Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Antinatalism and Comfort

Comfort is low-variance pleasure. It's pleasure and pain within narrow parameters. When someone is dying, their comfort is our priority, not their capacity for great pleasure; and the opiate medication we palliate them with serves this purpose.

The conservative ethos, broadly speaking, is generally one of preserving a state of comfort at the expense of the possibility for great pleasure or pain (since great pleasure, biologically speaking, tends to have a cost). Risk aversion in humans is a preference for comfort over possibility, and risk aversion is universal, at least among those not currently suffering a great deal.

Assuring the comfort of others is a very humane value.

Here is a problem, though: openness to experience is a highly attractive trait that correlates strongly with certain other highly attractive traits, such as intelligence and youth (and associated neotenic traits). If we are brave and open to experience, we wish to push out of our own comfort zones; think of people you know who choose comfort over adventure, and how you feel about them.

When making moral judgments, we of course wish to display our own highly attractive traits (or even front like we have attractive traits we do not really possess). What better way to signal our own adventurousness than to appear willing to impose it on others?

But is there an important difference between being willing to accept risk ourselves and being willing to impose it on others?

Defining comfort as I have as a state of low-variance pleasure, the ultimate comfort would be the never-born state - pleasure and pain tightly bounded at zero. Creating a person by definition means pulling him screaming out of a state of comfort (negative bliss, as Jim puts it) and pushing him into a state of great risk. Whatever the costs and benefits of this unasked-for adventure, I suspect our feelings about the morality of forcing risk on others function as a (costless, to us) way of signalling our own willingness to take risks.

13 comments:

  1. But then why do conservatives tend to have more children?

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  2. Because conservatives are fucked in the head.

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  3. Risk aversion is greater in women than in men, and greater in old men than young men. Does this change your argument?

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  4. FT, because Team Conservative, like Team Liberal, is made up of monkeys doing monkey things. Ideas don't penetrate very far.

    Anonymous, yes, and so are liberals and libertarians and all of us.

    Anonymous2, I am not sure what "argument" you're referring to. I see this post as (a) a claim about comfort as a conservative value (philosophical conservatism, not as lived by monkeys on the ground) and (b) a mechanism by which folks would signal against comfort for their own purposes, to the detriment of others. The claims you make are pure evolpsych and I'd expect them to be true. I don't see how they conflict with my claims.

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  5. My next post will be specifically about pleasure, a subject many accuse ANs of ignoring.

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  6. When someone is dying, their comfort is our priority, not their capacity for great pleasure
    This is very unfortunate, by the way, and not everybody agrees with it. What's better than euthanasia of the terminally ill? A controlled sequence of (voluntary) drug highs followed by planned death.

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  7. Anonymous, I'm with you - but since we're all terminal in the long run, shouldn't we all have access to all the MDMA and barbiturates we desire?

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  8. Anonymous, I'm with you - but since we're all terminal in the long run, shouldn't we all have access to all the MDMA and barbiturates we desire?
    Legally, yes of course. Any drug you want to. There may be practical questions of how to prevent people from drugging other people. There is a difference between terminal in the long run and terminal in the forseeable future, of course. Depending on what you want to do with your life, taking certain drugs is less rational when you're young than when you're on your deathbed.

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  9. The argument I was referring to is...

    Risk aversion in humans is a preference for comfort over possibility, and risk aversion is universal, at least among those not currently suffering a great deal.

    ... in that risk aversion is not uniform among humans. Some have it far less than others.

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  10. You're saying it's a way of signalling what we would like others to perceive as our own willingness to take risks, not our actual willingness, yeah? So withholding abortion rights, for example, could be interpreted as a "go get 'em, little cowboy fetus!" posture.

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  11. Ann, I think something like this is probably at work in many debates. I have experienced it in people's overconfidence that they could kill themselves at any time with high success probability, and with people's self-declared acceptance of potential or hypothetical suffering (in situations in which they aren't actually suffering).

    Maybe more importantly, I've experienced a replicable pattern of distortion by downgrading my opinions in the eyes of others when I admit that I have a high priority in not experiencing suffering. This almost always translates into "he/she is inferior to us", which triggers both the unrealistic acceptance of suffering/overconfidence patterns and communication markers of social superiority, even with people who don't have superior abilities in any way, just based on honest vs. dishonest accounts of preferences.

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  12. (wshew) Good thing I always front like I can hold my suicide.

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  13. Risc is the individual expression of statistic reallity. More people means more suffering and more happiness. Nobody should ask for more happiness while suffering is not reduced. And there is the demographic dimension of suffering. Ehical duty consists in reducing it. Antinatalism makes the world better, if absence of suffering is more important than happiness elsewhere. Suffering is imperative, ahppiness optional. Miguel Schafschetzy

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