Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Steven Pinker on Why your Suffering doesn't Matter

Steven Pinker, author of a recent tome entitled The Better Angels of our Nature which attempts to prove the world is becoming less violent, offers the following observations. The comments immediately after are by Bazompora, whom I thank for putting me on to this.


"If one focuses on absolute numbers, one ends up with moral absurdities such as these: (a) it’s better to reduce the size of a population by half and keep the rates of rape and murder the same than to reduce the rates of rape and murder by a third; (b) even if a society’s practices were static, so that its rates of war and violence don’t change, its people would be worse and worse off as the population grows, because a greater absolute number of them would suffer; (c) every child brought into the world is a moral evil, because there is a nonzero probability that he or she will be a victim of violence."

http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/643345-twilight-of-violence

Quite unambiguously, this Steven Pinker understands the antinatalist conclusions, only to dismiss them out of hand and in favor of his utilitarian abstraction in which the individual doesn't count.

It must offer quite a privilege, to have the good life reserved for oneself, as well as the authority to be stoic on behalf of all the bad lives.

Karl: So there we have it, Steven Pinker, lauded by the deluded mandarins of academia, thinks it a moral absurdity to worry about exposing a person to the risk of violence and suffering.

Or as La Rochefoucauld put it: 'We all have strength enough to endure the suffering of others'.

66 comments:

  1. Karl,

    Thank you.

    This whole topic of suffering and the value of life, I believe, is the only philosophical topic worth taking seriously. It's an incredibly urgent and pressing issue that needs to be addressed and acted upon right now. Suffering isn't happening in some distant future, it's not even happening tomorrow; the suffering is being experienced right here in the present, and it desperately needs to be stopped. I cannot express the importance of this issue enough.... The time for rational arguments and swaying opinions was about 4 billion years ago.

    Philosophy and science are, for the most part, engaged in things of no importance. The world is not just flawed, as someone who grew up in an American suburb might tell you. It's not that it has its ups and downs, but by golly that's what gives it the spice. No -- the world is like a wheat thresher, and one that has found a way to replicate its fodder, to toss them against the blades over and over, world without end. I was moved when I read Schopenhauer by a powerful point he made - namely, that when we want to describe hell, we always simply have to use the presence of ills already present in this world (fire, torture, ripping flesh, unsatiated desire, psychological torments, and so on).

    In other words, we are already in hell as we imagine it. By contrast, when we imagine heaven, we have no adequate imagery, and so speak of mystery or a simple relief from what happens on earth. Anyone who discusses ethics needs to come to grips with just how terrible the world actually is, and also with the fact that it does not seem to be getting any better over time.

    Emily B.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Emily. Your words and expression are very powerful. I guess the issue of suffering is so immense and powerful that most people don't want to face it and would rather distract themselves and/or avoid responsibility.

      And that is indeed a great Schopenhauer observation.

      Delete
    2. Thank you indeed Emily. Wonderfully said.

      Delete
    3. Hey i love your thresher line. Detective Rust said the same
      thing on true detectives:)

      "Hubris. To yank a soul out of non-existence and bring it to this....thresher. To this meat."

      Delete
  2. I wouldn't have came across this, Karl, if you hadn't first provided a link to the article of which there was this link among the discussions in the comments.

    I had almost forgotten about Dawkins' internet crusade; the novelty wore off rather quickly from "New Atheism", more to be thought of in the "Neo"-paradigm of the Western mainstream.

    So, uh ... thank antinatalist networking!

    ReplyDelete
  3. It is true that I don’t have much ambition, but there ought to be a place for people without ambition, I mean a better place than the one usually reserved. How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Karl, La Rochefoucauld (though perhaps not antinatalist himself) put it so adequately and succinctly! Nothing to add to that!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi guys,
    I am an anti-natalist too.Wanna know how my life is-imagine being forced to smile after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess we all have to endure a version of it.

      Delete
  6. That was a cute attempt at a reductio ad absurdum by Pinker but all I got was some Maoist greater good crap.

    Is that about right or did I miss something?

    ReplyDelete
  7. The supreme deity is not just a mere jerk ass— he is actively malevolent, a jealous, callous, sadistic, monstrous tyrant who created the world or universe to be such a miserable world, preparing Disproportionate Retribution and an Easy Road to Hell for everybody .

    ReplyDelete
  8. http://news.sky.com/story/661677/mum-proud-of-twins-with-one-body

    They'll suffer their lives away but what the hell. At least mum's feeling proud! Another example of "suffering doesn't matter as long as it's happening to someone else's body."

    Karl, if I hadn't already officially resigned from the human race, I'd be resigning now~ Aleis

    ReplyDelete
  9. Karl,

    FWIW, I came across this article last night:

    Happiness and Its Discontents

    "As Freud has already claimed, there is little doubt about what most people want out of life: "They want to become happy and to remain so."

    A quick survey of our culture—particularly our self-help culture—confirms Freud's observation. One could even say that, in our era, the idea that we should lead happy, balanced lives carries the force of an obligation: We are supposed to push aside our anxieties in order to enjoy our lives, attain peace of mind, and maximize our productivity. The cult of "positive thinking" even assures us that we can bring good things into our lives just by thinking about them.


    RTWT here:

    http://chronicle.com/article/HappinessIts-Discontents/144019/

    ReplyDelete
  10. Well, I think we can all agree on this story...

    We’ve long known that life isn’t fair and that the world’s wealth is unevenly distributed. But the latest factoid from Oxfam on global poverty and inequality is breathtaking..... In a new report, the nonprofit reports that just 85 people—the richest of the world’s rich—hold as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion.

    That’s half the world’s population.

    In other words, the top 0.00000001 percent are worth as much as the bottom 50 percent combined. The top 1 percent, meanwhile, control nearly half the world’s wealth, or 65 times as much as the world’s less-fortunate half.

    Read the sickening report here:

    http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jan/20/oxfam-85-richest-people-half-of-the-world?commentpage=1

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, 'the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, and the fruits acquired by it.

      Delete
    2. Cathy,if you dont like our country,please try North Korea.

      Delete
    3. Another Anonymous or Anonymi who neither reads nor understands. Maybe I should get tougher in my censorship.

      Delete
    4. God Save The Rich25 January 2014 at 07:46

      Cathy, it's because the top 85 people are 65 times as productive as the bottom 50%.

      Delete
    5. Even if this is the remark of a troll or meant ironically, it is a view held quite sincerely by millions. Of course it conveniently overlooks the fact that we do not all start on a level playing field and that some are born with advantages over others.

      Delete
    6. Indeed, Karl. It's perverse how many people with no or negative net worth and who live month to month defend the plutocracy.

      Delete
    7. God Save The Rich25 January 2014 at 12:16

      No, Herr Karl, it is meant sincerely. The owner of a company that produces billions of cardboard boxes a year is more productive than a billion people living in slums in cardboard boxes.

      Delete
    8. Karl, this GSTR sounds like some Ligottian corporate horror character! Yes, get tougher with your censorship!

      Delete
    9. How does the first principle of association account for taking the fruits of other people's labor? Oh, you don't think CEO's are busting their asses in sweat shops, do you?

      Delete
    10. God Save The Rich: Then maybe they should do all the work. Let them do the paperwork, let them sit in front of computers, let them maintain the infrastructure, let them build, and manufacture, and transport all the goods. Let them produce all the food, let them feed the animals, let them drive their cars, pilot their jets, let them fix the leaking roof… And so on. They can't do any of this. They do not do any actual work. They can't even wipe their own ass without someone's help. All they can do is get others to do the work for them.

      Delete
    11. Oh, and since when is filling the Earth with garbage a good thing? The owner of a company that produces billions of cardboard boxes a year is more destructive than billions doing nothing.

      Delete
    12. Wealth: The greatest of the meaningless distractions. The problem is not with wealth or work; it is with existence itself. Anything that is will be terrible. The only Good thing is Nothing; The only sweet sound, Silence.

      Delete
  11. The brevity and elegance of La Rochefoucauld is something that even you could not better Karl, if I had a question it would be 'We may have the strength to endure the sufferings of others, but do we have the strength to resist gloating at the suffering of others? The strength to reduce the suffering of others where we see it?' One reason I dislike parenting and parenthood was because I remember the way my mother got me to eat when I lacked enthusiasm for her cooking 'Eat it up because there are starving millions in Biafra' Mother would say. At which point I as a ten years old should have said 'stop trying to make me gloat about how much more I have than other people, and if you want those starving Biafrans to be fed go and become a missionary'. Alas as a ten year old I had neither the wit nor the knowledge to so comprehensively put down stupid arguments. She was reinforcing the inequality and gloating of the La Rochefoucauld argument.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that's the pay-off of the 'be grateful' argument.

      I should also like to add, lest I sound holier-than-thou, that I do no charity work, and only occasionally give money to beggars, so I am as much a hypocrite as any other human being.

      Peaceful extinction is humanity's best option!

      Delete
    2. So Karl how do you see, ummm, 'surplus income'? Those who are best at gloating are least likely to see any income as surplus. Apologies for the James Naughty style question, but... Those who resist gloating, in an attempt at humility, find they do have surpluses which can reduce suffering in the world, and many seek to reduce suffering as they see it. Granted multi-national charities are so multi-layered that by definition they must be inefficient and bend with the corrupt regimes they try to get past. How local could and should resisting the urge to gloat, through charity, be?

      Delete
    3. I genuinely have no idea. Worldwide sterilisation charities? Maverick Nuclear arsenal funds?:-)

      Delete
    4. "Oxfam America is a global organization working to right the wrongs of poverty, hunger, and injustice. We save lives, develop long-term solutions to poverty, and campaign for social change. As one of 17 members of the international Oxfam confederation, we work with people in more than 90 countries to create lasting solutions."

      Oxfam America President, Raymond Offenheiser, was paid $327,192 (almost half a percent of the organization's expenses) in fiscal year 2010/11. Such commitment to the cause!
      http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=4288#.UuQAD_uIZdg

      Delete
    5. Oops - I meant that Oxfam one to be a reply to the message above this one (if you could place it correctly). Thanks.

      Delete
    6. Perhaps its the way I'm wired, but I never quite understood the mention of starving people as an encouragement of pride when I was a kid: I always maintained that the waste would be for me to eat the greens when my parents could just give them to the subject who would need them more than I did.

      That is not to say I didn't know gloat, of course: I had toys, many more of them than most and I felt better whenever another had less.

      Concerning charity, I see the immigrant who does the dirty work to send money oversees to his family as the least wasteful of donors. In other words, you need connections with the common man in place, to circumvent those who would take tribute.

      Delete
    7. To draw the positive out of this lot, I like the idea of charities which will limit human breeding and human suffering, and would limit the suffering humans inflict on their environment too. Difficult to explore though that idea might be. The only example I know is sterilising young women drug addicts in the USA, and paying them to accept sterilisation as an acceptance and reform of their 'addictive character'. The second thing would be making acceptable in UK Party Politics the idea that we are the hub of a remittance economy where poorer countries/economies are richer than they might otherwise be as result of the dirty jobs we offer the country men of those poorer countries without us 'looking down' on the people that do the dirty and insecure jobs.

      Delete
    8. I've never really understood why incentives for sterilization are offered only to those considered to be a 'social liability'. Why not offer it to everyone? I bet there's be millions of takers.

      Delete
    9. Sterilising 'social liabilities', e.g. young women drug addicts, does depend on a sense of social superiority and avoiding seeing your own breeding patterns as 'the problem'-sterilising others because of 'their inferiority' is nimbyism. I am glad you don't have that condition.

      Delete
  12. Karl,

    This is of topic but important.

    The philosopher Daniel Dennett has finally published his critique of Sam Harris’ book on free will.

    Here:

    http://www.naturalism.org/Dennett_reflections_on_Harris's_Free_Will.pdf

    ______________

    Well, I don’t think ANY form of compatibilism can satisfy someone like me who thinks that the term “free will” is confusing and should be eliminated.

    I still see myself as a meat robot, and I don’t accept free will as meaning... “I could have done something different had circumstances been different.”

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anon,my thoughts exactly.
      Take a moment to think about the context in which your next decision will occur: You did not pick your parents or the time and place of your birth. You didn't choose your gender or most of your life experiences. You had no control whatsoever over your genome or the development of your brain. And now your brain is making choices on the basis of preferences and beliefs that have been hammered into it over a lifetime - by your genes, your physical development since the moment you were conceived, and the interactions you have had with other people, events, and ideas. Where is the freedom in this? Yes, you are free to do what you want even now. But where did your desires come from?

      Delete
    2. Anon, I love how you used the term "meat robot." That's exactly how I think of myself as well. A walking suit of meat. How disgusting, how vulgar. And yet that's what it is. It was not my free will to be imprisoned in this worst of imprisonments, confined inside a pain-wracked suit of meat and flesh. There is no greater act of horror than to bury someone alive in the flesh, someone who in order to escape, would have to achieve the impossible and successfully carve themselves out of it.

      Delete
    3. Perhaps (relative) free will for you would be the choice of being a vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore robot, or even an anorexic or bullemic robot. Some children are McDonalds robots, the way they respond Ronald McDonald. When it comes to food or appetite there is variety of means of being passive, and of changing your choices later. The words to summarise our appetites are not just words-they mean something.

      Delete
  13. I believe all antinatalist suffers from depression.

    Depression is a pathology and it needs treatment. It's indeed difficult to reach for help but it's necessary.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Even if it's true, and that's a big “if”, depression is sometimes a healthy response to the world around you. Allegedly, in his diary, Carl Jung reproached his colleagues for treating depression as an individual pathology. According to Jung, the world is rotten, filthy and brutal enough for people to be rightly depressed.

      Delete
    2. I am sorry but depressed people always have a skewed and irrational view on life. A depressed person can't think healthy and rationally.

      Delete
    3. No Anon, you are wrong about depressed people having a skewed view of life. We are the ones who see accurately. I will bring to mind the movie Meloncholia where the character Justine suffers a crippling depression. Unlike the obliviousness of others around her, she seems to have an awareness that everything is doomed, that there is no solution. As we can see at the end of the movie it was the "crazy" one, "clinically depressed" Justine, who saw the world for what it was, who saw what was coming. We were born into an unsolvable problem, a world that cannot be saved, many different types of sufferings that cannot be relieved, and in our refusal to lie to ourselves about the situation, we are labeled inaccurately as "crazy" or "depressed."

      Delete
    4. Despite the fact that the OP uses a bulverism logical fallacy, some psychiatric help could probably benefit many of you. Give it a try. You aren't accomplishing anything by being miserable.

      Once you acknowledge that the world is what it is, there is no more usefulness there. Support measures for abortion, voluntary euthanasia and population control. That's about all you can really do. Your mental suffering is wasted and it doesn't change anything.

      I can't speak for you, but a lot of my mental anguish was personal and unrelated to AN. I suspect a lot of you are the same so I suggest you try and get some help.

      Delete
    5. "depressed people always have a skewed and irrational view on life. A depressed person can't think healthy and rationally."

      I'm afraid you are simply wrong.here. Depression and happiness have nothing to do with the truth or falsity of any claim or perception. This is either ad hominem or a genetic fallacy.

      Just as there is nothing about happiness that keeps one from being mistaken, likewise there is nothing about depression that keeps one from having as accurate a perception of reality as 90% of non-depressed people. In fact, seeing and accepting certain truths about reality is one possible reason they are in fact depressed, yet have a difficult time accepting that truth. Likewise, accepting and believing falsehoods even at the cost of mentally shutting themselves away from claims that contradict their reality can easily be a reason some mistaken people are happy or otherwise content.

      Delete
    6. Anonymous29 January 2014 12:28

      I did A LOT of volunteer work at a food bank before career demands squeezed the time out of that, thank you very much! I also donate what I can to this food bank as well. Nice of you to presume THIS antinatalist (for one) does nothing concrete to help reduce suffering in this world.

      Beyond this, I actually suggest volunteering and doing other kinds of suffering prevention work as an alternative to suicide. At least while you're alive, you can do something to minimize the suffering in this world - you can't do that when you're dead (Not all people on here agree with me that suicide is usually not defensible, but I am giving you one AN's view of the matter).

      Delete
    7. Any negative thinking about life is pathologic. If it's pathologic, it needs treatment.

      Delete
    8. Even if this is yet another troll, it's such a typical attitude of the morons as to be worth displaying. The thought police in action: LIFE IS GOOD, LIFE IS GOOD, LIFE IS GOOD, DON'T DARE SAY OTHERWISE OR ELSE! I detect a whiff of fear beneath the glittery repetition, though.

      Delete
    9. And the undeniable premise that life is good.... No matter if it's 99% suffering, life is still good..If you think otherwise you are sick.

      Delete
    10. Well if I'm so pathologically depressed, then why do you want me to be a parent? Don't you like children?

      Delete
    11. Is there anything other than sickness?

      Delete
    12. Why ease suffering? No point to that; when the problem will just flare up again. Better to take people out of the equation to begin with. You can't have a voluntary or peaceful end to it either. The only way Silence will come is through struggle, fire and death.

      Delete
  14. I read some of your previous posts & this is what I found-
    "I have zero political hope.Capitalism can't be replaced with anything as its a distorted system reflecting distorted
    human consciousness.
    Communism -great idea,wrong species."
    I felt like I was in an echo chamber.
    Care to explain the this statement further "Capitalism can't be replaced with anything as its a distorted system reflecting distorted
    human consciousness."

    Thanks.Wonderful stuff.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As in the human mind is fundamentally incapable of true contentment and restfulness, so that any system it devises will always generate and reflect that restlessness and unhappiness.

      Delete
  15. God Save The Rich30 January 2014 at 07:14

    Raising two children in the West costs $500,000. If you invest that money that means it will double every 10 years. Having children which you can't afford is the number 1 cause of poverty. (The average number of children in poorer countries is 7.) Going into unneccessary debt to buy houses, cars, TVs, vacations, and other crap (consumptive credit) is the number 2 cause.
    So if you're an antinatalist and you're not a multimillionaire, You're Doing It Wrong™. Moreover, if you don't have wife and children, you a free to move wherever you want, and you can retire early in a country where your money has a higher purchasing power. So I have little patience for antinatalists whining about capitalism. The only exception is if one is truly physically or mentally disabled.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's indeed quit obvious that you don't have patience. Otherwise, you would ... oh, I dunno ... have counted that breaking even doesn't make one a multimillionaire? Sure, it's one huge lack of worry, to not have children, but that's not what the "whining" is about: it's about a feudal system where land has been replaced by capital, where, if you are born as a capital-less 99%-er, you have a life of serfdom to capital owners waiting for you. It's the privilege of the millionaires, to live alike the freedmen and gentlemen of times past, financially free from the obligation to work for another's property or being indentured to a loan. That, and your parents having found it worth to fuck you into these prospects.

      Delete
    2. Stop trying, man. You think that multimillions will fix what's wrong? No! The only solution is Silence; true Nothingness that can only be realized with the removal of every observer from the universe. Embrace Death, it's the only thing you have going for you.

      Delete
  16. Karl,

    If Heidegger, Kant or Wittgenstein were alive today what do you think they would say about David Benatar's book?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, they were all pro-life so I imagine they wouldn't care for it, and they'd probably criticise Benatar's logic and start spewing about a more 'holistic engagement with Being' and all that crap.

      Delete
  17. Marc:

    Here is what I think some of the great philosophers might have said about Benatar’s book

    Kant: Human life doesn't have a quantifiable value, since it's only consistent to treat it as an end in itself and quantifiable value presupposes some metric against which it's judged, and therefore must be instrumental/hypothetical.

    Heidegger: The technologization of Being causes Dasein anxiety which manifests in objectifying its own existence as 'worthwhile' or 'not worthwhile' according to external criteria, as if its worth were present-at-hand. Authentic Dasein realizes that the choice to live or die must be made individually, not on the basis of a pre-determined value.

    Wittgenstein: Not first order logic? It's mystical.

    Plato: Death is an indifferent, and the soul, being immortal, would do better to worry about what really matters rather than its passing pleasures and pains in this transitory world that lies between being and non-being.

    Hume: An abstract valuation of life yields no conviction, as its worth can only be determined by one's sentiment towards living, and we see as a fact that human beings value life in spite of its sufferings. So long as this persists, there is simply no logical point to be made against those who would rather live, and no possibility of a definitive argument that life ought to end. Furthermore, what will happen in life is radically uncertain, and Benatar's claims about its misfortune are melodramatic in that they downplay life's good aspects. However, there is likewise no reason to prevent individuals from abstaining from creating life, or taking their own if they are inclined, and it is cruel to prevent them from doing so.

    Schopenhauer: That life is not worth living is correct. However, Benatar comes to the conclusion from a vulgar ethical point of view, in that his objection that life is bad in that it contingently consists in suffering, and so is better to be avoided, shows a concern for life itself, as if life could or might be good. A more radical understanding would reveal that 'good life' is a contradiction in terms, and that life, which is the Will, is inherently bad. And since the Will is the world, including us, the only way to cease it is not by an external evaluation that chooses to end it, but by an internal understanding of our own nature and hence that of the universe, which leads to the Will's own free self-annihilation, not ending 'this bad life,' but life as such. There is no 'ought' to be prescribed in ethics; and the realization that life isn't worth living has to come about via a universal spiritual understanding that is compassionate, not conceptual.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Am I the only one here who felt a bit depressed to read the reactions of the above 6 philosophers?

    It makes you wonder if Benatar's philosophy/assymetry might need a little more work....?

    Evan

    ReplyDelete
  19. Interestingly, I came across this David Hume quote:

    "Were a stranger to drop on a sudden into this world, I would show him, as a specimen of its ills, a hospital full of diseases, a prison crowded with malefactors and debtors, a field of battle strewed with carcasses, a fleet foundering in the ocean, a nation languishing under tyranny, famine, or pestilence. To turn the gay side of life to him, and give him a notion of its pleasures; whither should I conduct him? to a ball, to an opera, to court? He might justly think, that I was only showing him a diversity of distress and sorrow."
    - David Hume (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion)

    ------------

    It seems that Hume may have been more of a Pessimist than people think and perhaps would have been more sympathetic to Benatar's book.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Has anyone seen the new series "True Detective" on Sky Atlantic in the UK? One reviewer says: One of the main characters, Rust, delivers arias of philosophy, a mash-up of Nietzsche, Lovecraft, and the nihilist horror writer Thomas Ligotti.

    ReplyDelete