Monday, September 13, 2010

The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement

Have you heard of The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement? Their basic premise is that we should save the earth by not having any more children. I'm still not 100% sure this isn't a joke, but if it is, it's definitely on the elaborate side. What with the website translated into 17 languages, plus films and comics -- it's hard not to come to the conclusion that, at the very least, these guys take themselves seriously.

And yet the lack of self-awareness is surreal, bordering on (and occasionally crossing into) the comical. Consider their Why Breed chart (scroll down). It starts with the premise that "the search for a rational, ethical reason for creating one more human today goes on without success" and proceeds to list the various pretexts people give for having children, expose the true motivation behind each one, and offer helpful alternatives -- all in a convenient three-column format.

Some of these are jaw-droppingly idiotic (pretext: "Pregnancy and childbirth are life experiences"; suggestion: "Rent pregnancy simulator". Huh? Is that a meta-joke?). Others are dutifully cribbed from the multikulti book (pretext: "Want a child with our bloodline"; true motivation: "Ego extension. Racial identity"; suggestion: "Recognize value of people with different genetic makeups").

But this one is telling: "God wants us to." One might naively assume that the VHEMTers are hard-core atheists, but a moment's reflection suggests that this can't be the case. Why would a true atheist give a rat's behind about the future of the earth, after his own death? Make no mistake, this is a religious cult. Unsurprisingly, the VHEMTer rebuttal to G-d's commandment is a direct call to convert: "Seek true nature of God, whatever you perceive God to be." They don't say this directly, but Wiccanism seems to capture their creed best: "Stop. Having. Babies."

I have no interest in dialogue with these people (I shouldn't even be taking the time to blog about them). But I am mighty curious to know how they'd respond to my silver-bullet argument:

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who will sign on to the VHEMT agenda and those who will not. Which group does the future belong to? What does this say about the effectiveness of the VHEMT agenda?

60 comments:

Les U. Knight said...

I'll try to satisfy your curiosity with a reply to your silver-bullet argument, though I can't speak for everyone in VHEMT.

Voluntarily ceasing to create more of us would eventually allow Earth's biosphere to recover, if there's enough left by the time we're gone. We could clean up our messes, decommission dams, and so on, or we could continue to eliminate ecosystems as we phase ourselves out.

So, voluntary human extinction isn't a silver-bullet: it's not the single magic solution. However, improving human population density is essential for reversing our degradation of the biosphere.

I think there are more than two kinds of people among the nearly seven billion of us, though our DNA is similar. Voluntarily phasing ourselves out is an idea which anyone can arrive at with enough thought: it doesn't have to be inherited.

Aryeh said...

Thanks you for your comment, Les (how did you stumble upon this obscure little blog, anyway?).

But I'm afraid you haven't addressed my question. Of course there are more than two kinds of people in this world -- there are as many kinds of people as there are people. But viewed through the lens of signing on to the VHEMT agenda, there seems to be a clear dichotomy: there are those who will voluntarily refrain from having children and those who will not.

The earth-conscientious will exempt their genes from future generations while us myopic greedy ego-extension types will continue to breed like there's no tomorrow. No, an idea does not have to be inherited -- but this one does seem to have enough of selection pressure against it to be termed a "self-correcting error". There is a reason why there are no more Shakers or Skoptsy around.

Anonymous said...

I've met a few people who ponder if their genes are worth propagating. They are invariably smart and very conscientious, but have some problem which seems (at least to me) too minor to warrant their exclusion from reproducing (e.g., predisposition to anxiety, or severe food allergies, etc). I tell them not to worry, and this is basically the argument I give them: "So, you want the people who don't care as much as you about the future of humanity to dominate the future gene pool?" It's a powerful argument.

Aryeh said...

Indeed, that smart people often choose not to reproduce is a well-known dysgenic phenomenon.

Ultimately, rationality has little to do with reproduction -- in modern society, the burdens of child-rearing may well outweigh the benefits. As I've said before, it's a mystery to me why an atheist would have children (and I suspect that the ones who do are crypto-believers).

But the WHEMT agenda is also 100% cult and zero rationality. That is, while it makes utilitarian sense not to have children for selfish reasons, it makes no sense not to have children (as a policy) for ecological reasons.

Les U. Knight said...

You're welcome, Aryeh. Google Alerts tells me when key words show up on the 'net. You might find it useful too.

Maybe I didn't understand the question. I thought it was about there being no single solution to any problem, and particularly not all problems. If there were no humans, there for sure wouldn't be any human problems.

Groups with fringe ideologies have recruitment problems unless they breed their own adherents. Strange ideas are more likely believed with early indoctrination, so all churches encourage breeding.

For those of us who have decided to stop creating more of ourselves, awareness was achieved despite lifelong indoctrination by our natalist societies. Also, all of us came from breeding ancestors: they passed their genes on to us but we're not following suit. I think it's easier to overcome any genetic tendencies we may have than it is to rethink our cultural conditioning to breed.

Anonymous, you wrote: "So, you want the people who don't care as much as you about the future of humanity to dominate the future gene pool?" It's a powerful argument.

A tendency to care about the future of humanity can't be passed on genetically, but even if it could, trying to change society by creating more people with that DNA would be very inefficient. If we want a more caring society, we simply need to care more for each other.

Aryeh, you wrote: "That is, while it makes utilitarian sense not to have children for selfish reasons, it makes no sense not to have children (as a policy) for ecological reasons."

Each new US resident we don't create avoids conversion of about 23 acres of potential wildlife habitat to human habitat and resource extraction for a lifetime. I know of no other ecological action with as great a benefit.

Aryeh said...

Les, even caring about the future of the earth long after your passing makes no rational (utilitarian) sense. Your long-term ecological concern can only be understood in the language of a religious calling.

Which is perfectly fine, but to pretend that your views are somehow more enlightened or rational than those "fringe" and "strange" ideas you deride is hypocritical and dishonest.

Also, your take on humanity seems inconsistent. Are you out to save humanity or do you want to see it gone from the earth?

[In response to your last paragraph, notice that I took pains to distinguish a personal choice from a policy. I agree that your own choosing not to have children probably reduces humanity's carbon footprint (though even this isn't obvious -- your progeny's "spot" might be "taken" by those with a bigger footprint then theirs would have been). But as a voluntary policy, it certainly makes no sense -- precisely because it leaves behind only those who don't subscribe to it.]

Aryeh said...

Here's a more succinct respnse to Les's churches-encourage-breeding comment:

Some religions encourage breeding. Some encourage castration. Yours encourages childlessness. Unsurprisingly, on historical scales the breeder memes tend to persist while the anti-breeder memes tend to be transient.

Unpainted said...

If I may, I'd like to contribute to the discussion as well (I found your site while trying to learn more about the VHEMNT).

I think it's laudable to consider leveling off or reducing our rate of reproduction, and to discuss the effects that increased population have had and will continue to have on the Earth. For that, I give the VHEMNT credit and praise. However, to suggest that a goal of total human extinction would be "good," in any rational sense of the word, strikes me as needlessly extreme, and if I may, self-contractictory (more on that in a moment). Maybe you merely mean to provoke? Or to state an impossible and even undesirable goal in order to encourage discussion and perhaps reach a more reasonable one?

It seems to me that the VHEMNT goal of total human extinction is paradoxical, in that it priviledges a very (and I would say uniquely) human perception of natural perfection (a "healthy" biosphere), while at the same time saying that human perception of, or presence within, that perfection has no value or meaning. The Earth is several billion years old and has undergone constant radical changes over that time. There is no one state that could be conisdered ideally "healthy." What we consider to be a "healthy" biosphere is simply our perception of a biosphere that would be ideally suited to human life; that is to say, it is a biosphere with clean air with the right mix of gasses, clean water, abundant and varied plant and animal life not overtly hostile to humans, a temperate climate, etc. The planet has taken many forms over its history, most of which would be a living hell for human life. To say that humanity is an "exotic invader" may be true, but that carries no value judgement along with it outside of a human perspective. As Aryeh points out, to say that it does is to make a religious statement. Just as an example, when plant life first appeared on the planet, it was the "exotic invader," expelling poisionous oxygen into the atmosphere leading to mass extinctions and death. It would be difficult to imagine making and argument expressing regret for that phenomenon.

Aryeh said...

That's a great point, Unpainted -- ironically, what the VHEMTers have (purely arbitrarily) chosen to call "ideal" ecological conditions are in fact ideally suited for human life! Like I said, there's not much self-awareness there...

Unpainted said...

Thanks, Aryeh. However, I regret the many spelling errors in my post. :)

That said, it seems to me that the VHEMNT are simply expressing an extreme version of a deeply human longing for an "unspoiled" Earth. To varying degrees I think we all desire a return to Eden. Then again, maybe I'm the one forcing this into religious terms... I just can't seem to find any way around that.

Unpainted said...

Also, Aryeh, I meant to say that I completely agree with you about the VHEMNT website. It was clearly not written to persuade anyone who does not already agree with them. It reads like something that was meant only to titillate the converted. Check out the "intelligence test" to see if you should be allowed to have children, or the cartoon depicting those who argue for continued human breeding.

Aryeh said...

Right. I am still not 100% convinced that this isn't some super-elaborate joke (seriously, what's a pregnancy simulator? Is that for real?). As for the effectiveness of their recruitment... Well, the Skoptsy

Aryeh said...

must have had an even harder time (sorry for my obsession with the latter... but the freak factor is just too high).

Unpainted said...

Aryeh, I'm reminded of a fitting West Wing quote: "If this is a joke, then it's both funny and well-executed. But you and I both know that it's not."

That's my view... if it is a hoax, then it's a terrific one (in every sense of that word). But I don't think so. I'd be very interested to hear a VHEMNT supporter's response to my original post. (I know by their definition I would probably fit the definition of a "supporter," but I'm afraid I must respectfully decline that designation until I know more...)

Les U. Knight said...

Aryeh, I'm trying to comprehend your train of thought regarding my concern for life on Earth after I'm dead. This somehow makes me religious on par with those who cut off their round parts to please their imaginary friend.

Don't people care what happens after they're gone? I know there are sociopaths, satanists, and followers of Ayn Rand who feel that they're the only ones that matter and everything else only has value as it is useful to them, but I've always assumed the vast majority of people want to contribute to the betterment of the world even though they'll be gone. Maybe I'm just naive about this. If people only cared about themselves, what kind of world would this be?

You ask, "Are you out to save humanity or do you want to see it gone from the earth?" I know I won't see humanity gone from Earth, but I'm sure it will be a positive development for whatever life forms are left by then. I want every existing human to have the opportunity for a long, healthy life, full of potential and opportunity. If we were improving our population density, this would be more likely, though not guaranteed. Many other improvements are needed as we become less dense.

You're right that others are breeding enough to make up for my not co-creating another human, and their fecundity negates my contribution, but I can be the change I want to see in the world.

Yes, social institutions which encouraged breeding in the past are what we're stuck with today, for better or worse. Societies have evolved to be natalist, as have churches. Religions may not be quite as natalist, and include advice for restraint. Those in power have always wanted the people to breed: gives them more power, but doesn't benefit the people themselves.

Unpainted, you note that, "To say that humanity is an 'exotic invader' may be true, but that carries no value judgement along with it outside of a human perspective." If the exotic species didn't disrupt the ecosystems they're introduced to, that might be true. It's more than just a value judgement from a human perspective to say that starlings have adversely impacted ecosystems they've invaded. Similarly, a wetlands ecosystem is more beneficial to the biosphere than a parking lot.

Advocating that we voluntary stop breeding and go extinct may provoke and/or encourage more acceptable goals, but VHEMT represents exactly what's needed to avoid a collapse of the biosphere. We should keep in mind that we are actively eliminating species which are all interconnected. Yes, the planet has gone through many changes including mass extinctions, but this doesn't excuse what we are doing nor does it make the opposition to this crime merely a judgement from a human perspective. A mass murderer could rationalize similarly. "Saying that living people are somehow more "healthy" than dead ones is purely arbitrary."

Likewise, healthy ecosystems may be contrasted with unhealthy ecosystems objectively. Biodiversity is a major factor in an ecosystem's strength. In places where human influence isn't as great, an objective observer can tell the difference. Preserving what's left of the natural world is difficult partly because so many people cling to a human-centered perspective. We collectively have self-awareness but lack awareness of the world in which we live.

Rather than "expressing an extreme version of a deeply human longing for an 'unspoiled' Earth," we are longing for an end to the destruction of natural ecosystems. Earth's biosphere isn't just dying, it's being murdered. If thinking that this is wrong makes it a religion, so be it.

An amoral worldview, no matter how well-reasoned, wastes our human sense of right and wrong.

Les U. Knight said...
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Les U. Knight said...
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Aryeh said...

Les,

I'll ignore your gratuitous side-swipe at the objectivists (grouping them with sociopaths and satanists is a weak rhetorical device).

Actually, I can only think of one rational reason a person might care about what happens after he's gone: a belief in a Higher Power, which imbues our lives with meaning beyond our earthly existence. A person who truly believes in no such thing (as opposed to the crypto-believers I wrote about above) simply has no rational reason to care. After all, we are all bits of matter assuming varoius configurations -- devoid of all morality and meaning. Heck, a true unbeliever shouldn't even care what happens during his life, much less afterwards.

And don't give me that it's-a-basic-human-function-anyone-who-doesn't-is-a-sociopath line. I can fail to care what happens on a remote continent and not be a sociopath (unless your peculiar definition of "sociopath" requires active empathy for every speck of protoplasm). Likewise, I can fail to care what happens hundreds of years from now while being completely psychologically healthy.

Why a human -- uniquely among the species -- should care about what happens after he's gone is a deep mystery requiring careful philosophical consideration, not a ham-fisted dismissal of anyone who doesn't as a sociopath.

But here is where things get really perverse. You are willing to sacrifice all of humanity for the sake of other species! Well, actually, you're being a bit weasly on this: "I know I won't see humanity gone from Earth, but I'm sure it will be a positive development for whatever life forms are left by then" isn't a 100% committment. So let's have an unambiguous answer, Les: assuming (a) and (b) are the only possible outcomes, which would you prefer:
(a) humanity continues to exist indefinitely (or for billions more years), at the expense of other species
(b) humanity goes extinct in a few hundred years and the earth returns to its pre-human state
?

Les U. Knight said...

Both (a) and (b) are impossible: Homo sapiens will evolve into something else if we don't cause our extinction, voluntary or otherwise. Earth can't return to its pre-human state: too many species have been eliminated.

I'm not suggesting that we "sacrifice all of humanity." I'm suggesting that, in light of the tens of thousands of existing children dying each day, the intentional creation of one more of us by anyone anywhere can't be justified today. Further, considering the number of species going extinct because of us, the continued existence of our species can't be justified. You may wonder, "Justified by whom or what principle?" Take your pick.

Maybe I should have included corporations which only care about their bottom line in the list of those who lack empathy, but they aren't really people.

It sure seems to me that "a belief in a Higher Power, which imbues our lives with meaning beyond our earthly existence," is based on faith rather than rationality. Many in VHEMT subscribe to a belief in a Higher Power, and feel that destroying creation goes against this Entity's will. Some in VHEMT consider all of creation to be a "Higher Power" than us. Others have developed a sense of morality that doesn't require believing in one of the many ancient myths. There are many routes to the same conclusion, however, believing that nothing but ourselves matters is a dead end, or at least a side track.

The perspective that "we are all bits of matter assuming various configurations" doesn't automatically include the view that we are "devoid of all morality and meaning."

"Heck, a true unbeliever shouldn't even care what happens during his life, much less afterwards." Actually, I've heard many believers say that this earthly realm is just a temporary home and their true home exists on another plane. Often they don't care what happens to their "rental unit."

Apparently you don't care what happens to the rest of life after you pass on, so may I assume you wouldn't have a problem in principle with our voluntary phase out? You would still live out your life, same as without us phasing out. Finding a parking spot would be easier though.

Aryeh said...

I happen to care deeply about what happens after I'm gone, but then I'm an observant Jew. I have the intellectual honesty to admit that my religious beliefs are grounded in faith and were not arrived at through empirical reasoning.

What I'd like to see in others is intellectual honesty and clarity. You say, "the continued existence of our species can't be justified". Indeed, I'd like to know, "Justified by whom or what principle?" -- because I certainly don't agree with that.

I guess I can separate my bemusement with VHEMT into two distinct parts:
(a) I am incredulous that people can sincerely wish for human extinction
(b) I find your particular way of achieving it to be completely counter-productive.

I mean, I can sort of understand the enviro-terrorists who destroy research labs and even murder scientists. Sure, they are dangerous psychopaths, but at least their actions somewhat further their goal of Saving. The. Earth. On a milder scale, you could campaign for massive regulation, to ban the burning of fossil fuels, to prohibit human expansion into wild habitats -- even for forced population control. I could see that being conducive to your goal. But your choice of action -- refusing to have children -- seems so laughably ineffective that it makes me wonder once again if this isn't all a joke (or more likely a quaint quasi-religious experience).

Les U. Knight said...

I apologize for assuming that you don't care what happens after you're gone. Since we both care, we have some common ground as a basis for seeing each others point of view.

"What I'd like to see in others is intellectual honesty and clarity." Honesty is easy, but clarity can be a challenge when we're straining to see things from a foreign point of view. I'll do my best.

I understand that you disagree with my contention that the continued existence of our species can't be justified, and you'd like to know, "Justified by whom or what principle?" That's why I suggested you pick one, any one. What justifies our existence when it means so many other species will cease to exist?

I'll try to clarify the two distinct parts of VHEMT you find bemusing:
"(a) I am incredulous that people can sincerely wish for human extinction."
There are several reasons people feel that our voluntary extinction is a good idea. A simple principle of fairness would be enough me, as explained at: http://www.vhemt.org/ecology.htm#whyv
Kurt Vonnegut said we should go extinct because of the way we treat each other, Arthur Schopenhauer said we should stop breeding because we have no right to sentence someone to life in a cruel world (the anti-natalist movement today), some are motivated by our treatment of non-human animals, others by our treatment of all life.

"(b) I find your particular way of achieving it to be completely counter-productive."
When looking at all the ways we might reduce our personal impact of Earth's biosphere, choosing to not create a new human is head and shoulders above all the rest. We can also encourage systemic changes, and will have more time to do so if we're not raising children. Trying to out-breed breeders to advance our perspective would be counter-productive.

How will creating another human today benefit people or planet?

Aryeh said...

Les, let me be clear that I respect your right to voluntarily refrain from having children. I likewise expect you to respect my right to have children.

If we can reach agreement on the above, we might as well breathe a giant sigh of relief, since I don't see us reaching any further agreement. [What principle of fairness are you referring to? Have you ever taken antibiotics, and if so, how can you justify killing millions of bacteria just to save your life?]

I believe that G-d created Man in His image, and gave us the other animals to rule over -- kindly, humanely, but certainly not on some "equal footing". I eat (kosher) meat, wear leather clothing, and use products tested on animals without any moral compunction.

My concern about the environment is mostly driven by my concern about a livable human habitat -- not by a concern for the environment per se (as seems to be the case for you).

I really don't see either us budging on our core principles. Perhaps an apology from me is in order. I find the VHEMT philosophy absurd to the point of comedy -- but then again, you might find my having children (and wanting to have more) absurd to the point of comedy. What, you actually wanted to get up in the middle of the night to change diapers? I'm sure some would consider me insane.

Unpainted said...

First, I want to thank Aryeh for providing a forum for this discussion; I'm not sure this is what you indended, but I think it's worthwhile. Thanks also to Les for addressing my comment/question.

Your answers to my concerns are perfectly reasonable, but I wonder if a clarification of your own views might be worthwhile? I might be overcomplicating what you're saying. Your example of the mass murderer illustrates what I mean by this. Yes, a murderer might make such a claim, and that claim would hold no weight to a human listener. The point is not that murder is "wrong," the point is that humans value things like justice, peace, comfort, and other humans. We condemn murder because we value these things, and because we are moral creatures. No other creature on Earth, or in the Universe for all we know, is moral. The very fact that you can call what we are doing to the biosphere a "crime" is evidence of your moral sense. I might call it a crime as well, because I share that sense. But to call it a "crime" is to buttress my larger point: we value our planet, our biosphere, and the full array of life on Earth because we are human. But there is nothing *objective* about that value. A healthy Earth biosphere is no better than the surface of the Moon except in that it privileges the biases of an observer.

This is where I wonder if we might benefit from some clarification of your point of view. Are you saying that a "healthy" Earth biosphere has objective value? It seems to me that you wish human extinction in order to satisfy a human desire for justice, peace, and prosperity for the life forms that we have victimized. I also think that such a view is perfectly fine. Humans naturally care about these things, and we all care about what the world will be like after we're gone. Most people connect such a desire to "leaving a better world for our children," but you connect it to the life within our biosphere as it exists today. That's fine, but it does reflect a particular kind of human bias.

Les U. Knight said...

Aryeh, we are in agreement about respecting each other's choices. I'm a proponent of voluntary methods, and am not in favor of restricting the freedom to create more of us. However, there's a difference between the two choices: not breeding requires nothing from anyone else, while we all share in the costs of raising new citizens.

You ask: "What principle of fairness are you referring to? Have you ever taken antibiotics, and if so, how can you justify killing millions of bacteria just to save your life?"
Yes, I have. Killing members of a species is not the same as eliminating that species. Bacteria which harm us are often human-specific, having mutated and transferred from other species. Extinction of those bacteria will not affect other life forms. The principle of fairness is that one species, us, is eliminating so many other species that it's only fair for us to do the same for ourselves and let what's left survive.

Thank you for answering my question regarding justification of our continued existence at the expense of other species, many just skip over it. So, it's because your deity wants it this way.

No, we won't change each other's minds -- that rarely happens in discussions. Others reading our exchange may gain some insights into differing ways of seeing the world and arrive at their own conclusions.

While you enjoy aspects of child-rearing, the question remains: "How will creating another human today benefit people or planet?" You don't have to answer it, but I'm always curious about this. There's a collection of reasons people have given for wanting to breed at: http://www.vhemt.org/biobreed.htm#reasons

Les U. Knight said...

Unpainted, you observe that, "No other creature on Earth, or in the Universe for all we know, is moral."
This may be true, we have eaten the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Some observers of other higher-order species claim we're not the only ones, but let's assume so for the sake of discussion.

I think Mark Twain's 1897 observation fits here: "Man is the Only Animal that Blushes. Or needs to." (Though octopi may blush emotionally). We are the only animal that could voluntarily go extinct, or needs to. It does therefore reflect a human bias.

"This is where I wonder if we might benefit from some clarification of your point of view. Are you saying that a 'healthy' Earth biosphere has objective value?"
I think it has intrinsic value and an objective observer can tell the difference between a healthy and unhealthy ecosystem. Someone who makes money by converting ancient forest ecosystems into tree farms might say one is just as healthy as the other, but they wouldn't be objective. It may not be possible to eliminate human subjectivity from our observations, but I don't think this prevents us from understanding our impact on the ecosystems.

"It seems to me that you wish human extinction in order to satisfy a human desire for justice, peace, and prosperity for the life forms that we have victimized."
In a way, but satisfying human desires would be moot if we weren't here. Appealing to human desires for what's right helps people understand why we think our voluntary extinction would be best for Earth's biosphere. Our desire for justice, peace, and prosperity could be more easily satisfied if we were improving our population density rather than increasing it.

"I also think that such a view is perfectly fine. Humans naturally care about these things, and we all care about what the world will be like after we're gone. Most people connect such a desire to "leaving a better world for our children," but you connect it to the life within our biosphere as it exists today. That's fine, but it does reflect a particular kind of human bias."
Yes, and that particular bias is one that expands concern for ourselves to concern for all life. As we individually mature, our sense of ethics also matures. As two-year-olds our concern is mainly for ourselves, then we care about our families, others in our community, and eventually the whole of humanity. Some of us get stuck along the way, with loyalty to those who share geopolitical region, belief system, or ethnic similarities, but if we continue to advance we will find our compassion expanding to encompass all life.

It does no harm to philosophize about the relative merits of a lifeless planet over the diversity of life that existed before we left Africa, but we have no right to actively work toward that lifeless planet. The onus for justification is on those who would cause extinctions for their own imagined gain.

Unpainted said...

Les, thank you for your thoughtful reply to my post. I take a more hopeful view of humanity than you do, but I can certainly understand where you're coming from here. I would contend with your hypothetical "objective observer," only in the sense that any observer will always privilege its own biosphere as the "healthy" one, and will therefore be subjective in some way. However, one might imagine an observer that could determine a biosphere to be healthy (one with biodiversity, stability, longevity, etc) even if that biosphere would be unhealthy for them in particular (too much CO2, for example).

Anyway, I think I've said all I have to say, so I'll sign off. Given that you are working toward the extinction of humanity I'm not sure I should wish you luck, but I do I wish you well. Thanks again.

Aryeh said...

Les, your moral calculus is completely arbitrary. So you've somehow decided that animal life is to be weighted on the level of species. Why not genus or family? Why not individuals? Would you be willing to sacrifice two species of mosquitoes to save the chimpanzees? Your particular answers to these questions are less important than the fact that they could be anything at all ("why yes, for reasons of cosmic justice, I am willing to sacrifice 2 mosquito and 1 dung beetle for the chimps").

Your ask, "How will creating another human today benefit people or planet?" Actually, I gave that zero consideration. G-d has commanded me to be fruitful and multiply, and being a father is the greatest joy there is. The suggestion to "Seek true nature of God, whatever you perceive God to be" is offensive, as it suggests that the entire Jewish faith is severely misguided.

If you did a utilitarian calculation (not that this is logically possible, but you seem to have a calculus for these things) and it turned out that your personal continued existence was causing more harm than good to humanity and the planet, would you commit suicide?

Finally, I take issue with your claim that your not having children taxes no-one, while my having children taxes the entire society. I could well argue that my children's taxes will be supporting you in your old age, so if anything, you're a free-rider of sorts. Not that I think this is a terribly meaningful argument...

Les U. Knight said...

Aryeh, I can see how you might get the impression that "animal life is to be weighted on the level of species." Speaking in terms of species and animals is convenient, but I'm actually considering the entire biosphere and all the species which interact symbiotically. Only one species, genus if you wish, is causing the others to go extinct at a rate that damages the integrity of the entire system.

You're certainly not alone in your "zero consideration" for how creating another of us will benefit planet or people. Procreation is the default life for several reasons, not just religious training. With natalist pressure from all directions, it's a wonder as many people think it through as do.

Rather than suggesting "that the entire Jewish faith is severely misguided," I would suggest that your selection of commandments could be "misguided". The total population of Earth was 2 when we were told to be fruitful and multiply. All the other creatures were given the same commandment. We have been fruitful and multiplied, now perhaps it's time to pay attention to an even stronger commandment: “Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, ‘til there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the Earth!” Isaiah 5:8 This one has some rather harsh punishments for disobedience, so we could assume it's more serious.

Yes, I have determined that it's not possible for any human to have a net positive influence on the biosphere, particularly living in North America. I like to think I'm a net positive influence on humanity, but my judgement is biased. Although my continued existence is not beneficial for the rest of life, suicide is not the logical conclusion. Increasing deaths won't make the world a better place. Even if it were worth considering, high death rates cause high birth rates.

I agree, our relative cost to society isn't "a terribly meaningful argument." Although I'll pay far more toward raising children than I'll ever receive in social security, taxation is an artificial institution. The real costs of procreation are environmental, not economic. Because we all share the same environment, creating more of us requires a larger share.

Aryeh said...

Les,

I disagree that there is "natalist pressure from all directions" in our society. At least financially speaking, childrearing is an unmitigated burden. While society condones having one or two children, beyond 4 or so, people really start to look at you funny (and are often not shy about making comments).

Your suggestion that we the Jews reinterpret our Scripture is quaintly ignorant, and rather presumptuous. Judaism has a 3000+ year tradition of scriptural exegesis; with all due respect, I think we'll manage this one just fine on our own without outside help. [You might not be aware of the sinister attempts by missionary groups to recruit Jews by selectively quoting suggestive passages out of context.]

Thank you for the frank admission that according to your calculus, "it's not possible for any human to have a net positive influence on the biosphere". I don't see how "suicide is not the logical conclusion" of this calculation -- is there another universal principle lurking somewhere? Convenient to be able to conjure them up at will, no? :)
[I really should stop, but I can't help myself. Would you take life-saving medication? What about in 10 years? What about medication to mitigate the effects of aging -- effectively, a life-extending treatment?]

Les U. Knight said...

Social pressure to breed makes it the default life: most people have never considered not breeding. People may think about the financial costs and try to plan accordingly, but that's rarely enough to prevent them from creating at least one more of themselves. I know of no organization advising people not to breed -- just a few online groups. (VHEMT isn't an organization) Natalist influence is so pervasive that it's invisible. Women who choose to remain childfree, or who are unable to conceive, are victims of social disapproval ranging from condescension to murder, depending on the culture.

My suggestion was that you as an individual might have selected the passage which supports what you want to do, and have ignored that which might conflict.

You note that you "don't see how 'suicide is not the logical conclusion' of this calculation" that we're a net detriment to the biosphere. Maybe I should have gone into more detail instead of simply stating "Increasing deaths won't make the world a better place. Even if it were worth considering, high death rates cause high birth rates." Reasons why I think suicide is not the answer are listed at: http://vhemt.org/death.htm#killself This may also answer your question about life-saving and life-extending efforts.

"... is there another universal principle lurking somewhere?" Convenient to be able to conjure them up at will, no? :)" I have to conjure them up: I don't have a 3,000+ year tradition of scriptural exegesis to draw from. This handicap forces me to present ideas on their own merit, with supporting evidence from scientific sources.

NYY Center Fielder said...

This can all be cleared up in a few short sentences. If you accept the premise that human beings, collectively, have been shitting on this planet for centuries, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, then it's hard to accept any justification for human procreation.

My children will not be burdened with the responsibility of the cleanup or impending doom of global catastrophe, because my children will never be created. Yours will have the entire burden to themselves, and you have nobody but yourself to thank. This is what you wanted, ain't ya proud?

Aryeh said...

Les, first I want to point out something that should be painfully obvious. We're having a meta-argument. I am not trying to convince you to have children, and I don't think you're really trying to convince me not to.

You're trying to argue that your beliefs are somehow grounded in some enlightened rational arguments, while mine are "merely" religious dogma. I encounter such arguments all too often, especially being in the academia. (You -- with a PhD in CS and actively involved in scientific research -- actually believe that stuff?!) Such people invariably have a featherweight philosophical anchoring; I try to be gentle when taking them down. (Suppose I were to shed all of my religious superstition and approach reality with an open, inquiring, rational mind. What ought I believe in, then? Do you accept the atomic theory of matter, Les? Can you cogently define the term "atom" without resorting to Google? On what grounds do you accept or reject this theory -- have you seen an atom yourself? Do you have command of the relevant mathematical apparatus to understand this theory? It's much more fun in interactive mode, trust me, but you get the idea...)

So it would be nice if you'd admit that your resolve not to have children is as much a religious calling as any other -- and your faith is not one iota more "rational" or "scientific" than mine. But I'm not holding my breath...

Aryeh said...

Well, I guess this whole debate is moot -- now that NYY Center Fielder has cleared it all up for us.

Except that no, NYYCS, I don't accept "the premise that human beings, collectively, have been shitting on this planet for centuries". Of course, if that is your view of humanity, then I think you're doing the rest of us a Darwinian favor by reclusing your genes from the collective pool.

Anonymous said...

May I make a suggestion to the VHEMTs?

I've only skimmed the discussion, but it sounds like they want humans to go extinct so that earth can return to a "healthy" state (yes, healthy for humans). They are also convinced that human beings are polluting the earth and making it an inhospitable place for life. Right? So my suggestion to them: have as many kids as possible, drive SUVs, etc. That way, Earth will race as quickly as possible to the point when humans have ruined it, and then it's a hop-skip-and-jump to their goal of human extinction. (And they can indoctrinate their young, unlike the current movement's deficient strategy...) A few hundred thousand years later Earth might be at their desired state (or not, since its climate has undergone gigantic fluctuations, somehow doing so without our aid...).

Les U. Knight said...

Ayen, you observe, "I am not trying to convince you to have children, and I don't think you're really trying to convince me not to."

You're right, I'm not. If I could say some magic words that would cause you to have an epiphany and decide to not breed ever again, it wouldn't be truly voluntary. This is an awareness people need to arrive at on their own.

"You're trying to argue that your beliefs are somehow grounded in some enlightened rational arguments, while mine are "merely" religious dogma." Actually, I try to use whatever frame of reference someone has rather than my own. If someone's foundation for their position is a specific philosophy or book, it makes sense to use that perspective rather than my own. This doesn't always work, however. Sometimes a person will base their position firmly on the authority of a source and then not allow me to reference that same source because it's not mine.

Nonetheless, it's tempting to take the position you describe when your reason for continuing to create more of us actually does come from religious dogma. On the rational side are the facts that tens of thousands of existing children are dying each day from a lack of care, and that our essential resources like water are shrinking while demand is increasing unsustainably.

I'm sure your understanding of atomic theory and many other scientific stuff far exceeds mine. Not only do I lack 3,000 years of tradition due being born so recently, I barely have a bachelors degree. Fortunately, our subject at hand is so simple a child of five could figure it out -- we should send for a child of five.

"So it would be nice if you'd admit that your resolve not to have children is as much a religious calling as any other -- and your faith is not one iota more 'rational' or 'scientific' than mine. But I'm not holding my breath..."

I admit my faith that humanity's compassion for others will lead us to collectively choose to go extinct isn't based on science. Extrapolation from our past indicates otherwise.

I'm suggesting that the intentional creation of one more of us by anyone anywhere can't be justified today, and that Homo sapiens' continued existence likewise can't be justified, for rational reasons given above.

Our rational frontal lobes mainly serve to justify emotional motivations from our limbic system, and to find clever ways of ignoring challenges to our world views.

Les U. Knight said...

Anonymous, you're right that breeding and contributing more to ecological collapse will bring about human extinction faster than a voluntary plan of non-breeding. Indeed, it's far more likely to happen this way.

But, don't you think it would be nicer for all life if we stopped making ecosystems inhospitable?

Aryeh said...

Les, I'll comment briefly on your quip that I base my faith on Jewish holy scripture but refuse to engage your thelogical arguments based on this scripture (i.e., "not allow [you] to reference that same source because it's not [yours]").

The Jews don't read their Bible in a vacuum; we have strict and coherent rules for how to interpret biblical passages. Sometimes our interpretation outright contradicts the plain written text (a famous example is "eye for an eye" -- Rabbinical tradition is unanimous in interpreting this as compensatory payment, not actual maiming revenge). So, I'll be happy to engage in theological discussions with you -- after you've spent a couple of years in a Yeshiva. Otherwise, we're simply speaking different languages.

An apt comparison is an incident I had with a student who came to argue about her exam. "Of course I marked this wrong -- you're assuming what's needed to be proved, and circular reasoning is one of the most basic logical errors we warn against!". To which she retorted: "But you did the same thing in lecture! When doing proofs by contradicion, you assume the opposite of what's needed to be proved and arrive at a contradiction. So I did something similar -- assumes what's needed to be proved and showed that no contradiction arises..."

Now every mathematician who hears this story bursts out laughing, because we have well-accepted rules for constructing arguments. But I suppose that to a layman, my student's reasoning might even sound plausible...

My point is simple -- you want to argue mathematics, learn to use our terminology and rules correctly. Want to argue Judaism -- do the same. Plain-sounding words have specialized meaning ("work" means something very specific to a physicist). I hope I've explained myself adequately...

Les U. Knight said...

It seems to me there's a danger of getting out of touch with those who haven't acquired your level of knowledge: an intellectual insulation. Although you probably remember what it's like to be uninformed, you may have a hard time relating to the ignorant masses. I think this has happened to the Pope, for example.

While religious indoctrination from each of the world's belief systems would enlighten me significantly, I don't have that many years left. I'm also mentally resistant to assuming what's needed to be proved -- which made Economics courses a challenge. After being forced into a terrorist training camp as a young man, and almost crossing over to the dark side, I've become hypersensitive to indoctrination. Mindless obedience is evil's great multiplier.

I'm sure there are many subtleties in your Bible, and judging from the varieties of practices, it's apparent that interpretations vary. Like, if you're not supposed to cut your hair at the temple, does that mean no barbers in synagogues?

I really like this statement from The Talmud: "What is hateful to you, do not to others. That is the entire Law, all the rest is commentary." (Shabbat, 31a). I interpret "others" to include all life, not just humans. You might prefer to classify this as religion, but I just think of it as basic fairness. All major religions include this in some way. It's called the Golden Rule in Christianity. Everyone with the capacity for empathy is capable of understanding, and agreeing with, this basic ethical principle.

If I stated that the microscopic bacteria in the intestines of termites were far more critical to the integrity of Earth's biosphere than humans, and you disagreed. I could then say that you have to study ecology for a couple of years before you have the vocabulary to disagree. However, anyone with half a brain could see that if termites couldn't digest wood they would go extinct and repercussions up the food chain would be devastating to the entire web of life. Anyone with a whole brain might find some way to prove their assumption that humans are the most essential species in the universe, or at least obfuscate the issue and side track discussion. We're such a clever ape.

I'm suggesting that the intentional creation of one more of us by anyone anywhere can't be justified today, and that Homo sapiens' continued existence likewise can't be justified, for rational and compassionate reasons given above. I've looked back over our discussion and have only found two reasons you have given to counter this suggestion: you want to and your religious texts include advice to do so. Am I overlooking something?

Unpainted said...

I've came back to the discussion, and just have a quick thing (or maybe, now that I see the whole post, not so quick) to point out... Les, you say humanity's continued existence cannot be justified for reasons you call compassionate and rational. Ok, fine. But then you say that Aryeh's objection to this is that he "wants to (ie, have children)" and that his religion includes advice to procreate. I suppose a serious distillation of his position would boil down to that, but the same is true of what you're asserting. You're justifying your value system and the actions based on it using criteria whose importance is based only on the value you place on them (ie, you "want to"). This is the point that I, and Aryeh, have been making. He's not trying to convince you that you should have children, or that he's correct. He's trying to convince you that your position is not *axiomatically* correct, as you seem to be implying (or do I misread you?). You value what you conceive as a healthy biosphere (what you say an "objective observer" would determine to be health) above humanity's continued existence. Great, that's what you value. He values humanity's continued existence, and values a healthy biosphere only insofar as it provides a livable habitat for humans. Both are value judgements, even if you claim that extending your "value" to non-human life is "better," or "broader," or whatever. Your view is not more rational, or more compassionate. It mere expresses a different value system.

Anonymous said...

Gosh i'm a trouble maker...sorry Les, I had to post the Limit Plan to the silver bulet challenge...

this is the Rulgert, author of said Limit Plan...I am also VHEMT, and see all the elements of the worlds natural systems as microcosmic civilizations, of timeless inter galactic origins, and for superior to our own....my concern for earthen life extends beyond my life time, because nature recycles at the molecular level....

would it be too much to accept, that someone could have ethics because they are human, and not because they are religious?

BTW Les, you really kicked out some nice stuff here..

Anonymous said...

sorry, i posted it to a forum of similar title...

and it is to large to post here....and so a truncated except..

***The Global Non-transferable 0.5 limit plan***

The basis of the argument...

1) we are approximately 50% over global carrying capacity as a species.

2) one child can carry the biological records for two...where a second child assumes the burden of the necessary reduction in population be an involuntary forfeiture of the biological records of two other individuals...

3) under awareness of said earth system stress levels, and loss of specification, many may voluntarily forfeit the passing of their biology as a means of preserving species on the brink, and securing planetary health, while insuring the right of humans to breed, should they choose to, remain an accessible option....in order that this wish be respected, these voluntary forfeitures must not be allowed to become a birth credit to be assumed by any existing parent, maternal, paternal, or both, in the case of a second potential child.

frish said...

Aryeh and Les (who knows me):

VHEMT is no joke. And, motivation doesn't have to be tree hugging per se, or even caring about the future, post-human, environment.

My motivation: I believe the trajectory and momentum of cultural forces at work in the world will cause a catastrophic decrease (IMHO probable extinction) in humankind.

Having more children means more will suffer.

Therefore having another child is immoral, by anyone anywhere and for the foreseeable anywhen.

Here's some science:
Two Oak Trees - produce 100,000 acorns each per year over 150 years or so 30,000,000 acorns produced.

How many acorns grew into acorn producing trees?
On the average, just 2 (two).
Otherwise the world would be nothing but oak trees.

We will be the victims of our own success.

Way too few people consider what 6,000,000,000 people in 2000 turning into 9,000,000,000 in 2050 truly means.

That's 1.5 people for every person now living...and, since electricity and television and cell phones are the FIRST things brought into the remotest village, everyone on the planet is going to be a consumer!

Per the Golden Rule (built into our genome as a result of our Social Primate roots) I think one more child is too many, since it would adversely affect others.

Frish

Aryeh said...

Frish, I find it very amusing that you write "We will be the victims of our own success" apparently without considering the possibility of VHEMT becoming the victim of its own success...

Les U. Knight said...

Unpainted, I'll repost your summary: "You value what you conceive as a healthy biosphere (what you say an 'objective observer' would determine to be health) above humanity's continued existence. Great, that's what you value. He values humanity's continued existence, and values a healthy biosphere only insofar as it provides a livable habitat for humans. Both are value judgements, even if you claim that extending your 'value' to non-human life is 'better,' or 'broader,' or whatever. Your view is not more rational, or more compassionate. It merely expresses a different value system."

I think you're right that we are each expressing a value system, but that doesn't mean they are equal. Someone who cares only about themselves and someone who cares about their family have different value systems, but few would say they're equal.

Nonetheless, if the difference were simply that I value Earth's biosphere for itself and Aryeh values it for humanity, the conclusion that we should refrain from placing more strain on it would remain valid.

Aryeh said...

"Someone who cares only about themselves and someone who cares about their family have different value systems, but few would say they're equal."

Les, you are stubbornly refusing to understand a very basic point. Presumably, someone who only cares about himself is more "selfish" while someone who also cares about his family is more "altruistic". Why is altruism necessarily a better quality than selfishness? It follows from some principle you've implicitly assumed -- one whose validity you can't establish logically just as surely as I can't logically prove G-d's existence.

To recap, for the (n+1)th time: I am upfront about my beliefs arising from an axiomatic system, and I am well aware that the axioms have no logical or rational basis. Contrariwise, every time you're asked to justify a statement, you pull a Universal Principle out of your sleeve and expect people to accept it as self-evident.

As you can see, it's not working on me, Unpainted, or any other person with a modest grasp of logic or philosophy. Even somebody who happens to subscribe to the VHEMT agenda but is soundly grounded in logic (a hypothetical) would dismiss your reasoning as bogus.

Here is an example (relevant to your last point): if you like fish qua fish and I like fish qua food, we might both be interested in piscine conservation -- but for very different reasons and via very different policies.

Les U. Knight said...

Arueh, you have to ask, "Why is altruism necessarily a better quality than selfishness?"

Do your personal ethics consider selfishness and altruism to be equal?

Aryeh said...

Sigh. The Torah commands me to love my neighbor as myself, so some form of altruism is clearly G-d's commandment. But that's not the point, Les. I can't logically convince someone who doesn't accept the Torah that he should love his neighbor -- just as you can't logically convince me to be concerned about the biosphere per se, as opposed to my concern for it only as a habitat for humans.

Just because you and I both happen to subscribe to a value system in which altruism is better than egoism doesn't make this system the "logical", "rational" or "natural" choice.

Unpainted said...

Les, you write: "I think you're right that we are each expressing a value system, but that doesn't mean they are equal... if the difference were simply that I value Earth's biosphere for itself and Aryeh values it for humanity, the conclusion that we should refrain from placing more strain on it would remain valid." Absolutely correct. I agree completely that we should reduce the strain we're putting on our biosphere. I think my previous posts are consistent with that idea. My only point is that total human extinction is a value-free state. It's neither good nor bad; it is nothing at all. Things like "value" and "good" and "compassion" and "altruism" are human ideas. Without humans, they cease to exist. To borrow from Aryeh, I value humanity qua humanity. I have no justification for that value, and further I don't think I need one. The biosphere is valuable to me because I have an emotional attachment to a nature in a particular state, and because it provides health, prosperity, and happiness to humans. I think that humanity is truly special and while I regret the extinction of other species, I stop shy of regretting it to the point of wishing humanity's disappearance. That said, I accept that you do not necessarily need to justify your value of the biosphere for its own sake. I don't quite understand that value and I wonder if it's potentially dangerous, but it's yours, it's clearly deeply held, and I can respect that.

Les U. Knight said...

Aryeh, by your sigh I can tell our discussion is becoming tedious for you. I sometimes work with special needs students so I know how frustrating it can be. Thanks for your patience. It just took a while to establish an ethical frame of reference, and it seems we now have one.

You note that, "Just because you and I both happen to subscribe to a value system in which altruism is better than egoism doesn't make this system the 'logical', 'rational' or 'natural' choice." It makes no difference where a value system comes from or what we call it: a value system stands on its own merits. In this case, we can apply our common value system to the issue of reproductive choice.

My application is that as long as tens of thousands of existing children are dying of preventable causes each day, it's unethical to create more.

Although we are concerned about the biosphere for different reasons, the important thing is that we are concerned about it. Our impact on it is multiplied when we make more of ourselves.

So, these are the two main reasons -- humanitarian and ecological -- I suggest we stop breeding, at least for the present.

Aryeh said...

Les, our discussion on ethics began with my claim that you have no logical grounds on which to claim that your belief system is superior to mine.

You attempted a flawed argument: we both agree that empathy is better than egoism, so there must be an objective way of judging moral systems. This is incorrect.

Let's take murder. I know that murder is wrong because that is the word of G-d as revealed to us in His Written and Oral Torah.

I assume you also believe that murder is wrong. But why is that, Les? Be careful answering this one. Any utilitarian appeal to "golden rules" or "social order" doesn't hold on a desert island (if there are only two inhabitants, presumably murder is still wrong). So why is murder inherently wrong? I sense another universal principle is about to make an appearance :)

You might call faith irrational (true: I didn't arrive at it deductively) or arbitrary (why Judaism and not Buddhism?). But once I've taken on my faith, I can provide solidly grounded answers to moral questions -- instead of reaching for univeral principles every time I'm cornered.

Les U. Knight said...

Whether it's universal or not, you and I share a common moral system. I've applied our moral system to the choice to create more of us: tens of thousands of existing children are dying of preventable causes each day, so it's unethical to create more, at least for the present.

Do you agree with this application?

Aryeh said...

I don't think we fully share a common moral system, Les -- we just happen to agree on a number of conclusions. I find this to be a total non sequitur: "tens of thousands of existing children are dying of preventable causes each day, so it's unethical to create more, at least for the present". I could see how you might encourage people to send aid, volunteer, or even adopt these children. But the conclusion that it's unethical to have children of one's own is a whopper of a leap. [Besides, I thought this was about the biospehere and those other species -- now you are advancing VHEMT on humanitarian arguments?]

Les U. Knight said...

People in VHEMT are motivated by both ecological and humanitarian concerns to varying degrees. It seemed to me focusing on one at a time would avoid confusion.

If the children dying from a lack of care were in our own houses, there would be no question that we should take care of them before creating more. (Tens of millions of couples are in this exact situation and are being denied the basic human right to avoid conception). Although we are able to care for the children in our own homes, if our neighbors' children were starving and sick, the connection between our creating more while ignoring the needs of existing children could still be understood. When they're out of sight and a long ways away, we might call the connection a "whopper of a leap." However, we're all in the same family: the human family.

Yes, we "might encourage people to send aid, volunteer, or even adopt these children," but when we create more of our own to take care of we are less able to do so. Intentionally setting out to create more offspring than we already have takes the position that our future children, who don't exist yet, are more deserving of care than existing children.

Aryeh said...

Your post provides a stark illustration of just how vastly different our value systems are. Which is perfectly fine, except for your insistence that yours is somehow more logical, rational or ethical.

How many of these children have you adopted, Les? Do you eschew all animal products (meat, milk, honey, leather, animal-tested medication)? Heck, even your continued existence might be said to be immoral -- since by your own calculation it causes the biosphere more detriment than benefit. So it seems that even on your own terms some might consider you an immoral hypocrite.

I eat meat. I am well aware of the thousands of homeless children, yet have no intention of adopting any. Under most circumstances, I wouldn't adopt such children even if they were right next door. In fact -- horribile dictu! -- I actually hope to have more of my own children. This might make me a monster in your eyes. I happen to think that I am a highly moral individual, with a sophisticated, deeply grounded and well-reasoned philosophy.

In other words, it's not that there are some basic facts that I am not aware of and through this ignorance hold "wrong" beliefs. I know all about the starving children and am still making the moral, thought-out choice to have my own. We derive our ethics from different axioms (universal principles, if you insist) -- and there simply does not exist a logical or rational method for selecting a priori a "correct" set of principles.

Look over our conversation. Every time you are asked to justify something, you create a new principle out of thin air. Don't you realize that having an unlimited supply of such principles is no different than answering "I just feel like it"?

I am very up-front and candid about my moral principles and rules for moral reasoning. You might not like the results they produce (i.e., a breeding carnivore), but you certainly can't accuse me of dithering, dishonesty or obfuscation. That's more that I can say for the vast majority of my interlocutors in debates on morality...

Aryeh said...

Your post provides a stark illustration of just how vastly different our value systems are. Which is perfectly fine, except for your insistence that yours is somehow more logical, rational or ethical.

How many of these children have you adopted, Les? Do you eschew all animal products (meat, milk, honey, leather, animal-tested medication)? Heck, even your continued existence might be said to be immoral -- since by your own calculation it causes the biosphere more detriment than benefit. So it seems that even on your own terms some might consider you an immoral hypocrite.

I eat meat. I am well aware of the thousands of homeless children, yet have no intention of adopting any. Under most circumstances, I wouldn't adopt such children even if they were right next door. In fact -- horribile dictu! -- I actually hope to have more of my own children. This might make me a monster in your eyes. I happen to think that I am a highly moral individual, with a sophisticated, deeply grounded and well-reasoned philosophy.

In other words, it's not that there are some basic facts that I am not aware of and through this ignorance hold "wrong" beliefs. I know all about the starving children and am still making the moral, thought-out choice to have my own. We derive our ethics from different axioms (universal principles, if you insist) -- and there simply does not exist a logical or rational method for selecting a priori a "correct" set of principles.

Look over our conversation. Every time you are asked to justify something, you create a new principle out of thin air. Don't you realize that having an unlimited supply of such principles is no different than answering "I just feel like it"?

I am very up-front and candid about my moral principles and rules for moral reasoning. You might not like the results they produce (i.e., a breeding carnivore), but you certainly can't accuse me of dithering, dishonesty or obfuscation. That's more that I can say for the vast majority of my interlocutors in debates on morality...

Les U. Knight said...

Aryeh, you wrote, "Your post provides a stark illustration of just how vastly different our value systems are. Which is perfectly fine, except for your insistence that yours is somehow more logical, rational or ethical."

If I gave you that impression, I misspoke. Since they are about the same, one can't be more logical or ethical. It seems to me we have the same value system, though it comes from different sources. You wrote: "The Torah commands me to love my neighbor as myself, so some form of altruism is clearly G-d's commandment." And I got the same thing from life. It's our application that differs.

I was curious as to how "a highly moral individual, with a sophisticated, deeply grounded and well-reasoned philosophy" could ignore "neighboring" children's needs and instead create more children to care for. "I know all about the starving children and am still making the moral, thought-out choice to have my own." Apparently our interpretation of "love thy neighbor as thyself" differs.

I have not adopted any children, rather, I support efforts to help couples avoid conception when they want to. The goal of preventing children from starving to death may be achieved by feeding them or by not creating them.

"Look over our conversation. Every time you are asked to justify something, you create a new principle out of thin air. Don't you realize that having an unlimited supply of such principles is no different than answering 'I just feel like it'?"

I'm happy to use whatever moral principles others hold dear. Except for the sociopaths, et al, I mentioned in the beginning of our conversation, it seems to me we all have the same basic moral principle when it comes right down to it. Sometimes it takes a while to get right down to it.

I use that principle to justify my not breeding and to recommend voluntarily phasing out our species. Your application of that same principle leads you to the opposite. We aren't likely to change each other's conclusions, but perhaps others will gain some insights by reading our discussion -- unless we've lost everyone a few pages back.

Would you agree that we've arrived at the conclusion of this discussion?

Aryeh said...

I never said I would ignore a starving child next door. Of course I would help such a child to the best of my ability -- within reason (see below). I probably wouldn't adopt this child, but as someone who also hasn't adopted any children, I don't think you'll be calling my morality into question on this point.

The gap I am failing to bridge is in your implied syllogism: The existence of a starving child anywhere makes it unethical for me to have a child of my own. That makes about as much sense as impugning the act of eating as long as there is hunger in the world. Why should I deny myself my G-d given right (actually, a positive commandment) to progeny, and instead devote myself to the progeny of others?

Have you donated a kidney to a dialysis patient, Les? How do you justify your walking around with two functional kidneys when there are so many dying people desperately waiting for one?

I am curious how a moral individual (which you no doubt consider yourself) can ignore the suffering of all the dialysis patients.

Les U. Knight said...

I see your point about the fallacy of us not eating as long as some are hungry. I knew someone who refused to be happy because there are so many people whose lives were so miserable. Clearly this does no one any good.

We can't each give up, for example a kidney, to alleviate others' suffering. In my case I need both to process the beer I enjoy. I could stop buying beer and send the money to organizations which help couples avoid conception, and thus prevent a few children from starving to death. We all make choices about how to help humanity and/or our environment, and how far we go is a personal decision. The Buddha is supposed to have fed himself to a hungry lioness with cubs. This isn't practical in our modern world.

You ask, "Why should I deny myself my G-d given right (actually, a positive commandment) to progeny, and instead devote myself to the progeny of others?"

Some activities have more impact on society and the environment than others, so when making choices we might weigh the costs vs benefits. The single greatest impact, way beyond our dietary, transportation, and energy usage choices, is creating a new human being with a lifetime of doing what we do.

It's similar to the companion animal situation in the US: there are millions more dogs and cats than there are homes for them. One slogan: "Don't breed or buy while others die." When someone breeds their dog, even though they find homes for each puppy, it means existing dogs have to be euthanized due to a lack of homes.

Humanity's situation isn't as direct, so the comparison doesn't fit exactly. However, considering what it takes to support the lifestyle we're accustomed to in over-industrialized regions, and how much of that comes at the expense of those living in regions where child mortality is high, there's at least some connection. It's something to consider, anyway.

You're right, we don't have to adopt children in need in order to make sure their needs are met. I would say, "Don't breed 'em, feed 'em."

I came across this quote from George Bernard Shaw: "No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says; he is always convinced that it says what he means." He's exaggerating, of course, but it's tempting to pick passages which support what we think. I know that's what I do.

Dan Q said...

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who will sign on to the VHEMT agenda and those who will not. Which group does the future belong to? What does this say about the effectiveness of the VHEMT agenda?

This argument is based upon the assumption that children will always inherit the agenda of their parents. This can be demonstrated to be false in a topical way: my parents chose to breed, and I (as a VHEMT supporter) choose not to. Therefore, ideas do not spread only by inheritance. Or, to put it another way: memes are not genes.

I'm not naïve: I don't expect that the VHEMT will succeed, either with or without my help. But that doesn't make them wrong. And as Ghandi said: "You must be the change you want to see in the world."

Aryeh said...

Reply to Dan Q:
"This argument is based upon the assumption that children will always inherit the agenda of their parents."

I don't need correlation of 1 (children will ALWAYS inherit...); any positive correlation suffices, and the law of large numbers will do the rest. Antireproductive anomalies (whether physical or psychological) tend to be rapidly eliminated from the gene pool. Adios!