Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Existence Blues

I've written a song, called "The Existence Blues."  It's rather short, but will, I'm sure, be a hit.  The lyrics are:  "Well I woke up this morning."

Longer ago than I care to say, I saw Muddy Waters perform.  I saw him at some hall or other venue at Georgetown University.  As might be expected at that place, his audience was made up largely of white college students.  I was, and still am, white, but was not a college student at that time as I was attending law school (though not at Georgetown).  I was alone and in a mood for blues, having managed to alienate a woman I'd been seeing for about 5 years.  I wonder why I didn't write "The Existence Blues" then; but I've managed to exist for some time since, and so think I knew I had only myself to blame, not the world or life in general.

I thought of calling it "The Antinatalist Blues" but hesitated to do so.  Antinatalism, to the extent that it urges that we limit our reproduction, perhaps even drastically limit it, may be reasonable given our circumstances.  Although its adherents seem to delight in numbing references to life's miseries, and cloak their arguments in rhetoric which is so full of moral disapproval of the world as to rival the worst of the Puritans, there would seem to be little doubt that resources are dwindling, as are other creatures, due to our extravagance and selfishness and that something should be done about that. 

Unfortunately, the population of those countries where reproduction is, as it were, rampant, will likely not heed to the Antinatalist screed (yes, I'm a poet).  It's doubtful they spend their time reading the works of the Antinatalists, who it occurs to me might more accurately be referred to as "anti-life" than opponents of abortion are referred to as "pro-life."  Then, of course, there is the baffling teaching of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church on the question of reproduction, which Monty Python skewered (again as it were) so well with the song "Every Sperm is Sacred."

The Church of my joy and, more certainly, my youth may yet meet its match in this matter in such organizations at the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEM to its OHCAC, I suppose) which I was delighted to run across while browsing the Internet.  I was delighted by its name, if not by its creed (which rhymes with heed and screed, please note).  I suppose we must be thankful there is no Involuntary Human Extinction Movement.  We've seen someting like such a movement in the past, though, even if their ambitions were limited to the extinction of a mere portion of the human race.

But the manner in which Aninatalists condemn human life, or perhaps more accurately condemn new human life or addtional human lives, troubles me.  It smacks of a kind of Puritanism as I noted, but may be even more absolute and universal in its condemnation, in that for the Antinatalists our lives and our world are not bad, even evil, merely because they are displeasing to God.  Instead, our lives are bad for a host of reasons that have nothing to do with God (unless of course we blame God for our lives).  There's not enough pleasure to match the pain.  To the Antinatalist, too much pain in life means there should be no gain in life.  And while the Puritans as far as I am aware did not condemn new life, being content to condemn lives being led, the Antinatalists are eager to condemn the life we the living lead as well as the creation of new life. 

Complaining that life is not as nice as we want it to be is hardly uncommon.  Maintaining that no human should ever be born because life is not as nice as we want it to be seems, I'm inclined to say, arrogant.  We never tire of telling others what they should do, what is good, what is right, what is true.  We're all natural schoolmasters or schoolmarms,  it would seem. 

It's true, of course, that we're not involved in our own procreation.  We don't (as many like to say, needlessly) choose to be born.  Our birth, however, is clearly one of the things we can't control.  So complaining that we were born seems particularly futile.  Complaining that other people were born, or are born, or will be born, seems particularly presumptuous and even vile.  It's characteristic of an attitude towards others which seems similar to the attitude some have, that the disabled and old should be done away with, not just for the greater good but their own good--life will be so horrible for them anyway.

Nota bene I say "similar."  As far as I know, Antinatalists have not (yet?) urged that certain of us be killed.  But they are urging that nobody should be allowed to live; nobody should even have the opportunity to decide whether or not they will continue living.  And it seems they make this claim as to all human life, regardless of the circumstances.  Human life is, quite simply, primarily bad, always.

This makes me wonder why it is that Antinatalists don't make use of the option available to them which they don't want to see made available to others yet to be born--suicide.  It seems life, though not good, is good enough for them to continue to expound on how bad life is and proclaim that others should not live.  If life is so bad nobody else should live, why aren't we all committing suicide?  Some of us do, of course, but most of us don't.  Are the majority of us simply not sensitive and thoughtful enough to understand we should die as soon as possible?

Antinatalists and suicide advocates seem to me to succumb to the all too human tendency to take the concrete and render it abstract (ever try to find the antonym for "reify"?).  Instead of considering the circumstances in making a decision or formulating a theory, we seek to categorize, to codify; indeed, to relieve ourselves of the burden of thought.  Absolutists have no need to think.  All life is bad; we have the right to commit suicide in all cases.

The ancients were more sensible than we are in considering how to live and whether to live.  They saw suicide was an option, but not one to be chosen lightly or unthinkingly, which was to choose, according to Marcus Aurelius, through mere pig-headedness or self-righteousness, "like a Christian" seeking martyrdom. 

Our standard of living in the West, or in the developed world, is probably better than anytime in the past, yet we complain of life probably more than ever.  Too much time to think of things like whether anybody (else!) should ever be born?  It's interesting what the implications of this are for leisure.  Perhaps Plato and others who dreamt of well-regulated Utopias should have given more thought to the dangers of mere mentation, and given the elite caretakers of the populace something to do which would make them less inclined to despise the lives others live.

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