Sunday, September 12, 2010

Addendum: Philanthropic Antinatalism Must Stand for Positives, not Negatives

It’s very easy to embrace antinatalism for the wrong reasons, ones that are based too heavily on emotions rather than on data, facts, logic, and reason. It’s easier still to let those kinds of reasons turn into a basis for whining unattractively about how horrid the nature of human existence is: the inevitability of death, the drudgeries of this world, the real or potential sufferings dished out to us, how shabbily people treat each other, etc. and ad nauseum.  In short, your own antinatalism can easily morph into something that stands for no positives (in the emotional sense) because it’s built on a negative emotion: the ultimate unpleasantness of existence.   This attitude can easily spread into the general antinatalism movement (however understandably), which will turn people off from our message. 

True, antinatalism may mean thinking that procreation is pointless at best and cruel at worst; but it does not follow that you must believe all things about life are bad.  Remember that philanthropic antinatalism only asserts the following:

  • It is impossible live life without experiencing its bad points, even if we do experience its good points.
  • Some lives contain little, if any, good and are completely (or overwhelmingly) bad.
  • The non-existent neither need nor experience life's good points, nor can they be harmed by or experience life's bad points.
  • We cannot reliably predict the future of any one individual.
  • We can neither give consent to be born, nor ask the pre-existent for consent to be born. (i.e. ask someone if they'd like take the risk at the game called life).
  • It's wrong to force someone to undertake a risk if there is no good reason for that person to undertake that risk.
  • Therefore, the morally correct choice is to not bring someone into existence.
Thus, claiming that philanthropic antinatalism requires the belief that all, or even the vast majority, of life is bad is to extrapolate beyond antinatalism's essential claims. Certainly dwelling on the negative can easily suggest such an over-extrapolation.  Regardless of how bad a philanthropic antinatalist believes life is, focusing on the negative reasons (as in "reasons that ruin our personal moods") is counterproductive for the following reasons.

It can create more anguish and suffering for others. For example, I'm generally against suicide, because (a) the great majority of attempts (about 29 of 30!) fail, (b) the attempt often leave the attempter worse off than before, and (c) successful attempt or not, it creates anguish for family and friends left behind (I don't think we should scorn or condemn people who attempt or successfully commit suicide, but that's another topic).  Therefore, it makes no sense to commit actions that increase the probability of our premature demise, such as bitterly dwelling on life's negatives. 

It hurts antinatalism's public respectability. The most important first step for any emerging social movement is getting our message out to the broader public in ways that gain at least some public respectability. To get even an iota of that respectability, we have to stress the movement's positives. History shows that few movements succeeded by emphasizing negatives and unpleasantness, especially if no positive message is apparent. This only turns people off from our message that nonprocreation is the most effective way of ending humanity's sufferings.  This means we can't afford strong negative attitudes (as in "sour dispositions") anyway, especially at this early stage of the movement. Closely related to this is the next point.

It can actually create more births, paradoxically enough. Displaying sour attitudes toward life and humanity will make it extremely difficult for most people to open their minds to what we have to say, even people who otherwise would have given our ideas a fair hearing.  Therefore, any such displays will continue the chain of events that lead to yet more childbirths, creating yet more "centers of suffering".  Drawing an analogy from U.S. tort law, there is a legal doctrine called contributory negligence.  This is when the plaintiff says or does anything that directly or (in some cases) indirectly causes the event that is the subject of a lawsuit, even if one or another party is consdered most at fault for the actual event subject to the lawsuit.  In a similar way, negative attitudes can contribute toward the birth of yet another "center of suffering". While procreation certainly is nowhere near an illegal or libelous act, as antinatalist we would do well to keep the concept of contributory negligence (in a moral sense) in mind whenever we occassionally slip into "The world is nothing but bad" mindset.

This is not to handwave away the very real suffering, unfairness, and injustice in our world and even in the very nature of human existence.  All I’m saying is for people to even seriously consider antinatalism, we can't let our negative beliefs dictate our lives.   Sure, be disappointed that this world is the way it is, but don't let the negatives steal from you whatever personal joy and satisfaction makes life in this world at least somewhat more bearable. After all, if we have to live in this world but refuse to "off" ourselves, let’s at least do what we can to make both our lives and this world as pleasant and productive as we know how; never mind that it’s ultimately a losing battle (due to our own demise, both individually and as a species, if nothing else).

Albert Camus implied that life is indeed “absurd” but nevertheless there’s a certain dignity in living it.  He’s almost correct.  A better approach (for antinatailsts) is to say that life is absurd but we can make our own dignity in living if we make at least half an effort to do so.  

The best way to "make that dignity" is to help alleviate suffering in others, whether major suffering or (relatively) trivial personal sufferings of others and ourselves. That is one positive that antinatalism can build on.  Another we can build on is to simply find a sustainable source of our personal happiness, one not dependent on circumstances outside our mind or body. Both are more dramatically appealing to the public than mere pity parties, not to mention more potentially productive even for the antinatalist movement itself (Note: I myself don't generally look down on "pity partiers", as I know they are going through a lot of emotional pain. Unfortunately, the vast majority of humanity does look down on them, and as such I think antinatalist can't afford such a reputation).

In this spirit, this is a list of items (not yet complete) of what I think philanthropic antinatalism should stand for:

Suffering Prevention, including the prevention suffering caused by death itself.  Refusing to procreate is only a means to that end and, as far as we know, the only way to guarantee elimination of all suffering.

Suffering Alleviation: Help people in this life who are suffering.  Commit yourself to being not just a listening ear, but helping hands that relieves that suffering. Contribute your time and labor to society through hard work. If we are stuck on this world with several billion other suffering souls, do whatever you can to help them - or at the very very least do not add to their sufferings. Find hobbies and interests that are not only personally fulling but also societally redeeming. If nothing else, at least find a sustainable source of happiness, one not dependent on circumstances outside your mind or body.

Truth Seeking: As antinatalists of whatever stripe, we already show gumption for truth-seeking by adopting a viewpoint very much at odds with mainstream humanity.  As such, we should continue to shove aside our personal prejudices and other biases in order to seek more knowledge of how this world (and universe) actually works. 

Cooperating with Like-Minded Souls: Philanthropic antinatalists come to the belief in non-procreation for reasons of suffering prevention through many routes and many different philosophical bases. Some of those bases oppose each other.  Nevertheless, as Jim Crawford states, we should support other antinatalists who are not primarily philanthropic as long as they stress non-procreation through voluntary, humanitarian means. Therefore, we should support each other where it concerns the ultimate desired outcome - phasing out of the human race via voluntary and willful cessation of reproduction, even as we remain cognizant of our sometimes radically different belief systems that lead us to antinatalism.

Overruling Our Inborn Survival Instincts, for the purpose of more effective truth-seeking:  It's well established, and should be common sense, that our survival instinct is responsible for any reactions we make to threats to our survival (actual threat of life or injury, loss of social or economic status, loss of a mate through whatever means, discrediting of one's politics or world-view, etc). It's likewise evident that our survival instinct is a major blinder that prevents people from seeing truths, many of which become obvious once we step outside the surivival instinct box.  Therefore, we see survival instincts as much blinders that cover up our eyes as it is an aid to human survival.

There is no doubt room for more values and principles, but this list is a good starting point.  This list not only states that we fight off the negative as best we can despite the inevitable end of us all, it also inspires us to overcome the survival instinct bias that so clouds our thinking. Last but certainly not least, the list recognizes that the our brain's R(eptilian)-complex is ultimately irrationally devoted to keeping us alive and secure, even at the cost of others' lives or well-being. Awareness of all this allows us to gain further clarity of two notions: (a) our motivations behind gaining more material wealth, power, status, sex  and other things; and (b) what causes so much misery and motivates so much cruelty - namely any diminishing to even a moderate degree of that wealth, power, status, sexual access, and other things. 

As such, philanthropic antinatalism is essentially a humanitarian philosophy that enables us to (a) rationally question what purpose life itself serves, thereby allowing (b) a greater ability to more clearly and realistically face the world (or universe), and with a greater sense of our destiny, besides (thereby reducing our anxiety of what ultimate purpose lies before us); and (c) inspire us to alleviate to the most reasonable greatest extent possible this world's sufferings and miseries.


Anonymous said...

This post made my day. Thank you.

Francois Tremblay said...

Fuck you for trying to dictate to others what they should say or think in the name of a "movement" that doesn't even exist.

filrabat said...

I'm sure you have your ideas as to what anarchism should stand for as well. What I'm saying here is just as much "dictating to others" as you are on your site.

Queenie said...

I am really loving your blog. You are the first anti-natalist I have found who thinks just like I do. Keep doing what you're doing. Good day and good life.

'Trick Slattery said...

I know this is an older blog post but just want to express my agreement with it. Always good to read another antinatalist.

Anonymous said...

Wish this blog was current and still going. Thanks for sharing your thinking about these subjects that used to be the core of mature philosophy...but have been turned into a taboo by the mind police of modern wishy washy political correctness and its happy bunnies uber alles views. There is nothing in antinatalism that I haven't encountered in, say, some early Gnostics' philosophies (the ones who lived before the Catholic church decided to burn their truths out of human memory) or that of the Stoics. It amazes me continually that to think about these serious issues is today, for example, considered grounds for the mind police of the psychiatric state to move in and take away someone's liberties! I am constantly talking to young people who are losing themselves in isolation because they find no one who will talk turkey with them about their comprehension that life is essentially meaningless, and they don't want to inflict it on others. Some of these kids are incarcerated, drugged, etc., when all that is happening is that they are recognizing truths that most intelligent, courageous, and honest adults will come around to if they liberate themselves from the endless buffet of distractions and shiny things.

Anonymous said...

The purpose of life is life itself

You preventing all life from having the choice to live or not would be immoral to me if we were the two lives remaining

That said, a woman has the right to choose, and I hope I would still support your right to not reproduce, even if it meant my complicity in the end of all life upon our eventual inevitable end

I hope you find the purpose that gives you meaning, and/or find the end that gives you happiness

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this blog. It makes total sense. Antinatalism is also common in some spiritual traditions such as Buddhism and Gnosticism. The rude responses (some of them) above remind me why I can not bring a child into this world. I love children with all my heart. When I see them, I cannot stop but smile. However, because I love children that much, I cannot bring them into this world, in spite of the fact, there is nothing wrong with me, and I can bear children. There are tons of children in this world who do not have a home, and I am planning to adopt one of them (depending on how many I can support financially).