Friday, December 21, 2012

Antinatalism?



If you look at the prefix and suffix, you could probably figure what this is, but just in case I will define it.  Antinatalism is the conviction that having children is immoral because of the harm you impose upon the child by conceiving them without their consent.  Antinatalists include philosophical pessimist Arthur Schopenhaur; DavidBenatar, professor of philosophy at the University of Capetown South Africa and author of Better To Have Never Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence;  Jim Crawford, former minister turned atheist, author of Confessions of an Antinatalist, and blogger; Thomas Ligotti, author of The Conspiracy against the Human Race; Sister Y, blogger; Francois Tremblay, feminist blogger; MoralChildfree; P. Srivastana, author of “Conceiving a Child is a Sin”.
Moral Childfree states that if it’s such a “dog eat dog world” and “life isn’t fair” instead of saying “get used to it” or “suck it up and deal”, why bring people into that type of world?  He also states that a parent is responsible for everything that goes wrong in the child’s life for their entire life.  Sister Y compares having children to giving some ecstasy without their consent because it’s “fucking awesome”.  She says that when it comes to drugs, people focus on the harm and find the joy irrelevant.  Drugs are extremely difficult to quit, they cause a host of problems from financial to physical, and they ultimately kill you.  

Benatar’s aforementioned book is lengthy and contains many philosophy concepts including the Hedonistic principle: suppose you plant someone with a desire to paint the Sydney Opera House blue and then you paint the Sydney Opera House blue.  The two maneuvers cancel out.  He also discusses the optimism bias that makes people think their lives are far better than they actually are.  But the main crux of his argument is where he stipulates that whereas non-existent beings can’t be deprived of pleasure since they have no feelings, to deprive them of pain is a positive.  When it comes to existence versus non-existence, Benatar postulates an asymmetry that we can break down as follows:
Pleasure +
Pain –
Existence, Pleasure +
Existence, Pain –
Non-existence, No Pleasure +/- (since you wouldn’t know what you were missing)
Non-existence, No Pain +
Therefore Existence +/-
Therefore Non-existence +
QED

Let’s say for the sake of argument that non-existent beings can be deprived of pleasure.  All that means is that:
Therefore Existence +/-
Therefore Non-existence +/-
QED

Before jumping to the conclusion that life is for fools, I will address my reservations about antinatalism.
In terms of Sister Y’s analogy to drugs, can you honestly compare all of life, travel, spirituality, sports, love, family, to something as base as drug use?  Then again, in her defense, I have never done drugs so maybe they are the best feeling one can have, bringing spiritual and transcendent feelings, and the analogy stands.  
Regarding Benatar’s asymmetry, there are two assumptions that may be logically flawed.  First, there is the assumption that pain is always a bad thing (-).  I know that he doesn’t mean the neuronal impulses of pain as in the case of masochism or running, which are painful but boost endorphins.  He means the subjective experience of suffering.  But suffering can be a positive (+).  You can learn from it and become a better person, making lemonade out of lemons.  You can be glad it happened because of what it led to later in life.  For example, since ancient Greece, suffering has led some people to embrace the philosophy of Hedonism, that pleasure should outweigh pain.   Since antiquity, it has at least led to Epicureanism, that pain should be minimized and people should just try to be ok rather than happy.  Second, Charles Darwin stated in Origin of the Species that sentient beings continue to propagate themselves because pleasure outweighs pain.  Therefore there could arguably be more positive units (++).  What does that do for the argument?
There was one particularly nimble postulation in the book though, which is as follows:
There is no moral obligation to impose pleasure
There is a moral obligation not to impose pain

The question that lingers in my mind is: are you morally obligated to impose pain if it leads to pleasure? Suppose for example you push someone from oncoming traffic onto the sidewalk and they bruise their chin.  You were doing that so that they wouldn’t end up paralyzed and now they can go on and live a good life.  Then again, they’re already alive, but that’s something I’ll let marinate.