Party our way to extinction

Ethicist Peter Singer–he who believes in the killing of the handicapped and unwanted but born children but not animals–takes up the question of whether living is worth it.  He is reviewing, in the New York Times, a book by  philosopher David Benatar entitled Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence.

Benatar . . . argues that human lives are, in general, much less good than we think they are. We spend most of our lives with unfulfilled desires, and the occasional satisfactions that are all most of us can achieve are insufficient to outweigh these prolonged negative states. If we think that this is a tolerable state of affairs it is because we are, in Benatar’s view, victims of the illusion of pollyannaism. This illusion may have evolved because it helped our ancestors survive, but it is an illusion nonetheless. If we could see our lives objectively, we would see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone.

Here is a thought experiment to test our attitudes to this view. Most thoughtful people are extremely concerned about climate change. Some stop eating meat, or flying abroad on vacation, in order to reduce their carbon footprint. But the people who will be most severely harmed by climate change have not yet been conceived. If there were to be no future generations, there would be much less for us to feel to guilty about.

So why don’t we make ourselves the last generation on earth? If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required — we could party our way into extinction!

Of course, it would be impossible to get agreement on universal sterilization, but just imagine that we could. Then is there anything wrong with this scenario? Even if we take a less pessimistic view of human existence than Benatar, we could still defend it, because it makes us better off — for one thing, we can get rid of all that guilt about what we are doing to future generations — and it doesn’t make anyone worse off, because there won’t be anyone else to be worse off.

Is a world with people in it better than one without? Put aside what we do to other species — that’s a different issue. Let’s assume that the choice is between a world like ours and one with no sentient beings in it at all. And assume, too — here we have to get fictitious, as philosophers often do — that if we choose to bring about the world with no sentient beings at all, everyone will agree to do that. No one’s rights will be violated — at least, not the rights of any existing people. Can non-existent people have a right to come into existence?

I do think it would be wrong to choose the non-sentient universe. In my judgment, for most people, life is worth living. Even if that is not yet the case, I am enough of an optimist to believe that, should humans survive for another century or two, we will learn from our past mistakes and bring about a world in which there is far less suffering than there is now. But justifying that choice forces us to reconsider the deep issues with which I began. Is life worth living? Are the interests of a future child a reason for bringing that child into existence? And is the continuance of our species justifiable in the face of our knowledge that it will certainly bring suffering to innocent future human beings?

via Should This Be the Last Generation? – Opinionator Blog – NYTimes.com.

We have “unfulfilled desires”; therefore, it is better not to exist.  Notice how quickly contemporary thought turns nihilistic.  And notice how those who believe it can no longer even sustain  the ordinary joys and pleasures of living.

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  • MikeR

    So Benatar and Singer are both pushing materialistic nihilism, yet they both constantly refer to transcendent moral categories: goodness, guilt, rights, innocence. Huh? Supposedly, “if we could see our lives objectively, we would see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone.” Exactly what objective standard are we using to make that judgment?

    You’ve also gotta love the comment that universal sterilization “doesn’t make anyone worse off, because there won’t be anyone else to be worse off.” Does it just not occur to Singer that many people think that being denied a chance at parenthood would make them “worse off”?

  • MikeR

    So Benatar and Singer are both pushing materialistic nihilism, yet they both constantly refer to transcendent moral categories: goodness, guilt, rights, innocence. Huh? Supposedly, “if we could see our lives objectively, we would see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone.” Exactly what objective standard are we using to make that judgment?

    You’ve also gotta love the comment that universal sterilization “doesn’t make anyone worse off, because there won’t be anyone else to be worse off.” Does it just not occur to Singer that many people think that being denied a chance at parenthood would make them “worse off”?

  • http://simonpotamos.wordpress.com Tapani Simojoki

    This is just the godless, nihilistic flip-side of the approach taken by a thousand joel osteens and their sad followers: that desire-fulfilment is the measure of what is true, good and beautiful.

  • http://simonpotamos.wordpress.com Tapani Simojoki

    This is just the godless, nihilistic flip-side of the approach taken by a thousand joel osteens and their sad followers: that desire-fulfilment is the measure of what is true, good and beautiful.

  • Dan Kempin

    I still struggle with the category of irony. Is it ironic that these philosophies are penned and maintained by living philosophers?

    Tapani, #2: Good point.

    Word of the day: “Pollyannaphobia” -The fear that you will be tricked into believing something good.

  • Dan Kempin

    I still struggle with the category of irony. Is it ironic that these philosophies are penned and maintained by living philosophers?

    Tapani, #2: Good point.

    Word of the day: “Pollyannaphobia” -The fear that you will be tricked into believing something good.

  • CRB

    Certainly these are 2 people to pray for.

  • CRB

    Certainly these are 2 people to pray for.

  • Peter Leavitt

    “Ethicist” Peter Singer is a contradiction of terms. Quite a few Princeton alumni including Steve Forbes have stopped making contributions to the school as a result of Singer’s scabrous views. His basically nihilist view is revolting and unworthy of serious consideration. Princeton, once headed by Jonathan Edwards, has disgraced itself with his appointment as a professor of “bioethics.”

  • Peter Leavitt

    “Ethicist” Peter Singer is a contradiction of terms. Quite a few Princeton alumni including Steve Forbes have stopped making contributions to the school as a result of Singer’s scabrous views. His basically nihilist view is revolting and unworthy of serious consideration. Princeton, once headed by Jonathan Edwards, has disgraced itself with his appointment as a professor of “bioethics.”

  • sg

    Singer is what you get when you can’t tell the difference between sophistication and insanity.

    Mercifully Singer can’t escape the forces of nature with his insane prattle.

    How many children does Singer have?

    How many do the Duggars have?

    I agree Singer is a disgrace to any institution he occupies. It is further a disgrace for one to send his children to be “trained” by such a lunatic. He is clearly unfit to train young people. His writings are a burlesque of philosophy.

  • sg

    Singer is what you get when you can’t tell the difference between sophistication and insanity.

    Mercifully Singer can’t escape the forces of nature with his insane prattle.

    How many children does Singer have?

    How many do the Duggars have?

    I agree Singer is a disgrace to any institution he occupies. It is further a disgrace for one to send his children to be “trained” by such a lunatic. He is clearly unfit to train young people. His writings are a burlesque of philosophy.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Good points, Tapani and CRB at 2 and 4.

    How strange that the god being ushered in here by Singer would be so utterly merciless and cruel. The true God who gives life having been utterly rejected. Very sad for them.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Good points, Tapani and CRB at 2 and 4.

    How strange that the god being ushered in here by Singer would be so utterly merciless and cruel. The true God who gives life having been utterly rejected. Very sad for them.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Snore. Singer continues to publish without thinking. Perhaps he should ask himself what this “guilt” is that he describes, and how it evolved…

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    Snore. Singer continues to publish without thinking. Perhaps he should ask himself what this “guilt” is that he describes, and how it evolved…

  • R. Hall

    As I’ve commented elsewhere, he’s just being consistent. If I didn’t believe that Christ has come, I wouldn’t want to exist, either, or let other exist.

  • R. Hall

    As I’ve commented elsewhere, he’s just being consistent. If I didn’t believe that Christ has come, I wouldn’t want to exist, either, or let other exist.

  • Ryan

    “We have “unfulfilled desires”; therefore, it is better not to exist.”

    Shades of Buddhism there.

  • Ryan

    “We have “unfulfilled desires”; therefore, it is better not to exist.”

    Shades of Buddhism there.

  • hairy knuckle dragger

    Singer is what you get when you can’t tell the difference between sophistication and insanity.

    What a great line.

    Lady gaga is what you get when you can’t tell the difference between sophistication and insanity.

    Chaining a starving dog in an art museum and thinking it is art is what you get what you get when you can’t tell the difference between sophistication and insanity.

  • hairy knuckle dragger

    Singer is what you get when you can’t tell the difference between sophistication and insanity.

    What a great line.

    Lady gaga is what you get when you can’t tell the difference between sophistication and insanity.

    Chaining a starving dog in an art museum and thinking it is art is what you get what you get when you can’t tell the difference between sophistication and insanity.

  • Catherine

    What a horrible idea in practicality, to do a universal sterilization. I can’t imagine a world without children.

    I blame my writerly mind on this next thought, but it’d make a fascinating sci fi story.

  • Catherine

    What a horrible idea in practicality, to do a universal sterilization. I can’t imagine a world without children.

    I blame my writerly mind on this next thought, but it’d make a fascinating sci fi story.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Catherine,
    I think that sci-fi has already been done, but I can’t remember the title.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Catherine,
    I think that sci-fi has already been done, but I can’t remember the title.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    O.K.
    Here it is, for whom would the world be better if there were no humans.
    By what reasoning do these people eliminate us humans as an essential part of the ecosystem in which we live?
    Think about it. They talk about the extinction of certain animals as disrupting the whole ecosystem. Just think of the disruption that would happen if you took humans out of the equation? It would not actually be for the better.
    Now I could support that same hypothesis from a Christian point of view, pointing out that we humans were created to be the caretakers, gardeners and zookeepers of God’s creation. God also created us to enjoy his creation as he does. I think the world would disintegrate if there was no one to enjoy it.
    But even from a purely secular, or dare I say it, evolutionary point of view, how is it that we are no less a part of the world’s ecosystem than a whale, a beaver, a fox, or an ant? There is no way I can think of to extract the necessity of humans from the planet. We are here, one way or another we are meant to be here.
    That these philosophers have unfulfilled desires is due to the fact that there desire is to be something they are not, God. But God has given us plenty to enjoy in this world, and enjoying it we fill not only our own desires, but Gods. I believe it is Ecclesiasties, the almost nihilistic book, that admonishes us in the end, to enjoy life, enjoy our work for the sake of working, enjoy the wife of our youth, enjoy our bread, enjoy our wine. Good advice as far as I’m concerned. I make an effort to do just that. Makes life wonderful it does.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    O.K.
    Here it is, for whom would the world be better if there were no humans.
    By what reasoning do these people eliminate us humans as an essential part of the ecosystem in which we live?
    Think about it. They talk about the extinction of certain animals as disrupting the whole ecosystem. Just think of the disruption that would happen if you took humans out of the equation? It would not actually be for the better.
    Now I could support that same hypothesis from a Christian point of view, pointing out that we humans were created to be the caretakers, gardeners and zookeepers of God’s creation. God also created us to enjoy his creation as he does. I think the world would disintegrate if there was no one to enjoy it.
    But even from a purely secular, or dare I say it, evolutionary point of view, how is it that we are no less a part of the world’s ecosystem than a whale, a beaver, a fox, or an ant? There is no way I can think of to extract the necessity of humans from the planet. We are here, one way or another we are meant to be here.
    That these philosophers have unfulfilled desires is due to the fact that there desire is to be something they are not, God. But God has given us plenty to enjoy in this world, and enjoying it we fill not only our own desires, but Gods. I believe it is Ecclesiasties, the almost nihilistic book, that admonishes us in the end, to enjoy life, enjoy our work for the sake of working, enjoy the wife of our youth, enjoy our bread, enjoy our wine. Good advice as far as I’m concerned. I make an effort to do just that. Makes life wonderful it does.

  • Catherine

    Bror, I’m not surprised it’s been done, actually. Seems like everything in the world of literature has been done. As they say, there are no new stories.

  • Catherine

    Bror, I’m not surprised it’s been done, actually. Seems like everything in the world of literature has been done. As they say, there are no new stories.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    R. Hall (@9), I don’t think he’s being “consistent” at all. If he were consistent, he and all those thinking this way would kill themselves now. If life is an illusion, if it is not good, if it is just a series of unfulfilled desires, and if it therefore is not worth living for the next generation, then what reason does the current generation have for living it, either? He’s taking up precious resources that those of us who do have a reason to live could be using, thereby making our lives worse! Or so one could argue.

    But they go on living. And likely enjoying their bread and their wine and perhaps thinking about how they would kill themselves if everyone else would agree to do it, too — a worldwide suicide pact. Meh.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    R. Hall (@9), I don’t think he’s being “consistent” at all. If he were consistent, he and all those thinking this way would kill themselves now. If life is an illusion, if it is not good, if it is just a series of unfulfilled desires, and if it therefore is not worth living for the next generation, then what reason does the current generation have for living it, either? He’s taking up precious resources that those of us who do have a reason to live could be using, thereby making our lives worse! Or so one could argue.

    But they go on living. And likely enjoying their bread and their wine and perhaps thinking about how they would kill themselves if everyone else would agree to do it, too — a worldwide suicide pact. Meh.

  • Tom Hering

    Bror and Catherine, “Children of Men.”

  • Tom Hering

    Bror and Catherine, “Children of Men.”

  • sg

    @ todd

    Exactly right. No one is keeping Singer here. Let him demonstrate the courage of his convictions and lead by example! :-)

  • sg

    @ todd

    Exactly right. No one is keeping Singer here. Let him demonstrate the courage of his convictions and lead by example! :-)

  • Tom Hering

    “But even from a purely secular, or dare I say it, evolutionary point of view, how is it that we are no less a part of the world’s ecosystem than a whale, a beaver, a fox, or an ant?” – Bror @ 14.

    Yup. If Nature is all there is, then nothing can be unnatural – including human beings, and everything human beings do. Without the true God, nothing can – ultimately – be condemned as wrong. Exactly the sort of waters Singer is dipping his toe into, right up to his neck (which I guess would make him all toe).

  • Tom Hering

    “But even from a purely secular, or dare I say it, evolutionary point of view, how is it that we are no less a part of the world’s ecosystem than a whale, a beaver, a fox, or an ant?” – Bror @ 14.

    Yup. If Nature is all there is, then nothing can be unnatural – including human beings, and everything human beings do. Without the true God, nothing can – ultimately – be condemned as wrong. Exactly the sort of waters Singer is dipping his toe into, right up to his neck (which I guess would make him all toe).

  • Louis

    Bror @ 14 – exactly what I’ve been thinking.

  • Louis

    Bror @ 14 – exactly what I’ve been thinking.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Yes, to reiterate the science fiction book that plays with these ideas–and critiques them from a quite Christian perspective–see P. D. James, “The Children of Men.”

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Yes, to reiterate the science fiction book that plays with these ideas–and critiques them from a quite Christian perspective–see P. D. James, “The Children of Men.”

  • http://www.scribe-nootherfoundation.blogspot.com Scribe

    Wow. What a hopeless way to look at things. But that’s the kind of view you end up with when you leave God out of the picture…

    It is interesting that (as MikeR @ 1 points out) both Benatar and Singer are pushing materialistic nihilism – and yet they still refer to transcendent moral categories such as “innocence” and “guilt”! It’s so inconsistent, it’s almost laughable.

  • http://www.scribe-nootherfoundation.blogspot.com Scribe

    Wow. What a hopeless way to look at things. But that’s the kind of view you end up with when you leave God out of the picture…

    It is interesting that (as MikeR @ 1 points out) both Benatar and Singer are pushing materialistic nihilism – and yet they still refer to transcendent moral categories such as “innocence” and “guilt”! It’s so inconsistent, it’s almost laughable.

  • George Fields

    This is honesty. They are honest men.

  • George Fields

    This is honesty. They are honest men.