Monday, January 30, 2012

Front-Loading Some Rebuttals - Responses to Common Inital Argments Against Antinatalism

Last Updated August 13, 2012

Just as with any other philosophical, political, or religious belief system, Antinatalism has a potentially infinite number of objections.  Because of this, it’s unreasonable to expect blogs (by their very nature) and certainly a blog to answer every objection to antinatalism in the greatest of details.  That would require at least large book to accomplish, and likely several volumes of them. Therefore, I will address only the most commonly-expressed initial reactions to antinatalism.  With this said, I will continue.

It should be no surprise that a controversial philosophy like antinatalism has all kinds of misconceptions about both the system itself and its adherents; many of them the product of either logical fallacies or blind spots natural to human thinking. Frequently encountered fallacies about antinatalists and their beliefs include the following, but certainly not limited to them: non sequitors (unwarranted leaps in logic), ad hominem (personal attacks, appeals to caricature, appeals to personal distaste, “Poisoning the Well”, and similar such kneejerk responses), genetic fallacies (assuming the argument is wrong simply because you can prove the cause of the belief; often just another variant of the ad hominem), and general appeals to popular stereotype (self explanatory).  These types of arguments are universally considered inadequate, simplistic, or just plain wrong – particularly if they attack the person instead of the argument.  Therefore, they have no place in any kind of debate, including this one - except as showcase examples of how personal distaste can blind us to deeper truths.

In fact, I almost chose not to respond to them, especially the ad hominem type of “cheap shots”. Doing so would imply they are in fact worthy of a response (which they aren’t, except to the extent that they offer a teachable moment in recognizing demagoguery and appeals to emotion, dubious appeals to “common sense”, etc).  Truly serious and openminded people already see such false arguments for what they are. Therefore, why should I waste time discussing them?  

On the other hand, if I did not respond to them, some people would say that it was because I could not respond, thereby giving these opponents the illusion of victory.  Therefore, I decided to compromise - make one response to these “cheap shots”, then refuse any second-level responses to my response unless they demonstrate how my rebuttal was wrong-headed without any resort to name calling or appeals to caricature.   At any rate, the rest of this blog is likely to address many higher level questions and doubts about antinatalism many of you probably have; and therefore any such objections are likely addressed in other posts.

The objections addressed in this section include the following. Those not finished are designated as a WIP (Work in Progress)

  •  Why Not Commit Suicide? (Part 1 Complete, Part 2 Complete, Part 3 WIP)
  •  Antinatalism is Unrealistic  (WIP)
  •  Antinatalism is Nihilistic  (WIP)
  •  Antinatalists Seek Forced Cessation of Breeding (WIP)
  •  We Are The Universe Getting to Know Itself (WIP)
  •  Arguments from Caricature (the ad hominem, straw men, red herrings, etc. discussed above) (WIP)


David Nisbet said...

Hi. I don't know if 'enjoy' is the correct word to use in describing my reaction to reading your blog, but unlike life as a whole, it certainly isn't an unpleasant experience.

Now, creepy-praise-from-a-stranger aside, I'd like to see what you or any of the other people reading my post will make of this recent criticism I read in connection with the philosophy:

"Anti-natalism is oxymoronic. It assumes a value in life in order to disprove the value of life. Either life has no value whatsoever, in which case there's no reason not to continue procreating, or life is inherently valuable and as such we should do everything to continue it."

Until reading the aforementioned comment I hadn't heard any serious and/or intelligent argument against anti-natalism. I must admit that while I have thought of a couple of counter arguments to the rebuttal, if I'm being honest with myself they are not altogether satisfactory. I apologise in advance if what I've pasted here is a cliche that has already been addressed a thousand times, but even if it has then I'd very much like to be enlightened as to a persuasive counter argument.

Just in case anyone is interested, my own long-winded attempt at responding to the argument goes something like this:

"The value in life is not the phenomenon itself (which is not valuable), but rather it is in the implications it means to the living and being alive as a whole. Values do ultimately only matter to the living, but as we ARE the living then we can accurately and rationally assess what it means to be alive and if it is worthwhile to bring more living beings into existence. Granted, we can only make such rationalisation because we're alive, but just because we are bound within circumstance does not mean we can't question that circumstance. In much the same way that someone finds they have been born with a disease, it is not oxymoronic/self contradictory to question the value of that disease and whether the state they find themselves in is something which should be tolerated or if there is a better way of dealing with things, regardless of whether the disease is 'part of them' and essentially indivisible. Again, it is true that the value is only valuable because they're alive, but if the value dictates that *not being* is more valuable then such a conclusion (and therefore value) will hold true right up until the moment when it does become true. When that happens all values cease for that former being."

See what I mean about being unsatisfactory (not to mention incredibly cumbersome!)? I think my logic is sound, albeit rather confusingly so. Unfortunately discussions about being and not being, values and non-values, are pretty much guaranteed to be hard to follow, perhaps even paradoxical, but not oxymoronic. Thoughts? Or have I caused EVERYONE reading this to commit suicide?! Ha ha.

filrabat said...

Anti-natalism is oxymoronic. It assumes a value in life in order to disprove the value of life. Either life has no value whatsoever, in which case there's no reason not to continue procreating, or life is inherently valuable and as such we should do everything to continue it.


I need more context to make an accurate assessment of the meaning of this quote - ideally, a direct link to the debate. However, assuming this is the original post of this particular debate, or an original assertion independent of any other blog posts (i.e. not based on any previous blog posts), then it seems he’s confusing “a value in life” with “the value of life”.

A value in life” I take to mean the major core value of suffering prevention (to catchphrase it). I take “disprove the value of life” to mean disprove that there exists any objective, independently confirmable evidence that the human species’ existence is important beyond our mere emotional say-so, or perhaps the suffering levels of this world render human existence worthless, or creating a new consciousness when there is no objective, independently confirmable point/purpose in keeping the human species a going concern.

Or, if the old suicide issue came up, “A value in life” could mean the AN believes there’s enough value in life to keep living for the sake of preventing great anguish in others (see my Jan ’12 post for more).

Or, if someone stated that an AN implies there’s enough value in life to keep living but not enough to bring new people into it, I see no reason why you can’t use an analogy I heard about. Life is like going to a theater to watch a mediocre movie: not horrible enough to make you leave early, but not good enough to recommend it to your friends

I don’t know if this will help, but I have a post related to this on my other blog, where post about (largely) topics not related to antinatalism. The brief of that entry states that we don’t seek to live (i.e. value life) for the sake of living so much as we live to experience pleasure. We also seek to avoid pain –the whose ultimate purpose is to prevent our early demise. Gary said something analogous to this when he was a guest on one of TheMagicSandwichShow’s videos – namely concerning sex.* He basically said that we don’t have sex to have babies – we have sex because it feels good. If we have the urge to have sex for pleasure’s sake, then the rest of the reproductive process takes care of itself. So the value of life is not life itself – life is only a means to an end. The ends are achieving pleasure and a purposeful existence. Pleasure is the end (the carrot) that conscious life seeks and – generally speaking - pain avoidance (the stick) compels us to maintain life.

To reiterate, it’s hard to tell exactly what that quote means w/o additional context. If what I said helps, then I’m happy to have helped.

*I’m not an “Efilist” but a Philanthropic Antinatalist. So I disagree with Gary about a lot, though naturally all AN’s do have a common core set of beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Good post.