Objectivism v Antinatalism: round 2…


(edited from Akimbo Comics)

You may be wondering how there can be more to say on this topic. After all, I already analyzed the only Objectivist attempt to address antinatalism, and Ayn Rand could not possibly have addressed antinatalism, since it only recently started in earnest.

Well, it is true that Ayn Rand could not have addressed antinatalism. However, her successor, Leonard Peikoff, has addressed the closest thing there is to it, antinatalism’s morose grandfather Arthur Schopenhauer.

In Objectivism, there is a premise called the “benevolent universe” premise. It conveys the belief that the universe is favourable to human life and that good things are sure to come to those who act rationally. To quote Leonard Peikoff:

The “benevolent universe” does not mean that the universe feels kindly to man or that it is out to help him achieve his goals. No, the universe is neutral; it simply is; it is indifferent to you. You must care about and adapt to it, not the other way around. But reality is “benevolent” in the sense that if you do adapt to it—i.e., if you do think, value, and act rationally, then you can (and barring accidents you will) achieve your values. You will, because those values are based on reality.

Pain, suffering, failure do not have metaphysical significance—they do not reveal the nature of reality…

One feels certain that somewhere on earth—even if not anywhere in one’s surroundings or within one’s reach—a proper, human way of life is possible to human beings, and justice matters.

Because Ayn Rand held that human nature was malleable and entirely amendable to human will (ironically, much like most communists do), she believed that as long as we understand reality and act in accordance with that understanding, we can achieve our goals. Human will, in her view, can overcome all obstacles. This leads to the belief in ideas as being primordial. She was resentful of philosophers who took different views from her because she believed that ideas literally run the world, that history can be seen as the result of the intermingling of various philosophical ideas.

There’s two aspects to this discussion. First, the fact that the the Benevolent Universe premise is a form of optimism, loosely defined as a set of views that include the expectation of positive outcomes as the norm, that life has a positive value, that life has meaning, and that history is on the whole going in a positive direction. Second, the position that suffering is not primary (as Peikoff says, it “do[es] not have metaphysical significance”), but that “success” (presumably, in fulfilling one’s values) is primary and suffering is secondary.

Antinatalism holds the opposite position on both aspects. It is widely recognized as a form of pessimism, and holds suffering to be primary. Schopenhauer is recognized as the most well-known pessimist thinker, and is, as I said, recognized as the grandfather of antinatalism.

Rand called this the malevolent universe premise:

The altruist ethics is based on a “malevolent universe” metaphysics, on the theory that man, by his very nature, is helpless and doomed—that success, happiness, achievement are impossible to him—that emergencies, disasters, catastrophes are the norm of his life and that his primary goal is to combat them.

Compare this to antinatalist Gary Mosher’s statement that the best a human being can be is a janitor cleaning up other people’s messes, a metaphor for combating the harm of existence, or to Schopenhauer’s statement that “[u]nless suffering is the direct and immediate object of life, our existence must entirely fail of its aim” (all Schopenhauer quotes presented here are from Studies in Pessimism). Also compare to Schopenhauer’s statement that if we take his view of life, we will “cease to look upon all its disagreeable incidents, great and small, its sufferings, its worries, its misery, as anything unusual or irregular; nay, [we] will find that everything is as it should be, in a world where each of us pays the penalty of existence in his own peculiar way.”

Peikoff is the one who involves Schopenhauer:

If men hold values incompatible with life—such as self-sacrifice and altruism—obviously they can’t achieve such values; they will soon come to feel that evil is potent, whereas they are doomed to misery, suffering, failure. It is irrational codes of ethics above all else that feed the malevolent-universe attitude in people and lead to the syndrome eloquently expressed by the philosopher Schopenhauer: “Whatever one may say, the happiest moment of the happy man is the moment of his falling asleep, and the unhappiest moment of the unhappy that of his waking. Human life must be some kind of mistake.”

Continuing the theme of human will being supreme, Peikoff tells us that pessimism probably comes from holding “values incompatible with life.” in the case of Schopenhauer, this doesn’t really work, since his ethics came from his pessimism, not the reverse. Anyhow, Peikoff is basically correct in his summation of Schopenhauer’s position.

The questions that should concern us, however, are these: why is optimism valid, and why is suffering not primary? The premise of these Objectivist positions is the belief that human nature is entirely amendable to human will. You may think this is an exaggeration, but here is what Ayn Rand said:

The use or misuse of his cognitive faculty determines a man’s choice of values, which determine his emotions and his character. It is in this sense that man is a being of self-made soul.

It turns out that Ayn Rand was not a believer in tabula rasa: she was a believer in a perpetual tabula rasa, where man’s basic nature (not woman’s: women are meant for admiring men, according to Ayn Rand) is constantly updated in real-time by his hierarchy of values. Incidentally, this is the reason why she wouldn’t accept the theory of evolution, calling it “only a hypothesis”: it contradicted her heroic view of man and her view of man as “self-made.” How can you believe that fixed traits are inherited if you don’t even believe in fixed traits?

But even if we accept this anti-scientific belief in man as a perpetual tabula rasa motion machine, how do we get from here to the Benevolent Universe premise? Objectivism does not only make claims about the person, but about eir success in the universe, that a person who thinks and acts rationally can fulfill eir values, that suffering is not primary. And yet we know that in reality this is absolutely, completely false. So how can the self-made soul somehow bend, not only the meat body it inhabits, but all of reality to its will?

For a supposedly objective and anti-mystic philosophy, we sure are plunging into the realm of the subjective and the mystic. In fact, it sounds downright New Age, insofar as both believe that if you think the right thoughts and do the right things, reality will bend to your desires or values. In Letters of Ayn Rand, p583-584, we witness the climax of such delirium:

What Dagny expresses here is the conviction that joy, exaltation, beauty, greatness, heroism, all the supreme, uplifting values of man’s existence on earth, are the meaning of life—not the pain or ugliness he may encounter—that one must live for the sake of such exalted moments as one may be able to achieve or experience, not for the sake of suffering—that happiness matters, but suffering does not—that no matter how much pain one may have to endure, it is never to be taken seriously, that is: never to be taken as the essence and meaning of life—that the essence of life is the achievement of joy, not the escape from pain.

It sounds noble and uplifting, as long as you read it in a novel. When you start analyzing this within the confines of reality, not the world of the imaginary, it crumbles to the touch. Joy, exaltation, beauty, greatness, heroism, are all fleeting qualities. They are also the products of the fixed human desires which Rand thought did not exist. We may seek them over and over to try to give meaning to our lives, but such compulsive behavior can only produce more suffering. Wanting to be great, wanting to be heroic, pursuing emotions like joy or trying to follow our brain’s standards of beauty, are all very ego-centered actions, all very… subjective.

If the person is to become more rational, then these ego-centered feelings must eventually give way to the escape from pain, and to taking suffering seriously. The most ironic part of all this is that heroism, as most people would define it, consists almost entirely of fighting suffering: firefighters saving people from a burning building, people being saved from a shipwreck, people standing up for the oppressed who have no voice in our society, someone standing up against a tyrannical regime for what is right, and so on. The common thread amongst all these examples of heroism is that they are not ego games or attempts at achieving some fleeting state, but rather acts of self-sacrifice, something which Objectivists are absolutely against. So Objectivism is incompatible with real heroism! Their brand of heroism, as exemplified by Atlas Shrugged, is being a successful businessman or businesswoman, “going Galt,” and making extremely long pedantic speeches of noble sentiments (or as exemplified by The Fountainhead, blowing up a whole building out of childish frustration).

Rand deluded herself to not take suffering seriously because she believed suffering was not primary, on the basis of her “self-made soul” delusions about human nature. But this is surely false. Suffering is primary, not joy, beauty or heroism. Again to quote Schopenhauer:

It is the good which is [contingent]; in other words, happiness and satisfaction always imply some desire fulfilled, some state of pain brought to an end.

Without the possibility of suffering, no pleasure could exist. Suffering is the bedrock upon which all the positive qualities exalted by Rand are built. They are contingent, and cannot be the meaning of life. At best, they can only be the meaning of desires and suffering. But surely the moments of exaltation and heroism that a person experiences are not worth the 16000 children who die of starvation every day. How much suffering by other people is a moment of exaltation worth?

Of course, Objectivists believe they should not sacrifice others for themselves. But herein lies the problem. To accept the life-system as a worthy thing to support, we must also accept that all the suffering that living being go through is justified. To promote the life-system does mean to support the sacrifice of others for ourselves. Granted, there is no direct connection between our pleasure and someone else’s suffering, but we know that life necessarily entails harm. To glorify life as a whole also means glossing over that harm, as Rand had to do if she was to remain consistent.

The net consequence of Rand’s idealization of reality is to start people on an endless ego chase for a defining moment of their existence, blinding them to the reality around them, especially to the massive exploitation on which their silly ego chase relies on. In a sense, it is appropriate that Rand was a capitalist, because this process of constant ego chase is the essence of capitalism’s hold on people’s hearts. It is pointless, meaningless craving.

Rand’s optimism, therefore, is based on a constant chase for the fleeting positives, with the real substantial issues being literally ignored; trying to convince yourself that the most important aspect of human experience and human purpose doesn’t matter or is unnatural can only lead to a profoundly distorted view of reality, in this case, a deeply optimistic view. The only way to believe that life is about being “uplifted” is to erase from one’s mind everything that is not “uplifting.” To the Objectivist, the role of harm is reduced to that of an emergency situation, such as someone contracting a disease or a ship sinking, which is to be solved as fast as possible and then forgotten.

No wonder, then, that Objectivists and their derivatives (such as voluntaryism and anarcho-capitalism, two more intellectual abominations which I have often attacked on this blog) cannot understand antinatalism. No wonder they are fixated on present-time coercion and ignore the coercion embodied in our current institutions. That’s the role they have given coercion. Coercion is the bad guy in the black hat, “individualists” are the guys in the white hats, and all the white hats have to do is shoot down the black hats and everything’s all right again. This is a Western movie view of life.

Ultimately, this issue is about procreation. Objectivists have argued that, while they don’t encourage procreation, they also see nothing wrong with it. The former is very surprising, given how much Objectivists love selfishness and their own egos, and how completely selfish and ego-driven procreation is (on the other hand, having children does severely cut down on one’s heroism, joy and exaltation quota). The latter, on the other hand, is not very surprising, since Objectivists are dedicated to ignoring harm, so we should hardly expect them to see anything wrong with starting new human lives.

Objectivists will likely reject my arguments and claim that I have a malevolent sense of life, which makes everything I say worthless, that I believe what I believe because I hold the wrong values or have the wrong thoughts. The former is correct, insofar as I hold that only suffering has metaphysical importance. Whether that makes everything I say worthless depends on who you believe has the best arguments in their favor. I believe I have demonstrated that the Objectivist argument is unscientific and irrational. Of course, I don’t expect Objectivists to be convinced, but I think my other readers can judge both sides well enough, including the extensive quotes I gave, and draw their own conclusions.

38 thoughts on “Objectivism v Antinatalism: round 2…

  1. Gomi October 3, 2011 at 20:21

    I would disagree with Schopenhauer that joy is the temporary cessation of pain. I would say pain is the temporary cessation of joy.

    When it comes to these kind of arguments about the reality of life in the universe, it always seems to come down to one’s basic view. Either you’re pessimistic and negative, or optimistic and positive. It’s not logic anymore, but subjective perception. So, there’s no ultimate truth, just personal opinion.

    • Francois Tremblay October 4, 2011 at 00:36

      Well Gomi, can you prove that suffering is not primary?

      • Gomi October 4, 2011 at 05:43

        No more than you can “prove” it is primary, Francois. That’s my point.

        People have experience, both positive or negative. Neither is primary.

        Like I’ve said before, the utility arguments for antinatalism (resources, etc) make sense (though not to the ultimate result of extinction, I think), but the ethical argument (bringing someone into a world of pain) is based on subjective opinion.

        • Francois Tremblay October 4, 2011 at 14:02

          I’ve already proven suffering is primary… based on Benatar’s argument, which is a few years old. So this is not new.

          “the ethical argument (bringing someone into a world of pain) is based on subjective opinion.”
          The fact that suffering exists and is ethically relevant is not a subjective opinion. It’s a fact. That you refuse to accept it is not my problem.

          • Gomi October 4, 2011 at 15:06

            If you could kindly restate the proof, from Benatar, that suffering is the primary state of being? I’ve seen Benatar’s argument that we shouldn’t cause harm through birth, but not that life is harm, essentially.

            Yes, suffering exists. I never refused to accept that, Francois. The point is that suffering is one of millions of possible gradients of experience. When someone is born, they enter a state where suffering is possible, as much as joy and everything is possible. Unless a person is born into immediate and unending pain (which is possible with a variety of genetic disorders), then it’s only a possible experience.

            However, when you have the subjective opinion that suffering is the primary state in life, that life is pain, is harm, then you can make the leap to ethically arguing against birth for creating a life in misery. But without that leap, the argument doesn’t stand.

            • Francois Tremblay October 4, 2011 at 15:17

              “If you could kindly restate the proof, from Benatar, that suffering is the primary state of being?”
              You obviously did not read my entry, since I gave the proof in it, as well as in many previous entries. Once again: pleasure cannot be primary because the existence of pleasure depends on desire, and thus suffering. Satiety cannot exist without hunger, sexual pleasure cannot exist without sexual frustration, etc. The natural state of a desire is to be frustrated (see frustrationism argument), and fulfillment is a temporary state.

              “Yes, suffering exists. I never refused to accept that, Francois. The point is that suffering is one of millions of possible gradients of experience.”
              So what? Everyone talks about the other types of experience and how they are relevant, but no one talks about harm. If you want to talk about all the other “gradients of experience,” then you can go read pretty much every other blog.

              “However, when you have the subjective opinion that suffering is the primary state in life, that life is pain, is harm, then you can make the leap to ethically arguing against birth for creating a life in misery. But without that leap, the argument doesn’t stand.”
              It’s not a “leap,” it’s a biological fact. You may not want to talk about it, but stop pretending it’s not a fact or that it’s subjective.

              • Gomi October 4, 2011 at 15:56

                Forget it. I’ve said my piece. This will just go in circles, with you insisting it’s objective fact that life is misery and pain, and me insisting that pain is possible and not the primary state of life. I typed up a whole response, but I just deleted it. There’s no point.

                It’s your blog. Your version of reality holds sway.

                • Francois Tremblay October 4, 2011 at 16:03

                  I never said “life is misery and pain.” I said that suffering is primary. Now you’re making this about life as a whole. I never said there was no joy in life. That is your invention.

                  There is no point because you keep misrepresenting me and you keep insisting that biological facts are subjective. Now you are saying that this is about “my version of reality.” This is just an excuse to not provide any arguments. If you disagree, have the fucking courage to put forward a cogent counter-position instead of whining or running away.

                • Gomi October 4, 2011 at 17:31

                  No, Francois, that’s not my invention. Try to follow the argument. We started with the idea that suffering is the primary reality of life. The center, the default, the fallback position. That is what you’ve been arguing, the position you’ve been taking, since the beginning. Not that there’s no joy in life. I never claimed you said that, so kindly don’t accuse me of things I didn’t do.

                  Look, there is no up without down, so down is the primary direction. Or maybe there’s no down without up, so up is the primary direction.

                  Get it? Your proof is based on a circular definition, and then waving your hand and declaring one side the primary. You could as easily say that there’s no suffering without joy, so joy is the primary. But these are things only understood, in the human experience, as the opposite of the other. If there was no joy, then there wouldn’t be suffering, just a really lousy normal. And the same in reverse: if there was no suffering, then joy would be the default and perceived as normal, not joy.

                  You’re insisting that one side of your circle is the default, even though both exist only in relation to the other. You’re making a subjective assessment, and then insisting it’s biological fact.

                  But this will just keep going, around and around in circles, with you insisting it’s objective and me insisting it’s subjective. So what’s the point?

                  That’s not running away. That’s acknowledging that you freely censor those who too strenuously disagree and not wanting to bother wasting my time, just to be silenced. It’s your blog, so you have the right to determine what’s seen and what isn’t. And therefore, I see no point in continuing this to what I see as an inevitable conclusion. That’s not running away. That’s not bothering to debate when you ultimately will shutdown the debate, not allowing any progress.

                • Francois Tremblay October 4, 2011 at 17:37

                  “No, Francois, that’s not my invention. Try to follow the argument. We started with the idea that suffering is the primary reality of life. The center, the default, the fallback position. That is what you’ve been arguing, the position you’ve been taking, since the beginning.”
                  That’s right.

                  “Look, there is no up without down, so down is the primary direction. Or maybe there’s no down without up, so up is the primary direction. Get it?”
                  Actually, there is no causal relation between “up” and “down.” They are both abstractions. So your example doesn’t work.

                  “Your proof is based on a circular definition”
                  What definition?

                  “and then waving your hand and declaring one side the primary. You could as easily say that there’s no suffering without joy, so joy is the primary.”
                  But that’s not how biology works. Our instincts work by needling us to do things through pain and suffering, not through an abstract expectation of pleasure. Do you think most animals act through abstract expectations, or because they feel a need?
                  Basically, pleasure is a fleeting phenomena piggybacking on the constant risk of suffering or frustration. Once you have enough to eat, you are satiated, but you progressively get hungrier. The fact that you experience some pleasure in filling up and not being hungry (a negative pleasure, since it is based on nullifying a negative) doesn’t make pleasure primary in itself.

                  “But this will just keep going, around and around in circles, with you insisting it’s objective and me insisting it’s subjective. So what’s the point?”
                  Well at least this time you’re trying to argue, instead of just nay-saying. That’s good! But you need to make your arguments logical.

                  “And therefore, I see no point in continuing this to what I see as an inevitable conclusion. That’s not running away. That’s not bothering to debate when you ultimately will shutdown the debate, not allowing any progress.”
                  More whinings of a coward. If you are so insistent that you should leave, then I will not stop you. But don’t pretend that I am censoring you or anyone else. Sure Io tell people to get the fuck off my blog when they disagree with the basic premises on which this blog is established. I don’t go to Christian boards and whine that their god doesn’t exist. Why would anyone want to waste my time in the same way?

                  But you are not like that, so your whining is not even relevant to your case. You appear to just be whining to give yourself an excuse good enough to leave for. I will not give you that luxury.

                • Gomi October 4, 2011 at 19:19

                  “Actually, there is no causal relation between “up” and “down.” They are both abstractions. So your example doesn’t work.”
                  There’s no causal relationship between joy and suffering, either. You don’t feel joy because of suffering, any more than you’re up because of down. They have meaning because of the other, but they don’t have a causal link. Look up the word “causal.”

                  “But that’s not how biology works. Our instincts work by needling us to do things through pain and suffering, not through an abstract expectation of pleasure. Do you think most animals act through abstract expectations, or because they feel a need?”
                  Um, that’s not how biology works. Joy isn’t an abstract, any more than suffering is. Look up oxytocin, for example. Or any number of other neurochemicals which induce joy, euphoria or pleasure. We, and animals, are as motivated by pleasure as we are by pain or suffering.

                  “Basically, pleasure is a fleeting phenomena piggybacking on the constant risk of suffering or frustration. Once you have enough to eat, you are satiated, but you progressively get hungrier. The fact that you experience some pleasure in filling up and not being hungry (a negative pleasure, since it is based on nullifying a negative) doesn’t make pleasure primary in itself.”
                  Then why do we seek love? There’s more to our lives than simply hunger and satiety.

                  Also, pain and suffering are linked to threat, in natural environment. Being hungry is bad for our health, so the suffering of hunger is meant to warn us away from that condition. The pain of fire, as another example, is meant to warn us away from the danger it poses to our being. You’re acting like suffering is some existential truth in the universe. Like there’s some kind of meaning to all of it. Kind of religious, ain’t it?

                  “But you need to make your arguments logical.”
                  Might want to look up the meaning of that word. Maybe read a few books about it. Because I don’t think that word means what you think it means. Personally, I wrote code for a living, and have degrees in pure math. Logic is something I’m acutely familiar with.

                  ” You appear to just be whining to give yourself an excuse good enough to leave for. I will not give you that luxury.”
                  No, Francois, I’m speaking from the experience of when you censored my posts until I accepted your underlying faulty premise.

                  I like reading your blog. I’ve been following it for a while now. I agree with a lot of what you say, which is why I argue strenuously when we disagree. I don’t bother to argue with Christians or authoritarians, because we have no common premise. That’s why I keep coming back and arguing with you.

  2. ladycat123 October 3, 2011 at 23:25

    I’m not exactly an antinatalist though I appreciate many of the sentiments that antinatalists have at least when their arguments are smaller scale.* People who follow Rand’s philosophy are morally bankrupt and the derivatives aren’t much better morally.

    Since you’re a fellow anarchist, I’m assuming you favor non-authoritarian means to reduce births like improving the availability of birth control and sex education and surgeries that control birth like vasectomies. I don’t think an individual’s wants should come before the needs of the greater whole** if it would cause greater harm to the whole in the long run.

    *I’m more of a pro-responsibility type while I probably shouldn’t talk… I’m a mother m’self… I feel that it is important to note that I am in favor of reducing birth rates, by improving third world countries through various means. And besides there are other options if you want to have a child such as adoption,,,

    **Oh look my utilitarian colors are showing. Heh.

    Just my two cents

    • ladycat123 October 3, 2011 at 23:28

      To expand on my own attitude: I am in favor of reducing births in first world and developing world countries to, though I don’t agree with VHEMT or other such philosophies.

      • Francois Tremblay October 4, 2011 at 00:39

        All right. Well, that really doesn’t have much to do with antinatalism, but at least you acknowledge that there is a problem.

    • Francois Tremblay October 4, 2011 at 00:38

      “I appreciate many of the sentiments that antinatalists have at least when their arguments are smaller scale.*”

      The antinatalist arguments apply to the act of starting a new life, not to any “scale.” I never understand when people say that. Scale doesn’t change the facts.

      “Since you’re a fellow anarchist, I’m assuming you favor non-authoritarian means to reduce births like improving the availability of birth control and sex education and surgeries that control birth like vasectomies.”
      If by “favor” you mean prefer, I don’t know if I would say that necessarily. However, if you mean that I like and want to see all of these things fulfilled, then definitely yes. I think free sterilization (vasectomies and hysterectomies) would be especially effective, the rest not nearly as much. As you can see on the right side of my blog, I fully support Project Prevention and I invite everyone to donate for the cause as well.

  3. Francois Tremblay October 4, 2011 at 19:33

    “There’s no causal relationship between joy and suffering, either. You don’t feel joy because of suffering, any more than you’re up because of down. They have meaning because of the other, but they don’t have a causal link. Look up the word “causal.””
    You don’t have to be fucking condescending. All I am saying is that pleasure would not exist without desire, and thus the ever-present possibility of suffering. I don’t mean that there is a causal relation between any single instance of pleasure and any single instance of suffering, but that the existence of suffering itself is necessary for the existence of pleasure itself.

    “Um, that’s not how biology works. Joy isn’t an abstract, any more than suffering is.”
    Again, I am talking about the concept of pleasure and suffering, not instances of pleasure or suffering. Of course instances of pleasure and suffering are not abstract.

    “Then why do we seek love? There’s more to our lives than simply hunger and satiety.”
    Who said there was? But love has its evolutionary basis in the need for stability in raising children. This stability is a need which creates suffering for children when it’s not fulfilled.

    “Also, pain and suffering are linked to threat, in natural environment. Being hungry is bad for our health, so the suffering of hunger is meant to warn us away from that condition. The pain of fire, as another example, is meant to warn us away from the danger it poses to our being. You’re acting like suffering is some existential truth in the universe. Like there’s some kind of meaning to all of it. Kind of religious, ain’t it?”
    What of it? Why can’t it be both?

    “Might want to look up the meaning of that word. Maybe read a few books about it. Because I don’t think that word means what you think it means. Personally, I wrote code for a living, and have degrees in pure math. Logic is something I’m acutely familiar with.”
    Yes, very nice. Stop being condescending. I think the arguments I present on this blog are logical. You are free to disagree and point out why, but you can’t just berate me. What’s the point of that?

    “No, Francois, I’m speaking from the experience of when you censored my posts until I accepted your underlying faulty premise.”
    Well look, if you don’t accept the premises of this blog, then you are free to go somewhere else. That’s not really my problem.

    “That’s why I keep coming back and arguing with you.”
    That’s fine. We don’t have to agree on everything, anyhow. I just would rather you present arguments than whine about how mean I am.

    • Gomi October 4, 2011 at 21:06

      “You don’t have to be fucking condescending. .”
      I’m being condescending because you’re trying to use words and phrases without (apparently) understanding their meaning. You have a brain. It’s apparent in your writing. Don’t try to pretend you’re something you aren’t, and don’t try to use words you don’t fully understand. Speak honestly from what you understand and you’ll sound as intelligent as you are

      “All I am saying is that pleasure would not exist without desire, and thus the ever-present possibility of suffering. I don’t mean that there is a causal relation between any single instance of pleasure and any single instance of suffering, but that the existence of suffering itself is necessary for the existence of pleasure itself.”
      And, conversely, the existence of pleasure is necessary for the existence of suffering. This is what I meant about up and down. Each only has meaning in comparison to the other.

      “Again, I am talking about the concept of pleasure and suffering, not instances of pleasure or suffering. Of course instances of pleasure and suffering are not abstract.”
      Okay, then explain how the concept of suffering is a biological fact, as you say, rather than an abstract concept. But as much as suffering is a biological fact (feelings of pain), so is joy (feelings of elation). It’s all neurochemistry in reaction to stimulus.

      “But love has its evolutionary basis in the need for stability in raising children. This stability is a need which creates suffering for children when it’s not fulfilled.”
      Yes, because suffering is the natural warning for threat, as much as pleasure is the carrot to lead us to benefit. The lack of stability leads to suffering, because suffering is a warning indicator of danger. Love is an instigator for stability, because stability is beneficial. Still doesn’t show that suffering is somehow primary in life, nor that pleasure is. They’re biochemical indicators to help us find what’s good for us (or our genes’ proliferation).

      “What of it? Why can’t it be both?”
      I would say it’s neither. Unlike you, I don’t think there’s some (apparently spiritual) existential truth. I don’t see ultimate purpose and reason. Which might be why I don’t see a primary nature to life, like you do. A deeper atheism, in seeing no meaning, no purpose, no semi-divine nature to the universe and life.

      “Yes, very nice. Stop being condescending. I think the arguments I present on this blog are logical. You are free to disagree and point out why, but you can’t just berate me. What’s the point of that?”
      I do point out where you’re being illogical, Francois. And then you censor me. Deal with it.

      • Francois Tremblay October 4, 2011 at 21:16

        “I’m being condescending because you’re trying to use words and phrases without (apparently) understanding their meaning. You have a brain. It’s apparent in your writing.”
        Yea, I don’t have to take this. THIS is why I censor people. You keep berating me instead of giving arguments. I don’t have to take this.

        “And, conversely, the existence of pleasure is necessary for the existence of suffering.”
        How it is necessary?

        “Okay, then explain how the concept of suffering is a biological fact, as you say, rather than an abstract concept.”
        I never said any concept was a biological fact. Do you even understand the difference between a concept and its referents? And you’re accusing me of not understanding logic? You’re full of it.

        “Yes, because suffering is the natural warning for threat, as much as pleasure is the carrot to lead us to benefit. The lack of stability leads to suffering, because suffering is a warning indicator of danger. Love is an instigator for stability, because stability is beneficial. Still doesn’t show that suffering is somehow primary in life, nor that pleasure is.”
        I was arguing for what love is for, not about suffering as a concept. I did that in other points. You’re not following.

        “I would say it’s neither. Unlike you, I don’t think there’s some (apparently spiritual) existential truth. I don’t see ultimate purpose and reason.”
        That makes two of us.

        “Which might be why I don’t see a primary nature to life, like you do.”
        That’s a non sequitur. What does the absence of ultimate purpose prove that nothing is primary about anything?

        “I do point out where you’re being illogical, Francois. And then you censor me. Deal with it.”
        No, I censor you for being an asshole. You are being an asshole. This discussion is going nowhere fast because of you. Just stick to the fucking arguments and stop attacking me.

        • Gomi October 4, 2011 at 22:39

          “How it is necessary?”
          Because one gives the other meaning. Imagine a world without joy. Suffering would have no meaning. It would just be normal to have no happiness, not suffering. Same goes in the other direction.

          It’s like up and down that I mentioned before. Each only has meaning as a relative statement to the other. You can only say “10m up” if you have the concept of 10m down from the indicated point. “Having joy” only has meaning if you have the concept of the absence of joy, and “suffering” only has meaning if you have the concept of the absence of suffering. These are relative concepts.

          Therefore, suffering cannot be the primary nature of life, because it’s a relative value. It’s like saying “more” is the primary nature of life. More what? Primary nature would have to be absolute. It would have to exist in the absence of other states.

          “I never said any concept was a biological fact. ”
          You said suffering, as a primary nature of life, was a biological fact. Maybe you want to clarify?

          “Do you even understand the difference between a concept and its referents? And you’re accusing me of not understanding logic? You’re full of it.”
          Yes, Francois, I understand the concept, but I question if you do. Look, suffering is a state, a condition, temporary and passing, that a person (or animal) can be in. That has nothing to do with referents, because nothing stands for “suffering” in this context I’ll refrain from “being an asshole,” but you’re using words without understanding meaning again.

          “What does the absence of ultimate purpose prove that nothing is primary about anything?”
          Because a primary nature to something as broad and complex as life implies a meaning, a deeper order. It’s the concept of purpose to the universe, to life. The idea that things have an absolute nature, an underlying reason. Without such fairy tales, there’s no meaning, no destiny and purpose. And, as follows, no primary nature besides what we see and imagine there to be.

          This is different from something measurable. An objective metric is possible because it relies on external absolutes. Suffering, as a primary nature of life, has no external absolutes.

          You don’t have some secret knowledge of the universe that most people haven’t realized. You aren’t special. I’m not either. No one is. You don’t have some magical understanding of the objective nature of life. Neither do I. It’s nothing something we can understand objectively. It’s subjective experience and opinion. Joy is a relative concept to suffering, and suffering is a relative concept to joy. Neither is a primary experience or nature of life. Both encompass gradients of experience, with many more in between. Without one, the other has no meaning. Therefore, neither can be a logical argument for the preemption of life, since life includes both, in varying degree and measure.

          • Francois Tremblay October 4, 2011 at 22:45

            “Because one gives the other meaning. Imagine a world without joy. Suffering would have no meaning. It would just be normal to have no happiness, not suffering.”
            How would suffering have no meaning in the absence of joy? Suffering would still be a relevant ethical concern.

            ““Having joy” only has meaning if you have the concept of the absence of joy, and “suffering” only has meaning if you have the concept of the absence of suffering. These are relative concepts.”
            I don’t see how you can conclude that. Are you saying that a universal concept cannot be meaningful? Existence is a universal concept, and yet it’s meaningful. I’m sure you can think of others.

            “Therefore, suffering cannot be the primary nature of life, because it’s a relative value.”
            All knowledge is relative to the knower. So what? You haven’t proven anything by pointing that out, because it applies to all knowledge.

            “You said suffering, as a primary nature of life, was a biological fact. Maybe you want to clarify?”
            I said that the fact that suffering (as a concept) is primary is a biological fact, yes.

            “Look, suffering is a state, a condition, temporary and passing, that a person (or animal) can be in. That has nothing to do with referents, because nothing stands for “suffering” in this context”
            That makes no sense.

            “Because a primary nature to something as broad and complex as life implies a meaning, a deeper order.”
            No… it doesn’t. I have no idea how you concluded that… it makes no sense. Why would a concept being primary over another mean that life has meaning? This is a complete non sequitur.

            “This is different from something measurable. An objective metric is possible because it relies on external absolutes. Suffering, as a primary nature of life, has no external absolutes.”
            Are you saying you can’t measure suffering?

            “You don’t have some secret knowledge of the universe that most people haven’t realized.”
            That’s your opinion. You have yet to prove it.

            “It’s nothing something we can understand objectively. It’s subjective experience and opinion.”
            Are you saying we can’t objectively understand a subjective experience or judge a subjective opinion?

            “Therefore, neither can be a logical argument for the preemption of life, since life includes both, in varying degree and measure.”
            The fact that they exist in varying degrees and follow each other has nothing to do with whether one is primary over another.

            • Gomi October 5, 2011 at 05:49

              “How would suffering have no meaning in the absence of joy? Suffering would still be a relevant ethical concern.”
              Suffering is a relative state, like up and down. Without joy, what we know as suffering becomes measureless. It has no meaning, in a literal and linguistic sense.

              “Are you saying that a universal concept cannot be meaningful? Existence is a universal concept, and yet it’s meaningful.”
              First, I was talking about meaning in terms of understanding, not whether something is meaningful or not. But even so, I would disagree that existence is meaningful, in and of itself. One can draw meaning, in this sense, from life, as an active appreciation of it, but it has no inherent meaning otherwise, in my opinion. This goes back to the spiritual belief I was talking about earlier, a belief that there’s something meaningful in the universe, a purpose and reason.

              “Are you saying you can’t measure suffering?”
              Yes, I am. Take two people: one is starving and the other is in pain from extensive burns. Who is suffering more? By what metric would you, an external observer, measure their suffering?

              “That’s your opinion. You have yet to prove it.”
              No more than you have to prove your belief that there is secret knowledge and meaning in the universe.

              “Are you saying we can’t objectively understand a subjective experience or judge a subjective opinion?”
              Yes, by its definition. We can objectively understand fact and external metric, but we can’t objective understand that which has no objective basis in the first place. How do you objectively understand happiness, or sadness? You can objectively measure seratonin levels, in the neurochemistry behind such emotions, and you can objectively understand that a person has these feelings. But you can’t objectively understand what that happiness feels like, or judge whether the sadness is more sad or less sad than another sad person.

              Suffering and joy are two sides of a coin, only having meaning as the opposite of each other. No one side is primary, and the coin is still flipping in the air through most of our lives.

              • Francois Tremblay October 5, 2011 at 13:30

                “Suffering is a relative state, like up and down. Without joy, what we know as suffering becomes measureless. It has no meaning, in a literal and linguistic sense.”
                No, this is biologically invalid. Pain is transmitted by unique nerves and is processed by unique parts of the brain. It does not share its means of processing with pleasure. To prove what you’re saying, you’d have to prove that pain and pleasure are both transmitted through the same channels and processed by the same areas of the brain, so that the absence of one entails the absence of the other.

                Heck, even people who suffer from congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis (CIPA) can still feel some pleasurable sensations, be happy, laugh, etc. They just die a lot faster.

                “First, I was talking about meaning in terms of understanding, not whether something is meaningful or not. But even so, I would disagree that existence is meaningful, in and of itself. One can draw meaning, in this sense, from life, as an active appreciation of it, but it has no inherent meaning otherwise, in my opinion.”
                Well of course it has no “inherent” meaning. Nothing has “inherent” meaning. All meaning is ultimately a human construction. So what? Again, that doesn’t prove anything.

                “Yes, I am. Take two people: one is starving and the other is in pain from extensive burns. Who is suffering more? By what metric would you, an external observer, measure their suffering?”
                I didn’t say anything about being an external observer. Of course as an external observer, without any subjective point of reference, I can’t evaluate anyone’s state of mind (that’s why utilitarian calculations are impossible). But if it happens to me, I am able to order them in a rough ladder based on my memories (this event was more painful than that event, that event was less painful than this other event, etc).

                “No more than you have to prove your belief that there is secret knowledge and meaning in the universe.”
                That’s a tu quoque fallacy. You can’t use my lack of proof of something to justify your own lack of proof.

                “Yes, by its definition. We can objectively understand fact and external metric, but we can’t objective understand that which has no objective basis in the first place. How do you objectively understand happiness, or sadness?”
                There’s many ways to do that, actually. One would be by introspection. Anther would be by scientific inquiry (e.g. getting people to recall a happy moment and a sad moment, taking EEGs of both). Yet another would be by asking questions about other people’s subjective experiences.

                “You can objectively measure seratonin levels, in the neurochemistry behind such emotions, and you can objectively understand that a person has these feelings. But you can’t objectively understand what that happiness feels like, or judge whether the sadness is more sad or less sad than another sad person.”
                Of course someone’s subjective experience is not directly available to me. What is the relevance of this to the topic? Antinatalism does not require one to be able to feel another’s subjective experience. It’s based on objective facts about human experience, ethics, biology, etc.

                “Suffering and joy are two sides of a coin, only having meaning as the opposite of each other. No one side is primary, and the coin is still flipping in the air through most of our lives.”
                Nope, sorry. Suffering is primary, because desire is necessary for pleasure to exist. We already went through this.

                • anon November 15, 2011 at 03:55

                  “The natural state of a desire is to be frustrated (see frustrationism argument), and fulfillment is a temporary state.”
                  “Suffering is primary, because desire is necessary for pleasure to exist.”

                  Isn’t this very similar to the first noble truth of Buddhism? Life is – suffering, because of desire. I always thought it was a keen observation for that time.

                • Francois Tremblay November 15, 2011 at 03:58

                  Yes, it is. I actually came to Buddhism through antinatalism, because I finally realized Buddhism’s basic principles were correct and why.

              • Francois Tremblay October 6, 2011 at 14:31

                This discussion is getting rather over-long. I think we’ve reiterated everything on both sides, so let’s just agree to disagree for now.

                • Gomi October 6, 2011 at 15:23

                  Like I said in the beginning, Francois, this was how it was going to end up. That wasn’t cowardice, just recognition of our basic disagreement. But I’m sorry for the censorship cracks. You’re obviously better than that. Mea culpa.

                  Yes, let’s agree to disagree.

  4. JR June 1, 2012 at 18:14

    I don’t talk to Objectivists anymore. You can’t have free-will and determinism at the same time, then slap a “reason” sticker on the book so it’s suddenly the philosophy of non-contradiction.

    I also think there must be some name for this fallacy natalists employ of defending the extreme action with a moderate premise. As soon as anyone points out that life, for many people, is an overall negative, they say this is a subjective value and life is both suffering and joy. But the action of bringing life into the world is not a reflection of that premise, it’s the reflection of a positive evaluation. People don’t actually act as if suffering and joy are in balance, they act as if joy is primary. The whole idea of suffering and joy being in balance and psychologically interdependent (which they are to some extent) is irrelevant. Procreation is a binary decision that reflects a value judgement: create life, or don’t create life, either is an extreme.

    This is a line of argument only available to the status quo, because if you can reassure people that life isn’t primarily joy or suffering, they will continue taking the extreme action of procreating as if life were primarily joyful.

    • Francois Tremblay June 1, 2012 at 22:53

      This comment of yours is pretty interesting. I’ve come up with a few other examples from other positions. I don’t think that it has a name, but feel free to think of one. I’d certainly like to write about this.

      • JR June 3, 2012 at 19:36

        I think there are actually several things going on. One I would call the Moving Train fallacy, after Howard Zinn’s book title. It’s a type of innuendo, where the innuendo is conveyed through a pragmatic implication. Like you are a riding in a car and you say, “I think we need a new driver, Harry is not a good driver.” And the other passenger says “well, I think you’re being very subjective and extreme, Harry is both a good driver and a bad driver.” So, they are on one hand saying that their opponent is holding an extreme view, but it’s pretty obvious that there is a pragmatic implication here that Harry will continue driving. In every case I can think of, it’s a superficial rationalization for the opposite view. But it’s difficult to prove they hold the opposite view, since the innuendo is pragmatic.

        • Francois Tremblay June 3, 2012 at 22:28

          Moving Train fallacy, I like it. That’s actually a very good name. Any other thoughts on this? Of course I will credit you.

  5. JR June 4, 2012 at 04:47

    Well, I think the thing is that some extremes are pragmatically favored by neutrality. It might help to imagine two levels of speech, the pragmatic and the concept level. So on the concept level we have two views, A and B, and then N the neutral view (assuming a neutral view is even possible). Below that are the pragmatic results of holding these views (a1, x, b1).

    A – N – B (concept level)
    l l l
    A1 x -> B1 (pragmatic level)

    A1 is the event that is pragmatically disfavored, B1 is pragmatically favored, because it is already happening or for some other reason. Under these circumstances it shouldn’t be acceptable to attack A just for being extreme, because neutrality does not translate into a seperate result. Otherwise a holder of the B view can superficially repudiate A and B, and hold to N, which they often do. If someone argues for a balanced perspective they have to argue for a balanced action.

    So my definition might be: characterizing the opponent’s position as extreme, without suggesting a neutral action, when the results of inaction follow from the opposite extreme view.

    There could also three levels of strength to the fallacy. In the strongest form of it, N, the neutral view, is just impossible to imagine. In the next strongest form, there is no neutral action (N1) imaginable– maybe the case with natalism. In the weak form, there are conceivable neutral actions, but they aren’t suggested. In all of them an appeal to balance results in B1 occurring.

    A case of the weak form is what occurs when people will say, about Israel for instance, that they think both parties are equally responsible. But there’s no consequence offered that matches holding that view, it’s just evasion. The consequence of feigned neutrality is that one party receives punishment that would accrue as if they held the vast majority of responsibility. So people who hold B disingenuously argue for its effects with N.

  6. JR June 4, 2012 at 04:49

    Well that didn’t format properly let’s try again

    A….N……B
    l……l……..l
    a1…x—>B1

    but you get the idea

    • Francois Tremblay June 4, 2012 at 12:54

      Thank you for telling me your ideas. This is an interesting topic, I dunno if people will be interested but it fits very well within my “mechanisms of control” series, don’t you think?

      • JR June 6, 2012 at 17:13

        Totally. I’d read it. Nice bouncing ideas off of you. I regularly read your blog with interest. Keep up the good work!

        • Francois Tremblay June 6, 2012 at 17:14

          I’m working on it. You gave me a lot to think about.

  7. […] has written a number of comments on this topic, and I wanted to expand on them a bit in a full blog entry, because I think […]

  8. Kel Thuz (@WhoIsKelThuz) April 13, 2013 at 15:06

    I am massively influenced by Rand, I am an anarcho-capitalist, and I am also a convinced antinatalist. I reached antinatalism through the faculty of reason. I still have no qualms whatsoever about Objectivism, precisely because it is not in any way promoting natalism nor making it an obligation. Anarcho-capitalism, or libertarianism, as a political philosophy, seeks to reduce the harm and suffering we experience from the hands of the state. There is nothing about proliferation of suffering in libertarianism – natalism is not the subject matter of political philosophy. Voluntary cooperation seeks to minimize harm and suffering. Everything else is a function of human beliefs. That’s why the logical conclusion of libertarianism and/or objectivism is antinatalism as the non-aggression principle prohibits dealing harm, also by bringing new life into this world without its consent.

    I have also recorded many songs with antinatalist message, as well as libertarian one. Seek out for example “Silent remain the stars” or “Being into unbeing” to understand this issue.

    • Francois Tremblay April 13, 2013 at 15:08

      I’m not saying that Objectivism is against antinatalism per se. You can be both, absolutely. I don’t think they’re harmonious at all (sense of life, and all that), but they’re not incompatible.

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