Aca-Awkward: Antinatalism and Birthdays

First things first, if you recognized the “aca-” pun in the title of this blog post, you need to get a life because apparently you’ve watched the Pitch Perfect movies one too many times (or maybe multiple times too many).

OK, not so irrelevant silliness aside, time to get a little serious. Not going to lie – birthdays are rather awkward for someone who identifies as an antinatalist, as I do (for an explanation of antinatalism, the Wikipedia article on it does a pretty good job of explaining the gist of the theory). Since in my view it is a harm to be brought into existence, and given that birthdays mark the anniversary of the day one was brought into existence, yeah it can be a bit weird to put it lightly.

I pull no punches about how I feel. Do I wish I had never been born? Without question or hesitation, the answer to that question is absolutely. I 100% wish I had never been born. As for the reasoning, I agree with Dr. David Benatar’s asymmetry argument between pleasure and pain. Whereas:

1) The presence of pain is bad, and

2) The presence of pleasure is good;

3) The absence of pain is good even if there exists nobody to benefit from that good, but

4) The absence of pleasure is not bad unless there already exists someone for which such an absence would be a deprivation.

When you consider this asymmetry, it follows that one is not benefited by the pleasures in life (even though they make a life go better than it otherwise would), but one is harmed by the pains in life. As such, it is always better never to be brought into existence.

That being said, antinatalism does not imply that we should all kill ourselves. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Death is actually a harm in and of itself. It is but one of many harms we will experience by having been brought into existence. In many cases it is a lesser evil as compared to continued existence, but it is still an evil nonetheless. Dr. Benatar explains this in more detail in his books Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence and The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions.

So with that, back to the topic of birthdays. Are they really cause for celebration? Maybe so. Again, antinatalism only speaks of coming into existence, not continued existence. Since we have already been brought into existence, maybe we should try to enjoy the time that we’re here. Maybe we should continue to learn and grow. Although our lives are cosmically meaningless, we do have the ability to give our lives temporal meaning. Another year older and wiser is nothing to sneeze at for the already existent.

Another perspective I’ve heard from some antinatalists (including one who is a friend of mine and actually shares my same birthday of the 18th of March) is that birthdays just mark one year closer to death. Perhaps that’s a little bit of a perverse view, but I can see merit in it. There will come a time that death is the lesser evil vs. continued existence. There comes a time in all of our lives that we are so overcome by pain that it’s not worth it to continue. Alas, that is a subjective value judgment and is up to each individual for his or her own life.

So are birthdays happy? I guess that’s up to the individual. It isn’t totally inconsistent for an antinatalist to celebrate a birthday, but it is a philosophical question that is hard to give an answer to. Whatever the case I’ll enjoy the cake, drinks, and the odd small gift. It’s those things that take the sting out of this thing called life after all.

I’m going to leave you all with this. This is a poem I wrote on my 27th birthday (2014 – five years ago). It is actually published in the 2014 edition of Famous Poets of The Heartland. I doubt I’m a famous poet but I guess I’ll take what I can get. Basically this sums up my personal view of birthdays the best I know how. I hope you enjoy it for what it’s worth.

———————-

That day which lives forever in infamy
Has once again come
The cursed day I was brought into existence
Arrives beating like a drum.
I try my hardest to forget about it
That wretched, awful day
For I’d have never been put here
If only I had my way.
As hard as I try not to think about it
Upon it I can’t help but dwell
My timeline overflows with reminders
All of them wishing me well.
I didn’t ask to be born
No, it wasn’t my choice
I screamed in protest that day
But it was as though I had no voice.
As this cursed day arrives
I can’t help but wish I had a gun
But I guess I might as well live
At least part of it has been fun.

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A Unique Challenge to the Anti-Abortion Position

Warning: Political content ahead.


Here we go, the annual bullshit “March for Life” thing. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING makes me madder than religious idiots thinking they have the time and place to impose their religious beliefs on the rest of us. That includes on the topic of abortion. It seems the best any of the anti-abortion camp can come up with is to thump the Bible (read also: Qur’an, Torah, etc.). Well, as an atheist, obviously that doesn’t convince me in any way.

Alas, I’m sure you’ve heard the common defenses for a pro-choice political position. I’ll not go into those here because they usually fall on deaf ears. Instead, I am going to present a unique challenge to the anti-abortion position that many might not have heard about in order to get the gears turning.

The challenge is what South African philosopher Dr. David Benatar calls the “pro-death” view in his 2006 publication Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. The pro-death argument for abortion comes from combining the common view of fetal moral status (specifically that of pre-sentient fetuses) along with his arguments in favor of antinatalism (the view that it is bad to be born). When you combine these two views, it generates the pro-death argument that would naturally suggest that it would be preferable to abort all pregnancies in the early stages of gestation.

So there we have it, a “pro-death” view of abortion, which is directly counter to the pro-life position. Now, both of these are philosophical/religious and not political views in and of themselves (I, for one, know a lot of people who are pro-life philosophically but pro-choice politically).

That said, let’s take the anti-abortion position, which is the term I prefer for the political stance. Now, let’s say we have a political lobby group that, consistent with the pro-death philosophical view of abortion, lobbies for a political anti-birth position. That is,  a policy where even those who hold a philosophical pro-life view would be forced to abort against their wishes. Let’s also say this were to become law in some states/countries.

Maybe if faced with the scenario above, those who are legally anti-abortion would see the value of the legal pro-choice position.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

It’s a Horrible Life

Disclaimer: The following is a rant based on my own philosophical views and is not intended to cause offense to anyone for whatever life or reproductive choices you all might have made, nor is it a reflection on how I actually live. 


So this past weekend the local Paramount Theater screened the Christmas classic film It’s a Wonderful Life. I have nightmares about being forced to watch that movie every year as a kid. It’s probably the worst movie ever made – horrendous acting, a ridiculous storyline, fictional beings (angels/god), and out-of-body experiences.

Anyway, none of that even touches my main gripe with the movie. My biggest gripe? The title itself. Life and wonderful do not belong in the same sentence together. Life is anything but wonderful – pain, suffering, disease, illness, heat, cold, hunger, thirst, pissing, shitting, finances, grief, heartbreak, jobs, war and the list goes on and fucking on. Wonderful? What a fucking joke.

Alas, none of us realize how terrible our lives really are. As South African philosopher David Benatar (PhD, Cape Town) argued in the books Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence and The Human Predicament: A Candid Guide to Life’s Biggest Questions, very few people realize how horrible their lives really are. We just live under a state of an irrational optimism bias – a Pollyanna principle as it were. Nobody is immune to it. Not even me.

So, we all know the story – George Bailey (James Stewart) infamously wishes that he had never been born to his “guardian angel” (what a bullshit notion) who then shows him an alternate reality in which he had never been born and the results of those around him, which the then (very erroneously and under duress) begs for his life back.

Nah, Mr. Bailey was right the first time – he WOULD have been better off never existing. But so would have everyone else around him. His actor would have been better off never existing, as would every last one of us. At the end of the day, the fact that we exist is a BAD thing.

As for why this is, there are a number of arguments but Dr. Benatar’s are no doubt the strongest. I already presented one of his arguments above. His other argument is much stronger and does not even take into account the relative pleasure-to-pain balance of one’s life. Rather, his argument (namely that of the asymmetry) generates that any amount of pain, however small or insignficant, invalidates any upside to existence. Whereas:

  1. The presence of pain is bad, and
  2. The presence of pleasure is good;
  3. The absence of pain is good even if there exists nobody to benefit from that good, but
  4. The absence of pleasure is not bad unless there already exists someone for which such an absence would be a deprivation.

So what does this mean? It means any amount of pain, however small or insignifant, outweighs even the greatest amount of pleasure. Put another way, “And all the love and all the love in the world won’t stop the rain from falling – waste seeping underground.”

Now, this is not to say we should all commit mass suicide. This is where Mr. Bailey might have been slightly misguided, namely in thinking that suicide was the best solution. There are many things one must take into account when thinking about suicide – the means, how it will affect those around them, etc. However, the only reason for these implications are because such a person already exists. These implications become null and void if the entity contemplating suicide had never existed. Nonetheless, I remain steadfast in my view that we all have the absolute and indisputable right to commit suicide if we see fit and that the government/state does not have any right to try to prevent someone from committing suicide. We didn’t ask to be born, therefore we have the right to reverse that action at any time, with or without reason.

So was Mr. Bailey correct in wishing he had never been born? In my view absolutely. Further, had he never been born, would those around him have been negatively impaced? In my view, no because they wouldn’t have known any different. Alas, further compounding that issue is all those others were also harmed by being brought into existence, and had they never been they’d have never suffered such unpleasantries.

So what about me. Do *I* wish I had never been born? Absolutely, without question the answer to that question is an emphatic “yes.” I 100% wish I had never been born. Further, even if some guardian angel were to appear to me and show me an alternate timeline in which I had never existed, I would not change my mind. I would still wish to never have been born at which point I imagine I would cease to exist in any form.

Do I wish to commit suicide? At the present time no, but there might come a time when I do. Now that I’ve already been forced into existence without my consent (no thanks to my biological parents), it could be argued that it would be bad to deprive myself of future pleasures, because as I already exist then the absence of pleasure would be a deprivation and thus bad. There’s also the issue of hurting what few people actually do give a shit about me, for even though would have been better never to have existed and our existences are all harms to us, they might be a benefit to some around us. Nobody, not even a crusty, bitchy antinatalist such as myself is immune to grief. That much should have been made obvious in my post a week ago today.

Anyway, I couldn’t let a showing of that movie go without some sharp critcism of not only the movie itself but also the message behind it. There ain’t nothing “wonderful” about life. Though some lives are better than others, no life is good enough to count as (non-comparatively) good. That much is obvious to anyone who steps back and looks at the evidence from an objective lens.

It’s a horrible life indeed.


Addendum: I had no idea my chosen title for this blog post is actually the title of a parody film of the aforementioned worst movie ever made. This might be worth checking out.

A Brief Word About the US Election…

At the end of the day, regardless of the results of the vote, I will still retire to bed, go to sleep and have dreams in which I’m dying, because they are still the best I’ve ever had. It changes little about the human predicament in all its horror. I’ll still find it hard to tell you and find it hard to take, because at the end of the day we will all still run in circles in this very, very mad, Halargian world. The truly lucky ones are still the ones who will never be burdened with life.

“As we have seen, nobody is lucky enough not to be born, everybody is unlucky enough to have been born – and particularly bad luck it is.” – Dr. David Benatar; Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence.

Concerning “Freedom”

As today is Canada Day for our northern neighbors and Wednesday is Independence Day in the US, I can’t help but make a few political and/or philosophical remarks regarding the week. I posted these on Facebook and I’m sharing them here for you to reflect on. The following represent my views only and shall not be taken as a personal attack on anyone. You are free to chime in with your own views and debate me and each other, but keep it civil.


Just a little bit of philosophy for everyone to contemplate on a week where Americans and Canadians will both be celebrating so-called “freedom” or “independence.”

Are we truly free? Is there really such a thing as freedom? Not really. Regardless of what part of the country or world we live in, we were all born into slavery. Slavery to what you ask? Slavery to our biological imperatives – hunger, thirst, self-preservation. Slaves to our daily pains and sufferings. Slaves to those illnesses we either happen to have coded into our genes or to those illnesses caused by pathogens or some other outside force. Slaves to our own existences. Slaves to mother nature or one’s choice of god, whichever you prefer to think of it as.

So what, again, are we celebrating? Existence isn’t freedom. Existence is anything but. To borrow some terminology from professional lawyer and amrchair philosopher Gary Mosher, existence is “gladiator war.” It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. We will only ever truly be free when we all return to that void from which we came – the blissful state of oblivion where not only will we no longer be in pain or suffering, but we will have no memory of any of our pain or suffering as we will not be conscious.

Now is that to say there’s nothing to celebrate? Absolutely not. Whereas, as David Benatar pointed out, it is true that “the quality of even the best lives is very bad – and considerably worse than most people recognize it to be,” it is also true that some lives are much better than others. If one is to consider oneself lucky at all (which I would also dispute – the truly lucky ones are those who will never be brought into existence), those of us born into developed countries are in fact lucky as we will never know the greatest depths of pain and suffering. We don’t know what it’s like to be starving children in Africa. A vast majority of us will never experience smallpox, ebola or a host of other illnesses that those places without access to vaccination or sanitation will experience.

So instead of celebrating the false notion of freedom or independence, just celebrate the fact that if you had to be brought into existence, it could be a hell of a lot worse. Just don’t sugarcoat it and call it “freedom,” just know that, again quoting Benatar, “a charmed life is so rare that for every one charmed life there are millions of wretched lives.” The charmed life that many of us have in developed countries has less to do with the specific developed country we’re in and more to do with just being in a developed country in general, hence the notion of patriotism is flawed. We might have it relatively good here, but there are dozens of other developed countries we’d have it just as good and maybe in some ways better, but again, better being relative. Truly best would be never to have existed at all.

End ramblings/ponderings for this week.

Why I Do Not Want Children

If it’s one thing I’m absolutely rigid on and that I have never wavered on it’s my lack of desire to have children. Actually, it goes farther than that – the idea of being a father just absolutely repulses me, so much I actually ended my last relationship over that very issue. I was put at a crossroads where I had to decide which was worse – being single or having children I don’t really want. Obviously I decided that the latter was a much worse fate. As such, I did the only thing I could do and ended the relationship.

I have a multitude of reasons for not wanting children, but they can broadly be put into two categories: practical and philosophical. We shall take a look at those here.

Practical Reasons:

Concerning my practical reasons for not wanting children, the very first thing to consider is the expense of having children. Kids are not cheap! Doctors visits, increased grocery bills, daycare, school supplies, glasses, braces, sporting equipment, cars/drivers’ education, college, the list goes on! That all adds up.

The second has to due with my internal wiring. I’m one of those autistic people who is incredibly short-tempered. Is that conducive to having children? Absolutely not. I’d likely do them psychological damage with my tendency to meltdown and get frustrated over the slightest thing out-of-whack. That’s not to say all autistic people are incompetent parents. On the contrary, there are many who are quite capable of it. I’m just not.

I also pretty much got the short end of the stick when it comes to genetics, not only with the autism thing but I also have a heart defect (Wolff-Parkinson-White) that has a genetic component and I do not wish to pass that on. I also know I’m a carrier of the gene for Graves’ Disease, an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid. Though I’ve not shown symptoms myself, I do know my biological father does and had to have his thyroid basically killed. I do not want to risk passing that on either.

Lastly is just I’m too much of a free spirit to be held down. Not having children I can pretty much travel unhindered, do what I want as far as nightlife and the like. I’m not held down by family commitments, which would no doubt make me miserable.

Philosophical Reasons: 

Before I discuss my philosophical reasons for not having children, I feel I must say that none of what I discuss here is intended to pass any judgment on anyone regardless of what reproductive decisions they might have made. That is not my intention. The views presented here are not original views, but rather views of academics that make the most raw logical sense to me. Again, this is not meant to be a personal attack on anyone so please do not take it that way.

The first, and strongest argument, is the Benatarian Asymmetry, named after South African philosopher David Benatar. Benatar first proposed this asymmetry in a paper titled “Why It Is Better Never to Come into Existence” and was further expanded upon in a full-blown book titled Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence which was published in 2006. The argument is much too long and detailed to list in a blog post, but the meat and potatoes of it is this: whereas pleasure is good and pain is bad, the absence of pain is good even if there exists nobody to benefit from that good, but the absence of pleasure is not bad unless there already exists someone for which such an absence would be a deprivation. In other words, regardless of the pleasure-to-pain ratio in one’s life, although the pleasures of life make our lives go better than they otherwise would, had we never existed we’d have forgone any and all pain (good), but because we would not “miss out” on anything by never existing (as deprivation requires existence), it is always better not to come into existence.

For more clarity of the asymmetry, consider two people: sick and healthy. Let’s say sick gets sick but has a strong immune system and is able to recover quickly from that sickness, while healthy has a weak immune system but never gets sick. Who is better off? Obviously healthy is better off, even though (s)he has a weak immune system. Everyone would agree that it is better never to get sick, regardless of the strength of one’s immune system. There you have it.

The second argument, which is weaker and not an entirely new argument, is the Pollyanna Principle. The Pollyanna Principle is basically an irrational optimism bias. In other words, we grossly over-estimate the quality of our lives. More or less, none of us realize just how much pain and suffering we endure on a daily basis. For a prime example of this, let’s just step back and think about a few things. What do we spend a vast majority of our waking hours doing? Working, of course. It is a very rare and fortunate person who does not completely loathe his or her job. OK, that alone puts our lives more into the pain category. Combine that with the day-to-day pains and irritants we experience and don’t give much thought to: hunger, thirst, heat, cold, financial woes, the need to urinate and/or defecate, the need to sneeze, sniffle, cough, clear the throat, etc. That’s not even considering the bouts of illness and disease we will all face. Our sleeping hours have their own irritants; namely dreams which more often than not result in painful stimuli – fear, sadness, anger, etc.

Given the above, and combined with the fact that nobody consents to being brought into existence (rather, we were all just kind of forced into it), I feel that it is very difficult to justify bringing new individuals into existence.

Given that, the question I’m sure many of you are wondering is, “Do you wish you had never been born?” The answer to that question is, without any hesitation whatsoever, a resounding yes. I would have preferred never to have been brought into existence. However, that statement shall not be construed as “I want to die.” Once already in existence, most of us have an interest in continuing to exist and it can be very easily argued that death is actually one of the many harms we will face in this life (a position Dr. Benatar also defends at great length). That said, I absolutely do support the right to die so that if one decides his or her life is not worth continuing, that choice must be respected and the government does not have the right to stop anyone from taking his/her own life.

The above are the major reasons I have chosen not to have children. Again, these reasons are personal to me and shall not be intended as a personal attack on anyone. If you disagree with them, I’d like to know why. Please feel free to discuss your own views and engage in a healthy and respectful debate. I promise you I will not shut you down. I feel we can all learn something from the other side, whether you are a pronatalist or an antinatalist, a parent or childless/childfree.

Spring Tattoo Preview

With my 31st birthday about six weeks out I’ve been starting to do preparations for my spring tattoo. For the past two years in a row I got my spring tattoo on my birthday but as my birthday falls on a Sunday this year and my artist doesn’t work on Sunday we’ll be doing it on St. Patrick’s Day which is the day right before (I was 9 hours and 40-ish minutes too late to be a St. Patrick’s Day baby).

So with that, what do I have in store for my spring tattoo? Not an entirely new tattoo but just adding onto an existing one. My semicolon, though meaningful, is quite a boring standalone tattoo. That combined with the heavily Christian conservative aspect of Project Semicolon (which I was oblivious to before I got the tattoo) and I’ve been wanting to do something different with it for awhile. I thought about doing a total cover-up but then I decided I would just modify it a bit with another symbol that is somewhat religious in nature but that is more suited to me.

That’s when I got the idea to weave some Celtic Knot through it. Celtic Knot goes back to the days of Druidism and Paganism when the Scots, the Irish, etc. were very one with nature. Though I identify more as an atheist, being stewards of our world combined with my (adopted, admittedly) Scottish heritage and that I think is so me.

I bounced some ideas off of the young-but-talented Jade (my artist for life, I swear) and she came up with this design:

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As the semicolon is a little off to the side of the wrist instead of smack center, that leaves enough room to take up some space around it in this way. The dark blue semicolon will remain the focal point but surrounded by the Celtic Knot which will be colored in with Eternal Mint Green (a lovely soft color that I already have in my Pisces tattoo) as to create an additional visual element and impart some of the symbolism of the Celtic Knot. I figured this would retain the “carry on” message of the semicolon while overshadowing its Christian roots with a faith much more closely aligned with my own religious beliefs (or lack thereof).

So what do you think? Good variation? Do you have a semicolon tattoo that’s a variation in your own way? I’m curious to see how some have remixed it.