Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Buggy-Pushers

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!