious because they totally extolled and deified Stalin… which many of them didn’t even do), so it’s really no surprise that we’re seeing the same maneuvering taking place with AntiNatalism as well. If you think that distancing AntiNatalism from anything remotely Nihilistic will help the position garner some good PR, you’re in for a rude awakening. There's zero need to disassociate. Your camp doesn't have to be fragmented. If you happen to be uneasy with the prospect of a Nihilistic sect of AntiNatalism, tough beans, because it’s perfectly feasible. Just not obligatory.

Conversely, it’s evident that there exists another layer of Natalist apologetics that oddly falls into the opposite category of dissent. As mentioned above, Category A binds the AntiNatalist position to Nihilism on account of the commonality revolving around life’s purposelessness, but Category B binds it to Moral Objectivism due to its overbearing focus on suffering as the end-all be-all system of value, as seen on YouTube. To be sure, by 'Moral Objectivism' I am of course not referring to Randian hogwash (See also: Moral Realism or 'Cognitivism' as a meta-ethical thesis).

In effect, what we have is individuals critiquing AntiNatalism not by critiquing its features, but by going after either 'Moral Nihilism' or 'Moral Realism', as a side-step. Two polar opposite outlooks on ethics, both attributed to AntiNatalism’s roots. The former befuddles me, because while the overlap is indeed possible, there are virtually no outspoken Moral Nihilists within my YouTube radar who also positively reject Natalism. The latter is somewhat more plausible, though it’s still a false approach to take. It’s a bit more understandable only because AntiNatalism’s most tenacious proponents are, in fact, Moral Realists. Many would probably brand be as an unyielding 'Moral Realist' as well, but I've dropped that label as too many Moral Realists dispute the idea of ethics being 'mind-dependent' and it boarders on the transcendental/nonphysical. Mind you, I do still take issue with the covert union of 'mind-dependent' and 'subjective', stressing colloquial application of 'subjective' as simply meaning 'bias'. Hopefully in the future Academia will agree with me and the prescriptive will become the descriptive, so that the the word 'subjective' is no longer stuck with two synonyms that aren't synonyms among themselves. My videos/blogs haven't exactly been an influence on intelligentsia so far though, so I won't be holding my breath on that one.

In any event, even if we were to take into account the loudest AntiNatalists’ dictums in relation to the empirical viability of ethics/values, I find it hard to believe that any sagacious observer will have a genuinely strenuous time grasping how one can be a Moral Realist, a Moral Relativist, or a Moral Nihilist, and still be a legit AntiNatalist regardless of what subset got them there. Failure to understand this is as baffling to me as a refusal to believe that 150 years ago, some Nihilists happened to be avid Abolitionists, or a refusal to believe that most slave owning Confederates were avid Moral Realisms. In other words, believing that 'Moral Nihilism' is the product of one's inability to comprehend empathy through a logical lens, is as absurd as believing that all Moral Realists are never prone to apathy in the face of strangers’ suffering, due to their stated outlook on the credibility of ethics under an epistemological realm.

Hopefully everyone reading this can agree that attempting to blend ethical acts in practice with due evaluation of conflicts tangled up within ethicism itself, denotes either a lack of clarity or deliberate equivocation of what Nihilism is, or even an inability to differentiate between evaluation of Applied Ethics, Normative Ethics and (most importantly) Meta Ethics. Despite massive disagreements over technicalities, the Moral Nihilist is capable of being just as committed as the self-described Moral Realist. Postulating value codes as nothing but human constructs does not serve to blackmail the thinker into an intellectual impediment against acting in accordance to those identical codes, in practice, regardless of how arbitrary the value-holder views his/her acts to ultimately be.

It's impossible for a large group of people – even if they're like-minded – to analyze ethics' algorithms from A to Z and genuinely avoid having divergence kick in at some point, but the inevitability of subsequent variance does not have to culminate in an "all-or-nothing" deal-breaker.

Now that that’s hopefully settled, even more perplexing is the number of AntiNatalists who fancy themselves as staunch Net-Equation Utilitarians without bothering to partially surrender the card carrying 'anti-imposition' facet of their philosophy, failing to see how incompatible the two positions can be once situational ethics kick in (but without all the Theistic goo that S.E. originated from).

If I may be permitted to indulge in a generic thought-experiment invoking the existence of magic crystal balls which actually manage to predict stuff accurately 100% of the time... I know it's tacky, but humor me:

I am endowed a marquee vision into all future events pertaining to sentient experience. A most scientific crystal ball informs me that, should I decide to procreate, the philanthropic actions of my spawn are guaranteed to set off a chain of events which would significantly abate the net suffering experienced by sentient life on planet earth, both in the short and long term. When I say that this alternative future is guaranteed to trigger a subsiding of suffering, I am only referring to the greater net suffering presented to me as being in the cards and bound to take place in the event that my present-day decision to abstain from procreating remains intact. The catch being: Should I choose to procreate, my future kid is guaranteed to spend his/her entire life plagued by the belief that he/she would “rather not have been” all the way up until and including his/her final breath.

My predicament would not be a predicament at all, were I a committed 'Net-Equationist' / 'Negative Utilitarian' or a committed AntiNatalist whose objection to Natalism is heavily influenced by an 'anti-imposition' pledge, which is merely an extension of the Kantian branch of ethics outlining that individuals ought not be used as a means to any given end (in this case a parental end or a familial end). The reason that my predicament is in fact a legitimate one, is because I am – at least in this thought experiment – not a steadfast 'Negative Utilitarian' in practice, nor am I a steadfast non-consequentialist AntiNatalist in practice, but am attempting to cling to both cornerstones exclusively theoretically in my unyielding quest for value equilibrium. I'm stranded in an estranged give-and-take relationship that my mind conjures up between Deontological non-imposition versus Consequentialist utility maximization. My failure to apprehend the blatantly paradoxical nature of this juxtaposition is a product of obstinate unwillingness to challenge the dogmatic notions of value absolutism lodged inside my brain (in this thought experiment). As a result, I find myself chained to a circumstance where I cannot maintain both the 'anti-imposition' pledge while maintaining the commitment to obviate forthcoming utilitarian borg math, which I as a self-identifying 'Negative Utilitarian' must always attempt to do. One has to trump the other.

In reality, I bear no such pathological commitment towards Net-Equation Utilitarianism or towards the rigid 'anti-imposition' AN stance and duty, because I acknowledge that circumstantially driven necessities for exemptions supersede the virtue of principles, on both ends of the spectrum. This is especially true if the upholding of principles happens to be egotistically driven, which it often is. Anyone who rejects Natalism is free to deny this, but they are not able to deny it and on top of that make a compelling case for why remaining a tad more loyal to one of the two principles blueprinted above, is factually correct”er” than picking the other.

A common get-out-of-jail-free card which jugglers of exclusionary 'Negative Utilitarianism' and exclusionary (non-consequentialist) 'AntiNatalism' can appeal to here, is to point out that my thought experiment had me sentencing a consciousness to a lifetime of misery not in order to feed my crude desires/ego or culturally shaped psychology, but because the disciplined net-equation obligationism called for it. The “future math" shown to me by the bulletproof crystal ball left me with no real alternatives, unlike all those other breeders/imposers whose procreating we can still denounce regardless of whether the chain of events set in motion by their kids winds up in the red or green. Their acts warrant censure due to the fact that your average aspiring breeder doesn’t even contemplate the suffering domino effect under a stringent 'Negative Utilitarian' framework in the first place, and goes on to procreate simply because he/she wants to. So basically, "It’s the motives, silly” is the typical response offered by the 'pro-utility/anti-imposition' value juggler. This excuse seems somewhat levelheaded at first, but the moment one extrapolates how invoking in anomalies can lead to the abandonment of 'Consequentialism', it too can’t pass.

Many AntiNatalists’ overarching defense of 'Non-Proximate Consequentialism' has them marching into a nasty dichotomous corner where breeders’ intentions either override the outcomes of breeders’ actions, or vice-versa. We cannot simultaneously favor the two. If we are to believe that the average breeder’s intentions behind procreating are irrelevant – as Hard Consequentialism mandates – we must then concede that my circumstantially virtuous motive behind procreating in the above thought experiment cannot be regarded as one belonging to any motive tier, therefore my imposition of genes on an individual who’d “rather not have been” is no more justifiable than that of the Octomom’s, even if the Octomom’s kids go on to reduce net suffering to the equal extent that my hypothetical kids were predetermined to diminish it in the thought experiment.

How are we to so much as scratch the surface of maintaining enough breathing room towards the 'anti-imposition' stance while individually enslaving ourselves to 'net-equation' obligationism? We cannot just slay all forms of Consequentialism with respects to the imposition of life/genetics on an individual realm, but we also can't just revert back to viewing individuals simply as a means to an end – the end being the sum-total reduction of suffering – as such imperatives possess not a shred of compatibility with a willingness to steer clear of impositions. Simply put, we're in a bind. The problem, of course, is that nobody is truly obligated to serve the sum-total utility borg agenda, and any expectation to the contrary exists solely in the minds of Net-Equation Utilitarians, no different than how Natalists’ insistence upon the imperative to create future generations is just as relegated to the minds of Natalists and nothing else. Both agendas suffer from the absence of intrinsic, ontological necessity. But that's fine for reasons outlined in the abnegation near the start of the post.

Perhaps discussing this in the context of a thought experiment concocted to target the future is not everyone’s cup of tea. So I’ll flip it and do a quick one targeting the past:

Suppose that on his death-bed, a clear-minded Albert Einstein had pled “I’d rather not have been!”. An AntiNatalist observer recognizes the plight of Einstein’s circumstance and is (inexplicably) teleported 77 years back in time, at which point he finds himself presented with the opportunity to prevent the impregnation Einstein’s mother. The AntiNatalist, cognizant of his sudden ability to undo what would otherwise turn out to be a definite imposition, opts to act in accordance to the 'anti-imposition' duty embedded in his rejection of Natalism, and successfully prevents the conception of Einstein by harmlessly distracting the horny couple. As a result, Einstein never existed and the world is significantly worse off because of this, both in the short and long term.

Prior to going through with the prevention of the pregnancy, the AntiNatalist is made aware that the world will be a worse place without Einstein’s vast array of contributions to human knowledge. The AntiNatalist opted to act and undo the fertilization of Einstein’s mother, regardless of this fact. To believe that the AntiNatalist was in the wrong here, is to believe that Einstein had an obligation to reduce suffering which Einstein himself did not create or even indirectly contribute towards. If the AntiNatalist believes that Einstein had no such obligation, under the poised banner “Individuals are only obligated to not impose suffering themselves, and that’s where their duty ends”, it cannot be said of the AntiNatalist that his distracting of the couple was objectively wrong“er”. A belief that individuals have no positive obligations to reduce harm which they themselves did not have a hand in creating, cannot be deemed as fundamentally contrary to the AntiNatalist position. To believe otherwise, is to out oneself as an AntiNatalist of convenience who views their own rejection of Natalism merely as a stepping-stone; a vehicle by which to reach the true end-goal of surreptitious net-equation servitude.

Such an outlook relegates the position of 'AntiNatalism' to a cannon-fodder agenda for something else, to the point where categorical disapprobation of procreation is no longer the recommended recipe, and now it is selective disapprobation of procreation that is to be viewed as the correct approach. This is because the exclusionary 'Negative Utilitarian' borg calculus calls upon all analysis of ethics to be evaluated under a strict, robotic, domino-effect ascended benchmark which renders any focus on duty or intent (deviation from consequences) as an unscrupulous distraction. In essence, any contemplation leading to ambivalence as it relates to outcomes always having to outweigh motives, or towards 'harm-minimization' always ousting 'imposition-minimization', is to be rigidly frowned upon.

This approach justifies servitude of draconian proportions, and finding it highly questionable doesn’t dislodge commitment to a disciplined analysis on the part of the thinker. It simply means that, at a certain point, value system clashes start being legitimately irreconcilable.

One might reject thought experiments of this nature on the basis that there's a high likelihood of the net-equation finding itself to be interlocked with imposition of life/genetics on an individual realm, in so far as the statement “Einstein’s non-existence will lead to greater overall suffering” being interpreted as identical to the statement “Einstein’s non-existence will lead to greater net suffering because more individuals will have life imposed on them in Einstein’s absence, and will grow up to find their lack of consent in the matter to be worthy of contempt, identical to Einstein’s individual case” thus rendering any apprehension towards not fulfilling Einstein’s one, measly, single “I’d rather not have been” deathbed wish, as being decidedly paradoxical.

At first glance this seems like a reasonable objection, but it can easily be resolved if we simply add another layer to the thought experiment, stipulating that the incline of net-suffering caused by Einstein’s non-existence would not be a by-product of higher population counts consisting of individuals who wished that they'd never have been, but of unrelated events instead. In other words, Einstein’s otherwise conspicuous non-existence would not have led to more individuals uttering “I’d rather not have been” and the world’s population count would have remained unaltered to the one in which Einstein does exist. What would change however, is the volume of suffering endured by that same number of people/animals, split up by the same margins per subject as it would have been had Einstein’s existence not been retroactively prevented in the thought experiment. Adjusting to this circumstance, while maintaining aspirations of both utility maximization and an aversion to impositions, is impossible.

Admittedly, I’ve thrown too one many convoluted wrenches at this thought experiment by now, but this final one had to be added because I know that the main objection typically revolves around the belief that preventing two "I’d rather not have been” individuals from being born is better than preventing one. But clearly this is entirely contingent upon the underlying principles one accepts as one's groundwork, and ANs who reject this brand of tunnelvision 'Negative Utilitarianism' should be able to do so without being thought of as traitors to the AN position in its purest form. The 'Imposition Minimization' goal-post is also what prompted me to incorporate 'Preference Utilitarianism' to my calculus, which I apply to all sound minded humans who are perfectly capable of comprehending their immunity to risk, and thereby legitimately consenting to their own suffering, unlike comatose humans, and unlike all of wildlife.

The reason none of this has ever amounted to heated debate among unalloyed AntiNatalists is because in reality no one is privy to magic crystal balls which are actually accurate in their fortune telling (much less to space-time continuum openings). But had we been inundated with knowledge pertaining to even a handful of ultimate future outcomes, just how undivided would the AN crowd be? I am hoping to get a glimpse into the answer by having any readers of this entry who made it this far explain where they stand on the Catch-22 scenarios. Would you side with maximization of net utility, or a commitment to refrain from imposing on those who aren’t imposing? It's a no-win for any value-juggler.

None of this is intended to contort the ongoing circular debate between Natalists and AntiNatalists; a debate Natalists have proven time and again that they’re simply not ready to have. So until that changes, instead of explaining for the umpteenth time why rejecting Natalism doesn't give the rejectors any cause to off themselves, I believe that the more prolific thing to do is to confront the handicaps of exclusionary Net-Equation Utilitarianism (be it Negative or not) or any monolithic duty touted by deontologists. Scholars have discussed these quandaries for centuries, but I'd like to see them discussed under an AN overlay.

Suicide itself can be argued to be perfectly objectionable in the eyes of committed 'Negative Utilitarians' and 'Non-proximate Consequentialists', seeing as how most suicide cases are glued to a range of fallouts. Many of these fallouts will see the emotional burden on the deceased's close-ones far exceeding the collective units of hardship the suicidal individual would have gone on to endure had he/she abstained from committing suicide. Ergo all those who have committed suicide and as a result of having done so brought about more collective hardship to their close-ones, can be seen as having been wrong to do so and should have remained alive for the good of the whole. Sounds good? Well, no. In my view all enemies of Natalism should find this position contemptible, regardless of how utilitarian-friendly a conclusion it is.

But I’m sure a great many ANs don’t find it contemptible at all, since they apply a cement-headed clinical view onto sentience-as-a-whole and work their way from there.

37 comments:

  1. i don't like these "time machine" thought experiments (they’re fun to an extent)... if einstein opted out of life at the start, someone else would’ve been propped up by society. the focus of the world might be different without einstein, but that same magnification of importance and popularity in a person would remain with societies and people will be “happier” for it. when a popular movie star or influential figure dies… it doesn’t take long to replace him/her with each new crop of children and their focus.

    i don’t really care for the whole “Nihilists can be AntiNatalists too” thingy… so be it, but don’t try to slander me with it. i view antinatalism like I view atheism: it’s a title that really tells you nothing until you actually speak to a person. until you start hearing how they use language and how they want to implement change or awareness, there's not much to go by. i can completely agree with someone, but how you go about implementing your ideas (legislating, through education, whatever) is a different matter--- and if you want nothing to do with that process or see no use or point in doing so, that’s where i start drawing lines.

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  2. It's impossible to know that an Einstein replacement would have filled the gap. Even arguing about this defeats the entire purpose of the catch 22 scenario set up by the thought experiment. I explicitly said that the Einstein-less outcome would be in the minus in so far as collective sentience is concerned. The point was to get an answer about whether or not Einstein is obligated to reduce suffering created by others and in the process be harmed himself.

    I'm hoping to find out where ANs stand on the perplexities concerning imposing on those who aren't imposing, for the purpose of serving utilitarian ends. It doesn't even have to be a birth imposition. Suppose that, instead of making honest logical arguments, we discovered that spouting propaganda about procreation proved to be a far more effective tool to successfully sway hardcore Natalists from procreating. Negative Utilitarian borg math would dictate that lying about procreation would be the correct thing to do in that case, since the only true good one can do is reduce net suffering. Unless the lie causes suffering, the lie is irrelevant. This is what religious apologists appeal to when they try defending the faith of moderate believers, placing emphasis on the comfort faith offers (at the expense of reality). If we look at it from a tunnelvision Utilitarian POV, we must concede that the apologists are correct. But they're not, because a case can be made that valuing reality/truth at the expense of comfort, wins the day regardless of what the suffering/pleasure utility scale has to say about it.

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  3. This was a great view from the mount. A pretty comprehensive description of the failure of this conversation on youtube. Those that are involved get caught in a game of shit-tennis. which is messy.

    BAM! - "But if we are to flirt with an adage like “One man’s right ends where another’s begins”, the majority's failure to grasp the oxymoronic disposition of reproductive rights becomes transparent. "

    That was a particular favourite. But there were many times in this blog that you crystalized the soberest arguments going.

    The sword/shield conflation is an all too common misnomer, for sure.. I’ve seen people commit that distortion whom I consider otherwise rational and progressive it’s not just coming from the rabidly pro-natal.

    Loved the deconstruction of the Nuclear Family as propaganda. The openly macro-centric motivation behind it goes unquestioned.
    We are conditioned from childhood to want to procreate, to create a family, a legacy. Early on it’s especially towards females with their baby dolls, prams, all manner of pretend-mothering toys and activities, tho of course there’s many other ways in which minds are infused with an understanding of procreation as largely unquestionably morally justified.

    That’s what these ideas are up against, it’s the most basic lie told to most every cognisant human being, and how could it not be? In the Nuclear Family scenario, the parents have procreation as a pre-loaded game of life plan, and if they don’t fuck things up too much with divorces and breakdowns, they will have pride in their duty of care for their child. In that all-consuming game of chance, there is no room for suggesting a lack of foresight in the decision to decide for another that they should exist.


    ooj
    (TBC)

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  4. Whew, I think I've gotten through 95% of your entry here and only had to pop up my engl. dictionary some 12 times)) so that's the only reason why I wouldn't be your regular reader. (even though learning new words to throw around may be beneficiary to my ego as well but I'm lazy and proud of it:)
    Your thought experiments remind me of others of the kind. They all demonstrate that perhaps every ethical position has its downsides. To me it's just another testament to how flawed the world we live in is. There are just too many cases where there are no perfect options, but bad and worse ones.
    And here is when I usually take the chance to note that we shouldn't bring new people to such a place.
    You reminded me of another thought experiment commonly presented on philosophy lectures where the train is going to hit 5 people unless you turn a switch and it kills only 1.
    Most say they'd turn the switch and killed that 1 person saving 5 instead.
    But I've always thought the value isn't simply in the numbers. I don't know who those 5 people are or who that 1 person is.
    I mean, what if those 5 are some sick bastards you'd want dead anyway? :D
    And the 1 lonely guy is a scientist who's about to invent a cure for cancer? Or is your future husband (oh wait, then you might actually want to turn the switch :D)
    To me it feels wrong to sacrifice someone who wouldn't otherwise have suffered, even for the good of many others. I mean, was human sacrifice wrong only because it didn't actually please the gods? Or was it wrong because one should not serve merely as a fix for others?
    So I guess I'm leaning more towards deontological side, although I do realize the whole tragedy of any of the choices. As I've already said, the world in which one is faced with such dilemmas - sucks, and that's yet another reason to not be filling it with more people.

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  5. FYI Irina: I've been a regular reader of your posts for a while, but can't officially "Follow" your blog due to the blogspot/wordpress incompatibilities (at least on my end) in addition to my aversion to FB/Twitter/etc. So I'll just use this opportunity to say that your posts are great and thanks for the feedback on this one, particularly for specifying that you lean towards deontology (if you had to choose). Few ANs are willing to spell it out like that.

    Ooj: You didn't voice your leanings. If you'd like I can come up with some more fitting thought experiments...

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  6. Re the thought experiment;
    Id go with the borg math. Detractors may argue that here in reality, in the absence of certainty, and forgoing a necessity for ‘large scale’ beneficial net effect of the existence of their offspring, they could simply aim for ‘as good a result as possible’. But such appeals to relativism are perhaps one of the problems you cited early on.

    ooj

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  7. AntiBullshitMan, Thanks, and I've enjoyed several of your videos before. You don't make them so often though.
    I have programmed my blog myself, so it's not compatible with any platform :)
    Luckily for us ANs, the equation is not one with a crystal ball, and no birth guarantees amelioration of human demise, while every birth is a risk of a great suffering being created.
    You make a good point here 'Postulating value codes as nothing but human constructs does not have to lead to an intellectual impediment against acting in accordance to those identical codes, in practice'. This kind of nihilism I have nothing against but the one where the person sees nihilism as a pass-way to behave as an asshole - i do have an issue with. I mean, if some claim they have a right to rape and kill and whatever just because there's no moral code written in stone, they also give up their right to be treated decently by others. Because it seems to me some like to call themselves nihilist only with regards to other people's rights but not when it concerns their loved ones and themselves. That's hypocrisy.

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  8. I don't think your criticism of utilitarianism in your first thought experiment is quite accurate. I'm referring to this:

    " So basically, "It’s the motives, silly” is the typical response offered by the pro-utility/anti-imposition value juggler. This excuse seems somewhat fair at first, but the moment one recognizes how invoking it leads to the abandonment of Consequentialism, it too can’t pass."

    It's not about the motive, it's about the expected consequence. We have every reason to expect the crystal ball holding you will actually do good by procreating (in purely utilitarian terms). We have no such expectation for real world parents.

    If we had a situation where your crystall ball was actually lying to you and your progeny would in fact turn the world into an absolute shithole, your altruistic motives wouldn't matter one bit if it was up to me to decide whether I allow your plan of breeding to go forward. On the flipside, if someone else's child would actually do the things promised to you by the crystal ball, but the parents had entirely unaltruistic motives in their choise to breed, it would make no sense to interfere.

    I don't personally find any difficulty in choosing between the anti-imposition and (negative) utilitarian views. Utilitarianism wins in every thought experiment (realistic or not) that's ever been thrown at me. As long as the goal is reducing suffering I don't see how it's even possible for negayive utilitarianism not to be the right answer every single time, for if breaching someone's right not to be imposed upon (or whatever) produces so much negative value that the gains don't justify it, then breaching that right is by definition not in line with utilitarianism.

    As for the suicide example - until you explain to me why the suicidal person is more deserving of not suffering than the ones hurt by the suicide, in the context of us lacking free will at least, I see nothing wrong with the conclusion that a suicide under such circumstances can be immoral. It does strike me as unfair on a gut-feeling level, but I can't justify having my apish feelings decide these things.

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  9. If negative utilitarianism wins in every thought experiment, you're basically telling me that you think it's ethical to quickly/painlessly kill perfectly healthy adults who like living but who have no societal responsibilities, no emotional attachments, no skills, etc... because they'd otherwise have gone on to suffer. On the other hand, their death won't cause harm to anyone, including themselves since they'll be killed painlessly, without even knowing it. The very premise of Negative Utilitarianism dismisses any concerns revolving around the murdered individual's lack of consent in the matter. I don't see how a fair mind can dismiss such concerns as being nothing but apish feelings.

    Your brand of ethics would also have you saying that it's fine to censor truth when emphasizing truth happens to slow down harm minimization. As I mentioned in a comment above, this is what faith apologists often appeal to - emphasizing the comfort faith brings to the deluded. So, are people who value truth/honesty also just plagued by apish feelings? Are Atheists wrong to no longer walk on eggshells around peaceful devout theists whose delicate feelings get deeply hurt when they're exposed to a cogent argument against theism? I say no, regardless of what the pain/pleasure scale says.

    I generally side with harm reduction, but my brain cannot make sense of a commitment to that skewed a recipe 100% of the time.

    The 1st thought experiment got too convoluted once I brought Consequentialism into the fray. This is probably a failure on my part to convey, with enough clarity, the added layer of irreconcilability. I'll run out of space if I try it here. Maybe in the next blog.

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  10. I am a moral nihilist and an antinatalist/efilist so i dont see a problem here at all. Pronatalists are the real problem, not us

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  11. Where exactly is the harm in killing a person if that person's death has no impact on anyone left alive? Isn't the effect on (current or future) sentient beings how we determine the morality of literally everything? You even agree the person himself isn't harmed by it so I really see no rational basis left for condemning it. Can you give an example of any other behaviour that harms no one but is still wrong? You didn't provide any reasons why a "fair mind" can't reach this conclusion. If you don't think it's the ape morality in you that tells you killing is wrong then I'd like to hear about how you came to this conclusion intellectually.

    If theism was completely harmless, or if it was indeed beneficial (which I don't think it is in most cases even to the believer) then of course it'd be a different equation when considering whether we wanna burst the bubble. In the real world however we know religion is a motive and/or excuse for all kinds of immorality, and so we clearly have reasons to speak out against it (as is the case with most bullshit beliefs). Obviously there are isolated cases where not being truthful about religion is a good thing though. The only reason truth has any value is because it usually leads to making things better. I'm sure you would agree lying is the right thing to do in some cases, provided there's enough benefit to it, so we're again back to doing the math, as in utilitarianism.

    You say you only generally side with harm reduction, so I'd like to hear what other things you think are worth valuing over that in some cases and why that is.

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  12. "Isn't the effect on (current or future) sentient beings how we determine the morality of literally everything?"

    If you accept one subdivision of ethics as your lone criteria for reflection 100% of the time in every scenario, then yes. If you go by most developed Nations' legal systems, then no. The crux of the age of enlightenment was the realization that individuals shouldn't be treated as a means to an end. I believe there are exceptions to this, given the circumstance, but I prefer to keep it to a minimum. To brush it off completely is to rationalize routine servitude. So again, my intention was never to dispute Negative Utilitarianism's internal consistency. Obviously if the valuer has already categorically appointed negative utilitarianism as the end-all be-all measuring stick of value, then any thought experiment in which we're given knowledge of an ultimate sum-total will obviously be an easy thought experiment to provide an answer to. The point of my scenarios is to get ANs contemplating the existence of other barometers worthy of consideration. I do the same when talking politics with people who always vote along party lines & are quick to accept silly aspects of (let's say) the progressive movement due to the movement's rational stance on major issues (Like when people start justifying things like murder in order to remain consistent to a monolithic value outlook).

    "I'd like to hear what other things you think are worth valuing"

    Reality, honesty, individualism, consent, bravery, introspection.. for the same reasons you (& I) intuitively value harm reduction. Or maybe you believe that you value harm reduction for reasons which aren't grounded in intuition. Please explain this monopoly on intellectualism that you believe N.U. has.

    And yes, if a peaceful/harmless theist tries refuting Atheism around me, I'll argue back even if a crystal ball tells me that this person's life will go in the red if he is convinced of Atheism. The only way to believe I'm unethical here is to hold no value for reality in & of itself. Asking me to convince you why you should, is like asking me to convince sociopaths to value harm reduction.

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  13. As for why do I think something might be worth valuing over net harm reduction in some instances: I believe the nature of the thought experiments already illustrate this. Your commitment to N.U. has you believing that man ought to be his brother's keeper in millions of instances where he currently isn't, and is not thought of any less for it. How do you think a system based on N.U. would fare? Earlier you appealed to determinism in order to diminish the role personal responsibility may play in these circumstances. According to these principles, people who drew nothing but short straws in life but who busted their ass & ultimately overcame their humble beginnings, reaching *beyond* comfortable status, should be obligated to surrender just enough of their current comfort in order to reduce net suffering, even if a bunch of the recipients consist of people who don't believe in determinism, who firmly believe in personal responsibility, and who were dealt nothing but long straws in life (huge inheritance, great genetics, top-notch education, etc), yet still managed to lose it all due to their decadent lifestyles. Yes, ultimately it's all just cause and effect, but we can't place much emphasis on it in these discussions. Using cause & effect to dismiss accomplishments and excuse irresponsibility remains controversial even in determinist circles. I shudder to think of the reaction from society at large.

    Another case: An adult who has a phobia of prisons commits a felony which would have earned him a life sentence, but successfully frames a man who is largely indifferent to his life & future prospects & who is far less fazed by a lifetime sentence than the adult who actually committed the crime would've been. The actual felon gets off scot free & spends the rest of his life as good as a saint. N.U. would have you believe that the frame job should go unchallenged because it resulted in a net outcome further away from the red.

    "Can you give an example of any other behaviour that harms no one but is still wrong?"

    Manipulating people is wrong even if it makes them happier (again, we're back to moderate theists). Lying to build up one's ego is wrong regardless of whether it goes on to cause harm. Etc.

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  14. "Reality, honesty, individualism, consent, bravery, introspection.. for the same reasons you (& I) intuitively value harm reduction. Or maybe you believe that you value harm reduction for reasons which aren't grounded in intuition. Please explain this monopoly on intellectualism that you believe N.U. has."

    I actually do believe harm reduction is different. If you shoot me in the foot my brain will produce harm to me regardless of what my philosophical opinion on the matter is. It is therefore not comparable to things like honesty or reality, which are entirely situational, and whose evaluation is dependant on mere malleable psychology. IOW, The negative value of harm is self-contained, whereas anything else you can name as a cornerstone for ethics is dependant on arbitrary notions in your head. If I could rewire everyone's brain to no longer care about the truth without affecting welfare in any way, on what non-arbitrary basis could you possibly condemn this new world? How would my actions differ in any way from something like changing everyone's favorite color?

    You're right that I can't necessarily convince a sociopath (or just a moral nihilist or somesuch person) that he should value not shooting my foot, but what I can or can't convince him to value does not change the fact that my pain would be harmful to me, as would his pain be harmful to him should I be the one shooting him. Harm exists independant of our appreciation of it. It also seems to me the same can be said about any of the things you named, like trying to convince the guy he should be thrutful with me, so I don't see this as a criticism on utilitarianism, but rather all concepts of morality.

    I can take anything else you put forward as a cornerstone for morality and construct a scenario where obedience to it causes massive harm, at which point I'm sure you would concede harm reduction is the thing worth valuing more, and if you don't, then you'd be saying you're ok with causing harm for no reason other than to satisfy some arbitrary notion in your head.

    Consider: A world full of entirely honest but miserable people, or one full of pathological liars who are all blissful? Why should we care what makes these people happy as long as they ARE happy?


    "Your commitment to N.U. has you believing that man ought to be his brother's keeper in millions of instances where he currently isn't, and is not thought of any less for it. How do you think a system based on N.U. would fare?"

    If one is to be maximally moral then of course one must live insanely selflessly by current standards. I don't believe our DNA-wiring allows anyone to actually ever come close to remotely resembling such a perfect individual, but that doesn't mean we can't recognize our shortcomings. No one can bowl a 300 every single time either but that doesn't stop us from aptly calling anyone who can't a less than perfect bowler.

    As for the prison example, I again don't see why one deterministic robot, or rather the conciousness helplessly attached to the robot, is more or less deserving of suffering than another such robot. I might agree with you if we had free will. I say "might" because free will is such an unintelligible concept I'm not sure it's even logically possible.

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  15. "If you shoot me in the foot my brain will produce harm to me regardless of what my philosophical opinion on the matter is"

    So essentially what you're telling me is that you believe ethics/values are divorced from philosophy. I don't know how you reached this absurd conclusion. I mean, you still can't prove to a deontologist or a virtue ethicist that they ought to value the prospect of avoiding a given pain over the prospect of not being perceived as a liar. For me personally, if I had to choose between avoiding something as painful as gunshot to the foot, or avoid being falsely perceived as manipulative by people whose opinions I value, without ever finding out that they perceive me this way, I'd opt to avoid the gunshot. Now, if the choice revolved around avoiding a pinprick at the expense of being falsely perceived as manipulative by those same people, without ever finding out that they perceive me this way, I'd take the pinprick. It's impossible to prove my priorities as *wrong*. It's not right or wrong to value one over the other, in either scenario. As a matter of fact, in the 2nd scenario, I'd take the pinprick even if the alternative was only 1 person falsely perceiving me as being manipulative, and even if that 1 person is someone whose opinions I don't value to begin with. This is because, to me, a pinprick is well worth experiencing if it means a given misconception of me will never arise in any brain. The fact that my psychology enters the equation is no less of a disqualifier of what I value more, than the fact that all these pain/pleasure equations are vaguely conceived & have no real metric to them (hence this blog's repeated use of italics for "units" of suffering) is a disqualifier of what you value more as a committed Negative Utilitarian. I imagine any proclamation that N.U. is innately more intellectual than all other categories & subsections of ethics, can be particularly obnoxious to sadists & masochists. How you make sense of telling people that their pain fetish is inferior, in a universe lacking any semblance of a central authority by which any values can be prioritized, is incomprehensible to me. Do you deny that values are mind-dependent? Many ANs do, & at that point they're just flirting with metaphysics as mentioned in the post.

    I also urge any determinist who has read these comments and who might be thinking about advocating for any kind of justice/fairness obsolescence, because of cause & effect, to listen to Harris' presentations and Q&As on determinism where he explains why it's a terrible idea and that things like political freedom are not suddenly archaic notions simply because we don't have free will.

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  16. If by values being divorced from philosophy you mean that philosophy is not necessary for there to be value in the universe, then obviously yes. You seem to believe values are actually made up by humans rather than merely discovered in the universe. Obviously I don't need to even be capable of doing philosophy, as is the case with animals, to be harmed by the sensation of a bullet going through my foot. If some masochist does not find this sensation negative (which is a gross oversimplification but it'll do for our purposes), then clearly the sensation is not the same for him as it was for me, which only means that his brain requires different stimuli to produce suffering for him. It does not in any way challenge the badness of suffering. If masochism disproves the negativity of suffering then the fact some animals can eat things we can't disproves the lethality of poison. Clearly the correct answer is that certain things are poisonous for certain creatures, and certain stimuli are suffering inducing only to certain creatures as well. Even if masochists could in fact never experience any negative sensations whatsoever, this would be no more informative of how negative the sensation of the bullet is for me than the fact a rock can never experience those sensations either. Your mistake here is focusing on the stimulus itself, and trying to assign value to it, rather than on the sensation the stimulus triggered. This is like considering punching a paralyzed person and a "normal" person in the balls the same moral violation, even though only one felt any pain.

    Whether I can convince you about the fact you value the wrong things doesn't matter. You may think it's better for you not to be perceived a certain way rather than to be physically harmed (and you may be right as physical harm isn't all there is, more on this later), but this does not change the fact your life will either be better or worse depending on your choises. To give an extreme example to illustrate the point, you can certainly choose to be tortured for 20 years rather than lie about your favorite color if you really value honesty, but the fact of the matter is it's inconceivable that was the right choise in terms of your wellbeing for those years. Can I provide some is-ought gap closing incontestable logical proof that wellbeing should be valued over honesty in that situation? I doubt anyone can, but if that's gonna be the standard then we can't say shit to christians who argue against gay rights either, just to name one hideous example. After all, if we're to divorce ethics from the one thing that's inherently negative in the universe, the suffering of sentient creatures, then your standard of honesty is just as arbitrary as their standard of...well, general assholery. I challenge you to explain why this isn't so without any reference to the effect on the wellbeing of sentient creatures. Something tells me you'll be right back to utilitarian considerations before you know it.

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  17. It's worth stressing that since people generally do have these psychological built in notions of ethics, like the feeling that lying for no reason is wrong or at least kinda sketchy, any proper utilitarian equation takes them into consideration. Just because it's a mere psychological notion does not mean it isn't a real part of your wellbeing, so saying that you should avoid lying if it causes you psychological distress (or to avoid lying to someone else about inconsequential shit if it does the same to them), even if that's the only harm it does, is entirely consistent with utilitarianism. I think most people's failure to recognize this is what's largely responsible for their knee jerk rejection of utilitarianism. I'd argue the reason you'd rather be pricked by the needle than have someone think inaccurate things about you is precisely because your psychology is bugging you about it, which is in itself a mild form of self-inflicted harm, so all your brain is really doing there is the dreaded "borg math".

    Finally, I'm gonna contest that pain and pleasure have no "real" metrics. It's certainly true we have no accurate way to make any PRECISE evaluations, but the same can be said about any other metric that you'd consider "real". Can we measure the metric length of a plank down to the 200th decimal or some absurd standard like that? No, but this does not mean that information doesn't actually exist. The fact we can't get an answer doesn't mean there isn't an answer. While our ability to measure harm is nowhere near our ability to measure length in accuracy (to the degree such a comparison even makes sense), that doesn't mean we can't clearly state that two decades of torture is worse than a pinprick. Given that suffering is nothing but physical processes in the brain, it seems to me that, in principle, measuring suffering is no more incoherent a task than measuring length.

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  18. I'm trying to get through your post, but as for the Utilitarianism, I don't subscribe to strict utilitarianism, for it presents too many ethical difficulties. In fact, the whole deontological/consequential debate is never likely to get solved.

    Lately, I'm leaning more toward Deontological ethics, though that could change. If we have a duty to not harm* others, and if the reason is that bad consequences result for others, then why should bad consequences for others matter, especially if you don't lose anything and gain a lot by disregarding the bad consequences for others? So there needs to be a preexistent inherent duty to not commit harm* toward others if we are to object to indifference to the consequences of the harm. However, as I said, I could change my mind without warning about this matter, so don't place me [i]firmly[/i] in the Deontology camp.

    *This is a long and broad itself, but I think most people in principle will agree that we should not cause harm that is pointless (i.e. non-productive, non-compensatory, and in general serves no higher purpose or value - whether for the victim or the group which the victim belongs [family, social circle, community, nation, species])

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  19. managerim,

    "philosophy is not necessary for there to be value in the universe"

    This is like saying it's unnecessary to be literate in order read & comprehend a novel as long as it contains enough pictures to provide a basic rundown of the events, so to compensate for the reader's inability to grasp words. Minds generating values without forming any assisting philosophical notion is in the league of values of animals who operate purely on instincts. This argument would have been over before it began had you not insisted on presupposing that the only appropriate use of the word *value* consists of invoking it to describe pain/pleasure *experiences* rather than that which can only be *ascribed* to trait x/y/z by the cognitive functions of a valuer. Find a definition of values/ethics/morals boxing them in to nothing but pain/pleasure, or in this case, to nothing but harm minimization. You won't because what you're arguing for is but one of values'/ethics'/morals' subsets (N.U.) & using philosophy in order to try & make it stick. This would be fine if you weren't breaking language in the process, mistaking the branch for the entire tree. One day these words might be redefined to specifically suit N.U., but within the confines of modern language (which my blog operates in) it's impossible to treat value-clashes as true/false dichotomies as long as the clashes in question involve both parties accepting all relevant facts & yet still disagreeing on what ought to be valued. It's impossible to explain the basics in any other way without making this even more circular.

    "if that's gonna be the standard then we can't say shit to christians who argue against gay rights either"

    In this case we have people whose values are the product of misinformation (scripture, traditionalist propaganda, etc). In my initial case (which you analogized this to) my values aren't influenced by flat-out lies or an unwillingness to accept facts/data. It's just my recognition of what matters more *to me* (misconceptions vs. pinprick). If theists conceded that their anti-gay agenda would remain unaltered even if they go on to be convinced that their dogma is archaic drivel, they'd be no different than any secular homophobe; Silly to my sensibilities, but not *wrong* as in "2+2=5" wrong.

    Your point about psychology infiltrating the "+/-" equation is something I had taken into account when describing the scenarios (this is clear if you've read them).

    "Whether I can convince you about the fact you value the wrong things doesn't matter"

    If I rejected actual evidence, then yes. To me, not murdering innocent people matters. Proof to the contrary?

    Also, I never said my honesty/harm standards weren't arbitrary. I find them reasonable, but they can't escape the fact that there's no standard to measure them by.

    ReplyDelete
  20. AntiBullshitMan says: "The point was to get an answer about whether or not Einstein is obligated to reduce suffering created by others and in the process be harmed himself."

    well, even einstein said if he could live life over, he'd be a plumber or peddler:

    “If I would be a young man again and had to decide how to make my living, I would not try to become a scientist or scholar or teacher. I would rather choose to be a plumber or a peddler in the hope to find that modest degree of independence still available under present circumstances.” -Albert Einstein, The Reporter, 18 November 1954

    apparently, einstein didn't feel obligated (or wasn't challenged to feel so while he was alive). he'd be "just another bloke" on the street.. that's why i answered the way i did. maybe that's a bit evasive, but there you have it.

    ReplyDelete
  21. If AntiNatalists have identified imposition of life as the harm, and if your thought experiment informs them that more impositions of this nature are going to take place in the future in the event that less present day impositions on a few people take place in the here and now, through their direct inaction (abstaining to procreate), well then it's inane to spare the rather-not-have-been Einsteins of the world (bad example by the way) in the name of "individual rights" or some hokey "age of enlightenment values" because a utility based approach naturally follows from the imposition premise, especially if you acknowledge that there is no free will, as you have done above.

    In other words: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (or the one, in this case).

    There is no inconsistency here from what I can see. Good points on Nihilism though.

    ReplyDelete
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  28. Anonymous from Feb 12:

    The needs of the many cannot possibly outweigh the needs of the few when what is viewed as a need worthy of elimination drastically varies depending on the individual who ends up getting "saved", and where exactly that individual stands within confines of a "The Many vs. The Few" framework in terms of a pain threshold or a willingness to endure a certain level of pain in the name of fitness or similar such goals.

    "There is no inconsistency here"

    Yes there is, and I have already explained why. Revisit this paragraph:

    "One might reject thought experiments of this nature on the basis that there's a high likelihood of the net-equation finding itself to be interlocked with imposition of life on an individual realm, in so far as the statement “Einstein’s non-existence will lead to greater overall suffering” being interpreted as identical to the statement “Einstein’s non-existence will lead to greater net suffering because more individuals will have life imposed on them in Einstein’s absence, and will grow up to find their lack of consent in the matter to be worthy of contempt, identical to Einstein’s individual case” thus rendering any apprehension towards not fulfilling Einstein’s one, measly, single “I’d rather not have been” deathbed wish, as being decidedly paradoxical. At first glance this seems like a reasonable objection, but it can easily be resolved if we simply add another layer to the thought experiment, stipulating that the incline of net-suffering caused by Einstein’s non-existence would not be a by-product of higher population counts consisting of AntiNatalists, but of unrelated events instead. In other words, Einstein’s otherwise conspicuous non-existence would not have led to more individuals uttering “I’d rather not have been” and the world’s population count would have remained unaltered to the one in which Einstein does exist. What would change however, is the volume of suffering endured by that same number of people/animals, split up by the same margins per subject as it would have been had Einstein’s existence not been retroactively prevented in the thought experiment. Adjusting to this circumstance, while maintaining aspirations of both utility and an aversion to impositions, is impossible."

    Also, if one more anonymous poster/bot posts random ad-spam on my wall, I'm getting rid of it. I'm going with a zero tolerance policy for ads from here on out, as being passive about it has clearly done me no good.

    ReplyDelete
  29. ANTI-LIFE IS PERFECT. HOW CAN THERE BE LESS FLAWS OTHERWISE?

    I DON'T SEE HOW SUICIDE IS EVER IRRESPONSIBLE IF YOU THINK BIG. GIVING BIRTH = ENSURING DEATH OF SOMEONE ELSE. PARENTS ARE IRRESPONSIBLE IN THE FIRST PLACE. NOT TO MENTION THAT PAINLESS EUTHANASIA ISN'T EVEN WIDELY LEGAL IN CASE THEIR CHILDREN DECIDE LIFE HAS NOTHING OF INTEREST FOR THEM. GIVING BIRTH IS PREPOSTEROUSLY ARROGANT. PEOPLE WHO CALL SUICIDE ARROGANT SUFFER FROM SHORT-SIGHTEDNESS.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Muffin,

    1. Turn off caps lock.

    2. Actually read the blog.

    3. Reply to the specific thought experiments posed. Or at least explain why you find them to be unworthy of meticulous examination.

    ReplyDelete
  31. ABM are you antinatalist or pronatalist?

    ReplyDelete
  32. "are you antinatalist or pronatalist?"

    I'm hoping this is a trick (troll) question:

    "None of this is intended to in any way contort the ongoing circular debate between Natalists and AntiNatalists; a debate which Natalists have proven time and again that they’re simply not ready to have"

    How do you read paragraphs like these and not see that I hold Natalism in contempt? The entire post is beaming with my antipathy for Natalist ideology and its building-blocks.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Regarding the thought experiments, i think if you had to choose between not imposing life and reducing net suffering, not imposing life is the preferable choice.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Appreciate the feedback.

    Looking back, the moral dilemmas in this post are suboptimal because a beginner can come away with the impression that the indivisible deontic case against Natalism is the ideal one. I certainly don't believe that to be the case.

    I think Negative Consequentialism (applied *only* to births of individuals who *do* go on to regret their existence) works as one half of the equation, and virtue ethics (applied to Natalists' & aspiring parents' lack of respect for interpersonal risk-averseness) is the other half.

    There are numerous issues with strict net scaling, but strict deontic arguments are just as senseless when they target procreation as they are when they target any other ethically problematic activity, like lying, murdering, torturing.

    There are exceptions, but those depend on the magnitude of future lying/murder/torture being reduced as the *guaranteed* outcome. If a moral agent can stamp out 1000 cases of deceit by deceiving one person in a trivial way, the agent ought to do so as her act would be a lesser-of-evils. If a moral agent can prevent 1000 murders by murdering one person, the agent ought to do so for the same reasons (again, assuming the agent is a prognosticator equipped with the *guarantee* cause).

    So yes, I'd extend that to procreation. The *net* mandate factor is an obstacle for Total Utilitarianism; one which Average Utilitarianism is not (always) bound by.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Try using fewer big words and simpler sentences.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I tried and it worked. Except for the 'big words' part. Can't let go of those.

      Delete
  36. Interesting thought experiment, in a terrifying kind of way. I assume this child of misery has to live it's full life? It can't commit suicide at the first available opportunity? And the parent (knowing full well the child will only experience torment) can't euthanize the child in it's sleep? Also, would the world know this child is 'taking one for team' à la Omelas? - I don't suppose that truly matters..

    I do identify as NU, and can see the the logic.. but I wouldn't have the child. The lack of choice overrides it for me. If the thought experiment was you (me) personally had to start life again and never know pleasure, and x,y,z will happen.. the world will avert ww3 or something, then I no defence in not agreeing to do it.

    ReplyDelete