Sarah Perry: Every Cradle Is a Grave

[W]hether or not you allow me to influence you with my dangerous ideas, I hope you will believe me when I tell you that I am very much on your side. You are, after all, an aware being having experiences. This is true whether or not you have had or will have children, and this is true whether you want to live or want to die. —Sarah Perry, Every Cradle Is a Grave

So I’m just getting around to reviewing what should be a massive game-changer in antinatalist writing: Sarah Perry’s Every Cradle Is a Grave (Nine-Banded Books). Hey, it’s been a rough year. I’ve finally got my redesigned blog going, so I have somewhere to post all the stuff that’s too offensive (or offensively depressing) for anyone else to publish. (If you think antinatalism is depressing, wait till you read my upcoming piece on the behavioral sink.)

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The audiences for most of the publications where I write for cash tend to find antinatalist-focused pieces off-putting. And not without reason; a friend who probably doesn’t want to be called out calls us the “black nail polish brigade” and I don’t argue. Like anyone who’s dead certain that they’re right about an extreme opinion, we can be a humorless pain in the ass about it; but on the other hand it’s hard to blame us entirely, either: since most muggles reject extreme ideas so smugly out of hand, bitter crank-hood sometimes seems inevitable, since neither honey nor vinegar is much of a weapon against self-protective bullshit.  A couple of the antinatalist groups I belong to on Facebook would be highly unlikely to ever convince someone who wasn’t already of that persuasion; they’re just where we go to moan about that great bitch-goddess life (and her Salacious Crumb-like handmaiden Humanity). And that’s a lot of “fun,” insofar as we’re capable of having any (haw haw), but unfortunately we rarely go beyond moaning to the choir anymore.

Which is why Perry’s book would be a game-changer, if only A. Antinatalists would actually listen to her message of moderation and non-assholism, and B. Outside audiences could be persuaded to look past the stigma of the black nail polish.

If you’d like me to back up a step, for those new to this idea, anti-natalism boils down to the conviction that it’s immoral to have children, because said children have no say in whether they get born or not, and you’re exposing them to the risks of being retarded or cancer-stricken, plus all the other bumps and bruises of life. The logical proof we usually roll out for you after complaining about the various ways you could die (because that’s the only way out of this bod, after all) and quoting Xenophon about how the gods punished man by inventing work, is what’s called Benatar’s asymmetry: People can be greatly hurt by being born. But if you don’t have a kid, the kid doesn’t exist to regret never enjoying the good things in life. Therefore nobody’s hurt if you don’t breed, but somebody is always hurt to some extent—and sometimes real real real bad, and that’s not always predictable—if you do.

It’s funny that reactions both from and to antinatalists themselves are so emotional, because it’s an idea whose acceptance very much depends on whether one is willing to embrace an extreme idea based on nothing but some rather inhuman-feeling logic; Spock as a goth. As ridiculous as it may make me, the logic of Benatar’s asymmetry has never been refuted in a way that convinces me, as much as I might like to be convinced it ain’t so. And it’s abysmally depressing, and the fact that people don’t want to think about it makes the darkness somehow harder to bear, so most of us who do accept the logic tend to get all self-righteous about people who don’t get it, because come on, you selfish DNA monsters, you are motherfucking frustrating as hell, and haven’t you noticed how crowded it is on the Internet, you selfish pricks?

Perry can’t find any logical flaws in it either—but instead of getting mad, she gets social. (I wonder if this has something to do with the fact that marijuana actually works the way it’s supposed to on her, the lucky so-and-so.) Instead of holding the hard line on no births are OK ever, her book explores the possible discussions of the ethics of birth, death, and suicide that antinatalism could open up—even for people who don’t swallow it.

To wit: I’m just going to quote a big old chunk from the intro, both to give you an idea of the delightful stoner fair-mindedness (note: after all that shit I went through with my horrible stoner narcissist ex, I absolutely cannot believe I just wrote that, but time wounds all heels, I suppose) that hems in the horrible logic of the book, and because there is way too much shit I need to get done this week to boil it down correctly, and it’s taken me way too damn long to get this book reviewed as it is. If you like the cut of this passage’s jib you might as well stop listening to me and go get the book:

[A]ny socially well-adjusted human being is likely from time to time to encounter a person whose contrary opinions are [not] easily dismissed. When we engage with such a person—who is so trusted, whose mental apparatus has been so verified to work well, and whose motives are so clearly earnest—we may come away less certain about the correctness of our own views. I like the term “epistemic peer” for a person so trusted, brain-wise and team-wise, that his opinion will be taken very seriously when it disagrees with our own.

I am more interested in establishing myself as an epistemic peer of the reader than in autistically presenting a logical argument for the correctness of my views. When you find yourself coming to an unusual conclusion and you can’t find a flaw in your own reasoning, the epistemically proper path, I think, is to show your brain and show your work. You display the way your mind (your laboratory apparatus) approaches the problem, and you present your argument (your laboratory protocol) in a clear way so that others may examine it.

As I would rather participate in social reasoning than table-pound in my corner, I will not only present the extreme forms of my arguments (many of which I think are correct); I will also attempt to present the continuum for each position, many points along which are uncontroversially reasonable. More important, I will show that such continua exist. I consider many people reasonable who do not go full cartoon villain and agree with me that all life is unfortunate and nobody should ever have babies. What makes such people seem reasonable to me is that they recognize the possibility that a given life could go very badly, and that the joys of life might not outweigh the suffering. At the very least, they recognize that the interests of an aware being are very hard to predict before that being is created.

In other words, yeah, no babies ever is pretty extreme, we’ll grant, even if the logic holds. But how about you take a few minutes and think about the ethical argument anyway? What if a dread disease runs in your family? Does your desire to have an heir outweigh the suffering your child will undergo if he’s likely to have a painful, short, or alienated life?

And if you can’t be convinced that a particular birth is wrong on the baby’s behalf, what about, say, the taxpayers? There are certain circumstances under which I think many audiences would agree that having children is bad: traditionally people on the right aren’t nuts about welfare babies and anchor babies. What are the ethics of having children as hostages, ie to gain entry to a country where you want to live, or to use the state to force others to pay for you and your offspring so you don’t have to work? People on the left might be more worried about the ethics of, say, coercing a woman into traditional motherhood; anyone who’s not a neocon or other flavor of hawk is leery about breeding soldiers for the state, and voluntary euthanasia is finding more traction just about everywhere. Perry’s book finds the cracks in the DNA monster’s facade; to put it less aggressively, she finds common ground with general audiences. You don’t have to buy any extreme arguments to explore your suspicion that it’s wrong to give in to the impulse of life at any price.

Comments

  1. Andrew McIntosh

    A very good book with some very convincing arguments. The main value for me, though, are the arguments for rational suicide, “free disposal” as she calls it. An idea that’s going to need a lot more attention paid to it.

    1. asterzinger

      Yeah… that’s a lot more interesting about listening to yet another attempt to poke holes in the asymmetry. And more useful, because if they want to make a mini-me people are going to find a rationalization for it come hell or high water. So the next logical step in damage control is to give already-created people who aren’t happy about being there a way to solve the problem themselves.

      1. Simon Elliot

        I myself am an anti-natalist, but there are some contradictions about our positions that have started to bother me. We say that you can never have a child for that child’s sake, but, conversely, you also can’t not have a child for that child’s sake. It is a very troublesome wrinkle. It is impossible for one to advocate for non-existence. Non-existence is not good for anyone, because there is no entity, no subject for whom the absence of pain and suffering is a benefit. Only from our perspective, that of the living, can the neutrality of non-existence be considered good. And then our anti-natalism doesn’t come across as being philanthropic at all. I would like for you to address this at some point, if you have the time. It’s been like a splinter in my mind lately, and unresolved issues gnaw away at me.

        1. asterzinger

          It may be a while before I get to this… short answer is, no one ENJOYS non-existence, but there’s no one there to suffer either. And they don’t miss anything… they don’t experience anything and since they don’t exist they can’t regret not experiencing anything. Whereas if they do exist, then they got trouble.

          1. Simon Elliot

            Exactly. There’s no one there. Perhaps this is the non-identity problem that Benatar has discussed. But there are some other issues I’ve come across as well. For instance, I am aware that the arguments people have formed against anti-natalism are repetitive and seemingly endless, but I was recently discussing the subject with a friend and he made a critique that I could not refute. He pointed out that the human aversion to pain and suffering is evolutionarily hardwired for the express purpose of our survival, as individuals and as a species. He concluded, therefore, that to advocate extinction as a solution to suffering is an “inverted morality”, which is contrary to the reason why we are averse to suffering in the first place. Have you ever encountered this criticism before? How should we respond?

          2. MRDA

            The mistake your friend makes is imparting intentionality onto the faceless, mindless evolutionary process; it’s not a great leap from that to claiming that breeding’s the intrinsic purpose of our existence, as opposed to the purpose most choose to adopt to fill the void/validate their next breath/achieve illusionary “immortality”..

            Danger signals help those who want to survive, for whatever reason, to avoid impediments to that (meta)goal, but the consciousness of their utility came about through a lotta painful trial and error, evolutionarily speaking.Prefab “purpose” doesn’t even get a say. However what make survival and propagation intrinsic goods? What’s automatically desirable about either of those things in a totalitarian fortress state; an irradiated wasteland; a world like that of The Road, where one’s progeny could well end up as drooling döner kebab meat?

            That the pain sensations can be aids to survival says nowt about whether we should survive; even taking into mind that one will probably want to survive says nothing about whether one should breed, projecting one’s desire to avoid death (not to mention some serious boundary issues!) onto one’s would-be extra life.

          3. Simon Elliot

            Our mutual desire for our hypothetical progeny not to be born into an irradiated wasteland is born from our survival instinct, because we know instinctively that such an environment would not be conducive to human thriving. So you see, our objection to human suffering comes from our evolutionary programming. So yes, I think the point still stands that there is a fundamental contradiction here.

          4. MRDA

            But survival instinct and breeding instinct aren’t synonymous and may even clash (think of the mum who decides to give birth knowing she will not survive the process, or ,conversely, the one who chooses to abort to save her own life). Standard human wiring tends to have both instincts in play and also tends to conflate them, but it’s no less of an error to do the latter on that account.

          5. Simon Elliot

            Good points. Still, it’s such a complex issue, I feel like we’re never going to cover all the bases. You solve one logical dilemma, and several others spring up in its place.

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          7. asterzinger

            Why are you guys arguing over the extreme antinatalist position when her point is how a soft antinatalist position can open a discussion on reproductive ethics in general? That’s going to be a more interesting, useful, and less contentious discussion. Also… why do people automatically revert to “natural = good” arguments? Cyanide is natural. So is getting eaten by a bear.

          8. Tom Cobley-Hobbes

            “Cyanide is natural. So is getting eaten by a bear.”

            The above is an irrelevant comment that suggests a misunderstanding of the argument. Nothing in what I wrote above says or implies that if a substance is natural but toxic, it’s good for humans to eat that substance, or if bears have a propensity to eat humans, it’s good for humans to allow themselves to be eaten by bears.

            Your analogies have no bearing on my argument at all. The only thing they have in common with it is the word “nature/natural”.

            The argument that “we know already that human beings in general are compelled by nature (through evolution) to seek happiness and survival; therefore, when individuals pursue happiness and survival, they don’t need to justify doing so or wanting to do so” is quite different from the assertion that “If something exists in nature, it is ipso facto good to eat or be eaten by”, and it’s quite extraordinary that you should confuse the two.

          9. asterzinger

            If it’s not relevant to your argument, that is because your argument is not an argument. You are positing that the fact that something is natural is a justification in and of itself: ie, natural equals good. I’m pointing out the fact that natural can very well equal bad, and therefore does not suffice as a justification for human action. We are not sunflowers, we have free will; just because we feel a natural impulse to do something does not mean that we are justified in doing so. I feel a natural impulse to kill people who mix metaphors, but I don’t think there are many legal courts that would accept this as a justification. “It was natural, your honor!” Nope, still going to jail.

          10. Tom Cobley-Hobbes

            I’m going to pass over the first part of your reply for the time being, because you simply repeat the accusation that I’m saying “natural = good” (and imply that this is a fallacy), which suggests you haven’t understood what I’m actually arguing. I shall address a few other points before coming back to this.

            Part two of your argument: “We are not sunflowers, we have free will.”

            To simply assert that we have free will and assume assent is naive. The idea of free will is an ancient, unanswered question in metaphysics. Many philosophers think we obviously do not have free will. Others disagree. Some philosophers think the question itself is incoherent. A discussion of whether we have free will would be a distraction, and could go on forever, and would not help answer the question of why what is natural is relevant to what is good. I shall skip over it and move on.

            Next part: “I feel a natural impulse to kill people who mix metaphors”

            (a) You almost certainly do not. Killing people over petty annoyances is not natural.
            (b) If you did happen to have such urges, your natural desire avoid the likely unpleasant consequences of your crime being discovered would trump your unnatural murderous impulse.
            (c) On the other hand, engaging in hyperbole from time to time is quite natural.

            If you killed someone because they used a mixed metaphor, very few courts anywhere in the world, either now or at any time in history, would acquit you on grounds that you were compelled by a natural impulse.

            On the other hand, if you killed someone in self-defence, most courts in most countries would acquit you, because self-defence is natural. People understand that people in general cannot help but try to preserve their own lives when someone tries to kill them. Today, we understand that this self-preservation instinct is programmed into us by evolution, encoded in our genes through a complicated natural process which is involves biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics, and has worked itself out over countless millions of generations.

            When you act in self-defence, you are *obeying a natural law* — it makes no more sense to condemn you for trying to preserve your own life than it does to condemn a stone for falling when dropped, and this brings us back to the relationship between “natural” and “good”.

            A moral system or moral dictum, to have any traction, must not defy nature. If you were to decree that, in order to be good, people must fly to Mars every Tuesday, and to Venus every second Wednesday, you would find few followers, because your dictum makes demands that nature prohibits, and natural laws trump moral laws. Natural laws are prior to moral laws. Moral principles that defy nature and demand the impossible are not viable.

            Utilitarianism in its various forms (including negative utilitarianism) takes the desire for happiness and/or the desire to avoid suffering as given. Utilitarians do not ask themselves whether it is moral to desire happiness or desire to avoid suffering. They accept those desires as facts of nature outside morality, upon which their moral systems are built. In the early 19th century, when utilitarianism was invented, people didn’t know why these desires were natural; they merely observed it to be the case that they are.

            By the same token, the desire to continue living and the desire to act in ways conducive to the continuation of one’s lineage are natural, and therefore prior to questions of morality. If utilitarianism is viable as an ethical system, it is so at least in part because it is consistent with nature, which it accepts as a starting point. Since individual and genetic survival are natural desires every bit as much as happiness and avoidance of suffering, a moral system modeled after the pattern of utilitarianism must take these desires as given, or its viability collapses.

            In short, I’m not saying “natural equals good”, I’m saying “natural is prior to good.”

          11. Tom Cobley-Hobbes

            There is no contradiction. Survival of the germline takes precedence over survival of the individual. Individuals (who are mortal anyway) sacrifice themselves so that the germline (which is potentially immortal) will survive. Evolution doesn’t care much about individuals. It cares about genes. Individuals are vehicles for genes. Consequently, individuals are programmed so that, if their own individual survival conflicts with survival of the germline, they will (in general) behave in ways that give priority to the germline.

            In the examples you give, a woman who chooses to give birth knowing she will not survive the process is obeying the imperative to prioritize germline survival above individual survival, and the woman who chooses to abort in order to survive is not necessarily disobeying that imperative–she may believe that she will still be able to have a child in future, or she may believe the child would not have survived, or she may already have children.

            Every human being is a very large collection of co-operating cells. Nearly all those cells are programmed to die. A few of those cells are not. Those are the germline cells. Those cells are part of a line that has been reproducing for billions of years without ever experiencing death. As long as human beings (or the post-human evolutionary descendants of human beings) keep on reproducing, the germline cells will never die. Potentially, that germline might continue living for billions more years–maybe even trillions.

            It is impossible to calculate how much happiness might be enjoyed by humanity (or post-humanity) a thousand years hence, let alone a million, a billion, or a trillion years hence. However, it is possible to conceive that, at some point in the future, our descendants might inhabit a vastly populated world full of great happiness, great wisdom, and zero, or near-zero suffering, and might inhabit such a world for a very long time. Perhaps those future beings will be so intelligent, they occupy their very long individual lives with games, intriguing to them, which are so complex that their rules and strategies are beyond our capacity to imagine. Perhaps these individuals will outstrip, in many dimensions of complexity, perceptivity and liberty of action, as much as we outstrip the primitive animals of the Proterozoic eon.

            We don’t know if this will happen, but we cannot rule out the possibility. Therefore, all these pseudo-utlitiarian arguments that purport to weigh up the potential happiness and suffering of one generation of our individual offspring (rather than of humanity as a whole – hence “pseudo” utilitarian) are impaired by extreme myopia. If we take the possibility outlined above into account, we have a quite good reason to go on reproducing. It won’t convince everyone (nothing ever does), but I would submit that it’s rather stronger than the nihilism of the arguments presented here for antinatalism.

          12. Simon Elliot

            What you’re arguing for is the “stepping stone” premise; that current and near future generations are stepping stones to a distant future (hypothetical) greatness and that past and current suffering is a worthwhile sacrifice to attain it, vicariously. Needless to say, as part of the current generation who is suffering greatly, I find this line of thinking abhorrent.

          13. Tom Cobley-Hobbes

            If you yourself think you are “suffering greatly”, and you think the problem is irremediable, that’s a subjective matter that concerns yourself. Most people don’t think they’re suffering greatly, but in fact think their life is worth living in its own right, regardless of what happens to future generations. Indeed, most people thought life was worth living back when life was much harsher than it is today.

            As for “distant future”, I don’t know how distant that future is. It might be quite near (as near as this century).

            As for living towards some future purpose being “abhorrent”, again, that’s your subjective point of view. A lot of people don’t find it abhorrent, and in fact find that having the feeling that their life has a purpose adds to their happiness. A lot of people care about posterity, love the idea of a flourishing future, and want to have successful, happy descendants living in that future. Also, most people, when they come across it, find antinatalism ugly or sad, at best, or downright abhorrent.

            The way life works, if we leave everyone to choose, the antinatalists will soon remove themselves from the gene pool, and the natalists will keep on going — which seems like an okay compromise.

          14. Simon Elliot

            Anti-natalism is memetic, not genetic. For instance, my parents were obviously not anti-natalists. Ideas don’t die out as easily as genes do.

            I’m afraid everything you’ve said here has been addressed in the book “Better Never to Have Been: the Harm of Coming Into Existence” by David Benatar. Also, I would advise you to ditch the cognitive relativism. It is disingenuous and self-refuting, and what’s more, the domain of the dreaded SJW.

          15. Tom Cobley-Hobbes

            Just because your parents had a child does not mean antinatalism is not genetic. Perhaps if you were to compare the number of children born in your extended family, and compare it to the national average, you might find that reluctance to have children runs in your family. Whether or not that is the case in your own family, it is an observed fact of behavioural genetics that pretty much all behaviour has a genetic dimension.

            The idea that existence is harm is absurd. The other argument used by the author, citing “consent” is also absurd. You, the author of the book being reviewed, and the others who share your ideology, are trying to rationalize a subjective feeling that most people do not share.

          16. Simon Elliot

            Well my grandmother had seven children, so I don’t think so. Most people may have a visceral reaction to anti-natalism, but this is pre-programmed by evolution, and is not rationally informed. Majority of people would also react negatively to race realism, but this is also due to being pre-programmed to react in a hostile manner, only this time they have been programmed by the SJW culture.

          17. Tom Cobley-Hobbes

            To act according to evolutionary “pre-programming” is natural, and does not require any justification, rational or not. It is in general absurd to demand that people justify their desire to stay alive or their wish to have children in the same way as it is absurd to demand that they justify eating when hungry or sleeping when tired.

            If rationality means anything at all, it means acting in such a manner as appears on available evidence the most likely to be most conducive to one’s happiness given the existing state of affairs — a state of affairs which includes one’s own tastes and inclinations, and therefore one’s evolutionarily pre-programmed nature. If one is inclined to stay alive (which one nearly always is), it is rational to do what it takes to stay alive. If one is inclined to seek food, sex, wealth, power, love, family, wisdom, virtue (all very natural things to seek ), and there is some reasonable hope of getting those things, it is rational to seek them. If one has a desire to avoid pain, poverty, sickness, death, despair, disgrace (all very natural things to avoid), it is rational to try to avoid them.

            The need for justifications arises, not when we do what’s natural, but when nature is undecisive, or when we do what’s *not* natural, or (especially) when we try to impose what’s unnatural on others.

            When you proclaim, “It’s immoral to do X,” you are implicitly seeking to impose *not* doing X on others. If X is something that others have a natural desire to do (such has having children), you need a solid justification.

            This is where your philosophy breaks down, because no solid justification is possible for such a dictum. It requires absolute morality, and not just any absolute morality, but an absolute morality that is contrary to nature.

            Unsurprisingly, then, the fundamental premises of Perry’s argument are unsound.

            Premise 1: it’s immoral to do something to a child (or potential child) without that child’s consent.

            Nonsense on sticks! Such a moral principle does not exist anywhere! No religion, no law, no tradition, preaches such a rule, so where did she get it from – a direct line to God? If so, can she show us evidence of this line? Moreover, it’s a rule that’s impossible to obey, and couldn’t even have been thought up had it been obeyed, so it’s unreasonable on that count.

            Premise 2: If something *could* turn out bad, with suffering as a consequence, it’s immoral to do that thing.

            In other words, it’s immoral to do anything at all, ever. Once again, no such principle has ever existed – no religion, no philosophical tradition, no law teaches such a rule. It’s a clown-car parody of negative utilitarianism, packed full of absurdity. Of course, like the earlier premise, this premise, in order to trump doing what’s natural, has to be an absolute principle that exists “out there”, and is not merely concocted in the minds of subjective human beings, let alone one particular human being. Where does it come from, then? God? Nature? Mathematics? Where? Nowhere, that’s where. It’s a baseless assertion invented purely for its expediency.

            The rest of Perry’s argument may be completely logical, as you claim, but a logical argument based on false premises does not constitute a *sound* argument.

            The argument is nothing more or less than a rationalization of an irrational desire. The desire itself might be a product of depressive illness (which might be genetic), or a crapsack life, or a warped ideology that has prevented the author from being able to count her blessings.

          18. asterzinger

            It’s kind of like the whole “r vs K strategy” fad: It’s an interesting thought but it immediately tumbles into people ascribing both intention and morality to the evolutionary process. Evolution has an intention for you, and gives a shit about what you do, to about the degree you care what one cell in your liver does about it when you drink a beer.

          19. asterzinger

            (Morality is what we liver cells come up with to make relations among ourselves as we clean out the beer better. The gods sucking down the poison don’t give a shit how we organize ourselves.) [edit: goddamn it, this should have appeared below my comment below, which I typed first. (*$#(# Disquus.)

          20. MRDA

            Careful! If you take that Annalogy far enough, you’ll have the liver cells forming multiple clusters, each fighting for supremacy over/eradication of/severance from all the others.

          1. Simon Elliot

            And that infers that the absence of bad is good, correct? And yet, if there is no individual for whom the absence is good, how can we advocate for neutrality? It’s a philosophical hurdle I just can’t seem to overcome.

          2. Lygeia

            Just remember, the human imune systems isn’t neutral. Something is either good, or its bad, to the immune system. There is no neutral. Just something to think about.

  2. Caprizchka

    Fascinating subject even if admit that I find the reviewer’s language more readable than the excerpt. If it’s any consolation to the anti-natalist, those parents who breed with all the accountability of insects have an increased likelihood of experiencing patricide. It is unfortunate that likely as not, responsible breeders, their offspring, and anti-natalists have no guarantees in terms of getting caught in the crossfire.

  3. Patrick Chkoreff

    “People can be greatly hurt by being born. But if you don’t have a kid, the kid doesn’t exist to regret never enjoying the good things in life.”

    Yeah well I had a round of serious hurt at age six but f*** that. Thank you Mom for having me. I eat the dark times for lunch.

        1. Simon Elliot

          It would be better if all those problems didn’t exist in the first place. You see, as long as I can contemplate a better world in my mind, this world will always be crap in comparison.

          1. Patrick Chkoreff

            I can put dirty clothes into a machine, turn a switch, and ten minutes later the clothes are clean. That is not what I call crappy. Someone contemplated a better world and made it so.

          2. Simon Elliot

            You can’t compare dirty clothes to a human life. For instance, until the mid 20th century, people lived in terror of being pronounced dead and being buried when they were in fact merely unconscious. Today this phenomenon has all but dissipated in the western world, thanks to advances in medical technology. But think of all those people who did get buried alive. Was it worth it, in retrospect, just to get to where we are now? Does the potential for better quality of life for future generations justify the suffering of generations past and present? Are we just a means to an end?

          3. Patrick Chkoreff

            I was already counting my blessings and you just added another: a slim chance of being buried prematurely! I know you want mass extinction but all this rosy talk makes me want to sire a child.

          4. Simon Elliot

            It’s an evolutionary development that helps the ego avoid harsh realities. It is ultimately illusory.

          5. Simon Elliot

            It is the rose-tinted screen that most people cannot see past. But there are those few of us who can see past it, and the view isn’t good.

          6. Patrick Chkoreff

            Ah, but that’s not how this works — that’s not how any of this works.

            The degree to which life does not suck is precisely the degree to which people do not think like you. For example just today, my wife and I were able to acquire food simply by climbing into a motorized air-conditioned vehicle and driving to a beautiful supermarket, where we picked up arugula, salami, mozarella, cherry tomatoes, and all sorts of great things, and carried them right back to our home. It’s a bloody miracle! It was achieved by people with positive mentalities (i.e. rose-tinted screens), going back to Henry Ford, the people who invented truck and rail transport, shipping logistics, finance, telecommunications, and even farther back to the British and French who revolutionized agriculture in the 1600s. Those people recognized the suffering in life and did not evade it in any way, because evasion of reality will indeed earn you misery and death. However, they did not accept the particular forms of suffering they encountered as the inescapable lot of all future humanity.

            So I leave you with this benediction: I wish you all the happiness your mind is capable of creating. Take it or leave it, your choice.

          7. Simon Elliot

            Like I said before, to focus on the potential for better quality of life in the future is to treat intermediate generations, who must suffer for us to get there, as a means to an end. We anti-natalists may be existential nihilists, but that doesn’t mean we are completely blind to the romance of human achievement. What is better than a problem solved? A problem that never existed in the first place.

          8. Patrick Chkoreff

            I consider my own suffering as a reasonable price to pay for the joy of my own existence. Other people have different costs and benefits, and should make their trades accordingly.

  4. Rigulel

    People can experience great joy by being born. But if you don’t have
    a kid, the kid doesn’t exist to be glad he never suffered through the bad things
    in life. Therefore nobody benefits if you don’t breed, but somebody always benefits to some extent—and sometimes really really really benefits, and that’s
    not always predictable—if you do.

    Benatar’s asymmetry seams rather symmetrical to me. Notice that this is exactly the line of argument a natalist would use.

    1. asterzinger

      You’re forgetting something… if you don’t breed then the person you’re worried about never exists and therefore cannot regret not being benefited. There is no regret, there is no benefit, there is no suffering. Worrying about somebody benefiting implies that someone is suffering for lack of benefit. We’re not talking about increasing total good, we’re talking about decreasing total suffering.

      1. Rigulel

        If I wanted to decrease total suffering I would nuke the whole world now, since that would prevent the huge amount of suffering that future generations will inevitably endure.

        This would also mean that it’s immoral to give a give a bouquet of roses to your girlfriend, since the suffering you experience when picking roses (the thorns hurt you) isn’t justified by the great joy of receiving such a present.

        This moral philosophy seems obviously wrong to me.

        1. asterzinger

          You can avoid the thorns on the roses, strip them off, don’t be a dumbass when handling the flowers. But there’s no way to avoid the pain and loss of death. They’re not analogous. And “it seems wrong” is not an argument.

          I’m sure a lot of antinatalists WOULD nuke the world right now… if we could. But for most people that’s obviously not an option; you’re just using an argument to absurdity.

          1. Rigulel

            I wasn’t making an analogy with the thorns thing. I was saying that based on your morality things like running a marathon are immoral since they bring more suffering into the world.

            If your best argument for antinatalism is based on an ethical theory under which thermonuclear war is desirable then it’s easy to see why your movement isn’t exactly spreading like wildfire.

            (I know I’m not responding to some of your points, if you want me to I will later)

          2. MRDA

            “…an ethical theory under which thermonuclear war…”

            That’s promortalism. Slightly different kettle of fish. Besides, I can’t imagine a nuke survivor’s quality of life being suffering-alleviated.

          3. asterzinger

            The most convincing part of the argument to me isn’t suffering vs nonsuffering; it’s consent vs nonconsent. Whether someone’s life will be good or not is a gamble, and parents take that gamble on their child’s behalf without being able to ask the child’s consent. That’s like having sex with a person who’s in a coma.

            And look, you’re the one who brought up thermonuclear war. I was responding to your reductio ad absurdum with a half-joke. Going from that to saying an “argument” is based on an “ethical theory” (nice try but doesn’t logic work the other way around?) under which [people responded to my reductio ad absurdum, haw haw haw!] is not cricket. The reason this isn’t spreading like wildfire is because people like to make underhanded arguments against it because it “seems wrong.”

          4. asterzinger

            Anyway… to move away from arguments I’ve had with MYSELF a thousand times: As Perry is implying in the passage I quoted, not a lot of us actually WANT to be antinatalists. If you could come up with an actual logical refutation of Benatar before my ovaries completely turn into pumpkins, you’d be my new BFF. But I have never heard a decent argument against either the asymmetry or the consent/gambling argument. It’s usually bad faith, and very often coming from someone who has kids who have problems, or someone who’s entering middle age childless and is getting broody.

    2. Andrew McIntosh

      Whether or not you’re playing God’s advocate you’re making a valid point. But reversing the argument doesn’t take away from what’s being argued. Which is, life is suffering, and to create life is to create suffering.

      1. Rigulel

        You’re right, to create life is to create suffering. But you’re missing underlying point: I can take any sentence or argument with the words “good” and “bad” in it (words like “suffering” and “joy” are mostly “good” and “bad” in fancy clothing) and reverse it to produce an equal and opposite argument. In this case “life is happiness, and to create life is to create happiness”.

        You can say that minimizing suffering is the only thing that matters (like Ann does below). But if you don’t we’re stuck with the question of whether the good in life outweighs the bad.

        1. MRDA

          Surely that depends on the particular life in question; and all life is ultimately subject to the indignity of decay…and then there’s that pesky death thing. Mad-libbing doesn’t square the circle.

          1. Rigulel

            It does depend on the life in question. And yea there are a lot of shitty things in life. I’m not going to try to convince you guys that the average life is worth living. I just wanted to point out that the asymmetry at the very least rests on some very controversial assumptions and isn’t some knock down argument for antinatalism.

          2. asterzinger

            Hey, my life is pretty damned good, right at the moment anyway (I could have a painful cancer growing in my pancreas as we speak, but to set the record straight I’m not wearing black nail polish). I don’t have kids in large part because there are several rounds in my genetic chamber that I know are absolute shit, and I don’t have the moral right to take that chance on someone else’s behalf. By the way, what assumptions are controversial? As far as I can tell it’s the conclusion that’s controversial. People who argue that “suffering isn’t necessarily bad!” must have terrible memories.

          3. Nine-Banded Books

            The absence of deprivation that attends the “no person” quadrant is the lynchpin that overrides symmetry — and it’s really not controversial.

        2. Andrew McIntosh

          Okay, I think I understand your point. At least a great many other arguments can be reversed just as simply. “Either/or” is a common conundrum. For myself, I like to stick to the issue at hand rather than the logic to justify it.

  5. MRDA

    I think the book is more fleshed out when it comes to the suicide arguments than the antinatalism; for anyone new to the topic, I’d recommend reading Crawford’s Confessions of an Antinatalist before diving into this. That said, this DOES work well as a gateway into Haidt’s moral foundations theory, and I love the way Perry uses it to explore the ethics of topping oneself.

    Trouble is, in meeting the various breeder brigades halfway, how do you stop them from taking more than the inch given? I can see some of ’em pushing pseudo-antinatalist propaganda to diminish the ranks of their perceived enemy demographics/politribes/whoevers, all the while working to swell their own ranks via conception conscriptions. The response to your article ‘More People, More Nonsense’ springs to mind as an example of this dynamic.

    Perhaps you wanna use their fears and bugbears against ’em: “Do you really want your progeny to put up with all this, too? Have mercy!”

  6. Mr. Mean-Spirited

    Ethical arguments for antinatalism are merely going to play into the hands of the
    breeders. After all, care about others probably got the woman knocked-up in the first place. You need to go beyond good and evil to advance the idea of human extinction. (I’m getting better at this Nietzschean phrasing.)

    You can’t really plead altruism if you would rather see the earth cleansed of
    humanity. The only rational justification for antinatalism is misanthropy: you want the human race to die-out because you hate being around so damn many people.

    1. asterzinger

      There’s philanthropic antinatalism and then there’s misanthropic antinatalism… I’d go into the glorious conflict between the two that resides in my breast, but that would be a spoiler to my as-yet unpublished science fiction novel, LYFE. Anybody know a good sci-fi publisher who isn’t a leftist git?

      1. Nine-Banded Books

        In his most recent co-authored book “Debating Procreation,” David Benatar articulates a “misanthropic argument” that probably isn’t quite what people have in mind when they claim that philanthropic antinatalism is rooted in bad faith. In short, his argument — which is presented as ancillary or additive — concerns not the suffering that a person created may endure, but the risk that a person once created will cause suffering, perhaps to some unconscionable degree (think of the little baby Hitler, if that works for you). Benatar’s discussion of this wrinkle is viscerally illustrated in the book and film, “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” which is the probably the most antinatalist-in-spirit work of fiction I’ve encountered.

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