Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The End of Greatness

or; is it right to just fuck it?
or; pessimism tends not to be naturally selected...

IT gives us the anti-natalist position par excellence. It always seems to come down to a question of framing, however. IT rightly takes issue with the 'butbecomingaparentissonaturaldontchaknow' attitude by pointing out that making life is merely one of a number of urges that we, as political animals, generally subdue in order to function a little better together; in this way it could be said that the anti-natalist is just setting their moral threshold of acceptable behaviour at a different level to the happy parent, and perhaps this might be so.

However, I often come back to the (probably apocryphal) response from Beckett, questioned about his lack of progeny:
"Neither I nor my wife can bear the thought of committing a child to death."

According to this maxim, life is a trouble, and an unnecessary one; all of the infinity of potential humans are currently in an infinitely blank limbo, which in all cases is preferable to actually being brought into existence. Never having existed is always preferable to existing. This attitude leads on to the foster parent scenario - there are suffering human beings that need everybody else's help; they are here now, let's ease the pain as best we can. Sisyphus.

The other aspect of the Beckettian attitude is the role of time; and here we have to wrestle with more inconsistency; the virtual human is indeterminate, but the moment of conception sets forth a process that includes the potential for a senile, cancerous old human suffering constant pain. And of course, it is tempting to see that vision when one is in the wrong mind and in the company of children; a baby crying and dribbling? Imagine them crying and dribbling seventy years from now...

And another time problem, and this is where Beckett's Proustian influence becomes important. Proust is, of course, nearly all about the infinite and horrible tyranny of the Present, of now-ness, and the very small and very rare occasions (fuck it, let's call them events, shall we?) where the sensation of the past, another time, becomes stronger than the banal suffering of the Now. Included in the concept of time that Proust and Beckett subscribe to is of course the end as the prominent moment; bitter reminiscences of the all-too-real decaying body, terrifyingly present.

But to see life in this way, as a series of accumulating sufferings masking the vain pleasures and phyrric victories over time and nature is no more consistent than fucking away and feeling some form of specialness for having been able to spawn. Beckett himself, of course, never got to fully enjoy his withering away, as his mind took leave of him before his body did, which is of course the way the vast majority of us go.

Benatar, of course, tries hard to wrestle with these problems. He appeals to the pollyanna principle, saying that even when we think that our lives are pretty good, the opposite is the case, but then, the gaping logical hole here is, to whom does this matter? If all our lives are worse than we think they are, what could it possibly ever matter? There is a transcendental guarantee here required, an observer that is not human and is capable of perfect judgement of the quality of human life. Remind you of anything?

The video at the top is a simulation of the structure of a universe with physical laws like our own. I think it represents a problem that a certain aspect of the human mind wrestles with all of the time. To commit to a materialist ontology often includes a commitment to letting your investigations take you where they want to go, and that can spell trouble, perspectival trouble. But thus far there has never been a human that could escape its embodiment, its courage and its cowardice, its capacity for abstract thought and inability to transcend its own limits. Perhaps we're not far off from a real qualitative change, post-humanism either of transcendence or extinction, but that's another issue. Whether we think that childbirth is part of an 'avalanche of reproductive misery' (Benatar) or not, there's no outside point from which we could make it matter.


le rakun said...

tQ for posting this. enlightened my boring frustrating day.

tQ, really.

steve said...

Yesterday evening, I was jogging through the countryside with my 18 month old daughter in her pushchair thinking pretty much the same thing. There is 'no outside point' that's right...but when I look into her face I see/hallucinate not the dribbling gaga OAP but a young woman shouting a rabble rousing speech at a crowded barricade amidst smoke and tear gas.
Smug childlessness is as much a drag as its parented counterpart.

steve said...

Top post btw