“We are the future’s dirt.”

I haven’t abandoned my antinatalism quintet.  No, it’s just the matter of priorities, weighted by the obligations of a day job and an incurably lazy temperament.  The subject keeps coming up, though.  In odd places.  I notice there’s now a Wiki stub, which more or less appropriately traces the core idea to Schopenhauerian pessimism. And I’ve engaged in the discussion now and then, as disparate currents have come to my
attention. The semantical wrangling will surely inform my argument, such as it is, and such as it develops. But the comments appending these various and typically hostile online demurrals only harden my suspicion that the case against procreation represents a special, species-deep class of heresy.

No real surprise then, that the first forum to corner the discourse should describe antinatalism as "the greatest taboo." With some literary license, the host posits a carefully structured triarchy, which I am at present prepared neither to embrace nor deny.  It goes like this:

. . .there have been three schools of thought which, throughout history,
have been held out-of-bounds to honest inquiry and criticism. The first
is religion; at least, when it comes to questioning the efficacy of the
idea itself, since certainly the supporters of the various creeds have
spent no little energy in lambasting all metaphysical belief systems
other than their own. The second is the concept of free-will, a belief
that even many a dyed-in-the-wool atheist and/or scientific naturalist
seems disinclined to let go of, mostly based on a rather ill-contrived
‘intuition’; which, in my opinion, flies in the face of the modern
scientific schema i.e. cause-and-effect, or "somebody get that ghost
out of our deterministic paradigm!"

The third, and probably
hardest, notion to stomach is the conviction that something is
fundamentally wrong with life itself, and that we should therefore stop
breeding, and let the race die out under one of two scenarios. . . This idea is so radical, and supposedly counter-intuitive,
that the discussion is considered by most to be beyond the pale of
serious conversation.

Thus elucidated, the forbidden questions cast antinatalism is as the ultimate
breach of intuitive safety, with the great myths of all time reducing cleanly to Religious Truth, Free
Will, and Existential Affirmation. This affects a singularly pessimistic gestalt — one which begs deep consideration and tempts those dormant depressive-realist chords.  But I am not depressed. Not just now. I want to live and laugh yet am damned to suffer and die.

So the gestalt bleeds into a brute picture of Camusian absurdity, where there is but dim solace for the living.  You can play at Nietzschean affirmation, but the dismal calculus doesn’t yield.  You can drift into an endless logomachy, and hang yourself with philosophical terms of art, and difference. But the choice — or consequence — defies abstraction . 

I’m not smart enough to plum the depths, but I know a few things. And the default position, however forbidden, requires no such mastery.  All that’s needed is a shot of humility, and the sincere recognition of the true weight of risk,  that is so inevitably, and so lightly, presumed and dismissed.  Because suffering is real, and the stakes are always, crucially unknowable.

Obliquely challenged, I tried, in one of those meaningless threads, to steer nearer to the moral thing:

The question of whether antinatalism is or isn’t rational in
comparison with, um, everything else, will depend on your premises and
preferences. The point I continually come back to is insipidly simple.
Where the interests of those who do not yet exist are at issue,
speculation about deprivation is always misplaced while speculation
about risk is always germane.

There is simply no way of knowing with any degree of certainty how
good or bad a life will be until that life is set into motion. I would
argue that most lives are worse than people imagine them to be, but one
needn’t adopt the pessimistic view to recognize, in purely factual
terms, that people — and other sentient critters — suffer horrible
misfortunes every day. People succumb to debilitating afflictions.
People are raped and assaulted. People starve. People are burned and
tortured and shot and holocausted and conscripted into warfare. People
mourn, and suffer from heartbreak and loneliness and failure. Yes,
there is love and laughter and pizza, and the occasional blow job if
you’re lucky. But there is no rational reason to believe that the
never-existent miss out these things, at least not in the sense that
implies experiential deprivation. Where there is no sentient (or
potentially sentient) being, the absence of pleasure seems morally
meaningless. Should a person be brought into existence, that person may
or may not feel blessed by their lot, but as real as their potential
for fulfillment may be, they are yet likely to suffer, and there is the
very real chance that their suffering will be immeasurable.

I believe that chance is the salient point, and the prescription
that follows is clear cut: play it safe. Don’t create new people and no
one gets hurt. The alternative is to roll the dice, without the consent
of he or she who is yet to be, and to hope for the best.

As the hipster chicks in my office are fond of saying, “that’s not ok.”

In concluding that the pessimistic lens is neither necessary nor sufficient to sustain the antinatalist default against wanton breeding urges,  I do not seek to expunge or deny the grim evidence.  Benatar’s view from the veil probably stands. Things are far worse than they seem.  I know this as well as the new kid. But make no mistake, I aim to win this debate. Because the people-makers are acting in bad faith; with every new life they create, with every unconsenting heartbeat they countenance, they flout their own cherished rules.

It’s not about words, nor the question of the good. Plainly and always, it comes to the problem of harm, a problem amplified by the obdurate fact of our eternal uncertainty.  It’s the Golden fucking rule, if you prefer, pursued to its deepest logic. Or the physician’s oath. Pitted against the rank arrogance evinced in these tired and smugly reflexive post hoc procreative justifications, the impetus rests simply in minimizing the potential pain that life entails. And in avoiding the murder that is death. Once the stakes are confronted, the last ditch appeal to memes and genes is revealed as the basest refuge. Factual reasons are not moral reasons, and those who pretend otherwise should and do know better.

No one should ever have children.

Memento mori.

Nine-Banded Update: The Devil and Bradley Smith

The current issue of Bradley Smith’s monthly journal, Smith’s Report, republishes my introduction to The Man Who Saw His Own Liver, along with a most thoughtful account by Bradley of how the work came to be.  Here’s what the good man has to say:


It was 1982 and I was living in Hollywood, working in construction in Topanga Canyon and in the mountains above Malibu. For the most I was doing concrete and block. In the 1970s I had become involved with protesting the nuclear arms programs of the U.S. Government, and in 1979 I was introduced to Holocaust revisionism. In the 1970s it was one thing after another. Rather like it is now.

One afternoon I was off-loading concrete block from the bed of a pick-up truck with a couple Mexicans—illegals probably, I never asked—when in the middle of a “swing” with a block in each hand, something cracked in my back. The crack was so loud that one of the workers straightened up, looked around, and said: “Que fue eso?”—or “What was that?”

At first it didn’t hurt, but I stood aside from the work just in case. After about an hour it started to hurt. I thought it might get worse so I drove my laborers to their pick-up corner and then on to my mother’s little frame house in a canyon off Hollywood Boulevard a couple blocks behind Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Pretty soon I couldn’t walk, and then I couldn’t stand up. To make a long story short, I spent the next five months lying on my mother’s dining room floor.

Irene, my future wife, slept in a little sewing room a few feet from where I was laying. She was taking care of my mother, who had multiple sclerosis and was in a wheelchair. Marisol, her eight-year-old daughter, was there too. Years later Marisol was to tell me that that was the worst year of her life, having me lay around like that and having to go around or jump over me to get to the front door.

I don’t recall how it came to be, but I began working on a play that I would call The Man Who Stopped Paying. It would be a one-character monologue dealing with tax resistance and the nuclear arms race from a subjective and some-what unique point of view. The way I worked was with blank file cards and a pen. Lying on the floor on my belly I would print the idea for one passage across the top of one card, print the ideas for other passages across the tops of other cards, then arrange the cards on the carpet before me in a projected narrative order. It was a simple matter to change the structure of the narrative by changing the order of the cards.

After about five months, when I could sit up in a chair, I had Irene put my typewriter on the dinning room table and I finished the manuscript.

I began passing photocopies of the play script around. Never heard back. Turned out that Aldo Ray, the actor who starred in the screen adaptation of Erskine Caldwell’s God’s Little Acre, used the same post office I did on Highland Ave-nue off Franklin. I sent him a copy of the play. One afternoon a couple weeks later I bumped into him at the mailboxes and asked if he had found the time to read some of it.

He was rather a big fellow, and he looked down at me with a steady, unfriendly eye.

“I read it. I don’t do that kind of thing,” he said. He didn’t move. It was as if he wanted to get into something with me there in the little post office. I waited. After a moment he said:

“It’s not for me. I wouldn’t touch it.”

It was clear that while he wanted to say what he said, he wanted to say something else too.

“Okay,” I said. “Thank you.”

I had not gotten any positive responses to the play. I still couldn’t work so I kept sending it around. One night I went to a dramatic “reading” out in the Valley some-place and watched a big, burly guy read in a way that impressed me. I gave him a copy of the play and a week later he called me from Colo-rado where he was on vacation to tell me he liked it, that there were passages in the script that he wanted to speak. His name was Jon Ackelson.

Meanwhile, my friend Steve Leichter had read the play. Steve is a Jew, he had gone to Israel when he was a young guy and some Arab had shot him in the ass while he was driving a tractor. No hard feelings, but he decided to make his way back to America. There were a couple passages in the play that might offend some Jews, and in the event did, but Steve liked it and volunteered to be my pro-ducer. This was a real windfall for me because Steve was the kind of guy who knows how to do things.

It didn’t occur to me at the time, but Aldo Ray—he was a mainstream Hollywood guy—might have seen something in the script he read that could be seen as critical of Jewish tradition. Why would he risk it?

Ackelson and I began rehearsing the play in the garage in which the play is set. He and I were co-directors. We worked well together. We had one initial difficulty. There are passages in the text where the character is struggling with difficult material under difficult circumstances. Ackelson initially read in a way that emphasized the pain and I suppose the sorrow that he felt for the character. It took two or three readings to get it across to Ackelson that no line in the text could be delivered in a way that would suggest to the audience that his character felt sorry for himself. No complaining, no self-pity. No line.

About that time Steve Leichter got a business offer he could not refuse and moved his family to Berkeley, where I think he still is. In the end Irene loaned me the money to stage the play myself in The Theater of Note, a small house in downtown Los Angeles. It was money she had earned cleaning other people’s houses.

I announced the play in the Los Angeles Times, Dramalogue, The Free Press, and a couple other places. The first night there were maybe a dozen people in the audience. Then there was one review printed, then another, and another. Each was positive.

Robert Koehler, writing in Stage Beat for the Los Angeles Times, headed his piece:

“The Difficulty of Battling The Bomb”

“Something occurred to me the other day. What could be a more effective way of protesting the arms race than refusing to pay one’s tax bill that funds America’s side of that race?

“…How odd to see your errant notion, still fresh in the head, given life in a play, namely Bradley Smith’s ‘The Man Who Stopped Paying.’

“…[Smith’s] man who isn’t paying is big, burly, bearded and working-class pure. He isn’t a col-legiate, but he’s well read (he compares the great “play” of to-day—nuclear arms protest—to the great plays of the past—“Lear,” “Antigone,” “The Oresteia”…

“…Bureaucrats are the enemy, for, while they maintain the wel-fare system, they also maintain the machines that will destroy that welfare…For the first time in a long time on stage an anarchist libertarian has sounded out.

“Perhaps it’s right, then, that he’s alone in his garage work space speaking to us. Even though he’s married, and speaks of that love as tenderly as he does of na-ture, he’s his own man in every sense. Jon Ackelson plays him with little abandon but a great deal of heart.

“…Smith could become a kind of playwright laureate of an American Greens party. But, then, he’d probably rather go it alone.”

Audiences grew slowly from the first performance, to thirty and forty, and on to the final performance. There had been a libertarian conference in town and for the final performance. Mike Everling helped me fill the house that night with the perfect audience. It was a rousing performance by Ackelson and the audience alike, and I went out in a small blaze of glory.

Within the year I had given up working with the nuclear arms issue and had turned to working with revisionism. Tax resisters could meet openly in the Unitarian Church on Eighth Street, while the Institute for Historical Review was burned to the ground on the Fourth of July, 1984. Tax resistance was radical, but had the open attention of principled people. Revisionism was radical as well, but revisionists were judged to be evil and aligned with the Devil. The artist in me chose to challenge the Devil Himself rather than continue to harangue the bureaucrats.

Of course, it’s always the bureaucrats. Republicans, National Socialists, Democrats, Communists. As a class, bureaucrats always choose to follow their leader and dedicate themselves to convincing the people that their leader has a program … a path … to righteousness, truth, and liberty when righteousness, truth, and liberty are themselves the path.

The Devil now…that’s where the drama is. He hasn’t let me down yet.

The Man Who Saw His Own Liver is the first book to be released under the Hoover Hog’s ill-advised publishing imprint, Nine-Banded Books.  It’s at the printer now, and copies are slated to begin shipping in the first week of February, possibly sooner.  You can place advance orders through Amazon or Target, but if you want an autographed copy please send your inscription request through PayPal, or contact me directly.

We’re currently at work on three other books about which more information will be posted soon.

Memento mori.      

The Limits of Reproductive Freedom

From Atlanta Philosophy Events:

On Wednesday January 9, 2008, at 3 PM, the Jean Beer Blumenfeld Center
for Ethics will sponsor a colloquium by Professor David Benatar
(Philosophy, University of Cape Town) entitled "The Limits of
Reproductive Freedom."

Date/time/location: Jan 9, 2008, 3 PM, in the Philosophy Department
Conference Room (34 Peachtree, 11th floor, #19 at B-6 on the map at

Prof. Benatar’s abstract is included below:

"The Limits of Reproductive Freedom," by David Benatar

Abstract: In this presentation I shall argue that the strength or scope
of the right to reproductive freedom currently recognized in liberal
democracies needs to be reconsidered, such that it does not include a
right to engage in very risky or harmful procreation. More specifically,
I argue that if there would be no right to impose risk X of harm Y to
some other person in non-reproductive contexts, then there should be no
right to do so in reproductive contexts. Thus, some (but not all)
methods, including some coercive methods, of preventing or discouraging
such reproduction are morally acceptable.

I consider two main arguments against my thesis. First, I consider the
non-identity argument that future people cannot be harmed by being
brought into existence. Second, and in much more detail, I consider the
argument that although the interests of future people are important,
these ought to be outweighed by their parents* right to reproductive
freedom. After discerning different senses of a right to reproductive
freedom, I consider four arguments for the special importance of
reproductive freedom. I argue that none of them are sufficient to
undermine my thesis.

Because of the long history of bias and arbitrary discrimination in
curtailments of reproductive freedom, I suggest how bias might be
avoided in deciding how severe a harm must be to defeat a right to
reproductive freedom.

Memento mori

Wiseman on DVD

You kids like those art-house documentary films?  Well then, you’ll be heartened to know that Frederick Wiseman’s  formerly all-but-impossible to obtain flicks are at long last available in reasonably priced DVD format through his site, Zipporah Flims.  As much as I appreciate the pioneering work of the Maysles brothers, along with Ulrich Seidl’s starkly declensionist experiments, and, of course, the oft-maligned but brilliant télévision vérité of John Langley, somehow it always comes back to Wiseman, the master.  There are countless ways to read Titticut Follies, but don’t stop there.

Memento mori.