Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Don't mistake Compensations for Justifications


Having been thrown into this life we do our best to make it tolerable. Each of us finds things and activities that make existence bearable and affords us distraction from the realities of the human condition. Culture and Civilisation are the names generally afforded to the greatest bulkwarks we have against existential despair and the ontological mess.

Anyone clued in to the reality of the human predicament should be able to acknowledge that these things/structures/institutions are provisional, contingent and ephemeral. However, those hostile to AN thinking make a serious error in mistaking these compensations for justifications. They believe that Culture, Society, Civilisation and so on make human life meaningful and worthwhile. Rather than view the individual human life as being the first and most important datum of existence, they afford this consideration instead to those abstractions. Hence they enable themselves to ignore real human suffering, and focus instead on concepts such as ‘Progress’, ‘the Future’, the Human Race’, ‘Culture’, ‘Society’ and so on. Consequently, whenever they encounter AN or any form of pessimism, they respond by referring to a supposed need to maintain the existence of any or a combination of those abstractions, regardless of how much individual (ie, real) suffering is required to perpetuate these things.                                                                                 
 Now obviously it is undeniably a good thing that people have access to electricity, water, heating, distraction and entertainment rather than not. But we need to be aware that these things are palliatives and defences against the sheer nakedness of our existence. They do not form a reason bringing new people into existence. Think of how odd it would sound if someone said ‘I want to have a child so they can enjoy double glazing/ sit by a heater in the winter/ surf the internet/ admire the painting of Van Gogh’ etc. Yet this is a common gambit taken by those who defend life and procreation, although it is generally phrased more vaguely along such lines as ‘I want a child so as to give it a good life’ or some such variation.

As stated, certain facets of life may make it more bearable than otherwise, but let’s not reach too far. In fact, I would modify Benatar’s distinction between ‘a life worth continuing’ and ‘a life worth starting’. Strictly speaking, I believe no life is worth continuing; it may simply be bearable, and that’s it. If you talk about a life worth continuing, then an opponent of AN can say ‘well, if you think a life is worth continuing, then surely it has been worth starting’. To my mind, there is only the grim reality on the one hand, and distraction/diversion/delusion on the other. I don’t think life is worth starting or continuing. If I haven’t committed suicide, it’s simply because I haven’t yet reached the point where existence is absolutely unbearable, but perhaps that time may come some day, and that applies to everyone, AN or not. 

So by all means, let’s try and make existence as bearable as possible without treading on anyone else’s toes, but let’s bear in mind that all we’re fundamentally doing is administering palliatives, not finding justifications. Just because there were examples of heroic self-sacrifice, humour, comradeship and courage in Auschwitz doesn’t mean that it was a good thing that Auschwitz existed, and this goes for life as a whole. Bandaging our own and each other’s wounds is a necessary and noble thing, but it would have been better had the scenario in which this is the best we can do had never come into being in the first place.

46 comments:

  1. The defenses of these concepts is one of the things that I find hard to digest. "Society", "humanity", "human civilization". If one goes to any discussion about countries and nationalism, armed forces, or anything that has to do with humanity as a broad aspect, will see or hear these conceptual umbrella terms. It also extends to "peace", "love" and "good life", a "fulfilled life", and so on. Dangerous memes being thrown around like they mean something great. It really gets on my nerves.

    All the while people are suffering every minute of the day - and also causing lots of other harms. It´s all insanity.

    Cheers Karl, how are you?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment, Shadow. Appreciated as always.

      I'm ok. Coping as well as can be expected in the madhouse. It doesn't get any easier as you get older!

      Delete
    2. Shadow,
      Part of insanity I believe stems from lack of eduction.I wonder what if AN was not a taboo topic and was taught at school just like math. Would it make the world less insane? What proportion of people who buy AN would be?

      Delete
    3. True, anonymous. After all, people learn about Gnosticism and the Cathars and so on, so why not AN? I suspect as it becomes more philosophically mainstream and as the world population continues to skyrocket, we'll see more debate. Hopefully!

      Delete
  2. Karl, completely agree. And that's why I find "transhumanism" pretty dodgy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Srikant! Yes, transhumanism etc. all amounts to just saying 'more of the same, please'. Fundamentally, it's nothing but egotism.

      Delete
    2. I read on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transhumanism) that 'transhumanism' 'affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.'

      Yes, the human condition needs major improvement but, and please feel free to correct me but if I am wrong, but isn't this effectively a re-branding of 'eugenics' which proved so disastrous to the world because of the Nazis and the Second World War?

      So 'pretty dodgy' is a major understatement in my humble opinion. It just goes to show that 'Books and bodies burn, to prove we never learn.'

      And on other matters, I see that more human rubbish has been deposited on Mars for the sake of some pretty pictures. The human race, it ought to be spayed!

      Delete
    3. Flight to Mars is nothing more than a technology of distraction - just to pass some time. At least they are not breeding anyone.

      Delete
    4. You can be sure as anything that if a colony were established on Mars, the breeding would begin. I can see the headlines already: 'First human born outside Earth!', 'Is there life on Mars? Yes!' etc etc.

      Delete
    5. I am not one given to 'hope', but I would hope that this eventuality is never realised.

      Delete
    6. @Anon 29 August

      Completely agree, and I'm a big fan of astronomy and allied fields. In fact, I'll say ANY interest or hobby is just another way to pursure pleasure. Hobbies and pasttimes are well and good (perhaps needed) for those who already exist. However, if one didn't exist, that person wouldn't have a need to keep up with (in my case) astronomy. This appeal to "don't you want to know if life is out there" appeals to me ONLY because I'm alive. It doesn't give me an intrinsic reason to remain alive and certainly not for me to bring children into this kind of world/universe.

      Delete
    7. Agree, Filrabat, although I do think one of the beneficial aspects of Astronomy is the feeling of one's insignificance when contemplating the heavens. I find this calming.

      Delete
    8. Insanity: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/how-richard-branson-plans-to-populate-mars/1005948/

      Delete
    9. Will the nightmare ever end? Hopefully he'll go and be eaten by the male lion on board.

      Delete
  3. You forgot "community" from the list of nice sounding bullsh..., pardon concepts! I was looking at laptop.org, a website dedicated to a laptop computer aimed at third world children. Going through the slideshow of images on their front page it struck me how many times the word "community" comes up! Meme programming overloaded!

    These grand words are tossed about with a normative intention, that of forcing compliance. Rebel against them and the agendas behing them and the mask will drop revealing the aggressor for what (s)he is: you will be villified or worse.

    Everytime some new mass atrocity is committed in those conflict-torn areas of the world, it seems the leaders of the rest of the world, of the United Nations etc can only say that they find it "deeply regretful" or "concerning". And that's it. Words, words and more words. Had the people at large given a toss about others' suffering, those religion-fuelled mass atrocities would have long ago been brought to a stop. But people don't really care about anything else other than in a shallow way, except for their own children and families. Indeed parents are the most selfish people on the planet, for most of them not only do the not care enough, but actively and willfully exploit others and the world at large for the sake (or so they think) of their own spawn and precious "family".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, “community”. Another word abused to the point that it means nothing more than “any collection of (mostly disconnencted) people with superficial commonalities”. Hey, you have a nose? We are the nose community!

      Delete
    2. Very true, Anonymous and Andrew. 'Community' is a massive tag-word in the UK, mainly because it doesn't exist; instead, there's only 60+ atomised individuals all living in fear of each other, hence the agit-prop for 'community', 'togetherness', 'values' etc. And the bullshit about the 'feel-good factor' of the Olympics.

      Delete
    3. Should read 60 million +. 60 +! If only!

      Delete
  4. Another example of how people don't really care: the supportive services for the homeless, and many supportive and social services in general. Lots of confusing organistions, charities with charity shops and government funded agencies are fogging about words about how they provide support for homeless people, but hardly any of them is offering the real help of a bed to sleep in.

    In the UK at least it seems every support/service provider, regardless of the type, is keen at giving "advice", and there's where their "help" stops. Lip service.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous 13:22 You are right. One of the most glaring example of not caring is the amount of money people spend on pets. It is often that pet a getting better medical care and food than some children in the third world.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous 18:36 -- yeah, and worse, the pets are the "pedigreed" (artificially 'bred') ones, not a poor orphan / abandoned puppy rescued from a harsh street.

      Delete
    3. Srikant,
      To expand your though - it is okay to raise animals such as cows, pigs and chickens for food, clinical trials. This does not prevent from being 'friends' with dogs. From legal perspective, killing someone's dogs may lead to a prison sentence while slaughtering a pig for bacon is a respectable occupation. I am wondering if Karl has any pets?
      Anonymous 18:36

      Delete
    4. 1836 -- Yeah, I used to enjoy reading Harry Potter, and have asked on forums how the books branded Hagrid as an animal lover when he uses dragon steak to soothe injuries giants gave him. They don't have a definite answer.

      As for the "respectable occupation" - lol! I once came across a newspaper article on a woman who 'courageously' took on her husband's slaughterhouse to raise her children having gotten widowed.

      It is equally ridiculous that if you accidentally run over a stray dog, the strictest countries will perhaps order you to dispose the corpse properly. If you run over someone's pet dog, you're screwed. Same species -- not even dog vs pig, but dog vs dog!

      Ultimately, vegetarians argue that there's a double standard in treating manslaughter differently from slaughter in the first place!

      But it's important to note out that as an antinatalist, even if you're an absolute "carnivore", you kill only a hundred cows, thousand pigs, thousand sheep and three thousand hens in your lifetime. If you have children, multiply this number by their number, the number of children they have, number of children grandchildren have, ad infinitum.

      Delete
    5. 1st anonymous, it struck me as bitterly ironic last night seeing David Cameron applauding at the Paralympics, given that he wants to cut welfare benefits for the disabled! What a farce!

      As for pets, family had dogs when I was a kid. Never had a pet as an adult. Cats are my animals; I like playing host to those like dropping by for a while. I'm with Lovecraft on the superiority of felines over canines!

      And Srikant, yes, the amount of care, love and money lavished on pets by those who claim to be humanitarians. Another farce.

      Delete
    6. Karl - I love cats too. I have never had any pets and neither my parents did(though they had me).
      Anonymous 18:36

      Delete
    7. Lovecraft's great essay on cats and dogs:

      http://www.psy-q.ch/lovecraft/html/catsdogs.htm

      Delete
  5. Why do we need schools, hospitals, businesses, roads, churches, stores, cemetaries, governments....why, why, why....the answer is none of this is necessary. The continuation of the human race via reproduction and all the trappings that go along with that (all of so-called civilized, modern society) is not necessary or essential. My choice to never reproduce is like casting my vote against all of this horror and nonsense. It is my way of expressing that life on this planet is only slavery; that as soon as we are born we are slaves of our genes, our parents, our circumstances, our fears, our pain receptors, our society and what it deems "right" and "wrong" and so on and so on. Like so many others, my own strong desire not to exist in this world was violated (I was born), my eventual death will not undo the harm done to me in my lifetime but it will give me what I have always dreamed of...permanent freedom.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When I see 'happy' couples with children I wish having children was a crime.

      Delete
    2. 1st anonymous, I guess we can defend the existence of hospitals, medics etc on the grounds that they do actually relieve real individual suffering. Everything else is just a prop designed to generate the illusion of meaning and purpose.

      2nd Anon, we are the victims of a crime! Being dragged from eternal peace into this pointless hell!

      Delete
    3. We do need hospitals for the present generation. My point is that if previous generations had practiced antinatalism, we humans would have died out and would no longer need hospitals (or anything else). Sounds good to me.

      Delete
    4. It's the maternity wards in hospitals that really get my goat:-) I can live with the rest of it.

      Delete
    5. "Of my conception I know only what you know of yours. It occurred in darkness and I was unconsenting...By some bleak alchemy what had been mere unbeing becomes death when life is mingled with it. So they seal the door against our returning."

      Marilynne Robinson, "Housekeeping"

      This blog is one of my favorite compensations, Karl. Nobody I know understands the rightness of antinatalism, not even my husband who claims to venerate Schopenhauer. Thanks for this little pocket of sanity!

      Colorado Friend



      Delete
    6. Thanks for the kind words, Anonymous! Well, at least you have a partner who venerates Schopenhauer, and he's lucky enough to have you. From my own experience as a male, pessimism doesn't go down too well with the ladies:-)

      Great quote from Robinson, although as far as I know she's a Calvinist/Congregationalist of some kind. Religious people are often clued into the darkness of life more than the smiley, happy-clapping liberal atheists.

      Delete
    7. Karl, even though hospitals relieve suffering, nothing should have existed in the first place and that's I think what Anonymous meant when he said its all pointless and futile and none of it should have ever existed.

      Justifying something post-factum doesn't make it right to exist to require that justification... I am sure you agree with me on that, but just wanted to point it out :)

      Delete
    8. Certainly. I was merely stating that as long as the tragedy of human life continues, it is obviously better that hospitals exist rather than not.

      Otherwise, I agree with Liggoti: "I don't even want a universe where nothing could happen":-)

      Delete
  6. An life-defender would probably say that since not everyone in Auschwitz committed suicide, they couldn't have had much to complain about.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To be fair, I've never heard anyone say something that moronic, although there is a less intense version of it in the 'Why don't you just kill yourself?' line. One may be suffering horribly and yet be too apathetic/afraid/worried about aftermath etc etc not to kill oneself.

      Delete
    2. Yeah that's how it's going for me. I have always wanted to "leave" (ie: commit suicide) because of the disease I was born with and a hatred of this world. However the desire for suicide can't always translate into the action. You have to have a means of suicide, you have to take a huge risk that your means of suicide will actually kill you (ie: your method might fail and you end up brain damaged), you don't do it because you imagine your siblings pain at finding out you've offed yourself, you fear "being sent to hell", and so on. Those are the things that stop me. I do have an acquaintance that committed suicide not so long ago and though he was successful, his death turned out to be, I think, much more gruesome than he had expected (this was a suicide by car wreck). I am still open to the possibility of suicide someday but it's so risky and terrifying.

      Delete
    3. I think suicide by car wreck would be extremely gruesome, that is not a way I would want to die. There are all sorts of ways you might not die right away.

      Delete
    4. My method of choice is barbiturates. I think that barbiturates should be available to anyone who requests it. Though I may never use them, but it is so comforting to know that the "exit" is literally within a stretch of my hand.

      There's a place so easy to be found
      If you want I'll take you there right now
      Come with me there's music all around
      Can't you hear can't you see I am free
      (Chick Corea??)

      Delete
    5. Exactly. It is comforting... I'd love to wear a nice necklace with a locket containing some powerful pills (one should be enough, but several just in case) so that the exit could be even more at hand, if needed. Better if the need does never arise, but you never know... It would be a perfect symbol of my stand towards life too!

      Delete
    6. Agree to all that. As has often been pointed out, if people knew they had an instant exit, life might actually become more bearable. It's the feeling of being trapped that makes it even more hellish than it need be.

      Delete
  7. Karl: Strictly speaking, I believe no life is worth continuing; it may simply be bearable, and that’s it. If you talk about a life worth continuing, then an opponent of AN can say ‘well, if you think a life is worth continuing, then surely it has been worth starting’. To my mind, there is only the grim reality on the one hand, and distraction/diversion/delusion on the other. I don’t think life is worth starting or continuing. If I haven’t committed suicide, it’s simply because I haven’t yet reached the point where existence is absolutely unbearable, but perhaps that time may come some day, and that applies to everyone, AN or not.

    Perhaps "a life worth enduring" would be better, even if it is a subset of "a life worth continuing". People strive to stay alive for all kinds of reasons. Some genuinely enjoy it. Others don't like it but endure it because they see that their own suicide would cause pointless, nonproductive, and aviodable emotional trauma to family and friends - which would increase their own suffering more than it would decrease theirs. Or, they simply see life as being like a mediocre movie they've seen with friends: not bad enough to make the person get up and leave their friends in the theater, but not good enough to make them recommend the flick to others.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think many, if not most, people stay alive out of sheer habit. Living is a natural thing; it takes a lot of guts and nerves to summon up the will to terminate it; the body evens fights you if you try to become a pessimist by instilling hope and desire in you. I don't think people are the rational, calculating machines certain philosophies and economic systems make them out to be. As the pawns of mindless biochemical forces, I'm reluctant to say any life is worth living. I think this may also be reflected in the fact that when someone commits suicide we (as in the kind of people who comment here) don't say 'Damn, he/she should have stuck it out. There was so much more pleasure awaiting them.'

      Delete
  8. Karl,

    I am curious about your thoughts on the following study:
    "The relationship between happiness and intelligent quotient: the contribution of socio-economic and clinical factors"

    http://journals.cambridge.org/action//displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8698047&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S0033291712002139

    and here is another link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19659985

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmmm, thanks for the links. I just wonder if all those surveyed are pro-lifers anyway who buy into the system, hence the more intelligent ones are happier because they are more proficient at acquiring money to participate in said system.

      Delete