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The Case for Not Being Born (newyorker.com)
57 points by rbanffy 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 82 comments





Anti-natalism is a belief that natural selection inevitably selects against, and thus a compassionate person who recognizes the truth of the utilitarian calculus of someone like Benatar would recognize a few things.

1) There is zero chance of convincing everyone to voluntarily cease reproduction

2) Those who you convince on the grounds of compassion to cease reproduction, are, by this very decision, proving themselves as among the best suited to be parents... thus the only goal that is achieved is that the quality of parents is diminished.

Given that, the true goals of anti-natalism could only be achieved through the involuntary destruction of the human race... supervillain territory.

Yet, given the likelihood that natural selection would end up restarting the process, even if destruction were achieved, it seems that perhaps a better approach for someone with this goal system would be to play the game of civilization, see how far our powers can take us, and how much of this universe or multiverse we can reorganize according to our values...

And one of those values could be the prevention of new cascades of natural selection leading to uncontrolled consciousness with the capacity for suffering.


> Those who you convince on the grounds of compassion to cease reproduction...

Compassion is an emotion, not rational "grounds" for a decision.

> ...the best suited to be parents...

Or they just live in a particularly unsuitable environment.

Which brings up a good point. The case for "nobody should have children" is a particularly hard one to make because it presumes that there is no good life for any human ever. A more middle ground would be "there is no good life for some, but there is at least arguably good life for others".

So what does "no good life" look like? Who has it "worst"? Should we say sub-Saharan Africans should stop having kids? Lower caste Indians? Palestinians? Jews in early 20th century Germany?

Isn't much of the middle ground between the status quo and "supervillain territory" fairly close to outright racism and genocidal propaganda?


>Isn't much of the middle ground between the status quo and "supervillain territory" fairly close to outright racism and genocidal propaganda?

In effect, yes.

A true "negative utilitarian" fully accepts even the "pinprick argument" whereby a paradise would not be worth creating even if it only required one person suffering a single pinprick.

But value systems, in theory, could exist somewhere in the middle. The only difference between this and historical genocides it that, because of its motivation, it would be attempted as painlessly as possible.

I once heard an interesting utilitarian argument that genocide is not worse than a random mass murder of an equivalent body count. Random mass murder may actually be worse because it leaves a lot more grieving survivors, whereas genocide kills much of the people who would be grieving.

Utilitarianism does bump up strongly against human moral intuitions, but we already know this from lots of thought experiments: utility monsters, the repugnant conclusion, trolley problems, the pinprick argument, etc.


Rationality is the logical and empirical pursuit of a value system. The values are the axioms.

"Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them" - David Hume


Good reason spans generations, cultures, and languages. Passions don't age or translate nearly as well.

Hume's formulation treats reason as a phenomenon existing entirely inside of a mind and subject to individual passions.


I read it differently - that is, even those living the best life by modern standards still suffer enormously. We age, we must deal with biological drives, we must deal with the loss of loved ones. The best we can do (since we didn't ask to be brought into existence) is to try to strive for a better world for those who are also alive and those who will inevitably be born in the future.

Benatar says the bad outweighs the good for everyone. If you're refuting his first principle, are you really even talking about the same issue?

> If you're refuting his first principle, are you really even talking about the same issue?

To apply his theory to his own ideas, if they lead to or even support suffering (infanticide, racism, genocide, supervillainy), wouldn't his memes also be better off stillborn?

In that way, I'm making a meta-critique. So it's "talking about the same issue", yeah. Assuming the issue is "what do you think of these ideas?"


You're just being inflammatory and clever. Benatar would be appalled if his ideas were used to justify eugenics.

No. I just think life is intrinsically good and think there are philosophical consequences as ideas deviate from that axiom.

Besides, even if I were a troll (I am not) and Benatar were appalled (I presume he would be), neither fact addresses my point.


This seems the best refutation I've read here so far - to strive for a Culture-esque utopia. And yet as a personal decision, in the world we live in right now, how do we justify creating another life to ourselves?

Again I saw all the oppressions that are practised under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 4 (NRSV-A)

circa 400 BC



> There is a goal, but no way; but what we call a way is hesitation.

-- Franz Kafka, "Reflections on Sin, Suffering, Hope, and the True Way"

When it comes to oppression by the insane -- and that's what it is, the desire for power cannot come without insanity -- there is only cowardice.

I once saw a animal documentary, one scene was zebras that had to cross a river because there was no food left on the side of it they were on. The crocodiles were already waiting for their annual feast. The zebras pushed up to the river edge, aware of the crocodiles, hesitated a bit, but once the first few started to go into the river, the rest instantly followed. A few crocodiles would catch a zebra each, but most zebras came to the other side unscathed, the herd lived another year. I still remember how that one zebra that got surrounded and bitten, got itself out of the water again (on the side the zebras came from) while its guts were falling out, collapsed just out of frame, and got dragged back by a crocodile to get eaten. It was probably the lack of video resolution and sound that gave me the impression of that zebra being very stoic, but at any rate it seemed to calmly do what it needed to do. It fought back as much as it could, but it didn't, say, roll its eyes back like a (domesticated) horse might -- none of what I would have expected. It reminded and reminds me of this:

> I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.

-- D. H. Lawrence

What are we doing? We hang around, and when someone makes a run for it, and looks for us to follow, we watch them get eaten and call them dumb or idealistic. We're ungrateful towards those we don't even deserve. We're cowards. And we're not even dealing with crocodiles. One on one, we are dealing with dwarves. Consider a man like Hitler. As a person, he was incredibly weak. Other than children, there is nobody he himself could have harmed. Left to his own devices, he would have just rotted and then imploded. That goes for most powerful people who abuse their power, individually they are a joke. Yet here we are, on mass graves, and already training ourselves to accept worse.

Forget power and war: Each year, how many elderly people freeze to death in the UK? How many children starve each minute in the world? There is just cowardice, obedience to those who deserve no authority, and self-pity of those who deserve no pity.


I saw a zebra get caught by two lions. It ran like crazy until they caught it up, one of them standing on its hind legs leaning on the zebra. It then stood completely still for a few seconds before the lions pushed it over and finished it off. I hadn’t considered shock as a possible reason but it certainly seemed to have given up.

I wasn't talking about zebras in isolation, I was talking about something like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8HJ2RJwcJM except there were more crocodiles and the zebras were forming less of a line.

Yes, that individual zebra probably knew it was done for the second it was surrounded. Struggling didn't make a difference for itself, it made a difference for everybody else. And if the zebras had just stood there going "you first", they would ALL have died. That's the point. That's how we do, and I don't see anyone debating that main point.

It's not even selfless, it's the difference between thinking in terms of quarterly profits and one's own comfort in one's own lifespan, and destroying the planet and society in the process. If you want to think of it in terms of DNA, if other humans survive then still more genes similar to your own get passed on than if NOBODY survives.

> Courage is indispensible because in politics not life but the world is at stake.

-- Hannah Arendt

Who also often pointed out how many intellectuals have this talent to not see the woods for all the trees, and how talking about serious things with average people is often more fruitful. Chomsky made the same point, though I can't find the quote for him either.


> ...gave me the impression of that zebra being very stoic...

Shock serves a purpose in nature.


It didn't freeze though, it fought against 3-4 crocodiles in deep water, shaking them off for long enough to walk on land while guts were spilling out. If you mean adrenaline numbing pain, sure, and both fight and flight were present, true. But what point are you making in the context of my point? Is there one?

And do you include humans in "nature"? Because the suicidal behaviour a parasite can force on an ant do also serves a purpose "in nature", but mostly for the parasite. For a biologist, it might be all fine, for the ant, it's not.


Well said. For closure, could you please tell which book and verse this is from the bible.

Ecclesiastes 4

The whole book is good for people exploring the whole "what's the point of life?" question.

It's worth noting that it's a selection in a compilation that is deeply skeptical of humanity while being clearly pro-humanity.


Am I the only one? or do some people just have way to much time on their hands for thinking shit like this up. I'd rather live my life than not exist.

> do some people just have way to much time on their hands for thinking shit like this up.

He's a philosophy professor. He's not supposed to be devising a more efficient way to cook noodles.

> I'd rather live my life than not exist.

He specifically addresses this point in the article, so you're not bringing much to the discussion.


You probably don’t exist, you only think you do.

I exist, he exists, and you exist.

It's true - the universe is made of nothing. Galaxies are mostly empty space. So then you find some matter in the galaxy. Atoms are matter. But atoms are mostly empty space as well. But then you find the nucleus. But protons are mostly empty space as well. But then you find quarks. But quarks are mostly empty space as well. It's empty space all the way down. Nothing actually exists.

On the other hand, we can detect atoms, nucleons, quarks, and even, in so called empty space, vacuum fluctuations. Maybe it's more accurate to say nothing doesn't actually exist.

That’s what you think. There is a great book called “Constructing Quarks”. Have a look

In these incredibly nihilistic worldviews, what is the framework by which a logical case can be made that something like “suffering” is even to be avoided? Who cares? An individual organism (whatever that even means) may minimize its own suffering, but why should it care about anyone else’s?

"Better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all."

I'd say it is better to be alive and sometimes suffer than never to have life at all. Life comes with joys and happiness as well as the downs


I was dead for 12-billion years before I was born... and it would be hard to say it was "better" than this because there is nothing to compare this with.

anti-natalism is a divide by zero problem.

for the ones of us who are hopeful that we can solve the problems of aging in the next century, there's an option to solve the problem raised in the article: humans keep making the same mistake because by the time they've learned to stop, they're nearly dead already.

I feel for Benatar, but I doubt his motives.

(edits for spelling)


The larger point being made isn't "you'd be happier now if you never existed" but "bringing kids into the current state of things is a net negative for them (they have to deal with the repercussions of an ecological catastrophe amid postmodernism and all its follies)."

Arguments can be made that now is a better time than ever to be alive, but that doesn't mean it would be good for them or others if they are born.


> anti-natalism is a divide by zero problem.

True. But this math presumes atheism. If there's an eternal afterlife, 12-billion years is also a "divide-by-zero problem".

So the whole conversation sort of boils down to "is this it?"


> If there's an eternal afterlife

there isn't.

> "is this it?"

yeah.. until we can merge our brains to make new brains, we're just gonna be stuck merging our genitals to make new brains.

biological systems are what they are.


I had a vasectomy two years ago at the age of 29. I don’t know if I’m an anti-natalist, as I try not to wax philosophical about my personal choices and feelings. People are diverse. I am close friends with people with kids, and sometimes I go to their softball games. I’m happy to see the kids’ triumphs and sad to see them struggle, but these feelings must pale in comparison to the roller coaster a parent must feel.

Not to mention I have this Catcher in the Rye mentality of wishing childlike innocence was forever preserved. Which I know won’t happen. Then again I’m sad when I see adults with childlike naivety suffer because reality does not discriminate. I’ve also done my fair share of taking care of old people. They are usually not the wise happy people that I imagine comes with aging - they are lonely, impatient, anxious, stubborn - basically human but with declining faculties. I’ll always be haunted by the image of my grandmother wandering around in the dark, confused, holding a diaper in one hand, with wild hair and unsteady gait.

Watching people eat is also sad. Hunger... oh the humanity. The humanity of everything, really. Life is just suffering punctuated by the briefest moments of relief. I’m not depressed... I don’t think.


cko, I am not trying to pry into your personal life but I found your comment very noticeable. Was vasectomy a choice you made to remain childless or was the surgery the result of pressures of life that removed any choice. You could have chosen not to undergo the surgery and still remain childless. You can choose to ignore this question if you don't want to answer it.

I like the question, no one’s ever worded it like that before, but I would say it’s a bit of both. That is, I never wanted children and I also didn’t want any accidents down the road. And I know if I did have children I’d feel less free. That said, I must say I feel extremely blessed in life in terms of aptitude and finances, however.

Hating people and life has always been popular with philosophers. Socrates' last words: "don’t forget to sacrifice a rooster to Asklepios". He's saying life is a disease and death the cure, warranting a sacrifice to the god of medicine.

I'm beginning to appreciate Nietzsche, his affirmation of life and embracing its terrors, accepting the world for what it is. Just a pointer for the interested.


I'm trying my hardest to understand this, but I'm not seeing the logical 'meat' here. As the article states the vast majority of people are quite happy. And even those in the worst of conditions on this Earth are not all that dissatisfied with their lives. The philosopher's retort against this is essentially, 'No, you're not happy!' Who is he to say? But then the argument he follows his 'no you're not' with what seems to be a surprisingly shallow bit of logic. He claims that various discomforts such as hunger/cold/tiredness/etc are a major and never ending source of discomfort. Let's consider comfort for a minute -- actually let's consider discomfort. Imagine there was a universe that somehow, absolutely no discomfort existed. Would this be a world where people living there felt or experienced their lives to be ones of constant comfort? No, it would be experienced as a world where the very notion of comfort and discomfort simply do not exist. It would be like considering vision in a world where there was no such thing.

His argument also sidesteps the point of progression. Claiming we keep repeating the same mistake is myopic at best. The vast majority of people are freer and more able to pursue their lives as they see fit than most any time in history. And this positive forward progression is a never ending theme. The further back you go, the worse things become. Unless he wants to claim existence was more pleasant thousands of years ago, it's tough to deny this directionality of progression. And to deny the innumerable masses of people that may be able to live in ever greater comfort in the future their existence, because you're upset about some petty discomforts in the present -- that seems, at the minimum, supremely greedy and certainly far away from any sort of vague appeal to utilitarianism that he seems to try to make at times.


Interesting quote:

"""His thinking parallels that of the philosopher Thomas Metzinger, who studies consciousness and artificial intelligence; Metzinger espouses digital anti-natalism, arguing that it would be wrong to create artificially conscious computer programs because doing so would increase the amount of suffering in the world."""



This is negative utilitarianism, right? For instance, if you could press a button and wipe out humanity without (much) suffering, would you do it? Personally I'd have a quick reminisce then all slam it.

But practically, this isn't an option (yet). Nor is voluntary extinction. The people susceptible to this message or any such message (better for environment; your group of people is bad and shouldn't continue; life is more fun without kids) are more likely to be the kind of people that would contribute to a positive next generation.

The bulk of growth that'll receive and cause suffering is from people that won't ever listen or heed such a message. Hence anti natalism will only increase suffering in the world.


> Personally I'd have a quick reminisce then all slam it.

What the heck? You'd destroy our entire species to "spare" those that don't have it good?


Wouldn't it be easier to eliminate yourself from the spectacle of watching the less fortunate. Because this type of thought process only comes from the "club seats" of world society. If you read actual studies on happiness, what the first world world categorize as fairly destitute aren't as miserable as we imagine. While we, with our fat bank accounts and our ever quest of acquisition, just aren't as happy as we seem to think we deserve. To quote The Big Lebowsky, "Fucking Nihilists".

If your goal is to minimise suffering, that's the only humane choice, barring friendly AI coming online.

You're saying you would willingly destroy all of humanity? Or did I read that wrong?

Yes that's the only sensible choice if you want to minimise suffering. Maybe in the future we'll have benevolent AI. Without that, it looks like we increase a ton of suffering.

“But compare that with a scenario in which that person never existed—then, the absence of the bad would be good, but the absence of the good wouldn’t be bad, because there’d be nobody to be deprived of those good things.”

I'm not convinced that this is asymmetric. You could easily extend the argument to include that the absence of bad wouldn't be good "because there'd be no one to be deprived of the bad things". There are many other examples of this kind of logic in the piece.

Overall, it seems to be a pretty subjective and self-contradictory philosophy, at least the way it is presented and defended (by the person being interviewed) it is.


you ever listen to the breaths of someone speaking rather than the tone or content of their speech? it helps to count the i's in someones writing, to see if they're looking but can't really see.

people have children because sex is fun, babies are cute, toddlers are a captive audience, aging is precarious, and legacy is precious. take the fun out of sex with porn, replace babies with pets, develop a captive audience through endless digital information, eliminate the physical risks of aging, allow a permanent legacy on a voluntary basis for every human being.

life is the most precious gift you can give, 1 second of miserable agonizing painful life defeats the infinity of non-existence. this is the wisdom in giving children life. the developed world has gotten soft. but we need that belly fat for the lean winter years to come. 25-30 years from now it will be the people who chose to have 5+ kids in the 2010s that are relevant, not those who bought the forever pill. nature is not a friend technology is an unwilling slave, trust the first or liberate the second and die a fool. human nature is to kill and survive, and technology is concerned with throughput.

what fascinates me about the world is how irrelevant most people are outside of their immediate family. i could fit every person of net worth 100mil+ in a sports stadium. if that's all that matters, we could go on with about 60k people, why are we lugging around 7.5 billion? just convince them to stop having kids and those next 100 years will fly by as the robots fill the gaps. it's like the dried out husk of a chrysalis emerging beautiful from it's final metamorphosis. 7.5 billion shells birthing 60k butterflies.

nah i'm pretty sure having 5+ kids and monitoring their internet access is the right move for virtually every single fertile human being. if you have money? go for 10.


Counter argument to antinatalism. Benatar allows that once alive, death is horrible and to be avoided.

Failing to reproduce results in the death of all in the limit.

Therefore I propose that anti-natalism's ship has sailed once there is someone to think of it.


I don't disagree with the reasoning: The Earth would be much healthier, there would be no suffering, the "Universe" wouldn't care.

But for good or bad, we humans have an inherent drive to procreate and survive. I think while his question/answer might be correct in a vacuum, it misses the point.

Now that we're already here and can't consciously stop existing, how do we best move forward and maximize collective utility and minimize suffering and our damage to our habitat?

Disclaimer: the environmental effect is my addition, to his psychological effects.


Following his logic, "life is a net negative" has no reason to be limited to humans. Under this level of nihilistic anti-life sentiment, "Children damage the environment" is thus an argument in favor of having children, and damaging the environment as much as possible in general (in ways other than having children). Humans may suffer but at least we are pre-empting as many other life forms as possible, so by damaging the environment we are altruistically taking the suffering on to ourselves. Under this logic, extinction of all life on Earth would be an ideal, one that he probably doesn't consider only because it's relatively infeasible at this time.

This is some seriously toxic shit. This is not a call for environmentalism, this is its exact opposite, driving all known life to extinction, watered down only slightly by claiming to not want to actually kill anyone or anything currently alive. However, I find the philosophical bulwark protecting that slight watering down to be very weak, very contingent on a particular assignment of utility that will not be shared by everybody else, and if this philosophy were to spread widely, likely to fail to hold that line utterly.


If life isn't worth creating, why is it worth preserving? Why not take this to the logical conclusion of voluntary total extinction? Furthermore, how could one even discuss good or bad without a frame of reference?

Benetar argues death is often worse than life. It is non-existence that is better than both.

Non existence comes after death. Death can be painless. How, then, is death worse than non-existence?

These are terms used in a philosophical argument, so you have to be precise about definitions. In this case, non-existence is not possible once life begins. Non-existence is the alternative to creating new life. So , as far as we are concerned, in this context, non-existence is not considered to be what occurs after death.

Death is not just a simple transition from life to non existence. Death has a whole bag of unpleasantness associated with it. Fear, angst, pain (in theory it can be painless, in practice it's not that easy) and perhaps most importantly sadness and a feeling of loss among the people you leave behind.

The reasoning is terrible.

The obvious solution to life being terrible is to take your own life. The reason given for not doing so is that death is somehow worse than remaining alive. How is death worse? The pain that usually accompanies death can be eliminated, so that’s not it. There only reason remaining for how death could be worse than remaining alive is that death keeps you from being alive.

This fact directly speaks to the worth of being alive. So you can’t draw the conclusion that being alive is bad, since the vast majority of us choose to remain alive. The real question is: how great is it to be alive? Here I think the philosopher engages in vast underestimation. To him, life is all misery and therefore not very worthwhile. But this is a ridiculous conclusion.

On average, human misery and suffering is at its lowest point now than at any point in our history. Our history is filled with war, disease, starvation, slavery, etc. The fact that we are here, that our ancestors did not choose to give up in the face of all this suffering, is not evidence that life is terrible. No, it is the opposite: it is evidence that being alive is such an amazing gift that they were willing to endure anything to remain so.

If you consider American slaves and Jewish holocaust victims, who suffered some of the worst atrocities in human history, as examples of people for whom the trade off between staying alive and ending their suffering with death may have been a fairly close call, then that means that, for anybody not facing those circumstances, the scales are tipped pretty heavily toward being alive being way better than not being alive.


>The Earth would be much healthier, there would be no suffering, the "Universe" wouldn't care.

No human suffering, perhaps. More drastic measures would be needed to end all suffering altogether, at which point it might need more evidence to prove the claim that the Earth would still be “healthier”, or that the healthiness of a rocky planet really matters (you can't really leave it to the hands of evolution not the create more suffering by leaving “it” an easy way, can you?)


One answer would be to call it a day, no?

That's an easy answer on paper, not so in practice.

Keep pulling at the thread. Why is it not so in practice?

I think the capacity for suffering increases dramatically with the advent of AI. This was referenced in passing in this article, but underplayed. We've talked about "virtual hell" stuff on HN before. I say let's not even create it. I wouldn't know how to stop it if it were created. Then again I don't know how to "stop the progress of science" either (other than, say, ending humanity altogether). I'm uncomfortable even working at a company that uses machine learning.

Can you go into more detail on your concerns? I feel like fears over AI are greatly exaggerated. In the real world I feel like we've managed to create some pretty impressive suffering and I'm not sure AI would have that big of an impact (it could even reduce it). Everyone who is concerned about AI seems to be trying to predict the post-singularity world, my guess is that in the near term it will just allow those with power and money to have even more power and money (which is already happening).

What is your idea of virtual hell exactly? By the way, googling virtual hell brought me to this delightful fossil: http://www.webring.org/l/rd?ring=spooky;id=56;url=http%3A%2F...


Not OP, but I don't think the fear is that AI will take over the world and enslave as all. Rather the other way around. Imagine you can create an artificial consciousness. You could then proceed to cause this AI a tremendous amount of suffering, by submitting it only to whatever input it is that it considers unpleasant. This experiment could then be scaled up on a level unprecedented in history, and it would be possible to submit billions and billions of AI:s to effectively eternal torment.

Why? Any reason. Perhaps as revenge on an AI that has acted against your interests, perhaps as a bargaining chip ("if you don't do as I say, I'll create a thousand exact copies of you and torture you"), perhaps just because - because hey, it's not like the world lacks psychos.

[edit]: Ah, I see OP answered while I was typing. Oh well :)


I'm not scared of AI, I'm scared for it.

I'm imagining a world where creating an AI that can suffer is inexpensive, and then 4chan discovers it.


Nothing he writes supports his "theory" that the universe would be better off without sentient life as this is the sole purpose of the universe to exist altogether, so in essence he wants the universe to cease to exist???

Anyways I completely disagree with his premise that life should not happen because of "bad things" in fact life happens not only in spite of but in fact did happen because of "bad things" like the first cell replication!!


Let's assume that humans thus far have caused a net-negative on the earth, through wars, environmental damage, animal extinction, etc.

Let's also assume that humans have the potential to be net-positive. Humans can create environmental restoration projects could potentially prevent an asteroid catastrophe.

So I would argue that humans are still in their infancy. Once we get our act together, (which could take a few more millennia) we will eventually be a blessing to the world.


"The secret to success is being smart enough to play the game well but not so smart you figure the game out."

I've heard many variations on that saying. The most popular contexts I've heard it with are Wall St. and the financial industry and politics. People like the Wolf of Wall St., Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, etc. would be people who were just smart enough but not too smart. People who are too smart make their money and leave or don't play at all.

Stuff like this makes me wonder if it applies at the evolutionary scale. Add it to your queue of potential Fermi paradox answers. Maybe there aren't any super-intelligent aliens visiting other stars because super-intelligent aliens realize evolution is a meat grinder and opt out.

Personally I don't buy it.

For a long time I've incubated what I call the "uncanny valley hypothesis" about this kind of nihilism. The idea is that between the standard issue human intellect guided by myth (religion, political myth, etc.) and something beyond there is an uncanny valley of nihilism. This would also be called a fitness valley in evolutionary and learning theory terms. Local maxima in fitness landscapes are very often separated by valleys that must be crossed. Things have to get worse before they can reach the other peak.

Secularism repeatedly fails at the civilizational scale because it gets stuck in this valley. Societies try abandoning religion but find themselves denuded of "why" and "ought," eventually retreating back to mythology as a virtual motivator.

What's beyond the uncanny valley? Perhaps something rational, logical, realistic, and with the positive motivation of an ecstatic religious guru. It would be a motivation rooted in some kind of understanding that eludes us, not in raw myth, though I suspect our myths contain little seeds of that understanding here and there.

There have been notions like "extropianism" in the fringe sci-fi space that have attempted to construct such a thing, but they always devolve into woo woo fluff or culty stuff. Makes me think this fitness valley is tougher and deeper than merely recasting myth in terms of science. There is either a missing fundamental understanding or a missing cognitive ability. There's something we don't have that religious and other myths sort of act as brain hacks to lend us or simulate.

I also think Nietzsche saw this but I think he was wrong about how to overcome it. It's not a matter of mere will. Will without "why" and "ought" devolves into robotic non-sentience or psychopathy.

Edit: going back to the Fermi paradox I suppose this fitness valley could be one of the "great filters."


Anyone else think that suffering is the means to the end. Eventually through enough suffering, such as climbing a mountain (or building a country) then suffering diminishes. Won't the end game be like Elysium in thousands of years of suffering?

interesting idea but i feel like this is an extreme end of a spectrum to a solution of suffering. There are plenty more solutions like giving those who suffer an easy and painless and dogma free way to exit. I think that even knowing that you have an option to leave would be an instant boost to ones psyche. Sort of like running a marathon with an option to quit, vs running a marathon with no options but death. Probably infinite solutions exists in this space if we got rid of dogma.

But one of the cases he makes is that everyone suffers - mild things, like being hungry, thirsty, having to use the bathroom, small pains which are pretty much constant once you've hit your 30s. Would you offer those an easy / painless way out? He's also not arguing about ending life once it exists - death is bad too. There's more of that in the article itself.

i'd take that with a grain of salt. he can't possibly know what hunger feels like for other people. some people love to use the bathroom, some people love the hunger. some people fast on purpose, be it religious, health, meditation, bio hacking, they do it because it makes them better off. some people suffer on purpose. philosophers probably suffer more than other people and not on purpose :)

As surprising and extreme as this argument appears when applied to humans, it's pretty much the default when people feel bad about about our meat animals.

If you prefer to listen, he was also on Sam Harris's podcast: https://soundcloud.com/samharrisorg/107-is-life-actually-wor...

I got about 10 minutes into it yesterday and gave up, poorly thought out nonsense imho.

Benatar never answered any of Harris counter-arguments. Made absolutely no sense to me.

Being anti-natalist, but stating suicide his morally wrong? If life is so painful that we should not give it to someone, why one should not kill himself?

I think Harris nailed it in the first few minutes when he asked about how Benatar own experience of life could taint his view on this.


I haven't heard the podcast, but I can see the argument for being anti-natalist and against suicide. Anti-natalism is ultimately about avoiding human suffering (or any kind of suffering). Even if a suicide is painless, it will still cause suffering for the ones close to that person. Even if someone reaches the conclusion that life is meaningless and not worth living, it is still very difficult to decide to commit suicide for countless reasons, starting with one's instinct of self preservation.

>I think Harris nailed it in the first few minutes when he asked about how Benatar own experience of life could taint his view on this

But, you could say this to anyone about anything. It has no bearing on the validity of the point.


“Mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of men...” Borges

It starts with the death of companion animals. Not when you are young and comparatively resilient, but later in adult life when you are personally responsible for all of the decisions and costs, the management of a slow and painful decline. The futile delaying actions, the ugly realizations, the fading away, the lost capacity, the indignities and the pain, and all in an individual fully capable of feeling, but who lacks the ability to comprehend what is happening, or to help resist it. One slowly realizes that this is just a practice run for what will happen to everyone you know, later, and then to you. Ultimately it comes to euthanasia, and one sits there looking down at an animal who is a shadow of his or her previous self, second guessing oneself on degree of suffering, degree of spark and verve remaining. It is rarely a clear-cut choice, as in most companion animals the body fails before the mind. When it is clear, and your companion is dying in front of you, you will rush, and later chew it over for a long time afterwards; did you wait too long, could you have done better?

At some point you will ask yourself: why am I trying to maximize this life span? Why am I playing at balancing capacity against suffering? Why have I not just drawn an end to it? Why does it matter if a dog, a cat, another animal exists until tomorrow? Next year the animal will be gone without trace. In ten thousand years, it is most likely that you will be gone without trace. In a billion years, nothing recognizable will remain of the present state of humanity, regardless of whether there is continuation of intelligence or not. The great span of time before and after cares nothing for a dying companion animal. There is no meaning beyond whatever meaning you give to any of this, and there is a very thin line between that and the belief that there is no meaning at all, the belief that there is no point. If the animal you lived with will be gone, what was the point of it all? If you will be gone, why are you so fixated on being alive now, or tomorrow, or some arbitrary length of time from now?

It starts with companion animals, and it gnaws at you. The first of the cats and dogs you live with as the responsible party, the thinking party, the one motivated to find some meaning in it all, arrive and age to death between your twenties and your forties. That is traumatic at the end, but you find it was only practice, because by the end of that span of time, the first of the people closest to you start to die, in accidents and in the earlier manifestations of age-related disease. The death by aging of companion animals teaches you grief and the search for rationales - meaningless or otherwise - and you will go on to apply those lessons. To your parents, to mentors, to all of those a generation older who suddenly crumple with age, withering into a hospital or last years in a nursing facility. You are drawn into the sorry details of the pain and the futile attempts to hold on for the ones closest to you, a responsible party again. You are left thinking: why all this suffering? Why do we do this? What does it matter that we are alive? The span of a billion years ahead looms large, made stark and empty by the absence of those dying now, no matter how bustling it might in fact prove to be.

Grief and exposure to the slow collapse of aging in others: these are toxins. These are forms of damage. They eat at you. They diminish you, diminish your willingness to engage, to be alive, to go on. I think that this burden, as much as the physical degeneration of age, is why near all people are accepting of an end. The tiredness is in the mind, the weight of unwanted experiences of death by aging and what those experiences have come to mean to the individual. Human nature just doesn't work well under this load. It becomes easy to flip the switch in your view of the world: on the one side there is earnest work to end future suffering by building incrementally better medical technology, while on the other side lies some form of agreement with those who say that sadness and suffering can be cured by ending all life upon this world. Oh, you might recoil from it put so bluntly, but if you accept that existence doesn't matter, then the gentle, kind, persuasive ending of all entities who suffer or might suffer lies at the logical end of that road. It is just a matter of how far along you are today in your considerations of euthanasia and pain. This is the fall into nihilism, driven by the urge to flee from suffering, and the conviction that your own assemblies of meaning are weak and empty in the face of the grief that is past, and the grief that you know lies ahead.

Not all of the costs of the present human condition are visible as lines upon the face.


A splendid idea. Let's start with the 1% and their children.

>An “anti-natalist,” he [David Benatar] believes that life is so bad, so painful, that human beings should stop having children for reasons of compassion.

Poor me, I had no idea it was that bad committing to veganism.[1]

[1] https://archive.org/details/TheSpeciesBarrier35Antinatal




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