Monday, August 29, 2016

Altruistic childbirth?

It came to my attention the other day, the scenario in which having a child results in a profound benefit to everyone else who is already alive.

Some reject these kinds of ideas out of disgust of using another person as a means to an end, i.e. instrumentalizing them. Those with concerns regarding birth tend to focus on the child only, and not on the surrounding environment in which the child is brought into. As a rule (-breaking) consequentialist (fuck the system!), aka a partial rule consequentialist, though, instrumentality is not an automatic strike-out; neither are concerns regarding consent (for example, a government drafting its citizens to avoid invasion). Rule-breaking partial consequentialism is similar to rule consequentialism except in that it allows the breaking of these rules when certain scenarios present themselves - it is act consequentialism in disguise.

Being an rule-breaking consequentialist also means that I cannot favor certain actions over others without reflection on their consequences within the context of the situation. Whereas pure rule consequentialist would be able to favor certain actions despite the apparent immediate consequences, because as a general rule of thumb, these actions promote the most happiness/reduce the most suffering. A rule consequentialist would argue that an act is (im)moral based upon the rules (which are based on generalized consequences), not on the immediate consequences themselves. But I am not a pure rule consequentialist, so this does not necessarily apply to my thinking.

Before a person is conceived, there already exists a world filled with people of awareness, who feel pleasure and pain. These people are of moral importance, because they have awareness and are therefore subject to welfare.

Given that I am a rule-breaking consequentialist, then, the proposition that one ought to have a child (despite being against having children) to bring about an overall better state of affairs is not automatically rejected.

An additional caveat: in addition to being an act consequentialist, I'm also a pragmatist of sorts. In other words, idealistic "head in the clouds" beliefs do not substitute actually doing something, and idealistic expectations do not substitute pragmatic utility. A better state of affairs need not be a good state of affairs - but our actions should be oriented as to produce the best possible state of affairs. This is also why I am a partial rule consequentialist, since pure act consequentialism is almost unanimously rejected as being untenably clumsy and inefficient. Rules are heuristics that are meant to be broken if the situation calls for it.

Furthermore, the concept of instrumentality is, in my opinion, a disguised way of remarking how suffering is of greater priority than pleasure. Thus, in my opinion, a person brought into the world only to make those who are already existing in a better state than the person brought into the world would be in, would be wrong and also constitute a poor state of affairs.

But what if I, as an antinatalist, believed that if I brought someone into the world, that I could raise them (i.e. trained/conditioned them) to publicly advocate an antinatalist policy and reduce the amount of suffering in the world tenfold? Would I do this? What if this was all it took - just one more generation of my genetic material that would result in a Zapffean Last Messiah? Would I conceive?

I don't think I would, for a few reasons, the concept of free will (in the phenomenological sense), input/output, and most importantly a healthy dose of skepticism.

I like to believe that I have control over my life. I like to believe that I continue to exist, not because of a soup of chemicals in my brain but because of certain reasons. One of these reasons is to help other people who are in need - thus I like to believe that my existence is in some sense contributing to the betterment of the world. This choice exists within a context: the romantic "prison" of life. But the important part here is that I have the experience of freely choosing how I live my life. I choose to help others not only because I feel obligated to but also because I more or less enjoy helping others (to an extent).

However, how does the output compare to the input? That is to say, am I contributing more as an output than I am personally suffering as an input? Is the personal cost to myself balanced by my contributions?

Disappointingly and unfortunately, no. My own contributions will never match those of my interests - I will always place more emphasis on the latter than the former, and so will everyone else. This does not mean I shouldn't try, but let's be real here and accept our human limitation of narcissism.

Having a child for altruistic reasons essentially boils down to imposing a responsibility on someone else that they cannot possibly have consented to (or likely would have wanted to consent to), and generally speaking (rule consequentialism), violating someone's consent results in them not doing what you wanted them to do. They instinctively rebel. Choice tends to result in greater dedication; imposition, not so much.

Can you imagine the conversation I would eventually have with my potential child when he asks me why I had them? Talk about awkward, more so than it already tends to be.

Therefore, on top of creating a person who will, all things considered (as a generalization), be a disappointment in their productivity, you will also have created a person that likely won't appreciate being used as a means to an end, and thus will accomplish even less had they had the choice! They will end up as just one more variable in the statistic.

The moral action need not coincide with our own desires. For the virtuous man, perhaps this is the case, but for everyone else, morality can end up becoming a persecutory logical counterfactual (pace Levinas). It's hard to be decent, even harder to be good, and impossible to be perfect.

All in all, altruistic childbirth would likely result in the creation of another sufferer, one whose suffering is likely not going to be compensated by what they contribute to the rest of the world. They would become what practically everyone else is: a leech. Thus, nothing substantial is likely to be gained, and there is much at risk: 1.) personal suffering of the sorts written about by the classical pessimists, and 2.) catastrophic suffering of the likes of Hitler (i.e. "playing with fire", worst case scenario is always worse than best-case scenario). Therefore, my rule-breaking partial consequentialism would not advocate breaking the rules in this scenario.

Furthermore, there is a much more pragmatic option here: adoption. There will always be a surplus of extra children so long as antinatalism is not a popular opinion. Give a child who is already existing a manageable life, and explain to them your philosophical beliefs, and you not only will have helped another person out tremendously but you will have a greater chance of creating a productive person without nearly as much risk.

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