Though, I think it's misguided. I think a lifetime of extreme suffering would be worth it, just for the rare moments when you feel truly blessed to be alive. In the hardest times of my own life, there's been a few memories that have pushed me forwards. One of them was walking outside of a friends house after a light rainstorm, and seeing a ray of sun shine through water dripping off of a plant.
It was just so simply beautiful. I saw a green sunset once. I saw the Perseid meteors on top of a mountain.
This is before getting into all the triumphs and creation and science and business and trade and conversations and coffee and learning and teaching I've done.
Life's magnificent. The suffering is a very worthwhile price to pay for it. Actually, I actively enjoy the suffering to some extent, because it makes me stronger and able to live more, live stronger, do more.
Heck, I wrote an entry called "Give Me Strife and Suffering (but in manageable doses)" on my blog if you're interested in an alternative perspective -
I reject the notion that suffering is a bad thing. It's bad if you don't know what you're suffering for. But suffering for worthy causes, for knowledge, for life, for creation, for art, for beauty, for things like that... I wouldn't trade it for the world. As my ability increases, I actively increase the amount of suffering I go through - to grow stronger, to do more, to be more, to serve more, to build more, to create more...
I don't know. Have a think on that. I like suffering for what I believe in, so long as I'm doing it in an intelligent way that forces me to grow. I think it's a worthy thing, and actively chase it... and I think this attitude has served me well and helped me do a lot of great things. Perhaps it's a worthwhile frame of mind to experiment with for a while? You don't have to believe it, just ask, "If I accepted suffering for worthy causes, and came to enjoy the suffering, how would I feel and act here?" Try it for a week or two? You could always ditch that perspective if it doesn't suit you well.
What you do like is a combination of suffering with benefits. You like suffering when it makes you stronger. I call bullshit and say you like becoming stronger, and you'd do away with the suffering if you at all could.
And what good is the being stronger anyway? It serves only, maybe, to avoid or diminish future suffering.
I'd go so far as to say that what you like is short-term suffering if, and because, it helps you avoid long-term suffering. You "like" the pain you feel when you put your hand on a hot stove because you can use it to know you are about to burn your hand. The pain helps you avoid more pain.
How about if you could know you are about to burn your hand without feeling this pain? How about if you didn't need hands at all? You see my point? The benefit of "not burning your hand" is only a benefit because the alternative is worse. You can't win, you can only minimize your losses.
Don't get me wrong; I like life most of the time, and I have had these "simply beautiful" experiences you describe. But that is no justification for forcing other people to live. Because that is what my comment, though unclear on this, was ultimately about: no more kids. For anyone. Ever.
Once you are in life, you are guaranteed to suffer, and you need hands, and all this wisdom about not being able to have your cake and eat it too, learning to enjoy the simple things (i.e., be complacent), the world not owing you anything, et cetera. But these things are not relevant to the question of whether procreation is acceptable.
I will consider your suggestion. I like to believe I already suffer my fair share for worthy causes, but I may be wrong.
Suffering in many ways is getting closer to death, and death provides the opportunity to be begin anew. It's an abstract concept but can be applied to everything you encounter as a living being.
In fact when you try to avoid suffering you close yourself off from so much experience. You could even say that to avoid suffering requires to live as a small subset of yourself, within a very confined sense of self. Expanding out from that will entail suffering but that's only a very small part of the story and it will lead to experiences you can't yet imagine.
The problem is with creating new lives. Birth inflicts both a life sentence and a death sentence on the newborn, without their consent. That is simply wrong.
Thought experiment: If you go outside right now with a gun in your hand and start asking random strangers "Would you like to die right now?" what do you think how many of them will answer "Yes, please."?
Whether already existing people like life is like asking whether already addicted people like heroin. You can't use the result to justify forcibly addicting people to heroin.
Disclaimer: you're free to believe what you want, and it's neither my business nor my concern whether or not you pass on your particular genes, I just can't resist this discussion.
Related reading if you're interested: Albert Camus (The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus), Sartre (Nausea, Being and Nothingness)
You say it's not your business whether or not I pass on my genes. Is it also not your business whether or not I murder somebody you do not know? Creating new persons is not something to be taken lightly, it's at least up there with murder because birth entails death.
By all means realize the absurdity and seek contentment, just don't force others into having to come the same long, stressful way to this revelation.
As I said before, the question of whether I should stay alive even if I don't think it is worth it is way more complicated than the question of whether new lives should be begun. One complication is that suicide causes non-negligible stress for both the suicide and their surroundings.
Let me first tackle the philosophical level:
First, you insist on the impractical notion that it is only the suffering that counts and must be reduced no matter what. Being a intelligent fella you realize that the consequence would be the annihilation of all sentient life including your own. Since presumably you realize the absurd notion of this consequence you try to reclaim the validity of your argument by arguing that “not forcing others” is another crucial prerequisite in your ethic. (Regarding your own suffering and the ending of it you simply declare that “life is complicated”. Aha, so much for consistency. (By all means: be inconsistent in that case.))
But strictly speaking, you cannot force life on someone because that someone does not exist before she is alive. You can see it in your own comments. You talk about “forcing life on newborns”. But this is not true. Before they were alive they simply were not there. By definition you cannot force something that does not exist. Again: I can force you to give me your money but I cannot force something nonexistent to do anything. So you are back to square one: total annihilation of all life.
The same reasoning applies to your heroin addiction analogy by the way: The alternatives are not heroin vs. no heroin but heroin addiction vs. death. You see, you can without a doubt compare a person that is heroin addicted to one that is not and conclude the the non-addict is for some reasonable metric better off. But you cannot compare a person who is alive with something that does not exist. It doesn’t make any sense.
The philosophical nitpicking aside, what really strikes me as odd is your sole focus on suffering. In your picture you also “force the newborn” with high probability to having two legs, in- and exhaling air, and opening a bank account before her 30th birthday. And who likes that?
But wouldn’t it be much more reasonable, as other commenters have pointed out, to account for more than just the suffering in the calculation whether a life is worth living? When you are in need for something, lets say food, do you only take into account the costs or do you compare the benefit you get from the food vs. its costs (the costs being the suffering in this analogy)?
I mean, as a “life addict” yourself you realize that the suffering is sometimes not everything that counts especially when it is outweighed by the benefits you have by being alive. Don’t get me wrong: of course suffering is bad. But as you said yourself “life is complicated” and often you have to take more into account than just one single variable like suffering or the opening of a bank account.
It is of course your choice whether you procreate or not. But your argument against it might not be as conclusive as you might think.
Regarding "forcing" someone into being: you have a problem with my words, not with my reasoning. As I said, birth can be a harm because the victim is still around to suffer its consequences. Death or "never being born" cannot.
Most people disagree that people can't be harmed by birth. Women are rather sternly discouraged to use alcohol during pregnancy. It is frowned upon for people with any significant genetic problems to reproduce. Incest is also taboo. Many people would think it better if the poor would not have kids. This has no bearing on the truth, of course, but I would be surprised if you didn't make similar judgments. It is clear that there are at least some cases where pre-existent beings' future well-being is taken into consideration.
The question then becomes "where do you draw the line?", and reason would draw it where I do (at "nobody should procreate"). The idea is simple, if you're willing to suppress your inner pedant: those who are never born do not suffer and they do not miss out on anything. This is the bottom line, and all the pedantry in the world won't change this fact.
The only case that could -- MAYBE -- be made is that if the kid's life turns out just fine, it wasn't too bad to create him. Just like an attempted murderer could say, of his surviving victim, "sure I tried to murder him, but look -- the dude's doing fine!". Things may have turned out alright, but I wouldn't say that attempting to murder a person is acceptable (beyond the intentions involved).
If I gave you a wheelchair, you might ask me what the hell you need a wheelchair for. Only after I have gnawed off your legs will it make sense. Before this, you had no need for a wheelchair. Similarly, the unborn have no need for a life that turns out just fine.
Procreation is never in the interest of the newborn. Suffering is guaranteed. Happiness cannot be used as a justification. It's all there, isn't it?
That's a strange kind of ethics, to me.
i post a comment with this sentiment a few days ago, and predictably it got down-voted below -4: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1902911
we live in a world full of tremendous suffering. our attachment to survival is the result of a mindless and meaningless processes of selection.
no one can do better for their children than to take a stand against this nonsense and never subject them to this world to begin with.