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.
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?
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.
"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
Hume's formulation treats reason as a phenomenon existing entirely inside of a mind and subject to individual passions.
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?"
Besides, even if I were a troll (I am not) and Benatar were appalled (I presume he would be), neither fact addresses my point.
Ecclesiastes 4 (NRSV-A)
circa 400 BC
-- 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.
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.
Shock serves a purpose in nature.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
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.
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?"
> "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.
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.
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.
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.
"""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."""
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.
What the heck? You'd destroy our entire species to "spare" those that don't have it good?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?)
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...
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.
: Ah, I see OP answered while I was typing. Oh well :)
I'm imagining a world where creating an AI that can suffer is inexpensive, and then 4chan discovers it.
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.
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!!
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."
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.
But, you could say this to anyone about anything. It has no bearing on the validity of the point.
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.
Poor me, I had no idea it was that bad committing to veganism.