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."

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/28/opinion/28brooks.html?_r=1

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?”

http://my.opera.com/quentinscrisp/blog/andre-com

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!