Category Archives: Morality

“You’re just a science denialist!”

Evolutionary psychology has been getting blasted in atheist circles for its unscientific nature and for supporting the status quo. In response, the battle cry of the evolutionary psychologist has been nothing but: “you’re a science denialist!”

This term is derived from “Holocaust denialism”; Holocaust deniers are people who deny that the Holocaust happened despite the historical evidence presented. At least, that was the original use of the term. Nowadays, “denialism” is used more and more widely, to attack “climate change denialism,” “AIDS denialism,” “evolution denialism.”

Granted, these positions can be seen as denying a body of evidence, so the use of “denialism” there is not entirely objectionable. But what body of evidence is being denied by people who object to evolutionary psychology?

Evolution is true, and humans are the product of evolution. That much is beyond the shadow of a doubt and is not being denied. That we have a (human) psychology is not being denied either. But the concept that our concrete behaviors are the result of evolution, which is what evopsych proponents declare as their foundation, is very much under contention. They do not propose any scientific evidence to demonstrate this as a fact; they simply posit that our brain evolved specific behaviors as solutions to Pleistocene problems and assume from there.

What is important to understand here is that evolutionary psychology papers do not provide any evidence of the truth of evolutionary psychology itself. All evopsych “researchers” assume that our behaviors are evolved as the implicit principle behind their research.

As it turns out, it’s easy to falsify evopsych and show it to be pseudo-science. According to evopsych, based on their unproven assertions about behaviors being evolved, there should be individual, separate modules in our brains that regulate specific behaviors. But no such modules have ever been shown to exist. Evolutionary psychology is not a science, it is dangerous, politically-motivated charlatanism poorly dressed up as science.

So when we are told that people who debunk evolutionary psychology are “science denialists,” we must make clear three things:

1. Evolutionary psychology is not science. Its premises are false and its methods are circular. It is based on no measurable observations and contradicts observations of the human brain.

2. Attacking evolutionary psychology is not “science denialism” because, unlike the Holocaust, climate change, evolution and HIV research, there is no body of evidence demonstrating the validity of evolutionary psychology. Neither can evolutionary psychology explain anything in a novel way or shed new light on any problem.

3. Evolutionary psychology is a political position, not a scientific position. Its objective is to support the status quo on issues of gender, sexuality, race, class and power.

Illustrating these three points is the following evopsych explanation for homosexuality:
(and before you accuse me of choosing the most embarassing evopsych position, this is the very first result on Google right now, as I am writing this in September 2013, for “evolutionary psychology explanation for homosexuality”)

Overly simplified, this “tipping-point” model (originally introduced by G. E. Hutchinson in 1959, and then later popularized by Jim McKnight in 1997 and Edward Miller in 2000) posits that genes associated with homosexuality confer fitness benefits in their heterosexual carriers. If only a few of these alleles are inherited, a males’ reproductive success is enhanced via the expression of attractive, albeit feminine traits, such as kindness, sensitivity, empathy, and tenderness. However, if many of these alleles are inherited, a “tipping point” is reached at which even mate preferences become “feminized,” meaning males are attracted to other males.

To go through the three points again:

1. The premise of this “research” is that homosexual behavior has evolved for some reason, and we need to find that reason. No attempt has been made to establish whether any specifically homosexual behavior was in fact evolved or not. It is entirely possible that any given behavior is not an adaptation in itself but rather the by-product of an adaptation (as morality is) or is completely unrelated to any adaptation. The latter is due to genetic drift, and while there is no consensus on how important genetic drift is to evolution as a whole, we know for a fact that genetic drift can have a profound impact on the development of species, especially on small populations.

“The ground rule – or perhaps doctrine would be a better term – is that adaptation is a special and onerous concept that should be used only where it is really necessary.”

As is clear to most evolutionary biologists, and other interested skeptical parties who are less than enamoured by the efforts of Evolutionary Psychologists, the approach described… above is rarely followed and instead these scientists appear to fire off adaptive explanations with reckless abandon, with their work often consisting of nothing more than folk wisdom and a post hoc just-so story explanation.

2. Even if the explanation is true, how does it advance our understanding? It still does not explain what makes one hetereosexual or homosexual (how are these genes transmitted to any specific individual? have any studies confirmed that homosexuals come from “feminine” families?). It also does not acknowledge that there are many more sexual orientations than heterosexual or homosexual, and so does not explain reality as we know it.

3. The association of homosexuality with feminine traits, as well as the association of “kindness, sensitivity, empathy, and tenderness” (that is to say, passivity and slavish support of males) with femininity as opposed to aggression as masculine trait, are Patriarchal constructs which perpetuate sexism and homophobia. There, then, is the real objective of this “research”: to perpetuate gender roles and homophobia. Of course the writers flippantly deny this:

These recent findings are scientifically intriguing and they likely have profound implications for the LGBT community (which we purposefully skirted here as we are donning our science and description hats and not our policy and prescription caps).

Here we see again the myth that science is “value-neutral” and that one can neatly separate fact from value, leaving only cold logic (a “male” trait). This of course is a lie. But by making the dichotomy between “science”/”description” (of facts) and “policy,” the writers are omitting the fact that description itself plays off on the meanings already existing in society. If I describe homosexuality as feminine or women as caring, I am in fact perpetuating already existing hierarchies, even if it’s “description” and not “policy.”

It makes it a lot easier for evopsych proponents to slip their support for hierarchies under the door if they first convince people that their research is “scientific” and “descriptive.” People think that racism or sexism can’t be racist or sexist if it’s “scientific” (see the IQ-race debate for example). So you get into the whole “objectivity” game, as in “I’m being objective and you’re not.” That’s a game for suckers if there ever was one.

Evopsychs may accuse us of being science denialists, but they are behavioral creationists.

Sex is not a fundamental human need. Prostitution is not a fundamental human need.

Early this year, Amnesty International UK (which seems like somewhat of a oxymoron) had one of their policy documents leaked. As it turns out, Amnesty International is considering making the legalization of prostitution part of their platform. This is of course a woman-hating position and isn’t based on anything resembling reality, especially given the gravity of human trafficking, rape and murder in prostitution.

But the most outrageous statement from the document, which elicited some response from the public, was the following:

As noted within Amnesty International’s policy on sex work, the organization is opposed to criminalization of all activities related to the purchase and sale of sex. Sexual desire and activity are a fundamental human need. To criminalize those who are unable or unwilling to fulfill that need through more traditionally recognized means and thus purchase sex, may amount to a violation of the right to privacy and undermine the rights to free expression and health.

One has to wonder a few things about this paragraph:

1. Are “all activities” related to prostitution to be decriminalized, such as human trafficking, pimping, rape and murder?

2. Is the right to privacy and the right to free expression of a john more important than the basic human rights of prostitutes and trafficked women?

3. Since when is prostitution not a “traditionally recognized means” of “fulfilling” sexual desire?

4. If sex was a fundamental human need, then wouldn’t women be obligated to provide it for men?

5. How is paying for sex an issue of privacy, expression or health? Whose privacy is invaded? Whose expression is curtailed? Whose health is risked?

These questions are all individually important and worthy of discussion (if only because they expose how utterly ridiculous the pro-prostitution position is). But to me the most egregious lie is the proposition that “sexual desire and activity are a fundamental human need.”

I have noticed that some men want to make women believe this horseshit. They seem not to rely on women having any sort of understanding of human biology or on any man calling them out on it. But I am calling them out on it.

Sexual desire and activity are not fundamental human needs. No man has ever died or been physically harmed from lack of sexual desire or activity. Not having sexual desire or activity is not in itself a health issue.

The high importance put on sexual desire and activity by society gives people, especially teenagers, the impression that they must have sex. This does create a need, but this is a constructed and highly unhealthy need. It is not “fundamental” in any sense.

When we think about “fundamental human needs,” we think about biological imperatives such as eating nutritious food, sleeping long enough, breathing clean air, having protective shelter. All these things imply social contact and support, so that’s part of it too. But “having sex” is not part of that list because it’s not a biological imperative; we like it because orgasms feel good, but hey, that’s why we masturbate, too.

You know what else feels really good? Taking cocaine. It triggers pleasurable parts of our brain, like orgasms. And I have nothing against people who use cocaine, any more than I object to people who have (consensual, egalitarian) sex. But I don’t think it’s a fundamental human need either.

You know what else is not a fundamental human need either? Prostitution.

This whole argument is really just a more well-written version of the old bromide that we need prostitutes to keep men happy and keep them from raping “respectable women.” When they’re talking about “traditionally recognized means,” they really mean “respectable women.” Prostitutes are inherently “not respectable.” That’s why their rights are irrelevant. All that’s relevant is the rights of the john.

Pro-prostitution rhetoric is woman-hating rhetoric, because any ideology which supports the exploitation and objectification of women is woman-hating rhetoric. Insofar as it states that prostitutes (who are human beings) must be means to some end (such as prostitutes existing to relieve men’s needs), it goes against the fundamental ethical principle that no human being may be treated as a means to an end, and therefore it must be rejected outright.

No stance on prostitution (no matter what side it comes from, and no matter who it comes from) should be taken seriously if it contradicts the fact that sex is not a fundamental human need. No ethical stance on any issue (no matter what important person said it or whether their stance is harmonious with your worldview) should be taken seriously if it contradicts the fundamental ethical principle of not treating human beings as means to an end.

Don’t treat human beings as means to an end.
Not: “Don’t treat human beings as means to an end unless it fulfills a fundamental human need.”
Not: “Don’t treat human beings as means to an end unless the end is good (as decided by you).”
Not: “Don’t treat human beings as means to an end unless they voluntarily chose to be treated that way, then it’s okay.”
Not: “Don’t treat human beings as means to an end unless (it is commonly believed that) they’re inferior to you.”

The illusory desire for control.


From Everyday People.

I’ve written about why free will is philosophical and scientific nonsense. But there is a deeper problem with the concept of free will: it’s not even falsifiable.

If free will could be true, it would mean that we can “choose” between alternatives when confronted with a decision. In real life, we can’t prove this in any way because we can’t retake the same decision twice. Every decision is different, and we don’t have a time machine to go back to any decision we’ve taken in the past. So not only is free will not scientifically valid, but free will cannot possibly be scientifically valid!

Sure, one can still believe in free will even though it cannot be scientific. But the same can be said of other unfalsifiable belief systems like Creationism or astrology. So that’s not a particularly interesting question.

Here’s a more interesting question: why do they believe? The way they talk, I think the answer has to do with wanting to feel like you’re in control. They believe that without this belief in free will, humans must necessarily lose control over their morality and become depraved.

You will probably note that this is the exact same thing they say about atheists. I will address this later.

When I talk about “being in control,” I am referring mostly to two things: 1. understanding what’s going on and one’s role with a reassuring certainty and 2. being able to make choices based on these understandings (note: this is not the same thing as the control mentality I’ve discussed before, although obviously they are related). We’re talking here about control at any level: control over oneself, control over family, control over one’s environment, control over life, control over one’s future.

Take a simple example such as Christianity and the afterlife (which represents control over one’s future). The believer knows that there is a Heaven and a Hell, and that people go to either of them when they die. The believer’s duty is to believe in Jesus’ plan of salvation for them. By choosing to do so, one can ensure an afterlife in Heaven, with absolute certainty.

When faced with the rebuttal that ey might not actually go to Heaven, the believer has little response but to reiterate eir faith, because it is the faith that brings certainty. If one has faith, one will go to Heaven. The issue here is not to actually know anything but rather to live in the utmost confidence. Reliance on facts cannot bring certainty and therefore cannot fulfill the desired function of making one feel in control.

Perhaps the most recently famous case of an ideology which sells an extreme form of control is The Secret, which tells you that you can get whatever you wish for, if you wish for it the right way. Another such case is Scientology, which claims that at the highest levels you can achieve “cause over MEST” (mastery of matter, energy, space and time).

Of course such ideologies can never deliver what they sell. But it is also no coincidence that both ideologies are almost ridiculously optimistic, i.e. that suffering is secondary and that one can lead a charmed life, if one follows a certain method to the letter. Optimism, like positive thinking, always buckles under the weight of reality, and control provides the way to reassure oneself that everything is going according to one’s will.

Positive thinking is another ideology which relies heavily on control. I have previously highlighted the proto-fascistic language used to symbolize the amount of control a positive thinker must maintain. It requires the individual to repress natural urges and bottle emself up, a surefire recipe for loss of control and guilt.

Many conspiracy theories feed into this need also. It may seem strange to posit that believing that one is ruled by shadowy and omnipresent forces leads one to feel more in control, but it is the certainty involved in “knowing” the secret truth that is reassuring:

The power structure: government, academia, corporations… take your pick. Whatever flavor of paranoia you favor, it can fit into the widespread panic that shadowy elites are not just in control of your life but actively hiding the truth from you. Clearly, this reflects the complexity of modern society and the alienation many feel from the structures of power, which impact our lives from afar. Unable to understand how society actually functions, it becomes reduced to a conspiracy by powerful elites keeping us from our alien destiny. By revealing this truth, their power will evaporate and you, the powerless Everyman, can finally take your rightful place among the chosen. Yes, you, the lowly middle-class worker drone who hates big government and thinks that PhDs want to keep you oppressed, you too can commune with aliens and stick it to the Man.

Control implies reassurance through belief. In the case of failure of a traditional belief (such as the failure of Creationism), the one thing a control freak can never say is “I don’t know,” because this completely nullifies the effect of belief. Instead of saying “I don’t know,” the believer must either make up false data, or ignore the problem. In real life, individuals and groups will choose one or the other branch as the new tradition to follow (“theistic evolution” or “Intelligent Design”).

Coming back to the issue of depravity resulting from loss of control, I’ve mentioned that free will proponents and religious people share the belief that once you abandon their pet belief system you will lose control of yourself, murder, rape, steal, and so on (that is to say, you will no longer be a moral agent but be reduced to what they see as an animalistic state, even though other species can be moral agents too).

What’s interesting is that it seems to me that the believers implicitly prove that their supposed control is really entirely subjective. Some free will proponents argue that even if free will does not really exist, we must still promote it as a concept because otherwise people will go rampant. So they admit that it is the belief, not the fact of the matter, which retains control. Likewise, religious believers claim that atheists are evil even though [they also believe that] God exists. How is that possible unless it’s the belief that’s operating, not God?

Of course it seems obvious to us that control is subjective. The concept of losing control is hard for people to imagine, but it remains solely in the imagination. Despite the belief that people can “lose control” and become animalistic, there really is no such thing as a nihilist. There are people who claim to be nihilists, but as far as we can tell they behave more or less like everyone else.

The thing about deconversions to atheism and determinism is that they are not a loss of control but a loss of meaning. And a loss of meaning is always temporary, because the creation of meaning is second nature to human beings. We do it all the time whether deliberately or nilly-willy, and we even have whole masses of people whose job is solely to do this for others. It does not take long for a new atheist or determinist to realize the meaning vacuum, and then to start filling it up (so what happens after we die? how does the universe work?).

The human mind, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If nihilism actually means anything, its meaning must lie in that short, unstable period between abandoning one framework of meaning and replacing it with another or others. Such a state cannot be permanent.

I do want to make clear that I am talking here about illusory mental control which really refers to meaning. I am not talking about actual control over one’s bodily or mental functions. That’s an entirely different issue, and one which is genuinely worrisome and scary.

I think we can observe from true believers that control does not work. The more people obsess over being in control, the more that need controls them in turn. The attempt to control oneself leads to obsession which leads to compulsion. The supposed signs of “loss of control” are observed in all kinds of people, including true believers. All that is left is a hollow shell of the procedures which supposedly bring about control, such as religious rituals, self-censorship, aggressiveness and passive-aggressiveness, and childish dogmas.

The narrow nature of political words, and how that distorts discourse.


I know I’ve used this image before, but it’s perfect for this entry also.

I have to re-examine the way I, and all of us, use words like “freedom,” because it is becoming increasingly clear to me that these words are incomplete and inadequate compared to what they are supposed to mean. And this, I think, creates giant holes in political discourse and encourages atomistic thinking, evaluating actions in a vacuum, subjectivist morality (I know this is a huge one, and I will come back to it), and supports the status quo.

In order to get into this inadequacy, I must first review the three kinds of power, although my readers may already be aware of them. Expressed simply, power is the ability to make people do what you want. According to the classification by economist John Kenneth Galbraith, power can be usefully divided in three categories, which he calls condign power (force), compensatory power (money) and conditioned power (indoctrination). He furthermore ascertains that while condign power is still crucially important in some respects, it has lost a great deal of general importance in our modern democratic societies compared to compensatory and conditioned power.

The trouble is that we are still using words like “freedom” in their original meaning, as freedom from coercion. Living in a society without mass media and where most people farm for their living (entailing relatively limited compensation and conditioning), but where people with swords can carry you away for criticizing the King, such a notion of freedom would be very appealing indeed. Unfortunately, it no longer reflects reality. Our political language has become far too narrowed to express the three-dimensional use of power in our society and, by extension, the three-dimensional use of counter-power (so we often reduce activist issues to violence versus non-violence).

So we can identify three components of freedom:

1. Freedom- from condign power.
2. Freedom- from compensatory power.
3. Freedom- from conditioned power.

If we denote the presence of each of these components in superscript, the most common forms discussed are freedom1 and, very rarely, freedom1,2 (not sure what we should call the kind of “freedom” advocated by fascists and other authoritarians who believe in beating up and killing innocent people: freedom0, non-freedom, anti-freedom, or just plain slavery?). What I am saying is that we need to expand our concept of freedom to freedom1,2,3; and the same thing applies to choice, agency, human rights.

So when a liberal feminist says, for example, “prostitutes choose to sell their bodies,” this use of the word “choose” is really choose1. When I say that a majority of women do not choose to become prostitutes but rather engage in it because of economic pressure and psychological dysfunction brought about by sexual abuse, I am using choose1,2,3. The difference is that the former does not acknowledge compensatory or conditioned power, while the latter does.

A complete understanding of the concept of “freedom” must contain more than acting without having a gun put to your temple or being threatened with force if you disobey. It must also mean freedom1,2,3 from all other socially constructed necessities, such as the necessity of work, the necessity of conform to one’s social roles, or childhood abuse and the compulsions it generates. The freedom1 generously granted to us by the capitalist basically reduces itself to the freedom to starve.

Our conception of human rights logically follows from our notion of freedom, because a right cannot by definition interfere with the freedom of other people. A “right to property” is perfectly compatible with freedom1, but absolutely incompatible with freedom1,2. A “right to free speech” fits perfectly within the perspective of freedom1, but not within the perspective of freedom1,2,3. A right to health care or a right to potable water grossly contradicts freedom1 but is logically consistent with freedom1,2.

Political equality, being the flip side of freedom, can be qualified in the same way, equality1 being associated with freedom1, and so on.

Freedom1,2,3 can basically be defined as the absence of any external determinism on the human mind. This of course does not deny the presence of internal determinism on the human mind: I am not at all here talking about “free will” or any other such spook. The best way to express such a phenomenon, I think, would be in terms of possibilities offered to the individual. This definition provided by someone in the Occupy Wall Street group provides us, I think, with a good starting point:

Freedom is bound up with the idea of possibilities. The idea of limitless possibilities is the ideal of limitless freedom. The idea that anything is potentially possible, that’s what freedom means. And historically there have been very few people that have been allowed to have the kinds of possibilities that would allow them to be free. Society has progressed more and more people have been allowed to be free. But we still live in a state of unfreedom. Society does not live for its own sake, autonomously. It is still bound to something external to itself that structures it. The goal of history and transforming society must be to make these possibilities available to everyone.

Again there is a strong link posited between freedom1,2,3 and self-determinism: society, in the fullest sense of the word, must be autonomous if we are to be free1,2,3 at the individual level. But these possibilities must crucially be open to people who are different: people who already want to fulfill their social roles and not rock the boat don’t need freedom2,3, since they’d basically do what they’re doing anyway. It’s the freaks and the weirdoes, the geniuses and the subgeniuses, the visionaries and the innovators, who need to see their possibilities opened up. This is true of all rights and all choices as well: the State rarely mistreats those who are on its side.

I write a great deal of entries in opposition to voluntaryism or its corollaries. This is because I think voluntaryism is a major ethical error that people commit on a regular basis, that it leads to absolute hostility to radical principles, and that it needs to be opposed. But what causes voluntaryist-inspired thinking?

I think the fact that our political language is so narrow may be the root cause. Someone who only believes in freedom1 can then believe in equality1 (that as long as no one is being coerced, we are all on an equal footing), which leads to choice1 (that a choice is valid as long as we’re all equal1), which leads to voluntaryism (that coercion is bad but everything else is good as long as it’s chosen1). So by examining the narrowness of political language, we’re going to the root of the voluntaryist issue.

This leads me to subjectivist ethics, of which voluntaryism is only one variant. Subjectivism in ethics holds that saying an action is “good” means saying that some person or group holds a positive attitude towards it. “Abortion is bad” reduces itself to “I believe abortion is bad” or “I don’t approve of people having abortions” or “My culture does not support abortion” or “God forbids abortion” or some variant of such propositions.

One of the fatal problems with subjectivism is that, if whatever a person believes is automatically good, subjectivists are implicitly imputing infallibility to the human mind; otherwise there’d be nothing stopping a human mind from erring and stating that, for example, the Holocaust was good (I assume everyone reading this, subjectivist or not, believes the Holocaust was evil). But this can only make any sort of sense if you ignore all the social factors that mold the human mind. How can anything be infallible and at the same time be influenced by ever-changing external pressures?

So there is definitely a connection here, in that ethical subjectivism logically depends on supporting freedom1 against other kinds. Note that I am not saying that all subjectivists do support freedom1, but rather that subjectivism doesn’t make sense except if one also supports freedom1 (so don’t argue that subjectivism makes sense by telling me you don’t believe in infallibility). Anyone who understands that the human mind can also be attacked by non-coercive power cannot also believe logically that the human mind can be infallible.

Now let me go through each radical ideology in turn and look at how the narrowness of language changes how we look at them.

Starting with atheism, consider the term “freedom of religion.” What does it mean in practice? That children, who are most of the time indoctrinated (either by their parents, by a church, or some proxy) in a religion and are forced to identify with this religion from the time they can speak and think, who live in a society which puts pressure on them to adopt certain religions, can somehow make an informed decision about religion even though they are not even old enough to actually make an informed decision, even if they were actually given enough information, which we never are. So freedom of religion is definitely a sort of freedom1. It completely ignores the tremendous social pressures and conditioning applied to people’s religious beliefs.

But religion uses compensatory power as well. Just think of all the atheist priests we learn about in the Clergy Project who remain in their job simply because they can’t afford to lose that job and have no other skills to exploit. Think of all the teenagers everywhere who are deeply afraid of “coming out” and living as an atheist because they would lose financial support from the parents who supposedly love them. Think of people in highly religious countries who are harassed by religious people but don’t speak up for fear of losing their jobs.

I will not elaborate on the topic of Anarchism, but I think the relation here should be directly obvious. Anarchists recognize all forms of power as being inimical to social autonomy and individual freedom. Hierarchies and power go hand-in-hand, as the institutions in our societies which are most able to accumulate and use power are all hierarchical. Ultimately the Anarchist goal is to eliminate or neutralize all forms of power, not just coercion.

Antinatalism fights against procreation, which is pushed by massive indoctrination and financial incentives. We are all indoctrinated to believe that we must get married and have children, that being a parent is the best thing that can happen to you, that people who don’t have children are selfish. And marriage, which carries with it the expectation of children, is itself massively pushed, so much that now being able to get married is considered a basic human right. States give money through various programs to people who have children, and it is very much in the interest of States to maintain population growth (except in extreme exceptions like China), if only to maintain their tax base and the endless growth machine of capitalism.

Then there is radical feminism, which identifies the patriarchy as a system of hierarchical gender domination. The patriarchy is partially maintained by violence, but is also maintained by the inculcation and constant enforcement of gender roles, sexist institutions like capitalism, the military, religion and marriage (to only name those), the objectification of women, sexist pseudo-science and quasi-science, and so on. One cannot also forget the underpayment and non-payment of women’s work all over the world. I’ve also mentioned prostitution as another example earlier. Here is another example quoted by antiplodon at Anti-Porn Feminists:

Bart (1983; Bart and O’Brien 1985) has identified a heterosexual sex-rape continuum. At one end is consensual sex (both parties equally desire sex). At the other is rape. In between are altruistic sex (one party submits out of guilt, duty, or pity) and compliant sex (one party submits because the consequences of not submitting are worse than those of submitting). Using Bart’s conceptualization, Kelly found that most women “felt pressured to have sex in many, if not all, of their sexual relationships with men” (p.56). Yet she found that women perceived sex as coercive only when physical force or the threat of physical force was used.

This quote perfectly demonstrates the narrowness of the word “rape,” insofar as only violence or the threat of violence is perceived as coercive. Therefore most rapes are not even perceived as being rape, even by the victim.

I think the tripartite schema is clearly used here; the sex-rape continuum incorporates all three forms of power: condign (the violence of rape, the threat of violence in compliant sex), compensatory (fear of losing those resources which are controlled by the man, including shelter and money) and conditioned (the inculcation of guilt, duty or pity for not complying to a man’s sexual demands). Note that the gradient from sex to rape follows exactly the gradient from condign to conditioned power as well (rape/condign, compliant sex/condign and compensatory, altruistic sex/conditioned).

Uses of compensatory and conditioning power are generally organizational in nature. A corporation or a State pays your wages, not a person. And although specific people may indoctrinate you personally (parents, teachers, friends), indoctrination still relies on an entire society and its hierarchical institutions to back it up. Coercion, on the other hand, tends to be more individualistic in nature: ultimately, a person has to threaten, beat up or shoot another person. The organization of violence helps its effectiveness, but it is not necessary.

Now, radicalism as an approach to ethics puts the emphasis on systemic analysis, not on individual relations. What first concerns anti-theists is not whether this or that person was helped by religion, but the principles by which religion operates and their effects on society as a whole. What first concerns Anarchists is not whether some people had good or bad experiences with government bureaucracy, but rather the principles by which capital-democracies operate and how they affect people’s lives. I think you get the idea.

This means that radicals are naturally interested in freedom1,2,3, not in freedom1, because the latter view is unduly individualistic. Yes, obviously it is desirable for no one to be coerced, but to stop there is an oversimplistic analysis which assumes that actions and choices must be analyzed in a contextless vacuum. The correct perspective is to start from the premise that actions do not in fact take place in a contextless vacuum, but that they are inscribed within a social context which exerts compensatory and conditioned pressures on every individual, and therefore on all actions.

Those who actively affirm that freedom1 is the only valid use of the word “freedom” are quick in screaming censorship or fascism when radicals present a systemic analysis of an institution they favor. But this is a circular argument. If freedom1 was the only valid freedom, then fighting against compensatory and conditioned power could be censorship and fascism; but it isn’t.

I start from an egalitarian position, and from that position, I say that, to mangle a quote from Gary Lloyd, “[w]hen a boot (i.e. power) is on your throat, whether it is a coercive boot, a compensatory boot, or a conditioned boot is of no consequence.” All three “boots” lead to vast inequalities between human beings. All three “boots” flow from hierarchy and lead to internalized self-hatred, exploitation, suffering, death and genocide.

The major problem in separating these forms of power is that they are all necessary for each other. Genocide requires dehumanization of the enemy and massive resources to be perpetrated. “Property rights” require indoctrinated obedience and the force of the gun if they are to persist. Indoctrinating people to agree with a social goal, no matter what goal, requires some form of punishment for those who disagree and the means to produce and propagate an effective message.

I think it’s safe to say that at least most organizations, institutions and hierarchies, no matter what their goal is, rely to a certain extent on all three forms of power to accomplish their goals. Granted, there is an issue of degree, as most organizations, institutions and hierarchies also use cooperative methods to a certain extent. But outside of cooperative methods, they use a certain mix of the three forms of power to achieve any given goal.

I realize that a proponent of freedom1 would claim that, for example, using force to protect “property rights” is an entirely warranted and justified use of power, which therefore presents no problem at all. Of course they are wrong in that “property rights” are a legal fiction and are not actually valid. More importantly, to declare one use of force to be valid and another invalid means to have a conception of rights, and our conception of rights is derived from our conception of freedom, so the argument is actually circular.

I have also discussed the fact that many of our “non-coercive” institutions actually embody past violence. So even acts which are not in themselves violent were made possible by coercion. So there really isn’t any rational way of separating the two, and to claim otherwise is delusional at best. You’re either a radical or you’re wrong.

Breeding is selfish, natalism is selfishness made into a social value.


From Dinosaur Comics.

Selfishness is the moral position that one should act only for one’s self-interest. When used consistently as an ethical principle, selfishness leads to institutionalized competition, a constant war of all against all, where power, not intelligence or compassion, controls what gets produced, what ideas are popularized, and the kind of rules one lives under.

A selfish person is one who constantly reduces everything, even global issues, to “me, myself and I.” Everything should be about what they want, what they desire, what they value, without regard to the fact that others may disagree and that we need to respect other people’s wants, desires and values as long as they don’t interfere with ours.

Breeding is the most selfish activity I can imagine. Having children is all about “me, myself and I.” People have children because they want a mini-me they can mold to their desires, because they want to perpetuate their bloodline or DNA, because they want to hide their homosexuality, because they want to prove their capacity for virility or motherhood, because their narrow and vain religious beliefs forbids them to abort, and so on. The most important reason, I think, is that breeding grants one a higher status: people with children are considered more valuable e.g. in workplace privileges and in health decisions. Basically, they hold society hostage because their children’s livelihood depends on theirs.

Breeding can never be in the interest of the child, simply because the child in question does not exist at the time of the decision, not even as a potential. So breeding can never, by simple logic, be in the interest of the future person. So in whose interest is it? The fucking parents, always the fucking parents, those ego-filled parasites who expect society to praise them for having had sex and to raise their children for them. I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I sympathize with children, and have nothing against them, it’s the parents I hate.

The selfishness of parents extends so far beyond breeding. When their children are growing up, they expect everything around them to adapt to the existence of their precious possessions. They demand that adults without children curb their behavior for their own petty benefit, instead of taking a more active part in parenting. We need censorship and self-censorship because they can’t take the time to regulate what their children watch or hear, we need to allow them to bring their screaming babies everywhere because they can’t afford babysitters, we need to lie to each other about sexual and physical abuse to not bruise parents’ egos, and all the panoply of nonsense that slips under the door in the name of “what about the children?”

What can my family and friends do for me? What can my workplace do for me? What can society do for me? It’s all about “me,” “me,” “me,” “me,” “me,” never about anyone or anything else. And then they whine about child support, one of the only mechanisms in this fucking crazy society that exists to support children’s interests!

And don’t get me started about imposing religion, gender, nationality and politics on a little child who cannot possibly comprehend or actually hold any of these social roles, because ey is not yet a social agent, and crushing their freedom and vitality with them. If you’ve done that to your child, and all parents have, know that I hate you and your kind.

Yea, you can come yap in my face about how your little baby is so pritty pritty and how ey goohs and gaahs and how you’re so fucking happy that you think you’re gonna have a heart attack every time the baby open eir eyes. So what? I can cite counter-examples. Anecdotes don’t prove shit, and if you had any interest in the truth at all you’d at least know that.

Insofar as breeding goes, parents’ mind seem to be comatose; their justifications for the act are curiously and completely absent, to a point where they seem as nonchalant about such a grave act as a fish would be flippant about the existence of water. We’d call this ridiculously negligent behavior if people put so little thought into any other major decision of their lives, like buying a car or a house, what to study in college, whether to leave one’s religion, or who to marry. And yet when people take the decision to forcibly bring a new life into this world, in defiance of all the principles of ethics we otherwise so dutifully give lip service to, people are expected to praise them?

Furthermore, as dimasok points out in the comments, bringing a new life in to this world is a far more momentous act than the others I’ve listed, since it involves the life of another human being. So there can be no comparison between the two: compared to the grave consequences of breeding, decisions about what to consume or what to study are of little relative importance.

And they don’t give a shit about the effects of their decision on the rest of society and the world. They don’t care that we have more than seven billion people, that their lifestyle has an impact on their environment and the environment of the world, that their child will only get to live a Western lifestyle because of the exploitation of people in the Third World, that we didn’t ask to be burdened with more children in our society, and so on. They don’t give a shit because it doesn’t affect them very much. After all, one child is just a drop in the bucket. They don’t give a fuck what we think.

And why should they? We as a society keep telling them that they have a right to breed and that nothing can ever change that. So why should we blame them for feeling entitled to breed and being callous about it? They are merely agreeing with, and acting on the basis of, what they’ve been taught.

I haven’t really talked about natalism specifically, but the case is not much better. We are told by court jesters like Bryan Caplan that natalism is validated by the need to constantly feed the capitalist system, to drive consumption, to drive innovation, and so on. At no point do they discuss the interests of the child, because the issue does not even register on their radar.

We know that these natalists are really doing it to sell books and get their articles read, that the primary objective of these books and articles is to provide the rationalization for breeders to feel as if they are doing something un-selfish, socially positive, progressive. They are engaged in the manufacture of mass delusion, a mass delusion which is not even necessary since most people just have children without thinking anyway. This lack of necessity explains why natalist thinkers are not in high demand yet, although growing panic about birth rates might create a more vibrant market for their brand of lies.

Natalist arguments, like theological arguments, set out to use rhetorical sleight of hand to prove a preordained conclusion: that breeding is desirable and ethically justifiable. But these arguments can only be valid if capitalism, with its uncontrollable growth and resulting need for constantly spiraling consumption and production, can itself be justified. If capitalism is undesirable, then there is no need for natalism. And capitalism is undesirable. There is no need to put profit before people, there is no need to benefit the elite of society against the masses of workers and unemployed, there is no need to kill and exploit people in the Third World for our lifestyle. There is just no need for capitalism to exist, and if there is no need for capitalism to exist, then there is no need for natalism.

I know what many of you must be thinking, that it’s “common knowledge” that it’s the childfree and antinatalists who are the selfish ones. But this is pure projection. I can’t speak for the childfree community, but most people I know became antinatalists out of compassion for all life and anger at the suffering we inflict on each other. The projection enrages me because I don’t know a group of less selfish people than antinatalists. It is a Big Lie delivered by a bunch of selfish people to tar noble and just people.

Life is an imposition. What is selfish about not wanting to impose one’s will on other human beings? What is selfish about wanting the human beings that do exist to live the best life they can, without burdening them with more lives to feed and clothe? What is selfish about not imposing a new life on the society around us?

Natalists claim that it’s selfish to not want children because people who don’t have children end up not having to sacrifice their free time, money and well-being (even health) for children. One could say the exact same thing about a drug addiction. Is not having a drug addiction selfish? Since when is not sacrificing oneself to an evil cause selfish?

Breeding is a mass delusion. Natalism is a crock of shit meant to support that mass delusion. Together they are a clusterfuck of lies, projections and impositions.

Ideological bias is the main ethical error.

One issue which puts people off intuitionism is the issue of widespread disagreement: if morality is intuitive, then why do people, who presumably start from the same intuitions, disagree so much?

The first point to make here is that disagreement is not really as widespread as people believe. Yes, people profoundly disagree on important issues, but we focus on these issues precisely because there is profound disagreement. We don’t talk about all the issues on which we do agree because there’s no particular reason to do so, but this skews our perspective. If you sat down with a person whom you think as being completely opposite to you ideologically (such as, say, an ultra-conservative) and took a test on random moral and ethical issues, I think you’d find a great deal of agreement.

But profound disagreement does exist. How can this be explained from an intuitionist standpoint? Obviously the answer is that some people are not following their intuitions, or do not follow them in certain contexts.

One obvious example is religion. As physicist Steven Weinberg famously said:

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

I disagree that there is such a thing as “good people” or “bad people.” Actions are good or evil, but our capacity to be good or evil is vastly contextual. In fact, the example of religion is a great example, since no one is born with a religion and yet it does make people do evil things.

But apart from that, I agree that religion makes people’s morality much worse. We observe that when Christians deconvert and call themselves atheists, most of the bizarre ethical principles they used to believe just fade away. So how does religion do that?

The general answer to that question is ideological bias:

People who are biased are moved by emotions and desires, other than the desire to have true beliefs and avoid false ones, to view some claims favorably and others unfavorably. In other words, there are some things we want to believe, and others we want not to believe. Often, we want to believe what is in our interests to believe, or to convince others of; what we would like to be true; what would be in the interests of the social group with which we identify to believe; and what coheres with the self-image we want to maintain.
Michael Huemer, Ethical Intuitionism, p137-138

Connected to this, Huemer names the major sources of bias: self-interest, wishful thinking, group interests, self-image, cultural traditions, religion, and philosophy.

Take the example of religion, which incorporates most of these sources. There is an obvious element of group interests, since religion itself, as well as specific sects, forms a group of people who thereby share common interests (e.g. in the wider propagation of group ideas, in the construction of more places of worship, and so on). But beyond group interests, which are general in nature, there are specific doctrines and mores which have to be followed.

Both aspects are not separate but interact with each other. Doctrines provides ammunition for recruitment and the necessities of recruitment inform the way people worship (as is most exemplified by the New Testament stories, but also in the changes churches have made over the last decades). Likewise, other elements also interact. Changes in cultural traditions eventually force change in mores, because doing otherwise would make recruitment impossible.

Religion and philosophy (including politics) are definitely major sources of ideological bias. And yet not all ideologies are sources of ideological bias. So what makes religion and philosophy particularly conducive to ideological bias, but not some other ideologies?

There are three attitudes that a group can have towards people’s personal values:

1. It may seek to develop them and help them be expressed in the organization.
2. It may seek to persuade people to take a different course.
3. It may seek to impose a new set of rules on the individual from “on high” (whether from some human authority, divine authority, or some other form of authority).

The third attitude is what produces ideological bias, because it forces the individual to abandon eir intuitions in favor of dogmatic rules. Sometimes fixed ideas lie behind it, since they provide the leverage to silence individualism and dissent.

The Special Pleading comes into play because, outside of the domain occupied by that group, “real life” is still followed in spite of the doctrines that apply in that domain. So for example genocide is still mind-bogglingly evil in all other contexts, but in the context of the Bible genocide becomes praiseworthy because reliance on the Bible must be defended at all costs. Therefore the Christian has to use Special Pleading when ey looks at genocide in the Bible, which ey does not use when talking about genocide in any other context.

Such use of Special Pleading is the surefire symptom of ideological bias at work. If you ask people to validate a principle used while changing the context (in ways that are mot ethically relevant) and they balk, you know you’ve hit such a case.

I think it’s pretty clear that Special Pleading is by far the most powerful form of ethical error because it is generated by organizations, not by individuals, and therefore has far greater magnitude. One person here or there who engages in wishful thinking cannot compare to the impact of, say, the entire Catholic Church. Individual error is subject to peer pressure and other incentives in a way that an entire organization is not.

On the contrary, ethical errors in organizations have a tendency, in hierarchical organizations (which in our society means all organizations, unless they are explicitly Anarchist), to grow and feed on each other.

These errors can be implanted from the outside, in which case they are examples of co-optation, or they can be self-inflicted, in which case they are examples of groupthink. Once an organization begins seeking power or profit, it becomes more and more in its interest to adapt to the linear logic of how to obtain more and more of these things. And once an organization starts cultivating its own self-interested beliefs, it becomes more and more acceptable for people within the organization to accept and act upon these beliefs.

The process of groupthink develops new rules that become the norm, and anyone who refuses to adhere to the new rules becomes abnormal.

Freud had said in Totem and Taboo that acts that are illegal for the individual can be justified if the whole group shares responsibility for them. But they can be justified in another way: the one who initiates the act takes upon himself both the risk and the guilt. The result is truly magic: each member of the group can repeat the act without guilt. They are not responsible, only the leader is. Redl calls this, aptly, “priority magic.” But it does something even more than relieve guilt: it actually transforms the fact of murder. This crucial point initiates us directly into the phenomenology of group transformation of the everyday world. If one murders without guilt, and in imitation of the hero who runs the risk, why then it is no longer murder: it is “holy aggression. For the first one it was not.” In other words, participation in the group redistills everyday reality and gives it the aura of the sacred- just as, in childhood, play created a heightened reality.
Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death, p135-136

There is also a connection here with manichean thinking; Robert Trivers explains this in his discuss with Noam Chomsky:

Psychologists have shown that people make these verbal switches when they’re in a we/they situation, in a your-group-versus-another situation…

If you’re a member of my group and you do something good, I make a general statement: “Noam Chomsky is an excellent person.” Now if you do something bad, I give a particular statement, “Noam Chomsky stepped on my toe.”

But it’s exactly reversed if you’re not a member of my group. If you’re not a member of my group and you do something good I say, “Noam Chomsky gave me directions to MIT.” But if he steps on my toe I say, “He’s a lousy organism,” or “He’s an inconsiderate person.”

So we generalize positively to ourselves, particularize negative and reverse it when we’re talking about other people.

The more people in a group think of their situation as “us versus them,” the more likely they are to reject attempts to correct nascent groupthink. Remember that one of the premises of manichean thinking is that whatever “we” do is right. Anyone who opposes what “we” do (even if it’s the wrong thing to do), logically, must therefore be against the group in toto. You are against the war in Vietnam, therefore you are anti-American. You don’t support the bullying of homosexuals, therefore you are anti-Christian. And so on.

Special Pleading is a gargantuan problem, and there’s no easy solution. But as I’ve already pointed out, intuitionism does provide us with a way to examine it and identify it: hypothetical scenarios. By isolating an action, and putting it in a different context, we can deduce the presence or absence of Special Pleading. In fact, atheists have been doing this for a very long time regarding Biblical atrocities and absurdities; but I think it’s such an intuitively obvious technique that pretty much everyone does it.

Evolutionary intuitionism and politics.

Ethics concerns how we should behave towards each other as members of society. It is therefore closely connected to politics, hierarchy, and the goals of social and economic institutions in general. Ethical views on the nature of human rights, on valuable social goals, on what is permissible and what is not, are of obvious and direct import on what kind of social and economic institutions we should have.

Evolutionary intuitionism, being an ethical position, has a great deal to say about these things. Before I get into those that, let me first remind you what the two basic premises of evolutionary intuitionism are:

* Being of value*: I am essentially of objective and independent intrinsic value throughout my existence, and so are other human beings with foundational attitudes. From now on, when I write that something is valuable* or of value*, this is what I mean.
* Desire-dependence: We should first seek to preserve ourselves from significant injury, then preserve our kin from significant injury, then preserve our friends and other people with whom we enjoy mutually beneficial relationships from injury.

From these two basic premises, we can derive a great number of principles. In my entry on intuitionism, I listed the ones Zamulinski discusses in his book Evolutionary Intuitionism. The principles on involuntary sacrifice and on egalitarianism are of particular importance to the topic of politics.

If you remember my entry “On the inconvenient truths about human sacrifice,” you’ll know what I’m referring to when I say involuntary sacrifice is an important political issue. Capitalism and its various forms are based on involuntary servitude and involuntary sacrifice. Indeed, we freely admit that our infrastructure was based on sacrifice, but would rather deny the consequences of this fact. Many of our laws and institutions (the two examples I gave in that entry are our laws for or against abortion, and hospitals) are based on involuntary sacrifice, in that we know for a fact that people will die because of their continued existence.

Now people might object to my painting of these sacrifices as being involuntary. Let’s take the most “voluntary” case I can think of, driving on roads. People drive on roads knowing very well that death can result, and 1.2 million people a year die in automobile crashes around the world (more than the number of successful suicides).

You may argue that people voluntarily go on the road with the risk of death in mind, and that therefore they are not “involuntary sacrifices.” But I think this is a vast exaggeration. No one sets out to drive their car with the expectation of dying, including those people who do end up dying. So no one voluntarily dies so the road system can continue to exist. And yet they do die so the road system can continue to exist.

Likewise, factory workers in Third World countries do not voluntarily want to die or be wounded in workplace accidents, but they do die or get wounded so neo-liberalism can export the result of their labor to Western markets.

Keep in mind that it is not the action itself that is involuntary, but the sacrifice (the loss of life for some unrelated cause). I am not arguing here that the driving or the labor is involuntary, but that the sacrifices that result from these actions are involuntary. No one commits to these actions expecting to be wounded or die.

Of course, there’s always the fatalistic objections. By fatalistic, I mean that the objections basically amount to shrugging and saying “well, that’s the way it is, so…” In the case of roads, one may answer that “well, we need roads so we should just accept that using roads will result in some deaths.” In the case of neo-liberalism, one may answer that “well, we need to work for survival, and some people will be hurt because of it, but that’s just how it is.”

Firstly, such answers are red herrings, because they do not argue against the existence of involuntary sacrifice; on the contrary, they confirm it, because they seek to rationalize its existence. This is similar to a Christian answering the Problem of Evil by answering that “well, God must have some reason to bring all this about…” By giving such an answer, the interlocutor has already defeated eir own position. Likewise, the fatalist does not deny the existence of involuntary sacrifice, so ey fails to address the issue.

Secondly, I do not accept the fatalist conclusion that because “that’s just how it is,” we therefore cannot pass judgment. History is “just how it is,” but we still pass judgment upon historical events. To reiterate an example I’ve used before, the execution of Giordani Bruno is “just how it is,” but we have no problem passing judgment upon it. But unlike the execution of Giordani Bruno, the existence of roads or other institutions is not fixed in stone; the way society works can be changed, albeit very slowly, in a way that historical facts cannot.

Another obvious answer is that the benefit we get from the sacrifice outweighs the cost of the sacrifice itself. But if the victim is of value* and desire-dependence is true, then it cannot be the case that anyone is obligated to sacrifice themselves for other people’s benefit, no matter how great that benefit might be. One may voluntarily decide to commit such a sacrifice, but it cannot be involuntary.

If involuntary sacrifice is morally wrong, then all economic and social institutions which entail involuntary sacrifice are morally wrong, regardless of their benefits. We have no duty to benefit others, but we have a duty not to harm others.

Capitalism in all its forms, including neo-liberalism, relies on the exploitation of some for the benefit of others, an exploitation which includes the enclosure of commons, the expropriation of people from their land, and the expropriation of natural resources, all of which may entail starvation and therefore involuntary sacrifice. Capitalism also entails the primacy of the “right to property” over the rights to the requirements of life (such as food, potable water or health care), which may entail involuntary sacrifice as well. Many jobs also risk people’s lives in ways which are not necessary for attaining their objectives, but are necessary for profit-seeking.

War also entails massive amounts of involuntary sacrifice (sorry, I meant “collateral damage”… or something). I hope I don’t have to explain this one. The “justice system,” with its routine disrespect for human life and for truth, entails massive amounts of involuntary sacrifice as well (not only in the use of the death penalty and in prison violence, but also in psychological trauma).

I’ve already discussed the case of the laws regarding abortion; both pro-choice and anti-abortion laws entail involuntary sacrifice (although pro-choice laws do so to a lesser degree). Anti-drug laws also entail involuntary sacrifice, in that they make drug use more dangerous and more likely to be lethal, and also introduce a tremendous number of crimes which may be lethal as well. Laws regarding guns and other weapons also entail involuntary sacrifice when they interfere with self-defense or generate more armed crime.

I could go on and on with examples, but I think you get the idea: a lot of our institutions entail involuntary sacrifice. This means they are morally wrong, regardless of any other consideration. A lot of them (such as food safety issues, workplace issues, transportation issues, health care issues) are partially or completely reducible to capitalism. Air, water and soil pollution, which may be the greatest cause of death in the world and the cause of at least 3% of deaths in the Western world, is also partially reducible to capitalism.

It is not exactly capitalism that is to blame, but any kind of totalitarian economics. The Soviet Union and China were no exception to the rule: they both had rent-seeking (mainly through obtaining higher prices by appealing to the planning bureaucracy) and wage contracts. Firms there were therefore under the same incentives which cause involuntary sacrifice under capitalist economies.

We also have an obligation to oppose such sacrificial arrangements as much as we can, for the same reason that we have an obligation not to personally kill innocent people. Unlike Zamulinski, I do not construe this as meaning that not opposing such arrangements signals consent, however; consent cannot exist without a credible signal of refusal, and there is no credible signal of refusal to capitalism, war, the “justice system” and various laws.

This means that anyone who supports capitalism is morally wrong, because they fail to oppose a sacrificial arrangement made for their benefit. Of course, such people have already bought into self-interest, and therefore see nothing wrong with having others killed or wounded for their benefit. This merely highlights how morally wrong they are.

We’re not talking about egalitarianism here, but about something very basic, that one should not sacrifice others for oneself. But evolutionary intuitionism also entails egalitarianism; because we are committed to treat everyone with foundational attitudes to be of value*, no matter who they are, we are committed to treating them as our moral equals and to give them equal respect.

Zamulinski’s egalitarian conclusions are extremely radical in nature:

If we are committed to attribute to other possessors of foundational attitudes the same amount of value* as we attribute to ourselves, always treating one person’s desires as more important than another’s is wrong, because doing so presupposes that the former is more valuable* than the latter.

Thus, we have a prima facie obligation to reform or abolish customs or institutions that promote unequal status, unequal treatment, or exploitation. For instance, the subjugation of women (sic) is wrong even if it is in the biological interest of males to subjugate them…

Equality trumps economics. The economic costs of achieving equality are morally bearable unless they increase the probability of the deaths of some possessors of foundational attitudes. The currency of morality is human lives, human well-being, and human dignity. Other currencies are subordinate to it.

This bears repeating: equality is more important than benefits, even if the benefits greatly outweigh the practical harm inflicted by the inequality. No amount of money can outweigh the fact that we are owed equal respect as valuable* human beings.

Capitalism is not, and cannot, be ethical. No “reform” can make capitalism ethical because its basic premises are explicitly anti-egalitarian and subjectivist.

Of course Zamulinski is correct in saying that the Patriarchy must be abolished. He also parries the usual argument that the Patriarchy should not be abolished because it makes men feel good; no benefit, including something as strong as biological interest, can trump the fundamental equality of valuable* human beings. To refuse to treat each other as equals is profoundly wrong because the fact that we are all equally valuable* is so obvious; this is why we need to rationalize inequality so much.

This is why traditionalists and funfems cannot simply come out and say that the Patriarchy is good because it makes men feel good (even though in practice they behave exactly as if that is their motivating belief). Instead, they have to either argue for the objective existence of gender, as I’ve discussed in many prior entries, or argue that the Patriarchy makes women feel good too (as they do with pornography and prostitution, amongst other things); while I don’t dispute that the most brainwashed women feel good by objectifying themselves for the male gaze, again, benefits cannot trump equality.

Antinatalism also enters into this ethical approach. As Zamulinski points out in his book, we are committed to treating human beings to be of value* from the time of conception, because they are potential beings of value*. As I’ve pointed out before, this cannot mean that fetuses cannot be aborted, because abortion makes it so that the fetus is no longer a potential being of value*. But it does mean that we are committed to treating potential humans in the same way we would treat any other human. So at least some forms of antinatalism (those based on issues of consent, risk, the Asymmetry, basically arguments which demonstrate that we treat potential lives with unjustified contempt) are logically validated by evolutionary intuitionism.

Ethics informs us about the validity of our social values. Everything we do, as members of society, has a social component, and therefore every action fulfills some social value. Morality, ethics, personal and political are all intimately connected. We cannot pretend that there are separate realms of reasoning called “politics” and “economics” which are separate from human values and human considerations. This is a recipe for massive dehumanization and destruction. We have seen as much in the ways these disciplines have been used to steal, maim and kill. Equality trumps politics and economics.

Why intuitionism supports antinatalist conclusions.


Above: One of my Antinatalist Antelope memes.

Since I’ve become aware of ethical intuitionism, I’ve learned that natalist shill Bryan Caplan is also an intuitionist. This should be distressing to any antinatalist intuitionist like myself, especially since it promotes a dubious connection between natalism and intuitionism. So I am especially interested in demonstrating why this connection is invalid.

* The fairness intuition.

The philanthropic category of antinatalist arguments aims to demonstrate that procreation is harmful. Arguments in this category include arguments from consent, risk, not taking decisions for others, and will usually take a form such as this:

1. We should not impose on other persons without their consent.
2. Procreation imposes existence on a future person without their consent.
3. Procreation is wrong.

1. We should not expose other persons to negative risks.
2. Procreation exposes future persons to a wide variety of profoundly negative risks.
3. Procreation is wrong.

1. We should not take decisions for other persons.
2. Procreation means taking the decision for other persons that this world is good enough to be born in.
3. Procreation is wrong.

In response to such arguments, natalists inevitably reply that future persons do not exist and therefore have no rights and freedoms, and that this represents a significant moral difference. I have already addressed the general form of this argument in my entry on the Non-Identity Problem, so I will not repeat all the points here.

I will rather look at the issue of fairness. It seems eminently unfair to grant consent and decision-making freedom to some people but not others. In the absence of moral difference between two people, we should not give less freedom to one than to the other; this, I think, is intuitively true.

Natalists have replied by positing that future persons are in fact morally different, because they do not exist in the present. But this makes no sense unless we can say the same about past persons as well. Consider:

(A) The execution of Giordani Bruno was unjust.

If it is correct that non-existing people do not have rights and freedoms, then A should be trivially false; but A does not seem like a trivial issue at all, let alone trivially false. Therefore it seems unlikely that non-existing people do not have rights and freedoms.

The natalist can only escape this problem by stating that it is only future persons who do not have rights and freedoms, but there is no reason to agree with this. Supposing a future person P who will be executed at some time in the future (sadly we can assume this will happen, as executions are not about to end), we can formulate a similar proposition:

(B) The execution of P will be unjust.

Again, if future people have no rights and freedoms, B should be trivially false, but B does not seem to be trivially false at all.

* Torturing innocent children.

(I1) It is morally wrong to torture innocent children for fun.

I1 is such a strong intuition that it is widely considered the prototypical ethical intuition: it is as powerfully true as other basic intuitions like “one plus one equals two” or “pleasure is better than pain.” But “fun” is not a relevant distinction here: it seems equally valid that it is morally wrong to torture innocent children for revenge or for sexual pleasure. Furthermore, we already know that:

(I2) It is wrong to punish someone for an action for which ey is not responsible.

But surely a little child cannot be responsible for any action ey performs. So I don’t believe that we lose too much in the translation by changing I1 to:

(I1′) It is morally wrong to torture little children.

What does that have to do with natalism? Well, some children are born with debilitating conditions such as spina bifida, Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, anencephaly, just to name those. In some cases the condition can be detected in the womb, in others it cannot. So some risk is inevitable.

Now you might reply that such conditions are not literally torture, since they are not inflicted by human beings. But this assumes antinatalism is false, and therefore is a circular argument. For the antinatalist does believe that these conditions were inflicted by human beings, more specifically by the parents of the children afflicted, because they made the conscious decision of giving birth to those children knowing the risks of such conditions arising.

Suppose you make a tool which you know for a fact has a very small chance of exploding and killing someone, even if the user uses it safely. You find a stranger on the street who knows nothing whatsoever about tools and sell him your object without telling him about the chance of death. You later learn that he died of an explosion. You did not kill him directly, but you are responsible for putting him under that risk and you did kill him indirectly. We would qualify this as a homicide by criminal negligence, not as an accident.

If this scenario is correct, and I think it is, we should therefore rightfully call giving birth to a child with such conditions torture. The torture is inflicted genetically instead of physically, but it is torture nevertheless. If a parent inflicted this kind of suffering (i.e. physical damage and pain equivalent to what the disease does to a child’s body) on their children physically, we would not hesitate to call it torture.

If this is the case, then natalism does entail that I1′ is sometimes false. But I1′ is not false. Therefore natalism is at least sometimes false.

So far so good. But we can go further than that, since putting someone at risk of torture would be considered endangerment. I think we can agree that:

(I2) If it is wrong to inflict an action A on a person, then subjecting a person to the risk of being inflicted A is also wrong.

For example, if shooting an innocent person is wrong, then subjecting an innocent person to a forced game of Russian Roulette is also wrong, even if the person does not die. If it is wrong to kill a worker with dangerous chemicals, then exposing a worker to dangerous chemicals without appropriate safety measures is also wrong. If it is wrong to deliberately hit someone with your car, then driving erratically and exposing others to the danger of getting hit is also wrong.

If I1′ and I2 are correct, then natalism is always false.

I realize that in this conclusion I run against an emotional problem. For most people, it seems extremely cruel to blame parents for the horrible death or crippling of their little child. I acknowledge that fact but also recognize that feelings and intuitions are not the same and do not serve the same role. While our positive feelings towards bereaved parents pushes us to not punish them for what they did, we can still intuitively see that they are responsible for their actions.

* Bringing about new lives is worse than the alternative.

When asked in personal correspondence to give an argument which intuitively proves natalism, Bryan Caplan replied with the following:

1. The existence of people who are glad to be alive is a good thing. (moral intuition)
2. The vast majority of people are indeed glad to be alive. (empirical claim, some evidence here: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2011/12/a_cursory_rejec.html)
3. Having a child increases the number of people who are glad to be alive.
4. Having a child have little indirect effect on the number of *other* people who are glad to be alive. (empirical claim, some evidence here: http://www.cato-unbound.org/2011/05/02/bryan-caplan/population-fertility-and-liberty)
5. So having a child is a good thing.

I’ve already addressed hedonistic adaptation on the very first entry I wrote debunking Caplan’s flimsy arguments, so this proves, if anything, that Caplan’s thought has not evolved one iota in the past years.

Keeping in mind that an intuition is not derived from some prior proposition, I think we can easily see that 1 is actually not a moral intuition, since it is predicated on the assumption that life is a good thing. If life is not a good thing, then we should be worried that people are glad to be alive.

But “life is a good thing” has a clear, intuitive and powerful defeater: Benatar’s Asymmetry. The Asymmetry is completely reducible to a basic moral intuition and a basic logical intuition:

(I3) Pleasure is better than pain.
(I4) Non-existence cannot experience anything.

Because they are so basic, I3 and I4 are very strong intuitions. 1, on the other hand, is a weak intuition (if it is an intuition at all) since we know that people’s feelings, including positive feelings, can arise for good or bad reasons. There is no reason to think that people being glad to be alive is any more good or significant than people being glad of their nationality or religion.

This alone is sufficient to sink Caplan’s argument. But we haven’t even gotten to a premise about procreation yet, which in this case would be 3. Now, it should be clear from the get-go that 3 is obviously false, because it contradicts 2. A “vast majority” of people are glad to be alive, but not all people (after all, a million people kill themselves every year), therefore having a child cannot always increase the number of people who are glad to be alive. Sometimes it also increases the number of people who are sorrowed to be alive. At best, we could only say:

3′. Having a child very often increases the number of people who are glad to be alive.

Since procreation can result in a person who is sorrowed to be alive, and presumably the existence of people who are sorrowed to be alive is a bad thing (if we agree with Caplan and his spurious premise that life is a good thing), then having children is sometimes a bad thing. But since we cannot tell whether any given child will end up glad to be alive or sorrowed to be alive, this argument cannot in any way support natalism; at best it can only support the conclusion that procreation could be good or bad depending on outcomes.

Since this argument is the only connection between intuitionism and natalism proposed by Caplan, then we must conclude that this supposed connection is very inconclusive.

My position on natalism is that it finds its origins not in intuitions but in emotions, more specifically the primal fear of death and, by extension, the fear of human extinction. The most prominent motives for people to have children, be it bloodline, DNA, continuing the family, getting support in the present or future, religious beliefs, have to do with the prolongation of the individual in time.

Others have to do with the perpetuation of the family structure, the nation, the race, and so on. In these cases also the individual is motivated by fear and insecurity (that a marriage won’t last, that the “race” will disappear, that the nation will not have enough children to continue the endless cycle of “progress,” and so on).

Natalists also get hung up on the concept of human extinction, although they treat it as a separate issue. I think the two issues are one and the same: human extinction is merely a more expansive and deeper reminder of mortality, deeper because it denies the possibility of extending oneself in time even indirectly through one’s progeny. In their minds, the extinction of humans means their lives are worthless as well. This is a misunderstanding, but a very common and powerful one, which atheists observe in Christians as well. It is equally spurious here.

In his argument, Caplan upholds a despotic hedonistic dogma: people being glad to be alive is good, even if we deprive them of their basic rights and freedoms in order to ensure their existence. This is a bizarre and extremely unintuitive (pun intended) way of understanding the world; sane people do not, and should not, value hedonism at the expense of everything else.

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