Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Christmas: A Glimpse into the Void

Christmas. I don’t know how you feel about it, but for me it reveals a lot about the human condition; in fact, in many ways it’s a metaphor that sums up a lot of what’s wrong with existence: the enormous build-up, the contrived excitement, the harassment and pressure, the enforced sociability, the mindless and shameless consumerism and so on, all culminating in a big anti-climax, a lot of garbage strewn around, and a general sense of nothingness once it’s over. Humanity in high-definition.

One of the things I find interesting is the fact that many people dread this particular week, the one between Christmas and New Year. They complain about the deadness, the boredom, the slowness with which times passes. Some even say they look forward to New Year and getting back into the normal routine, aka the routine that they spend the other 51 weeks of the year bitching about. And doesn’t this say it all?

Ultimately, the vast majority of people can’t cope with being left alone to contemplate themselves or the world. Silence and solitude are not desired by the majority. Certain unpalatable facts may become apparent and that would simply be unacceptable. Peter Wessel Zapffe’s insights into the human condition are becoming more and more relevant; in particular, the identification of distraction/ diversion as a vital element in the human coping mechanism. Hence the emphasis placed upon distraction and entertainment that is such a prominent feature of contemporary high-speed Capitalism: i-Phones, i-Pads, X-Boxes, and so on. At all times, we must have flashing images before us. It performs the strange double function of allowing us to retreat from the world while making us feel we are involved in the cutting edge of technology, that we are important, that we are at the heart of things, that we matter. Such devices give us a feeling that we are immersed in action, that we are doing something, and as John Gray wrote, action dispels our sense of inexistence and allows us to escape the inner void that we spend most of our time in flight from, although, ironically, the kind of devices mentioned generally lead only to increased passivity and mental inactivity.

So yeah, Christmas, a time to look in the mirror and see the emptiness staring back.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Antinatalism as Enlightenment 2.0

I’ve been reflecting lately on why Antinatalism has appeared as something akin to a movement at this particular point in time, since roughly 2005 say. Sure, there’s always been a strain of thought that said life was fundamentally pain, suffering and not worth living since at least Sophocles and the Ancient Greeks, but nothing like the form it’s taken lately. Why is that?

Clearly, David Benatar's book was the breviary that drew people to the idea of AN as a coherent philosophical movement. Technology has also helped. Thanks to the internet, this blog can exist, as can the other AN blogs and thus a virtual community of like-minded people can exist in a way that wasn’t possible previously. But what I’m getting at is a little deeper.

In essence, it would appear that for any intelligent person there are no more forms of delusion to hand. Taking western history as my case study, since as far as back as records go, humans have sought to give life meaning essentially through religion, politics and art (either solely or in combination).

Over the past century or so, societies have gradually become more secularised and religion pushed to the margins. Intellectually, its propositions regarding existence appear to have been completely discredited by the discoveries of science. So religion as a meaning provider is gone.

Meaningful politics now appears to be at an end. We are locked into an uncontrollable and unstoppable form of Capitalism which can only be ended through some form of natural catastrophe. So politics as meaning provider in any large scale sense is gone.

Art has also become a fetish and a commodity. With the end of the big ideas has come the end of great art. It is now a playing field solely for the rich. Literature has become, by and large, a minority activity and dominated by those who seek plaudits by reaffirming the values of the society that they live in. Hence the endless stream of dreary social realism novels that focus on relationships, mortgages, family and all the usual Oprah material. So art is gone also.

In summation, there is nowhere to hide for an enlightened individual. The game is simply not worth the candle. Enlightenment began as a movement designed to rid humanity of its superstitions, quash religion of its excessive power and liberate the species. The thing is, that like any revolution, it has in essence swallowed itself. Anyone with a brain now knows there’s no reason to live, and no reason to propagate. Humanity stands revealed in its uselessness and malevolence.

What are we doing here?


Where is there to go?


Antinatalism is indeed Enlightenment 2.0

Friday, 9 December 2011

India offers rewards for sterilisation

The Indian state of Rajasthan is offering incentives for sterilisation. With a population of 68 million, the authorities feel the need to curb the birth-rate. Now obviously they are not doing so from strictly antinatal motives, but the report is interesting and relevant insofar as it illustrates how non-birthing could be made more popular by offering rewards:

(Apologies for having to cut and paste; I don't appear to be able embed links on this blog.)

When I first saw the report it was followed by an interview with a critic of the scheme who complained that it was flawed because a) women over 45 were being sterilised and were abusing the offer and b) people weren't getting "enough information" about the scheme. As for a, women appear to be giving birth at later and later ages these days, so that fails and b was just a desperate non-argument from someone horrified by the fact that a minority of people do actually choose to cut off their reproductive capacities.

Incidentally, I mailed the feature to David Benatar, who replied saying that the scheme seemed like "a sensible idea".

Monday, 5 December 2011

How Are We To Live?

A comment from Jim from Oregon:

Every day I am frustrated from my full time job. I have no hope or probable way of quitting this rat race, working forever and resting in order to regenerate for... work. How to cope with this vision for next 30-40 years? I don't want to spend my life at work. Count with me day: 8 hours work 1-2 hours travelling to work 8 hours sleep 6 hours of general tiredness from exhausting job -no will, power and energy to do anything that would resemble a hobby or a satisfying activity. week 5 days work 2 days rest where the saturdays aren't spent meaningfully, I just recover from the 5 day load. year 4 weeks holiday 48 weeks work is this a joke? I am working for six years after the graduation and I already feel that I can't go on anymore. I just want to slash this corporate office to pieces. I don't want to work. How to quit this? It is very naive and perhaps childish, but it really bothers me 99% of all time. I would like to know how others deal with this sad reality. Thanks

I've expressed previously my own horror at the whole work phenomenon here:

Finding Jim's comment this morning was particularly a propos as I spent a great deal of last night brooding over the same issue. Trapped in a meaningless universe, and then obliged to "earn" your living by being a slave. I think, perhaps, that in my ideal world, we'd have a Socialist set-up where people were obliged to do four hours of socially useful work per day and then have their freedom. A pipe-dream, no doubt, but it strikes me as eminently more civilised compared to the current barbaric set-up. In the meantime, how is one to cope?

All comments welcome.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

An admirably honest cry for help

While surfing around the net the other day I came across this call for help. Although I've seen this kind of thing before, I was particularly struck by this instance.

I dont even know where to begin. I hate life. I dont want to be here anymore. I hate everything about myself physically, i hate that im a nobody, i hate that my family say "well we love you" like thats supposed to give my life any more purpose.. What is the point in life really? We work to pay tax/bills/buy nice things.... we exercise to look our best, we always "get through" things just so something else can get in our way. Everyone says life is about learning - no point to ANY of the things that i have previously mentioned because you know what? We are all going to die anyway. Money, nice body, friends, family, job - none of it means **** when youre dead... so whats the point in struggling and doing the same crap day by day when the result is always the same. I hate that i am always sad. I hate that i have no talent and that no matter what i do, my life will still lack meaning, i hate that i dont look like her or her or her - i hate that i hate eating because i hate starving too, i hate that i have to work every day, i hate that i have debts that dont appear to be getting any less, i hate that there are so many rude and pathetic excuses for human beings out there that have everything just fall in their lap and think nothing of it like the world owes them, i hate that i have to pretend its ok everyday. Why bother feeling this way everyday. Why not end it? I hate that people say its selfish to end it - what about me??? isnt that the reason that im wanting to end it anyway?? because im not happy??? I hate that people tell me "chin up" like this is a passing phase.... its not. I hate that every help site tells people to go get on meds - coz thats the only answer right?? I hate that i would feel dumb for seeing anyone about this anyway because its not like anyone has died, i havent had any traumatic experiences, so im not worthy right? They will only tell me to harden up and stop acting like a princess - everyones has a bad day right??? again and again and again???? I see no future for me. Im not good at anything. What i hate most of all is that i dont even know why ive posted this.... it will make as much difference as not posting it.... i want to die.

What struck me was the honesty and incisive nature of some the girl's points (I assume it's a girl):

1. i hate that my family say "well we love you" like thats supposed to give my life any more purpose.

Correct. What purpose does it lend you? Doesn't fact that people say they love a suicidal person often make them feel even more entrapped in existence due to guilt? Could it not also be construed as coded text for 'don't you dare kill yourself, because you'll fuck up our lives and we'll think of you with shame forever more'?

2. What is the point in life really? We work to pay tax/bills/buy nice things.... we exercise to look our best, we always "get through" things just so something else can get in our way.

Correct again. Every obstacle overcome clears the path for only an instant before another one looms up. Why bother? Like Dante's Belacqua, we should just sit under the rock and wait for time to take its course.

3. Everyone says life is about learning - no point to ANY of the things that i have previously mentioned because you know what? We are all going to die anyway. Money, nice body, friends, family, job - none of it means **** when youre dead... so whats the point in struggling and doing the same crap day by day when the result is always the same.

Spot on. Once you 'learn' the ultimate lesson of futility, what is the point of all those so-called "goods" other than as temporary palliatives and distractions from the inevitable?

4. no matter what i do, my life will still lack meaning,

Correct. Screw existentialism. Acting does not bestow meaning. Nothing does.

5. i hate that there are so many rude and pathetic excuses for human beings out there that have everything just fall in their lap and think nothing of it like the world owes them

Right again. So many egomaniacs exist out there who think they're "special" and the world is built for them. Jerks.

6. i hate that i have to pretend its ok everyday.

Yup, the militant optimism of our times is truly revolting. Utter a negative word and you'll have the Thought Police on your case.

7. I hate that people say its selfish to end it - what about me???

Yup, suicide is selfish, apparently, but telling people in genuine distress that they're being party-poopers and should just suck it up for everyone else's sake isn't. What a world.

8. I hate that people tell me "chin up" like this is a passing phase.... its not.

Right again. Once your eyes are open to the truth, it's damned hard to shut them again, or get a proper night's sleep. As T.S. Eliot wrote, "After such knowledge, what forgiveness?"

9. I hate that every help site tells people to go get on meds - coz thats the only answer right??

What a tribute to life that so many people are forced to artificially alter their chemical state in order to be able to get through it. Lovely.

10. I hate that i would feel dumb for seeing anyone about this anyway because its not like anyone has died, i havent had any traumatic experiences, so im not worthy right? They will only tell me to harden up and stop acting like a princess - everyones has a bad day right??? again and again and again????

Yup, you're only allowed complain if you've been raped/ the victim of racial discrimination/ gender discrimination etc. Nothing else officially registers. You should "count yourself lucky" for the most part. Apparently the fact that there are countless others feeling even shittier than you are is supposed to be a source of comfort. Gilded schadenfreude.

11. What i hate most of all is that i dont even know why ive posted this.... it will make as much difference as not posting it

Well, my dear, at least you've defied the authorities and vented your anger and pain, and that's not nothing. And hopefully others will take courage from your example. Well done to you!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

What if half the world were sterilized?

An article from the New York Times a couple of years back.

The Power of Posterity

"Every day, I check a blog called Marginal Revolution, which is famous for its erudite authors, Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, and its intelligent contributors. Last week, one of those contributors asked a question that is fantastical but thought-provoking: What would happen if a freak solar event sterilized the people on the half of the earth that happened to be facing the sun?

If you take an individualistic view of the world, not much would happen immediately. There are millions of people today who do not reproduce, and they lead happy, fulfilling and productive lives.

Even after the event, material conditions would be exactly the same. People would still have an incentive to go to work, pay off their bills and educate the children who were already with us. For 20 years, there would still be workers flowing into the labor force. Immigrants from the other side of the earth could eventually surge into the areas losing population. If anything, the mass-sterilization might reduce the environmental strain on the planet. People might focus on living for the moment, valuing the here and now.

But, of course, we don’t lead individualistic lives. Material conditions do not drive history. People live in a compact between the dead, the living and the unborn, and the value of the thought experiment is that it reminds us of the power posterity holds over our lives.

If, say, the Western Hemisphere were sterilized, there would soon be a cataclysmic spiritual crisis. Both Judaism and Christianity are promise-centered faiths. They are based on narratives that lead from Genesis through progressive revelation to a glorious culmination.

Believers’ lives have significance because they and their kind are part of this glorious unfolding. Their faith is suffused with expectation and hope. If they were to learn that they were simply a dead end, they would feel that God had forsaken them, that life was without meaning and purpose.

The secular world would be shattered, too. Anything worth doing is the work of generations — ending racism, promoting freedom or building a nation. America’s founders, for example, felt the eyes of their descendants upon them. Alexander Hamilton felt that he was helping to create a great empire. Noah Webster composed his dictionary anticipating that America would someday have 300 million inhabitants, even though at the time it only had 6 million.

These people undertook their grand projects because they were building for their descendants. They were motivated — as ambitious leaders, writers and artists are — by their hunger for immortal fame.

Without posterity, there are no grand designs. There are no high ambitions. Politics becomes insignificant. Even words like justice lose meaning because everything gets reduced to the narrow qualities of the here and now.

If people knew that their nation, group and family were doomed to perish, they would build no lasting buildings. They would not strive to start new companies. They wouldn’t concern themselves with the preservation of the environment. They wouldn’t save or invest.

There would be a radical increase in individual autonomy. Not sacrificing for their own society’s children, people would themselves become children, basing their lives on pleasure and ease instead of meanings to be fulfilled.

Some people might try to perpetuate their society by recruiting people from the fertile half of the earth. But that wouldn’t work. Immigration is the painful process of leaving behind one culture and way of living so that your children and children’s children can enjoy a different future. No one would be willing to undertake that traumatic process in order to move from a society that was reproducing to a society that was fading. There wouldn’t be the generations required to assimilate immigrants. A sterile culture could not thrive and, thus, could not inspire assimilation.

Instead there would be brutal division between those with the power to possess the future and those without. If millions of immigrants were brought over, they would populate the buildings but not perpetuate the culture. They wouldn’t be like current immigrants because they wouldn’t be joining a common project, but displacing it. There would be no sense of peoplehood, none of the untaught affections of those who are part of an organic social unit that shares the same destiny.

Within weeks, in other words, everything would break down and society would be unrecognizable. The scenario is unrelievedly grim. An individual who does not have children still contributes fully to the future of society. But when a society doesn’t reproduce there is nothing left to contribute to.

But, of course, that’s the beauty of this odd question. There are no sterilizing sunspots. Instead, we are blessed with the disciplining power of our posterity. We rely on this strong, invisible and unacknowledged force — these millions of unborn people we will never meet but who give us the gift of our way of life."

Apart from all of the pro-natalist biases, the assumption that we all live in expectation of a glorious celestial future and so on, what really struck me was the fact that the world imagined in the last three paragraphs bar one, which the author thinks is "hypothetical", is the reality on much of the planet now. But obviously expecting a well-heeled NYT columnist to realise such an inconvenient fact would be to hope for too much.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Are we hypocrites?

We’re all familiar with the rejoinder from critics of Antinatalism: if life is so bad, why don’t you kill yourself? Invariably, antinatalists will reply with the distinction made between lives worth starting and lives worth continuing and logically this reply is sound. I must admit, though, that lately I can intuitively sympathise with the criticism. After all, we as antinatalists are experts at outlining how horrible and awful everything is. We view life as a hellish quagmire into which we were dumped by our unthinking progenitors. Given those premises, it doesn’t strike me, therefore, as being entirely unreasonable to ask what we’re hanging around for.

Let’s put aside the difficulty of getting the hell out of here; we all know how fiendishly troublesome it is to get through the emergency exit. Let’s ask ourselves instead if we would stick around if we could just painlessly press an off-button built into our arms. And if not, why not? After all, we are always bitching about life, and saying what a crock of shit it fundamentally is. So isn’t there just an element of hypocrisy about us dragging our asses through this existence? After all, what we can possibly be living for? Generally, the answer proffered is that we have “interests” worth pursuing, but in plain language that just means we’re caught up on the hedonic treadmill like every other procreating sucker on the planet; we cling to the belief that we can squeeze a few drops of pleasure from the rotten apple, and that it is worthwhile to do so. Clearly this is where the criticism of the pronatalist brigade originates from: if we, as advocates of non-life, deem it worth our while to swallow buckets of shit in the hope of finding the odd cherry doesn’t this imply that in some way we value our existence? The obvious reply is that we are, as biological creatures, hopelessly addicted to the life game; our DNA overlord has programmed the ship to keep sailing until we crash into the rocks of fate. All of this is fair enough, and eminently true.

Yet I’ve been troubled lately. If we’re so adamantly against procreation, isn’t the only way we can absolutely guarantee we don’t add to the misery pile to remove ourselves from the scene altogether? Sure, we can always say that we have a duty to stick around to spread the word and in that way help alleviate suffering on the broader scale, but how many of us are really such saints? And of course, every living creature, whether pro or anti natalist, is fundamentally guilty, guilty of being a parasite off the misery of its fellow creatures who occupy a lower position in the food/status chain.

This isn’t, by the way, a personal “cry for help”. I’m not feeling suicidal, just somewhat bathed in the dark radiance of self-disgust. Ultimately, I’m saying let’s not be too self-congratulatory. If you’re alive, you’re playing the game, and by playing it, you’re helping to keep it on the road.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Religion, Procreation and A Divine Hatred of Life

That divine hatred of life that marks the deepest and most sensitive souls – HP Lovecraft on the Puritanical character

From the dawn of civilisations, man dreamt of casting off his flesh and ascending from the physical world; until the modern sham of "life is great/wonderful/..." with its "child-friendly" blinders upon education, the average man was capable of judging this world for something not worth attaching to – Bazompora

I’m not a believer; I have no faith, but unlike a lot of Liberals, Rationalists, Secularists and fellow travellers on the Antinatal road, I’m not particularly hostile to religion. One reason, as I’ve stated previously on this blog, is my visceral loathing for the arrogant self-certainty of Hitchens, Dawkins and company. For people who declare themselves so against irrationality and faith they fail spectacularly when it comes to examining their own groundless beliefs in concepts such as “humanity”, “the future”, “reason”, “freedom” and so on. In short, for such die-hard empiricists and materialists they wilfully ignore the abundant evidence provided by history that would allow anyone to easily arrive at what are fairly unflattering conclusions about our species, its character and its future.

That aside, my other reason for not loathing religion in the way that so many others do is connected with the quotations from Lovecraft and Bazompora above. To my mind, genuine religion stems from an honest realisation that this world is fundamentally a place of suffering and unhappiness. In spite of all of our dreams and plans and efforts, the world is simply not good enough. We are trapped in our minds, always yearning for elsewhere, rarely content to be where and what we are. Naturally, we dream of the beyond, of other realms that lie beyond the pitifully small and dirty prison yard of our being.

For some, this leads directly to religious faith. The idea that this world, with all of its horrors and injustices, is all there is is simply too much to be borne. There simply must be something else, some retribution and justice for the horror of it all. I don’t for one moment condemn or blame this impulse; if anything, I condone and applaud it, as it reflects that divine hatred of life of which Lovecraft speaks. To my mind, it’s far nobler than the smug indifference of the rational empiricist who simply shrugs his shoulders and carries on eating and procreating, a comfortable dweller in his own ego.

Furthermore, one thing that has always baffled me is how anyone could procreate unless they had religious belief. When trying to think of possible refutations of antinatalism, the only one that ever strikes me as plausible when measured on its own terms is the religious one. On an ontic level, the world is a hellhole, no matter how wealthy, successful or beautiful one may be; surely the only way one could justify procreation to oneself is a firm conviction that the ontological level is fundamentally one of goodness and divine love, as otherwise the world is just one big abattoir where all meet the same end. Or as Quentin Crisp puts it:

I do not understand how anyone can procreate without certain knowledge of the ultimate cosmic destination of those they bring into the world. It is beyond my comprehension that people do this. It seems to me that the sensible thing to do would be to await certain knowledge. If certain knowledge does not come (which would probably mean a knowledge shared by the entire human race), I would have thought that one would have to ask the question, "Why on Earth do I want to have children? What am I thinking of?”

So for me the antinatalist and the genuinely religious person aren’t a million miles apart. They have far more in common with each other than they do with the indifferent rationalist. Neither the religious person nor the antinatalist believes in the human future; they are both interested in what surrounds human life. In the one case, it’s a void; in the other, it’s some indefinable form of goodness (obviously Buddhism differs almost entirely from the Abrahamic monotheisms in seeking a release into the nothingness of Nirvana, and is probably the form of religion closest to pure antinatalism). Each makes a judgement on life’s value based on this broader perspective. The antinatalist views life as fundamentally a version of hell and abstains from procreation; the religious individual may decide to procreate because they believe that Being in and of itself is fundamentally good and an unasked for divine gift. Clearly these conclusions are not ultimately reconcilable, but the path each walks runs beside the other for a great deal of the journey. The antinatalist may vehemently disagree with the believer and the decision to procreate, but the religious individual has a far more coherent position than the atheist who merely takes a punt on the future for no plausible reason at all and who, to my mind, is the ultimate irresponsible procreator.

To conclude, let’s reflect on the following fact: the only society in human history that has ever encouraged antinatalism on moral grounds was a Christian one, the Cathars of Languedoc. The Cathars practiced a form of Christianity closely related to Gnosticism, one that preached that the world was the domain of an evil god, and that procreation was only a means by which further hostages to fortune were created. Non-procreation was urged upon the people, although generally celibacy was practiced only successfully by the upper echelons of the priesthood. (They were also firmly in favour of vegetarianism.) Surprisingly, the Cathars survived for quite a while before Rome took notice and launched a merciless genocidal crusade to reassert its hegemony.

What I think this may prove is that only a society based on principles of care, compassion and world-rejection could ever embrace Antinatalism. Liberal societies are based on the principal that the self should be as free as possible from outside interference in order to enjoy maximum freedom and pleasure. For most, procreation is a right that should brook no interference. Whether people procreate or not is based on whether it will add hedonic utility to the lives of the parents. That’s why I tend to strictly divorce in my mind antinatalism from the child-free brigade. If the latter decide their interests are better served by having babies, they’ll do it. There’s very little moral basis to their decision.

So to finish, whenever tempted to launch into a one-sided tirade against religion, remember the Cathars!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

More Crap from Richard Dawkins

Here's that man Dawkins again. Apparently he says that "someone as intelligent as Jesus would have been an atheist"!!!! Ahem, I think he's missing something somewhere. It must be on the longer version of the linked interview below as he doesn't say it on the shorter. And he also says that those who believe that without religion society would degenerate and people would start rioting are wrong. Clearly he wasn't in London in August!

Friday, 21 October 2011

7 Billion and Rising

Apparently the world's human population is due to hit seven billion this month. Am I the only one to find this fact profoundly depressing and demoralising? In all honesty, how can anyone take themselves seriously as a so-called individual knowing that the planet is now crawling with swarms and swarms of what are essentially only variations on a theme of oneself? And yet all the while, thanks to the relentless bombardment of the media, the internet, advertising etc. we are told how wonderful, amazing and fabulous and new everything is. I mean, please. Just pass the puke bucket.

It seems to escape all of the optimistic morons out there that with the exponential rise of the human species, freedom will diminish, food will diminish, the earth will degrade even quicker and so on. We all know the drill. And yet there was some self-satisfied jerk, whose name I thankfully forget and who's recently authored a book entitled An Optimist's Guide to the Future, writing in the UK Times hailing the 7 billion number as a wonderful thing, as it would lead to more "geniuses" being born, greater "creativity" and "resourcefulness" and all the rest of the shit. Yes, throw petrol on a fire, watch it burn and congratulate yourself on how much taller the flames are getting. What an asshole.

My apologies for this rant. I'm just feeling very tired and jaded at present with humanity and its farcical activities and its insatiable greed and egotism. I'd really like to just live in a tower in the countryside somewhere, listen only to classical music and read only Lovecraft, Ligotti and Huysmans, perhaps chuckling fiendishly to myself as I read a weekly digest of humanity's latest progress toward the abyss.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Jesus was an Antinatalist

In the early but non-canonical Greek Gospel of the Egyptians (early 2nd century), Salome appears as a disciple of Jesus. She asks him how long death would hold sway, and he says to her,

So long as women bring forth, for I come to end the works of the female

To this Salome replies

Then I have done well in not bringing forth

Monday, 10 October 2011

"Life is Evil"

I went to see Lars Von Trier’s latest film Melancholia last night. It’s annoying me now, because as a film concerning the destruction of the planet and the collapse of the sham bourgeois values that keep this horrible human life on the road, it should have been a masterpiece, but to be honest, I nearly died of boredom. However, there was one magnificent moment. One of the characters is panicking as she realises the end is nigh, but her sister, a hard-edged cynic (in a great turn from Kirsten Dunst) puts her right:

Life is evil

Don’t mourn the planet

No one’s going to miss it

For that little speech alone, the movie deserves Oscars for best screenplay, best picture, best director and best actress!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Woody Allen on Antinatalism

From an interview in the Sunday Times, October 2nd, 2011.

I never thought I was doing anyone a favour by bringing children into the world. With people as cruel to each other as they are, it’s a terrible proposition. The best of lives are sad and tragic. The best of them. My general conclusion is that it’s not a nice thing to do. The world doesn’t need it. The kid doesn’t need it.

When the interviewer, obviously a little incredulous, responded by saying that surely a man of Allen’s wealth could guarantee a child a good life, Woody answered

I can’t guarantee a child anything. I can’t guarantee that I was around five minutes after he or she was born.

Good man, Woody!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

A Defence of Suicide

Excerpts from A Philosophical Dissertation Upon Death by Count Alberto Radicati Di Passerano. The author was an Enlightenment philosophe, heavily influenced by Spinoza. As a result of the publication of the book in England, he was forced to flee that country and died destitute and alone in Holland.

"A Man ought not to be
apprehensive he is doing Ill when, tired and tormented by Life,
he deprives himself of it; seeing he therein makes Use of a
Right which none can take from him. This is a Right which does
not only belong to Man, but also to all other Animal Creatures,
the which do know how to make a better use of it than he does;
since they, having always lived according to the Natural Laws,
their Intellectuals have not been corrupted by Education.

A Man ought not to believe he does any Wrong to the
Society he chances to be a Member of, in depriving himself of
Life: For societies were founded for the Benefit of Men; and
therefore when a Man ceases from reaping Benefit therefrom,
with Reason he may therefrom separate himself, and more
especially if the said Society was formed without his
Approbation or Concurrence; since no Man is tied down to
stand to any Agreement made without his Participation, or
against his Will: And notwithstanding the Jews, the Christians,
and the Mahometans pretend the contrary, by forcing people to
continue in the Religion wherein they are born, I do aver and
maintain, that this Violence is unjust and abominable; since a
Man is no more tied to be a Jew, a Christian or a Mahometan,
on account of his having been Circumcised, or Baptised, when
he was an Infant, than if his Parents or the Priests, at his Birth,
had bound him to love (when arrived at Man's Estate) a woman
to whose Beauties or Deformities, good or bad Qualities, he
should be an utter stranger.

A Man is not an enemy to his Existence when, quite
tired and oppressed, either with Poverty, or Contempt, or
Sickness, or Bondage, he shall voluntarily Cease to live: Since
if it be a Thing natural always to choose the least Evil when
Evils are not possible to be avoided; it is a most natural Thing to
have Recourse to Death, to get free from the Evils and Miseries
of Life: So let us suppose Men not liable to those Calamities
which molest them during their Life, nevertheless ought they
always to run to Death without staying for it; since they all
know that, by a Decree eternal, they are condemned to die from
the very Moment they are born; and as the Sort of Death each
Man is to die is uncertain, and as most Sorts are very painful, a
wise Man, finding himself to be approaching his End and
Dissolution, either through Age, or the Indispositions attending
him, and not having the least Hope or Prospect of ever enjoying
any more of the Pleasures of Life, would do a most wise Action
in making Choice of the kind of Death which appeared to him to
be the pleasantest, in order to evade that most grievous one to
which he is sentenced: And in so doing, he would demonstrate
himself a true Friend to Himself.

In short, a Man ought not to imagine that, in depriving
himself of Life, he any way discomposes the Order of
Providence; since the eternal Laws of Motion cannot, in any
wise, be varied, or altered, on account of a Creature's living a
longer or shorter Space of Time, that is, its changing sooner or
later the Modifications of its Matter: Because Nature being most
potent and most wise, and operating incessantly in all Matter,
the consequence is, that her Operations are always superlatively
perfect; so that it little imports that the Matter which formed the
Body of a Man assumes the Form of a Million of Worms, or of
other Beings, that of round it becomes quadrangular or
multangular; the smallest Atom is ever of some signal Utility to
the infinite Designs of that most industrious Architect.
The foolish Prepossession, which Men have in Favour of
their own Species, is a Child of Ambition, and this is the Child
of Education: Since, even from the very Birth they are taught,
that They are the most perfect of all Beings; as being the lively
Images of GOD, who created all the others purely for their Use
and Service. Reason being confused and rendered stupid with
these vain and nonsensical Ideas, Man believes that the
Destruction of one of his Kind, or Species, must needs put into
Disorder the whole Frame of Nature; and does not consider,
"That a Man more or a Man less, nay the whole Race of
Mankind united, and a Hundred Millions of Worlds, a Thousand
times greater and more beautiful than this our Terrestrial Globe,
are no other than a very diminutive Atom, whose existing or not
existing is not so much, with respect to the Immensity of the
Universe, as is a single Drop of Water in Comparison with the
vast Ocean!"

Let us then conclude; That a Man, weary or satiated with
living, may die when he pleases, without offending NATURE:
Since in dying, he makes Use of the Remedy which She kindly
has put into his Hands, wherewithal he may cure himself of the
Evils of this LIFE."

Friday, 23 September 2011

A Theory of Procrastination

For the antinatalist, all options are bad. Life is a dreadful thing, full of pain and suffering. All he or she can do is attempt to minimise that pain and not pass on the burden by procreating. In conducting one’s life, therefore, one generally tries to determine which options carry the least risk of suffering. Hence in the mind of antinatalists the choices available are ranged thus:

A < B < C < D < E < F < G < H < I < J etc.

Where A is less painful than B, B less painful than C, C less than D and so on.

The logical choice, consequently, is to realise A. A’s value, such as it is, comes from it being the least of all evils. However, procrastination arises at the liminal point of realising A. The reason is as follows: although A has comparative value in being less painful than B, C etc., that value disintegrates if A is achieved and the other options dissolved. We are then left with only the reality of A, which in and of itself is a bad option, as all options and choices available for the antinatalist are a priori bad, and it is against all conditioning to choose a bad option. Hence procrastination.

Friday, 16 September 2011


(This is something of a rant, as I haven’t the energy or the will to go digging out precise statistics. But I figure I’m probably preaching to the converted anyway, so why worry.)

Isn’t it perfectly plain to anyone who has even a marginal grasp on reality that the thing that is making human life gradually more and more meaningless and shitty is overpopulation? Obviously if you’re of an antinatalist disposition, any population is bad, but seeing as how people appear relentlessly determined/programmed to never stop breeding we can legitimately ask ourselves at what number does human existence in the mass really start to become hellish.

There appears to be a general mental block amongst the self-styled “intelligentsia” regarding overpopulation. Only rarely is it brought up, and then it is generally brushed aside. David Attenborough’s recent article on overpopulation in a popular British weekly comes to mind as the most current example. This is particularly ironic, as anyone who lives in or has visited the UK will tell you that its most striking feature is the sheer density of the population. London is a heaving mass of faceless humanity, with opportunities for peace and solitude few and far between; the Underground and the buses are almost always thronged to heaving (if you really want to feel your complete worthlessness, go on to a Tube at 5.30; you’ll soon be cured as to any notions of your “individuality”) and silence is rarer than the dodo.

In terms of energy resources the planet is unlikely to be capable of sustaining a population of 7+ billion for any great length of time. Predictions show that at current rates of reproduction, there may well be 10 billion people by 2050. What’s worse is that because of the ubiquity of trash tv all over the globe, most of those people will aspire to living what they perceive to be the gilded lives of those in Western Europe and the US. Standards and expectations will rise, and consequently egotism and selfishness along with it. As population grows and resources diminish we can expect to see the gradual withering away of social services, welfare, state education and utilities that is already clearly perceptible in Europe. Of course, there are those who welcome this in the name of “liberty” and “freedom”, but in my experience I’ve noted that those who decry the state the most are those with healthy private incomes, who are in no danger of being exposed to anything that would threaten their cosy lifestyles, so to hell with them. (Academics are particularly culpable in this regard. There are times when I think Pol Pot had the right idea when it came to the self-styled “intellectuals”.)

Self-declared Liberals love bashing the Catholic Church for its anti-contraception policy, which is certainly reasonable, but these same Liberals also bang on about human rights and the inalienable right of people to procreate and raise families (it’s even in the UN Declaration of Human Rights) so they’re hardly innocent either. In fact, given that in Europe at least, it’s the Liberal “intelligentsia” (surely one of the most horrible words in existence) that control the media they are no less culpable and deluded than anyone else.

In order for there to be any sense of dignity or freedom in this existence a person has to have a certain amount of space and time in which he or she can exist without being made feel like a termite. As countries become more and more crowded, as cities become bigger, uglier and more violent, and as the countryside is gradually eaten away by housing developments, we can be sure that individual freedoms will shrink ever more rapidly. This will inevitably lead to the degradation of quality of life with ever increasing tension and inevitable conflict. Lest anyone think I’m talking through my trumpet, the London riots this summer are only the start of what’s on the way, not only in the UK, but across the world.

Here endeth the rant.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

A Big Problem for Militant Atheists

I don’t like calling myself an atheist these days, not because I’ve found God or anything (although the idea of an Old Testament God appearing and smiting the human race for its horrors is deeply appealing), but because I find the activities of the Militant Atheists to be deeply off-putting and repugnant. In particular, I have in mind the so-called “Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse” (a title that tells you everything you need to know about the egotism of its members): Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. I generally find the pronouncements, arrogance and shallow philosophising of these individuals to be deeply irritating. My favourite philosopher John Gray is of a like mind, and he recommends that anyone similarly afflicted calls themselves a “sceptic” rather than an “atheist”.

Anyway, to the matter at hand. Sam Harris’s latest book is entitled The Moral Landscape. I confess that I haven’t read it, but I have read and heard a few interviews with Harris and have a few observations to make. Basically, Harris’s book presents the thesis that science will help furnish us with an objective set of ethics, all designed to help minimise human suffering and maximise human well-being. Nothing wrong with the latter in theory (although one wonders if Harris has heard of John Stuart Mill and Utilitarianism; given the general philosophical illiteracy of the “Four Horsemen” I wouldn’t be surprised if he hasn’t) apart from the fact that all such attempts have failed in both theory and practice and will doubtless continue to so for all the usual reasons. As for science furnishing “objective” ethics, again, this idea is so pedestrian and discredited, it boggles the mind that people still float it.

More directly damning for Harris’s project of coupling the maximisation of human well-being with the elimination of religion is the fact that numerous scientific studies have established that people with religious belief are happier than those without. Now before anyone says that that’s because belonging to any old group makes people happier, it’s also necessary to include the fact that believing in a transcendental deity, a teleological purpose for humanity and something better than the current mess awaiting us on the other side of the curtain all play a massive part. In short, you’re not going to get the same thing from following your local football team than you are from attending church. Now given this to be the case, how can people like Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens et al. claim that the world will be improved by the end of religion when science itself (their god) conclusively proves the opposite? Dare these people show consistency? In fact, if Harris and co. are true to their aims they should be out promoting religion rather than attacking it. Can’t see it happening somehow.

Friday, 5 August 2011

The Absence of A Shared Moral Vocabulary

I’ve always found something deeply and intuitively repugnant about contemporary moral discourse. People are no longer human beings, instead they are individuals with rights and entitlements and rational agents with first and second order preferences.

Although some may say that such language is merely a useful functioning vocabulary, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the continual usage of such terminology will gradually take over our entire conception of humanity. The idea of the solitary, atomised individual alone in the universe with no connection to others, no history, and no roots to a home or sense of participation in shared values is, amongst the so-called intellectual class at least, a commonplace beyond question. This can surely only lead to an ever increasing sense of anomie and general despair as people are encouraged to regard themselves as porcupines: keep your distance from everyone and shields up as soon as anyone gets too close.

Of course it will also be argued that such vocabulary is merely the reflection of the historical times we live in, where global capitalism has undermined every sense of particularity, tradition, community of values and so on. In a world where money is king, the only role a person can play that is understandable to all is as a conduit for the acquisition and transfer of wealth. It’s no coincidence that Liberalism and Capitalism rose together hand in hand.

Moral philosophers have responded to this in a variety of ways, but every attempt at countering the mercantile takeover of the world by establishing a rational, objective moral philosophy has failed. From Kant to Hegel to Mill, Marx and beyond, all such attempts have foundered on various rocks. Today the field of moral philosophy is still dominated by the rights-based, liberal individualistic approach. This has lead to an ever-increasing tendency toward conflict and the increase in private litigation. This can hardly be surprising when the individual is king.

In most western universities debate about ethics invariably swings back to discussion of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice and Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia. Personally I’ve always had a deep aversion to Nozick’s philosophy. Again, we have the atomised individual with supposedly inalienable rights presented to us as an a priori datum. The core of his philosophy lies in protecting at all costs an individual’s right to non-interference from anything outside of his or her self. And like all contemporary moral systems his account is completely ahistorical and for this reason founders. To build his house of cards, Nozick blithely assumes a platform of just acquisition. In essence, this is the assumption that as long as I have acquired my goods, wealth or property through “just acquisition” it is mine to do with as I please. Unfortunately there is no suggestion as to how we are to decide if something has been acquired justly or not. How convenient a way of evaporating long-standing historical moral disputes! We start in medias res and take it from there. No discussion of how property and wealth may have been acquired through exploitation, robbery and violence. Time somehow legitimises everything. All that matters is you and your bank balance.

As some of you may have guessed, this gripe has been inspired by Alasdair McIntyre’s After Virtue. I recently finished reading this volume and can only heartily encourage others to do the same as it is a genuine philosophical masterpiece. The book is a devastating account of how it came to be that our moral vocabulary no longer functions adequately and explains why our ethical debates are so fractious and divisive. If you want to know how we got where we are, check it out.

Monday, 25 July 2011

What is Life Accomplishing?

What is human life doing? What is it all about ultimately?

Examine your day-to-day life: you awake, you may need to urinate or excrete, you’ll probably eat something, you’ll head off somewhere to sell your time to someone in order to acquire the means to keep what exactly? To keep getting up, to keep excreting, urinating, eating, drinking and so on and on. During the day your head will be filled with countless thoughts, ideas, vague hopes, different emotions of varying intensity, propositions, images, spectacles and so on. You will have very little control of that thought content. You’ll fantasise about what you may do in the evening. You may go online, you may go for a drink, you may chat with a pal, you may read, you may watch tv, you may masturbate, you may do nothing. You are a prisoner of time and space, of circumstance, of gender, of history, of pigmentation, of a DNA lottery where there is no winning ticket. And all the while the clock is ticking, you are getting older, the freshness is fading, you are heading toward the end, the end of what? The end of something you did not elect to come into, something you had no choice but to participate in, all like a dream, a phantasma, an insane slide show of images that make no sense. That will have been your life. And then darkness forever. As if you had never been.

And how do people respond? Essentially by self-delusion and distraction. Most elect not to think about life too closely, and to be frank who could blame them? They work, they revolve in their narrow orbit of job, friends, family and newspaper and that’s it. Life is too much to think about.

There are those who, generally when they hit their thirties, run out of gas. They’ve been to college, had their fun, worked a bit, travelled, got married and now there’s nothing left to do but have the inevitable kiddies in the hope of rejuvenating that flagging relationship where there’s nothing more to talk about. So they go ahead and fulfil the expectations of their parents and society and a new cycle of their lives where “it’s all about the kids” kicks in. This gives them a vicarious reason for living and allows them to justify life to themselves: “it’s not about me anymore”.

Then there are those who think more than is strictly necessary for the mindless biological functioning that life in its essence consists of. They may realise there’s something up, that life isn’t as it was advertised by parents, teachers and the like. Looking around the world and the madness and randomness of it, they may realise they’ve been sold a pup. Some will respond by turning to religion, and again who could blame them? Life is so horrific, unfair and unjust you can’t really hold it against people for desperately hoping there’s some form of justice and explanation on the other side of consciousness.

And then we get those who believe that by twiddling the knobs and redesigning the political alignment we’ll somehow even things out or maybe achieve Paradise on Earth. These people go by many names, Marxist, Communist, Anarchist, Libertarian and so on. Again, you can hardly blame them, but they’re also ignoring the reality of human history and human nature.

Then we have the people who think, fuck it, I want to enjoy myself, pump my ego, be worshipped, have my voice heard so and they become politicians, businessmen, academics, artists and so on. They take life as an unashamed ego-trip where wealth accumulation, ego expression and social status amongst their fellow-baboons is the ultimate value.

And then we have the majority who essentially live in fear. Fear of loneliness, fear of poverty, fear of homelessness, fear of tyranny and so on. You see, life has been very generous indeed in providing many, many things to fear. And so these people keep their heads down, serve the powers that be and pass on.

And then you have people like me, and perhaps like you, seeing as how you happen to be reading this blog, who really are just sick to the back fucking teeth of this pitiful parade of insanity, lunacy, madness, delusion and despair. People who have to drag themselves out of bed in the morning, tired of having to feign enthusiasm, of having to formulate plans and projects to drag their asses through life, all so we can bow out one fine day, hopefully not in excruciating agony and torment.

Welcome to the Pleasure Dome.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Consent and Sterilization in Antinatalism

The issue of consent regarding sterilization has been appearing here and there on a few antinatalist blogs lately and it’s made me ponder. As far as I’m aware, most antinatalists have been against forced sterilization until recently, but CM made a point over on estnihil’s blog that really got people thinking:

“As far as sterilizing humans and the issue of consent: there are plenty of things we regard as acceptable to do to people without their consent, but if you believe that it’s okay to use force to prevent people from murdering others, then the same reasoning should apply to using force to prevent births (because births entails deaths, plus a whole lot of other shit, so in most cases it’s actually worse than murdering someone from a consequentialist perspective.)”

I’ve been reflecting a lot on this and I really can’t see any flaws in it. The basis of antinatalism is a form of negative utilitarianism: life entails far more suffering than pleasure; the non-existent are not deprived by non-existence; existence entails unnecessary suffering for every being alive; life has no purpose other than its own survival and blind perpetuation and so on. Therefore there should be no more births. We all know the drill by now.

Yet the big sticking point is consent. We struggle with the classic liberal idea of bodily self-ownership and the thought of forced sterilization is intuitively repugnant on initial consideration. However, as Inmendham often says, just because I own my fist doesn’t give me the right to furl it up and send it flying into your face. Or another useful analogy is that of drink-driving (another Inmendham favourite): we have laws rendering that practice illegal and we inflict severe punishment on those found guilty, even if someone is apprehended drink-driving without having harmed anyone. I find it difficult to see why the same principles shouldn’t apply to birthers. From the antinatalist perspective, life is the ultimate harm, the phenomenon that generates all suffering, so from that viewpoint why shouldn’t people be deprived of the right to procreate?

Here’s another analogy: imagine you hear the news that police have tracked down a group of terrorists armed with backpacks of explosives who intend to detonate themselves on the public transport system. The police warn the terrorists that their plot has been discovered and that unless they surrender armed force will be used against them. The terrorists refuse and the police use their guns. All of the terrorists are killed, but none of the explosives are detonated and no innocent person is harmed.

What is the general moral reaction? Sadness that people are driven to terrorism, repugnance that they believe they have the right to murder others in the name of their beliefs, regret at the violence and loss of life ensuing from the police action, but ultimately relief and a recognition that the police had no other choice but to act in the way they did in the name of preventing large-scale suffering.

Obviously I’m using this analogy to compare procreators to terrorists. They inflict harm on others on account of their beliefs/ selfish desires. Nothing good ultimately comes of their activities, merely more suffering all round. Why shouldn’t they be stopped by whatever means necessary? I’m struggling to find an answer to this one.

To quote another commenter: “So, to put it bluntly, the reason one would not go through with the law in this scenario would be an appeasement to a minority of prenatal terrorists?:-)” If we put the smiley aside and substitute “majority” for “minority” we’re left with a very serious moral debate for antinatalism. A few people on different blogs have admitted that they’d press the “automatic sterilization” button if they had the hypothetical option, so I feel this is a debate worth having. The conclusions drawn from it may initially be profoundly counter-intuitive and even repugnant, but so is antinatalism itself for many upon first contact yet ultimately they come round to supporting it.

To conclude, the scenario of enforced sterilization troubles me, but I can’t see how it can be argued against given the premises of antinatalism.

All comments and observations welcome.

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Tree Of Life

Another review, but shorter this time. I saw Terrence Malick’s latest movie “The Tree of Life” the other night. Malick is a famously reclusive film director, a former philosophy student and translator of Heidegger, who made one of my favourite movies “The Thin Red Line” back in 1998. (Anyone who hasn’t seen but is intending to watch The Tree of Life needn’t fear: I’m only going to focus on one small aspect of the movie.)

His latest offering is a family drama that revolves around a typical American family of the 50s and the childhoods of their three sons. For those familiar with Malick’s style, it offers the usual ruminative and reflective cinematography, with the director’s obsession with the sun and skyscapes even more evident than in previous offerings (if Turner were alive today, he’d make movies like Malick). Going on the evidence of his films, Malick appears to be a kind of Pantheist, a worshipper of “Nature”, and a man who reveres the “mysteries” of life.

What makes this movie stand out is that Malick breaks up the human storyline with flashbacks to the Big Bang, the formation of the universe and the evolution of life on earth. One feature in particular really caught my attention. Malick depicts the creation of the first protein based units that eventually led to humanity, and then we get a brief Jurassic park sequence with a couple of dinosaurs knocking around. When they appeared I really wanted to see if Malick would faithfully depict what I and a lot of the other people on this and other similar themed blogs talk about frequently, namely the brutal indifference of nature and its savage predatory cycle.

So what do we get? A few dinosaurs are splashing about in a river, all looking like they’re having fun. Then we get a close-up of a dinosaur lying on the stones, resting. Next a dinosaur splashes out of the water and puts his foot on the head of the one lying down. The audience tensed in anticipation. Here we go, thought I, we’re about to get the Dinosaur wars and a little tableau of nature red in tooth and claw.

How wrong I was. The dinosaur held his foot on the head of his mate for a moment, then removed it and went for another merry paddle. The audience sighed with relief and chuckled. Next shot we were back with good ol’ Homo Sapiens and the American suburbs.

What a cop-out, thought I. No depiction of the carnivore wars, the ruthless battle for survival, the merciless circus that is “Mother Nature”, just a couple of Spielberg dinosaur orphans from the backlot of Jurassic Park paddling about in the drink. As if every living creature had a nice easy time of it, and anything bad that happened was an unfortunate accident. Malick must be going soft in his old age, I reflected, a suspicion confirmed by the extremely cheesy ending that I won’t reveal here.

In general, the movie is worth a watch, if only for the cosmic scenes, and I must admit that I do admire Malick’s artisitic integrity in always having made the kind of movies he’s wanted without pandering to the whims of the studios or the audience, but when it comes to a faithful rendering of Nature he ducks out here bigtime.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Cumulative vs. Reiterative Suffering (Reflections on the Sunset Limited)

I watched The Sunset Limited a few nights ago. It’s a tv drama starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson and based on the play of the same name by Cormac MacCarthy. It features only two characters: Black and White (no prizes for guessing who plays who). The plot is simple: Black and White debate the meaning of life in Black’s room after the latter has prevented White from throwing himself in front of a train (the Sunset Limited of the title). Black turns out to be an ex-con Christian convert who dedicates his life to helping drug addicts and other down-and-outs; White is a disillusioned college professor suffering from complete ennui, fatigue and world-hatred.

This two-hour drama plays out with Black dominating proceedings for 95% of the time. He is a clever, witty, likeable guy who wholeheartedly believes in the message of Christian redemption and loving one’s fellows. He teases and cajoles White, but in a gentle and caring way, attempting to give him a reason to carry on living. MacCarthy works it so that we grow to like Black; he isn’t an annoying preachy evangelical and no matter how many times White attempts to leave the room Black persuades him to stay. As the tension builds we wonder whether White will have a conversion.

With about ten minutes to go, however, White rises to deliver his philosophy of life. No matter how persuasive or well-meaning Black may be, White cannot escape his vision of the world as a torture ground where day by day countless numbers are killed and slaughtered for no apparent reason. As an intelligent and sensitive man he is incapable of shutting his eyes to this reality, nor can he find any consolation in the Christianity of Black. He delivers his worldview in an eloquent and devastating speech that leaves Black flabbergasted and distraught by the depths of its pessimism and unflinching conviction. Black is incredulous that someone can view the world in the way White does: previously he had supposed that White was suffering from some personal trauma and had attempted to discover the details; now he realises that he is dealing with a different phenomenon altogether and he has no answer. White leaves the room (to commit suicide or not is left unspoken), and Black is left alone, devastated that the God he believes in was unable to inspire him to match the dark vision of White. The play ends.

One detail in White’s speech really struck me. He mentions briefly the difference between cumulative and reiterative suffering and how those who view life as a gift are wedded to the latter mode of thinking without being aware of it. In many ways, this difference strikes me as resting at the heart of the antinatalist vision and explains why that vision meets with such incredulity and hostility from its opponents. The latter attempt to digest antinatalism but are incapable of escaping their personal perspective and fundamental egotism. A common spiel is “Well sure, I’ve had some dark times and bad experiences, but on the whole I love my life and I want to keep on living for as long as I can. Why can’t you guys just chill out?” The pronatalist cannot or will not read the whole script; he only highlights his little role in it, assuming all the while that there exists a meaningful plot and satisfying denouement. Fundamentally he lacks empathy, or is afraid to attempt empathy for fear of what he may find.

By contrast, the antinatalist draws the camera back and adopts a god’s eye view. He or she surveys the entire scene in so far as is possible and sees nothing but a history of horror, woe and pointless suffering ever since the day the first biped got on its feet and smashed in the head of the first animal it encountered. Theirs is the cumulative perspective. They see that taken as a whole human life is going nowhere; only the illusion of the steadily progressive calendar and the number-worship of modern society creates that chimera. It is all for naught; worse than that, there is suffering and a pointless suffering at that. Why play the game? Why continue this sick joke designed by no one for no reason? Unfortunately the pronatalist can only see his or her own existence and regards life as fundamentally an ego-trip and private joyride with suffering as an inconvenience and the suffering of humanity as a whole as an irrelevance. Thus the wretched game plays on with only the Reaper to bring it to an end.

Monday, 27 June 2011

The Dehumanisation of the Species

The belief that ultimate knowledge will bring ultimate freedom still prevails in the discourse of western intellectuals today. In spite of all the lessons of history since the beginning of the Enlightenment, a faith in the liberating power of science still forms the mythical undercurrent of liberal society. In part, this may be attributed to the innate mechanism of the human mind that filters out any knowledge or perceptions that lead to inertia or negative conclusions. The majority of people are fundamentally blinkered and the dead do not speak, so the human carnival can continue on its rickety path, ignoring the slew of corpses in its wake.

Yet if one examines clinically the course of history since the Industrial revolution there appears very little to be proud of. The evolution of warfare has lead to forms of human brutality previously inconceivable; the 20th century was the most violent in the history of the species; the dropping of the atom bomb was a new low point in ethics and we are now faced with the unavoidable development of genetic warfare, surely the lowest form of activity that can be conceived. Ponder for a moment what the last mentioned item means: in the not too remote future, governments will possess weapons that will be able to alter your DNA and send you spiralling into paralysis and agony. And yet the cries of progress and liberation continue.

To what may we attribute such delusion? Apart from the aforesaid tendency of the human mind to disregard displeasing information, we can also see in the writings of the popularisers of science an unwillingness to confront the famous fact/value distinction. The conclusion that no readily apparent course of action can be easily inferred from complete knowledge seems to be a reality that scientists, for all their talk about being fearless truth-seekers, cannot face. The practitioners of today’s enlightenment are in the grip of the groundless conviction that once we know all, all will be well. Yet they cannot grasp the real fact that the majority of people regard the boundless grasp of science as a threat and a source of deep personal and existential anxiety.

Free will is gradually, but almost imperceptibly being eroded as a concept. Monitor the newspapers and you will see that a frequent headline theme is one conveying the information that a genetic cause has been discovered for every form of human disposition, modality and preference that exists. Scientists are mapping the human machine in every last nuance and detail in what amounts to a renaissance in Cartesianism.

Descartes infamously believed that animals were but machines: they did not possess free will; they had no soul; they were not marked by the grace of God’s imprimatur and therefore they merited no ethical consideration. The only thing in Descartes’s metaphysics that prevented humans from sliding into the same category was a belief in a transcendental, ethically benevolent deity that had bestowed humans with the possibility of choosing between good and evil.

Today, and in spite of every last sophistical turning of Theologians, woolly agnostics and purveyors of religion-as-ritual, the progress of science has discredited the concept of God. As a consequence, there now exists no metaphysical wall that prevents us from falling into the same category as Descartes’s animal machines. The constant revelation of genetic determinism only speeds up this natural reclassification. In warfare the rights of the individual are non-existent. The flouting of the Geneva convention, the use of anonymous drone warfare, unilateral assassinations and the concept of “collateral damage” all constitute proof that the era of the rights-bearing individual is over. We are now viewed as machines, and like all machines we are judged in terms of functionality. And the prevailing discourse of human functionality today is economics.

If you do not contribute to the accumulation of Capital, GDP, GNP, tax revenue and so on, you are considered first and foremost as a problem. The prevalence of economic value as an all-encompassing determinant of human worth can in part be traced back to the triumph of the statistical and calculative mode of thought that made the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution possible. What can be measured is what is real; only what is visible is true. Newtonian mechanics, Cartesian rationalism and the triumph of the mercantile class have over the past four centuries led to the degradation of the individual, the withering of any non-monetary conception of human value and the defilement of the earth to serve the god of “productivity”. Progress or a blind drift into the abyss? Be glad you only have to live once.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Work and I

I’ve spent a lot of my life avoiding work, and believe me it’s a full-time job. Well before I arrived at my antinatalist position, I knew there was something seriously wrong with work. In school, I couldn’t really grasp the concept. People spending their entire lives doing the same thing over and over again, for no appreciable reason. Was that it? You were supposed to grow up and assume some role and stay there for the entirety of your days. I just couldn’t get my head around it. Unlike every other kid in the school, whenever I was asked what I wanted “to be” when I grew up I couldn’t answer and just made up something on the spot. Aged nearly 35, nothing has changed.

I managed to avoid work until I was 19. I had dropped out of university, finding the whole thing a pretty insipid and uninspiring experience. I was mouldering at home, when a do-gooder uncle of mine decided this was unacceptable and got me a job in a local supermarket. I had no way of avoiding his horrible “philanthropy” and dutifully dragged my ass in to the shopping centre where this place was for an introductory meeting with my boss. She was a fully paid-up drone, astonished by my bare CV and asked me if I fancied stacking shelves or working behind the counter in the deli. The latter looked like my version of hell, so I naively asked for the stacking job. It didn’t look so bad: straightforward and all you had to do was stack items; only rarely did it seem you were approached by the public.

The following Monday I went into this modern-day gulag to be told I was working in the deli. I couldn’t believe it. The bitch had stitched me up! I was brought in and told to put on the ridiculous uniform: apron, hat, gloves. I never felt so trapped in my life. The atmosphere of the staff was one of total servitude. It was October, but the sole topic of conversation was the Christmas staff outing to a nearby town for a night out. I couldn’t believe it. This was what they were looking forward to? Jesus Christ! Matters wern’t helped by hating having to serve the public. I knew I had to get out. After another day of this slow-motion nightmare, I decided enough was enough. I went to the doctor, feigned depression (although after the supermarket maybe it wasn’t faked) and got a sick-note. A permanent one, of course.

Around a year later, I was under pressure to do something and so went back to college. I had a great time for the next two years, delighted to be away from the work-police for another while. When graduation came, I enrolled for a Master’s degree. At the time it was from genuine interest, but I also knew that I was desperate to avoid the 9-5. I did get a summer job in the cataloguing section of the university library, which was my first dose of office work. The tedium, the non-variety and the inevitable politics were stultifying. The job was only four hours a day but was still torture. I left after a couple of months.

A few months later I was down to my last ten quid, and something had to be done. A friend of mine with a similar disposition had taken a job in security, informing me that it wasn’t so bad if you got a cosy lock-in night job where you were free to read. I applied and was accepted. After a couple of crappy numbers, I got a relatively tolerable gig in a hospital where you had to walk the grounds once an hour. The rest of the time I could read. The only risky point was when a junky with a needle threatened me, but I managed to talk him into calmness. The worst gig came when I was dragged into a bookmaker’s after the guard there had walked out. I quickly realised why. It was one of the most miserable 10 hours of my life. Standing at the door of a bookies, watching the same people frittering away a few quid at a time on the horses and the dogs. There were some guys there who didn’t leave the place for the whole time I was there. Truly grim.

One MA became two, and then the inevitable Ph.D. By now, I knew I was just using college as a refuge from “reality”. 9-5, family life, Sunday roasts and all the rest of it just didn’t appeal, to put it mildly. I also knew that most people in the academic racket were there simply because it appealed as a lifestyle choice, but they tried to dress it up as something noble and humanistic. They were furthering “scholarship” and advancing toward the light. In reality, they fancied the long holidays, high pay, perks, conferences abroad, having the attention of fawning female undergrads and all the rest of it. Sure, there were one or two genuine scholars, but the vast, vast majority of people there were just hanging around in order to avoid the work grind. I didn’t have a problem with that: I just wanted the posers to be honest about it.

Inevitably, I dropped out of the Ph.D, not being able to subscribe fully to the cult of academia. You can bluff it there for a while, but the higher you go the more bullshit there is to swallow, and only the real egomaniacs survive. After that I worked in a couple of libraries. I did a stint in a public library, which was actually worse than the academic variety. I was in a snobby part of town, where the locals fancied themselves to be the equivalent of the Mayfair or Central Park set. The lack of manners and general ignorance of the people who came in there was genuinely shocking. To make it worse, the local mothers used the place as a crèche for their screaming spawn, a perfect storm for a by-now convinced antinatalist! I left one evening and didn’t return. The following day I disconnected the landline, turned off my mobile phone and drank in the silence and solitude like it was the nectar of the gods.

In the meantime, I’ve gotten by on freelance writing and Welfare. I’m not ashamed of the latter. If it’s there, take it. You didn’t ask to be born and you’ve been thrown into a nest of vipers and rattlesnakes determined to enslave you, so why not avail of it if it’s on offer. Those who talk about work being “virtuous” are either brainwashed idiots or glory-hunting egomaniacs. In the meantime, life revolves around avoiding two horrifying things: procreation and 9-5.

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Pollyannism of Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins, probably the world’s best known scientist, on the suffering of the world:

“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."

Powerful words, worthy of Ecclesiastes, Schopenhauer, Cioran and all of the other great sages of darkness. And, of course, to those who aren’t blinkered, all perfectly true. The only quibble, and a notable one, is the limiting of the description to the natural world. Anyone who doesn’t have their head in the sand and even glances only occasionally at a newspaper or news channel sees that the above applies equally, if not more so, to the human world.

Given such a horrible picture it would appear obvious and eminently rational that one would react with horror, distress and disgust at such a tapestry of misery and suffering. After all, who would embrace such an existence or world if they were offered it beforehand, or even affirm its worth finding themselves thrown into it? Given that Professor Dawkins prides himself on his rationality and his tireless combat against what he perceives to be mindless superstitions, we would be justified in expecting a reaction of horror and outrage. But no; instead we get this:

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton.”

And this:

“We as individuals are still hugely blessed. Privileged, and not just privileged to enjoy our planet. More, we are granted the opportunity to understand why our eyes are open, and why they see what they do, in the short time before they close for ever.”

And then the poetry:

“After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn't it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked -- as I am surprisingly often -- why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isn't it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?”

Hmmmm, hard to see how such celebrations of life follow from the first quotation. Let’s try a little experiment here: given that scientists such as Dawkins are always espousing the values of consistency, logic, the banishing of subjective emotions from the judgement process, the condemnation of religion as being no more than wish-fulfilment and so on, it shouldn’t be unreasonable to mix and match Dawkins’s statements and expect a coherent whole to emerge. Here we are:

I tried to convey how lucky we are to be alive, given that the vast majority of people who could potentially be thrown up by the combinatorial lottery of DNA will in fact never be born. For those of us lucky enough to be here, we live in a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, where some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life: during the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease.
Isn't it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? We as individuals are still hugely blessed. Privileged, and not just privileged to enjoy our planet. More, we are granted the opportunity to understand why our eyes are open, and why they see what they do, in the short time before they close for ever, namely that the universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference. Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of a universe where the total amount of suffering per year in that world is beyond all decent contemplation?

Ah yes, pass the straitjacket please....

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


The street on which I look out on while writing this is a busy one. Lined with cafes and boutiques and antique shops, it’s rarely quiet. And needless to say, one of the most common types I see is a parent pushing a buggy (mainly women, but one does see the occasional man). I have to admit that at this point I need to calm myself from launching into a tirade, but there’s no denying that the smug expressions on the faces of those buggy-pushers taps into my worse feelings of contempt and anger. The expressions of pure self-satisfaction and moral self-righteousness on display irritate me beyond belief. What exactly is it that these people believe they have achieved? Once again, a man has ejaculated into the vagina of a woman and, lo and behold, nine months later a helpless screaming creature is discharged into the world. And we are all meant to feel joy at this? We are supposed to congratulate the progenitors? Worse again, society appears ready to grant superior moral status to those that have reproduced over those who have not. Doubtless, there is a form of evolutionary explanation (the genes of the tribe are reproduced etc.) but on a moral level, it’s abhorrent, and screw evolution anyway.

I sometimes wonder if the pleased expression on the faces of parents comes from the fact that apart from semen and eggs they’ve also discharged their existential burden. They no longer need worry about purpose and meaning. They’ve escaped from angst, however, in the worst possible way: by dumping the burden on someone else, ie. their offspring. How often does one hear the nauseating expression ‘I never knew the meaning of life until I became a parent’. Or in other words, ‘I’ve played by the rules of nature like every other sap, and now I’m being rewarded by receiving the validation of my fellow-drones and, furthermore, I’ve got a contrived purpose in my life now’. Thus Nature plays on with her mindless game of birth, reproduction and death. As the great Louis-Ferdinand Celine said, we are indeed the dupes of infinity.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Trouble With Fiction

I have to admit that over the last number of years I’ve found it harder and harder to read fiction. When I say fiction, I’m referring to the corpus of so-called ‘high literature’ that constitutes the accepted canon. When I try to discover why this is so, I can only say that I find most fiction generally serves the purpose of life affirmation, consolidation of the status-quo and the validation of all the usual bourgeois values. Rarely does one find a novel that portrays what I take to be the most obvious features of life: its futility, its built-in structures of dissatisfaction, its vanity, the misery of the world and so on. Generally nearly every novel is an affirmation of the lives of its characters (which, when boiled down, generally means an affirmation of the life of the author) and an affirmation of the world. The message of so many novels amounts to nothing more than ‘Yeah, life is difficult, but hey, it’s all worthwhile really and we must keep the show on the road’. Only rarely does one discover a black gem of a novel that begs to differ. Works such as Journey To The End of The Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine, No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai, the novels of Thomas Bernhard and those of Samuel Beckett (although there is in the Beckett academic industry a conspiracy to portray him as a life-affirming comedian rather than the dark sage he really is) provide rare and desperately needed oases amongst the infinite libraries of life-affirming prose. Personally, I find my flagging taste for fiction to be a source of discomfort, as reading is surely one of the few great and last refuges from suffering. If anyone has any novel recommendations they’d like to share that they think would hit the (bitter) sweet spot, I’d love to hear from you.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Anti-Natalism and Politics

What political position, if any, should anti-natalists adopt? Is there any ideology that dovetails with the anti-natalist position? Given that the best of anti-natalism comes from a desire to reduce human suffering what form of government best facilitates that aim?

In ‘Better Never To Have Been’ David Benatar expresses his own uncertainties concerning the issue. On the one hand, he speculates that introducing sterilising chemicals into the public water supply would be the only way to put an end to procreation, yet also admits that such a manoeuvre would go against deeply felt moral intuitions concerning individual rights and the ownership of one’s body.

Is it morally defensible to violate an individual’s rights in order to serve the greater good? Especially when, as with anti-natalism, the conception of the greater good (non-procreation) is held by a tiny minority and abhorred by the majority.

The Chinese one-child only policy is probably only enforceable due to the lack of any independent civil society in that country. If such a civil society were to emerge, one could bet that the restriction on procreation would be one of the first laws to be challenged.

On a broader level, given that apart from the structurally necessary miseries of existence, humans have contrived a world where inequality reigns, 25,000 people die of hunger every day, political power is the preserve of the few, violence dominates and so on, should the anti-natalist take a stand or should he throw his hands up and say “So it goes, always has gone, and always will”?

I really have no idea.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

E.O. Wilson's 'On Human Nature'

All Science teaches us is that Life is pointless
E.O. Wilson’s ‘On Human Nature’

One of the main purposes of this blog is to criticise the 'New Humanism', science-worship, cosmos-worship, Nature worship, militiant secularism, call it what you will that appears to dominate the discourse of public intellectuals today. Contrary to what the vanguard of these new movements want you to believe (I'm referring to Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Carl Sagan and Sam Harris amongst others), science teaches us only two things:

1. Life is Pointless
2. Nature is Horrible

Unless you believe in a Deity who set the cosmos in motion with some sort of purpose, the plain truth is that we are mortal animals, doomed to live and die in a cold and indifferent universe. The only thing that gets us out of bed in the morning is delusion, hedonism or external obligation. Knowing what we do about our ultimate fate, it's remarkable anyone does anything at all.

On that note, I’ve recently finished reading E.O. Wilson’s ‘On Human Nature’, written in the early 70s, where Wilson attempted to apply the theory of Sociobiolgy to human beings and their societies. In contrast to the arrogance of Dawkins, Dennet and co., Wilson writes with great modesty and humility, and, perhaps uniquely amongst the so-called ‘popularisers’, he also displays an awareness of the essentially pointless nature of human existence.

He writes: “We have no particular place to go. The species lacks any goal external to its own biological nature. It could be that in the next hundred years humankind will thread the needles of technology and politics, solve the energy and material crises, avert nuclear war, and control reproduction...But what then? Educated people everywhere like to believe that beyond material needs lie fulfilment and the realization of individual potential. But what is fulfilment, and to what ends may potential be realized?”

Throughout the book, Wilson displays a touching awareness of this insoluble problem. Admittedly, on the very last page he feels obliged to express the hope that as people become more rational a new form of ethics may be devised so as to create a fairer and more equitable society, but this still wouldn’t solve the problem of ultimate purpose. We do indeed have nowhere to go, and for many people on the planet their sojourn here is nightmarish.

In conclusion, I heartily recommend Wilson’s book for a clear-eyed view of how biology got us here and how we ain’t going nowhere else....

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Bin Laden's Death

The triumphalism about Bin Laden's death is quite depressing. The simple fact is that the rise of Islamic fundamentalism has its roots in 19th century British imperialism, the baton of which was passed to America after WW2. People have turned to religious fanaticism in the Middle-East as an outlet for their despair in reaction to political exploitation. A shame that the cheering crowds outside the White House couldn't reflect on that fact. But that would assume that people were intelligent, self-reflexive moral creatures that could get outside their egos and biological/cultural programming, which is obviously not the case. Thus the horrible cycle of history, tribalism and violence continues. Nature rocks on; people are owned by the DNA molecule. The only answer: don't have kids!