Saturday, 28 April 2012

Happy Atheists

....are amongst my least favourite kind of people.

I mean really, what is there to be so pleased about? We live in a godless, entropic universe. Science tells us that we are DNA borgs, carriers and pawns of blind bits of mindless proteins and glob. Is that really something to be thrilled about?

The standard position of the happy atheist is ‘Yay! I’m free because Richard Dawkins tells me I’m free. Now I can do whatever I want’. Of course, it never crosses these idiots’ minds that ‘what they want’ is also the result of biological forces that they have absolutely no control over. So little of ourselves is self-chosen. To paraphrase Lawrence of Arabia, we can do what we want, but we can’t choose to want what we want. 

Here’s a funny story: about a year ago a friend and I logged on to AtheistIreland. Although both unbelievers, we’d always found the site annoying because of the smug teenagers who ran it and seemed to think they were the most enlightened and intelligent people on the planet. My friend went on in the guise of a Christian preacher, telling them they needed Christ’s love and so on; I went on as myself, an unhappy atheist who wanted to point out to them the logical consequences of atheism. Hilariously, they thought my friend was real and that I was a made-up character. One idiot even said, “There’s no way any atheist could think like this, it has to be a con”. Anyway, we continued to debate them and they reached such a point of annoyance that they actually ran URL checks on us to see where we were and if we the same person. Eventually the insults started being traded and we were banned from the site! There’s your liberated, open-minded, tolerant atheist for you.

On the broader front, the standard position of today’s western societies is ‘You are an individual. You have every right to gratify your every passing whim because you’re special and unique. Go for it! And oh, if anyone gets in your way, just scream about your ‘rights’ and threaten legal action’.

Of course, this attitude just leads to having a collection of 7 billion + hedonistic, selfish assholes hell-bent on ego-gratification no matter what the cost. And I mean, really, why would you care about such creatures? Why would you give a shit about what happens to them? This is why lately I’ve adopted a position of more or less complete quietism. I no longer read the papers or follow politics; it’s a total waste of time. All you’re doing is watching ego-machines smashing into each other in their endless, brainless quest for their synthetic cheese. Depressing and revolting.

I’ve also been rethinking my philosophical position. I’ve always despised positive utilitarianism, the pursuit of joy and so on, now I’m dubious of negative utilitarianism as well, in the sense of trying to reduce the amount of harm already extant in the world. I find it difficult to see how you’d do that, and furthermore, if the aim of most people is to gratify themselves why should I be helping them? (Antinatalism is a form of preventative negative utilitarianism, in that it prevents a nexus of potential harm from being created, so that still stands, of course. Or maybe it’s something else altogether. All I know is that it’s the non-creation of a site of suffering, so thumbs up).The only charity I practice these days is giving money to homeless people. At least I can be relatively sure that I’m helping them secure a basic requirement for shelter and food. Everything else after that is up for grabs. (Not that I do this very often, by the way, I’m as selfish an asshole as anyone else.)

So that’s where I’m at at the moment. Sorry for the bilious tone, but the vast majority of my fellow bipeds do not impress me. To quote Cioran ‘To have nothing in common with most people apart from the shared fact of being a human being’. 

Hope everyone’s as well as can be expected.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Why Utilitarian Justifications for Procreation Fail

I've been participating in a debate on procreation over on threequarksdaily: (cheers to Filrabat for the heads-up on Jim's blog). The main pro-life advocate there has made me clarify my thoughts on utilitarianism, so the debate has certainly been worthwhile. Here's what I've been pondering:

Utilitarian justifications for procreation are generally put forward on two grounds:
                                                                                                                                A) The majority of lives contain more good than bad, therefore procreation is justifiable in terms of individual aggregate utility.                                                                                                                                                                                                               B) All sentient beings are guaranteed to experience some amount of joy, therefore procreation adds to the aggregate amount of joy in the world, no matter how much suffering there may be. This holds even if the amount if joy in an individual life is miniscule compared to the suffering experienced therein.                                                                                                                                                                                               Problems: A is unverifiable. Not only do we not have access to the information necessary to arrive at such a conclusion, but the statement is incoherent even in terms of an individual life for the following reasons:                                                                                                                                                                                        i)Assessments of whether one's own life contain more pleasure than suffering are subject to continual change, due to shifting perspectives in one's conception of joy/happiness, whether the experience of joy can somehow nullify pain and vice versa, and so on.                                                                                                                                            ii)As well as the above, there is no ultimate final point of reckoning available due to death. The individual cannot make a final judgement on his life. (This is the essence of Herodotus's epigram 'Call no man happy unitl he is dead'.) Furthermore, there is no particular reason why we should grant credence to a third party's assessment of another life, either during the duration of that life or afterwards. Whether X judges that I am having a good life while I am alive, or believes I had a good life after my death is nothing but X's subjective judgement based on his partial perspective, his lack of access to my experiences and possible conflicts between his perception of the good and mine.

                                                                                                                                              Therefore is A is unverifiable and ultimately incoherent.

B results in conclusions that I believe a majority of individuals would find morally repugnant. This being so, it strongly suggests that B is incorrect.

Take the following example: X and Y come together. Both are sadists who derive pleasure from child torture. They decide they will procreate in order to create a being they can torture in order to generate more joy for themselves. A child, Z, is born. Z is raised normally for the first four years of its life and experiences a certain amount of joy. Then from aged four, Z is tortured, raped and abused for eight years until he is murdered. The eight years bring great joy to X and Y. On an agreggate utilitarian approach, X and Y have experienced 16 years of joy (plus whatever joy they may have had in the four years pre-torture); Z experienced 4 years of joy before the torture period. That creates a total of 20 years of joy from the act of procreation. Subtract Z's 8 years of torture and we are still left with a total benefit of 12 years of joy. Therefore from the perspective of B the actions of X and Y were justified. (Lest anyone think the example is too extreme, I've cited before the example of my friend who informed me that if his daughter of two were kidnapped, tortured and finally murdered after 10 years he would still believe that her life had been worthwhile due to the pleasure both she and he had derived from her pre-torture period.)

 If X and Y's actions were to be deemed acceptable by a majority, I can only assume that all manner of acts that involve inflicting torture and suffering on individuals would become acceptable. For me, such an outcome would lead to an utterly nihilistic and even more chaotic world than we have at present. Not to say that this is an impossible outcome (think of the millions of individuals sacrificed in Stalin's USSR, for example, on the basis of a form of Benthamite utilitarianism), but for me it would contravene my basic moral position of refusing to needlessly inflict suffering on another consciousness.

So in conclusion the utilitarian arguments in favour of procreation as exemplified in A and B are untenable.

All comments, observations and corrections welcome.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Winning the Antinatalist Argument

I‘m sharing the following story in the hope that it may come in use for anyone here who ever ends up in a debate about Antinatalism. I’ve a friend with whom I’ve debated AN periodically over the past few years. This guy is a highly intelligent man, with two small children, someone who always loves a good back-and-forth over the big questions, and always hates to yield a single point in an argument, and I mean hates it. I loaned him my copy of Benatar’s book a few years back. He appreciated it, but declined to endorse the book’s thesis. His main objections were endowing non-existent beings with rights, and what appeared to him as the absurdity of the pinprick argument. He also made the slightly strange remark that while he gave AN his emotional assent, he couldn’t give it his intellectual assent. Anyway, one night last week I finally presented him with a question I’d been wanting to pose him for a long while:

Can you give me a single non-subjective, non-personal, non-emotional, objective, rational reason to propagate the species?

He stopped dead in his tracks, paused, thought and admitted he had no answer.