Sunday, July 31, 2016

Someone wanna explain to me how I'm wrong?!

A while back I posted what I felt to be an adequate deconstruction of David Benatar's antinatalist asymmetry. Francois Tremblay "responded" to my critique and when I attempted to follow up, he proceeded to ignore my arguments and then ban me.

Being the anxious and obsessive-perfectionist I tend to be, this has not sat well with me. Apparently I "don't get it" and am "not addressing the argument", as well as being generally an idiot.

I've made a diagram which I think will hopefully show what I believe to be the problem in the asymmetry. So please, if anyone is reading this (especially you, Tremblay), explain to me how I am wrong, preferably without telling me to die in a fire. Or, if you agree, post a comment and you'll get a purple sticker.


Tremblay in particular claims that Benatar is not talking about possible people but states of affairs.

If we ignore states of affairs, the symmetry is obvious. But Tremblay argues that "this is not the argument".

Regardless, I think the diagram clearly shows how an asymmetry derived from states of affairs is still question-begging and ad hoc.

The absence of pleasure is seen as a personal bad (from the possible person's interests), but not an impersonal bad, since nobody is actually there to be deprived of pleasure. The impersonal values here, then, are referring to the value of a state of affairs.

The absence of pain is seen not only as a personal good (from the possible person's interests), but also an impersonal good. Tremblay, to paraphrase, says that the absence of pain is impersonally good because nobody is suffering.

But this ignores what could (and should) be applied to the absence of pleasure: the absence of pleasure is impersonally bad because nobody is experiencing pleasantness. Indeed, we can (contra Benatar) actually feel regret for missing an opportunity for pleasure, even if there's nobody there to experience this regret (excluding ourselves). For example, if we have a choice between one state of affairs in which a person was extremely happy (and felt no pain) and another state of affairs in which nobody existed at all, and we chose the latter option, it is plausible that we would actually feel regret for not bringing this happy person into existence.

None of this is to say that we actually have a duty to bring happy people into existence. As I've pointed out before, our obligations prioritize pain over pleasure. Having a child takes a lot of effort - any obligation we had towards creating happy people would be counteracted by our own discomfort.

Furthermore, it's not even clear why we should ignore the symmetry of personal values in favor of the supposed-asymmetry of impersonal values. This seems to be question-begging.

Additionally, there is implicitly a prioritization of harm in the asymmetry (no harm is a good, no benefit is not-bad). But this is not logical, rather it is material argumentation.

The bottom line here, the underlying point, is that if nobody needs to exist for the absence of pain to be impersonally good, then nobody needs to exist for the absence of pleasure to be impersonally bad. There's no justification for applying an impersonal value to one but neglecting this for the other in the purely logical, formal sense.

On our duties to others and ourselves


Say a society exists in which there is little to no pain of existence for the inhabitants. In fact, there is so little discomfort that giving birth is hardly any effort at all - it's almost as easy as blinking! Your daily life is not affected at all when you introduce yet another perfectly happy person into your perfect world - they pop into existence instantaneously and immediately begin to experience bliss.

I am going to make a tentative* argument here and say that these inhabitants of this perfect society do indeed have a duty to bring more happy people into existence. It would be a bad thing to not bring these potential happy people into being, both for their own sake and for the impersonal good.

This may sound absurd, but remember, life in this society is perfect, endless, and requires practically no effort, if any at all. It is so easy to introduce a happy person into this world that you really would have no excuse not to. Why wouldn't you bring happy people into existence? What reason would you have to not bring a happy person into existence if this required little more than a thought?

Compare this idealistic world to the real world, in which life is by no means easy or perfect. In the real world, we seem to have a sense that there is no need to make happy people, whereas there is a need to not make miserable people. What is different here that makes this so?

The first obvious difference is that the utopian society had no miserable people. So there would be no duty to not make miserable people, since that wouldn't even be conceivable. Or if there was a duty not to make miserable people, it wouldn't be applicable to this perfect world. Whereas in real life there are miserable people everywhere you look.

The second issue is that giving birth and raising a child in the real world takes a tremendous amount of effort. Which is an important point: is the potential happiness of a possible person more important than the happiness of the parent individual and their community? Shouldn't we care more about who already exists rather than someone who might exist? In the perfect utopia, nobody was not-happy, so nobody already-existing had to be placed into priority.

This clearly goes into the social meme that parenting is a great sacrifice - the parents could have done some other stuff and had fun if they didn't have a child, but they decided to have a child and "give the child a life". And it's true. I'll concede the point even though I don't support birth - raising a child, let alone multiple children, is a massive commitment (which unfortunately so many prospective parents don't understand).

But the point of the second issue is that we seem to not feel any duty to create more happy people because we have more important duties to people who already exist, and to create happy people takes effort, effort that would have been put to use towards the other duties we have to people who already exist.

What about our duty to not make a miserable person? That's easy, literally. You just have to not make a miserable person. It doesn't take effort, apart from maybe buying a condom or getting an abortion, both of which are negligible efforts in comparison. The effort it would take for you to prevent a miserable person from coming into existence does not compare to the actual misery of this person.

However, what seems to be the case is that there is a priority of duties: we have a priority not to make miserable people and the duty to make happy people is either much less or non-existent.

So priority is an important aspect of our ethical duties. Thus our duties can be ranked as follows by kind and priority:

  1. Duty to other people who already exist
  2. Duty to ourselves, since we already exist
  3. Duty to possible people who do not exist
1.) before 2.) implies that the greatest good for the greatest number is more important than our own personal dreams and desires. 2.) before 3.) implies we have a duty to ourselves before possible people - therefore we aren't guilty for not having happy children if we're not interested in it, and also that we aren't guilty for having a child if this child's personal suffering is outweighed by the utility this child provides for yourself and the community.

This might seem a bit troublesome. If our duty to possible people is less important than our duty to other people who already exist, then this means that it might be acceptable to give birth to one miserable person in order to benefit the vast majority (instrumentalizing this one person). I've flirted with the deontological idea that we shouldn't instrumentalize other people, but while I haven't made up my mind, I'm beginning to see it as rather ad hoc, like a black sheep in my otherwise largely consequentialist leanings.

Or, at least, the instrumentalization of a person so that the majority will experience a great reduction in suffering seems to me to be right. However, using this one person so that the majority will feel great pleasure at the expense of this one person is wrong, because the great pleasure of the majority wasn't needed. But the reduction of suffering was needed.

If this still seems unethical, remember that all that exists is the here-and-now. You aren't pulling a potential person from some blissful nirvana of non-existence. What matters more is what is happening right now, here, where all the suffering is.

I'll admit, this still seems a bit awkward, as if there had to be a better way. I align myself largely with the thought of Emmanuel Levinas. Levinas thought Ethics was First Philosophy, and that this was the case because our immediate phenomenological experience is that of the Same and the Other. The Other forces upon us duties to it - Levinas called our ethical duties a kind of "persecution". Whether we want to or not, we feel compelled to serve the Other.

So if the person born complains that they were born not for themselves but for those who already exist, it's the way it is. We would have to.

But scenarios like this are highly implausible, so it's not really worth stressing over. If we really get to the stage in which we have to rely on possible people to save us, we've screwed up somewhere. We could do it without them, in most cases. 

However, an example may prove the point: you live in the early 1900s (thanks to time travel) and have the choice to bring one person into existence who will not have a decent life but will later go on to assassinate Adolf Hitler, thus preventing World War II and the Holocaust. Your bringing this person into existence is not so everyone else can feel great pleasure, it's so that millions of people don't die horrible, miserable deaths. Hopefully the person born will also understand that this was needed and realize that the world isn't charming. 

Another possible example would be the highly-unlikely collective agreement to cease all life. We might have one or two more generations so that we can get all the technology ready to make sure we do a thorough job.

What still needs to be answered, though, is why suffering has priority over pleasure, and why it's okay to instrumentalize people for a reduction in suffering but not in an increase in pleasure.

I'm not entirely sure why this is the case, but it's so deeply intuitive that I find it rather impossible to see how it could be wrong. It's just so obvious that the reduction of pain is more important than the construction of pleasure. It feels deeply wrong to me to place emphasis on pleasure and ignore pain.

One possibility is that the phenomenologies of pain and pleasure are different. 

Pain is pressing. It requires our attention, immediately. It engulfs our entire awareness and focuses our attention to it. It is difficult to control our reactions to pain.

Whereas pleasure is intoxicating. There's no need to have pleasure in the sense that there is a need for there not to be pain. It's not pressing, it's supererogatory.

Other, more metaphorical, phenomenological ideas are that pain is a burden, whereas pleasure is light as a feather, or that pain is intense while pleasure is "fluffy", or that pain inhibits normal life while pleasure merely distracts normal life.

The bottom-line is that pain is of priority and pleasure secondary.

So we can make another (idealized**) hierarchy of duties:
  1. Reduction of pain in others
  2. Reduction of pain in oneself
  3. Prevention of pain for possible others
  4. Increase of pleasure in others
  5. Increase of pleasure in oneself
  6. Facilitation of pleasure for possible others
Notice also how the prevention of pain for possible others also inadvertently reduces the pain in others (in most cases), since you're preventing them from even being an actual other that requires pain to be reduced. The best way to reduce pain is the avoid it in the first place.

EDIT (addition): Also notice how the worst case scenario is is worse than the absence of the best case scenario. In other words, the worst case scenario might be 10,000 (-)s, and the best case scenario might only be 100 (+)s. The risk does not seem to be worth it.

---

*Please note that I wrote this at 2 am in the morning so if anything sounds crazy that might be why.
**Ethics does not cater to what we can do or are willing to do. If this makes everyone morally deficient, so be it.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Avoiding the Holocaust

Corpses at Dachau
When we say:
S1: "It would have been a good thing had the Holocaust not happened."
 What are we actually saying here? That is to say, what metaphysical assumptions does this statement imply?

The same general idea seems to be able to be said in a different manner:
S2: "It would have been better had the Holocaust not happened."
In colloquial discourse, we would understand that both statements are implying the same thing (whatever that is).

But in a philosophical sense, these two statements are quite different.

Both statements utilize the pronoun "it". I believe that "it" is referring, in both statements, to a state of affairs (or a possible world) in which the Holocaust did not happen.

However, S1 is not coherent under philosophical analysis, whereas S2 is. In fact, S1 is the colloquial statement that, despite its construction, is reduced to S2.

A state of affairs is a composition of objects and their properties, and the relations between these objects. For sake of convenience, objects are anything that can be referred to as a subject of a proposition, inanimate objects, active processes, or events alike.

The speaker in S1 would have us believe that the state of affairs in which the Holocaust did not happen is good. That is to say, the state of affairs in which the absence of something - the Holocaust - is good in virtue of the absence of the Holocaust.

But this is problematic, since a state of affairs is made up of its constituent objects. It is not clear how the lack of an object can be enough for a value to exist. Something else needs to either have been repressed by the existence of said object or be added in to "fill in the gap" and make the state of affairs good.

Whereas S2 is a philosophically-coherent statement. In S2, the state of affairs in which the Holocaust did not happen is better than the state of affairs in which the Holocaust did happen. Why? Because the former state of affairs lacks the Holocaust!

Now this may seem like it would fall into the same trap S1 did. But this is not the case. For S1 proposed that the lack of a bad (the Holocaust) resulted in a good, whereas S2 proposes that the lack of a bad (the Holocaust) results in a better. Better/worse evaluations are inherently comparative.

Therefore, absences of goods and bads result in comparative analysis, whereas presences of goods and bads results in absolute analysis.

Perhaps you're not quite convinced. Here is a slightly different example:
"State of Affairs A has ten happy people. State of Affairs B has five happy people. You must choose one to be actual."
Anyone of sound mind would choose State of Affairs A, as opposed to B, since A has more happy people (more is an comparative adjective). This makes State of Affairs B worse than A, and A better than B.

However, State of Affairs B is not bad. It still has five happy people as constituents! It's just not as good as A. The absence of five more happy people does not make B bad.

The act of choosing between states of affairs can be good or bad, but the state of affairs must have goods or bads as constituents if they are to be considered impersonally good or bad and not just better or worse:

For if we remove the state of affairs in which the Holocaust happened, we are left with a state of affairs empty of any Holocaust. But without a state of affairs in which the Holocaust happened to compare to, the empty state of affairs is now "naked" of any value. Its comparative value depended upon the alternate state of affairs in which the Holocaust happened.

Similarly, without State of Affairs A, State of Affairs B loses its status as "worse". However, it does not lose its constituent five happy people. State of Affairs B stands independently as a good state of affairs in itself.

One final example:
"It's a good thing that Jim is trying his best."
or
"It's better that Jim is trying his best." 
The only reason why it is a good thing that Jim is currently busting his ass is that we commonly associate working hard with success. That is to say, the act of working hard commonly (or so the conservatives claim) leads to a better state of affairs - one which Jim is successful. This future state of affairs need not be good in itself, though, for Jim's action to be good. Jim might just need to work hard so he doesn't get audited by the IRS, which doesn't constitute a good state of affairs in itself.

In conclusion:

  1. Absolute values of states of affairs depend on the presence of its constituent objects
  2. Comparative values of states of affairs depend on the presence or absence of constituent objects of other relevant states of affairs
  3. Actions to produce a better state of affairs (regardless of its absolute value) can be evaluated in absolute, normative terms.
Thus, the statement:
S1: "It would have been a good thing had the Holocaust not happened."
is referring to a comparative state of affairs in which the Holocaust never happened. Such a state of affairs would not be absolutely good, but only relatively good, or, in other words, better. Relatively/comparatively good refers to the decision to choose the better state of affairs.

Therefore, when a person says that it would have been good if that child had not been born, they are saying that the prevention of this child from being born would have been good, not that the state of affairs in which the child is not born is actually absolutely good (but in reality is only comparatively better).

---

(You know it's bad when the alternative, in which no absolute value exists, is seen as a good. Such (understandable) defective axiological reasoning applies in many cases, from the immigrant desperate for a safe haven even if it's a ghetto, to the suicidal individual who wishes to die, to the decision of whether or not one will have a child.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Does pessimism marginalize the rest of philosophy?

Albert Einstein said that the definition of stupidity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same result. Can this be applied to philosophy? It seems pretty stupid in itself to even ask if philosophy could be stupid (stupidity is anathema to philosophy) - but can this be applied to the goal of philosophy? (of course this is a philosophical question, but more of a pragmatic one regarding the choice to continue the philosophical enterprise). If something doesn't work, and it continues to not work after countless attempts, should we consider giving up?

A cursory look at the history of philosophy (which is more of a history of loosely-related thinkers and groups of thinkers instead of some kind of perennial tradition) will show that it has a rather poor record of producing true statements, when truth is the goal. Countless philosophers have used the same general methods to try to come to true statements, but we never seem to be able to agree on any of them. At least from a superficial point of view, Einstein's quote would seem to apply: philosophers from all eras keep trying to answer the same damn questions and every time they fall short.

Now, Einstein's quote was probably meant more as a joke and would apply to things in which there are alternative methods of acquiring the goal. Typing incompatible code into a Python processor will not give you everything you wanted, and continuing to use the incompatible code instead of trying something new like Python will not do anything and is just stupid.

If we continue to slip up and fail to produce true statements, does that mean we ought to stop trying? Are we being foolish by expecting truth? Out of all of the previous attempts at truth, how likely is it that your attempt is going to be true? The ongoing cultural trend in (modern) philosophy has less to do with inquiring about the nature of the world and more about winning an argument, or releasing "weird" philosophy. It's more of a game than anything. The same could be said about many other academic fields (including mainstream science), but philosophy kind of stands out from what I can tell.

We can keep trying to beat the computer AI at chess on Master level - but we'll never be able to beat it. We can try to make a perpetual mechanical motion machine, but we'll never manage it. We can try to make a utopian society that will last forever - but we'll never reach that point without hurting others and it'll eventually get fucked anyway.

It does seem rather hopeless at times.

A couple of my thoughts on this:
  • Philosophy actually has produced truth in some sense, or, at the very least, constrained the possibilities within a more manageable range. It has a great track record of identifying problems. I think there are two types of philosophical questions: the interpretive and the constructive. The interpretive questions are the ones that are more likely to lead to agreement and are mostly reflective problems (pace Wittgenstein), the ones that can be revealed after an honest look at the everyday experiences of a person without bias or apprehension. They are questions whose answers don't usually stray far away from experience itself, and are the questions whose answer typically result in the feeling of "enlightenment". The constructive questions are those that start to get into the real theoretical aspects of philosophy, such as metaphysics, epistemology, etc, things that can't be immediately experienced but must be modeled. The constructive questions, like any architectural structure, will inevitably fall or be revised. Out of both of these types, the questions that are more pressing and thus require more pragmatic answers are going to result in more agreement (and collective agreement is the closest we'll ever get to real truth).
  • Philosophy is largely innocuous. That is to say, it is usually ethically innocent. Nobody usually gets seriously hurt by philosophical inquiry alone (the fallout is another issue...). If there's any reason to stop doing philosophy, ethical issues isn't one of them. Ethics is, fundamentally, a philosophical field anyway.
  • It's fun.
  • It's therapeutic (a symptom of a larger problem)
  • The biggest thing, though, is that philosophy is largely a natural thing for any person to do. We can't stop thinking philosophically. It's what we, as minded individuals, do. We think, just like we breathe and eat and shit and sleep. We might as well try to think right, or at least better.
  • If nothing more, irrational thinking has a tendency to harm other people and yourself. If you're concerned about not being an idiot and hurting other people, then philosophy, particularly the pragmatic questions, is going to be needed.
In conclusion, my view on philosophy is that, when it's not ethics or politics (the more pragmatic-oriented), or an interpretive question, we're never going to really come to truth or professional agreement. I don't share the optimism of the graduate student who thinks their new idea will be the-next-big-thing and will lead to a century of understanding, finally solving everything. Which actually makes it surprisingly difficult at times to stay involved in philosophy as a hobby - part of me is always intrigued by the constructive questions, and another part knows that we'll probably never know the answers which somewhat kills the motivation at times.

Most of us claim to be against subjectivism and relativism - and yet we're content with believing we hold the truth in spite of history.

-----

This is especially pertinent to someone as pessimistic as myself. My love of philosophy seems almost like the "black sheep" of my worldview - humanity is doomed, we really shouldn't reproduce, politicians inevitably become corrupt, life in general is malignantly useless, whoever made the universe was either incompetent or morally questionable, but hey! philosophy! (nevermind that pessimism is philosophy...)

The thing about philosophy is that you can't half-ass it and still consider it philosophy. If you didn't try your very best, then it's probably bullshit. Even if you try your very best, it's almost certainly bullshit.

At the same time, however, to try your best requires that you have a desired end-goal in mind: in this case, it's truth.

But look at the history of philosophy. We haven't really gotten close to any constructive truth, it seems. Philosophers hold a position either because they naively think they have found the truth, or because they feel that by holding a belief, they are helping the dialectic.

And that is why it's difficult to "justify" constructive philosophy as a pessimist. If I don't have faith in humanity, why should I have faith in philosophy? If I don't really care whether or not humanity dies out, why should I care about finding the truths of reality, something that kinda needs a temporally-extended intelligent species?

At least for myself, philosophy have several uses:
  • Contrary to the established belief that metaphysics is first philosophy, I think that it is ethics that is first philosophy (pace Levinas), or an ethics-based metaphysics. You have to be alive in order to do anything else, and so we have to ask ourselves how we ought to live, or if we should live in the first place.
  • Philosophy is largely therapeutic for me, not so different from the philosophical works entitled "Meditations" by various authors. It's something to dissolve issues with, and to most importantly pass the time. It's something to think about on the train, or at work, or while you're falling asleep. 
  • I'm a pessimist in terms of structure but an optimist in terms of the human spirit and drive. We need only to temper this human spirit when it is ethically problematic.
  • As said before, philosophy is largely ethically innocent. So the drive for truth is not that problematic in the way the reproduction of the species is. Now, the transcendent drive for truth is partly dependent upon the continuation of a species that can do this drive. In which case, something like philosophy is not a justification for the continuation of the species, but merely a result of it. However, what is justified is a personal drive for truth. I can do whatever the hell I want so long as I don't seriously impact anyone negatively. In a sort of twisted manner, I can leech off of the surrounding reproductive insanity without condoning it. I can be a part of society without approving of it. I can watch Game of Thrones, take a walk in a public park, and read philosophy without explicitly approving of the underlying structure. Such will be a post for the future - how to live negatively in an affirmative society.
  • I like philosophy as a challenge more than I like it out of a wish to come to truth. Coming to truth is more of a byproduct of my enjoyment of it as a challenge, just like a rock climber may just enjoy rock climbing in general and not necessarily or solely the final push to the top.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The anguish of existence


I recently watched a shitty horror B-movie with a friend (The Forest for anyone interested). Having been a shitty and mostly uninteresting film, I wasn't too engaged with it and rather started to analyze the various emotions and feelings the characters experienced.

Fear, extreme pain, guilt, worry, anxiety, suspicion, despair, the list goes on.

What struck me the most about these feelings is that nobody in their right mind would want to experience them. If you asked someone if they wished to start their life if they knew they would experience these feelings at some point during their life, I doubt they would wish to start their life. These feelings are not just bad, they are really bad. People already alive are subconsciously aware that they will experience these feelings in the future, but never put two-and-two together and realize that this reasoning should extend to before they were born.

Now, Antibullshitman recently commented on one of my previous posts, criticizing my idea that the pains of existence might be justified if there is a blissful teleological end-goal. Although I still accept the general idea presented earlier, I will admit that ABM has a valid point: there do seem to be some pains that cannot be ethically redeemed by a teleological end goal. I will explore this below:

The aforementioned feelings the horror characters experienced are what I would label terminal experiences. By terminal, I am obviously referring to death, albeit in a slightly looser sense as will be shown. It's why they are really bad - it's not just the run-of-the-mill tedium and aches that people understand to be transitory and merely uncomfortable, it's a kind of anguish, a feeling of meaninglessness. They are inherently connected to death.

Fear results from a person realizing that they are in a situation that they perceive to be life-threatening. Extreme pain usually accompanies incidents that threaten the life of the individual. Guilt haunts a person forever. Worry, anxiety, suspicion, and despair are all inherently tied to the idea that life may not go on, that this may be end. All of these feelings result from a lack of knowledge: the individual does not know if they will make it out unscathed or even alive.

A key point that I passed over in my previous post on teleological end-goals is that, if we knew that the teleological end-goal was known and guaranteed to exist, life as we know it would largely be quite different from what it is currently.

We can clearly see this when we analyze the lifestyles of religious monks, nuns, priests, and the like. You don't typically see the drama, the deception, the anguish of secular life in a religious setting. In a religious setting, your fellow devotees believe, just as you do, that there is a redemption at the end of the road. There is no need for all the drama, deception, or anguish of secular life - why would there be? Such happens when people lose sight of the end-goal, whether that be heaven, nirvana, or a hedonistic alien machine from Planet Xenu. There would be no horror films to which this post is inspired from!

There's certainly something to be said about this. If you're a Christian, then you likely will believe that if everyone just believed in Jesus, the world would function much better and life would be more peaceful. If you're a Hindu or a Buddhist, then you likely will believe that if everyone just adhered to the teachings of Brahman or Buddha, then world would be much better and life would be more peaceful. Thus, any kind of religious belief worthy of being called religious is going to include some desire to escape, to transcend the mundane world in pursuit of the heavenly redemption.



I have my own issues with Western monotheistic religions (they use lack of faith as a reason for the human condition, as well as victim-blaming), but my own sympathies rest in Buddhist belief. One need not adhere to all the various metaphysical ideas transposed upon the original teachings of Buddha by monks later on to understand that life is suffering, life is dukkha, and that we meditate and follow the dharma so that we are not re-born (this is not re-incarnation as the Hindus believe; think like a candle passing its flame to another candle).

The secular life, the anguished life, is not worth living and not worth starting. The life of virtue, the life of understanding, the ascetic life, is worth attaining, but this does not mean it is worth starting. For this lifestyle is not "natural" in the sense that it is easily committed to. It is fundamentally a reaction to a state of affairs. Why would it be a good thing to impose this burden upon someone, even if the virtuous life is worth living? The Buddhist teleological end-goal is known to be death; the ascetic life is one that tries to deal with life as it is, trying to transcend life while it's being lived, unlike Christian or Muslim ascetics who deal with life so they may go to heaven. (note that while I have sympathies with Buddhist belief, I do not believe it is a cure-all to all of our problems - it merely diagnoses the problem similar to that of the European pessimists, and its solution - asceticism, can only go so far).

So, back to the main point of this post: these terminal experiences are incompatible with a knowledge (hell, even just a belief) of a positive teleological end-goal in the usual sense.

If it were the case that the only way to get to heaven was by a torture chamber as ABM brought up, then I agree that it would be wrong to put this person into that situation. I think a better example, though, would be to say that the only way to get to heaven is by going through a series of violent rapes. These violent rapes are horrible. In fact, any heaven the exists afterwards is going to fundamentally have to erase your memory for you to even enjoy the heaven. And it's clearly wrong to harm someone even if they don't remember it.

So the overall point being made here is that a known, good teleological end-goal can only justify birth if the preceding life does not include terminal experiences. And a life without a known, good teleological end-goal (belief does not count, it needs to be knowledge) cannot be justified at all, regardless of whether or not there are terminal experiences.

The fertilizer of meaning: meaninglessness

From the very first day you were aware that you were a person, you have been bombarded by cultural memes propagating the goodness of existence. You have been bred to become an asset of the economy, a gear in the well-oiled machine. You have been manipulated and assimilated into something you neither explicitly desired nor consented to being a part of.

All of the mechanisms surrounding you have a common source: the overarching fear of death (the annihilation of the ego). From the fear of death sprouts meaning, for meaning is a reassurance of the ego. The number-one priority of the ego, if it is not trying to survive or is distracted by a novelty, is to sustain a stable ecosystem in the mind.

Before you were born, others were struggling with the meaninglessness of existence. And so they built civilization, culture, social memes, etc to distract them from the possibility of death. To try to ignore the scream of impending doom.

So you were born into an environment that was already set up to deal with this fact of existence. Before you even knew of the meaninglessness of existence, you were exposed to apparent meaning. An entire society that focuses on establishing the ego as the microcosm of the world. You're so fucking important!

But then you start to get disillusioned with the game. You start to see cracks in the walls. And thus you have your first (of many) existential crises. If you do not succumb to the crisis, you build yourself back up. You mind meaning in the suffering. You find purpose in a purposeless universe.

For most people, it's enough for them to submerge themselves back into the collective insanity of society. Others need more personal meaning. But everyone who is a functionally-"healthy" human being finds some way to deal with the meaninglessness.

What is most disturbing is that it seems that most people forget why they even had to build this thing call culture or meaning in the first place. They forget the origins of their angst. 

They forget that their meaning was fertilized by meaninglessness. They look at the flower without looking at its roots. The flower might be beautiful, encouraging, deep, meaningful, or what have you. But we must not forget that the only reason this flower is this way is because of where is came from. And where is came from is not beautiful, deep, meaningful, or anything like that. We can't forget that meaning is a reaction to an undesirable state.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

"It's all in your miiiiiiiind!!!"


Never tell a person with chronic anxiety and/or depression that "it's all in your mind!"

Why not? Because the person with chronic anxiety and/or depression already knows it's all in their mind - at least, the psychological reaction is in the mind. No shit, sherlock.

But that's the thing: it's a reaction, an impulse from perceptions of the environment.

Just as anyone who heard a stick crack in a forest would immediately begin to feel anxiety, (heightened sense of awareness, increase in heart beat, shortness of breath, dilated pupils, a gnawing and growing feeling that something is wrong and a general inability to relax), the person with chronic anxiety (and/or depression) perceives something to be wrong with their environment. There is an acute feeling of dread, as if something bad is about to happen, similar to the feeling one gets in a horror film when the protagonist goes into the dark room unprepared.

It doesn't matter if these perceptions are skewed, biased, distorted, or inaccurate, what matters is that the person feels they aren't skewed, that they aren't biased, distorted, or inaccurate. Reassuring them that it's "okay" because you don't perceive anything wrong does little to help, just as you telling me that you didn't hear a stick crack in a forest would not generally reassure me. I don't think you see what I see, because if you did see what I see, you would probably have the same reaction as I do.

Typically my own anxiety revolves around an obsession with my responsibilities to others (worst-case scenario architecture and catastrophizing), as well as an obsession with doing something I do not wish to do (ego dystonic, for example, joining a fundamentalist church group despite being an atheist). Most people aren't going to take these too seriously, but I certainly do. The former is largely what I perceive to be a rational obsession, whereas the latter I fully know to be irrational, yet intrusive, thoughts.

Anxiety, like most emotions, is not entirely susceptible to rationality; even if you were able to give me a list of reasons why I am wrong about something, or how I'm not perceiving the world accurately, I would most likely retain an acute sense of dread, even if it has been diminished.

This is because anxiety largely revolves around the unknown, the uncertain. You are uncertain about what caused the stick to crack in the forest, therefore you feel anxious. It's just with chronically-anxious people that they perceive a threat where there may not be one, simply because they are not 100% sure.

In light of the inability to be completely certain, an anxious person will fall into a series of compulsions, meant to reassure them that everything is okay. Compulsions rear their ugly, insidious head when the anxious person continues to compulse despite the obsession being largely "rationally" dissolved. The obsession has moved on from simply a logical or rational peculiarity to a strikingly emotional, non-rational character, provoked by the very compulsions that were meant to dissolve the obsession in the first place. The compulsions metaphorically dig pathways in the brain, not so different from other habit-forming exercises. In this case, the compulsion becomes a kind of habit, one sustained out of fear.

The best solutions to these episodes of anxiety and fear are to interrupt the thought-pattern. One way to do this is to yell a profanity or punch something like a pillow; this releases tension and reminds you that you are in control. Another method is by meditation: quiet your mind, focus on a single thing (such as your breathing), let this fill your entire focus. Another method is to exercise: go for a run, lift some weights, clean your house, etc. The last method that always works for me is to plug in my headphones, listen to an album or so, and slowly drift to sleep. The point of all of these methods is to interfere with the movements of anxiety, to get in the way of the thought-pattern. As soon as you get out of the rut you've made, it's easier to appreciate the circumstances with a more open-mind not plagued by dread or panic. Although it certainly is difficult to resist the pull back into the trenches.


Teleological end-states and procreation



Been thinking about this for a while: how important is (apparent) teleology in ethics?

Teleology is the study of perceived end-states, or goals, or "functions" of systems in the world. Thus, a teleological system has an end-state, goal, or telos. This telos need not be the product of a silly intelligent-designer, but can merely be a natural, emergent force within certain constraints in which the system inhabits.

I am of the (tentative) belief that teleology does in fact occur in nature, but not in the intelligent design sense. It's just a fact of the world: things have a telos. Functional aspects of a system emerge from habitual processes. It's perfectly compatible with a naturalistic view of the world, especially in biological and cybernetic systems.

What I'm more concerned about here in this post, however, is not the metaphysical status of teleology in nature, but rather the importance teleology may have on ethical decisions. In particular, procreative ethics.

Heidegger famously said that we are beings-towards-death; that is to say, the telos of a human being is death. That's what we're aimed at at the metaphysical level. From the very beginning, we are dying.

The universe itself is "dying". This goes back to a previous post I made on Scarcity and Fatigue.

Now, if the universe was not susceptible to the inevitable entropic heat death, and if humans did not die, then I would likely not have any real issues with birth. For a stable universe would allow a civilization to flourish without end, and the immortality of people would inevitably lead them to a higher-state of being, one filled with bliss, understanding, and peace.

What about suffering? Again, if we did not die, but instead were directed towards a future of eternal bliss, then the suffering would not matter. Nobody would be instrumentalized (since nobody would die and everyone would participate in the blissful future), and everyone would be alright with the suffering that did occur because they would know it would be entirely worth it in the end - for once the blissful end-goal was accomplished, none of the suffering experienced in the past would matter, because it would be gone. The little bit of suffering that one would feel would be entirely worth it, just as the four-years of grueling college is worth it once you start raking in the moneys.

If this seems unreasonably utopian (it is), you have to remember that the reason people feel suffering and are instrumentalized is because other people put their survival before the survival of others. In other words, the ever-present threat of annihilation causes us to put ourselves before others, to create social classes in which the lower classes are systematically exploited, to go to war against each other, etc.

In fact, any non-accidental suffering is directly caused by an avoidance of death. Even more, all pain evolved as a means to keep the organism alive. The lack of resources (Scarcity), and the rather need to avoid death (Fatigue), leads to suffering. Suffering is a direct result of any resource-deprivation.

It stands, then, that any birth results in death.

Why is death bad? Death is bad because it eliminates the ego, and eliminates any possibilities for future enjoyments and dreams. Death is bad for the individual - therefore the avoidance of possible enjoyments by not-procreating is not "bad"(there's nobody there), but the elimination of possible enjoyments by dying is bad, since there's somebody there.

And if death is a good things because it eliminates any possibilities for future sufferings, then this places all blame upon the source - birth. Now, contra Benatar, the avoidance of these sufferings for unborn-people is not "good", however, pace McMahan, the possibility for great suffering (that would make death a good thing), is a bad thing that ought to be avoided. This would constitute a reason for not giving-birth. Therefore, although it is bad to give great suffering upon other people, it's not "good" not to. There's no need to give ourselves a pat-on-the-back for not having children - we're not doing anything good, we're just not doing anything bad, just as me not-murdering-my-neighbor is not good, it's just not bad. Not doing bad does not necessitate doing good, just as not doing good does not necessitate doing bad. And non-existence does not even coherently stand as a state of affairs, let alone a state of affairs that can be of value, thus any claims that Benatar is talking about states of affairs (he's not) fail in virtue of being incoherent.

Attachments are not bad in themselves, they are only bad when they are used inappropriately, i.e. an attachment to a pet that will only live a few years. Unfortunately, any true attachment in life leads to suffering, especially the attachments towards life itself, since life is ultimately transitory and ephemeral, culminating in death.

So in conclusion, death (pace Heidegger) is the final state, the telos of any organism, including the human being, and life is merely a means-to-an-end (to death); that is to say, the very process of life is a process of dying. Any highlights your life may have are entirely transitory and have no relevance on whether or not it was worth being born in the first place, since these highlights are not the telos of your existence, but rather, death is. Everything goes out the windows when you die. The telos of any organism is one in which the organism doesn't even participate in.

And since we should make ethical decisions based upon the final end-state resulting from the decision (including who gets to experience the state and what this state is like), we should not have children because the final end-state is one that either results in a loss of all good, or one that results in the relief of all bad, neither which seem to be good.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Praise for Oxford Handbooks of Philosophy

I wish to make a short post in order to applaud the excellent, ongoing series of books published by Oxford on philosophy, specifically their "Handbook" set. "Handbook" is a bit of a misleading term, since each book runs at around eight-hundred pages.

The editors of each book bring together a large number of professional and influential philosophers, all contributing essays on specific topics within the aim of the book.

Usually, these books run for a little over a hundred dollars. But thanks to Amazon, and a bit of luck as well, I've been able to acquire the Handbooks that I do have for ~$40 or less.

So far, I have collected acquired three Oxford Handbooks: [of] Philosophy of Mind, Epistemology, and Contemporary Philosophy. Like I said before, I got these for less than forty bucks each.

I hope to get a few more in the future (although I need to finish reading the ones I do have first...), specifically the one on Philosophical Methodology, Ethical Theory, Bioethics, Death, Practical Ethics, and Atheism. No doubt this will take years to accomplish, even though I'm tempted just to spend what little extra money I do have on these books.

I definitely recommend this series of books, especially if you're interested in a general, yet in-depth, approach to a specific field.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Why I do not support birth



I'm going to refrain from ascribing myself as an antinatalist, as it has recently been pointed out elsewhere that those commonly seen as antinatalists are, in fact, only seen as antinatalistic through a historic revisionary perspective, and that this term is sometimes mis-applied. Antinatalism has never been a term that I liked, particularly because it conjures up ideas of a political upheaval of the system. Or at least that's what you hear those in the comment sections of YouTube videos or forums fantasizing about - the state-sanctioned impermissibility of birth, a radical revolution of society, the pressing of the Red Button™ and destroying the world (efilism).

The unifying feature of all of these ideas is this: an unwarranted optimism based upon extreme pessimism. I'll grant the extreme pessimism. But if you're going to be an extreme pessimist, then it doesn't make any sense to think that things are going to get any better in the future. Particularly if you're a misanthrope (which many are), you'll lack any real faith in the future decisions of humanity.

So if you define antinatalism as the negative evaluation of birth, then I guess I would be an antinatalist. Just don't expect me to show up to any rallies or paint my face or anything like that.

Why am I against birth? There are a couple reasons, but the most powerful reason in my arsenal, one that I believe underlies every other argument against birth (whether they be good arguments or not), one that I believe is self-evident to anyone who honestly analyzes life, is this:

Life generally sucks.

Why does life generally suck?

It sucks because it's Painful, Tedious, Scary, and Depressing. aka P.T.S.D. I pride myself in this acronym.

Pain:

The first tenet of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism is just this: Life is suffering. To suffer entails a certain amount of pain, the experience of discomfort and dis-satisfaction.

If you don't eat, you will have a myriad of sensations from a feeling of hunger culminating in starvation. If you don't drink water, you will begin to feel lacking, until you die with your tongue lolling out of your mouth. If you don't shit, you'll eventually do so anyway in your pants.

But in order to eat, you have to work. Working entails the burning of energy - the same energy consumed when you eat and drink, and the same kind of energy you are working for. So, fundamentally, working is just another safeguard against starvation and eventual death.

Let's not limit ourselves to to aches and pains of everyday life, though. What about that migraine you had last night? What about the two-week diarrhea episode? What about that time you broke your arm? What about the future pains? What if you get a horrible disease? What if you get into a car accident? What if a shark, despite the low probability, bites off your leg? What if...the last experience you have is of extreme, utter, unrelenting pain?

There is clearly an asymmetry in "pleasurable" states and painful states. Pleasurable states are transitory, usually disappointing, and never satisfying. Painful states are easy to come by, usually long-lasting, and tend to result in a long recovery period relative to their intensity.

Maybe you're in a condition that the pleasures you experience do outweigh the little pains of life. Lucky you. This does not change the fact that pain is a necessary component of sentient existence, whereas pleasure is a mere contingent, a motivating scheme to allow creative innovations.

 It stands, then, that there is a problem in the very structure of sentient existence. And so any good-ness, any pleasure, exists within the ever-present context and constraint of pain.

And let's not forget the savagery going on right outside your door, in the untamed wild. And let's also not forget that society's very existence is meant to protect us from this brutality. But the best way to protect someone is to not put them in a situation that requires them to be protected in the first place.

Underneath all pleasure (and even pain), is a ceaseless, insidious, rumbling urge to move. The Will.

Tediousness:

In addition to being painful, life is tedious. When something is tedious, it is boring, long-lived, usually repetitive, and slow-moving. Like trying to learn how to spell "repetative repetitive" corre- GODDAMMIT I SPELLED IT WRONG AGAIN, FUCK!

Life is a chore. You get up, shit, eat, shower, go to work, eat, come home, watch what traumatic happenings are occurring on the planet on your television, eat, shit, go to sleep, and repeat again and again and again and again and again. You're social outings and vacations are distractions from the daily grind. They act as a way of keeping you from going insane.

All of the accidents, all of the contingencies, have to be dealt with somehow, and this means someone has to deal with it.

Fear:

Life is scary. When you are born, you are thrown into a world already pre-conceived. You are expected to learn how to survive in the toxic world surrounding you. Support groups exist to fundamentally help you not-die. Nothing is guaranteed, which is both a relief and a source of extreme anxiety. What if I get impaled tomorrow? What if I get fired from my job? What if North Korea launches their nukes? What if my house burns down? What if I go to Hell after I die? What if an environmental catastrophe happens and I'm forced to live on beans and rice for five years?

Life is filled with possibilities, and the overwhelming amount of possibilities are negative. You're lucky if you aren't tripping over yourself on the stage of fate, a puppet to the whims of an external force. Life can be is traumatic.

We like to play pretend and convince ourselves that everything is alright, even great!. We go to church, pray to a non-existent hero archetype, put our confidence in devious politicians and snake-oil salesmen, submerge ourselves in the collective insanity of pop-culture and shopping, and unjustifiably-predict bright and happy futures for us and our spouse, whom we'll have three kids with, as well as buy a dog from a breeder, and whom we'll live in a house with a white picket fence, a style of house similar to that which our children will also live with their spouse, children, and dog when they grow up and assimilate mature into successful businesspersons with a 6-figure salary and a perfect retirement program.

Maturation is synonymous to the hiding of one's scars and the acceptance that one is a finite, limited, and overall weak entity in a world of great power.

Depression:

Depression is the rational response to an objective and honest reflection upon life. Mild to moderate depression, a more intellectual-motivated apathy, characterizes the negative person. Melancholy. The negative person appreciates the good while recognizing the contingency and fleeting nature of it, as well as the context in which it exists.

A deep sense of ennui is present in anyone who is actively conscious without any stimulation for an extended period of time. Like Zapffe said, the universe is unable to accommodate the human psyche. There will always be a sense of dread and emptiness. That which catches the attention of the mind is either harmful or a cute novelty.

Fundamentally reality follows the rules of Scarcity and Fatigue. Resources are Scarce, and are used up, leading to a Fatigue in the system. It's a cosmic rule.

All of our structures, civilizations, aesthetics, dramas, relationships, and the like will eventually be destroyed. It in inevitable. Entropy will win whether we like it or not.

Reality is ultimately and unavoidably boring. There is nothing particularly special about existence, nothing worth noting, nothing inherently valuable in itself (positive and negative value). All value is a subjective appropriation necessary for survival. Creativity is the need to create something interesting from a world of utter flat-ness. We live in a world that stretches beyond our backyards, but has the depth of a puddle.

So life is P.T.S.D. - Painful, Tedious, Scary, and Boring, and this is why life sucks. And we do not generally feel the need, nor the permission, to impose a sucky thing on another person unless we either have their consent, or because it's in their best interests. We lack both in regards to birth, and this is why I do not support birth.

You may like to consider alternative methods of coming to the conclusion that birth is not to be condoned. Perhaps you like your analytic asymmetry heuristics. Perhaps you like your misanthropic arguments. Perhaps you like other arguments not mentioned. But beneath all of these arguments lies the fundamental one: that life sucks, which can be shown by either looking at the premises of these other arguments or deconstructing them to show how they are either invalid or depend upon the general suckiness of life.

If you are a rational human being, then you won't conceive children, and that is my position. Call it whatever the fuck you want.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The value of a life



Is life inherently valuable? Is it rational to continue to exist?

Life is intrinsically valuable to the agent whose life it belongs to. To be valuable means to be worth continuing and striving for. But, again, is this intrinsic value a rational one? To be rational, in this sense, means to be objectively valuable. Is intrinsic value always synonymous to objective value?

If what is rational (and thus objectively valuable) is not dependent upon the intrinsic value of the agent's life, then we're left with the somewhat uncomfortable position that people might not know what is best for them. They may be delusional and believe their life to be worth continuing when in fact it isn't.

I think it to be true that the intrinsic value (perceived value) of an agent's life is, at least in some sense, independent from the objective, overall value of a person's life.

Perhaps we can make a rough mathematical formula to intuitively calculate the objective value of a person's life:



where V = value of an individual's life, x = comparative qualitative constant between pleasure and suffering, P = pleasure, S = suffering, i = the individual, n = other individuals, I = intensity, D = duration, and L = likelihood.

(Okay, I'll admit, I had a lot of fun making this...)

This formula reads as follows, or at least it should if I remembered any mathematics from high school...:

The value of an individual's life equals the net pleasure (measured by intensity multiplied by duration multiplied by likelihood), minus the net suffering (measured by intensity multiplied by duration multiplied by likelihood) multiplied by the comparative qualitative constant and the net pleasure, minus the net suffering (measured by intensity multiplied by duration multiplied by likelihood) of other people caused by the individual multiplied by the comparative qualitative constant.

Phew...

From this, we can see that a person's life is objectively valuable if they have a significantly greater amount of pleasure than pain (hence the comparative qualitative constant x which avoids the Repugnant Conclusion), and they don't directly cause a sufficient amount of suffering in others than what they personally experience. The comparative qualitative constant x is meant to not only to avoid the Repugnant Conclusion but also to avoid any Utility Monster scenarios. I also left out the pleasure the individual causes in other people, since this also can lead to the unsavory scenario of instrumentalizing a person.

I'm not about to claim that a valuable life is a common specimen in the world. Most people live mediocre lives and are poor at evaluating the shittiness. A belief that one has a good life is of course necessary for a life to be objectively valuable, but such a belief is not by itself lead to an objectively valuable life. If a person isn't living a mediocre life (or in addition to their mediocre lives), then they are, to a certain degree, morally disqualified.

For a person to be condemned as utterly immoral would require them to be extremely morally disqualified. So even if procreators are the root of all suffering, they are not necessarily responsible for the suffering. If their children aren't responsible for what they do and instead their parents are, then we need to apply this same logic to parents and understand that parents aren't responsible for anything either, since they also were born at some point in time. Either we just keep pushing the blame and responsibility back, or we realize that you have certain responsibilities whether you like it or not.

Therefore, procreative parents indeed make possible the conditions of all suffering in the world, but most parents also go on to do good and are "decent" people. So they can be seen as living a potentially valuable life even if they initiate the causal chain of suffering.

It's late, I might expand on this later.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Does morality demand our very best?; On precautionary cyanide capsules

Been chewing on this one for a while.

What is the difference between fulfilling our moral obligations and going above and beyond as a moral saint?

Figureheads, such as Catholic saints or Buddhist buddhas are examples of who we "should" strive to be. They are the moral saints, the ones who were devoutly dedicated to improving the world and helping those around them.

It's one thing to say that we ought to strive to be like them...but is it another thing be obligated to be a moral saint?

When the National Science Foundation gives away millions of dollars to prospective theoretical physics programs, are they committing a moral wrong? From a certain point of view, perhaps one of the Effective Altruism movement, they would be; that money could be going to charities around the world instead of researching some particle that doesn't concern very many people outside of the researchers and the pop-science magazines.

At the same time, however, the scientific results produced from these programs seem to be valuable in their own right. Despite not being immediately applicable to a starving child in Guinea-Bissau, the discovery of the Higgs Boson or dark matter, or the triumphant theory of evolution, or the findings of the cognitive science programs, all seem to be valuable.

Of course, if we're negative utilitarians, none of this is valuable. Too bad.

Luckily I'm not really a negative utilitarian. Pain and suffering are priorities, but pleasure is also a factor in evaluations, if not a less demanding one.

Perhaps it's the case that we don't have obligations to other people that go beyond our reasonable abilities. That is to say, we shouldn't feel guilty for not throwing every loose dollar we have at charities. We deserve comfort and entertainment just as much as anyone else - it's when this becomes excessive and overly-indulgent that it becomes problematic.

The tricky part here is figuring out when our indulgences become unjustified. To those firmly in the EA camp, there's likely a very little thresh-hold. Those unwilling to give up their possessions and pursuits are being selfish and naive, and they should feel guilty for being this way.

At the same time, though, I don't think we shouldn't expect perfection. Everywhere we look is mediocrity. Even when we try hard, things tend to come out mediocre. Maybe it's time we take down the notch a bit and expect the less-than-perfect-but-not-horribly-bad. The manageable. Seen in this light, a lot of the world's inhabitants are living manageable lives, even the animals in the wild. Of course there will be extremes, and that is where we must get involved. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I suspect that most sentient organisms on the planet are living manageable lives, at the very least.

This shouldn't prevent us from trying to be perfect. If you want to make a perfect piece of art, go for it. If you want to discover a new particle, go for it. If you want to be a moral saint, go for it. But maybe it's not a requirement to be perfect or to try to be perfect. Maybe it's just enough to be a decent person.

This seems to be especially poignant when we realize that nobody asked to be born and thus have responsibilities thrust upon them, responsibilities to people they don't even know who live millions of miles away from them.

Another thing that perhaps is important to note is that not everyone in need wants to be helped. Perhaps helping them will only result in paternalism or regret.

Hence why I have increasingly come to believe that there is no gold-encrusted moral code that applies to every situation imaginable. This may be needed for the state and its judicial and foreign affairs departments, but in everyday ethics, it's far more difficult operate in the world in a strict moral code. It's not moral relativism, it's just taking every situation at face value and evaluating them as such. We need a general transcendental value system (pain=bad, pleasure=good), but any specific value systems are going to need to be enacted here and there.

This, of course, has a certain connection to my own antinatalism, which I have also increasingly come to believe isn't a good term for my beliefs. Antinatalism seems to imply the support of the political institutionalization of a law - the state-sanctioned impermissibility of birth.

In some sense, I am supportive of this. But only in certain cases, usually the extreme ones. If you have a seriously bad genetic disorder, don't fucking have a kid. It won't make you're life better, it'll just make another miserable person that adds to the overall disvalue of the world.

But in the other sense, the world and its inhabitants are largely mediocre, and it's far too optimistic for my liking to believe that anything major is ever going to change by our own hand. Do I condone birth? No. Should I condemn it? Eh..."whatever"... you might as well expect the Sun to disappear tomorrow. What also is the case is that sometimes a life can in fact make up for the inherent crappiness of life in general. It's a possibility. Parents who believe their children will be the next Bill Gates or some shit are a bit delusional...but every now and then there's a success story. So it's some small condolence to myself to know that there's a chance things will turn out alright, even if it's not really a good reason to have a kid in the first place.

--------

On a different tangent, somewhat related to one of my previous posts on how not give a fuck, are the possession of cyanide teeth (i.e. suicide pills) a rational response to the existential predicament of a human being?

Today may be the day you're driving down the road and get impaled by a metal rod in a freak accident. You're in excruciating pain and know that you will die. The next minute or so of your life is filled with absolutely pointless, overwhelming pain. Might you be better off by biting down on a cyanide capsule and ending it quicker?

Elsewhere on the internet, you will find antinatalists and other pessimists discussing the rationality of precautionary suicide - that is, killing yourself so you don't experience really bad episodes of pain. It's pretty self-evident that the worst-case scenario is larger in magnitude and intensity than the best-case scenario, and there's always a chance that a worst-case scenario will occur. So although the avoidance of good scenarios is a bad, the prevention of really bad scenarios would make up for it. Everyone seems to believe that they have a good reason to live: all those future pleasures in their various forms that they'll experience. But nobody seems to realize that they have a good reason to die, if not a better reason to die: all those future pains in their various forms that they'll experience.

In my opinion, precautionary suicide may or may not be rational. At the very least, it's certainly difficult to get oneself motivated enough to kill themselves in order to help a potential future-them, especially if they're in a decent state.

The best thing seems to be to die in one's sleep. You won't even know you're gone.

The next-best thing seems to have some easy way out, such as a cyanide capsule. This means you're able to experience the pleasures currently at hand, but as soon as things take a turn for the absolute worst, you can exit quickly.

This, of course, is largely connected to my belief that there's no real rational reason to live. People live out of a habitual comfort. They don't usually live because of some over-arching reason or purpose. The meaninglessness of existence isn't enough to warrant suicide, it's the meaninglessness+suffering that seems to warrant suicide in some if not all cases. You're unable to do a precautionary suicide because of three reasons:

  • You're currently in the drunken state of pleasure, and are under the spell of Pollyannianism
  • You have a Pollyanna belief that the future is going to turn out well for you
  • You aren't currently suffering enough to motivate a suicide
I'll admit that I don't particularly enjoy holding this view. It sucks. But I cannot see any other option that doesn't involve self-delusion.

From Sartre's Nausea:

"What if something were to happen? What if something suddenly started throbbing? Then they would notice it was there and they'd think their hearts were going to burst. Then what good would their dykes, bulwarks, power houses, furnaces and pile drivers be to them? It can happen any time, perhaps right now: the omens are present. [...]"

Friday, July 15, 2016

Scarcity and Fatigue

Elsewhere I have talked about how I think Scarcity and Fatigue are fundamental aspects of reality.

Scarcity is the motivating force behind action. There is a scarcity of spatio-temporal location: distinct entities cannot occupy the same location at the same time and compete for location. There is a scarcity of food in the ecosystem: organisms must either dominate each other for food or learn to co-operate and dominate as a group for food. There is a scarcity of natural resources on the planet, contributing to political and economic crisis as well as ecological strife.

Fatigue is the inevitable end-process of any motivated action. Part of the nature of Scarcity is finite quantity, and quantity is used up over time. The Sun cannot sustain itself indefinitely - eventually the Sun will collapse from its own mass. The Sun "Fatigues". An animal cannot live forever - it will Fatigue and die. Our attention eventually loses focus and Fatigues. In the more scientific sense, we would call this Entropy. In the phenomenal sense, we would call this Fatigue.

Thus, Scarcity and Fatigue are two sides of the same coin. Scarcity leads to action which leads to Fatigue. All action is formulated from various degrees of dissatisfaction, whether this be a fairly benign desire or a severe need. If Abundance and Energy were the aspects of reality, then no action would occur, because nothing would need anything.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

I think I have PTSD

This is an anxiety-related post. (As a heads up, I'm working on a philosophy-related post, but it's only in the sketch phase right now.) As a heads-up, this is a really personal post but it's something I needed to get out.

---

I don't want to sound like a whiny baby by comparing my feelings with those who went through violent episodes, like front-line soldiers or plane crash survivors. Oftentimes I'll feel rather pathetic by even considering this. And I know all of this will sound really, really crazy and silly to many if not all of you, like it's no big deal or anything.

But I honestly believe I have PTSD.

It happened over two years ago, and it still occupies my mind to this day. Every time I start ruminating about it, it brings about this deep, rumbling anxiety in my gut and a rumbling, pulsing sensation behind my forehead and what feels like my brain.

By "it", I mean my original encounter with Benatar's asymmetry two or so years ago. Jesus, that is so fucking embarrassing to admit. 

I went from being calm and collected to manic and panic-stricken in less than a minute. For two days I had a racing heartbeat and a clouded mind. I couldn't think, I couldn't eat, I couldn't fall asleep. My obsessions and compulsions were raging. I thought the asymmetry was obviously true and unassailable, and also thought it led to pro-mortalism - thus my panic. Maybe if I were introduced to it in a different manner, things would have been less traumatic.

I'm not sure if I've solved the issue, either, although I think I have (see my recent posts on it). Part of the problem is that not everyone I interact with believes I have solved it, and some even ridicule me to the point of verbally abusing me and telling me to die. That does not feel good to anyone, let alone someone with episodic crippling anxiety. I subconsciously depend on others' approval and so my own rational does not count (welcome to anxiety 101). So I feel inadequate and stupid, not to mention mentally disabled from spending so much time on this one topic.

It was probably the most traumatic incident in my life - and I've been through a fucking school shooting and that doesn't even bother me as much as this. How ridiculous does that sound? A fucking philosophy argument made a bigger impact on my psyche than a school shooting! It's absurd!

I needed to get this out. I have OCD and GAD, and potentially PTSD after a horribly traumatic episode of OCD. It haunts me to this day, like a weight tugging on my psyche, or a permanent, underlying pit of anxiety. I've gotten so used to the ever-present anxiety that I forgot what it's like to not have it.

It should come as no surprise that philosophy has been the primary mode of dealing with this dread and anxiety. But I independently love philosophy outside of its therapeutic properties. I hope to post more philosophy topics that are unrelated to the asymmetry in the future.

Maybe this is one of the best argument for antinatalism: crippling mental disorders. They ruin your life.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Kind of an off-topic post...

I usually would not post something like this, since I don't want to use my blog as some kind of personal journal about every event of my life ("Today I went to the store..." "Today I talked to Tracy"... "Today I got a headache"...blahblahblah) - it's supposed to be dedicated to two aspects of my life, philosophy and anxiety.

But I'll make an exception to this. Holy hell, does anyone else watch Mr Robot? I fucking love that show, and season 2 just started. If there's a reason to live, goddammit it's this show. It's a psychological thriller that utilizes legit technological concepts and is inspired by various previous installments in the genre, particularly Fight Club. What's even better is that it's extremely pessimistic and nihilistic, but manages to pull it off without being a teenage edgelord's wet dream.

I love the choice of music in the recent episode. It's one of my favorite songs: I MONSTER- Daydreaming In Blue:


Sunday, July 10, 2016

How to not give a fuck

To learn how to not give a fuck about anything, you must realize that suicide is always an option if things get too rough to handle. No use enduring something that ain't worth it.

Once you get rid of the idea that life is something to be enjoyed and replace it with the idea that life is boring, tedious, painful and scary, it's much easier to not give a fuck about anything. In fact, suicide is probably the most rational action that many people could make.

So basically if you really don't want to give a fuck, you'll learn to not take your life so seriously and live in the moment, knowing that at any moment you could be thrown into a 180 and start taking seriously the idea of killing yourself. Live on the edge, take risks, don't wear your seatbelt, give most of your money to charities cause you don't need it, expect the worst and prepare for it, always keep the possibility of suicide in the back of your mind to ground your decisions, etc. Soon you'll learn to enjoy what you do have and not worry about losing it, since if you do lose it all you can always kill yourself. You'll also realize that death is not something to worry about or fear, since once you're dead you won't know what you're missing and you might even be avoiding a lot of really shitty experiences. Pretty simple, really.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Fatigue as the cosmic phenomenal universal

By "fatigue", I mean the experience of exhaustion, typically from a depletion of usable energy.

By "cosmic universal", I mean the aspect of reality that is shared by all parts and pieces of reality.

Humans experience fatigue all the time - we cannot run a marathon without feeling physically fatigued at the end, we cannot work a twelve hour shift without feeling mentally fatigued, we cannot contemplate the human condition without feeling disenchanted, disoriented, and overall fatigued (i.e. Weltschmerz). We have to sleep 8+ hours a day in order to not feel fatigued before our day is done. To sleep is to re-charge for yet another day.

Similarly, and perhaps metaphorically, everything else experience fatigue. The steel beams in which an architectural structure rests upon will experience fatigue eventually, and will snap. A chemical reaction will experience fatigue when it runs out of reactive material. The wave along the beach reaches a crest and then violently splashes down on the sand before dissipating into a more restful state - the wave has fatigued.

Perhaps "fatigue" is not the most scientific term - perhaps we ought to use "entropy". From an objective stance, entropification is the cosmic universal. But from a subjective, phenomenological stance, fatigue is the cosmic universal.

Entropification, or fatigue, cannot be achieved without process. Staticity is impossible, except for perhaps the conditions of existence "simpliciter" and the final end state of a process.

And so fatigue is the final resolution of any process. We can then say that any process is the process of fatigue - processes are described by their ends to which they point, therefore fatigueis process. To be a process means to fatigue.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Natural kinds, telos, and the Good

As I understand it, natural law theory argues that things in the world have a telos, and that the fulfillment of this telos is good. This metaphysical theory comes into conflict with many modern-day liberal ideas, such as the permissibility of abortion and the morality of sexual orientation.

If a thing belongs to a natural kind, it does so because it exemplifies certain properties - essential properties. It is essential that a proton be positively charged - if it were not positively charged, it would not be a proton.

What also seems apparent is that the greater in complexity we go (by complexity I mean the web of relations between the parts of the whole), the looser and looser natural kinds seem to become. Since there are more parts, and thus more relations, in the whole, many parts can be lost, even parts that may seem essential, while the overall integrity of the whole remains. Instead of identity being composed of static properties, these higher-level things are given their identity by what they are able to do.

In regards to sexual ethics, natural law theorists tends to look down on relationships that are not heterosexual. These relationships are not "natural" - they are "defective" in the same way a sociopath or a psychopath are "defective".

However, this analysis is flawed due to what was previously shown about higher-level entities. For example, the element Carbon has three isotopes - all of these carbons have essential properties, but they also act in their own unique ways. And as we go up in complexity, we also see far more variation. So a homosexual human is not "defective" just as an isotope of carbon is not "defective". The homosexual human is a tongue-in-cheek isotope of the human species. We use the term "defective" to describe a thing that is not doing what it ought to do, and in the scale of humans, what we ought to do has more to do with the social sphere than the personal sphere. Additionally, we might even be able to get away with calling a society an object of some sorts, with the goal of society being to provide a fertile ground for its inhabitants.

Some natural law theorists claim that the parts of a specimen have a telos themselves. A penis, for example, is meant for heterosexual reproduction, just as an eye is meant for sight. However, this analysis falls apart once again once we realize that a homosexual human being is like an isotope of the human species. We can show this further by appealing to the various vestigial organs of "more-evolved" organisms. For the amphibian who has moved onto land but retains its gills, the gills are not being used. In other cases, these vestigial organs end up evolving into newer functions - fins of fish may have evolved into arms, arms into wings. And so for the homosexual man, the penis serves a different role - the vestigial function is to aid in procreation, the new function is to derive pleasure or to simply pee.

For natural law theorists, the fulfilled telos is the goal - for Aristotle it was eudaimonia for humans, for Augustine it was union with God. However, even if we agree that the telos is the goal, we don't need to agree on the process we take to achieve this goal. There need not be a strict pattern for fulfilling the telos. It's also troubling that these theorists believe in a kind of ethical paternalism - they know what is good for you. When we go to a doctor, we expect them to tell us what is good for us. But what is good for us is good in a certain context: that of the continuation of life. Whereas these theorists believe they can identity what is good for us on the metaphysical scale.

Thus many natural law theorists end up proclaiming that the human telos is only achievable when the telos of all of its parts are working together like a well-oiled machine. Any happiness a gay couple has is "unnatural" or "unorthodox". But just as we would classify an oddly-behaving atom an isotope of its element, we can classify homosexuals as an biological "isotope" of the human species.

Furthermore, for someone who believes that composition just is identity like myself, natural kinds are merely handy concepts meant to group similar items together. Similar people can procreate and form a society not because they belong to a natural kind but because they are similar-enough that this is able to occur (re: ligers).

Can the lack of something be of value?

Been thinking more about the metaphysics of value recently.

Now, I don't have very many readers, and even less commenters (wattup ABM), but those who happen to stumble on this little blog every now and then will know that I have a bit of a long-going obsession (think like years - before this blog even existed) with Benatar's asymmetry argument for antinatalism. For those unfamiliar to my beliefs on this: I'm an antinatalist but I reject Benatar's asymmetry. Please don't lynch me.

So naturally this entry has a relation to Benatar's asymmetry, go figure.

Despite not being convinced by the asymmetry, I continue to feel a bit compelled by it. Perhaps it's because it's been on my mind for a few years now (i.e. deeply-rooted thought patterns) - but there was something about it that just didn't feel right. It wasn't necessarily the lack of consistence in regards to counterfactuals, but something else. And I think this something else is one of the premises that Benatar takes as self-evident:

That the lack of something can be valuable (or disvaluable). But can it be?

Take an example: I currently have a minor headache. I may casually say that it would have been good if I didn't have a headache. But what I think this really means is that it would be good to get rid of the headache. That is, the action of taking away the bad would be good - but the state of affairs in which I do not have a headache would not be good. In which case, the state in which I do not have a headache is not good in itself but only better than one in which I do have a headache.

Let's look at another example: you can choose between two different scenarios (and you have to make a choice): a state in which a hundred people experience headaches, or a state in which ninety-nine people experience headaches. We would all presumably pick the latter scenario - it has less pain. But the point I wish to emphasize here is that this state of affairs isn't really good either. It's still got a lot of pain. Is the absence of one person's headache really good, or is the state just less worse? Is there actually good in this state of affairs? As far as I can see, there's only bad - the pain of ninety-nine headaches. There's no free-floating good there.

Compare this to the asymmetry presented by Benatar: can we really say that the lack of pain in non-existence is a good thing? Is there actually a value to the lack of pain?

What seems to be the case is that value is pleasure (or perhaps pleasure accompanies value, but you get the point dammit), and disvalue is pain (or perhaps...well, you know). And what also seems to be the case, after the previous analysis above, is that the absence of pleasure is not bad and the absence of pain is not good - the absence of value or disvalue results in a kind of value-void. No value, anywhere. Cosmic neutrality.

Furthermore, as a general rule, we have a duty to strive for the best possible world. A world can be bad but still better (or less-worse) than another world. Just as a world can be good but still worse (or less-good) than another world. So I think a key here is that better =/= good (and worse =/= bad). However, the action of creating a worse situation when there are better alternative is bad.

If the lack of pain is truly a good thing in itself (and the lack of pleasure a bad thing in itself), then we would be obligated to kill ourselves. It would be in our best interests and the overall global interest. It would be a good thing to get rid of pain but it wouldn't be a bad thing to get rid of pleasure. We didn't consider the benefits/harms of existence when evaluating birth, so why should we consider them now?

The answer is that we should consider them, since value can only be accompanied by the existence of what is valuable or disvaluable.

So I think that this finally is the kernel that I have managed to uncover regarding my suspicions of the asymmetry. Ever since I made contact with the asymmetry, I had begun to think that non-existence was superior to existence, no matter what, simply because no pain exists in non-existence. I saw the table in front of me as in a better state than I was because it wasn't experiencing pain. And pleasures were seen as unimportant and useless. Sleep was seen as the best thing for me, for no matter what amount of pleasure I felt while awake, sleep cured me of all the little aches and pains of life. In other words, I had (and still continue to have) a kind of "longing" towards non-existence, but not out of Cioran-esque existentialism but out of a strange, rather authoritarian belief that non-existence was for the best. I blame most of this on my anxiety, since anxiety distorts cognition for the worse.

But I can see how to some people, including myself at times, non-existence seems like a benefit. They wish the pain to end. They wish the angst and anxiety to end (in my case). They wish their problems to end.

But I also think that it is mistaken to think that the lack of any of these issues is genuinely a good thing. The lack of these things, while alive, allows us to pursue the good - i.e. pleasure - through various activities. The removal of these bads is good in the deontological sense but the lack of these bads is not good - what is good is value-void that gives rise to good (pleasure) so long as a sufficient amount of bad (pain) is not present.

Additionally, I don't think it's legitimate to say that those who do not have children are doing a good thing by not having children (since they are maximizing the good of the lack of pain). Those who have children are arguably doing a bad thing, sure, and they shouldn't do it because it leads more often than not to a net-negative state, but not because there's something inherently good about non-existence that existence would "tarnish".

Similarly, me-not-murdering-my-neighbor is not good. It's expected that I don't murder my neighbor, and a good thing that I don't only because I allow my neighbor to continue to live and so we can go out to coffee later and experience pleasure from each other's company (not in that way, get your head out of the gutter). The thing doing to good here is pleasure, and the proxy for this is the lack of me-murdering-my-neighbor.

But perhaps I'm wrong about all this. If you agree with or find issues with anything I have said, I 100% want to know. Peace.