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.

6 comments:

  1. "Risk-based, value-immanent antinatalism can successfully appreciate the various benefits of life without condoning the act of life-creation"

    Would branding it 'Lexicographic AntiNatalism' be missing the mark?

    So Lexically:

    1. Avoiding Downside Risk ≠ Neglecting Upside Risk (pre-natal)

    Avoiding the potential bad wins out over the potential good, as a threshold-based demarcation, regardless of possible lopsidedness in aggregation between the bad and the good, in favour of the good.

    2. Indulging Downside Risk = Indulging Upside Risk (post-natal)

    Strong reasons exist to enable individuals of sound mind to lexically weigh their own downside vs. upside risk thresholds, all of which are interlocked with their (post-natal) interests. There is no role for third-party interference, as the interferer's own lexical standards will necessarily differ from those of the subject. No two persons have identical lexicographic preferences.

    Anyway, this is another post where you all but mirror my own take on AN. The only hair-splitting I can muster up right now, after one reading: I'd swap 'rights' for 'interests' as the former has strong ties to non-consequentialism, and I like to avoid flattering its terminology during non-legal discourse.

    But yeah, great stuff. Also, this seems like another nail in the coffin of pro-mortalism (and attempts to tie AN to it).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 2/2

      However there remains some difficulty with the idea of "sound mind", I think, we start to consider the existential predicament people are in. Pollyanna thinking and self-esteem management (including concepts of sacred-ness) can effectively make people drastically over-estimate the value of their own lives on a personal level. Are those under the influence of these subconscious biases of "sound mind"? This problems wreaks havoc on immanent-value appreciation, as if life is not worth it, then having appreciative relationships becomes instrumental as well - i.e. a pessimistic "brotherhood of suffering".

      So people may have different preferences, sure. But people are also similar in that they are all humans (or certain non-human animals as well). As such, they operate in a similar manner. If it's true that most people in a study over-appreciate the value of their own lives, then it seems justified to believe that most people overall do the same. Crisp ethical theories can have the potential to run directly counter to real scientific evidence. If people are incapable of thinking for themselves, we need a reason to uphold the belief that people should be allowed to think for themselves that isn't dependent on the idea that people are able to think for themselves.

      Both of us are still in our youth and thus are in much better physical health than any other age group. This allows us to temporarily enjoy the lives we have right now with the confidence that they probably are actually worth living as of now. Later on down the road, this may change, as we age and fall apart. This is probably where we will start to disagree: I am willing to say that a great many people are doing a disservice to themselves by continuing living, and that mercy killing them might actually be an overall benefit for them. But we can't just go around killing people, as most people don't want to die and thus population-culling would significantly drop overall welfare of a community. So we have to respect the autonomy of other people not out of respect for the particular but out of concern for the ramifications the neglect of this would cause (which is also why the anti-consequentialist hospital argument fails completely).

      "The only hair-splitting I can muster up right now, after one reading: I'd swap 'rights' for 'interests' as the former has strong ties to non-consequentialism, and I like to avoid flattering its terminology during non-legal discourse."

      I agree, "interests" seems more appropriate.

      "Also, this seems like another nail in the coffin of pro-mortalism (and attempts to tie AN to it)."

      AN will always have a connection to pro-mortalism, I think, simply because of the strategies some ANs use. Arguing that life, across the board, is not worth it basically amounts of a rejection of both birth and life continuation. More precise formulations of AN can of course avoid this, but I've noticed that those actively advocating pro-mortalism typically aren't those who are interested in developing a precise formulation and rather just want the world to end already, and as soon as possible. An otherwise reasonable ethical position becomes infected with depressives.

      Delete
  2. 1/2

    Thanks for the comment.

    I'm trying to understand what you mean by "lexiocographic" or "lexically" in the context of antinatalism. Lexically relates to the words or vocabulary of a language - what connection, specifically, does this have with ethics?

    "1. Avoiding Downside Risk ≠ Neglecting Upside Risk (pre-natal)

    Avoiding the potential bad wins out over the potential good, as a threshold-based demarcation, regardless of possible lopsidedness in aggregation between the bad and the good, in favour of the good."

    In practice, I would agree with this. However, theoretically I think it could be argued that a sufficient amount of pleasurable experiences would make birth acceptable, even looked highly upon, so long as the threshold is significantly in favor of pleasure and the pains of life are not terminal in nature, and if we have adequate epistemic access to the future. For let's say I'm an omniscient and omnipotent deity who wants to create some people. Being omniscient and omnipotent, I can make a world that has minimal struggles necessary for meaning, and whose inhabitants will love life, and I can know that the outcome will not diverge from expectations, since I am omniscient.

    Not allowing birth in this context would be unwarranted. In fact if I live in a possible world in which I am not a deity, but nevertheless have a rather nice existence with no expectations for future harms, preventing me from procreating might cause me considerable harm and would also be unreasonable in the same way it would be unreasonable to prevent me from driving my car on the highway: I might hurt or kill someone, but chances are I probably won't. And if I don't drive on the highway, I'll have no way to get to where I need to go. (Of course, in our world, nobody really "needs" children...)

    It is an everyday occurrence to see the ends as justifying the means (i.e. risks), and I see no reason to exclude procreation from this, theoretically speaking. If this seems weird, I would say that it's a minor point anyway; we don't live in a world anywhere near as nice as a world in which procreation might be acceptable, and so wondering about what the axiological and epistemic thresholds are would be akin to counting the number of angels on a pinhead. Pretty much worthless and would probably only depress us in the end.

    "Strong reasons exist to enable individuals of sound mind to lexically weigh their own downside vs. upside risk thresholds, all of which are interlocked with their (post-natal) interests. There is no role for third-party interference, as the interferer's own lexical standards will necessarily differ from those of the subject. No two persons have identical lexicographic preferences."

    I would basically agree with the idea that once someone is sentient, they are now an agent with autonomy and should be seen as such. Since possible people have no sentience, we have to act on their behalf as if they were going to become a sentient person. And this means treating the interests of a person who would not enjoy existence as morally prioritized over those who would enjoy existence.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I would appreciate your thoughts (however brief) on the following 3 questions which are often on my mind:


    1) Do you believe that a naturalistic theory of human nature offered by the natural sciences, such as evolutionary theory, can tell us most everything we need to know about religion?


    2) Do you think that religion will eventually be replaced by our scientific and secular worldview?


    Whenever these questions are brought up most people usually respond with exasperation and assert that Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris ...."do not understand what religion is and don’t know what they're talking about"


    They keep reiterating that a humanistic tradition of sociological, anthropological, and philosophical study of religion that can be traced back to great intellectuals like Hegel, Durkheim, Mauss, Weber, Cassirer, Schutz, Voegelin, Ricoeur, and Geertz is the superior approach and what is needed today.


    3) Are they correct to blame Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris for being 'misguided' and lacking scholarly depth?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I must ask why you keep asking these sorts of random questions.

      1.) Maybe. Organized religion for sure. Theism as a philosophical position is not threatened by evolutionary psychology, though.

      2.) I don't think we'll ever get rid of religion.

      3.) Yes, the nu atheists, including Dennett, are shallow in their approach to religious affairs, and construct a straw-man binary between science and religion that really does not exist in an attempt to set up religion as the bogeyman of all of problems. Most of them should be blamed for spreading misinformation and for fear-mongering. Especially Sam Harris, that guy is a charlatan and a bigot.

      Delete
  4. Your ancestors weakly supervene on the trash cans located in Washington DC.

    ReplyDelete