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I'm not so sure what your reader is really looking for. Speaking for myself, I simply try to approach the subject from as many angles as my wee brain can configure. And I certainly appreciate ANY fresh approaches I find on the net, be they high, middle, or lowbrow. I can't say I really buy this intelligentsia/common man dichotomy that's being painted here; everybody seems to be speaking in the language they're used to, and different readers will certainly be persuaded (or, more likely, un-persuaded) by whatever particular voices they happen to resonate with. As for this:

"Convince this hypothetical human being not to have any more children, in simple language that he will understand. Implying that he is either:

a) stupid, and/or
b) selfish and/or
c) immoral

is clearly not going to do the job, and neither is trying to browbeat him through complex abstraction."

Well, I have two children whom I love very much, but nowadays I firmly believe I was stupid, selfish, and immoral for taking part in their creation. I was one of those people who had doubts, but didn't act on them for any number of reasons, some of which any interested reader can ferret out in my own blog posts. I wish to god I'd had some intellectual support in those days...I might at least have approached the subject with a little more good sense.

Also, the reader seems at odds both with passionate stridency, AND the intellectual rigor of the few philosophers who at least took the time to think through these matters, and offer their musings to the general public through their various writings. And while any of us might chip a nail against the hard nuts of Kantian, Hegelian, or Schopenhauerian (or, what have you) discourse, I certainly can't see anything wrong with quoting the occasional, appropriate passage. I mean, some of it's even RELEVANT, and shit!

"Antinatalists should make available succinctly presented information to the general public showing clearly the advantages of their approach and using reason and logic to drive home the central tenets of the doctrine. Simply stating a million times: "Stop having kids because that's the only way humanity can avoid suffering - are you too stupid to see that" is not going to convert even 1 person that's not already converted (independently)."

Funny, because 'succinctly presented information...using reason and logic to drive home the central tenets of the doctrine' (along with germane discourse, naturally), is exactly what the prevalent antinatalist 'agenda' (for lack of a better word) seems to be about; at least, from what I've been reading. Perhaps it's a bit repetitious- understandable, since the core of the message is pretty damned simple. But honestly, I just don't see that the reader's impeachment holds any water. However, if all this boils down to an appeal to 'try harder!'--um...okay.

Yours truly,

jim (aka pseudo-intellectual short order cook...you want fries with that?)

"We're going to have a few more children. I don't see why we shouldn't, just because there's a risk that they may suffer. Yeah, OK, there's a small (less than 10% chance) that they may suffer badly, but a far greater chance that most of their lives will be spent in happiness. We will do our best to ensure that they come to no (non-trivial) harm."

I don't take as extreme a position as Chip or Jim, in the sense that I don't think this is necessarily a bad choice for the man's potential children (ignoring the possibility of eternal torture in hell, which I think is quite important). I would simply point out that, for most people in wealthy nations, having children is simply not a cost-effective way of bringing about maximum happiness. (As Chip said, "Having kids -- or, in this case, more kids -- is costly.") There are a number of interventions in the Third world that can save lives for ~$1,000 each. With the money it takes to pay for one child's needs in the US, you could probably fund a good portion of a school in Africa.


I should point out that the reader wrote back to emphasize that he wasn't singling out THH, but was referring to more general tendencies of the antinatalist movement. I'm still not sure what he's talking about. I have some familiarity with the folks who are shouting from the rooftops about this issue, and I don't observe many instances of obscurantism or self-congratulation.

The reader also claimed that the asymmetry is defeated by the possibility of Utopia, a position I find dubious for reasons I hope to articulate at some point.

You're a wordy chap, Chip. So many syllables! Here's my take on the deal, as clear as I can make it:

1. Existence has its ups and downs.
2. Nonexistence doesn't have any ups and downs.
3. If you don't exist, you don't have to cope with the downs.
4. If you don't exist, you don't miss the ups (missing the ups is a down, anyway).
5. Nonexistence is bliss.

And I don't think life has any inherent ups. Only inherent downs. You're constantly pulled down by hunger, thirst, boredom, gravity... Food relieves hunger, water relieves thirst, goals (or whatever) relieve boredom, and antigravity relieves gravity, and these things are therefore Good. But not of themselves.

This doesn't mean I'm a depressed basement-dwelling loser, it's just how I think about it rationally. Self-deception works good enough to cope, but it's only good because a bad makes it necessary.


Well said.

Sorry about those syllables. I'm trying to cut back.

Chip. If life hadn't been so shit, I might have had the fortune of being you or at least having your intellectual acuity.

"Convince this hypothetical human being not to have any more children, in simple language that he will understand. Implying that he is either:

a) stupid, and/or
b) selfish and/or
c) immoral

is clearly not going to do the job, and neither is trying to browbeat him through complex abstraction."

Laying out the antinatalist argument for this person will I believe of necessity imply that he is (b) and (c) - isn't that the very core of the antinatalist view? True, presenting this to him will probably not do the job because in most cases he will also in fact be (a). That most human beings (including myself, particularly in posting this comment) most of the time act in ways suggesting they are (a) is a sufficient condition for (b) and (c). Indeed, it must all end. Fuck.

Being the said "reader" who wrote to Chip, I think some of you have misunderstood the position I set out when first writing to Chip, and the metaphors used. I think my second email to Chip, his response to that, and the missing blog excerpt, should serve to coalesce the various strands into a coherent whole.

My second email to Chip:

Hi Chip,

Many thanks for replying. This email will be brief, as your arguments require careful consideration and not a knee-jerk response, but a quick summary of what I feel. Firstly, I'd like to say that the "you" I used in my email was a generic "you" and was intended to cover criticism of the entire antinatalist movement as I see it - not specifically targeted to any particular individual's Weltanschauung. Some interesting points raised in your email; I have come to the conclusion that we subscribe to slightly different flavours of philanthropic antinatalism. You see, your arguments (and the asymmetry of Benatar) fall down on one crucial point - the possible existence of a utopia (yes, I've phrased that very carefully!). Your main error, I contend, is that you (implicitly) admit to the possibility that should a series of unimaginable (and highly improbable) events occur, throwing all of current human thought on its head, as it were, and leading perhaps to a world of deathlessness, infinite self-generating resources and neurologically governed responses to external phenomena very far removed from our own, there would then be an immediate reductio ad absurdum with the initial assumptions made - the analogy in physics would be that you use a frame of reference to determine one set of (axiomatically obtained) results, which do not hold for an observer in a different frame of reference. That is not very elegantly put, but I'm sure you see what I'm getting at.

The advantage of neutrality is that it doesn't have an "opposite". 0 is 0, or 1-1, or 2-2, etc. To put it simply and in concrete terms, I believe that there can (provably) never be a state in which any living being is permanently "happy". Such a state would be a living "death" in itself; it is not, you will note, that the concept "death in itself" is a serious harm, but that "life in itself" is a serious harm. A subtle, but necessary distinction, which holds everything together. You will also see that this covers any possible future scenario for evolution, including highly farfetched science fictional theses of brains in jelly.

Back to the here and now, you say that you're trying to save lives, and that this is not being grandiose. I say to that,..., ABSOLUTELY!! I would honestly regard my life has having achieved something if I (via enlightened altruism and through non-violent means) convince ANYONE to not have kids. In addition, what's wrong with being a "movement sort of person"? Spread the good word, I say, all those unborn chappies will thank us for it :) You say you're not ambitious? Well, you should be!! Design antinatalism leaflets and post it to all the addresses in your area. Address all of them (a la Stendhal) "To the happy few" - folks like exclusivity. Talk to everyone you know about it, the postman, the hairdresser, the supermarket sales-people, whoever. What's worse: being thought of as Billy Graham on steroids, or having yet another (avoidable) nightmarish existence foisted on some poor fellow? Hell, if that's what it takes, bribe Oprah to get your antinatalism book on the book club roster! Show some proselytizing zeal, Chip!

Chip's response:

In his updated edition of Lucifer's Lexicon (which is part of an anthology I'm publishing), L.A. Rollins defines Utopia as "the best of all impossible worlds." It may work as a hypothetical trump, but it feels too much like a magic number. As with the concept of heaven, I'm left with questions. Do some foods still taste better than others (assuming we still eat)? Do your pets still die? Do animals exist at all? And if they do, do they suffer? Do the humans (or post humans) care about the suffering of lower life forms? Is it possible to help the suffering lower life forms, or to prevent newly sentient life from emerging -- without caring? Will it be possible to create lab universes, and if so, will Utopian demigods be able to ensure that those worlds will not contain suffering? Does anything even change? Do people anticipate anything? Is the subjective experience of better and worse abolished? Is it possible for a citizen of earthly paradise to regret their life -- or to regret anything? And if so... Well, you know.

I do understand. The way it's rigged, I suppose the answer would be that such problems are naught, by circular reference to the operative term. If I don't understand it, it's because I'm limited by myopia. I just can't bring myself to buy it as a serious explosion of the asymmetry. Physical asymmetry and disequilibrium argue strongly against the conceptual possibility of guaranteed sustainable perfection. The presence of qualitative metrics seems to follow from the mere existence of external forces.

Chalk it up to a lack of imagination, maybe.

You seem to anticipate something like this in your second paragraph, but I'm feeling a bit dense this evening. Need to mull it over. Promise to.

I can't really change my disposition. But I do care. And I think the antinatalist book we're putting together may be of interest -- that it may edge closer to the sort of PR breakthrough that you have in mind. The governing idea is to corner the case against people-making in a number of different ways, but with a consistent emphasis on practical choices. I want it to be the sort of book that people discover. I want it to be clear and engaging and emphatic and empathic, and human. I want it to matter. Foolish me. We'll see.

***End of email correspondence***

My blog excerpt (edited out of Chip's post as he said that he had nothing to argue with there - but I believe serves as an example of what constitutes "non-strident, cogent presentation of a view, supported by reason and logic without imposition of externalities or ad hominem references":

Religion and God. The Bible. According to the Old Testament, Genesis, God tells Man to procreate, fill the Earth and dominate all other forms of life. Yes, and who wrote the Old Testament? Men, or a combination thereof, sometime between the 15th and 2nd centuries BC. God did not write any part of the Bible, either the Old or New Testaments. God exists (for believers) but He did not create the world we live in today and all the creatures living on it in 6 days, in strict sequential order as described in Genesis. Life evolved slowly from the minutest unicellular organisms to the complex creatures that inhabit the Earth today, including Homo sapiens. There was a lot more diversity in life-forms than is described in the story of Creation given by the authors of the Bible (trillions of unicellular organisms, amoebae, bacteria, viruses, etc.). There have also been many sudden extinctions in the past, at fairly well-defined boundaries (e.g. the Permian-Triassic extinction event, the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event, etc.). So, the authors of the Bible were circumscribed by being human and therefore only able to express God's actions in human language and in terms of contemporary human experience, and not having the information at their disposal that we currently have and take for granted. Thus, anything that is written in the Bible, which is a historical document, has to be read strictly in the context of human understanding during that period of history. So, when in Genesis it is advised that humans should be fertile and conquer the Earth, this represents the de facto perception of reality of those who authored the book. They certainly weren't around when God (putatively) did the things they ascribed to Him - and (by definition) God existed independently of the dimension of time, whereas human beings certainly do not.

"For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:16. You can believe in, and love, God, which is the main premise for all religions, and still aspire to end physical/mental/other suffering on Earth. God relates to the spiritual dimension - not the material one, His existence (as mentioned before) is not dependent in any way on your actions on Earth, he exists independently of all living creatures, independently of any emotions/actions that you ascribe to Him, independently of the 4 dimensions. You are not harming God in any way whatsoever by not procreating. You are simply (in a truly unselfish manner) ensuring that the coordinates of temporal and worldly experience, equating to a Sisyphean form of indefinite suffering, are erased for the maximum number in as short a time as possible.


Thanks for diving in. For the record, the main reason I didn't include your blog excerpt in my post (my tacit lack of disagreement being ancillary) was that I thought it best to preserve your anonymity, and I didn't want to throw out any Google bait. Having said that, I still can't find your site and would be happy to add a link to the Hogroll if you care to point me to it.

Hi there. The "possible existence of a utopia" doesn't affect the asymmetry at all. If we define a utopia to be a situation in which lives are led with no pain, and only pleasure, reproduction under the asymmetry becomes at most morally neutral (you don't do someone a favor by bringing him into existence, even a perfect existence - the existence merely doesn't harm him if it's perfectly free of all possible pain). Under current and realistically foreseeable conditions, reproduction is, of course, morally wrong.

I don't see how some chance of future utopia should affect our calculations at all. All the morally wrong reproduction between now and then are outweighed by exactly nothing - the most we can hope for - ever - is morally neutral reproduction.

To Sister Y:


Part of my original sentence was:

"...possibility that should a series of unimaginable (and highly improbable) events occur, throwing all of current human thought on its head, as it were, and leading perhaps to a world of deathlessness, infinite self-generating resources and neurologically governed responses to external phenomena very far removed from our own..."

Now, your definition of a utopia itself relies upon perceptions of certain external phenomena being defined in terms of contemporary human experience. "Under current and realistically foreseeable conditions", I absolutely agree with you. Trouble is, I can't agree with ANY prescriptive definition of Utopia (hence my choosing this particular word), UNLESS someone finds a way to stop time and/or travel backwards in time,which may well happen,of course:) So, it clearly isn't the case that under all possible scenarios of evolution (which it is impossible to visualise), it is only morally neutral to give rise to new beings (as all it takes is an (admittedly ridiculous and absurd) artificial construction to bring about the change from neutral to positive).

I still don't see how utopia, or the possibility for those brought into existence leading the most pain-free, spectacularly interesting, deathless lives imaginable (or even better), would render reproduction anything but neutral, given the asymmetry. This is true even given wild, heretofore unimagined technological advancements. According to Benatar, a being is not benefited by being brought into an awesome, perfectly pain-free existence; it's just that such a being isn't thereby harmed, either. Neutral.

Perhaps I am missing something?

I'm with Sister Y on this one; if there is a bridge from neutrality to benefit, you haven't explained it. The only way I know of to cross that divide is to affirm positive interests for pre-existent people, which requires supernatural (or at least very strange and dubious) assumptions.

I also think the idea of utopia as envisioned for purposes of this discussion may be rendered untenable by the simple fact that pain and suffering exist in the present. I'm not one for "Back to the Future" logic games, but doesn't the current reality of negative value imply that future time travelers were unsuccessful? Beyond being incalculably remote, the notion of some post-super-singularity state of painless pluperfection seems to suffer from the same conceptual problems that bedevil religious conceptions of omnibenevolence. It demands a kind of absolute and infinite equilibrium that seems -- and probably is -- contrary to physical nature. The questions that follow seem to invite familiar theodicical problems, only without a creator-god there to simplify -- or complicate -- things.

don't worry,

in the year 6,000,000,000,000 lung will bring everybody back.

"rise from your grave and serve lung again."


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