Friday, December 23, 2016

On the rationality of preventative, insurance-based suicide


"Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance."  Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

Typically addiction is used to describe things like drug abuse or media consumption. But should addiction be applied to life continuation as a whole? In order to do so, there has to be some reason why life continuation would be an overall bad for a person's well-being.

Take this example:

  1. Steven needs milk from the store.
  2. Steven drives to the store.
  3. On the way, a drunk driver collides with Steven's car, and a piece of metal impales Steven.
  4. Steven dies in agony.

Biological persistence can be an overall detriment to a person's well-being. Take the example above. Is getting milk from the store worth potentially getting impaled? Had Steven not gotten the milk, he wouldn't have been impaled. But what would have made Steven not need the milk? Perhaps Steven could be a vegan. Or perhaps Steven has a change in appetite. Or perhaps Steven could have killed himself and thus not had any more desires that expose him to the dangers of the world.

But Steven's story is hypothetical, right? A quick Google search leads me to believe that automobile-related impalements are not the work of an imaginative brain.

Another Google search brings up the random statistic that 0.0164% of scuba divers die. The primary cause of death is suffocation, usually by insufficient gas or getting entangled. It seems to be a combination of inexperience, as well as pure bad luck. What is important to note is that every single one of those part of the 0.0164% statistic didn't expect to drown that day. huh.

I have a personal story as well. Since 2013, there have been 207 public school shootings in the United States. I went through a school shooting at my high school during this time frame that resulted in the death of an innocent student and the death of the perpetrator by a self-inflicted gun shot wound to the head. I remember thinking during the shooting how surreal it all was. I never would have expected it to happen to my high school - it's always the other schools that get shot up. As of today I have recovered from the experience, but I would never, ever voluntarily go through that traumatic experience ever again. Ever. 

People like to think that these sorts of things make you stronger, and indeed they do, for those who survive and aren't crippled. Yes, it was the will of the almighty cosmos that I went through something like this, because, in the end, it made me stronger. What a crock of bullshit. 

Nietzsche was incorrect. What doesn't kill you has a possibility of severely damaging you and making you wish it had finished you off.

Life: an accident waiting to happen
My conclusion from all this is that life continuation is one hell of a risk. Not only do we have statistics for horrible tragedies, but what is arguably worse is that we don't have statistics for many other things. Every time you walk out of your door, you are exposing yourself to danger. Cognitive inadequacy limits our appreciation of this fact. Why is it that danger has to be practically right in front of us in order for us to register it? Because long-term risk management is not conducive to reproduction.

How ironic it is that the greatest pleasures in life come at such a steep risk.

If we were truly rational creatures, we would realize that our unconscious will-to-live is analogous to being dragged across a cheese grater. It is manipulative in that it exposes us to dangers and harms that we otherwise would not choose to expose ourselves to. Epicureans are kidding themselves; we don't continue life for its pleasures, we continue life because we have no other realistic alternative. We are not in control. 

Tolstoy hit the nail on the head when he articulated four categories of human existence:
  1. Those who are blind to the human predicament (the ignorant fools)
  2. Those who understand the human predicament but see pleasure as a reason to continue (the Epicureans)
  3. Those who understand that human predicament but also understand that pleasure cannot be a true reason to live but continue to live anyway (the weak)
  4. Those who understand everything the weak do, but have the guts to kill themselves (the strong)
Why is it that people will voluntarily insure themselves against catastrophes that may not ever happen, but don't insure themselves against the catastrophes that cannot be covered by money? The cognitive bias of "that will never happen to me" effectively keeps people from questioning their own behavior. If it can't be fixed or prevented, just don't think about it. It is short-sighted and biased reasoning, meant not to service our welfare but to make sure we don't question our own fate.

This is tough to swallow. It's easy to get wrapped up in the moment and forget about the contingent nature of well-being. All of these possibilities are legitimate threats - but why worry about them? There's nothing you can do - except there actually is, it's just that practically nobody wants to consider it. Suicide as a preventative measure is a perfectly rational and reasonable response to the threats exposure to the world brings. In fact it seems like it's the only option with a 100% guarantee of effectiveness.

But nobody, including myself, can actually consider suicide as a rational decision if we're not currently suffering tremendously. In existentialist terms, humans are capable of transcendence - we are able to look beyond the immanent and see things how they could be. But we are nevertheless still immanent, and so the dynamic between transcendence and immanence emerges, with transcendence pushing forward and immanence pulling back. In the case of the rationality of suicide, we can transcend beyond our immediate experience and see how many risks and threats there are in the future, but are pulled back to immanence by the instinctual, irrational urge to persist.

Bet this guy wished he'd died earlier...
There's more. I will not deny that pleasure is intrinsically good for people. But neither will I deny that pain is intrinsically bad for people. So when the cost of pleasure gets too high, or when the stakes accompanying existence are unreasonable, pleasure becomes a good-turned-bad. Just as we may feel pain while climbing a mountain (a bad-turned-good), the pleasure we feel as we systematically expose ourselves to a greater amount of harm cannot actually be truly good for us. That is when pleasure becomes manipulative and addictive. The fact that it is difficult to see the sorts of things we typically enjoy doing as goods-turned-bad is a consequence of them being addictions. Recall the analogy of the cheese grater. Pleasure are goods-turned-bad because the strength of the desire for pleasure is not matched by the actual content. On the other hand, we have a disturbingly small fear of pains are are unimaginably bad.

The environment we live in that seduces us into continued existence can only be see as a web of toxicity. We live in a society that essentially indoctrinates us into continued existence. We do not act in our best interests by continuing existing. (EDIT: nor do we usually act in our best interests when we attempt suicide without a sufficient and present harm either, as we will force ourselves to experience much trauma with no success. In other words, we are incapable of acting in our best interests by killing ourselves because our own instincts won't let us kill ourselves. It is no use attempting to fight instincts as powerful as these. Thus life-continuation is irrational and yet attempting to quit life cold-turkey is also irrational.).

Some people might find my words dangerous. Am I actually recommending people kill themselves? Perhaps. What I am not advocating is the blind and instinctual journey through a strange world filled with risks, threats, and uncompensated pain.

What should we do, then? If we live in a world of threats of significant harm that cannot be compensated by any pleasure (terminal pain), is it possible to have a reason to live?

I would argue that there can be only one genuine reason to live: ethics. Ethics is not about self-interest. It's not about maximizing your own welfare. It's about treating others well, caring for their well-being. The life of a person dedicated to an ethical cause is one of altruism and selflessness. Some people might accuse those people of tooting their own horn, but given what I have already articulated, there is no rational reason to live that doesn't ignore certain aspects of life. Those who follow the ethical path of life are those who are not living for themselves (as this is irrational given what we know of the human predicament), but are living for the sake of others. The concept of a Buddhist bodhisattva comes to mind. The bodhisattva has achieved nirvana but sticks around anyway to help everyone else achieve nirvana. Similarly, the enlightened ethicist knows that continued existence is a net harm (or at least an irrational risk), but sticks around anyway to maximize their utility to others. Suicide may be the rational option, but ethics isn't about what's best for you personally. It's about something greater than yourself. 

And perhaps the "heroism" involved in selfless ethical life can be enough to keep the self-esteem of those committed to it high enough so they can continue to actually be productive.

What the enlightened ethicist also realizes are their own needs. So long as they are alive, they must tend to their own needs. Thus, nothing really changes all that much in terms of self-interested behavior, except that the self-interested behavior is not the purpose of life but rather a necessary requirement in order to maintain a maximally ethical life.


I will not pretend that I came up with all this by myself. I am heavily indebted to Buddhist ethics, the Argentine philosopher Julio Cabrera and his excellent book on "negative hyper-ethics", as well as Leo Tolstoy's A Confession, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti, and Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea. I highly recommend checking these resources out. However, the synthesis of these works are of my own efforts.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Interventionist Policies Regarding Wild Animal Suffering: Philosophy, Science, and Pragmatics

I wrote this essay for a required composition class at university around a month or so back. Now that the semester has ended I have decided to upload the essay in pdf form. If, for some reason, this is somehow interpreted by my university administration as a form of plagiarism or academic dishonesty, I encourage the admins to compare the date of publishing with the date the assignment was originally due. I am also happy to confirm my identity to those who are skeptical of my authenticity, as I have deleted my personal information from the title page.

As the title suggests, the paper focuses on the ontology of wild animal suffering and the ethical implications it brings with it.

The link to the essay can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2Za9ZFxTp7MX09wajFEOXZpc2c/view?usp=sharing

Please tell me if you have trouble accessing the essay.


(And for those who are curious: I received a 90% on this).

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Antinatalism and relationships, appreciation

When I think of friendship and love, or relationships in general, I see them as social ties between separate parties. A key element, it seems to me, in "genuine" or "authentic" relationships would be the mutual appreciation of the other person's existence. The small group of friends I have in real life are all pleasant people to be around; they are generally nice, helpful, and funny. I enjoy spending time with them and deep down I would say that I am glad that they are alive. I don't just like them because they make me laugh but because I like who they are as people.

But I am also an antinatalist. Which means that I don't look to highly on the phenomenon of birth.

Depending on what kind of antinatalist I am, then, will significantly alter how I can view relationships in general.

For, let's say I believe that everyone would be better off never have existing, as the South African philosopher David Benatar and other comparative value antinatalists believe. This would seem to lead to a problem with relationships: on one hand, you enjoy the company of others and are glad they are alive, yet on the other hand you simultaneously believe it would have been better for them had they never existed. There seems to be a tension here. You cannot ethically believe that it would be better for your friend had they never existed, but simultaneously be glad that they are alive to be your friend; as that would lead to the conclusion that you value their company in an instrumental and malicious way, since you would rather them exist to be your friend rather than the comparatively-better alternative of never existing at all. It seems difficult to appreciate someone's existence while simultaneously believing it would have been better for them had they never existed at all.

Perhaps relationships are purely instrumental in nature. Perhaps the idea of altruistic and genuine relationships is an illusion and that therefore there is no tension involved. People are pieces of shit and we shouldn't be surprised when we pretend to appreciate others' existences while really all we are doing is using them for our own benefit.

But this cynical perspective strikes me as wrong. I do not (usually) see my relationships are purely instrumental. Ethical egoism, to me, is sort of analogous to a crowbar being used on a locked door. It's shoved in there and forces the door open. Similarly, benevolent and altruistic acts are psychoanalyzed and egoism is shoe-horned into the scene. In any case, it seems like a minor point, and undermines attempts at altruistic ethics (like antinatalism) as well.

If existence was good for someone, then being glad that this person is alive would be perfectly fine: you would desire "Good" to settle itself in this person. But if existence is always bad for someone (as long as there is at least a single bad experience), then being glad that this person is alive would be quite malicious. We see this obviously in cases when people try to convince others not to kill themselves, not for the suicidal persons' benefit but for their own benefit. They want this person to stick around despite their own suffering. Clearly instrumentality. The suicidal person becomes an object to be hoarded.

Perhaps it might be argued that, although it would be better for this person had they never existed, the fact is that they now exist and thus the circumstances have changed. Essentially this leads to the conclusion that it is better never to have been, but as soon as you come into existence it is (usually) now better for you to continue to exist. Presumably this is because we have a desire to continue to exist, as I believe David Benatar argues. This, I think, has an assortment of problems, but most notably the issue that the desire to continue to exist effectively becomes irrational and based upon fear.

This may be true. But it also means that we cannot actually see the continuation of life as good for this person, as comparative value theorists may wish to do. We already make evaluations for other people all the time. We can already know that it would be best for a person to get immunization shots instead of no shots at all, despite what they personally believe. We can already know that it would be better for a girl to get out of an abusive relationship, even if she doesn't realize how abusive it is. The fact is that not everyone knows what is best for them. And if it would have been best for someone to never exist, then it would seem to follow that it would be best for this person to discontinue existing, even if they themselves don't want to discontinue existence.

The key here is what I see to be fairly self-evident: if something is worth starting for someone, then it itself or its consequences are worth continuing for this same person. And if something is not worth starting, then it's not worth continuing either. All of this is ceteris paribus; there are, of course, some things that are (not) worth continuing in virtue of external, independent reasons. But I am referring to the worthiness of something in-itself, not its instrumental value or relationships to other concepts. Perhaps comparative value theorists will argue that the complicated mass of relations in daily life effectively makes suicide a difficult and unwise decision, something that we shouldn't do if we still have economic investments and relationships. But, again, this is appealing to external obligations, not worthiness in-itself.

The consequences of accepting comparative value antinatalism results in the instrumental use of other people in relationships. An even better example than friendship is that of love. In love affairs, people love who each other are on a deeply personal level. And, obviously, in order to be x, one must come from not-x; one must be created in order to exist in the world of material, concrete entities. It seems hard to love something and yet simultaneously wish it had never been created, for its own benefit. The same thing applies to great works, like those of a philosopher. Comparative value theorists have a difficult time avoiding instrumentality here as well: it would have been better for this philosopher had she never existed, but it sure is nice that she did actually exist, considering what she produced!

Now, there are alternative routes to antinatalism. I myself place most of the argument on concepts of liberty and risk, but also empirical facts about life. In my case, the product of a wrong decision can nevertheless be good. The Holocaust was a horrible tragedy, but produced great works of art, literature and philosophy. It does not follow that just because the Holocaust was a horrible tragedy means that I cannot appreciate the products of the Holocaust.

What I cannot do is see these pieces of art and whatnot as retroactively justifying the Holocaust. This would be, once again, an instance of instrumentality.

If this looks suspiciously similar to the position comparative-value antinatalists have, it's because it is. The difference, however, is that comparative-value theorists are attempting to apply value to two different, contradictory things at the same time (the pleasures of life cannot justify the beginning of life [birth] but can somehow justify the continuation of life), while a rights-based, immanent-value antinatalism like my own attempts no such thing. Rather, it applies value solely to those things that exist (or will exist), and understands birth to be an unwarranted violation of consent; birth is wrong because the consequences might be overall bad for someone.

To restate this point: it's not that birth is wrong because the alternative (non-existence) is better, but because the consequences of birth might be unreasonably bad (immanent, dual value). While comparative-value theorists end up bundling everyone together in the same schema, my version of antinatalism can recognize that existence might actually be a benefit for some people, but that this potential benefit does not justify the risk involving incredible harm to a person.

Risk-based, value-immanent antinatalism can successfully appreciate the various benefits of life without condoning the act of life-creation, and without falling into unethical instrumentality of other people. It is a more-metaphysically conservative (but just as ethically demanding) antinatalism that can recognize that some people may have lives worth living (and starting) but nevertheless demands that we also recognize the very real fact that many people have lives that are not worth starting or continuing.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Potential avenues for sentio-centric antinatalism

Sentio-centric antinatalism ("efilism") is, I take it, the belief that sentient life needs to end as swiftly, efficiently, and ethically as possible. Those currently alive may be allowed to live out the rest of their lives (although YouTube commentators continue to surprise me), but procreation is strictly out of the question. The purpose being, to minimize suffering by eliminating its source. Life just ain't worth it.

This belief is reasonable, I think, if one is honest and compassionate.

What is not reasonable are some of the methods commonly advocated to accomplish the sentio-centric antinatalist goal, which end up justifying harm impositions anyway: blowing up the world with thousands of nukes, putting chemicals in the water and air to sterilize organisms, altering the orbit of the Earth and smashing it into the Sun, etc. There are a couple of reasons why this is so, but in my opinion they all rest upon the aesthetically-displeasing or even downright scary nature of these options. How many of us would actually be willing to press the big red green button, and how many of us would "chicken out" so to speak and hesitate? How many of us would actually be able to explain our reasoning to other people:
"I'm sorry, but I have to kill you in order to ensure the prevention of future unrequested harm impositions."
Am I wrong with the above quote? Is this not what many of these antinatalist methods advocate, the imposition of harm to remove the possibility of a future greater amount of harm imposition?

For some reason this brings no joy to me.
Maybe I suffer from akrasia, and just don't have the guts to accept that annihilation of the world in a violent manner would be for the best. I mean, after all, I am a utilitarian. It would be pretty out of place for me to start utilizing terms like "intention" and "innocence".  But this highlights an important point, I think:

Previously I made a post about antinatalism's relatively poor PR problem. This is one of the problems I see with the future of antinatalism. I myself am an antinatalist and find some of these "solutions" to be repellent. As in, I am not sure if I could support someone who was publicly advocating blowing up the world for the sake of sentient welfare. For whatever reason it puts me off. If it puts me off, how many not-currently-antinatalists are going to be put off themselves?

Some antinatalists might see talk of blowing up the world as more tongue-in-cheek and hypothetical than a legitimate option. To which case I have to say a few things:
  1. Why is it tongue-in-cheek? Why are you not actually actively doing something about it? (Akrasia involves not just belief but action as well...)
  2. Why do you think this will never happen? (Presumably because the public will never accept blowing up the world as a legitimate path)
  3. If the public at large will be put off by talk of ethical Armageddon, then why are you advocating it?
Talking about blowing up the world is thus counter-productive and only satisfies the urge to express antinatalism, not communicate it. If destroying the world in a fiery explosion is what ought to happen, then we need to figure out a way of convincing people that this is what needs to happen and breaking down the emotional barricade that exists in probably most people. Simply telling other people to stay calm in the face of a proposition like this is unreasonable.

Rational self-preservation may be an instance of akrasia in utilitarian ethics. My experiences, in virtue of personal ownership alone, are no more important than anyone else's experiences. This ethical failure on each of our parts must be taken into account when we think about how we are to implement antinatalism. It may be for the greater good to destroy the world, but I doubt I'll be able to just stand idly by when my life is threatened like that. Call me a selfish pussy or whatever you want, that's not going to help. I already struggle with the guilt associated with the tension between rational self-interest and ethical altruism. It's in our nature to want to continue to live, and I'm considering seeing this as one of the excusable rights each one of us have when faced with an ethical dilemma. You cannot expect me to kill myself for the benefit of sentients at large, even if the overall outcome would be better. Maybe destroying the world isn't a problem for those who are suicidal, but considering I am not overtly suicidal (as of now), this is problematic.

So what would be the method I would like to see implemented for sentio-centric antinatalism? Here are a couple of chronological moves:
  1. First, there needs to be a gradual rise in awareness of suffering in nature by an enforced biology education in high school, the removal of censorship in nature documentaries, and the outlawing of zoos. This is the educational aspect, which fertilizes the soil for the next phases.
  2. Then, there must be a subsequent vocalization of antinatalism in various outlets and in various ways. The best way to convince people of anthropocentric antinatalism is to argue that long-lasting happiness is impossible (a "lighter" argument than the more straightforward and accurate, yet difficult to accept, LIFE SUCKS AND WE'RE ALL FUCKED)
  3. Next comes the side-lining of irrelevant and expensive activities in order to focus on the artificial intelligence (AI) research program. I have my doubts regarding strong AI, so the possibility of AI suffering may be null. 
  4. With the development of advanced AI comes the opportunity for all of us to peace out. We can program the AI to multiply themselves (non-harmful reproduction, as they will not feel) and gently lead the rest of the organic kingdom into extinction in a more refined manner than we could. Meanwhile human existence is phased out.
  5. The final result is an empty planet, populated by unfeeling AIs, who constantly stand vigilant in the case that sentient life emerges again. These AIs will also act as a method of communicating antinatalism to potential visiting extra-terrestrials after our own voluntary extinction, in the case E-Ts actually exist.
I think this is a far more reasonable, effective, and aesthetically-pleasing rough plan than many of the apocalyptic "alternatives" suggested by other antinatalists. If taken seriously and patiently, I think this could actually happen, and has certain advantages as well. All without the scary explosions.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Conceivability and morality

As a precursor, this is the result of a bit of obsessional thinking. But I think it is still important.
_______________________________________________________________________________

We can conceive of a lot of things.

One thing I have recently conceived of is what I call the Worst Imaginable Scenario (in the world we live in). The Worst Imaginable Scenario (WIS) goes like this:
Worst Imaginable Scenario (WIS): Every single person who existed, exists, and will exist has already been in existence since the beginning of time, residing in a Platonic realm of unimaginable suffering. Birth into the world we live in currently is the only sweet release any one of us ever gets to experience. Not everyone gets this chance, either; some are left behind. When we die, we get transported right back into this transcendental Hell for all eternity.
Ignore the metaphysical problems this arises and the fact that it is definitively the product of a neurotic mind, and focus on the ethical problems this raises. If WIS were the case, then it seems like we would have an obligation to have as many children as possible to minimize how much torture ultimately happens. Torture is inevitable; our only choice would be to minimize how much happens in the long run.

Compare this to a wholly different scenario, the Drunk-Driving Dilemma (DDD):
Drunk-Driving Dilemma (DDD): You live in a rural mountain town, and are heavily intoxicated but want to drive home from a party. It is very late at night and although you can conceive of getting into an accident, you brush this aside as a very low probability given the remoteness and small population size of your community. You decide to drive home drunk and in the process hit a car with a family on a vacation, severely injuring every single passenger.
DDD seems to be a case of clear irresponsibility and wrong-doing.

Now, what if the WIS is not known to be the case, but simply conceivable (which it is, I am capable of imagining a great many things including WIS). Do we still have an ethical obligation to have as many children as possible, simply out of the conceivability of WIS?

The tension here arises when we see conceivability as an important measure for ethical obligation in situations like DDD but not in situations like WIS.

Probably most of us, myself included (when I'm not obsessive), would scoff at WIS. Just because we can imagine something doesn't mean it exists! In fact most of us would probably argue that it's just obvious that people don't exist before they are born. Like, duh...

Yet just because we can't imagine ourselves getting into a car accident due to intoxication, doesn't mean it won't happen!

In both cases, ignoring the conceivability of something has the potential of harming others.

This seems to lead to the conclusion that the way we see ourselves ethically has to, in part, depend upon probability and likelihood.

Of course, it could be argued that the sheer conceivability of unconceivable pain disqualifies any talk of likelihood.

But we can also conceive of a lot of other things as well. Perhaps by typing the letter "s" into my keyboard, a trillion people suddenly come into existence and are tortured. Conceivable? Yes. Likely? No. Therefore I shouldn't worry about pressing the letter "s".

However, what this also means is that, without further considerations, we shouldn't see your decisions in DDD as morally problematic, as the probability of getting into a car accident were presumably quite low. Which, without any other considerations, seems wrong. If you don't have a good reason to go out drunk driving, then it doesn't seem like you should go drunk driving!

Another example clarifies this point: what about our decisions regarding those whom we are not sure are capable of being sentient? For example, it might be doubted that insects are capable of feeling anything. How are we to assess this uncertainty? If we just ignore that they might be able to suffer, we come across as insensitive and cruel. But if we focus on mitigating encounters with insects as to prevent (conceivable) suffering, we fall back into the same problem as before; we'll treat insects with respect because they might feel pain, but we won't usher people into worldly existence simply because we doubt they actually exist before they are born? What's the cut-off here?

In this case, it seems that our doubt of insects' ability to suffer is more a product of prejudice and bias than reason. The jury is still out on the possibility of insect suffering, but it seems like a pretty good idea to be precautionary and treat them as if they can suffer.

But once again we're back at the same problem: why not be precautionary and take seriously the WIS?

There does seem to be a difference between these two cases, in that insect suffering is something we are not sure of (agnosticism), yet the suffering of unborn people is something we are pretty sure is non-existent. Thus the difference is once again one of probability.

But how sure are we actually? Say, for example, we end up with pretty conclusive results that lead us to believe that insects cannot, in fact, feel anything and that our treatment of insects are thus morally unimportant. Little do we know that insects actually can feel pain and can suffer.

Oops. Ockham's Razor isn't always reliable.

To attempt to solve this issue, I will present a principle that I call the Ethical Qualification of Investigative Capability:
Ethical Qualification of Investigative Capability (EQIC): that which cannot be conceivably investigated is not morally important.
The key word here is conceivably. For without it, it would mean that if just because were aren't physically able to investigate the consciousness of insects, we then are not obligated to treat them fairly. Which is quite short-sighted. The conceivability of investigation condition limits the scope of our ethics, then. Just because we can conceive of something doesn't mean it is automatically ethically important - we must additionally be able to conceive of a way of investigate this conceivability.

Taken to the extreme, the only things that fail to meet the standard of EQIC would be those things that are metaphysically impossible for us to investigate. Such things are thus like black boxes whose contents can only be pie-in-the-sky speculated upon and cannot be accessed by any means whatsoever, whether that be logical syllogism, empirical observation, or whatever. Insects, therefore, are not black boxes in that we can see how they might be able to be investigated.

Thus, the conclusion is that, from a welfare-centered view, we ought to see the value of a something as seen from the point of view of the universe as additionally seen through the eyes of value-beings. What reality is actually like is important, but only insofar as observers can actually conceivably know about it. The focus goes from an universal objectivity to an inclusive, yet limited, objectivity.

This also means that we must accept what I had argued for in a previous post: immanent axiology. All value must be constrained to actual existence, since we can't exactly investigate the nature of non-existence. With the addition of EQIC, this constrains all value to immanent existence that we can conceivably investigate.

A weaker version of EQIC can be formulated, the:
Ethical Qualification of Pragmatic Investigative Capability (EQPIC): that which cannot be conceivably investigated, or that which cannot reasonably be investigated without disproportionate risk or effort on our part is not morally important.
Thus the addition of a pragmatic element has us consider the impact such an investigation would have on us in classic consequentialist input/output terms.

Our treatment of things that do not fulfill this requirement is thus indeterminate: we do not know how to treat these things. There may be a ghost next to me who is horribly tortured every time I play a certain song - then again, they might be horribly tortured every time I play a different certain song.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Space: The Final Frontier ... of nothing really important

LOOK! A ball of rock! Amazing!
This is more of a polemical post.

When I was younger, I was hell-bent on becoming an astrophysicist. Space and its contents, from stars to planets to black holes and nebulae, were captivating and inspiring.

It wasn't until later that I realized that I actually didn't really like the strictly scientific aspects of astrophysics, but rather I liked the common philosophical tropes associated with it and the related space-related scientific fields: exploration, survival, mathematical beauty, and of course a heavy dose of teenage edgelord pretentious nihilism which can only be seen as a shitty fan-fic abomination of an erotic three-way between Jean-Paul Sartre, Carl Sagan, and Richard Dawkins entitled The Cringe.

What are the major plot points of The Cringe? Well, they are (spoilers):

  • A naive belief in the inherent value to scientific inquiry, nevermind the costs ("science or bust!")
  • A schizophrenic nihilism, in which the Universe is Absurd and irrational but somehow the people within it are perfectly rational and meaningful
  • A socially sexy bandwagon devotion to the New Atheist movement and their obnoxiously ignorant equivocation of theism and organized religion, and the hypocritical monopolization of the transcendental universals of Reason and Science as the only route to Truth (i.e. what is entertaining enough to warrant a PBS television show narrated by Morgan Freeman)
  • A baseless belief that, despite all the suffering in the world and the utter pointlessness of the universe at large, we ought to rejoice in our collective existences and praise the powers that be that have accidentally, coincidentally, and carelessly puked out our genetic information (cue the violins)
  • An even more baseless belief that humans are somehow "destined" to explore the stars and rise to cosmic greatness (cue the drumroll)
  • And the wholly gratuitous notion that the Universe is something special and beautiful and worthy of being studied for its own sake as if it is were a god itself (cue the choir)

To summarize it in a more precise manner: the emergence/continuation of a positive aesthetic of the universe at large from a cosmic nihilistic perspective is contradictory in that it slices reality down the middle, separating the Universe from Humanity, the Absurd vs the Meaningful, the Scientific Image vs the Manifest Image (Sellars), in an entirely unnatural and non-existent dualism. It is a sexy nihilism, a nihilism for those who like to pretend to be all deep and angsty but don't have the balls to see their nihilism all the way through, a nihilism that people actually enjoy aligning with cause it makes them look suave and rebellious.

Another ball of rock! WOW!
Actual nihilism  consistency is to recognize that you cannot simultaneously accuse God of being malignant for allowing harm yet accept or even praise those who have the intra-worldly omnipotent power to control harm but fail to do so (namely, biological parents), nor accept that if the world is so bent out of shape as to warrant disbelief in a benevolent God it is reasonable to still continue to see the world and its various processes (including evolutionary natural selection) as good. Such is the shallow philosophy of popular science.

Humans are addicted to all things new: call this neophilia. First it was fire. Then it was agriculture and husbandry. Then came a sequence of metallurgical evolutions. Then came the neighbor's wife. Then came new continents and people (to subjugate). And now we come to space, the final frontier for exploration and all things new. 

At first, the exploration of space was out of political necessity but advertised as pure scientific curiosity. Then the curiosity took full control. But it was always motivated by some kind of need - we need more space, we need more resources, etc. Had Earth provided everything we needed, including stimulating experiences, we wouldn't need to escape the boring dullness in search of the novel.

But what awaits us out there in space? If space is indeed so harsh and extreme, why do we feel this entitlement to navigate it? And why do we think anything will be any different half a light-year away? We'll still have to pay taxes, attend to our needs, and die. And don't forget about the monotonous nature of the universe:

Look, it's another planet! Just as round as the last thousand! Look, it's another star! Just as bright as those before! Look, it's another fucking asteroid, another fucking solar system, another fucking nebula! Woooo, a giant cloud of toxic gas, how incredibly amazing and inspiring! An INFINITE expanse of repetition and unoriginality! Incredible! Excelsior!



The whole popular stellar-exploratory rhetoric depends upon some vague notion that we'll find something worth something out there in space. But what if we don't? What if all we find is dust and rocks? What if exploration confirms our underlying suspicion: that there isn't anything remotely or inherently special or impressive about the universe at large, but just an infinite expanse of combinations and configurations? That the universe is unfathomably wide yet nauseatingly shallow, a real-life No Man's Sky?

Now, I'll admit, if I had the chance to go to the Moon or to Mars or whatever I would probably take it. These places are different, new, and interesting. But after a while I would probably get really fucking bored with it all. You can only twist reality so much until you have to just accept the fact that, yeah, Mars is a big ball of rock and Jupiter is a big ball of gas and the Sun is a big ball of unimaginably hot plasma. And then it's on to the next big thing of intrigue. All that money, all that time, all that effort, just to see a bunch of balls of different stuff.

No, it's not necessarily the end-goal that makes the process of exploration "important", it's the process itself of exploration that gives it its appeal. To build engineering marvels, cross millions of miles of space, etc. It's the anticipation of impressiveness that makes exploration seductive.

If we do happen to find something rather interesting (a unique configuration of atoms), we can be pretty damn sure that sooner or later the bureaucracy is going to catch up with the explorers and find a way to monetize whatever it is. First comes curiosity of the unknown, then comes the commodification of it.

The whole point of exploration is to escape what is currently the case. To get the fuck out of there and find some better situation. The hope for a pleasant future in a far-off land is inevitably crushed by the bullshit from behind being dragged along. Let's not spread that to other places, hmm?

Almost all of the universe is toxic to organic life. Shouldn't this tell us something? Like maybe we aren't meant to go beyond Earth? That the universe is not meant to house creatures like us? We habitually call the rest of the universe strange, but what if it is us who are the strange ones, the ones that don't belong?

What the fuck is so important as to warrant us to spread the human race to its maximum flexibility?

Civilization may thrive but only at the expense of its constituents.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Existential literalist axiology


Say Jane develops a brain tumor that cannot be removed and causes her to experience unrelenting physical pain. She cannot live a productive life and must stay in bed for the rest of her life. Most people, it seems, would say that Jane would be "better off dead," and that her escape from her pain would be a good thing despite her no longer existing.

But can Jane really be better off not-existing? Does this actually make any coherent sense?

I don't think it does, and I believe this does not have as much of an impact on our axiological judgments than it seems to commonly be said, and in fact leads us to a more well-founded axiology. Strict literalism is not as problematic as it may seem.

So say we pull the plug, and Jane dies. One month later we learn that the data surrounding Jane's condition was accidentally messed up with an actually terminally ill patient, and that had Jane gotten a surgery on her brain, she could have recovered in less than a week and led a productive and relatively comfortable life.

Suddenly it doesn't look like Jane was actually better off dead. She missed out on a potentially nice future: in Jane's case, it was between non-existence and a relatively enjoyable existence. Surely a personally-enjoyable existence would be better than not existing at all?

What we have here, then, is an inconsistency - non-existence becomes the better option so long as no "good" future in which one exists is possible. But as soon as this does become possible, the value "switches" to favoring existence, because someone actually exists.

To put it another way: Jane exists and is in great pain. We have two options: mercy kill her, or help her recover. Both outcomes result in Jane not experiencing any pain, but clearly they are not morally equivalent. We would not mercy kill someone if there is a chance they could get better and continue existing.

The reason for the difference here seems to me to be the existential condition of Jane. Had Jane not existed, she could not be in a better state, because she would have existed (however it can still be better for Jane to continue existing, because she would exist).

The apparent trouble arises when we wonder what we should do if Jane had no other options between a life of misery and non-existence. If we can't apply a "better" value to the non-existence of Jane, then what justifies the intuitive belief that Jane ought to no longer exist, for her own sake?

Existential literalism has not sunk quite yet, though. Instead of focusing on "better" or "worse" relationships in these sorts of conditions, we ought to focus on "worthiness" values. Such worthiness conditions will inherently depend on a positive existential condition of the subject. Is Jane's life of continual misery "worth" continuing? No, because the future she has in store has little to no redeeming qualities. Would Jane be "better off" dead? No, because she wouldn't exist. But this, I claim, has no relevance here: we should focus on getting Jane into a better situation and out of a worse situation, and if we cannot accomplish the former then the latter changes from getting out of a worse situation to eliminating situations entirely.

It's a difficult idea to explain, so reiterate it another way: we should not be focusing on removing the bad because its absence would be good, but rather, we should be focusing on removing the bad because it is bad. The act of removing the bad is good right. Bad is not just the absence of good or some second-rate value of sorts, it is a positively negative value.

And this works well with the scenario described above, in which we can either mercy kill Jane or help her recover. We should focus on removing the bad and adding the good, which explains why we shouldn't mercy kill Jane; for although we would be removing the bad, we would not be adding the good that we could be. That is not the best course of action, and it would be wrong to not take it (for additional reasons as well, of course).

Thus the existential literalist position holds value as wholly immanent in existence. Indeed it seems to be the case that looser axiologies are rather ad hoc: we don't kill terminally-ill people because they would be in a better state, but because they don't have a life worth living. It is not until the person has died that people start coping by saying "they're in a better place now" (as if the person is now in some peaceful, happy slumber or playing basketball with Jesus), because the reality is that they are not in a better place, they aren't even anyone anymore. Which makes scenarios like these that much more tragic, because there is no happily-ever-after conclusion. Jane either lives a life of horrible pain, or doesn't live at all. That doesn't look like a good scenario to me.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Does suffering matter or do people matter?


Been thinking about this a lot recently. I'm not sure if this is just a confusion of words or a legitimate metaphysical problem.

Typically a utilitarian (or anyone for that matter) would argue that suffering is important. But perhaps we ask him why suffering is important. And they respond that suffering is important because people are important, i.e. suffering is bad for someone.

Say we ask him what makes people important. He would respond by saying people matter because they can suffer.

But this has gone full circle: suffering matters because people matter, and people matter because suffering matters.

So which comes first, people or suffering? When we talk of suffering, we are referring to a negative valenced emotional state of a sentient organism, or a kind of condition of an organism.

But surely someone would be a bit insulted if they were told that it is not them that is being valued but the experience itself that is being valued, as if suffering has been abstracted from the experiencer. But the only reason I can see as to why the experiencer themselves would be important is because they can suffer. It's the same circle.

Perhaps a way out would be to identify persons with their experiences in a bundle theory of sorts. So when we say we find suffering important, it means that we find a negative valenced experience, necessarily paired to a self-model, to be important. Like they cannot be separated, a person just is their emotional vista. Suffering is always suffering of a person; it is their suffering. Thus the feeling of ownership of a negative experience is bad.

Give me your thoughts.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Antinatalism has a serious PR problem

I can't be the only one who thinks this. Antinatalism, regardless of its validity, has a serious public relations problem.

Those select few professional philosophers who advocate antinatalism (or similar positions) are not (to my knowledge) actively involved in spreading the view to the wider public. What is argued for in professional philosophy is not always easily digestible by the public; indeed it is true that common-sense morality is often in conflict with the more exclusive and refined morality of professional philosophers. What makes sense to the average person may be utterly baseless philosophically. (And so professional philosophers, for the most part, tend to constrain their base of operations to the philosophical community. This is a criticism of philosophy as a whole, not just ethics.)

But there's a relatively small "community" (if you could even call it that) on the internet that advocates antinatalism (myself being a part, albeit a lesser known one). And while the points being made by those advocating antinatalism may be valid and important, the manner in which it is presented to the audience is usually less than appropriate.

By "less than appropriate", I mean to say that generally internet antinatalism is expressed more than it is communicated. This cannot, I think, be reasonably denied if one spends enough time perusing the community. A vast majority of antinatalists are focused on expressing their personal distaste with life, or how much they hate their parents, or how much they wish they could die or blow up the planet or kill all the "breeders". In other words, it is a depressive circlejerk.

Then there are those who focus too much on comparing dick sizes than doing actual philosophy. I have run into a few of them myself, unfortunately. It's always sad to realize that am associated with some of these people simply because we hold similar ethical views.

Previously I had said how I wished to become part of the YouTube antinatalist community. I'm not entirely sure if I want to. There is no unity there, no common ground, no rules for basic conduct. It's an every-man-for-himself, an "you're either with me or you're against me" gish gallop. I am not simply complaining about the atmosphere not being to my own personal tastes. I am concerned that this sort of toxicity is fundamentally getting in the way of progress, and that those on the fence about antinatalism may be put off (more like scared off) by this toxicity.

It is fine to express one's emotions. I do it myself on this blog. But the point I wish to argue here is that antinatalism, if it is ever going to catch on, must move beyond the aesthetic nature of suffering and into the ethical nature of suffering. Emotionally-charged outbursts and cliche narratives are not the basis of a sound ethical argument.

Perhaps one could argue that the time for respect is over. That parents don't deserve to be respected. Or that it is perfectly justifiable to call the opposition a bunch of selfish cunts, scum of the earth, and that it is perfectly okay to act like a child over the internet. Or that it's not our jobs to cater to the stupidity of the masses.

But this is exactly what expressing antinatalism is. Those who call parents selfish cunts, or make thousands of videos on the horrible, terrible reality of life, etc are fundamentally not concerned with actually spreading antinatalism. All that matters to them is that they get their daily release. YouTube in particular is a cathartic echo chamber. Those who practice this are primarily concerned with the aesthetic nature of suffering, not the ethical nature of suffering. It's "enough" to just rant about suffering.

If merely holding a belief was all that mattered, then the world probably would be a lot better than it actually is. Unfortunately, this is not how the world works. Belief is not all that is needed for change, and if you never put your belief into practice then it won't be surprising when you realize that you have so much to rant about. Ranting and raving about the same stuff becomes a habit.

To reiterate, if you believe that the presentation of antinatalism doesn't matter, then you are fundamentally not concerned with actually communicating (and implementing) antinatalism, but rather are focused on expressing antinatalism. This disconnect is precisely what I claim to be the biggest challenge facing the future of antinatalism. Antinatalism will never take off if we all keep acting so goddamn immature.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Imposing harm vs exposing to harm - epistemic and libertarian standards

Here I will argue that there is no reasonable difference between imposing harm on someone and exposing someone to (significant) harm, and that this equivalency helps reinforce a liberty-based argument for antinatalism.

It is a less-common argument from the natalist side: parents aren't imposing harm so much as they are exposing their children to harm. Thus the blame is not on the parents but on the environment. The parents merely put children in a situation that is dangerous.

However, exposing someone to harm (henceforth "exposition") becomes identical to imposing harm on someone (henceforth "imposing") when neither an epistemic standard and a libertarian standard are met.

For say a medieval king calls upon his vassals to wage war against his nemesis. His vassals, in turn, enlist men (against their will - conscription) to fight in the army. The men go to war and many are horribly injured or die. But the king manages to overthrow his enemy. The act of conscription and the subsequent loss of human welfare is post hoc justified as merely an exposition of harm, not an imposition of harm, and that the victory over the enemy justifies the loss of welfare.

Clearly this is bullshit. The king obviously imposed harm upon his men. They did not consent to becoming soldiers (they were conscripted), and the king knew that many of these men would be injured or killed. The king did not merely expose his army to the enemy, he forced his men to be exposed to the enemy.

And that is the difference between imposition and exposition of harm. An exposition of harm becomes identical to an imposition of harm when:
  1. The dangers are reasonably high to warrant consent (the epistemic standard)
  2. No consent was given (the libertarian standard)
It might be objected that the epistemic standard has no role here, and that it is only the libertarian standard that is important. I would argue that this places a wholly unreasonable constraint on our actions. Did I ask you if I could tap you on the shoulder in order to ask for your consent? Did I ask for consent when I jokingly tossed a baseball at you? Do I violate some universal principle when I ask someone out on a date? It doesn't seem so. What seems to be the case is that it is permissible to break the libertarian standard if the epistemic standard is met: if I can reasonably believe that you will not mind something happening to you, then the road is clear. To assume otherwise is to place more value on a principle rather than welfare.

But I would also add a caveat: don't break the libertarian standard unless you have a good reason to. Permissibility only exists when there is reason to break a standard. As risk goes up, so does the requirement for consent. Thus the epistemic standard is actually more like a predictive libertarian standard - meeting the epistemic standard means that we can be reasonably certain that, had we asked for the other person's consent, they would have given it.

If we apply this reasoning to the phenomenon of birth, we get the result that, depending on the empirical reality of life, birth may be an imposition or exposition of harm. This coincides with my belief that many an argument is twofold: formal and material. The material argument (or the empirical observations) is what satisfies (or fails to satisfy) the formal argument. And this applies to ethics. 

So we have the epistemic and libertarian standard (the formal argument, or the premises), which are then applied to the empirical reality of life. Thus we come to the conclusion that all lives inevitably have strong, defining negative features, features that we can reasonably assume any rational person would not wish to experience. These defining features are structural and/or too severe to ignore as trivial. Therefore, the epistemic standard has not been met: we cannot be reasonably sure a potential future person will want to experience life in all its ups and especially its downs, and therefore we must appeal to the libertarian standard. But in fact, a potential person does not exist, so no consent can be given. And therefore the conclusion is that one should not break this libertarian principle, and abstain from having children.

Thus, the parents of the child with cancer are responsible for this child's unfortunate condition. For obviously the child would rather not have cancer. And we might imagine an ideal possible person, who exists before birth, and who would not have any of the various attachments to life a living person does, apart from the basic desires for pleasure and avoidance of pain, and it seems to me that, if asked, this ideal possible person would not consent to having cancer.

But in any case, the child need not wish to die or wish they had never been born at all for the parents to realize that it is fundamentally their fault that their child has cancer in the first place, and that their child's supposed happiness (which, in these sorts of situations, tends to be more of a coping mechanism than true happiness) is not a justification for the violation of consent at the moment of conception.

The test for the epistemic standard is thus whether we can imagine ourselves feeling sorry for the other person, or if we can imagine the other person wishing something had not happened. And regardless of what the outcome actually ends up being (luck is not reasonable), this standard is what we must oblige by. If something could be sufficiently harmful to someone, then we must have consent. In the absence of consent, we must abstain.

But perhaps it could be argued that the pleasures of life have a cancelling role in our calculus. For birth brings not only pains but also pleasures, and so it could be argued that the pleasures could be sufficiently greater than the pains of life to make birth permissible, or perhaps even recommended.

The denial of this point, at least to me, is theoretically problematic. It establishes what I see to be problematic in (non-consequentialist, typically) ethical discourse: the need to outlaw certain actions in all cases. Thus is it often argued that murder just is wrong, or that eating meat just is wrong, or even that birth just is wrong, and that it is universally wrong to do these actions across the board.

It is important, I think, that we recognize that strict, rigid codes are inflexible and prone to disassembly. It is a fact that we murder other people (war, death penalty, etc) and that we eat meat (when we are starving, for example). The morality of this could also be debated, but it stands that in the everyday, we often simultaneously condemn an action while also making an exception.

It is also important to note that although we can conceive of a possible world that grants its inhabitants sufficient pleasures as to compensate for the pains, we do not live in such a world. This is what makes the negative structure of life such an important part of the antinatalist argument. Without the negative structure, any old schmook could easily argue "nuh-uh" and claim that life is perfect and that the pleasures outweight the pains by a marathon and a half. Thus, it is the formal argument that sets the stage (so to speak), while it is the material argument (the negative structure of life) that provides the force of the antinatalist argument.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Natalists need to argue for natalism, not just against antinatalism

In philosophy, practically nothing should be is taken for granted. To do so without proper justification equates to question-begging. This is why many things, such as theology, can be placed under the radar of skepticism. Theologians tend to start with the assumption that so-and-so existed, or that such-and-such text is reliable, or even that the divine actually exists (whatever divinity or existence actually means). Other examples would be common-sense talk of ethics without a proper meta-ethical analysis of what morals and values even are, or naive realist metaphysics without a sufficient epistemological basis. All of these result in an ungrounded framework that is held together only if you accept the premises, which are not justified.

Natalism, for the most part, is one of these question-begging nonsense positions (as are most life-affirming positions anyway). It doesn't take an extended journey in the procreative ethics community to realize this. Some natalists play dress-up and call themselves "anti-antinatalists" - a clear indication of their ungrounded premises. By "refuting" antinatalism, these self-styled anti-antinatalists think they have proven natalism. Yet this natalism is precisely what still needs to be justified!

Almost all the natalist rhetoric I have read depend on this fallacy. They take it for granted that the majority is right, and that the burden of proof is on the antinatalist for everything.

It is correct, of course, that the antinatalist must present arguments for antinatalism. And we have. But this also means that the natalist must present arguments for natalism, not just against antinatalism. For the null position here, for any discussion, is agnosticism, i.e. we are not sure whether or not birth is moral (or recommended or acceptable or whatever).

Say, theoretically, every single antinatalist argument currently available was suddenly refuted by a super smart natalist (a contradiction in terms, ah but I'm just being polemical here...). This does not prove natalism. We start out in the agnostic position; if all antinatalist arguments are shown to be false, we still remain agnostic. For we haven't heard any of the natalist arguments, for natalism, yet! To assert otherwise is to beg the question, i.e. assume natalism as a premise without justification. This is quite literally the same reasoning that agnostic atheists use to sneak in atheism as the "null" position.

In other words, those natalists who think disproving antinatalism justifies natalism are essentially "agnostic natalists" - they don't have any arguments for natalism, yet for some ad hoc reason have adopted it anyway. It's incoherent.

But what do the natalists have in terms of arguments for natalism? Nothing too impressive. Appeals to the majority (I consistently see antinatalism described as being "implausible" to "most of us", even in professional ethics), appeals to emotion ("but I waaaaaant kids!"), rules passed down from religions, or even political enforcement of childbirth. Perhaps the only decent argument for natalism that I have seen is one that bites the bullet of the mere addition paradox and accepts that we should maximize how many people exist. That one at least is grounded in some sort of rational deliberation.

If antinatalists went about the same strategy, would anyone accept antinatalism? Why should appeals to majority or emotion or religion prove anything

In any case, resting one's belief on a refutation of another's is inherently unstable. You are dependent on the contingency that the opposition has no further arguments to present. Ideally, the fact that other people are willing and able to criticize your own beliefs ought to make you realize that you need a better justification for your views, instead of just accepting them as self-evident.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Friday, October 21, 2016

Pleasure and "authentic" pessimism


The reason people matter is because they can feel pain and can suffer. Pain is the most poignant and universal sentient experience; it traps, surrounds, and subjugates the sufferer, rendering them unable to cope. It is the body's enslavement of itself, unleashed to its full potential. The mind becomes captive of its own body. Because of this, pain and suffering forces us into ethical disqualification. We are unable to act ethically when we are suffering - yet we can hardly be blamed for doing so. We must tend to our own wounds, perhaps the only rational self-interested action that is ethically justified.

Yet the apparent polar opposite, pleasure, is quite different. While pain is pressing, pleasure is intoxicating. While pain enforces self-interested action, pleasure teases it. Pain is a need, pleasure is a want. We want to feel pleasure, but if this want becomes to intense it becomes a need, and no longer do we pursue pleasure because we want it but because we need it and will suffer without it.

This means that we need to toss out the idea that life is a mixture of pleasures and pains, as if it's a bag of marbles, some good, some bad. Pleasure is reactive to pain. Although pleasure is not just the subtraction of pain (as deprivationalists erroneously believe), pleasure is nevertheless linked to pain. Pain is a structurally necessary component of life, one that pleasure contingently depends on. One cannot have truly good, pleasurable experiences without eliminating the bad; you must go through the desert before you get to the oasis. Sometimes the oasis justifies the desert, but it nevertheless is the case that the oasis cannot exist without the desert.

But the important aspect I want to focus on here is the captivating nature of pleasure. Pain makes us recognize and confront our existential condition. Pleasure distracts us from it. Just like alcohol and heroin, pleasure in general inebriates us and makes us ethically myopic. As Adorno said, pleasure is maintained by an ignorance of others' suffering. Indeed that seems to be why so many of us eat the flesh of other animals while conveniently ignoring that this is the flesh of a corpse, or how the millionaires and billionaires can hold great banquets and parties and have fun while ignoring the plight of the poor.

From this perspective, pleasure becomes quite suspicious. It is poetically ironic how reflection on this is similar to a hangover, the sober realization that one has wasted so much time and energy on something so shallow and harmful. It makes you want to not do it again ... yet somehow it manages to creep in and pretty sure you find yourself hung over again, wondering how the hell that happened.

Furthermore, the nature of pleasure (and happiness especially) makes it incompatible with a pessimistic thinker. It is not that pleasure refutes pessimism; rather, pleasure makes the pessimist forget why she is a pessimist to begin with. It was, after all, pain and suffering that prompts the pessimistic conclusion, and following the aforementioned Adorno quote, pleasure is maintained, in part, by a ignorance of the plight of others. Pleasure, being an intoxicant, ends up making the pessimist forget that she is a pessimist, because she can hardly feel genuine pleasure (and happiness) if she keeps in mind the reasons she is a pessimist.

In other words, to experience pleasure (and be happy) requires one to not believe in a pessimistic position for the duration of the experience. True, whole pleasure can only be experienced if it is as if pessimism was incorrect. How else could you have a good time, except by minimizing your interaction with reality? And if the pessimist has an accurate depiction of reality (I think she does), how else if she to experience truly pleasurable things if not by setting aside her belief temporarily? How can something be pleasurable if the person experiencing it thinks it ultimately isn't enough to justify her or others' existences as a whole?

This differs from the common, and ill-founded, complaint that pessimists are disingenuous for not committing suicide. It's plain to see that suicide is not generally a realistic, if not preferable, option. It is outside of our control, we can't override our instincts. This is just the tu quo que fallacy - the pessimist may hold that suicide is the best option, but may not actually be able to carry out this task.

Yet it seems that a pessimist who is experiencing true pleasure is indeed being disingenuous, because by experiencing pleasure, she must, for the time being, let go of her pessimistic convictions. She no longer holds the position for the duration of experience. In order to experience true pleasure, one must be in the mind-set that the joy experienced justifies existence, something the sober pessimist would reject. At least I would find it contradictory that a pessimist would say "I couldn't help myself!" - well, clearly you could, you just don't want to. Reality is harsh, and the pessimist should not skirt away from this by distracting herself with pleasures.

That is, after all, why Nietzsche made the distinction between the Dionysian and Apollonian, the happy drunk and the melancholic sober, and is why someone like Schopenhauer is considered a pessimist because he realized that the drunken acceptance of one's fate is transitory and contingent, something that cannot be realized when in such a drunken state. This is why Schopenhauer thought that the aesthetic could "calm the Will" - it does so by getting you to forget that you are a manifestation of the Will (according to Schopenhauer).

Again, the existence of true pleasure does not dent the pessimist's argument. The pessimist would be narrow-minded to not include these experiences. But what the pessimist ought to do, in order to be responsible and consistent, is to reject getting intoxicated, because becoming intoxicated causes someone to lose their convictions regarding the act and content of intoxication to begin with. You can't criticize the feebleness and transitory nature of pleasure if you are actually experiencing pleasure - such criticism must occur in a sober, usually hung over position.

So what is the pessimist to do?

The authentic pessimist, the one that isn't just pessimistic when they don't get what they want, is one who integrates her belief to every aspect of her life, as any authentic person of any substantial belief would do. The authentic pessimist does not sit on the fence or ride the seesaw, sometimes pessimistic, sometimes not. They don't have sober, hangover realizations, because they don't get drunk in the first place.

But like any sort of intoxicant, pleasure can be "consumed" responsibly. You don't have to get drunk to drink alcohol, and you don't have to forget your principles to feel pleasure. The authentic pessimist limits her experience of lofty pleasures to a minimum, constrained by necessity. She should never let her guard down, or allow herself to fully relax and allow the fantasy of a good world comfort her. Comfort should be earned, not administered. The clearest sign that something is wrong (apart from pain, of course), is when the pessimist realizes that she is not slightly anxious or sensitive to reality, which should be a sign that it is time to move on.

The best way of maintaining this almost-Stoic perspective is to continually keep suicide as a possibility, not out of morbid depression but of a way of "anchoring" one to reality. Everyday should the pessimist tell herself that she has the power and perhaps responsibility to see herself out of life. She thus leads a melancholic life of reflection, never depressed nor drunk, and always active. The only reprieve the pessimist has is when she lays her head down to sleep. It is a constant and productive vigilance, a life of meaning and responsibility, which can be enjoyed but only by dipping ones' toe in the water. In other words, the pessimist does fun and exciting things because they're something to do.

This idealist, authentic pessimist may not be possible to achieve, at least not immediately (habits). Perhaps that's just another argument for pessimism - we can identify the cycle of drunken-ness and sobriety and yet never fully escape. Realistically, it seems that everyone psychologically needs illusions. The ideal pessimist may not, in fact, be attainable in the long-term. We are all pleasure-holics. The cycle of ignorance and irresponsibility will continue.

So perhaps the practical authentic pessimist is one who works hard, and ensures that when they inevitably get drunk, they don't fuck up anything major. They make sure their dives into pleasure are limited and safe; although they are dependent on pleasure as much as anyone else is, they can at least be responsible and safe. Nothing extravagant, excessive or manipulating, just the bare minimum required to maintain a steady equilibrium.

The best the practical pessimist can do is to attempt to align their own desires with their ethical responsibilities. Make it so that helping others makes you feel good. Make it so that your pleasure does not significantly harm others. Another option is to have "background pleasure", like music, a comfortable room, or a hot shower, that do not affect others significantly and allow you to enjoy them without being immersed in them. On the opposite spectrum would be the risk-takers, those who enjoy putting themselves in the line of fire in order to fulfill some ethical responsibility. There seems to be no better way of reinforcing pessimistic ideals than by facing a threat head-on. In any case, the practical pessimist would gain more pleasure from the fulfillment of their own ideals than by an administration from some external stimuli. Another option would be to get in the habit of fact-checking (in the same way those who try lucid dreaming do during waking hours), or perhaps getting a small tattoo in a convenient location as a reminder.

Maybe I am asking too much of pessimists like myself. In fact maybe the sobriety during the hang-over is necessary to keep a fresh and strong perspective, i.e. we pursue pleasure when we lose sight of our principles, and a drunken episode of pleasure is necessary to "bounce back". Indeed it does seem to be the case, phenomenologically speaking, that I don't feel nearly as burdened by the existential and ethical nature of our condition when I'm in a LAN party with friends, or when I'm studying for a midterm (not "pleasurable" but certainly a distraction from our condition). Maybe it's just enough to recognize our see-saw nature and not try to pretend like we can control it. Or maybe we should try to relish the irony of it all, so long as we make sure we don't significantly harm anyone else. But ultimately I do think we should only pursue pleasure when we need it, not when we want it. Let the pigs have pleasure, we're better than that. Pleasure should only be administered when one has either earned it or requires a reprieve from life (like a therapy).

In any case it does bother me immensely how contradictory we tend to be - in my case, I have a tendency to become complacent and affirmative when not focusing on our condition. I fundamentally have major issues with life in general, and yet still (require?) seek satisfaction in it. Tempering our expectations may work to help us feel satisfaction - but as soon as we feel satisfied we forget our own origins, like all the pain in the past (and the future too!) and how we had to temper our expectations to begin with. It's a vicious cycle.