This weblog averages about 1,350 page views per day. But yesterday it snagged 10,695 views, and now at 6:20 AM local time it has already racked up 3,200 or so. What explains this? Reddit got hold of my Zappfe post, scroll down a bit, and that must be driving the surge.
Perhaps we philosophers need to pay more attention to anti-natalism as a cultural phenomenon and as a component in der Untergang des Abendlandes.
We are losing the will to perpetuate our civilization and its values. Christians in the Middle East are being slaughtered and their churches pulverized by Muslim savages. So what did Pope Francis say in response to Donald Trump's call for a wall along the southern U.S. border? We don't need to build walls, but bridges. Francis the fool is one dope of a pope.
Evangelicals understand this, though they are too polite and politic to put it the way I just did. This is why, mirabile dictu, so many of them support Trump, the nasty sybarite of Gotham who builds casinos to the greater glory of Lust, Greed, Gluttony, and Lady Luck.
Point of logic: 'Muslim savages' does not imply that all Muslims are savages. Or do you think that 'deciduous trees' implies that all trees are deciduous?
UPDATE 2/27: Traffic settled down a bit yesterday with a mere 4,509 page views. It should get back to normal over the next few days. As every conservative appreciates, the 'regard' of fellow mortals is a decidedly mixed blessing. I am quite happy to bump along at 1, 500 page views per day. Obscurity is bliss and he who craves fame is a fool. Fame is conferred by others and the quality of these others is a good measure of the value of fame.
Gisle Tangenesdescribes the life and ideas of a cheerfully pessimistic, mountain-climbing Norwegian existentialist, pessimist, and anti-natalist, Peter Wessel Zapffe:
Thus the ‘thousand consolatory fictions’ that deny our captivity in dying beasts, afloat on a speck of dust in the eternal void. And after all, if a godly creator is waiting in the wings, it must be akin to the Lord in The Book of Job, since it allows its breathing creations to be “tumbled and destroyed in a vast machinery of forces foreign to interests.” Asserts Zapffe: “The more a human being in his worldview approaches the goal, the hegemony of love in a moral universe, the more has he become slipshod in the light of intellectual honesty.” The only escape from this predicament should be to discontinue the human race. Though extinction by agreement is not a terribly likely scenario, that is no more than an empirical fact of public opinion; in principle, all it would require is a global consensus to reproduce below replacement rates, and in a few generations, the likening of humankind would “not be the stars or the ocean sand, but a river dwindling to nothing in the great drought.”
So if you believe in a moral world order and the ultimate hegemony of love in the midst of all this misery and apparent senselessness, if you deny our irremediable "captivity in dying beasts," (what a great line!) then you display a lack of intellectual honesty. Let's think about this.
The gist of Zapffe's s position as best I can make out from the fragments I have read is that our over-developed consciousness is an evolutionary fluke that makes us miserable by uselessly generating in us the conceit that we are more than animals and somehow deserving of something better than dying like an animal after some years of struggle. Giseles: "Evolution, he [Zapffe] argues, overdid its act when creating the human brain, akin to how a contemporary of the hunter, a deer misnamed the ‘Irish elk’, became moribund by its increasingly oversized antlers." A powerful image. The unfortunate species of deer, having evolved huge antlers for defense, cannot carry their weight and dies out in consequence. Similarly with us. We cannot carry the weight of the awareness born of our hypertrophic brains, an awareness that is not life-enhancing but inimical to life.
Human existence is thus absurd, without point or purpose. For human existence is not a merely biological living, but a conscious and self-conscious living, a reflective and self-questioning living in the light of the 'knowledge' of good and evil. Human existence is a mode of existence in which one apperceives oneself as aware of moral distinctions and as free to choose right or wrong. Whether or not we are really free, we cannot help but experience ourselves as free. Having become morally reflective, man becomes self-questioning. He hesitates, he feels guilty, his direct connection to life is weakened and in some cases destroyed. He torments himself with questions he cannot answer. The male beast in heat seizes the female and has his way with her. He doesn't reflect or scruple. 'Respect for persons' does not hobble him. The human beast, weakened by consciousness, self-consciousness, moral sensitivity, reason, objectivity, and all the rest, hesitates and moralizes -- and the female gets away.
In short, man is a sick animal weakened by an over-developed brain who torments himself with questions about morality and ultimate meaning and then answers them by inventing consolatory fictions about God and the soul, or else about a future society in which the problem of meaning will be solved. Either pie in the sky or pie in the future to be washed down with leftist Kool-Aid. The truth, however, is that there is no ultimate meaning to be found either beyond the grave or this side of it. The truth is that human existence -- which again is not a merely biological living -- is absurd. And at some level we all know this to be the case. We all know, deep down, that we are just over-clever land mammals without a higher origin or higher destiny. One who will not accept this truth and who seeks to evade reality via religious and secular faiths is intellectually dishonest. Antinatalism follows from intellectual honesty: it is wrong to cause the existence of more meaningless human lives. It is unfortunate that the human race came to be in the first place; the next best thing would be for it to die out.
Many of us have entertained such a dark vision at one time or another. But does it stand up to rational scrutiny? Could this really be the way things are? Or is this dark vision the nightmare of a diseased mind and heart?
There are several questions we can ask. Here I will consider only one: Can Zapffe legitimately demand intellectual honesty given his own premises?
The Demand for Intellectual Honesty
Zapffe thinks we ought to be intellectually honest and admit the absurdity of human existence. This is presumably a moral ought, and indeed a categorical moral ought. We ought to accept the truth, not because of some desirable consequence of accepting it, but because it is the truth. But surely the following question cannot be suppressed: What place is there in an amoral universe for objective moral oughts and objective moral demands? No place at all.
It is we who demand that reality be faced and it is we who judge negatively those we do not face it. We demand truthfulness and condemn willful self-deception. But these demands of ours are absurd demands if our mental life is an absurd excrescence of matter. They would in that case have no objective validity whatsoever. The absurdist cannot, consistently with his absurdism, make moral demands and invoke objective moral oughts. He cannot coherently say: You ought to face the truth! You ought not deceive yourself or believe something because it is consoling or otherwise life-enhancing. Why should I face the truth?
"Because it is the truth."
But this is no answer, but a miserable tautology. The truth has no claim on my attention unless it is objectively valuable and, because objectively valuable, capable of generating in me an obligation to accept it. So why should I accept the truth?
"Because accepting the truth will help you adapt to your environment."
But this is exactly what is not the case in the present instance. The truth I am supposed to accept, namely, that my existence is meaningless, is inimical to my happiness and well-being. After all, numerous empirical studies have shown that conservatives, who tend to be religious, are much happier than leftists who tend to be irreligious. These people, from the absurdist perspective, fool themselves, but from the same perspective there can be no moral objection to such self-deception.
So again, assuming that human life is absurd, why should we accept rather than evade this supposed truth?
The absurdist cannot coherently maintain that one ought to be intellectually honest, or hold that being such is better than being intellectually dishonest. Nor can he hold that humans ought not procreate. Indeed, he cannot even maintain that it is an objectively bad thing that human existence is absurd.
The fundamental problem here is that the absurdist cannot coherently maintain that truth is objectively valuable. In his world there is no room for objective values and disvalues. By presupposing that truth is objectively valuable and that our intellectual integrity depends on acknowledging it, he presupposes something inconsistent with his own premises.
"You are ignoring the possibility that objective values are grounded in objective needs. We are organisms that need truth because we need contact with reality to flourish. This is why truth is objectively valuable."
But again this misses the crucial point that on Zapffe's absurdism, acceptance of the truth about our condition is not life-enhancing, not conducive to our flourishing. On the contrary, evasion of this 'truth' is life-enhancing.
Addendum (2/25): Karl White refers us to some translations of Zapffe.
Suppose you are an atheist who considers life to be worth living. You deny God, but affirm life, this life, as it is, here and now. Suppose you take the fact of evil to tell against the existence of God. Do you also take the fact of evil to tell against the affirmability of life? If not, why not?
In this entry I will explain what I take to be one sort of problem of evil for atheists, or rather, for naturalists. (One can be an atheist without being a naturalist, but not vice versa.) For present purposes, an atheist is one who affirms the nonexistence of God, as God is traditionally conceived, and a naturalist is one who affirms that reality, with the possible exception of so-called abstract objects, is exhausted by space-time-matter. Naturalism entails atheism, but atheism does not entail naturalism.
Are the following propositions logically consistent?
a. Life is affirmable.
b. Naturalism is true.
c. Evil objectively exists.
1. What it means for life to be affirmable
To claim that life is affirmable is to claim that it is reasonable to say 'yes' to it. Life is affirmed by the vast majority blindly and instinctually, and so can be; in this trivial sense life is of course affirmable. But I mean 'affirmable' in a non-trivial sense as signifying that life is worthy of affirmation. This is of course not obvious. Otherwise there wouldn't be pessimists and anti-natalists. Let me make this a bit more precise.
To claim that life is affirmable is to maintain that human life has an overall positive value that outweighs the inevitable negatives. Note the restriction to human life. I am glad that there are cats, but I am in no position to affirm feline life in the relevant sense of 'affirm': I am not a cat and so I do not know what it is like 'from the inside' to be a cat.
'Human life' is not to be understood biologically but existentially. What we are concerned with is not an objective phenomenon in nature, but life as lived and experienced from a subjective center. So the question is not whether it is better or worse for the physical universe to contain specimens of a certain zoological species, the species h. sapiens. The question is whether it is on balance a good thing that there is human life as it is subjectively lived from a personal center toward a meaning- and value-laden world of persons and things. The question is whether it is on balance a good thing that there is human subjectivity.
Now it may be that over the course of a particular human life a preponderance of positive noninstrumental good is realized. But that is consistent with human life in general not being worth living. If my life turns out to have been worth living, if I can reasonably affirm it on my death bed and pronounce it good on balance, it doesn't follow that human life in general is worth living. Let us agree that a particular human life is worth living if, over the course of that life, a preponderance of positive noninstrumental value is realized. To say that positive value preponderates is to say that it outweighs the negative.
The question, then, is whether human life, human subjectivity, in general is affirmable. To make the question a bit more concrete, and to bring home the point that the question does not concern oneself alone, consider the question of procreation. To procreate consciously and thoughtfully is to affirm life other than one's own.
Suppose that one's life has been on balance good up to the point of one's procreating. Should one be party to the coming-into-existence of additional centers of consciousness and self-consciousness when there is no guarantee that their lives will be on balance good, and some chance that their lives will be on balance horrendous? Would you have children if you knew that they would be tortured to death in the equivalent of Auschwitz? Note that if a couple has children, then they are directly responsible for the existence of those children; but they are also indirectly responsible in ever diminishing measure for the existence of grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc. If life is not affirmable, then it is arguable that it is morally wrong to have children, life being a mistake that ought not be perpetuated. If on the other hand life is affirmable, then, while there might be particular reasons for some people not to have children, there would be no general reason rooted in the nature of things.
2. Is life affirmable in the face of evil?
More precisely: Is life affirmable by naturalists given the fact of evil? There is a problem here if you grant, as I hope you will for the sake of this discussion at least, that natural and moral evils are objective realities. Thus evil exists and it exists objectively. It is not an illusion, nor is it subjective.
The question could be put as follows: Is it rational to ascribe to human life in general an overall positive value, a value sufficient to justify procreation, given that (i) evil exists and that (ii) naturalism is true?
If naturalism is true, then there are unredeemed evils. Let us say that an unredeemed evil is an evil that does not serve a greater good for the person who experiences the evil and is not compensated for or made good in this life or in an afterlife. Thus the countless lives of those who were born and who died in slavery were lives containing unredeemed evils. In many of these countless cases, there were not only unredeemed evils, but a preponderance of unredeemed evil. Whatever these sufferers believed, their lives were not worth living. It would have been better had they never been born. If naturalism is true, then those sufferers who believed that they would be compensated in the hereafter were just wrong. Their false beliefs helped them get through their worthless existence but did nothing to make it worthwhile.
Here is an argument from evil for the nonaffirmability of life:
1. Human life in general is affirmable, i.e., possesses an overall positive value sufficient to justify procreation, only if the majority of human subjects led, lead, and will lead, lives which are on balance good.
2. It is not the case (or it is highly improbably that) that the majority of human subjects led, lead, or will lead such lives: the majority of lives are lives in which unredeemed evil predominates.
3. Human life in general is not affirmable, i.e., does not (or probably does not) possess an overall positive value sufficient to justify procreation.
It seems to me that a naturalist who squarely and in full awareness faces the fact of evil ought to be a pessimist and an anti-natalist. If he is not, then I suspect him of being in denial or else of believing in some progressive 'pie in the future.' But even if, per impossibile, some progressive utopia were attained in the distant future, it would not redeem the countless injustices of the past.
The other day I referred to the following bit of dialogue from the new HBO series, True Detective, as sophistry. Now I will explain why I think it to be such. Here is the part I want to focus on. The words are put in the mouth of the anti-natalist Rustin Cohle. I've ommitted the responses of the Woody Harrelson character.
I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self aware; nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, a secretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody’s nobody. I think the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.
Sorting through this crap is as painful as reading the typical student paper. Where does one start with such a farrago of Unsinn? But here goes. The main points made above are these:
1. The emergence of consciousness and self-consciousness in human animals is an accident, a fluke of evolution.
2. We are each under the illusion of having, or being, a self when in fact there are no selves.
3. We have been programmed by nature to suffer from this illusion.
4. The honorable thing to do is to deny our programming, refuse to procreate, and embrace our extinction as a species.
Each of these theses is either extremely dubious or demonstrably incoherent, taken singly, not to mention the dubiousness of the 'is'-'ought' inference from (3) to (4). But in this entry I will address (2) alone.
'There are no selves' is what our anti-natalist means when he say that everybody is nobody. For it is a Moorean fact, undeniable even by our anti-natalist, that every living human body is some living human body or other. He is not denying that plain fact but that these living human bodies are selves.
Now 'There are no selves,' if asserted by a being who understands what he says and means what he says, is asserted by a conscious and self-conscious being. But that is just what a self is. A self is a conscious being capable of expressing explicit self-consciousness by the use of the first-person singular pronoun, 'I.' Therefore, a self that asserts that there are no selves falls into performative inconsistency. The very act or performance of asserting that there are no selves or that one is not a self falsifies the content of the assertion. For that performance is a performance of a self.
The claim that there are no selves is therefore self-refuting.
Assertion is a speech act. But we get the same result if one merely thinks the thought that one is not a self without expressing it via an assertive utterance. If I think the thought *I am not a self,* then that thought is falsified by the act of thinking it since the act is the act of a self.
The point can also be made as follows. If there are no selves, then I am not a self. But if I am not a self, then I do not exist. Perhaps some living human body exists, but that body cannot be my body if I do not exist. What makes this body my body is its connection with me. So I must exist for some body to be my body. My body is my body and not my body's body. So I am not identical to my body. I have a body. 'This body is this body' is a tautology. 'I am this body' is not a tautology. If I exist, then I am distinct from my body and from any body.
So if I am not a self, then I do not exist. But the thought that I do not exist is unthinkable as true. Only I can think this thought, and my thinking of the thought falsifies its content, and this is so even if 'I' picks out merely a momentary self. (I am not committed by this line of reasoning to a substantial self that remains numerically the same over time.) So we have performative inconsistency.
This reasoning does not show that I am a necessary being, or that I have or am an immortal soul, or even that I am a res cogitans in Descartes' sense. What it shows is that the self cannot be an illusion. It shows that anyone who carefully considers whether or not he is a self can attain the certain insight that he is at least as long as he is thinking these thoughts.
Soviel Schein, soviel Sein
There is another way of looking at it. If each of us is under the illusion of having a self or being a self, then who is being fooled? To whom does this false seeming appear? There cannot be illusions in a world without conscious beings. An illusion by its very nature is an illusion to consciousness. So if consciousness is an illusion, then it is not an illusion. The same holds for the self. If the self is an illusion, then the self is not an illusion.
There cannot be Schein (illusion) without Sein (being). "So much seeming, so much being."
True Detective is a new HBO series getting rave reviews. This bit, I am told by Karl White from whom I first learned about the series, is from the first episode. It's good. I'll leave it to you to sort through the sophistry of Rust's spiel.
Here is some TD dialog about religion. I'll say this about it: it is well done and stimulates thought.
The scriptwriter, Nic Pizzolatto, is a very interesting cat who abandoned a tenure-track university gig to try his hand at writing for TV. It takes balls to give up security for a long shot. Especially when you have a kid. At that point nothing-ventured-nothing-gained risk-taking begins to taper off into irresponsibility. If I had had young children I wouldn't have quit my tenured post. Conservatives are cautious and responsible, fiscally and otherwise.
Pizzolatto earns a place in my Mavericks category. Bio and interview here. Excerpt:
Do you think part of the reason why television had so much appeal for you was that you knew you’d be able to reach an audience? Everyone has a TV in the living room. Not everyone reads literary novels.
That’s a great point. I think, with myself, growing up in rural Louisiana but having TV—TV jumps all these class boundaries. For a kid to even have a disposition to be willing to sit down and read literary fiction and not regard it as a waste of time—that requires a certain amount of cultural influence and education. But TV sneaks in, no matter what. I really like that. And the idea that you could put your heart and soul and every bit of yourself into it, the same way you could a novel, and stay there and make sure it was done right? That was all appealing.
I am as confirmed a bibliophile as I am a scribbler. But books and bookishness can appear in an unfavorable light. I may call myself a bibliophile, but others will say 'bookworm.' My mother, seeing me reading, more than once recommended that I go outside and do something. What the old lady didn't appreciate was that mine was a higher doing, and that I was preparing myself to live by my wits and avoid grunt jobs, which is what I succeeded in doing.
My 1995-1996 Turkish Journal contains quotations from, and commentary on, some of S.K.'s journal entries. Unfortunately, I don't have complete bibliographical data, just the entry numbers. What sent me back to my Turkish Journal was London Karl's request that I dig up Kierkegaardian passages that smack of anti-natalism.
S. K. on Women, #4998. ". . . there is a moment in her life when she deceptively appears to be infinitude herself -- and that is when man is captured. And as a wife she is quite simply -- finitude."
S. K. seems to be alluding to the Platonic-Augustinian idea that woman (man too in Plato) can be either a deceptive appearance or a sort of reminder of Transcendence, a waker-upper from our Cave-like amnesia. (Anamnesis doctrine).
S. K. #5000. ". . . Christianity and all more profound views of life take a dim view of the relation to the opposite sex, for they assume that getting involved with the other sex is the demotion of man."
A problem for S. K. If the human race ought to come to an end, if procreation and propagation of the species is better not engaged in, then where will the souls come from to share in the divine life? Or does S. K. believe in the pre-existence of souls? Cf. #3970 where S. K. seems to endorse pre-existence.
Again the tension of Platonic-Gnostic and Jewish-Aristotelian elements in Christianity.
But, given problems like these, would it not be absurd to give up the quest for metaphysical truth and sink into a mundane existence?
S. K. #5003. To marry a woman is to be finitized and mediocratized by her. [A paraphrase, apparently, not a quotation.]
S. K. #5005. "Man was structured for eternity; woman leads him into a side remark."
S. K. 5006. "An eminently masculine intellectuality joined to a feminine submissiveness -- that is the truly religious."