Monday, 20 February 2012

Why is consent necessary too?

My general argument against the creation of Unbreakable was simply that no consent is involved in the matter - consent is actually an impossible thing to give in this instance.* The problem with doing things against someone's consent but that harm them to no degree is that from simple intuition, it doesn't really compute (I think this is because NOTHING in the pre-society humans could really have been a non-consensual happiness injection - while now, this is quite possible, in those messed up mental hospitals in films, for example). Is it intuitively right to do no harm? Not really, some of us want revenge. Is it non-contradictory and somewhat intuitive, then? Yes, definitely. Is it intuitively right to respect consent? Yes - even when you do something out of the ordinary. Like force-feeding a birthday cake to someone who doesn't want one, despite having no digestive problems or palette problems with cake.

But the problem here is that though consent seems intuitive, perhaps even more intuitive that not causing suffering, it SEEMS to break down when we state that NO, you heard me, NO, suffering is to take place at all. And if someone does not want something and does not consent to it, then to some extent, I'd argue at least, this counts as suffering. The very thought of not wanting is a form of suffering, and hence consent in the case of the Lovely Birthday Cake Shoved Down Oesophagus, if this causes no suffering at all (AND MOREOVER ACTUALLY CAUSES POSITIVE UTLITY), is a shaky one. Causing positive utility is good (though remember that it is probably wrong to say we have a duty to cause it - you don't know how far is far enough (never-ending task) and suffering, which can do irreparable harm, is probably higher on your to-do list anyway), to some extent. Violating consent is a no-no. So how does it work out? If we still hold to holding consent as one of the building blocks of morality, we say that since one has no duty to cause pleasure (you have a duty, again, to stop harm that you are about to cause, but no similar duty to cause pleasure in others at any point in time), and consent is king, the Lovely Birthday Cake Shoved Down Oesophagus is most definitely wrong, despite tasting so, so good.

But I suppose the problem of "But where do you derive consent from?" is related to the key problem of morality, anyway. Morality is something human as a result of the evolution of reciprocal altruism. How do we do what most people want (humanity's best interests) without violating the wants of others? First we do not cause suffering as most people do not want more suffering, and despite people who want revenge or punishment, the older humanity as a species gets, the less we can get away from NOT putting ourselves in another person's shoes and feeling the pain of their punishment etc. Secondly do not break consent. Except this one, I think is a little bit contentious. You see the thing is, consent is ALWAYS bundled up with suffering. The Lovely Birthday Cake Shoved Down Oesophagus is a special case simply because it MUST by definition involve no suffering at all - and weirdly therefore is a paradox in that it cannot really involve proper breaking of consent, simply because the act of thinking "this is not what I want" is bound to involve some suffering, and if it doesn't, is an utterly meaningless thing to say. So consent IS important, but it has to be tied up with suffering in some way.

BUT THEN, you ask, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR EFILISM? If no one is hurt at all by a doomsday button, again, they must have had consented to the act. Because the act of saying "I don't want this" is suffering. Therefore unless this doomsday button also changes the minds of everyone before they die, they will suffer, and harm will be done. What if they don't know about it before they die? Well the thing is, you have still violated their rights. This is another pillar of human morality. They possessed multiple things, and possibly had positive utility. You deprived them of that. You monster.

But the Sterilisation Doomsday Button is absolutely fine, as I and others before me have said.

In summary: Non-consent without suffering is a paradoxical situation, and any non-consent in such a situation is essentially empty, like I robot saying 'I don't want this'. Consent is important to the human race because we all believe it is, just like non-suffering - and it doesn't cause contradictions like positive utilitarianism. Nuking the world is wrong, but sterilising it is fine.

As a further note, I don't know about Unbreakable. Is consent specifically broken? Unbreakable isn't asked whether she would like to be born or not, BUT, if she did not wish to be born then this would cause suffering in her life, contrary to the definition of Unbreakable. But the fact still remains that she was not consulted, even if she were consulted she would probably say yes. This still SEEMS wrong, but I don't think you'll hear the last from me about it. If you still read this blog, JasonSL, care to lend a hand and help me out here? Much appreciated for the previous insight you gave me, by the way.

*Well not really my original general argument, if I'm implying that. Originally I stated that if Unbreakable came to hate her life (the thought experiment takes her as female I think?) and wanted to die despite being so happy (which is possible since no amount of happiness can eradicate the effort associated with living - I think), one would come to think that the act was wrong. JasonSL responded: "[T]here are probably lots of humans whose opinion is that their life is worth continuing but are mistaken -- they actually are experiencing net negative utility. We don't consider their mistaken ex post ratification of their life to make it right to have created them, so why should we consider Unbreakable's mistaken ex post condemnation of her life to make it wrong to have created her?". I could not respond to this. Still, now, I think to some extent the 'mistaken' part might be a little misleading, as Unbreakable's hatred of life isn't necessarily mistaken - unless you count any dislike of life as suffering  and hence rule out this in the first place. She can't suffer, but by hating her life in all likelihood things are going to become a little more uncomfortable. So to be honest, I think JasonSL is right here, but the argument needs a little explaining (for me, at least).

14 comments:

  1. What if they don't know about it before they die? Well the thing is, you have still violated their rights. This is another pillar of human morality.

    It may be a pillar of "human morality" in the sense that it came with the morality package that evolution gave us. But this is no reason we should respect it. Whereas before you said consent has to be tied up with suffering, here you fully disconnect the two and assert consent to be inherently significant.

    They possessed multiple things, and possibly had positive utility. You deprived them of that. You monster.

    Hey, they won't miss it. No harm done except to the notion that consent is inherently valuable regardless of the consequences (i.e., the suffering).

    But the Sterilisation Doomsday Button is absolutely fine, as I and others before me have said.

    So it is okay to cause others to suffer, as long as they don't know their suffering was caused by someone who knew full well what he was doing but rationalized away the objections? That's good to know, because I've done my fair share of that. I guess it really is a pillar of human morality.

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  2. "It may be a pillar of "human morality" in the sense that it came with the morality package that evolution gave us."
    Morality is based on nothing but what evolution gave us. A sense of logic combined with reciprocal altruism = modern morality. There is no chemical element moralium in the universe.
    "Hey, they won't miss it. No harm done except to the notion that consent is inherently valuable regardless of the consequences (i.e., the suffering)."
    So it's ok to chop off someone's arm if they never realise you've done it? Or is it ok to commit murder if the person never sees you coming?
    "So it is okay to cause others to suffer, as long as they don't know their suffering was caused by someone who knew full well what he was doing but rationalized away the objections? "
    Sterilisation causes suffering in the same way locking a serial killer up prevents suffering. You are depriving people of the ability to perform an action that would cause harm. If I could introduce a chemical into a water supply that stopped people conceiving children I would, just as I would introduce a chemical into the water supply to stop them killing or torturing each other. Not only does the net suffering decrease, but no rights have been violated. No rights that should be rights anyway.

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  3. Stacy says (comment won't go through):
    "Someone can force you to do something and it might turn out well for you, but that doesn't mean it was okay for them to force you to do it in the first place. If someone makes you go to a party even though you didn't agree to it, and you end up having a lot of fun and really enjoying it, it was still wrong that you were forced to attend"
    Yeah I agree, BUT, only because this particular case of consent is wrapped up with suffering. True consent, such as in this case, I wholeheartedly agree that it is wrong if it is broken. But in my hypothetical case, where no harm occurs at all, I was just saying that if no suffering is tied up with consent, it cannot really be true consent at all.

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  4. Morality is based on nothing but what evolution gave us.
    If you find this a reason to adhere to the moral intuitions we came with, why didn't your post just read "Consent is necessary because it is one of our moral intuitions."? Instead, you say that consent is important, but it has to be tied up with suffering in some way. And if it isn't, then it is important because it is a pillar of human morality. So you don't need suffering to be involved after all.

    So it's ok to chop off someone's arm if they never realise you've done it? Or is it ok to commit murder if the person never sees you coming?
    Only if it causes less (or equally much) suffering to occur than otherwise would. I think you will have a hard time arguing otherwise without resorting to religious leftovers like consent and intrinsic rights.

    Not only does the net suffering decrease, but no rights have been violated. No rights that should be rights anyway.
    Yes, it would probably be better than doing nothing. But compared to instantly and painlessly and unanticipatably killing everyone, it would be worse (in terms of net suffering). Omnicide, by the way, also doesn't violate any rights that should be rights.

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  5. "If you find this a reason to adhere to the moral intuitions we came with, why didn't your post just read "Consent is necessary because it is one of our moral intuitions."? Instead, you say that consent is important, but it has to be tied up with suffering in some way. And if it isn't, then it is important because it is a pillar of human morality. So you don't need suffering to be involved after all."
    No, in my post I said that suffering must be involved because consent cannot be true consent if suffering is not involved ("I do not want this" is suffering).

    "Only if it causes less (or equally much) suffering to occur than otherwise would. I think you will have a hard time arguing otherwise without resorting to religious leftovers like consent and intrinsic rights."
    If you can just discard rights and consent, why can't you discard suffering? They are all equally human ideas, and equally have no basis with the rest of the universe. All or nothing is my belief.

    "Omnicide, by the way, also doesn't violate any rights that should be rights."
    How about the right to have the largest possible net positive utility (without hurting others in the process)? Or are we not robbing anyone of positive utility by killing them?

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  6. No, in my post I said that suffering must be involved because consent cannot be true consent if suffering is not involved ("I do not want this" is suffering).
    I see it effectively the same way, but to me that makes consent nothing more than a useful abstraction. In edge cases like birth (where the subject doesn't exist before the fact) and death (where the subject doesn't exist after the fact), we should ditch the abstraction and drop down a level. The abstraction should never become something in its own right, just like the consequence of a logical implication shouldn't be able to stand on its own when the antecedent is no longer supported.

    If you can just discard rights and consent, why can't you discard suffering? They are all equally human ideas, and equally have no basis with the rest of the universe. All or nothing is my belief.
    I'm not really positively arguing against rights and consent; it's just that I see no support for them. Their perceived moral importance is an accident of history, but it gives them a privileged status, much like the belief that life is inherently valuable has privileged status. The burden of proof is on the positive claim, i.e., the claim that consent and/or rights are to be respected. (Well, you probably already knew that.)

    To see how suffering and moral intuitions are different, I think we need to make a clear distinction between:
    [1] what you feel when your moral intuitions are violated (or respected, for that matter);
    [2] what your moral intuitions dictate should or shouldn't happen.

    Suffering and [1] are equally human ideas, in that they aren't human ideas at all. They are feelings we can't help but feel.

    [2], the propositional content of the intuition, is a baseless assertion. It doesn't have any inherent merit. It should only be taken into account in scenarios like A witnessing B doing something to C. If A values consent, and A believes C did not consent, A will suffer. It is even irrelevant here whether C actually suffers more than he otherwise would.

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  7. How about the right to have the largest possible net positive utility (without hurting others in the process)?
    I can see how you would consider this a reasonable right to establish, but to me it's rather arbitrary. Someone reasoning from scratch who arrives at the conclusion that the welfare of sentient beings is what matters would be highly unlikely to come up with this. It takes an additional notion, namely that sentient beings (should) have some kind of sacred sovereignty over "their own" sack of meat, for someone to pinpoint this particular right in the set of all possible rights. That notion is another privileged moral intuition with not much to support it.

    It would also not be a very useful right to have. You can't optimize for your personal utility very far without hurting others in the process. In fact, I think you'd starve to death.

    Or are we not robbing anyone of positive utility by killing them?
    I don't think the robbery metaphor is useful here. It doesn't fully apply anyway because the victim doesn't live on without that which was robbed.

    If the person's continuing to exist would have positive utility, it would be bad to kill them or otherwise allow them to die, unless the cost of ensuring their continued existence would be greater than the benefit. My point is not that killing is always good or that it is never bad, just that its badness is not because of the propositional content of our moral intuitions. Rather, if there is something that supports said propositional content, then that something would be the cause of its badness, or caused by the cause of its badness, etc.

    If violation of consent is usually accompanied by suffering (e.g., "I do not want this"), then that correlation supports the proposition that consent should not be violated. The rule "do not violate consent" then becomes a useful heuristic for preventing suffering. But if you know that some particular instance of violation of consent does not involve any suffering (e.g., pressing the hypothetical red button of zero-suffering omnicide), you know that the support for the rule "do not violate consent" is not there, and you cannot denounce it as bad on that basis. That would be to elevate consent to something sacred.

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  8. "But if you know that some particular instance of violation of consent does not involve any suffering (e.g., pressing the hypothetical red button of zero-suffering omnicide), you know that the support for the rule "do not violate consent" is not there, and you cannot denounce it as bad on that basis. That would be to elevate consent to something sacred."
    Agree with this completely.

    "My point is not that killing is always good or that it is never bad, just that its badness is not because of the propositional content of our moral intuitions."
    I think I understand that. Maybe my use of language is a little too emotion-filled in some cases, but I do understand that. To be honest I'm not entirely sure where I stand at the moment on whether 'for the greater good' is right or not, though I'm definitely leaning towards saying no, simply because humans want to do the least harm, doing harm in the process negates the duty to do no harm, so even if overall less harm is done, our moral intuitions have indeed been violated at this point, which is something we strive not to do.
    "It takes an additional notion, namely that sentient beings (should) have some kind of sacred sovereignty over "their own" sack of meat,"
    You see the thing is, I would be a nihilist if I did not think that humans should follow their collective desires. I don't think there is any meaning in the world, it doesn't matter to the universe if anyone is saved from suffering, but it DOES matter to humans. And so too, does having the right to your own body (unless that would endanger others). My overall philosophy is: Humans should get what they want apart from those things that would cause them pain - so no mob-violence, for example.

    Sorry if I can't respond fully, I'm not exactly en par with the intelligence of most people around here. I have a good memory, and this often makes me seem far more intelligent than I actually am.

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  9. Agree with this completely.
    Cool, because that was the part that really matters. ;-)

    (...), doing harm in the process negates the duty to do no harm, so even if overall less harm is done, ...
    The problem with this is that in practice anything you do will somehow cause someone, somewhere harm (think the Butterfly Effect). Given this, it is either impossible to do no harm, or so limiting that you will harm yourself in the process (crude example: not eating meat but not eating plant-based food either because the way the food is produced harms animals). You're going to have to somehow make a tradeoff between causing yourself harm and causing others harm.

    Moreover, you can't really say that an action "causes harm". The action likely plays only a small role in causing the harm. Only if you have actions available that do not lead to that harm can you say that the actions that do lead to that harm "cause" it. I always get a kick out of this trolley problem (from Wikipedia):

    [A] trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by dropping a heavy weight in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you - your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?

    You could say that the decision to push the guy would cause harm. But the decision to "do nothing", which is also a decision with consequences, would also cause harm. The only meaningful way to compare the two decisions is by the amount of harm that they result in.

    Given that these are the only options, you'd have to choose to push the guy in front of the train. It's unlikely that I would be able to do what's right in this scenario, not just physically but also mentally. It really does feel to me like my hands would be dirty after doing something like that, and the only consolation is that my hands would have been dirtier if I hadn't done so. Part of this dilemma is because I can't shake the feeling that there "has to be another way" to save the people from the trolley.

    Anyway, to tie this back into the decision between [a] sterilizing everything and [b] some-suffering omnicide: between the two, [a] causes suffering that [b] wouldn't cause, and [b] causes suffering that [a] wouldn't cause. There is no "do no harm" option except the hypothetical zero-suffering omnicide button.

    ...our moral intuitions have indeed been violated at this point, which is something we strive not to do.
    But the suffering/frustration we experience from violating our intuitions falls under [1], not [2] (per the distinction in my previous comment). This means that it is already respected by the consequentialist/utilitarian view (where you compare the decisions available to you based on their consequences, "direct" or otherwise).

    I'm not exactly en par with the intelligence of most people around here.
    I happen to be intimately familiar with my view because I figured it out myself (independently from others who had long figured it out before I did). This isn't to brag, but just to say that reasoning about it doesn't take as much conscious thinking/intelligence anymore because my view has become intuitive to me. I think that that accounts for more miscommunication than an imbalance in intelligence might.

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  10. "only consolation is that my hands would have been dirtier if I hadn't done so."
    Yeah I've heard of that moral dilemma before, but way back before I was an antinatalist. The thing is, it's hard to say you are actually causing harm by switching trolleys. Richard Dawkins's version (I think?) of having to push an incredibly fat man onto the track to stop a train is better I think, because instead of being between two choices, one must actually cause harm in order to cause less harm overall. And I'm not sure really where I stand on that one. The human race collectively wants less harm, but demands you do no harm, so I'm guessing that I'd probably side with not pushing a fat man to his death to save many more lives, even if it doesn't actually cause an overall reduction of suffering. The same goes for omnicide - the human intuition 'do no harm' is something that doesn't really seem to have contradictions, like consent (in most cases).

    I think I get what you mean further on into your post: "Anyway, to tie this back into the decision between [a] sterilizing everything and [b] some-suffering omnicide: between the two, [a] causes suffering that [b] wouldn't cause, and [b] causes suffering that [a] wouldn't cause."
    My main intuition here is simply 'rights can cancel out suffering'. Serial killers have no right to kill, but not killing causes them suffering. Omnicide would reduce suffering, but violates a lot of rights. Involuntary sterilisation's suffering is the same as a serial killer being locked up suffering because he or she can no longer murder others.

    Is the neutralisation of concern over suffering via 'rights' a universal human moral value? People naturally think it's okay to defend themselves against an attacker, so I'm thinking yes. It's not based on a lot of evidence though, so if you can provide some example of where people don't do this, then I'll happily take back thinking involuntary sterilisation is okay.

    Upon reading the rest of your posts again, I think I understand what you mean about consent. Consent isn't really sacred. I think it's more of an optional tie-in with suffering. Sometimes suffering involves breaking consent, sometimes it doesn't. Consent being broken implies suffering, but if no suffering (AT ALL) occurs (not even 'I do not want'), then it doesn't really matter much. In the case of omnicide then, as an update, if no one ever experienced positive utlity, ever, then omnicide would be allowed since no consent is broken if people don't understand what is happening. It's REALLY sneaky, but at the same time, it's justified. I might do a post on this, might not.

    I'm trying not to annoy you or anything by my terrible depressive attention to detail or my lackluster manner of arguing, but it's pretty hard without being hypomanic to some degree. Hope we can continue our argument regardless.

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  11. The human race collectively wants less harm, but demands you do no harm, so I'm guessing that I'd probably side with not pushing a fat man to his death to save many more lives, even if it doesn't actually cause an overall reduction of suffering.
    The point is that by not pushing the man, you allow harm to happen that you could otherwise have prevented. This is what the phrase "to cause harm" means, if it is to mean anything. You make a distinction between pushing and not pushing as if the one is an action and the other is a non-action, but both have consequences that you have to consider when choosing between the two.

    My main intuition here is simply 'rights can cancel out suffering'.
    Sure, but remember that our moral intuitions were shaped by evolution; they are simply the expressions of those genes that happened to preserve themselves best. We shouldn't blindly trust them to help us maximize our well-being (I trust that among irreligious people it's uncontroversial to say welfare is all that matters).

    Another problem I have with this is that if you try to make your intuitions explicit in this way, you will end up with a complex system of black-and-white rules, just like what happens in legislation. You can't always respect other people's consent, so at what point is it "justified" to choose selfishly? At what point do "rights" cancel out suffering, and do they cancel it out completely?

    Involuntary sterilisation's suffering is the same as a serial killer being locked up suffering because he or she can no longer murder others.
    I understand that it is like this, but isn't the intended audience of this argument those people who disagree with antinatalism (and the like) in the first place? We agree that the serial killing should stop; we just disagree on how to stop it. I'd rather see the serial killer humanely get killed so they don't have to rot in prison.

    Is the neutralisation of concern over suffering via 'rights' a universal human moral value?
    Something like this, yeah, but a more important question is why should we care about people's intuitions?

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  12. "but a more important question is why should we care about people's intuitions?"
    Because as far as I see it, human morality is based upon intuition. Intuition and a bit of guiding logic to stop us disagreeing, but essentially just intuition. Human morality comes from humans. Talking about wellbeing while violating human collective moral intuitions* goes against human morality, simply because human morality is not only concerned with utility as such. It is better not to cause harm than to end up with more people suffering. This may sound stupid, but it is how our morality actually works. Morality is based on our desires programmed into us biologically for reciprocal altruism. You can't serve morality by violating it initially, because the goal of morality is for it to never be violated. I'm not saying it is a real entity, I'm saying that if you don't follow morality fully, then picking and choosing the bits you like doesn't really work - simply because morality is based upon NOTHING but these intuitions, so if you can reject some of them, you might as well just reject them all.

    "At what point do "rights" cancel out suffering, and do they cancel it out completely?". That's for our intuitions to decide, again, guided by a bit of logic if we start disagreeing.

    "I'd rather see the serial killer humanely get killed so they don't have to rot in prison."
    Actually, I'd rather see them rehabilitated in a mental institute, what I meant by prison was simply that that's how most governments work. I remember thinking that if I ever went to prison I'd prefer to have the death penalty available than to suffer. In any case we don't really disagree on how to stop it if we simply think about what causes least harm without violating the most rights - so either rehabilitated (not much harm there) or death, BY THE SERIAL KILLER'S OWN CHOICE (right to live and what not).

    "The point is that by not pushing the man, you allow harm to happen that you could otherwise have prevented. This is what the phrase "to cause harm" means, if it is to mean anything. You make a distinction between pushing and not pushing as if the one is an action and the other is a non-action, but both have consequences that you have to consider when choosing between the two."
    Give me some time and I'll think about that more, nothing really comes to me at the moment in this case. I can't mentally parse what you're saying, if that means anything to you (not your fault, brain not up to optimum at the moment).

    A final note: if human morality somehow began to evolve to become more concerned with personal wellbeing, then I would retract everything I've said here. Just a passing thought.

    *Antinatalism is not non-intuitive by the way, in case you plan on stating that. It is intuitive through guiding logic - you start with human moral intuitions, then you get to antinatalism.

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  13. Now the question becomes: why should we care about this thing you call morality?

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  14. Oh simply because the entire human race follows it. As individuals we don't have to care, though most of us will because it's instinctual.
    As I see it, following your moral intuitions is just the simplest thing to do unless you're a sociopath. It takes effort NOT to think and act the way you are biologically programmed, and in the case of morality, it probably isn't worth it in the end as it is very, very hard to do without causing yourself a lot of suffering (I've tried).

    There is nothing in this universe that screams morality except the human mind (and possibly alien minds). I guess what it all boils down to is: what is the easiest option, and hence the option that is followed through with most of the time. And that option is to follow one's instincts. Our instincts are to go away from pain and to be moral - not only does not having a morality violate the second drive, but it violates the first as well, because in the process of eliminating your own morality you are causing yourself pain.

    Should we really follow our drives? The thing is, in this meaningless universe, it doesn't matter if we do or if we don't, but we probably will anyway, because we have very little control over ourselves. Not having a morality is a hard thing to accomplish and most people will not accomplish it. Hence, morality is relevant because most people think using it as a bias.

    So my answer is: we don't have to care about it, but we will anyway.

    Why is antinatalism relevant then? Because humans care about other humans, and the ultimate form of care is not creating more humans. You have a morality and you have the urge to become a better person (probably). And upon working things out with logic, it turns out antinatalism is a valid conclusion of this morality. Hence from now on anyone who is antinatalist cabn derive pleasure (if not anhedonic as I am) from spreading the word, not having children and converting others. Also, once one updates their morality, they can't downgrade it afterwards, so antinatalists are stuck that way.

    Antinatalism is another case of lack of control. There is no reason to care about anyone, including ourselves. But at the same time because our moralities are so strong, or because we do not realise what I have been writing here, we cannot help but act on our antinatalist beliefs. And again, we can't get rid of them, either.

    I hope I haven't lost you as a commenter after this: after a lot of thinking (from around 5 years ago or so), I've come to this conclusion. The world is only horrible if you have your morality-hat on. The world is actually a meaningless void with no emotion attached to it whatsoever, because suffering and emotion and morality are all inside human heads and not in the universe. Even if we apply solipsism to things, I still have no reason to follow my own emotions or morality. I only do it because going against biological drives is hard, and hence there are many blocks against me doing it to any success.

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