Against Anti-Natalism

Back in about 2014 I went through a bit of a nihilist stage. This included taking seriously ideas about being ‘pro’ suicide and anti-natalism. Now, I’ve moved well beyond this, but I can see how the ideas crop up. They are obviously heavily grounded in materialism, though you are not necessarily led to them if you are a materialist. Anti-natalism, which shares some ideas with veganism as we’ll see later, is particularly prone to materialist bias, and if based on purely material experiences ends up being completely imbalanced.

The first thing to note is that the apparently absurd idea of anti-natalism has been around for a long time. Take this part from Oeipus at Colonus:


It is obvious to me that those who shun moderation and want a longer life are fools.

The days of an overly long life are filled with pain.

Happiness eludes those who want to hang on to life longer than what the fates have allotted for them and in the end…

…the same attendant awaits him: Hades! Hades waits upon us all!

No ceremony, no wedding songs, no dances and no songs…

Just death! The end of us all is death.

The best would be not to be born at all.

But then, if he is born, the next best thing for him would be to try and return to where he came from…

…in the quickest possible time!

While youth and its careless mind lasts, no thought is given to what pain, what misery will, most certainly, follow.

Murder, mayhem, quarrels, wars will come before the inescapable end…

The hateful old age, frailty, loneliness, desolation and…

…your own misery’s neighbour, is even more misery.

And so, Oedipus like us, is old. Unhappy Oedipus! Bashed about like a reef facing north…

Bashed about on all sides by tempests of all sorts.

Never ending rain and wind crash over his head…

…fierce waves crash over him.

Now from West…

Now from the East…

Some during the midday’s light…

Some from the mountainous North…

…which the deep night darkens.

In modern times though the notion of anti-natalism has gained a sort of academic backing, one that dovetails neatly with so many other academic pursuits, namely colonial guilt and oppression. Now women are pushed towards careers, and anti-natalism takes on the nature of a choice, a right, a lifestyle decision. No longer merely a way to remove suffering from the world, but a way in which to increase your own pleasure.

David Benatar is a Professor of Philosophy at University of Cape Town. Now, leaving aside the fact that I find most South Africans less than savoury, his argument in favour of anti-natalism leaves a lot wanting. He was recently on Sam Harris’s podcast discussing these ideas, and one of his main arguments is that there is a greater gain from removing war and suffering than there is in producing love and joy. Harris makes the obvious point that this ‘benefit’ affects absolutely no one if there is no one to experience it. At this point going down this line of thought, you would — or should — immediately throw out the whole idea of anti-natalism.

This is particularly interesting because in a few podcasts before Harris had Max Tegmark on, who is a bit of an expert on Artificial Intelligence. His take away was that intelligence and consciousness is designed to spread, designed to become more complex, and so the best good we can do is to help it flourish. This is something Jordan Peterson echoes, especially in his Biblical stories series, specifically that ‘Whatever’s going on on this planet has to do with conscious reality, and the transformations of consciousness, for all we know, might be the most important things that happen everywhere.’ The anti-natalist position is completely at odds with these notions. It is a fault of the wrong type of materialism. If materialism takes as a presupposition that there is no inherent meaning to be found in the universe, then you can posit all sorts of other meaning values. That can be whatever David Chapman is trying to create, or it can be the complete reduction of suffering in the world, no matter the cost.

Interestingly, this appears to work as some sort of paperclip maximiser, without the runaway AI. It just requires unlimited empathy. Nothing else matters but the *ahem* humanitarian goal. This is where anti-natalism crosses with veganism. Both advocate not for the outright removal of their victim group, but for the slow disintegration of it, so that slowly suffering is removed. But what is the point of removing the beings that suffer if they are not there to experience this good?

The entire premise rests on suffering. Naturally I find Professor Benatar’s notion of suffering somewhat insufferable, even petty. In Fourth Way work there is focus on suffering, and how we use intentional suffering to further our own work on ourselves. Rather than try to solve or change suffering, modern and secular people — sometimes with a slightly too high IQ — would prefer to run away. They want big system solutions to the pain and suffering in the world, and none more all-encompassing than the idea of anti-natalism. It is quite plainly a cop out and an absurd solution.

But why is it that we are continuously faced with more and more absurd propositions? Why, for example, is the acceptance of abortion no longer absurd? Or any other progressive talking point from the last fifty years? Scott has a recent post where he goes into this idea of holding the line against absurdity, where we have to really question whether loosening or tightening the status quo is quite as strange as we fear it might be. How long until the idea of anti-natalism as a selfless mission falls into the Overton Window and is discussed openly, even lauded? Laws are in place because of custom or revealed truth, not the other way around. We did not create laws to enforce culture, but created laws to implement culture. We have forgotten why we made such laws to begin with. Reaction is the opposite of complacency, of letting go. Even if the world around us is speeding by, we have to be ready to plant our feet firmly in the ground and have reason ready to combat the waves of absurdity.

And these waves grow in strength, enabled by the new wonders of civilisation. Anti-natalism is plainly an absurd idea, but I can see it encroaching on good people. So its arguments must be laid to bare as what they are: ridiculous. They are premised on flimsy materialism and asymmetrical point scoring. We must remain against it.

The Most Important Question in Philosophy

I try to lay down how I think life works. In a blog post.

I have to get some thoughts out. They will probably be incoherent and inconsistent, but I am more resolved to this reality these days as it is, after all, how reality works. Anyway, the Most Important Question is:

What came first: the chicken or the egg?

Hasn’t this been answered? Apparently. But it’s the metaphorical implications of the question that are important.

I do a lot of reading, especially of blog posts. Slatestarcodex, OvercomingBias, Xenosystems, MarginalRevolution. So obviously rationality is a big part of all this, how we think. Epistemology and how important it is. And whether what we think is actually genuine at all. From all this some things floated to the top, specifically what Jordan B Peterson talks about and what David Chapman talks about in Meaningness and how really they are coming at the same thing through slightly different methods and naming conventions. And then I realised YouTube star Elliott Hulse is ALSO doing the same thing when he talks about Breathing Through Your Balls and his holistic weight training service. And then I realised what all these people are doing is creating a big mess by trying to sort through the chaos that is Truth and Justice and Meaning. I mean, for example, I can get inspired by what all three of these hunters are, you know, really get uplifted by reading their thoughts and having Eureka moments. Each of them has something I can wrap my mind around.

But then I get brought back down. I realise they haven’t yet grasped the nature of the whole. They’ve flipped chicken and egg or vice versa. Often they put the cart before the horse. And I don’t specifically know how I personally understand that they haven’t achieved Finality but that there are definitely missing links in the chain.

So, systems. Different strokes for different folks. Is this where we drop metamodernism?

(On that note, are we must be at the last column of Chapman’s grid and that metamodernism is post-postmodernism.)

Each of these gurus discusses how various systems explain different truths, but then pronounce that their path is actually the one true path that explains ALL truths, which of course undermines their own argument. Hmm. Then I found this post and it looks like I’m not the only one who thinks this.

Fascists tend to adopt various myths and symbols, whatever is convenient really, to help justify their own dogma. (Separate from Bolsheviks who invent their own myths because then their dogma is harder to pin down and argue against.) Is this what these Truth Gurus are peddling? A bit of Cyclical Theory, a bit of St George storytelling, some Angry Breathing Therapy and voila, you have a mythical understanding of Reality?

What I think we can learn from this is that things are complex, and resting on your laurels is not beneficial for anyone. There is no single answer. Gender pay gap studies always blame discrimination, even though the actual nature of work is so, so very complex that blaming ‘discrimination’ is a complete joke. Not only do you have a huge range of actual types of work, which all pay differently based on anything from industry to temperament of the employer, you have a huge mish-mash of individual people with individual preferences, some who like to work really hard and some (most?) who don’t. So of course there will be differences in pay. In fact, all things considered I’m surprised the ‘pay gap’ is so small. This is a perfect example of an ideological group trying to sustain a truth via a single filter or lens. Another would be young Australians blaming the Boomer generation for unaffordable housing. Sure, some of the blame can be attributed to greedy Boomers, but there is much more to the story. And blaming others for your ‘loss’, whether a mysterious pay gap or not having a 4 bedroom villa, is ultimately a cop out and weakness.
But now I’m going to drop my own true systemic understanding of Truth.

Let’s say life is based on systems.

At the bottom is Mathematics. It’s pure but only because it isn’t ‘real’. As in, it isn’t physical despite being very real. Mathematics is probably as close to absolute truth as you can get.A step up is Physics. A complicated state of mathematics, physics has real world consequences. A rock is a creation of physics.

The next step up is Biology. This is a complicated arrangement of physics and mathematics, mostly dealing with entropy and the conservation of energy and matter.

So you can see that Mathematics feeds into Physics which feeds into Biology.

(This feels so obvious that it has probably been taken for granted for a long time, so let me know how far I have to go before I am Even On Your Level.)

What’s next?

The next step would have to be some form of consciousness. I haven’t read Schopenhauer, but I have read about some of his ideas, and I think this is where the concept of Will comes in. Will could very well be a real energy, a life force. At the lower end it inhabits plants, which enact their Will on things such as turning with the Sun. Animals exert their own Will but have a more complex Biology that allows them to better direct the energy of Will. And humans have developed a very complex Will machine, called the brain. We can project our Will through time as well as in physical space. That’s some pretty powerful stuff.

But there is another element to Will and that is the notion of Incentive. So let’s go back to house prices and gender ‘pay gaps’ for a moment. These are based on incentives. The people blaming Boomers or the ‘Patriarchy’ have an Incentive to do so. The causes of these ‘problems’ have their own Incentives, such as women preferring not to work as hard as men (which is perfectly sensible, let’s be honest) and young wannabe homebuyers not wanting to save money when they could spend now. So you have a struggle between Will and Incentive in some sense, and the question is: what came first, the Will or the Incentive?

If we go right back to looking at the problems that Peterson or Chapman discuss, it is fundamentally that people lie to themselves. Constantly. Cognitive Bias and a range of other subconscious mind tricks that allow doublethink to dominate our habits of mind. So we can say that we are enacting our Will when making a decision, but actually there might be a hidden Incentive that we are not admitting to. This is what we talk about when we talk about the Cathedral. This is what people mean by the Deep State. This is what Bolsheviks mean when they talk about Patriarchy. Hidden Incentives that appear to be the malignant Will of a certain group. And when these systems are in place, the tendency is for people to continue using their Will to facilitate themselves. Self-perpetuation is an Incentive. Victim culture is an Incentive. Capitalism is founded on Incentives. Everything, really, is Incentives. And we all lie to ourselves that it isn’t.

This is a fair bit longer than I thought it would be. It’s also highly probable I have presented nothing new whatsoever. Do let me know how wrong I am in the comments.

But I will finish with one last thought. If life is based on the sciences then what is fourth in the stack?

Mathematics, then

Physics, then

Biology, then…

(Dare I say it?)