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Philosopher David Benatar


lynx
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I'd like to open this topic for discussion or debate. David Benatar is a very controversial philosopher and author of the book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence.

http://web.uct.ac.za...aff_benatar.htm

 

Below are videos of an interview in which he explains his philosophy. I personally understand his mindset quite well. I haven't yet done enough research into his philosophy to know how much of it I agree or disagree with. I suspect some of his ideas may be too extreme for my taste, but I've always been a cynic, so I find him very interesting. He reminds me a lot of Schopenhauer. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

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you know lynx - I am always on your side :grin: and I see the arguments that these philosophers are making. I even understand them, but all I know is that I am here........Damn......... and I have to make the very best of it. I have made up my mind, that I do not want to live the rest of my life out as an extreme pessimist. If I stay in that mindset - I will go and put my garage doors down and plug up my car..............That would hurt way too many people.

 

So I will go and try to enjoy whatever I can, because I was born, (whether I like it or not) and I might as well enjoy some of the ride.That would include going and getting a triple chocolate ice cream cone tonight!

Fuck it - If I have to be here - I am going to eat ice-cream!!!

 

Maybe Margee just doesn't have any fight today........................ sorry girlfriend! Hug always to you!

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When I was studying art, my class took a field trip to the museum to study the techniques of the old masters displayed in the permanent collection. There happened to be some temporary exhibits of modern art as well. One such piece of modern art consisted of a blank canvas with a small horizontal slit cut near the center.

 

This is the philosophical equivalent of the blank canvas with a slit.

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you know lynx - I am always on your side :grin: and I see the arguments that these philosophers are making. I even understand them, but all I know is that I am here........Damn......... and I have to make the very best of it. I have made up my mind, that I do not want to live the rest of my life out as an extreme pessimist. If I stay in that mindset - I will go and put my garage doors down and plug up my car..............That would hurt way too many people.

 

So I will go and try to enjoy whatever I can, because I was born, (whether I like it or not) and I might as well enjoy some of the ride.That would include going and getting a triple chocolate ice cream cone tonight!

Fuck it - If I have to be here - I am going to eat ice-cream!!!

Margee, you've got it wrong. That is exactly what Benatar would tell you to do! :grin: His philosophy is much more complex than what you're thinking.. He would completely agree with you that now that you're here, you should make the best of it. ;) Cynical philosphers aren't always purely miserable. They just have a different way of looking at life and seeing the realities that most people are too unwilling or too uncomfortable to face or think about. What Benatar is suggesting is that it may have been better not to have been here in the first place, not that you should live in gloom or commit suicide. He's controversial because he does not think that sentient life is worth the price of suffering that comes with it. I think that because each person is dealt a different hand of cards and a different brain, we are not all going to perceive this life or its value the same.

 

I'm going to eat ice cream too!

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When I was studying art, my class took a field trip to the museum to study the techniques of the old masters displayed in the permanent collection. There happened to be some temporary exhibits of modern art as well. One such piece of modern art consisted of a blank canvas with a small horizontal slit cut near the center.

 

This is the philosophical equivalent of the blank canvas with a slit.

 

 

That cuts deep man! LOL

 

 

 

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He favors the extinction of the human race. Hard to put a lot of deep thought into that. It's an attention getter, that's all.

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He favors the extinction of the human race.

That's not all I got out of what he said in the interview. That's an oversimplification, but yes, if everyone thought as he did and did not reproduce due to such viewpoints, that would be the end result, which he sees as a positive thing. But he's saying the extinction of the human species is going to happen anyway, after eons of suffering. He thinks life lacks any intrinsic value in relation to the suffering that must be endured, because it all comes to nil in the end anyway.

 

Hard to put a lot of deep thought into that.

It's evidently hard for you.

 

It's an attention getter, that's all.

End of discussion for you then. :wave:

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Benatar is not alone is his ideas. I have crossed paths with other people who have very similar leanings but they rarely voice them because they're ridiculed or receive shallow comments that don't really get to the heart of the matter (same reason ex-christians don't broadcast their "ex" status). The heart of the issue is the problem of suffering. Suffering is also one of the reasons people question Christianity and god, so I find some potential areas of correlation with this philosophy and ex-christianty, which might make for some interesting discussions.

 

Many people who chose not to have children have told me it's because they didn't want to bring another human being into a world that is cruel and barbaric. That is one of the most common reasons I've heard from childless people. It's a major decision which I suspect they did put a great deal of "deep thought" into, in contrast to people who don't put much thought into it at all and pop out babies purely because of tradition, or evolutionary instinct, or to create little replicas of themselves to love. Benatar is saying that there are negative implications to reproducing sentient beings that are capable of great suffering. I have not read his book so I have limited knowledge of his entire philosophy, but I highly doubt I'd agree with everything he says. I can only say that based on the interview, I can understand how he arrived at his way of thinking.

 

One problem I see in his viewpoint is that the value of life is too subjective. Not everyone suffers to the extent that they would prefer not to have been born. Others do. I will not be able to assess whether I would have preferred not to come into existence until I'm on my deathbed and I can weigh the amount I've suffered in contrast to the positives. Even if I die suddenly and unexpectedly, I still know where I stand in each moment, because these are things that I contemplate on a regular basis. My opinion about the value of my existence has changed over the course of time, and may change again during different phases of my life.

 

The other problem is that not everyone sees suffering the same way. Some actually think it has great value because it molds them into a better person. He cannot define suffering for others, because some people clearly don't see it as a negative, particularly Christians, who believe it is the justified price they pay for their "sinful nature", or it's a blessing from God that allows them to learn necessary lessons that will eventually lead them to the pearly gates of paradise. Or, the one I dislike the most, which is that all things work together for good for them that love the lord--good will come out of all suffering, no matter how horrific.

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End of discussion for you then. :wave:

You asked for our thoughts. Those are mine. Not everyone will see this as deep or useful philosophical thinking. :shrug:

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Many people who chose not to have children have told me it's because they didn't want to bring another human being into a world that is cruel and barbaric.

 

This is the same argument another poster has recently been making here. I look forward to watching your vid so I can understand it better, but haven't had time this week. Off the top of my head though, it seems the counter argument here is to merely ask yourself if you are happy you were born. Personally, I'm glad I was regardless of the fact I've suffered as well as experienced joy and everything in between. In my mind, this fact destroys the crux of this philosophy.

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This is the same argument another poster has recently been making here.

Interesting. I haven't seen that. Can you give a link to the thread? Just so you know, I'm definitely not making the argument. I'm just raising it for discussion.

 

I look forward to watching your vid so I can understand it better, but haven't had time this week. Off the top of my head though, it seems the counter argument here is to merely ask yourself if you are happy you were born. Personally, I'm glad I was regardless of the fact I've suffered as well as experienced joy and everything in between. In my mind, this fact destroys the crux of this philosophy.

Yes, exactly. That was my point. And those who have known nothing but overwhelming suffering might think his philosophy is brilliant. He throws a curve into it by saying that if we were never born, the positives are irrelevant. He explains why he thinks this. You'll have to listen to understand, because I won't be able to explain it very well. There are some callers during the interview ... some challenge him and some disagree with him. In the second part, there is some discussion about god. Lots of differing ideas. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, Vigile. :)

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I listened to some of the videos. I don't see how his philosophy can condemn suicide and yet says one is better off never having been born. Doesn't that mean nonexistence is better in all cases? What is the point in continuing at all?

 

I don't think its coherent but maybe he has more of a complete presentation in his written work?

 

I am no optimist but long ago Buddha said life is nothing but suffering. This is nothing new. Of course he said there was a way out as well. I do find value and some joy in life. Unexpected joy mostly. This philosophy seems to deny our own experience.

 

Existence is problematic but I am not satisfied with this philosophy.

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I listened to some of the videos. I don't see how his philosophy can condemn suicide and yet says one is better off never having been born. Doesn't that mean nonexistence is better in all cases? What is the point in continuing at all?

 

I don't think its coherent but maybe he has more of a complete presentation in his written work?

I'm not sure if he condemns it or just doesn't advocate it, but maybe I missed something. It does seem to be contradictory. Maybe his book explains it...I don't know. I think what he means is that if we're never born, then we have not had any experiences we think are worthwhile in the first place, so there is nothing to desire or miss. Being here gives us that experience. That is why it's so hard to make sense of this, because we are already here, looking at it from a conscious perspective. I think that what he's saying is that now that we are here, we should use our existence in a way in which we are very aware of this, therefore not force this existence on others?

 

I am no optimist but long ago Buddha said life is nothing but suffering. This is nothing new. Of course he said there was a way out as well. I do find value and some joy in life. Unexpected joy mostly. This philosophy seems to deny our own experience.

 

Existence is problematic but I am not satisfied with this philosophy.

Exactly! But he says that while we may enjoy our lives and the things we enjoy give it value, we had no need to come into existence to have those enjoyments in the first place, at the risk of horrible suffering as well. Sort of like playing Russian roulette? That is how I'm interpreting what he's saying. In other words, where is the need for a sentient being to exist so that it can experience pleasure? It's nothing but desire and pleasure for its own sake, and it comes with a potentially huge price tag.

 

The problem is that there is a vast difference in the amount of suffering individuals go through. Some live an easy and healthy life of luxury in both body and mind, only experiencing minor pains and difficulties, while others live in agony from the day they're born until the day they die. Even more complicated is the fact that some of the former may gravitate toward a philosophy like this while some of the latter won't, because the way the brain / mind perceives existence is also a big part of the picture, and each person's perceptions are different.

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Exactly! But he says that while we may enjoy our lives and the things we enjoy give it value, we had no need to come into existence to have those enjoyments in the first place, at the risk of horrible suffering as well. Sort of like playing Russian roulette? That is how I'm interpreting what he's saying. In other words, where is the need for a sentient being to exist so that it can experience pleasure? It's nothing but desire and pleasure for its own sake, and it comes with a potentially huge price tag.

 

The problem is that there is a vast difference in the amount of suffering individuals go through. Some live an easy and healthy life of luxury in both body and mind, only experiencing minor pains and difficulties, while others live in agony from the day they're born until the day they die. Even more complicated is the fact that some of the former may gravitate toward a philosophy like this while some of the latter won't, because the way the brain / mind perceives existence is also a big part of the picture, and each person's perceptions are different.

 

Of course its true that some suffer more than others. I just don't think there is a choice in the matter (after all, I'm a determinist). It isn't a question of "where is the need for a sentient being to exist so it can experience pleasure?" Life is a very, very persistent phenomenon on this planet. It wants to continue, but there is no built in purpose as far as I can see other than the continuance. Brings to mind a quote from the movie Jurassic Park -"Life finds a way." So, I think it is almost just a useless observation to say one is better off not having been at all. Maybe it would influence someone's decision whether or not to have children, but things have a way of happening anyway - or not.

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Of course its true that some suffer more than others. I just don't think there is a choice in the matter (after all, I'm a determinist).

I'm so glad you brought that up. I'm a determinist too (one of the many reasons Xianity ceased to make sense to me). Both living or never having been born works both ways in the determinist context. Not existing is not a choice either, for all of those who don't exist but had the "potential" to. Oh boy, this is getting really convoluted, isn't it? :twitch: Determism would also control the attraction different people have to different philosophies, and what comes out of that.

 

It isn't a question of "where is the need for a sentient being to exist so it can experience pleasure?" Life is a very, very persistent phenomenon on this planet. It wants to continue, but there is no built in purpose as far as I can see other than the continuance.

Yes indeed! I finally found the content page of his book and I think he addresses that and in no way thinks life will stop reproducing, until the point at which conditions cause extinction.

 

Brings to mind a quote from the movie Jurassic Park -"Life finds a way." So, I think it is almost just a useless observation to say one is better off not having been at all. Maybe it would influence someone's decision whether or not to have children, but things have a way of happening anyway - or not.

Yes, true. I could be wrong, but I suspect this is a way to make people much more mindful of suffering, so I think that aspect of it is a good observation to have, regardless of the rest.

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I could be wrong, but I suspect this is a way to make people much more mindful of suffering, so I think that aspect of it is a good observation to have, regardless of the rest.

 

It could be so. That is good - to see reality in an unflinching way. I think we do need to see it for what it is in order to possibly be able to move beyond it. That's the Buddhist talking LOL.

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I personally understand his mindset quite well. I haven't yet done enough research into his philosophy to know how much of it I agree or disagree with. I suspect some of his ideas may be too extreme for my taste, but I've always been a cynic, so I find him very interesting.

 

I read the Amazon customer reviews and will probably buy Benatar's book.

 

I'm interested in what he has to say about the duty to avoid bringing people into existence. Before anyone realizes that "duty" it is too late, evolution and ego have the edge!

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I'm interested in what he has to say about the duty to avoid bringing people into existence. Before anyone realizes that "duty" it is too late, evolution and ego have the edge!

Yes, that is why I can understand his thinking. I dislike being ruled by ego and evolutionary forces. It's an ugly process and often think it's time for us to use our reason to intercede more than we have for the duration of human history. If you're interested in the book, I just found a link this morning where I think you can download a PDF for free. I don't know who posted it or if it's legal, but I might give it a try myself. PM me if you're interested. ;)

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I'd like to open this topic for discussion or debate. David Benatar is a very controversial philosopher and author of the book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence.

Hm. It might be best for the likes of me to not watch these videos ;-)

 

I have always felt intuitively that everyone's choices in life, if they were totally honest about it with themselves, is a cold calculus of effort versus reward, and that, in the aggregate, life does not at all justify itself as a rational proposition. To me it is very effortful and full of pain and disappointment, and does not in general reward one reliably and sustainably, in proportion to that effort and pain, much less overcome it with an excess of reward.

 

In addition, the train, so to speak, never actually arrives at a destination, much less an ultimate destination. It just sort of runs off the rails at some point when all the moving parts quit working well enough to move you forward (i.e., death). This is why people come up with rationalizations like, "it's the journey that matters, not the destination", as if that fixed anything. Destinationless journeys are not journeys at all, just aimless movement. Belief in an afterlife is simply a way to deflect this reality away from our field of awareness; we defer the pointlessness of existence to some safely unprovable future after-existence where everything is conveniently perfect -- just want it's not in the here and now.

 

That said, as others have pointed out, we DO find ourselves here, and the fact that I'm sitting here and talking about it rather than slitting my throat tells me that it's either not as bad as I'm saying it is, and/or that I have not completely eradicated all futile hope from my mind. Actually I think the reason I'm here is pure curiosity. I'm still learning new things and nearly everyone I know seems to think life isn't too bad and sometimes kinda rocks, and I even have my moments. So I hang on, partly out of curiosity, partly out of pure cussedness, and partly with the empowerment of knowing that if due to some physical malady or other issue, my life should become too much of an indignity, I can always opt out. I've witnessed zero quality of life and intense physical and psychological suffering, and I am no longer burdened with the need to live just to not die. And my fiancee shares my point of view, and for similar reasons. Each of us will let the other go and respect that other's choices, should that time come. We will not hold on to each other selfishly.

 

Some people reading this will be mightily annoyed, as they in fact are with Benetar. They don't like looking reality in the face, as the howling wilderness it actually is. To those people I say, nothing to see here, move along. I don't want to disabuse anyone of their illusions. I simply can't sustain mine anymore. And in some crazy way, I find that, as WC Fields once said, sometimes taking life squarely by the tail and looking straight at it, helps. I face the fact of my mortality, the fact of being born, living, and someday dying alone, of never really being fully understood and accepted, of not having a powerful and kindly advocate in my corner, of not having had the kinds of romantic experiences I dreamed of, and so forth ... when I have faced all this, I can be mighty philosophical about, say, the blisters on my heels from the sandals I'm currently trying to break in, or some other minor annoyance like that. It allows me to be less stressed out about the little things. And overall, it helps, because mostly, daily life consists of a bunch of little things that mostly aren't worth getting one's knickers in a twist about.

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And in some crazy way, I find that, as WC Fields once said, sometimes taking life squarely by the tail and looking straight at it, helps. I face the fact of my mortality, the fact of being born, living, and someday dying alone, of never really being fully understood and accepted, of not having a powerful and kindly advocate in my corner, of not having had the kinds of romantic experiences I dreamed of, and so forth ... when I have faced all this, I can be mighty philosophical about, say, the blisters on my heels from the sandals I'm currently trying to break in, or some other minor annoyance like that. It allows me to be less stressed out about the little things. And overall, it helps, because mostly, daily life consists of a bunch of little things that mostly aren't worth getting one's knickers in a twist about.

 

Based these words Desert Bob, what responsibility would you assume as far as bringing another person into existence?

 

Hm. It might be best for the likes of me to not watch these videos ;-)

 

I felt the same way when I read the title of Lynx's post, but I cannot help myself!

 

saner

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Based these words Desert Bob, what responsibility would you assume as far as bringing another person into existence?

I regret giving life to my children. I don't feel I did them any favors. Particularly because at the time, I was married to a woman who was not at all a fit person to mother them. I don't dwell on it or wallow in guilt, but I accept that it was fundamentally a combination of personal selfishness and personal weakness (allowing my wife to arm-twist me into it before I was sure I wanted to do it) and given the power to go back in time and do things differently, I would have gone posthaste to have my vas defrens cut, as it would have made a vast difference in my life and reduced the misery in the world by two persons. Nay, by four, as I have to consider my grandsons, one of whom has serious learning disabilities and anxiety issues and who, I fear, will not have a very easy life because of it.

 

None of this is to say I don't love my kids as only a parent can, but if I really cared about them, I would not have subjected them to this world.

 

Incidentally, I counseled my daughter not to have children of her own, but to adopt if she felt the need to satisfy her mothering instinct. She disregarded my advice, sheepishly telling me when she first got pregnant, "it was going to happen sooner or later anyway". And this is the basic level of awareness most people bring to procreating. By contrast my next older brother decided in his twenties that he "did not want little Billies running around in this crazy world" and never had kids. He's always been my hero, for that reason among others.

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I've been asked to record in this space my reaction to Benetar's book. I've already done that in part, but after sleeping on it, would like to share a couple of other thoughts.

 

I am gratified to find in Benetar a formal and reasonably compelling argument for something that I have long thought but have heard absolutely not one else give voice to -- the idea that even at its very best, life is not a very compelling proposition, or as Benetar somewhat more forcefully put it, existence is always a great harm. I also agree with both Benetar and recent sociological studies that show that we are, generally as a species, hardwired to a very optimistic bias, such that we are not reliable sources of information about the levels of objective good relative to objective bad in our experience. We tend to over-estimate our future prospects, under-remember our past miseries, and take the illogical stance that something better must be just around the next corner despite all experience and evidence to the contrary. I lack much of this wiring and I suffer for it. I envy those who have it.

 

Benetar's basic point is that life sucks, and he's fearless in facing this. He points out also that evaluating said "suckage" (my term, not his, BTW) is not a simple matter of "good minus bad equals quality of life score". It has to do also with the ordering and distribution of harm in one's life, not the mere quantity. For example, given two hypothetical lives with equal amounts of harm, which is subjectively worse to the experiencer -- one in which the harm is all in the beginning, or one where it's all at the end? One where thing start out well and turn to shit, or one where it starts out awful but gradually and continuously improves?

 

All that said, I am not prepared to take this as far as Benetar and say that as a result of the above, the human race should quit reproducing and thus effect its own extinction within the next generation. Quite aside from the fact this isn't going to happen and is therefore inherently a pointless academic exercise to even discuss, I do still see the tremendous (unrealized, untapped, squandered, wasted) potential in humanity. I do see it evolving toward better things, however slowly. Even though I find the cost of waiting out that slow evolution to be too high for me personally, and do not see it being meaningfully realized for at least many generations yet to come, I know that many do not see it that way and even if this is mere Pollyanna perception, it is a point of view that works for many. As such, the species as a whole has the right to choose to continue to exist and evolve.

 

Even though one could bemoan the tremendous past, present and future cost in human suffering towards such an uncertain and probably distant end, one could also bemoan the cost of considering all past such suffering to be a sunk cost, to cut our losses and run from this tremendous investment. There is also always the possibility of some sort of Great Leap Forward being just out of reach. There is also always a minority of people who have relatively prosperous and satisfying existences, who have the right not to be deprived of them.

 

For all these reasons I do not subscribe to many of the key responses that Benetar has to the observed suffering and harm of existence. I do not hold that it is immoral for mankind to do anything but give up and cease to exist; I do not hold that people should quit having babies and abort the ones they do conceive.

 

Tellingly, even I am willing to accept many of the small pains and annoyances of living as a given. I don't mind having to work for a living, give up some personal rights in exchange for being able to live in a society and enjoy the benefits of division of labor, having to floss, brush, pee, poop, shower, shave, go through adolescence, courtship and other awkwardnesses, and so forth. I am willing to put up with a lot, so long as it basically works in the long haul and I get some purchase from it in the long climb towards my personal goals. My objection to life is precisely that it does hold so much hope and promise, and mostly utterly fails to realize it. My objection is that I am now passing from the time of one's life where it gives to you, and instead starts taking away, and yet I have still not realized a net benefit from having bothered with all that overhead of living.

 

I'm a good and decent person, a loving person, who gives much and asks little in return from life and from the people in my life, and yet life and in most cases the people in it have not afforded me the respect of meeting even my minimal requirements. And as I look at the people in my life whom I love and respect, life and love have been equally unkind to, and disrespectful of, them. This is not right, and it cannot be made right. This is my objection. My response is not to pitch a fit and try to convince my fellow man to throw in the towel; I pass the torch to others and wish them better success than I had. And as for myself, I do the only thing I can do; I keep on trying and do my best to let go of bad memories and hold fast to the good and keep up some guttering candle flame of hope.

 

Benetar, by the way, does not advocate suicide as a personal solution. He's intelligent enough to recognize that even if human life as a general proposition is best not bothered with, once you have life, and the hopes, dreams and aspirations that come with it, it's a very personal and arguably questionable decision to give up on that too. He also recognizes what I do: I have no right to escape my personal pain when it may well increase the personal pain of others. I have, in particular, a son and a stepson and a fiancee who would probably be destabilized by such an act, as they all have depression / anxiety issues and have their own struggles with motivation. They deserve a better role model than I would be for them if I gave up. They also have a right to count on my being there for them, as I've implicitly and explicitly committed myself to without condition.

 

There are other people in my life on whom I have squandered my love, who have shown themselves to be self-absorbed, ruthless arses who I am pretty sure would shrug and move on in my absence, but there are always a few made of nobler stuff who deserve my persistence and fortitude.

 

That's it in a nutshell. If you're thinking of reading the book for yourself, I don't know that it provides anything beyond my summary that's worth your money, unless you'd enjoy pursuing the technical aspects of Benetar's philosophical arguments. The main value of Benetar's work is in being willing to look at life as it is, raw and uncensored, without sentiment, and then to propose ways of understanding it in that light, and, possibly, dealing with it more honestly -- and maybe even ultimately more effectively.

 

I would like to see people take procreation as much less of a right or responsibility and as more of an awesome power to be yielded carefully, with great care for the potential, and even likely suffering we will inflict upon our children. I'd like to see the birth rate fall enough for the worldwide population to decline, for the children who are born to have less competition for more resources, and to be mindfully brought into existence by parents who have done as much as possible to prepare a good life for them. These are the sorts of positive outcomes that could arise from acceptance of Benetar's basic thesis. Alas, his provocateur approach to the subject, his impractical, geeky, misplaced idealism will probably torpedo his credibility and any useful influence that would arise from his book.

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Some people reading this will be mightily annoyed, as they in fact are with Benetar. They don't like looking reality in the face, as the howling wilderness it actually is. To those people I say, nothing to see here, move along. I don't want to disabuse anyone of their illusions.

 

I'm not sure you are giving reality a fair shake here; or at least you are presenting only one, subjective personal version of it. I'm pretty sure most people are aware of the futility of life (at least most here), but that doesn't mean we all agree that life is just something you trudge through. That would be a personal perspective that is highly subjective.

 

I'm beginning to think this philosophy is one that just attracts people with a certain perspective on life. It seems to fall short as a unifying theory of any sort.

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