The NIP and mainstream ideologies.

Ideologies which go along with the status quo usually remain unquestioned, or only lightly questioned, even when they are blatantly irrational. Ideologies which go against the status quo are immediately seen as suspicious and must meet very high standards to be even potential discussion material.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I classify antinatalism (as well as more or less everything else I write about on this blog) in the latter category. What that means, in practice, is that antinatalism is subjected (whether this is done consciously or, more likely, unconsciously) to standards to which mainstream ideologies would never be subjected.

A great example of that was given to me by reader Brian L. in a comment to my entry on the Non-Identity Problem:

Economists, ecologists, and others I can’t think of off the top of my head, talk about future people, their impact, and how they will be impacted. Yet no one calls them on a NIP. Why just us? Am I not understanding, or do I understand enough that I see through the NIP issue as a non-issue?

The Non-Identity Problem, if you don’t know about it, is an objection sometimes presented by opponents of antinatalism. It consists, to explain it simply, of denying reasoning based on future persons because it’s irrational to base your reasoning on things that don’t actually exist.

As I pointed out in my entry, the NIP not only doesn’t address most antinatalist arguments, but it’s also plainly wrong and contradicts basic intuitions. If one person is designing a product and another person find out that a flaw in the design would make it lethal to its user, it would be imbecilic for the natalist to come in and say that there’s no point in arguing about flaws because the product does not exist yet. This is not logic or philosophy that should be treated seriously, it’s a sad incapacity to understand cause and effect that should be treated with pity.

The NIP is imbecilic, but the point that Brian L. raises to great effect is that we don’t hear such nonsense applied to ideologies like economics or ecologists. There’s no lack of people ready to use any excuse to fight against ecological concerns, but somehow no one has stumbled upon the great argument “we can’t ever talk about the well-being of future generations because they don’t exist, and nothing that doesn’t exist is worth talking about.”

We also don’t hear such nonsense applied to scientific disciplines which predict the creation of novel entities, such as physics or biology. People don’t go up to physicists who make predictions of what will happen in a supercollider to say “well, the particles you’re talking about don’t exist yet, so there’s no point in talking about this, and you’re full of it.” That would just be silly.

Although they do tend to be rather stupid, it is highly likely that the natalists who use the NIP are intelligent enough to understand basic causality and induction, and their use of the argument is almost certainly disingenuous.

I think that in practice it becomes a variant of the “well, that’s life” argument. There’s no point in arguing about the interests of a non-existing person in not coming into existence, and when they do come into existence, then they have to take the bad along with the good. At least that’s the common way of reasoning about it.

As I pointed out in my refutation of the NIP, antinatalists are not concerning themselves with the interests of non-existing people, whatever that would mean. Another point I’ve made many times is that it makes no sense to treat the good and bad of life as if they canceled out or compensated for each other.

But more importantly, it shows how eager they are to escape the irrefutable conclusion that non-existence is better than existence. They have so little to argue against it that they’d rather just ignore it entirely. All the natalists I’ve seen argue, from the stupidest Youtube commenter to the sophisticated academics (e.g. David Wasserman in Debating Procreation, or stupidest man alive Bryan Caplan), can’t do anything but try to ignore the arguments as much as they possibly can and focus with laser precision on the ice creams, or even just on the illusion of ice creams (such as that provided by hedonic adaptation).

As I said in my reply to Brian L., they must reject antinatalist arguments at all costs, even at the cost of looking like complete morons, because it’s too painful for them to contemplate that the arguments might actually be right. Much like a religion addict, a drug addict, an alcoholic, or a politics addict, any excuse is good enough to rationalize getting their next fix. But at least you can get a sense of self-righteousness out of being a religion or politics addict; I don’t really see what being a natalism addict gets you, especially since virtually no one in the world disagrees with you. And it sure doesn’t beat drugs or alcohol.

6 thoughts on “The NIP and mainstream ideologies.

  1. Heretic July 1, 2015 at 21:40 Reply

    One natalist argument presented to me was like,”What if we had a utopia? I couldn’t see not sharing that kind of happiness with others.” I’ll leave it to your imagination why that’s stupid.

  2. lonesomeyogurt July 11, 2015 at 21:41 Reply

    I hate to leave two critical comments in a row, but I think there are some very serious flaws with this entry.

    “If one person is designing a product and another person find out that a flaw in the design would make it lethal to its user, it would be imbecilic for the natalist to come in and say that there’s no point in arguing about flaws because the product does not exist yet.”

    The obvious difference here between this and procreation is that the lethal product would be affecting someone *who already exists.* If I know that a car I build will kill the driver, any discussion of that car’s flaws are actually a discussion of the results that potential car will have on someone who already exists, and thus can be talked about pretty easily. It’s a completely different question from the question of creating new lives.

    In the same way, when economists or environmentalists are talking about the future effects of policy, they’re *comparing* two different lives. They’re asking the question, “What would be better? Being alive in a world X or a world Y?” It’s a question of which is better *than* the other, and it doesn’t require the existence of any specific person to exist.

    But when you’re talking about anti-natalism, you’re not asking “better than,” you’re asking “better for.” The difference is huge because you’ve moved to talking not about two different states and their merits but instead two different ways of an individual existing. Just like I might easily say “If I cut off my hand now, the paintings I make will be worse than if I don’t,” but it wouldn’t make sense to say, “It would be better for the painting I make without a hand to not exist.” I think the difference is pretty obvious.

    Comparing two different ways of existing – which is what economists or environmentalists do when talking about the future – is a whole different ballgame than comparing existing and not existing. Living in world X is better *than* living in world Y, but Living in world X is not better *for* potential humans because potential humans don’t exist.

    • Francois Tremblay July 12, 2015 at 00:19 Reply

      “I hate to leave two critical comments in a row, but I think there are some very serious flaws with this entry.”

      ,,,? I looked back and your last comment was not critical. Not that I mind.

      ““If one person is designing a product and another person find out that a flaw in the design would make it lethal to its user, it would be imbecilic for the natalist to come in and say that there’s no point in arguing about flaws because the product does not exist yet.”

      The obvious difference here between this and procreation is that the lethal product would be affecting someone *who already exists.* If I know that a car I build will kill the driver, any discussion of that car’s flaws are actually a discussion of the results that potential car will have on someone who already exists, and thus can be talked about pretty easily. It’s a completely different question from the question of creating new lives.”

      No, that can’t possibly be the reasoning. For one thing, we have no idea who may or may not be killed by any given car. For another, it’s entirely possible that a person not yet born will be killed by the car. Sorry, but I reject your counter-analogy. The existence of the future victim has nothing to do with it.

      “But when you’re talking about anti-natalism, you’re not asking “better than,” you’re asking “better for.” The difference is huge because you’ve moved to talking not about two different states and their merits but instead two different ways of an individual existing. Just like I might easily say “If I cut off my hand now, the paintings I make will be worse than if I don’t,” but it wouldn’t make sense to say, “It would be better for the painting I make without a hand to not exist.” I think the difference is pretty obvious.”

      First of all, we’re not talking about antinatalism in general but about specific arguments. Antinatalism as a whole is unaffected by the NIP even if the NIP was a valid objection. Second, I have made the case before that these arguments are about comparing different states of the world. I’m afraid I don’t understand the alternative you’re proposing. What exactly are you comparing?

      “Comparing two different ways of existing – which is what economists or environmentalists do when talking about the future – is a whole different ballgame than comparing existing and not existing. Living in world X is better *than* living in world Y, but Living in world X is not better *for* potential humans because potential humans don’t exist.”

      Well, yes. That’s comparing different states of the world, like I said.

  3. lonesomeyogurt July 12, 2015 at 10:52 Reply

    “First of all, we’re not talking about antinatalism in general but about specific arguments. Antinatalism as a whole is unaffected by the NIP even if the NIP was a valid objection.”

    I don’t disagree there. I’m certainly not a “natalist” – with the exception of the indigenous, nothing would make me happier than a human-free world. I’m specifically objecting to the rejection of the NIP.

    My apologies for not being more clear – what I am saying is that the references economists and environmentalists make to the future are comparing two different ways of existing, whereas discussions anti-natalists are comparing existing and not existing. They are massively different.

    “Living with a million dollars is better than living with five dollars” is a comparison that can be made without discussing anyone, any “identity.” Same with questions like “It is better to live in a world with living forests than without living forests.” It’s a “than” question, a comparison between two states.

    But “It is better for someone to not exist” is a whole different class of question, because it is talking about a specific individual – an “identity,” hence the non-identity problem. So the NIP does come about in those questions in ways it doesn’t come about with the questions economists and environmentalists ask.

    As for the analogy, then we can make sure there is no reference to a future victim by discussing a product that affects no one else – but what product is there that does so? Any question of flaws in a future product eventually circles back to the effect those flaws would have on another human being who is alive.

    It would be better to discuss something that exists for itself, like a painting. But it would be ridiculous, right, to say “It would be better for this painting to have never been painted,” right? Knowing that “this painting,” per the NIP, doesn’t actually exist except as it is painted.

    • Francois Tremblay July 12, 2015 at 14:19 Reply

      “My apologies for not being more clear – what I am saying is that the references economists and environmentalists make to the future are comparing two different ways of existing, whereas discussions anti-natalists are comparing existing and not existing. They are massively different.”

      But that’s not what antinatalists are doing. Antinatalists are comparing two states of the world. So is an environmentalist or an economist talking about different policy outcomes. For example, they may discuss the effect of policies on people who do not yet exist, or even the future effect of people who would not otherwise be born if some policy did not come into effect. How is that not coherent?

      “But “It is better for someone to not exist” is a whole different class of question, because it is talking about a specific individual – an “identity,” hence the non-identity problem. So the NIP does come about in those questions in ways it doesn’t come about with the questions economists and environmentalists ask.”

      But that’s not the question as we pose it. We don’t say “It is better for someone to not exist.” We say “It is better to not exist.” The Asymmetry, for example, is formulated as “the non-existence of sentience is better than its existence.” Another good one is the way Gary Mosher formulates the teleological argument: “there is no need for need to exist.”

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