Category Archives: Antinatalism

Ecological antinatalism: worth another look.

The more analytical types, like myself, who were brought on board antinatalism by Benatar’s book and his logical arguments seem to consider ecological antinatalism (e.g. VHEMT) the red-headed stepchild of antinatalism (or as “useful idiots,” to borrow the Soviet term). I admit I used to think like this as well. I always knew that Nina Paley was an ecological antinatalist, but that’s about it.

Ecological antinatalism is the position that procreation is wrong because of the inherent environmental damage caused by human beings, especially insofar as it inflicts suffering on other sentient organisms. Or as VHEMT would formulate it, the Earth and its lifeforms would be better off without us.

From a logical perspective, this may at first seem spurious. What does it matter if the Earth would be better off? Why should we care about other organisms? We are far removed from the suffering of human beings. Indeed, we humans think we alleviate our suffering by delegating it to other organisms: in fact, making other animals work for us has been one of the bases for human progress.

But antinatalists are very much concerned about all suffering, not just human suffering. For example, most antinatalists are vegetarians because they don’t want to add to the atrocity of factory farming. Antinatalism takes a global perspective on suffering, and is not limited only to human reproduction. Insofar as we coerce reproduction in other species as well, we create suffering in those species.

We may start from the premise that humans and their suffering are more important than other species. But are they really? How exactly should we evaluate importance? By intelligence? But using low intelligence as an attack against children, women and other minority groups is a long-standing tactic. By the impact we’ve had on the planet? Then fungi, bees or plankton should be considered far more important than humans.

One may argue that we need population control, not antinatalism. This is an attractive “middle ground” solution for many who are repelled by what they see as the depressingly pessimistic nature of antinatalism (a feeling which comes more from their imagination than from antinatalism itself), but there are two obvious replies to this line of reasoning:

1. The argument is not that mankind as a whole is doing too much environmental damage, but that each of us individually must cause environmental damage just to live. Population control cannot change that fact because it is as true about seven hundred people as it is about seven billion people.

This is, of course, true of all animal species, not just of humans. So people may accuse me of artificially separating humans from nature and labeling any other damage caused by other species as natural. This is not the case. All suffering inflicted on sentient life is bad, regardless of who or what is inflicting it. This is why antinatalism is against all sentient procreation, not just human procreation.

2. Population control is a pipe dream as long as humans hold to the notion that they are entitled to have children, or as we call it nowadays, “reproductive rights.” This is a powerful “progressive” argument and it’s unlikely to go away any time soon.

The problem can be extended to life itself. From what we know, life, once it gets any foothold, is extremely resilient. Even if all sentient life was snipped from this planet, it would probably re-emerge again a few million years later. Even if all life was snipped from this planet, it could hypothetically seed from another planet through ejecta hitting the Earth as it goes around the galaxy. This seems extremely unlikely, but when you talk about scales of millions of years anything that’s even remotely likely can eventually happen.

I do agree that it’s a nice theetie-wheetie liberal concept that we could just cut down population to a nice, I dunno, five hundred million people (roughly the current population of North America, less than the population of Europe) spread all over the world and live in harmony with nature, never deplete our natural resources, keep tinkering with our technological toys, and everyone would have all the space they could ever want and there’d be no more mass wars and genocide. Fine, but until then…

There is no doubt in my mind that the liberal environmentalist should be childfree, if ey is to be consistent, and that any such person who has children is a hypocrite at best. Everyone, I think, is aware, at some level, that having children is by far the worse thing you can personally do to the environment. If they are not aware of that, then they need to be, and pronto! Let’s put those granola-eating, recycling bin junkies to good use!

As my disdain probably makes clear, I have little to do with those types. I agree with radical environmentalism, which is more of a reaction to the failure of mainstream environmentalism than a worldview in itself, although radical environmentalist organizations typically advocate the use of violence in order to disable or paralyze the industrial apparatus of control over the environment.

I think this position is compatible with ecological antinatalism, in that ecological antinatalism has as premise that humans are no more important than any other form of life on this planet, and that we should prevent other forms of life from being harmed by humans. It also appeals to our notion of fairness towards future generations: if future generations are to exist, as they will, despite the antinatalist’s desire, then we should seek to reduce the suffering inflicted on them by our aggressive destruction of the environment today. Since future generations have as much a right to exist as we do, we are justified in using violence in service of that right.

Elizabeth Harman’s failed rebuttal of the Asymmetry.

In 2009, philosopher Elizabeth Harman published a critical analysis of the Asymmetry in peer-reviewed journal Noûs (thank you to reader Brian L. for the link). This analysis can be examined here.

In this entry, I want to look at her attempt at rebutting Benatar’s Asymmetry (which I explain here). I believe her rebuttal is a failure because she has failed to fully grasp the Asymmetry, and her arguments are no more sophisticated than that of the average philosophy-inclined person grappling with it. This is too bad, because I think the Asymmetry deserves far more serious academic examination than it currently receives.

Her analysis of the Asymmetry proper begins at the end of page 3. She correctly identifies the Asymmetry:

(a) The presence of pain is bad, and the absence of pain (in the absence of anyone who would have experienced the pain) is good.
(b) The presence of pleasure is good, but the absence of pleasure (in the absence of anyone who would have experienced the pleasure) is not bad (nor, of course, is it good).

So far so good. But she also suspects that there’s something else “going on.” She deconstructs the argument some more, identifies a middle premise between the Asymmetry (the two premises above) and its conclusion (that procreation is a harm), and formulates this middle premise as such:

An action harms a person by causing some effects only if experiencing those effects is worse for her than the alternative—namely, not experiencing those effects in the scenario in which the action is not performed. An action benefits a person by causing some effects only if experiencing those effects is better for her than the alternative—namely, not experiencing those effects in the scenario in which the action is not performed.

In and of itself, the middle premise presented is perfectly fine, but unfortunately it’s also the beginning of the problems in her analysis. For it assumes the stance of looking at states of existing persons, which is not appropriate here. This leads her to adopt the following stance:

If Benatar is to rely on [the middle premise] to yield the conclusion that we harm someone by bringing her into existence, he needs it to be the case that the pain she experiences if she exists is bad for her—which is clearly true—and the absence of that pain in the alternative in which she is not brought into existence is better for her, not impersonally better.

But this cannot possibly be the case. Logically, non-existence cannot benefit any specific person, because there cannot be a thing that both does not exist and benefits from anything.

As I’ve pointed out before, Benatar is actually talking about states of affair and therefore impersonal good/bad (i.e. evaluations which do not rely on the point of view of the specific individual experiencing or not experiencing pleasure/suffering). She does address Benatar’s actual position:

Whereas, as regards pleasure, while the existence of pleasure is good, the absence of pleasure is (from the Asymmetry) neither bad nor good. But then it’s hard to see how we get the result that it’s bad to bring someone into existence (and even if we do get that result, it’s hard to see how we get the conclusion that we harm the person, as opposed to merely getting the conclusion that we do something impersonally worse). Rather, it seems we get the result that if we bring someone into existence, there are some bad things and some good things; whereas if we don’t, there are some good things (the absence of the pain). This doesn’t show what’s better without a comparison between the sum of the good things and the bad things of existence, on the one hand, and the good things of nonexistence, on the other hand.

She seems to believe that abandoning the middle premise means that there’s no more logical connection between the Asymmetry and the conclusion. But the logical connection is obvious: from Benatar’s utilitarian perspective, a state of affairs A is definitively (impersonally) better, all other things being equal, than another state of affairs B if A contains less suffering than B. I personally would not always agree with this principle, but let me narrow it down to a more specific form:

Procreation is bad because the state of affairs where any person P does not exist contains less suffering (P’s suffering) than the state of affairs where P does exist.

In that specific form, I can’t disagree: no matter what the conditions are, the existence of any specific person is always a bad thing. So this is, I think, the correct middle premise that Harman is looking for.

She argues that we must have some sort of mathematical comparison in order to determine whether procreation is good or bad, but she doesn’t explain why. She completely missed that part of the point of the Asymmetry is that such a comparison is pointless; for example, we have no reason to compare “the good things of existence” brought about by pleasure to anything because they are irrelevant (since the non-existence of the pleasure does not represent a deprivation to anyone). Harman was able to describe the Asymmetry but apparently did not grasp it very well, if she could make such a mistake.

She then completely loses the plot:

An independent objection to the Asymmetry goes as follows. It seems that whatever can be said in favor of (a) can be said in favor of the denial of (b). If we are reading (a) as (a1), then it seems that what makes it impersonally good that some suffering is not occurring is that it would have been bad if that suffering had occurred. But then it seems it should be impersonally bad that something is not happening that would have been good. At least, I don’t see why that wouldn’t also be true.

This is merely independent confirmation that she hasn’t understood the Asymmetry. The whole point of the Asymmetry is that there is an asymmetry (hence the name) between pleasure and pain, and her objection is… that pleasure and pain are symmetrical in nature.

This is about as silly as a Christian theologian objecting to the Problem of Evil by simply stating that God had reasons to create evil, and ending the discussion there. That’s just nay-saying, or at worse thought-stopping, and does not engage the argument at all. The very point of the argument is to demonstrate the asymmetry between pleasure and pain. In order to argue the opposite, you need to address the argument in its entirety. This, she has failed to do.

Not only has she failed to debunk the Asymmetry, but she has also failed to address the other asymmetries presented by Benatar in his book; I note this because her analysis is supposed to cover the entire book (Better Never to Have Been), not just what we call the Asymmetry. She does briefly discuss other chapters, but she does not discuss any other arguments from the chapter where the Asymmetry is presented, including other pleasure/pain asymmetries.

One such asymmetry, which I find perhaps even more important than the Asymmetry, is the one concerning moral obligation (which he addresses on page 32, only a few pages before the Asymmetry): we have a duty to prevent inflicting suffering, but we do not have a duty to give pleasure. Or expressed more specifically in the context of this debate: we have a duty to not create new lives on the basis of the suffering they will generate (both to themselves and others), but we do not have a duty to create new lives on the basis of the pleasures they will generate (both to themselves and others).

This asymmetry is, I think, widely accepted. People just refuse to accept its consequences regarding procreation, but their hypocrisy is not our fault. And if I am wrong about this hypocrisy, then the point should be addressed: but so far I don’t believe it has been addressed, except through the Non-Identity Problem, which is a non-starter.

“You’d make such a great parent!”


From Boy on a Stick and Slither.

There is a sort of passive-aggressive attack against childfree people, which I think most childfree people have experienced, which is of telling them what great parents they would be, if only they would have children like everyone else (80% of the population, anyway).

The childfree, confronted with such a statement, has few good responses. Ey can deny it, but that denial will be seen as modesty. Ey can agree with it and feel good about emself. I imagine that doing the latter may lead childfree people to feel self-righteous or long-suffering. After all, they could have been “great parents” and gain that status, but they sacrificed it for their childfree values.

But here’s the problem: how do we know that anyone would make a “good parent” unless they’ve already been parents? What exactly is the observable evidence that any given person would make a good parent? How can anyone predict parenting abilities? Isn’t that the breeder equivalent of a crystal ball?

People believe they can “read” all sorts of things in others just by looking at their eyes or face. The concept of juries operates under the belief that ordinary people can “read” people’s faces and figure out when they’re lying (despite the scientific tests that prove otherwise). We all operate under the unconscious delusion that we can understand people’s motivations from the way they act or look. Breeders are not immune to that.

I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “great parent.” I believe that all pedagogy is inherently wrong-headed at best, and psychologically murderous at worse (and if we include Quiverfull insanity, actually murderous). I believe that breeders are deluding themselves, and others, by pretending that there’s a “right way” of playing this game. Everyone always loses: the children, the parents, and society.

The decision to be childfree is a ponderous one, and all childfree people, I think, have thought about it quite extensively. To make such attacks is to trivialize the childfree person’s decision. It’s like telling an atheist that they must have been abused by a religious person when they were younger and to consider that their abuse may not be a good reason to disbelieve. It’s cheap, crass, unnecessary.

I already asked about what sort of observations would a breeder use as evidence that someone would make a “good parent.” My answer is that no such evidence can exist. But obviously they do think they see something that serves as evidence. Presumably this has to do with our interactions with children (those of us who have any, anyway).

Not all childfree like children, but I would say most childfree people have a pretty high affinity for children. This is partially because they don’t have children. Seeing children for an hour or two at a time is an entirely different proposition from taking care of a child twenty-four hours a day; there is no better cure to finding children amazing than to have one.

I think there is some underlying truth to the breeders’ attack, although not the one they’re going for. I would expect that it is the least pedagogically damaged people who don’t procreate, who have the least need to reproduce the abuse they were subjected to as children, who are least likely to need affection so much that they try to find it in captive beings.

Although there are exceptions, it seems to be a general principle that the less damaged you are, the more you recognize the extreme difficulty of raising children. People who breed without thinking seem to believe that raising children is something anyone can do and that you automatically qualify by virtue of having been raised (badly) and being able to fuck. This is delusional thinking at best.

Examining the natalist and antinatalist metaphors.


The “life as toxic substance” metaphor. :)

I’ve made the comparison many times between what natalists say about life and what antinatalists say about life. So on the one hand you’ve got the following natalist statements:

1n. “Life is a gift.”
2n. “Life is precious.”
3n. “We are extremely lucky to be alive.”

Contrast these statements with their antinatalist equivalents:

1a. “Life is an imposition.”
2a. “Life is a cancer.” (or in a literal sense, CAnCeR)
3a. “We are extremely unlucky to be alive.”

None of these statements are literally true, they are all uses of metaphorical language (in this entry I’m using Lakoff’s theory of metaphors from Metaphors We Live By). Life is not literally a gift, precious, an imposition, it’s a biological process. It’s also not a form of cancer, or the result of luck or lack of luck. So what do both sides really mean by these statements?

Let’s start with the metaphor “life is a gift.” A gift is something one person gives to another with benevolent intent. The metaphor obviously refers to procreation. In that sense life cannot be “given” from one person to another, since life is a prerequisite for a person to exist.

So the metaphor looks at life as an object that is being passed from the mother (the generator of life) to the child (the recipient of life). The gift is brought into effect by the mother giving birth to the child and raising it. We see this metaphor of life as an object used in other expressions like “taking a life,” “the threshold of life,” “their life was destroyed,” “life was flourishing,” and so on.

This seems to clash with another natalist bromide, that children are indebted to their parents for being alive. How can you be indebted to your parents for being alive if life is a gift?

Now look at its counterpart metaphor, “life is an imposition.” An imposition is something laid on someone to be borne, endured. So basically what we have here is the same metaphor, but with life as a burden instead of a benefit.

We use metaphors to model one concept (in this case, life) on the basis of another, simpler concept. We are familiar with how gifts and impositions work and can use aspects of both to understand something about life, or emphasize certain facets of life and omit others. It’s as interesting, if not more interesting, to see what’s omitted as what’s included. So what aspects does each metaphor use?

Well, a gift makes other people happy, and natalists believe the vast majority of people alive do not kill themselves and therefore must be happy. A gift implies that the giver spent some of their resources, which is certainly the case here.

An imposition makes people experience hardships and suffering, and antinatalists point out that life does as well. An imposition is not chosen by the individual; neither is life, although we can also say the same about gifts.

The last aspect is that, while a gift is a one-time event with no further consequences, an imposition is seen as an event with a duration (either limited or for one’s life).

These metaphors structure the way we think about the concept “life.” The natalist essentially sees procreation as one point in time on a generational cycle. The antinatalist sees procreation as the creation of a new source of suffering, which only ends at the person’s death.

Now take “life is precious.” Again we have life as object, but an object of great value. What does this metaphorical value consist of? Life can be precious for those who do not wish to die, but this is not an innate property. The most common use of that phrase is in reference to God, but there’s no way for anyone to know how much or how little God values human life (and if the Bible is true, then that value is very low indeed).

Either way, the metaphor leads us to believe that life must be preserved. This corresponds well to the general belief that suicide and abortion are immoral.

“Life is a cancer” refers to the proliferation of humans on this planet and their depletion of its resources. Unlike the “life is precious” metaphor, “life as cancer” portrays humans as an unhealthy, grotesque outgrowth of the evolutionary process, a disease that must be excised from this planet.

The “humans as disease” metaphor, from the antinatalist perspective, is pretty extensive: both have a biological cause, a beginning, a process by which they spread and exploit resources from their host, symptoms (e.g. global warming, deforestation, massive species extinction), and an end.

Now take the issue of life being lucky or unlucky. Taken literally, neither makes much sense: luck can only be meaningful when there is a person involved. Life itself cannot be lucky or unlucky, only events within a life can be lucky or unlucky. I think this is connected to a larger metaphor of life as gambling (“you win, you lose,” “his luck ran out,” “he’s a winner,” “she hit the jackpot,” “he was dealt a bad hand,” “life is a gamble”).

Life is a gamble, at terrible odds- if it was a bet you wouldn’t take it.
Tom Stoppard

But this only puts us straight into the antinatalist playbook. The belief that life is a gamble is, after all, the basis of an antinatalist argument: life is a Russian Roulette, with an almost infinite number of chances of suffering or dying, and while you can take any gamble you want with your own life, you surely are not allowed to do so with someone else’s life. Of course life is not literally a game of Russian Roulette, but it sure is a sucker’s bet.

My point in this entry is not to argue that the antinatalist metaphors are true and the natalist metaphors are false. The truth is a matter of reasoning, not metaphors. Metaphors are tools that provide us with a greater, or narrower, conceptual understanding. Every ideology adopts the narratives and metaphors that suit its understanding of the world.

Neither the gift metaphor or the imposition metaphor give us much conceptual understanding; they are mostly used to illustrate the difference between the two ideologies (life as journey, for example, has a lot more conceptual content).

Life as cancer, I think, is a much better metaphor from the antinatalist standpoint. It not only includes the imposition metaphor (cancer is not willingly chosen after all), but encompasses the positives and the negatives of life, transposes the “positive thinking” dogma imposed on cancer victims to the general blind optimism about life, and glorifies people who spare us from suffering.

Impositionists and their problems with consent.

In this entry, I want to make some general observations about some common characteristics that impositionists seem to share. When I say “impositionists,” I am referring to people who hold to an ideology which explicitly advocates imposing harm.

Invariably they have reasons why such imposition is just or reasonable (e.g. innate evil or sinful nature, innate gender, the innate stupidity of children and other species, might makes right, etc). I do not care about these reasons, or at least not in this entry. All I will say is that only the limit cases (e.g. saving someone’s life by pulling them out of harm’s way) have been proven justified; every systemic imposition of harm in our society is blatantly unjustified. Of course they don’t really care about justification anyway: harmful power has no motive to deconstruct itself, only its victims do.

* They have major issues with consent.

My first issue is that of consent. Consent is a vitally important topic because it represents the bare minimum standard that must be met by any action for it to be non-coercive; advocates of most ideologies are keenly interested in portraying them as non-coercive for the same general reason as advocates of some pseudo-science want to portray it as scientific: being explicitly unscientific or coercive is considered bad form in this day and age.

So again let me list the criteria for consent to be present. First, the obvious:

1. There must be a clear signal of approval of the action.

This is merely a slight extension of the standard definition. And now, for the corollaries:

2. If there is no signal that one or the other party would accept as a refusal (no alternative), then there can be no signal of approval either, and no consent.
3. A signal of agreement given where there is a credible alternative, but said alternative is not viable due to pre-existing conditions, is as invalid as one given without actual alternatives.
4. Any signal of agreement given under a threat of force is the product of duress, not approval, and is therefore not consent.
5. In a situation where one of the parties cannot communicate, there can be no consent.
6. If the signal of agreement cannot be given prospectively (i.e. to the action itself), then there is no possibility of consent for that action.

I would say that all impositionist ideologies break at least one of these principles. Before I get into examples, I do want to point out that probably all these ideologies fall into most categories I’ve listed, and when I say that a given ideology breaks a particular point, I am not by any means implying that there’s nothing else wrong with its attitude towards consent.

***

* Most religions heavily rely on childhood indoctrination in order to propagate. This breaks point 3, as childhood indoctrination is most definitely a “pre-existing condition” that makes alternatives (to belief in the religion one was raised in) non-viable. A person cannot be meaningfully said to consent to anything that they’ve been indoctrinated to believe (e.g. we don’t say a cult member consented to the hardships of being in a cult, such as false imprisonment or human trafficking).

The religious call it “freedom of religion.” They are incapable of explaining how being indoctrinated and peer pressured into a religion which keeps you in by threatening eternal torment has anything to do with “freedom.”

* Genderism is similar to religion in that it’s indoctrinated from the youngest age, and therefore there cannot be any freedom to live without some conception of gender, gender hierarchy and gender roles (which are all the same thing). It’s equally meaningless to say that the performance of gender is consensual, in any form.

* Statism always assumes that anyone born within a nation’s borders “implicitly consents” to whatever the State makes into law. As a citizen, you simply have no means to signal disagreement with the law, breaking point 2 (prejudice against prisoners would also enter into this).

Yes, I know, the standard argument is that voting is the signal of agreement. But that’s not really true, is it? Otherwise non-voters could veto any law applied to them, which obviously does not happen.

Another argument is that staying in a country is the signal of agreement to the laws of that country. But we don’t use this “go away if you don’t like the rules” in any other context. Either way, it’s only further proof that there’s no means to signal disagreement (compare to telling a child “you can’t get beaten by your dad if you just run away!”).

Related to statism is imperialism and neo-liberalism, which follow the same general pattern, except applied to other countries. You will be liberated whether you like it or not; consent is always assumed.

* Capitalism relies on pre-existing conditions for its docile workforce (poverty, expensive education, creation of artificial unemployment, need for medical insurance in the US). It is therefore part of point 3. The conditions that make capitalism possible (property rights, money system, corporatism) are set by States, so what I’ve said for statism applies here as well.

The usual sort of reply you get to capitalist consent issues is that no one has to take any specific job. That may be so, but it doesn’t provide an alternative to capitalism. Faced with the massive inequality, environmental destruction, human rights violations, objectification, servility and conformity inherent in capitalism, it’s natural to want alternatives. People do not naturally want to work for other people’s profit margin or to have no control over what they produce.

* As a way of often dealing with having limited possibilities (or no possibilities, in the case of trafficked women) within the capitalist system and often as a result of parental abuse ingrained in the personality, prostitution is also part of point 3.

* Natalism, insofar as it assumes consent to being born where consent cannot be obtained, breaks point 5. The usual natalist answer is that we should assume implicit consent because it’s necessary in order for them to experience the pleasures of being alive (compare with: brown people implicitly consent to us “liberating” them and will be happy later, after we’re done killing them).

But mostly natalists just don’t care about consent, because they assume that the impossibility of consent is a carte blanche to do anything you want, which is absolutely illogical and delusional. Impossibility of consent basically means you are not allowed to do anything, because consent is, again, the absolute bare minimum criterion.

* Pornography and BDSM both fall under point 6: they both pretend to be concerned with consent and contracts, but only prospectively, which means that there can be no agreement on specific acts.

Advocates would, I suppose, argue that a contract is enough agreement to signal consent to any act that’s part of it. But if you sign a contract to perform a series of acts, and then no longer wish to perform one of the acts but are coerced or intimidated into performing it, that’s rape pure and simple. No contract can contradict this fact.

* Misopedia and carnism, two ideologies which posit a hierarchy where children/other species occupy the bottom rung, both partake of point 1, because they just don’t care if children or other species consent. The “lower intelligence” argument supposedly justifies exploiting children and other species. Guess who gets to define intelligence? Adult humans, of course. Surprise, surprise.

When you do point out to misopedists and carnists that they are simply ignoring consent issues, they will use the “lower intelligence” argument to posit that children/other species cannot consent, therefore justifying coercion against them. Again, this is logical nonsense.

***

I cannot think of a single ideology which explicitly creates harm and does not also attack consent in some way. This is not too surprising, as they are also all hierarchies, hierarchies set people apart as superiors and inferiors, and inferiors cannot have the same freedoms as their superiors; a child cannot have the same freedom as a parent, a cow cannot have the same freedom as a human, a sub cannot have the same freedom as a dom, a worker cannot have the same freedom as a boss. There must be some imposition, and that imposition cannot be consensual (the superior-inferior relation is based on obedience backed by power, not consent), for a hierarchy to be maintained.

Note that you could do this same analysis with the term “scientific” and show how various pseudo-sciences line up.

What is the perspective on consent from their perspective? One credible model was made by Tom W. Bell and is called the “scale of consent”:

Now, from a rational standpoint, only the very first item on this scale- “negociated exchange”- is actually a form of consent (“standardized exchange” implies giving consent prospectively, which breaks point 5), so the idea that the top half represents different forms of consent is complete bullshit. “Negociated exchange” is basically consent, the rest of the top half represents all the non-consent that impositionists claim as consent.

If we look at this scale, not as any sort of truth, but as a tool to help us understand how impositionists think, then I think this scale can be used as a complement to my list of points. It’s basically a chart version of the impositionist’s rationalization playbook.

For example, consider “custom” as signal of consent. That is an exact description of cultural relativism and how it provides support for customs such as female genital mutilation, suttee, foot-binding and prostitution, to name only those. It is assumed that because it’s “their/our culture,” that the issue of consent is automatically resolved.

Granted, proponents of cultural relativism would not state outright that they think there can be no consent issues. Rather, they would say that we, as outsiders, have no grounds to criticize the practice, but this really amounts to the same thing; we are after all talking about harmful, non-consensual practices, and therefore suppressing criticism about them is the same thing as evacuating consent issues.

The concepts of “standardized exchange” and “consent per past agreements” are often used to justify rape, especially spousal rape. Marriage is supposedly a contract which grants mutual sexual ownership, and therefore spousal rape is seen as just sex. It’s also often argued that past interactions justify sexual demands (you made out with me, so you should let me fuck you).

Likewise, “hypothetical consent” is reflected in many different areas. Take the natalist justification “the vast majority of people are happy, therefore anyone would want to be born.” That’s purely hypothetical, since there’s no way to gauge a state of non-existence: anyone who is happy also exists, and has vested interests in being optimistic. It does not mean that e.g. a hypothetical person in Rawls’ Original Position would always want to come into existence. In fact, it seems more likely (from the antinatalist perspective) that a fully informed person in such a position would decline existence.

* They refuse to quantify the risk of harm.

Impositionists have to ignore the harm their ideology causes because that would mean they are cheering for the perpetrators, not the victims, which is why they have to claim victimhood in any way possible. Statists build up the big bad leftists and Anarchists as their persecutors, capitalists scream about the “entitlement” of poor people, the religious demonize anyone who stands in the way of their pseudo-moral agenda, parents claim to be slaves to their children, and so on.

Related to this fundamental dishonesty is the fact that impositionists refuse to quantify the risk they are willing to impose on others. For instance, I asked anti-abortion and pro-choice advocates to quantify the risk they bring about, and very few even tried. Of course they cannot, for doing so means no longer ignoring the harm their ideology causes.

I admit that asking such a question puts the person between a rock and a hard place: who wants to say they want such and such number of children to die as a result of their cause? But if you have this problem, why do you believe in an ideology that entails the death of children in the first place? Shouldn’t that make you think?

The quantification of risk can, and should, be asked for all ideologies which promote harm. For instance, here’s one that has been asked about pornography:

And a serious question for porn users in general: what’s the maximum percentage of risk you’re willing to accept that the scene you’re getting off to has a performer who was coerced into participating, who couldn’t consent to participating, who was forced to perform acts she was uncomfortable with or explicitly barred, who didn’t consent to the distribution of the material? Give me a number.

But we can make similar questions for everything else, too. In all cases, what we’re trying to find out is: what’s the point where the implementation or fulfillment of the ideology entails just too much harm? And most importantly, how do we determine that point?

That would be the start of any real discussion on the ethicality of harm and risk. But impositionists will not, and probably cannot, have such discussions (feel free to prove me wrong!).

* They treat people as means to an end.

This can be deduced easily from what I’ve said so far. Impositionists see other people, especially their inferiors, as resources to be controlled (non-consensually) by a hierarchy to achieve some level of control over society. Impositionists see harming other people as a tradeoff, that it’s okay to do so in the name of some higher goal, which is really some level of control over society. All of that is very anti-freedom, anti-individual and anti-human.

If there is any ethical principle that should be obvious, clear and basic, it is that we should not treat other human beings as means to an end. It is the most basic form of egalitarianism that one could conceive.

* They all fail the Chomsky Principle.

I’ve discussed before what I call the Chomsky Principle, that we should in principle reject any hierarchical relation or structure unless it’s proven to be justified in some way.

[T]he basic principle I would like to see communicated to people is the idea that every form of authority and domination and hierarchy, every authoritarian structure, has to prove that it’s justified- it has no prior justification. For instance, when you stop your five-year-old kid from trying to cross the street, that’s an authoritarian situation: it’s got to be justified. Well, in that case, I think you can give a justification. But the burden of proof for any exercise of authority is always on the person exercising it- invariably. And when you look, most of the time these authority structures have no justification: they have no moral justification, they have no justification in the interests of the person lower in the hierarchy, or in the interests of other people, or the environment, or the future, or the society, or anything else- they’re just there in order to preserve certain structures of power and domination, and the people at the top.

Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power

We MUST talk about aborting future disabled lives.

There is a contingent within the pro-choice ideology which is getting uncomfortable about the exploitation of disability in pushing abortion to anti-abortion people. This entry on the pro-choice site RH Reality Check is a good example of the kind of criticism that is being leveled.

I am not pro-choice and therefore I have no horse in this race. But what I do have is the following strong conviction:

All children have the inalienable right to the highest standard of health.

I discussed this right in this entry. And yes, I brought up disabilities there as well.

I have absolutely zero sympathy for the arguments that advocating the abortion of fetuses that will grow up to be disabled individuals is demoralizing to disabled people. As an antinatalist, I don’t believe I should have been born. Yet I am not demoralized by that fact. Why should I be? To state that I should not have been born is not to say that my life is worthless: my life is obviously valuable to me, since I am alive. I also realize that being alive is a net negative.

Anyone who encourages others to refuse to examine the issue of aborting damaged fetuses is encouraging others to ignore the most fundamental right of all new human beings, their right to the highest standard of health, in the name of not offending certain people. And I find the fact that disabled children are purposefully being brought to term much, much more offensive than hurting some people’s feelings.

Because hurt feelings are not a “rational” argument, the author, Lenzi Sheible, has to make it sound as if talking about disabilities in the context of abortion means denying people’s humanity:

When people who aren’t usually pro-choice (like most Texas legislators) start making exceptions for fetuses with “abnormalities” in the same way that feminists do, I get nervous. I have to conclude that the rhetorical choice to justify abortion this way sacrifices the humanity of all people with disabilities on the altar of feminism.

The “fetal abnormalities” argument actually does devalue the lives of real people. When we rely on that stance, we’re trading on discourse that says, “No one would want to live if they had disabilities like those,” or “No one would want to take care of children with those kinds of disabilities.” What does that say about the people who are living with disabilities like those? That they should have never been born?

I included that first sentence because this is the standard tactic used by anti-feminists: associating feminists (people who want to abolish the exploitation of women) with conservatives or religious types (people who hate women and wish to continue exploiting them). She is part of the queer community, which is traditionally anti-feminist, so this comes as no surprise. The fact that both feminists and anti-abortion people realize how cruel it is to let disabled people be born does not mean that we need to start equating them.

As an antinatalist, I can say that no one should have been born, including myself. This fact exists beyond the scope of my personal feelings. I realize that this is a minority position. But if you agree with the principle that we owe children the highest standard of health, then you must agree that people with disabilities should not have been born.

Commentators on this entry have pointed out that there’s no contradiction between fighting for the rights of disabled people and not wanting more disabled people in this world. Obviously no one wants more disabled, exploited, suffering, unhappy people in this world. I can’t imagine anyone, not even the most cruel person, would argue otherwise.

Most importantly, I can’t imagine Sheible would say otherwise, either. So what exactly is her argument here? I can’t for the life of me figure it out. This is the fundamental confusion in this whole line of reasoning, I think.

Disabled people may be offended by the suggestion that they should not have been born, but I think that betrays a lack of understanding of the difference between aborting a fetus and protecting the people who do exist. A fetus is not a person, and aborting a fetus does not translate into an evaluation of the worth of any living human being. All human beings are equally valuable, no matter how disabled they are. All human beings have the right to health. Advocacy for disabled people and pro-abortion advocacy are both based on these principles.

Now, I do think Sheible makes some good points:

However, feminists have said little about how a pregnant person with mobility issues might have a more difficult time reaching their nearest abortion clinic; how a person with a chronic condition may have a more expensive abortion because of medical complications; or how a pregnant person with mental illness might have to choose their medications over their pregnancy.

I agree with all these points, but I can’t for the life of me see their relevance to the abortion of damaged fetuses. Again, I agree that disabled people should be defended, because they are human beings with their own rights and values. Fetuses are not human beings, and they don’t have rights that stand apart from the possibility of growing to become human beings with rights.

I also agree that, in the long term, making a strong distinction between damaged fetuses and healthy fetuses does probably end up delegitimizing the choice rhetoric that pro-choice advocates use. But the choice argument is complete nonsense, and so its weakening does not bother me at all. What bothers me is that some people are using anti-ableism as a pretense to argue against promoting the abortion of damaged fetuses. That really has to stop.

What I would like to see is an abortion clinic in every neighborhood, all abortions being easily accessible and free of cost, and legal or financial penalties to families who refuse to abort, especially if they give birth to non-viable or disabled persons. And I don’t see the pro-choice “abortion is bad and we all want fewer of them” rhetoric will be anything but run counter to that goal in the long term.

The impossibility of “canceling out” suffering and pleasure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better Never to Have Been, chapter 3

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

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

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

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

In Banished Knowledge, she says:

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

(bold mine)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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