Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Ultimate In Nihilism

     Today, via the esteemed Dystopic, we have an example of the sort of nonsense that spews from the terminally hangdog. If approached in the right frame of mind, it's an incredible spur to hilarity. Here's the meat of the writer's thesis:

     In 2006, I published a book called Better Never to Have Been. I argued that coming into existence is always a serious harm. People should never, under any circumstance, procreate – a position called ‘anti-natalism’.

     Author David Benatar, a "professor of philosophy at the University of Cape Town," is also billed as the "director of the Bioethics Center." One can easily guess what sits at the core of such a "thinker's" bioethics: death. Not that Benatar is alone in his sentiments:

     The idea of anti-natalism is not new. In Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, the chorus declares that ‘not to be born is, beyond all estimation, best’. A similar idea is expressed in Ecclesiastes. In the East, both Hinduism and Buddhism have a negative view of existence (even if they do not often go so far as to oppose procreation). Various thinkers since then have also recognised how pervasive suffering is, which moved them to explicitly oppose procreation: Arthur Schopenhauer might be the most famous, but others include Peter Wessel Zapffe, Emil Cioran and Hermann Vetter.

     It's obviously not a new idea if it was expressed by Sophocles, who wrote five centuries before Christ. But insanity roared from many mouths is still insanity. And who are these other "thinkers?" What have they done for you lately?

     But let's treat with the essay itself, rather than Benatar's attempt to adduce authority to it by citing unknown "thinkers" who agree with him. A few snippets:

     Given how much misfortune there is – all of it attendant on being brought into existence – it would be better if there were not an unbearable lightness of bringing into being....

     Life is simply much worse than most people think....

     [I]t’s obvious that there must be more bad than good....

     Injury occurs quickly but recovery is slow....

     Many desires are never satisfied....

     We have to expend effort to ward off unpleasantness....

     The actual (almost) always falls short of the ideal....

     [I]t is difficult to escape the conclusion that all lives contain more bad than good, and that they are deprived of more good than they contain.

     Needless to say, Benatar has no objective basis for his proclamations. His entire essay ignores the question behind all evaluations: By what standard?

     But the fun doesn't end there.

     The inescapable implication of life inevitably being more bad than good, once that conclusion is reached, is suicide. But Benatar will have none of that:

     Asking whether it would be better never to have existed is not the same as asking whether it would be better to die. There is no interest in coming into existence. But there is an interest, once one exists, in not ceasing to exist.

     And whence does any such "interest" spring? Might it be...from life? But asking a "thinker" a direct and unambiguous question that demands a direct and unambiguous answer is considered dirty pool in "philosophers'" circles. At any rate, Benatar provides a substanceless evasion for the charge of cowardice:

     It can be the case that one’s life was not worth starting without it being the case that one’s life is not worth continuing. If the quality of one’s life is still not bad enough to override one’s interest in not dying, then one’s life is still worth continuing, even though the current and future harms are sufficient to make it the case that one’s life was not worth starting.

     There's that "interest in not dying" again. What's the basis, Professor? If "all lives contain more bad than good, and that they are deprived of more good than they contain" – your own words – what imaginable interest is there in continuing on to experience all that "bad?" The possibility of writing inane essays about the subject? No, no! Benatar tells us that "death is bad." If we leave aside this fresh, standardless evaluation, we are still compelled to ask: What makes death bad? The loss of life, no?

     Of course, the "100% mortality rate" attached to being born is a component in Benatar's landscape of doom:

     Death is the fate of everybody who comes into existence. When you conceive a child, it is just a matter of time until the ultimate injury befalls that child. Many people, at least in times and places where infant mortality is low, are spared witnessing this appalling consequence of their reproduction. That might insulate them against the horror, but they should nonetheless know that every birth is a death in waiting.

     But death is the price we pay for life. If there were no death, life would be impossible. What Benatar has argued here is that because life must end, therefore it should not begin – yet another standardless evaluation to which a sane man, equipped with some sense of reality and necessity, could never agree.

     Being a university professor, Benatar must include a nod to the less explicit anti-natalists:

     It is presumptively wrong to create new beings that are likely to cause significant harm to others.

     Homo sapiens is the most destructive species, and vast amounts of this destruction are wreaked on other humans....The optimists argue that prospective children are unlikely to be among the perpetrators of such evil, and this is true: only a small proportion of children will become perpetrators of the worst barbarities against humans. However, a much larger proportion of humanity facilitates such evils. Persecution and oppression often require the acquiescence or complicity of a multitude of humans.

     Here, Benatar refutes his own argument, though he would never admit it. If there is evil, then there is also good. By Benatar's unspoken standard, the evil outweighs the good, despite the non-mensurability of those things. But that billions of people embrace the concept of good and are willing to work to achieve its comparative form, "better," makes possible human progress. You know, the dynamic that has us living in houses with roofs, walls, windows, and floors instead of caves?

     Perhaps sensing the weakness of the above, Benatar then drones on about our "environmental damage" and "the immense harm that humans do to animals." But I think we can pass that by in safety. He has nothing new or substantial to say on the subject, and what he does say is quite as standardless as his evaluation of the worthiness of life.

     Howler after howler, all of it couched in the sort of pseudointellectual terms required to frame an insane argument as one worthy of consideration, and all of it adroitly constructed to evade the fundamental question: By what standard?

     If it weren't for a single consideration, Benatar's essay would be only one more specimen of the sort of garbage today's universities pay such persons hard cash to produce. But that single consideration looms appallingly large: Benatar's "reasoning" will be applauded, echoed, and used as a justification by the forces I've termed The Death Cults.

     The countermeasure is to laugh. He who can laugh at such pretentious, circular bullshit is armored against it. He who can get others to laugh at it is one of Mankind's unsung benefactors.

     Live, laugh, love, and be happy. Beget others who will live, laugh, and love you for having done so. Remember that you read it here first: as the Curmudgeon Emeritus to the World Wide Web, I decree it to be Immutable Law. "You can trust me, because I never lie, and I'm always right." (Firesign Theater)

     If the universe has any purpose more important than topping a woman you love and making a baby with her hearty help, I have never heard of it. – Robert A. Heinlein


Pascal said...

OMG, with that one paragraph, you brought back to mind one of the most cheerful popular songs I ever heard: "When the Red, Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along."

When I penned Put down the Resentful; Be happy 3 weeks ago it was shortly after I had recognized that a lot of writers and thinkers on the Right (you included with a link) had caught on that what drives the [scratch]Left [insert]Sinister most bonkers is that anyone anywhere might be happy whilst they are not!

So I wrote that piece as an advisory that the best way put down those misanthropes was to be as openly happy as possible even when faced with difficulties. And humming "Well I'm just a kid again doing what I did again singin' a song" is the best way to spit in their eyes.


DN3 said...

I often wonder why people who profess to believe such things are still hanging around professing their despair instead moving off this mortal coil. Either they are not truly sincere or they are cowards, maybe both. Perhaps they find some sort of perverse enjoyment in their misery. I don't know...

Micro said...

Hi Fran,

Another insightful blog post.

But one thing you said has me wondering what you mean:

If there were no death, life would be impossible.

I can interpret that according to my beliefs and faith, but what do you mean by that?


Francis W. Porretto said...

Well, Michael, to understand the necessity of death, one must understand the needs of the living. The living must feed. If there were no death, only organisms that consume inorganic matter and reproduce by fission could exist -- and they would rapidly exhaust their habitat. The mathematics of reproduction without death is inescapable and tragic.

But alongside that, human death gives human life meaning. If life were unending, never to be terminated by any event, what meaning would any segment of it have for us? Eventually it would become a torment -- and a good God would not do that to us.

Micro said...

Thanks Fran, I was thinking the second part of your explanation was what you meant. That is the way I view life. The first part is also very relevant from a more quantitative view.