Category Archives: Antinatalism

The impossibility of “canceling out” suffering and pleasure.

Two items here. First, a quote from Benatar discussing why we can’t “cancel” out good and bad to give a hedonistic evaluation of a human life. Then, a link that further disproves the point.

“How well or badly a life goes depends not simply on how much good or bad there is, but also on other considerations- most prominently considerations about how that good and bad is distributed.

One such consideration is the order of the good and bad. For instance, a life in which all the good occured in the first half, and uninterrupted bad characterized the second half, would be a lot worse than one in which the good and bad were more evenly distributed. This is true even if the total amount of good and bad were the same in each life. Similarly, a life of steadily inclining achievement and satisfaction is preferable to one that starts out bright in the very earliest years but gets progressively worse. The amount of good and bad in each of these alternative lives may be the same, but the trajectory can make one life better than the other.

Another distributional consideration is the intensity of the good and the bad. A life in which the pleasures were extraordinarily intense but correspondingly few, infrequent, and short-lived might be worse than a life with the same total amount of pleasure but where the individual pleasures were less intense and more frequently distributed across the life. However, pleasures and other goods can also be distributed too widely within a life, thereby making them so mild as to be barely distinguishable from neutral states. A life so characterized might be worse than one in which there were a few more noticeable ‘highs.’

A third way in which the distribution of good and bad within a life can affect that life’s quality derives from the length of life. To be sure, the length of life will interact dynamically with the quantity of good and bad. A long life with very little good would have to be characterized by significant quantities of bad, if only because the absence of sufficient good over such long periods would create tedium- a bad. Nevertheless, we can imagine lives of somewhat unequal length that share the same quantity of good and of bad. One life might have more neutral features, sufficiently evenly distributed over the life not to affect the quantity of good or bad. In such cases, one might plausibly judge the longer life to be better (if the life is of sufficient quality to be worth continuing) or worse (if it is not).

There is a further (non-distributional) consideration that can affect an assessment of a life’s quality. Arguably, once a life reaches a certain threshold of badness (considering both the amount and the distribution of its badness), no quantity of good can outweigh it, because no amount of good could be worth that badness. It is just this assessment that Donald (‘Dax’) Cowart made of his own life- or at least of that part of his life following a gas explosion that burnt two-thirds of his body. He refused extremely painful, life-saving treatment, but the doctors ignored his wishes and treated him nonetheless. His life was saved, he achieved considerable success, and he reattained a satisfactory quality of life. Yet, he continued to maintain that these post-burn goods were not worth the costs of enduring the treatments to which he was subjected. No matter how much good followed his recovery, this could not outweigh, at least in his own assessment [the only assessment that matters], the bad of the burns and treatment that he experienced.”

Better Never to Have Been, chapter 3

Now look at this entry from Suicide Treatise. The basic argument is, if we accept this “canceling out” process and that this somehow validates the harms of procreation, then why not do this for any other crime? Why don’t natalists take it to its logical extent and permit assault, theft or rape if an equivalent good is given to the victim? And if not, why is it okay for the harms of procreation but not any other creation of harm?

You have an inner destructive drive, I’m just cranky.

You will note that the title of this entry is similar to that of an earlier one. This is no coincidence, as the topics are also similar, but I hope this entry can shed light from a somewhat different angle.

My starting point on this one is from Alice Miller’s book Banished Knowledge. For those of you who don’t know her work, Alice Miller was a tireless worker for children’s rights and believed that child abuse must be identified and acknowledged by society. Despite being a mother herself, she attacked pedagogy itself and showed how even seemingly irrelevant verbal abuse can have consequences for a child’s future well-being.

In Banished Knowledge, she says:

It is only from adults that an unloved child learns to hate or torment and to disguise these feelings with lies and hypocrisy. That is why, when the child has grown up, he or she will say that children require norms and disciplining: this lie provides access to adult society, a lie that permeates all pedagogy and, to this day, psychoanalysis. The young child knows no lies, is prepared to take at their face value such words as truth, love, and mercy as heard in religious instruction in school. Only on finding out that his naivete is cause for ridicule does the child learn to dissemble. The child’s upbringing teaches him the patterns of the destructive behavior that will later be interpreted by experts as the result of an innate destructive drive. Anyone daring to question this assertion will be smiled at for being naive, as if that person had never come in contact with children and didn’t know “how they can get on your nerves.” For at least since the days of Sigmund Freud, it has been known in “progressive” circles that children come into this world with a death drive and might kill us all if we didn’t ward off “the first indications.”

(bold mine)

It’s easy to recognize in Miller’s pointed analysis the dichotomy between constructionism and some form of innate evil. I will not use the label adaptationism for the latter, since there are many contra-causal positions which believe in innate evil as well (e.g. Christianity), but the argument can be adapted to adaptationism as well (no pun intended).

In the entry I linked above, I noted the following double standard: that we claim “we” believe things on the basis of free willed thinking, and we claim “they” believe things on the basis of unreasoning reflex. “Our” beliefs are the result of free will, which is “good,” and “their” beliefs are determined, which is “bad.”

The actual truth of the matter is that everyone’s beliefs are determined by who they are and the circumstances they live through, and there’s no substantial difference between how “we” (the “good guys”) form beliefs and how “they” (the “bad guys”) form beliefs. The double standard is an excuse to not question our beliefs and to justify hating our enemies.

Miller talks about this “innate destructive drive” that people commonly believe children possess. Actual scientific observation has shown that children are born with the same ethical mechanisms (like empathy and fairness) that we all have: those are innate and don’t just pop up after a certain age, and, since they are feelings and not reasoned propositions, neither are they the kind of thing that you can learn. Children are human beings, with all that it implies; the fact that we consider children to be subhuman partially explains why we fall prey to such ridiculous beliefs as “children have a destructive drive.”

But there is a further part to this discussion. Children are essentially powerless bundles of need whose lives depend on their parents exactly as much as if they were still in the womb. They need food, sleep, heat, space to live and experiment, but they also need affection, care, a sense of belonging, love. Deprived of any of these elements, they will fail to develop as they should and may become “destructive.”

This is not normal and should not be interpreted as normal; it is the result of neglect and abuse. Try to understand a baby’s situation. The baby cannot feed itself, cannot move on its own, is only beginning to comprehend the world, and its life is dominated by two human beings who tower over it and control its activities. Adult slaves do not live through such a level of powerlessness, let alone your average adult. For those who have blocked their childhood experiences, even grasping a fraction of what it means to have such an existence is a daunting task.

Because they block understanding of this situation, adults become ridiculously judgmental and hostile to their own children. We routinely hear about parents who take their two year old, three year old, four year old, five year old to the task for not fulfilling the parents’ needs.

To put it as mildly as I can, this is batshit insane. I don’t know why anyone expects a toddler to process information the same way an adult would. But most importantly, a toddler does not exist to fulfill the parents’ needs, the parents exist to fulfill the toddler’s needs.

I imagine some parents may argue “well you don’t have children, you don’t know how it is.” Alice Miller had children and she knew how it was, and that didn’t stop her from denouncing parents in the most direct way. Child abuse and neglect by parents is caused by the parents; children can never be responsible for being neglected or abused. I don’t need to be a parent to understand that, any more than I need to be a murderer to be against murder.

The flip side of the “innate destructive drive” is that parents who neglect or abuse their children are said to be justifiably cranky or weak. You will note that unlike a drive, being cranky or weak is a temporary state which does not define the person. Children are evil by nature, parents are evil because of specific circumstances; in no way can pedagogy, or the person of the parent, be attacked. To do so is one of the biggest taboos in our societies (again, because we hate children and therefore the children are always held responsible except in extreme cases).

We use this same “innate destructive drive” excuse to explain away hardened criminals. If we can convince ourselves that criminals are born that way, then we can be reassured that there was nothing society could have done to prevent their crimes. “There is nothing we could have done” is always the clarion call of the “we live in the best of all worlds” delusion which is so necessary for all of us to keep living in our evil and corrupt Western societies. I do not argue that this is not a necessary delusion; the trouble is when people start taking the delusion as reality.

There is, however, a racial and genderist distinction. When white men kill, they are usually labeled crazed, mentally ill (which is an insult against the mentally ill, who are no more violent than the rest of the population), temporarily insane; only the serial killers and mass murderers are called “monsters,” which is just another way to evade reality. When black men kill, when women kill, no one shies away from the responsibility of the murderers.

Since my previous entry was about determinism, I think I should mention it in this entry as well, since it may yield some confusion. The concept of an “innate destructive drive” is not specifically deterministic: indeed, as I already pointed out, many free will beliefs include a belief in innate drives. It’s important to distinguish between determinism and adaptationism: the former is an obvious logical deduction, the latter is a formidable mine of pseudo-science. Despite what some people think, determinism doesn’t mean we can completely predict people’s behavior; that’s the hallmark of a quack who has no interest in the subtleties of, and numerous conscious and unconscious influences on, human behavior.

Review of L’Art de Guillotiner Les Procreateurs by Theophile de Giraud

I do not believe this book is available in any other language but French, and it is now out of print. Its subtitle is “anti-natalist manifesto.” It was released in 2006, therefore predating Better Never to Have Been, so what we have here seems to be the actual, very first, ur-text on antinatalism, unless I am gravely mistaken! This is quite a find, especially since I appear to have found the very last copy available on the Internet (although some more may turn up later). I contacted de Giraud and he told me an English translation was in the works for 2015.

The quotes below will differ from the English version, since I translated these quotes. All errors of translation are mine.

Chapter 1 presents “the three sufferings”: the suffering of birth, the suffering of living, and the suffering of death, laying down the case for considering all three to be quite negative (his analysis of childbirth is especially poignant). In the second suffering, he presents a case for Asymmetry very similar to that of Benatar (including the fact that the non-existent cannot suffer or be deprived), with “the ten laws of existence” (caps in original):

1. We are born weaved by Needs which, unsatisfied, engender Pain.
2. To satisfy our Needs, there is constant necessity of Effort and Fight.
3. Unhappiness abounds, Happiness absconds.
4. Pain is felt more intensely than Pleasure.
5. The temporality of Happiness is more brief than the temporality of Unhappiness.
6. Pleasure only lasts while the stimulus lasts; Pain lasts much longer than the stimulus that caused it.
7. Health does not in itself procure any positive sensation; Sickness engenders very perceptible unease.
8. The essence of desire is Dissatisfaction and its realization causes Disappointment.
9. Prolonged happiness causes two new sufferings: Boredom and the Anxiety of losing this hardly acquired benefit.
10. Anxiety is the skeleton of all destinies.
CONCLUSION: Suffering is cosubstantial with Existence, and being Anxious of suffering the very texture of our Humanity!

QUOTES:

“Answer without flinching: if there existed a solution that could abolish the totality of all evils inflicted on disastrous humanity, if it was possible, by some simple remedy, incredibly cheap, immediately accessible, scrupulously inoffensive, of absolute and definitive efficiency, to stop all distress, all cries, all cries of pain, all pathologies, all protests of ill-being, all despair, all cataclysms, all anxiety, all unhappiness, in short all tortures afflicting the human species, would you have the macabre stupidity to reject such a remedy, to disdain such a miracle cure? No, that goes without saying.

Well this solution does exist, and the mysterious is thereby delivered to us: it consists simply, in its saintly simplicity, to not procreate…”

“To see a recent birth, his body creased, cyanotic, asphyxiated, as the medical literature admits, to contemplate his face labored with cries, his eyes lashed with anxiety, his cheeks raked by tears, who would doubt that he just went through the equivalent of a beatdown by a horde of cavemen? What sadism for parents to inflict, in full knowledge of the cause, such mistreatment, such hardships, on their “dearest”?”

Chapter 2 goes through the laundry list of arguments in favor of procreation. The following are addressed:
a. Love (having children as an expression of love)
b. Adventure (having children is a wonderful adventure)- where he also addresses the “why don’t you kill yourself” objection as well
c. Mankind (perpetuating the species)
d. Leaving something behind (self-perpetuation)
e. Religious obligation to have children
f. Economic reasons
g. Child as religious soldier
h. Natural reasons
i. Envy of other parents

De Giraud draws not only from good sense and logic, but also from a wide variety of literary sources, and nowhere is this more obvious than here. He does not hesitate to draw from a very wide variety of sources, religious and secular, from all eras of history. His intent is to demonstrate that antinatalist sentiments have been widespread throughout history. This is one of the big strengths of the book so far.

Another strength of the book is how exhaustive and persuasive it is. De Giraud hits all the points and leaves nothing behind: it’s obvious that he’s not just well read but also has a profound understanding of the subject.

One thing I dislike about the book is how florid the language is. I think he is doing so to make his argument more persuasive. In this he only partially succeeds, and the failures distract from his flow of reasoning.

Quotes:

“Another argument comes back time and time again from the irresponsibles who breed. They want to “leave something behind.” A curious impulse.

Let us first argue from an ethnological standpoint that this seems to correspond exactly to the attitude of many mammals to mark their territory. The dog urinating on a street lamp leaves something behind: this trace, however, unlike the baby’s, benefits from the privilege of not having to bear the tiresome constraints of existence…”

“The political discourse vaunts procreation for economic aims: we must make more children to guarantee pensions for the next decades, to rejuvenate the aging workforce, to prevent a dangerous reversal of the age distribution, or to sustain industrial growth, etc.

So many emetics that are knocked about regularly in the mass media.

This is then the theme of the child as wealth-giver: it goes without saying that this argument for procreation as prosperity contradicts the minimum requirements of Ethics, since it is founded on the objectification of the Other, that is to say the principle of slavery… We demand the birth of an individual to help solve our economic problems: how sordid! It is to be regretted that so few politicians are publicly slapped.”

“We procreate sometimes because of a need, sometimes for pleasure. The former is nothing more than slavery, the latter sadism, but whatever the reason, we only procreate from absolute selfishness! The child is never conceived as an end but always as a means, which is purely machiavellian!”

Chapter 3 addressed, not the rationalizations or the dogmas, but the real psychological reasons why people procreate. They are:
a. Our natural programming
b. Sadism- knowing the child will suffer and getting joy from it
c. Narcissism- having children to satisfy their desires, transmit their genes
d. Egocentrism
e. Infantilism- having children means to go back to an infantile state
f. Cultural conditioning
g. Jealousy- desire for the status granted by procreation
h. Pride- of having children
i. Exhibitionism- showing off one’s children
j. Despotism- the inherent fascism of the family structure
k. Servitude- of the child to the parents
l. Pedophilia- sexual abuse of children
m. Other perversions

Since the arguments pertain after all to human psychology, it would be easy for de Giraud to go off the rails into psychoanalysis or some other flummery, but he does not do so. I thought his arguments were particularly persuasive here. Again he draws both from facts and logic, and from a deep understanding of human psychology.

Quotes:
“If it was otherwise, if procreation was not the result of the most scandalous narcissism, if our odious parents were really moved by some generosity, prospective adoption candidates would be incredibly more numerous than the millions of children who wait, right now, to be adopted! But talk about adoption and you’ll see a big frown of “yes-but-not-for-me” form on their face, greedy to possess a prey coming entirely from their bodies. Orphans? Someone else’s baby? Come on, get scientists to help vanquish my infertility instead!”

“Observe how, intoxicated with presumptions, the future torturer- pregnant woman, I mean- shows herself off from all angles in the certainty that her baby bump makes her the belle of the ball…

The pride of the father, who can’t himself harbor such a creation and jealous of such a gestational privilege, is essentially testicular, the baby playing the role of witness to the orderly functioning of his sperm and showing to all and sundry that he had the good fortune to insert his miserable penis between the legs of a consenting female at least once in his life…”

“The more a male suffers from frustrations (think of all those paltry procreators, all the professional or affective failures, the innumerable mediocrities who can’t even hide it), the more he will rejoice at the birth of a child that his weakness designates as an ideal scapegoat. All breeders internally rejoice at being able to exert near-unlimited authority over the terrified creature he calls his child…

This is how, in final analysis, the family is revealed as the archetype of all fascist regimes. Note that these regimes never cease lauding prolific families and singing the supposed “virtues” of patriarchy! A song and dance repeated by the mafia, great supporter of traditional family values…”

“After careful review, we conclude that no child exists for its own ends, we are all merely parental appendages. There is no legitimate child: we are born only to become, in the fullest sense, our parents’ scapegoat. According to the law of human selfishness, if we did not expect the child to heal our wounds, we would prefer not to burden ourselves with it!”

Chapter 4 asks the question: given all that’s already been said, why do we love our parents? The answers are not too surprising: children “love” their parents out of self-interest, imprinting, conditioning, and the idealization of these parents who, to the young child, seem like the gods of their universe.

Chapter 5 is even shorter and dedicated to one specific argument, which seeks to demonstrate the incompatibility of ethics and procreation. The argument is the following:

“Making others suffer is incompatible with Ethics.
To live is to suffer.
Therefore to give life is incompatible with Ethics.
QED”

This comes at the end of an explanation as to why being against making others suffer against their will is the foundation of all that people have fought for throughout the ages, and the summation of ethical philosophy. Although I think that here, as elsewhere, he can sometimes overstate his case, I don’t need to be convinced.

Chapter 6 is concerned with the right of children to sue their parents for negligence or otherwise not providing for them adequately. He points out the numerous inequities that may befall children and why it makes perfect sense ethically to allow children to have such a right.

Quotes:
“It’s not just suicide that casts blame upon the parents’ lost bet: there is anorexia, delinquency, runaways, vandalism, drug use, violence, and all other forms of revolt… So many symbolic methods used by the forcibly-created to hurl their NO at the existence they were burdened with!

For those that public hypocrisy tars with the labels “sick,” “immature,” “dysfunctional,” those who are called “crazy,” all those victims of being born only adopt such rebellious behaviors because they see their existence not as a blessing but as a harm!”

“The first articles of any Charter that aims to protect Children’s interests should look something like this:

1. The first right of any child is not to be born.
2. The second right of any child resides in the power to sue, if they deem it necessary, those who grievously harmed them by botching their first right.

We can hope that such legislation would strongly encourage parents to acquire the maturity and the skills they need to give their child the greatest standard of happiness!”

Chapter 7 concerns overpopulation. Here de Giraud again gathers the quotes and arguments to point out that our level of population is leading us to enrivonmental disaster. This planet may be able to house billions of people, but it cannot sustainably host even a billion people based on the standards of living of the Western world. Not just that, but overpopulation will cause wars, famine and overwhelming misery.

Quote:
“Finally, let me point out to my environmentalist friends, admirable champions of Ethics, that on a planet with failing health due to the irrational quantity of its inhabitants, an environmentalist who reproduces is a dubious environmentalist…

Let me remind you that the famous commander Cousteau promoted, with the intent of saving the planet, an optimal number of 800 million human beings: seven times fewer than currently! To work, IUDs! Keep cranking the vasectomies!”

Chapter 8 is called “For agathogenism,” a word which seems to have been created by de Giraud to mean “procreation according to the Good.” The chapter concerns ensuring that every child is only born to people who are able to raise it perfectly. He asks the obvious question: why aren’t there breeding permits? He discusses measures which would work towards agathogenism, including: mandatory parenting classes in schools, psychoanalysis of parenting candidates, and the prohibition of breeding prior to 30 years of age.

Chapter 9 concerns another coined term, “Metatocy,” which de Giraud translates as “transcending the beastial,” His basic thesis is that humans must sublimate their desire for children (a beastial desire, which all animals have) into the desire for intellectual and social works.

Chapter 10 which, in my opinion, is one of the strongest, concerns feminism and its connection to antinatalism. It continues the discussion of chapter 9, starting that women can only be emancipated when they reject child-raising and strive for excellence (instead of trying to “have it all,” which is only a handicap). He also looks at woman-hatred throughout the millennia and concludes that it is displaced hatred of the trauma of birth.

Quotes:

“If you ask yourself why femininity has, at all eras, been subject to such virulent and universal denunciations, we find no other answer than this: all born from a woman’s body and all hating- subconsciously at least- having been born, we can only hate those who carry in their insides the matrix of all our suffering!”

“It is of great import to understand that only by dissociating motherhood and femininity can we hope to end Patriarchy, and it is in this enormous work of de-confusion, of semantic de-tangling, that lies the main challenge of future feminism: as long as women invest their identity in motherhood, or claim it as the essence of their destiny, they will only expose themselves to the hatred of the people wounded from being alive, as well as unconscious self-hatred.”

“We must say: women have better things to do during the best years of their lives than to raise children which our polluted humanity has no need. We must say: women have better to do with their formidable personalities than suffocate them under a mountain of diapers. We must say: women are wrong to dissolve their talents in the futility of milk bottles. We must glorify the female poets and scorn the breeders.”

“Knowing that a frustrated woman will seek a remedy in having children, knowing that a woman in possession of intellectual tools who flourishes outside of the home is a woman who breeds little or none, knowing that a woman who can choose the number of her pregnancies will most often opt for a very reduced number of children to whom she can ensure a quality existence, antinatalism can only push the same way as feminists when they fight against all forms of gender domination and fight for the universal right to contraception, abortion, homosexuality, celibacy, sexual liberation, erotic completeness, choosing one’s career, and the refusal to procreate if they feel called to a higher destiny than that of walking incubator from which must come out more and more children!”

Chapter 11 is called a Brief Elegy of Adoption. In this short chapter he notes adoption as another solution and how much harder adoption is than breeding.

Chapter 12 and 13 are also short and more or less a recapitulation of what came before.

Well, that’s my review of the book. I hope you can all read it when it comes out in English, hopefully next year!

12 questions for natalists and breeders.

Because the issues of antinatalism are not very well known yet, there aren’t a lot of “questions for” formats like there are for religion or politics. So I decided to make my own set of questions for natalists and breeders. Note that not all the questions will apply to both categories (a natalist might not personally want children, and a breeder might not be a natalist).

I am not trying to stump anyone (although as an antinatalist I do think that these questions should present difficulties to my opponents), but rather to communicate the gist of the antinatalist attitude towards natalist beliefs and breeding. Because natalists are typically unwilling to discuss issues, I would like to try to get some people’s interest with these questions and get a discussion going. You may even agree with some parts of my approach here; if so, that’s great!

Answer these questions on your blog if you find them interesting, and I’ll link back to you if you post the URL in the comments.

***

1. Do you think all, or even most, parents have the skills and attitude necessary to raise children in a non-damaging manner?

2. Do you believe children are entitled to the highest standard of health?
* If so, do you believe all, or even most, parents can provide such a standard, given all the things parents have no control over?
* If not, what right do you believe is more important than the child’s highest standard of health? Can you justify this importance?

3. What do you think about the idea of parenting permits? Why do you/do you not support this idea?
* Do you believe you should be allowed to have such a permit? If so, what are your qualifications?
Note this example of legal requirements for child care workers and businesses.

4. Why do you think this world is good enough to bring children in?
* What makes you think you have the right to take this decision for another human being?

5. Do you think it is moral for me to force someone to play Russian Roulette without their consent?
* If you do not, then why do you think people should be allowed to create a new life, subjecting it to an almost infinite number of risks, including fatal risks?
* If you do, can you justify it?
Note that arguing that inability to give consent is the same thing as giving consent will be rejected.

6. If you want to have a child, do you believe your children will not suffer from any medical defects, accidents, abuse or mental issues?
* If you do not, what makes you so certain of the future? Can you prove it?
* If you do, why are you bringing into the world a being which has a chance of living a life of suffering or despair?

7. For those who have children: how much time did you spend on thinking about your motivations to have a child?

8. Can you give one ethical reason (i.e. a reason which does not treat the child as a means to an end) for anyone to have children?
Note this list of already rejected reasons. If yours is on the list, then you have failed to answer.

9. Do you believe that the perpetuation of mankind has some kind of purpose?
* If so, can you make an argument for it that isn’t circular?
Note that I have already discussed the circular nature of teleological arguments for perpetuation.
* If not, why do you think we should do it anyway?

10. How do you justify supporting a process which, while painless for men, is painful, disfiguring and dangerous for women, often leading to psychological complications?
* If you believe the benefits of procreation are social in nature, how do you justify acquiring these benefits on the backs of women’s health and well-being? Isn’t it a little hypocrite to claim a benefit to society when women represent half of said society?

11. As far as I can tell, the main natalist arguments is that life has pleasures that are worth creating new human beings for, or that life as a whole is pleasant enough to bring new human beings into it. I don’t understand how the argument is supposed to work, though; there’s no logical connection between an observation about existing lives and a conclusion about potential lives. Can you explain why you think the argument makes logical sense?
* How does your argument jibe with the legal and ethical proposition that we don’t have any duty to provide pleasure, but that we do have a duty not to create suffering?

12. If you are a Christian, do you believe there’s a chance your child will go to Hell?
* If you do not, what makes you so certain of the future? Can you prove it?
* If you do, what would justify you bringing to life a being which may suffer eternally? No matter how much suffering we inflict on each other, human beings can only hurt each other in this life, not in eternity; bringing a child to life knowing the child may go to Hell makes you worse than any dictator or criminal that exists in this life.

Blood worship is pretty creepy.

Blood worship seems to persist even though we’re far from the mass sacrifices of “pre-Columbian” societies or the Igbo (although in both cases their European conquerors killed many more people than sacrifices would have). Granted, we are not yet over human sacrifice, but at least we hide it.

Blood consumption has been part of accusations against perceived enemies. Vampires are one obvious example. There is also blood libel: for centuries Jews were accused of kidnapping gentile children to bake with their blood or kill them to release their blood.

The origin of these accusations, in turn, lies in the belief that Jesus’ blood has special powers. Jesus’ blood “covers” our sins and cleans our conscience. Jesus enjoined his disciples to drink his blood. His blood is part of the ritual of transubstantiation. Catholics are especially interested in Jesus’ heart and blood, to nauseating levels.

The book of Revelation tells us that angels kill so many humans that the resulting blood covers a distance of more than 300 km (something like the distance between New York and Washington). Now imagine all that blood clotting and… yeah.

For a religion that’s supposed to be concerned with the immaterial and the supernatural, the afterlife, the spiritual matters, it seems rather strange for it to be so concerned with something as mundane as blood. Is it merely a prolongation of the Jewish concept of blood sacrifice, or are both the manifestation of some plague monster lying in the collective unconscious?

I have no qualifications in mythology or psychoanalysis, so I will refrain from making such analysis, although perhaps it’s worth noting that the concept of “blood memory” has been associated with the collective unconscious before.

The blood worship of Christianity is creepy, but many other beliefs about blood are creepy. Look how natalists harp on perpetuating the bloodline. Based on this belief, they insist in having children of their own instead of adopting one of the millions of desperate children in the world.

Do they literally believe in the importance of the blood itself? No, I obviously don’t think so, otherwise blood transfusions would be much more opposed than they are today. The bloodline is a metaphor for the extension of the self into one’s children, grandchildren, and so on. The parent is, in the sense of extension, the “consumer” of the blood, the life-force of the child: the life (and death, in those cases where a child dies) of the child glorifies the parent. That’s much creepier than any blood consumption.

From the consumption/extension end, we go to the complete opposite when we look at menstruation, which for millennia has been used as a reason to subjugate women. The Bible tells us that a menstruating woman is “unclean”:

Leviticus 15:19-24
And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean. And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And whosoever toucheth any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And if it be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even. And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean.

Leviticus 15:28-30
But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness.

So when women issue blood, it’s considered a sign of their unclean nature. But when Jesus does it, it’s a fucking sacrament. Go figure.

A little lexicon: childfree, antinatalist, efilist.

Antinatalism and childfreedom are two related ideologies which are seeing some development on the Internet and in the media. However, there seems to be some confusion as to the difference between the two ideologies.

As I’ve discussed before, antinatalism is an ethical position: as a principle, it states that procreation (that is to say, acts which bring about procreation) is wrong. A person can be an antinatalist and yet have had children in the past. The arguments used to justify antinatalism are ethical and logical in nature, and are not personal in nature.

Childfreedom, on the other hand, is a desire, the desire to have no children. This desire is necessarily frustrated if one already has a child, so a person cannot have children and be childfree. But on the other hand, one can be childfree and believe that procreation is a great thing, or that life is innately positive. In those cases, the decision to not have children is purely personal.

In practice, childfree people usually have both universal and personal reasons to not procreate. However, these universal reasons are also generally conditional, like “there are enough people on this planet” type arguments (presumably if there wasn’t enough people on this planet, it would be worth it to have children).

Efilism is a word made of the reverse of “life” and the suffix -ism. It was coined by Gary Mosher to designate his own personal ideology, which is more extensive than the rejection of procreation, as Gary advocates for the extinction of all sentient life. Efilism therefore incorporates both ethical principles (that procreation is bad) and values (the value of a world without sentient life).

In a similar fashion to the Non-Identity Problem, I imagine some may object that “a world without sentient life” cannot be a value because there would be no one left to value it.

But this is, like the Non-Identity Problem, a misunderstanding of what is being discussed. When we talk about valuing suicide, we are not saying the person will be alive to value their suicide; we are saying that the person prefers a state where they cease to exist. Likewise, one may prefer a state where the world contains no sentient life, while not being able to actually co-exist with it. We can also prefer completely imaginary states (such as a state where square-circles exist), in which case the value is simply pointless. But valuing a world without sentient life is not pointless, in that it enables us to make value-judgments about real things (e.g. anything that creates new life is undesirable).

I don’t want to communicate the impression that childfreedom, antinatalism and efilism exist on some gradient from moderate to extreme or anything like that. They are not the same kinds of things; childfreedom is a desire, antinatalism is an ethical principle, and efilism is one person’s ideology. A person can be childfree but not antinatalist or efilist, or antinatalist but not childfree or efilist. An efilist must be antinatalist, obviously.

There are also people who believe in population degrowth as public policy. There is no popular term for this as far as I know, and the term “degrowth” by itself denotes economic degrowth specifically.

Population degrowth is sometimes portrayed as a “reasonable” alternative to antinatalism. Actually it is not an alternative to antinatalism but rather a statement of public policy. An antinatalist may very well believe that it would be better on the whole to not restrict reproduction in any way (Benatar grapples with some of these defenses in Better Never To Have Been chapter 4).

Population degrowth is not on a gradient with antinatalism and natalism. Arguments for or against population degrowth show little overlap with arguments for antinatalism or natalism, although they may share a great deal with individual arguments for one’s childfreedom. In that way, one can argue that population degrowth is closer to being an extension of childfreedom, although a childfree person may be against population degrowth and vice-versa.

Frankly I am tired of people who say they are for population degrowth and who present this position as more “reasonable,” by which they really mean, “likely to be accepted by others.” I don’t give a shit what is more or less likely to be accepted by other people. The truth is the truth regardless of how likely it is to be accepted, and it’s our job to find it. So far none of these “reasonable” people have been successful in making any sort of cogent argument against antinatalism, let alone debunk any part of it. It may be “reasonable,” but it’s not the truth.

The “reasonable” position on the other side, the natalist side, is the “life is great” propaganda coming from a wide variety of people. These people tend to be anti-suicide and pro-nature, although they reject the Quiverfull claim that one should have as many children as possible. They laugh at such people and, if they were aware of antinatalism, would probably consider themselves a “middle ground.”

But there cannot be any “middle ground” between antinatalism and natalism. The question “is it acceptable to harm others without their consent” can only be answered “yes” or “no.” The question “is it justified to bring a human being into existence” can only be answered “yes” or “no.” The question “do you have the right to decide for another human being whether the world is good enough for them to come into existence” can only be answered “yes” or “no.” I don’t really see how there’s any middle ground possible here. Either procreation as an act is not wrong or it is wrong.

The concept of “agency” is inherently reactionary.

I have written an entry about the three categories of explanation of human behavior, which I called anti-causalism (human behavior is caused by “free will”), adaptationism (human behavior is genetic) and social constructionism (human behavior is motivated by social constructs). I make no secret that I find the last kind of explanation to be the most rational.

It may seem pointless to bring this up on an entry about “agency,” and yet I think it is very much relevant to the topic. For one thing, it tells us that an issue which seems as abstract as human action is actually very much an ideological issue, with ethical, political and religious implications. Therefore, any term used to explain decision-making is an ideological term, and must be analyzed as such.

The term “agency” is assumed to be a technical, neutral term; questioning its validity or neutrality is seen as laughable and non-credible. But what does it really mean to say that someone has agency?

Human agency is the capacity for human beings to make choices and to impose those choices on the world.

As I’ve discussed before, there is no such thing as “choice,” that is to say, selecting from different alternatives: because our minds are determined by the laws of nature, like any other entity that is part of nature, there can only be one alternative “selected.” We do not have the capacity to make “choices” or to “impose” them. The belief in “choice” is clearly anti-causal, and therefore betrays allegiance to anti-causalism.

The ability of people to change the institutions in which they live.

While an interesting definition, it tells us nothing about why individuals act. I do intend to discuss this issue later.

Agency- self-determination, volition, or free will; it is the power of individuals to act independently of the determining constraints of social structure.

In general, agency is contrasted with structure, agency being that part of human action which is not the result of the influence of social structures. But social constructionism is precisely the belief that our actions are the result of the influence of social structures; therefore by definition agency assumes the falsity of social constructionism.

It is impossible for any human being who lives in society to act “independently of the determining constraints of social structure.” Consider some of the social structures and social constructs which most preoccupy us: the family structure, religion, government, Patriarchy, the education system, the legal system, capitalism and class, race, gender, nationality, language, money. Can we honestly say that there is any human being living in a modern Western society whose actions are not affected by all of these things?

So I don’t believe there is such a thing as agency, because there is no such thing as “choice,” “free will” or some magical ability to change social structures; but besides that, my main point here is that the term “agency” is a Trojan horse smuggling anti-causalism into a discussion or debate, and no one’s the wiser because, like “choice,” which is part of everyday language, “agency” is part of everyday sociological language and few people think anything of it.

From a constructionist standpoint, the use of the word “agency” is nothing more than a roundabout way of blaming the victims. They do this by denying that the victims are actually victims, stating instead that they gain power (what kind of power? economic? social? relational?) from their own “choices.” Here is a typical academic example of such gymnastics (and again, just so you don’t think I’m cherry-picking the stupidest example, this is the very first result I got on a search for “prostitution agency sociology”):

Bell (1994) analyses the narratives of Pateman and MacKinnon and concludes that these writings and perspectives which became dominant in the 1980s, actually reproduce ‘the prostitute body’. Bell argues that this line of thinking which locates the prostitute as a powerless victim within a masculine discourse actually silences the voices of women, refuses to acknowledge women’s agency and results in the reproduction of ‘the prostitute body’. Equally, as Maher (2000: 1) notes, taking the position that woman who sell sex are only victims, powerless and not in control of their circumstances leaves women ‘devoid of choice, responsibility, or accountability’.

Consider carefully what is being said here. Stating that a prostitute is a victim of a structure of gendered exploitation “silences the voices of women.” Never mind that the anti-prostitution movement is made of women and bases its premises on the voices of ex-prostitutes as well as sociological studies of prostitutes.

Now consider the proposition that saying prostitutes are victims means they are “devoid of choice, responsibility or accountability.” Doesn’t that sound like people who say rape victims should be held accountable for what they did to provoke the crime? Obviously stating that a raped woman was “only a victim” leaves her “devoid of responsibility or accountability” because that’s precisely what it means to be a victim; victims by definition are not “responsible or accountable.”

The whole paragraph is completely vacuous, but counts on the reader’s (conscious or unconscious) bias against prostitutes to remind them that prostitutes are inherently wrong and responsible for their own degradation, all the while telling us that it’s the anti-prostitution advocates who are silencing prostitutes. This is a classic case of projection.

But the main “argument” (there is no real argument here) used against the anti-prostitution position is that it denies “agency” and “choice.” Because “agency” and “choice” are considered self-evident, anyone who argues for social constructionism can be denied on this basis. Not only that, but the mere use of those words is considered a valid argument in and of itself: anyone who denies “agency” must automatically be wrong, period. To them, it is such an absurd conclusion (or, most likely, they merely pretend that it is so absurd) that we must therefore deny the premises.

The end point of this complete reversal of victimhood lies in the term “sex work,” which seeks to normalize prostitution as “just another job” that we “choose” to perform. There lies a double fraud: first, it is predicated on the premise that capitalist work contracts are a “choice,” which in itself is a laughable conceit, and second, it is predicated on prostitution being a “job.” If our sole criterion for a “job” is work in exchange for money, then many slaves have slavery as a “job” and so do many prisoners have a “job” as prisoners, because both receive some money in exchange for their forced labor. But this is obviously nonsense.

Social constructionism states that the actions an individual takes are the result of how social structures mold the psyche and motivations of the individual. These social structures influence the individual through a wide variety of social constructs, which become part of how we explain facts.

The integration of gender explains why, for instance, we can understand when workers are exploited but “know” that prostitutes are personally responsible for being trafficked, beaten, filmed, addicted to drugs, raped and murdered; in the exact same way, integrating class means we “know” why poor people are lazy and undeserving, and integrating race means we “know” that black people are stupid and violent.

I have already discussed another major problem with “choice” as an argument: at best it can only mean that you believe you are in control of a situation. In that sense, the argument is now coherent but becomes trivial:

“Taking the position that woman who sell sex are only victims, powerless and not in control of their circumstances leaves women devoid of the belief that they are in control of their own life situation.”

Of course convincing people that they do not actually have power means they will lose the belief, or more accurately the delusion, that they have power. But this is true of any such delusion. People can also lose the delusion that their vote gives them power, or the delusion that religious belief gives them power. There is nothing strange about prostitution in that sense.

“Agency” is generally brought up in situations where it is inherently delusional; sociologists don’t waste time telling us about the agency of CEOs or presidents because that would be pointless. There is no point in talking about those people believing they have power, because they actually do have power; the whole victim/”choice” dance makes no sense in those cases. “Agency” is reactionary because it is always used to explain away the victims of whatever hierarchy (like gender) one wishes to support.

I said I would come back to the point about “agency” being “the ability of people to change the institutions in which they live.” Behind this definition lies the theory that we cannot be victims of social structures if we have the power (again, really a delusion that we have the power) to change them. If that’s true, then anything done to inferior by their superiors is, in a twisted way, the inferiors’ fault.

As perhaps a more extreme example of this argument, it was argued during the Gulf War (including by George Bush) that it was the Iraqi people’s responsibility to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Presumably the Iraqi people are at fault for getting bombed and killed by the American Army for not overthrowing Hussein (never mind that the Americans didn’t, either).

So again we’re talking about a purely reactionary strategy which aims to justify oppression through the delusion of power, but this time applied to entire groups of people. Because no individual has the power to “change the institutions in which they live,” this kind of “agency” applied to any individual must lead to the same conclusion: the victim is actually “responsible and accountable” for eir own oppression.

I do want to point out that this “ability to change” sort of definition is somewhat similar to how we define “free will,” a term which (contrasted with determinism) presumes that the human mind can somehow suspend causal laws. I can’t think of a greater “ability to change” than the ability to change the fabric of reality itself. In practice, “agency” is merely a non-religious, watered down version of “free will” which still permits people to blame victims while not relying on outdated pseudo-scientific beliefs.

The concept of “agency” is not just reactionary for the reasons I’ve mentioned, but it is also a powerful thought-stopper. It cuts short any examination of why things happen in society, and most importantly for a supposed decision-making process, any examination of why people do what they do.

Saying someone does X because of “her agency” or because “she chose it” doesn’t tell us anything more than saying “God did it” in answer to some natural event. Any worthwhile explanation has to be causal or it will inevitably serve as a thought-stopping mechanism, whether it’s believed honestly or not.

In the end, this sort of thought-stopping about human action reduces everything to atomistic individualism: as I noted in that entry, it reduces all analysis to the individual, sets up gender roles (in the case of prostitution) as the standard of evaluation, and classifies anti-prostitution efforts (and anti-oppression ideologies generally) as undesirable based on individualist beliefs (“you can’t tell other people what to do,” “you’re making people feel bad by telling them they’re being oppressed,” “you are responsible for everything that happens to you,” and so on endlessly).

Even though “agency” proponents usually claim to be left-leaning and even radical, they end up, through atomistic individualism, propping up the principles of the capitalism they are reacting to, and in most cases unwittingly supporting its structures. They poison the very well they’re gathering water from.

The Problem of Evil v the Problem of Suffering.


Using our cognitive limitations to explain away the existence of evil must logically lead to a complete collapse of the Christian worldview. From Philosophical Disquisitions.

Everyone who knows anything about Christian theology, or who has ever argued with Christians, knows about the Problem of Evil. The simplest argument goes like this:

1. If an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God exists, then evil cannot exist.
2. Evil exists.
3. There is no omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God.

This argument is logically airtight but conceptually complex, which makes it more vulnerable to attacks. There are a number of variants of the Problem of Evil which either nail down some specifically unexplainable kind of evil or deal with attacks by demonstrating that they also lead to contradictions.

As examples of the former, one can talk about “gratuitous evils” (such as a deer dying in a forest fire without any witnesses), unbelief, evil in the Bible, or poor design; as an example of the latter, the Moral Argument from Evil demonstrates that if the theodicies are true and all the evil that happens is justified, then there is no reason for Christians to try to intervene to stop evil, which is clearly absurd.

Even though the arguments are numerous and the approaches to the topic are many, the gist of it is simple: evil exists in this world, and we shouldn’t expect this to be true if this world was created by a just God.

Antinatalists have a similar argument, although again it takes different forms: for the sake of nomenclature, let’s call its general form the Problem of Suffering. We can express it like this:

1. Creating suffering is an evil act.
2. Procreation entails the creation of suffering.
3. Procreation is an evil act.

Variants of this argument include Benatar’s Asymmetry, the consent argument, anti-frustrationism, ecological arguments (e.g. VHEMT), and so on.

What is being argued here is not the non-existence of God, but rather the ethical status of procreation. Still, we can partially rephrase the Problem of Evil to show the obvious parallel:

1. Creating evil is itself an evil act.
2. God’s creative act included the creation of evil.
3. God’s creative act was an evil act.

You can probably guess the rest of the argument. The point here is that both arguments are about the creation of suffering and harm.

Obviously most atheists will accept the Problem of Evil but not the Problem of Suffering, since most atheists are not antinatalists. But why? I would say most atheists would accept human suffering as an evil, and that therefore they would consider the creation of suffering to be an evil act as well. And the premise that procreation entails suffering is equally obviously true. So there does not seem to be any substantial difference between the two arguments.

I anticipate certain objections. I think it is likely that people would answer, for example, that the parent does not create the evil itself but only the conditions for it. But this is equally true of God: I don’t think anyone claims that God literally created a forest fire or an HIV infection, that these are the result of natural law and human action subject to cause and effect, that God is only the most distal cause. The same is true of parents in relation to the suffering experienced by their children.

A further objection along these lines would be that parents, unlike God, are not omniscient, but I don’t really see the relevance in this case; parents are aware of the risks in having children, and therefore should naturally assume that they could happen to their children as well. Granted, breeders are not known for their sense of reality, but they don’t lack knowledge. They just don’t care. People who are committed to an indefensible course of action usually don’t care about the consequences, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it.

Natalists attempts to reframe the issue are about as successful as the theodicies to the Problem of Evil. In fact, we can see some obvious parallels between theodicies and reframings.

For example, natalists will argue that pleasure cannot exist without suffering, that they are both part of life and that therefore we must just passively accept people going around creating more and more suffering. This is very similar to the theodicy which states that good cannot exist without evil, and that therefore we must accept that God just had to create evil. But obviously atheists do not accept this rationalization.

Another rationalization holds that our lives contain more pleasure than suffering, and that therefore procreation is “worth it.” This is similar to the theodicy which states that suffering is necessary for some “greater good,” which in this case would be the pleasures in one’s life. Again, this theodicy is not accepted by atheists, so why should we accept it in the case of the Problem of Suffering?

I think we could go down the line of the theodicies and convert them easily into rationalizations of procreation. But since they are already unconvincing in their theodicy form, they don’t really matter either.

Some people try to argue that suffering is not really evil, and generally try to make a relativist argument. But this is no help here since relativism goes against the Problem of Evil as well: if there’s no such thing as objective moral standards, then there can be no universally observable concept of evil, and we can hardly fault God for the existence of something that doesn’t exist.

Compounding this fatal flaw is the fact that most, if not all, instances of evil in the Problem of Evil are also instances of suffering referred by the Problem of Suffering; if the latter are all invalid, then the Problem of Evil is rather trivialized, I would think (I could be wrong on this, but if anyone can name me an instance of evil from the Problem of Evil that does not generate suffering in some sentient life, I’d love to hear it).

The Problem of Evil has attained such a prominent place because it is so very obvious (which is also why it’s been discovered so early and why it’s been such a theological preoccupation). The Problem of Suffering is equally obvious and I’m sure it has popped up in the minds of a lot of people from all eras and places. For obvious reasons, it has never been fashionable enough to get its own name.

I don’t think the parallel between divine creation and breeding is particularly surprising. Breeders are by nature arrogant and authoritarian, and God has the arrogance and authoritarianism of the breeder times trillions. The idea that God is a substitute father figure is not by far new, but it seems to fit perfectly here, although it seems to me equally fruitful to look at the father as a mini-God. Do fathers not want to breed “in their own image” (the image of the “bloodline” or “genes”) and do they not seek to keep their children in naive ignorance like God does in the Garden of Eden myth?

The sum total of that human perversity we call “pedagogy” or “child-raising,” after all, consists of deciding what to do with one’s total control over another human being. It has nothing to do with love. This can also be said about most religions and cults; despite their self-serving rhetoric, they have little to do with love and a great deal to do with control over other human beings on all possible dynamics.

I’ve already written an entry in the past linking atheism to anarchism, which a lot of atheists resisted. So I want to reiterate here that I am not stating that atheists must become antinatalists or anything of the sort. What I am saying is that logically speaking the Problem of Evil should lead one to accept the Problem of Suffering and antinatalism in general, that there is a strong parallel in the arguments and objections. Whining that your poor fee fees have been hurt (like I’ve gotten by the shovelful after my atheism/anarchism entry) will be mocked mercilessly.

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