Sep 182011

I thank the awesome and adorable Susie Bright, whose weekly radio show “In Bed with Susie Bright” got me off my lazy butt to write this rather political post.  I’ll be repeating some of Susie’s useful advice below while adding my own commentary.  I think she’ll forgive me as it’s in a good cause.

It might be best if young people would just seek surgical sterilization as early in life as they can arrange it.  Some do, but most won’t.  That being the case, there will be unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.

Being pro-choice — indeed, being pro-abortionseems like pretty much a no-brainer for antinatalists, at least with respect to fetuses not sufficiently developed to experience suffering.  It’s bad enough coming into existence even when you’re a wanted child, because your life is likely to be a burden to you.   If you’re an unwanted child, your life might be an even worse burden to you, as well as inflicting additional suffering on your mother, those nearest and dearest to her, and in many real-world cases, your siblings.  (In the real world, at least the U.S. part of it, a clear majority of  women who obtain abortions already have one or more  children, and a reason for seeking abortions is that the additional stress on their families of additional children.)  So if you want to limit the suffering associated with new people coming into existence, you’re going to want a world in which abortion is safe, legal, and readily-available.

We (U.S. people, anyway) don’t in a such a world, because there’s a lot of angry opposition to abortion from a movement which…well, let’s not call it “pro-life.”  They’re not pro-life.  Maybe if you’re a pacifist death-penalty abolitionist vegan who, as Peter Singer would urge, gives away most of her income to supporting women’s and children’s health and you also happen to oppose abortion as part of that ethical package, you can be called pro-life.  That’s not these people.  What they should be called — and here I follow Susie — is Forced Birthers, who are in business for the purpose of punishing women for having unauthorized orgasms and making everybody kneel before their god.

Now at the moment, the Forced Birthers can’t quite get abortion outlawed due to a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision called Roe v. Wade, which constitutionalizes a right to an abortion.  So they’re using state law to attack abortion around the edges, passing statutes that have the aim of making abortion as difficult and inconvenient as possible, and of shaming and stigmatizing women who seek them.  (They’re also doubtless aiming to plant the seeds of future litigation to overturn Roe, of which more shortly.)  Women are subjected to waiting periods, moralizing lectures, “counseling,” compulsory sonograms to show them their “baby,” and so on.  Some of these laws are just grotesque in the indignities they heap on women.  A Texas law (now under review in Federal court) requires a sonogram procedure that involves a vaginal probe.  Yog-Sothoth help you if you are pregnant as a result of rape in Texas and seek an abortion, because then the Great State of Texas will want to rape you all over again.

In addition to the standard plea for political activism against the Forced Birthers and their laws, Susie Bright offered some self-help advice that might be valuable.  Women should get themselves a supply of Plan B and keep it on hand.  Be aware of the laws in your state and think of responses to them ahead of time.  If you’re a parent of daughters, make it clear that you will stand by them and not allow them to be shamed, stigmatized, or harmed if they should have an unwanted pregnancy.  (I think that should extent to anyone close to a fertile woman — if you have a partner or just an intimate friend, make your support for them clear.)

Will need self-help and more.  The world might get worse.  My own estimate is that the core holding of Roe has a probability of 0.5 of being intact at the end of this decade.  It is quite likely, given the prevailing pattern of political retirements and a crappy economy that generates a strong anyone-but-the-incumbent mood that on January 20, 2013 both the U.S. President (who nominates Supreme Court justices) and a majority of the U.S. Senate (which confirms them) will be members of a Certain Political Party that draws a lot of its support from the Forced Birthers.  The nine-member Court itself, meanwhile, will have among its members three right-wing Catholic justices, one loony-right Episcopalian justice, and three probable Roe supporters in their mid-to-late seventies.  (Stephen Breyer will be 74, Anthony Kennedy 75, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg seven weeks away from 80.)

We are thus likely to face a world of outright criminal prohibitions to protect Forced Birth.  I don’t want that world at all, but if it comes to pass, it will be time for antinatalists to step up.  In the immediate aftermath of the overturning of Roe, we will face a checkerboard of different state laws.  Abortion will remain safe and legal in some states, it will be treated as murder in others, and there will be a spectrum of other regimes in between.  In addition to political activism, I would suggest that we might need something like an Underground Railroad for the 21st century.  Time, money, and volunteers will be needed to arrange safe passage, medical care, lodging, and childcare to help get women — especially economically-disadvantaged women — out of Forced Birth states and into free ones. (At least one organization — The Women’s Medical Fund, in Madison, Wisconsin — is doing this to a limited extent already, at least to the extent of funding procedures.)

The Underground Railroad will have to get longer, of course, if the Forced Birthers succeed in their next objective of making abortion illegal throughout the U.S.  Some of them are already thinking of this, for example by using a Federal statute to define fetuses as “persons” protected under the equal protection clause of Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, and then claiming the right to pass a criminal prohibition under the Section 5 enforcement clause of the same.  A long, bitter fight might be ahead of us.

For antinatalists it will be difficult in various ways, one of which is that other pro-choice people might not want to be affiliated with  people who will be seen as a bunch of crazies.  (Some may recall the unfortunate attitude of some early Second Wave feminists to lesbians: cf. Betty Friedan on the “Lavender Menace.”)  That will be bad if it happens, but we need to anticipate the possibility and be grown-ups about it.  It’s a harsh world, and very important things are at stake here.

And besides, if we spend time really helping people who need it, antinatalism will start to look a lot better, I think.

 Posted by at 10:05
Sep 142011

Browsing back through posts at Gin and Tacos the other day I came across the following passage in this post, in which the writer is warning off young people — whom he or she admits are suffering in the present depressed economy — against self-pity and envy of their more economically secure elders.

Maybe it’s something that happened in the schools or maybe it’s TV or maybe it’s my fault, but at some point your generation got the impression that work is supposed to be fun and rewarding. It isn’t. It’s just fucking work, if I may. You’re jealous of the level of job security and benefits we had coming out of high school or college in the 60s, right? Your Uncle Joe retired at 60 with a nice pension. Do you know how he got it? He stood at a kick press for 8 hours per day, every day, for 40 years. Honey, if you had that job your head would explode from boredom and lack of stimulation in about a week. We’d never hear the end of how you feel unfulfilled and you’d probably quit to go “find yourself” or something before the pension vested.

Your Dad has one of those civil servant jobs that are disappearing these days. Twenty years at the Clerk’s office and another 20 behind a desk at Streets and Sanitation. How long would you be happy if you switched places with him? My point, kids, is not that you’re bad people or that you have no work ethic. My point is that we weren’t just handed good money and a pension. In most cases we had to spend the great majority of our lives doing incredibly mundane, repetitive, mindless, soul-crushing crap to get it. We did it because that’s where the money was. You know that silly show about the Office that you’re always watching on Netflix? Picture yourself as Stanley or one of the old people who sells paper over the phone. Imagine yourself on a phone all day, every day asking people to buy paper. For years. Decades. Those jobs don’t exist anymore. If they did, would you and your two Anthropology degrees do them?

“Fun and rewarding.”  Yes.  And as I reflect back it’s not exactly a mystery why anyone would get that idea in their heads.  It seems that something that was endlessly propagandized at me and most other middle-class-and-above children was a Big Lie of exactly that form:  work hard, play by the rules, find yourself a niche consistent with your talents (of which you have many, you bright, wonderful child!) and by adulthood you’ll find yourself with not a job but a career that will be a source of fulfillment for you.

It’s not hard to see why the lie gets propagated.  What is school?  Most of it is concentration on tasks of little intrinsic interest and following orders and routines set down for you by authorities of various kinds.  In short, good training to become a docile and obedient worker.  You need to hold a carrot out to people to get them to put up with that, and the promise of a bright future is certainly one such.  But the functions of the lie go beyond that: it continues to be serviceable once you get out into the world and find out that no one is interested in your own fulfillment, just your docility and obedience. Once you get there, out in the world of drudgery that is actual work, you can then turn the blame inward on yourself: the fact that your job sucks can be taken not as evidence that something is wrong with the world, but that something is wrong with you. You just didn’t work hard enough in school, or play by the rules right, or make the right choices.

One wonder what young people would do with themselves if only they knew what life beyond youth is really like. Rebel, I suspect.  Or live hard and hope to die before they got old.   They might at least have the decency not to make babies, a new generation to subject to the misery.

It leaves me to wonder if there’s any way to get young people to understand.  It would be very difficult, I suspect, as it would be swimming against a huge shit-stream of optimistic propaganda, to say nothing of the natural optimism of youth.

 Posted by at 09:48
Sep 052011

Here in the United States we are celebrating something called Labor Day (I realize that those of you outside the United States get to enjoy a rather more robust holiday), so to mark the occasion, I think it only fair to give a platform to a forgotten prophet of labor and <em>poète maudit</em> of modern capitalism:

[Note]…the fact that labor is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his intrinsic nature; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home. His labor is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labor. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labor is shunned like the plague. External labor, labor in which man alienates himself, is a labor of self-sacrifice, of mortification. Lastly, the external character of labor for the worker appears in the fact that it is not his own, but someone else’s, that it does not belong to him, that in it he belongs, not to himself, but to another. Just as in religion the spontaneous activity of the human imagination, of the human brain and the human heart, operates on the individual independently of him – that is, operates as an alien, divine or diabolical activity – so is the worker’s activity not his spontaneous activity. It belongs to another; it is the loss of his self.

As a result, therefore, man (the worker) only feels himself freely active in his animal functions – eating, drinking, procreating, or at most in his dwelling and in dressing-up, etc.; and in his human functions he no longer feels himself to be anything but an animal. What is animal becomes human and what is human becomes animal.

Enjoy the barbeque, everyone!  And remember that tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your lives.

 Posted by at 00:01
Aug 272011

It is fairly normal and natural to associate negative utilitarianism — the doctrine that we should minimize the amount of suffering in the world — with antinatalism. The reasoning from the one to the other is (or seems) pretty straightforward. Everyone, even very happy, fortunate people, can be expected to have at least some suffering in their lives. So if we add people to the world, we add suffering to the world. Therefore we should refrain from adding new people to the world.

Under many realistic conditions this reasoning is likely to be sound, but there can be exceptions which are worthy of attention if different people have complementary existences. Consider a simple (if fanciful) example. On Planet Eden there is only one person, Lonely Adam. In his life there will be ten units of suffering. Much of Lonely Adam’s suffering is due precisely to the fact that he is lonely. If he had a companion, he would have only five units of suffering in his life. Suppose a Utilitarian Demiurge oversees Planet Eden and has the capacity to create Cheerful Eve, who will have only one unit of suffering in her life. In a hypothetical Eden containing both Lonely Adam and Cheerful Eve, there will be therefore 5 + 1 = 6 units of suffering, which is less than the ten units Adam would otherwise have had to bear. The Utilitarian Demiurge would thus seem to have a compelling reason for creating the new person Cheerful Eve.

It might be objected that there is something obnoxious about the creation of Cheerful Eve, for example that Cheerful Eve is being somehow treated as a means to relieve Lonely Adam’s suffering. Kantians think this is a lethal objection. I see this “problem” as a general feature of consequentialist ethical theories and tend to be unimpressed by it. It is certainly not the case that Cheerful Eve is just some sort of object here — her suffering does count in any sensible deliberation about what to do (it would be forbidden to create her, for example, if her life would contain six units of suffering). More generally it seems easily justifiable to interfere with people’s existences all the time. If we humanely incapacitate a serial rapist (say, by warehousing him a in virtual reality for the rest of days where he can assault NPCs rather than real people to his heart’s content), then we are surely in some sense treating as a means for achieving the well-being of others (most importantly his would-be future victims). But seriously, I don’t have a problem with that, not even if he simply couldn’t have helped being a serial rapist to begin with.

If we consider interpersonal complementarities, we can even specify conditions under which the continued creation of new people seem like a good idea. Consider an imagined World of Progress. Every new person suffers some in their existence and so by coming into existence adds to the world’s stock of suffering. But unlike in our world where new people suffer about as much (and sometimes more) than existing people, in the World of Progress the suffering of new people declines on the margin the following fashion. That is, the first new person added will have a units of suffering in her life, the second new person will have ar2 units (r < 1), the third ar3, and so forth.

It doesn’t take a math genius (which is lucky for me, as I am not one) to see that what we have here is a convergent geometric series.

It has a sum that is a finite value. If it is also a property of the World of Progress that the amount of suffering reduced in people existing before the creation of the first new person by means of having the sequence of new people come into existence, then we have constructed a set of conditions under which we would want to create an infinite number of new people, even if we accept negative utilitarianism and even if each new person adds some suffering to the world.

I must say this strikes me as a counterintuitive result. I very much doubt it has any immediate applicability to the world we actually live in, although there are possible worlds in which it matters.

Something like this result might motivate what I have called in commentary discussion with CM and JasonSL the High Threshold View,, that is, the view that it is not wrong to create new people if they will have a very high quality of life (or, in negative utilitarian terms, very little suffering in their lives). After all (to the extent that we have negative utilitarian intuitions, anyway) there is at least some argument for bringing into existence people who will experience little suffering (like Cheerful Eve) and help relieve the suffering of others. The more suffering they have in their lives, the more dubious the argument for their being brought into existence becomes. There might also be a link to the attractions of posthumanism here: the better our technology, the more our world would resemble a World of Progress (which does look a bit like what I’ve called Future P, although it is not necessarily identical to it) and the less the world we actually, and unfortunately, have to live in.

 Posted by at 16:53

How distinct is negative utilitarianism?

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Aug 252011

It’s quite common to distinguish between negative utilitarianism and other forms of utilitarianism.  Both are consequentialist doctrines, but with this apparent distinction:  standard versions of utilitarianism tell us that we should be maximizing something good, such as a sum total of pleasures minus pains (e.g. in Jeremy Bentham’s version) or some average of preference satisfaction across individuals (e.g. in John Harsanyi‘s quasi-contractualist version).  Negative utilitarianism tells us instead that we ought to be minimizing the amount of something bad, usually something like human suffering.

I’ve met many people who find negative utilitarianism more intuitively appealing than the standard versions of the doctrine.   I often have the same intuition, though as with most of my intuitions I wonder whether it should be treated as reliable.  It does somehow seem to me easier to defend our abandonment of other moral desiderata that seem at least plausible (examples: protecting people’s rights, or ensuring equality across persons) when our reason for doing so is framed as “preventing someone’s suffering” than as as “allowing someone else to gratify desires or achieve pleasure.”  And negative utilitarianism is an important motivator for many (though certainly by no means all) forms of antinatalism.   If people are loci of suffering, then a very good way of preventing suffering is preventing those loci from coming into being in the first place.

That said, I often wonder how distinct negative utilitarianism is from standard utilitarianism.

One global skeptical argument against the distinction might go like this:  one form of suffering is deprivation.  Desire thwarted can be a source of considerable suffering: ask anyone who’s ever experienced romantic or professional failure how much it hurts. (And if you should ever experience both at the same time, you will know what it’s like to go to bed for months at a time hoping you won’t wake up. Trust me on this.) And even when there are no thwarted desires, a life in the absence of pleasures is likely to seem pretty stale and tedious, itself plausibly a low-level form of suffering.

Now if we push this argument far enough for existing people, we could end up with a variant of average maximizing utilitarianism. The greater the pleasure, the greater the magnitude of the deprivation, and hence the greater the magnitude of the suffering. The minimizing doctrine is just the maximizing doctrine with a a minus sign in front. And if we push still further to all possible pleasures for all potential persons, then we have something that would look very much like the extensional equivalent of classical utilitarianism, and we’d be obliged to bring into existence all those people who have lives at least barely worth living so that they won’t be deprived of good things, thus straight back to the Repugnant Conclusion.

The argument sketched in the preceeding paragraph seems far too strong to be right. Surely not every good thing that we might have had but didn’t counts as a deprivation, at least not in the sense of a “deprivation that causes suffering,” even if many do. I don’t get to experience the exotic gardens of Alpha Centauri 5, perhaps, but it seems very odd to say that I’m suffering from not doing so. It’s probably better to suggest that only those deprivations which are somehow present to our understanding or consciousness are sources of suffering.

Now if that’s the case, then there really is a distinction between negative and standard utilitarianism, because negative utilitarianism will give us distinctly different life-advice in that negative utilitarianism will advice us against tying to form desires or aspirations other than those related to preveting suffering. Standard utilitarians might want us to go to Alpha Centauri, if that’s actually something within our means, if the gardens are pleasant enough. But negative utilitarianism would have us stay in our garden at home, unless we’re suffering in it and the garden in the stars is our only relief. Negative utilitarianism would thus give us life-advice that is Epicurean in nature (Epicurean in the sense Epicurus himself might endorse it: seek to eliminate pain and have simple, cheap pleasures.)

Now this doesn’t mean that negative utilitarianism is hostile or even indifferent to pleasure-seeking, just that it is likely to treat it as a means rather than an end in life. Here are some examples of how that might be so:

Frustration avoidance. We might be better off getting rid of many of our desires, but good with that. Many of our desires are very stubborn. We’re better off trying to find cheap, non-destructive ways of gratifying them, and helping others to do likewise. In this spirit, I very much admire a commenter on Robin Hanson’s famous (notorious?) “Unsexy Men” post, who averred

I’m so darn nurturing, but not sexy, so what I do is go over to my sister’s house and play with her little babies until I am all out of love, then I go home and watch amazing porn in peace and quiet. It’s a good life, I hope all the unsexy men adapt as well.

Epicurus and I would probably advise him to save time for making some good adult friends, but I think he might be on the right track.

Boredom avoidance. Boredom might not run very deep as a form of suffering (usually, there are probably exceptions), but it still manages to weigh heavily on the world by being spread very widely. You will know this if you’ve ever been bored. Again, it seems like good advice is to find cheap and non-destructive ways of not being bored, and this probably is an area where self-cultivation will help. Also, making friends, an activity much in the Epicurean spirit.

Pleasure-in-prospect. Many of the things in life that are painful or unpleasant, at least a a low level, are somewhat less so when there is some short-term pleasure in the future, or at least so my introspection seems to tell me. It’s no fun going to work — that’s a place of alternating boredom and anxiety — but somehow it usually seems less bad when there’s dinner with friends after, or a vacation next week, or even just a fun blog post I can write when I can find a moment of being less busy.

So there’s likely some distinction between negative and standard utilitarianism. The negative variant of the doctrine seems more likely to lead us toward antinatalism and away from things like the Repugnant Conclusion. Both are opposed to suffering, both are friendly to pleasure, albeit for different reasons. Each at least appears to give somewhat different life advice.

 Posted by at 13:52
Aug 172011

The post “People types defined over futures” brought forth many excellent comments that raised some important issues, and so I’m going to promote them into a post and attempt a discussion.

Let me begin with commenter CM, who asks:

Since we are talking about futures, the inhabitants of these realities have not come into existence, so what reason is there for us to prefer P [James:  a good posthuman condtion] over X [James: the success of noncoercive antinatalism leading to human extinction], since the road to P will undoubtedly be paved with countless mutilated corpses (I’m bungling Jim’s metaphor here)? Furthermore, if negative posthumanists don’t care about meaning, what reason is there for them to prefer P over X other than yearning for a happy ending of some sort (i.e., meaning)?

On possible response to this might begin something like this: unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any future not paved with mutilated corpses.  That’s a grim view, but unfortunately it’s a view that I fear is correct.  Let us assume that we reject any sort of coercive approach to human extinction — an assumption that seems pretty safe here, since I’ve yet to encounter anyone among my commenters who is in favor of ending the life of anyone who does not want to die, or of things like forcible sterilization of people who don’t want to be sterilized, or compulsory abortion, etc.  What’s left to antinatalists?  Well, there’s always peaceful persuasion and I’m not so pessimistic as to say that will never work.  But I don’t think any plausible case can be made that that’s going to be a particularly quick process.  Christianity, by way of comparison, relied (as far as I know) on peaceable persuasion and conversion to spread, at least up until the Fourth Century C.E. when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire.   By one careful estimate cited by John Stark in The Rise of Christianity, perhaps 17.4  percent of the population Graeco-Roman world was Christian by 315 C.E.  That means centuries of slow growth just to become a substantial minority in one of the world’s then-extant civilizations.  To be sure the world is a little different now from what it was like then:  twenty-first century antinatalists have access to far cheaper and quicker communications than anyone had in classical antiquity.   But counterbalancing this fact would be those that antinatalists might have something less to offer their adherents than early Christians did:  not otherworldly rewards, certainly, and (with all due respect to my wonderful commenters) nothing like the this-worldly bonds of community and fellowship that they had either.  At the very least, I see no compelling reason to think that even if antinatalism prospers, that it will make its way in the world significantly faster than Christianity did, and sadly that means centuries of people being born, suffering, and dying.  It’s a long march.  Maybe a march that would have gone on as long as the human species would have anyway even if no one had ever conceived of antinatalism.  Antinatalism is a moral idea.  I don’t wish to disdain moral ideas per se, but half a lifetime’s worth of disillusioning experience  has taught me that it is very hard to get people to change their behaviors based only on moral ideas.  Antinatalism might get a bit of extra leverage by evangelizing the benefits of a childfree lifestyle and that’s not contemptible, but it’s still fighting powerful biological and cultural forces both.

Now while we’re on our long march to somewhere technology will doubtless keep bubbling along.  I’m not a fan of Singulatity-is-near enthusiasms, but even so there’s no reason to rule out the possibility that the means from bringing about a good posthuman condition will arrive sooner than centuries from now.  And if that’s the case, then we actually do have a reason to care about whether we rank P over X, because if we do, then we have an exit ramp off the long march.  We don’t have to care about meaning per se.  We just want to push for whatever means come to hand for ending (or at least sharply limiting) the suffering sooner rather than later.   And posthumanism does have something that will appeal to people: palpably less suffering and more pleasure.  It’s an easier sell.

So if the considerations I urge upon you above are correct, then there might be a functional reason to prefer P to X, albeit here only as a sort of lesser achievable good, not a happy ending but just doing the best we can.

Is P necessarily only a lesser good?  Maybe. But maybe not, and that is a possibility I’d like to explore in a near future post.

 Posted by at 10:23

Ravings of a confirmed drapetomaniac

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Aug 122011

Back in 1851, a doctor named Samuel A. Cartwright proposed a new category of mental illness he named drapetomania.  It was a mental aberration particular to enslaved African-Americans, and it’s primary symptom was the act of attempting to escape from slavery.  Slaves attempting to abscond with themselves were obviously sick, in the head so Dr. Cartwright reasoned, because clearly they were intended by God and nature for a condition of servitude.  Happily, Dr. Cartwright reported, with the right treatment this form of mental illness could be avoided and slaves kept in their happy and natural condition of bondage.

I’m not making any of this up, you know.  And it seems like the practice of therapy has advanced less since Dr. Cartwritght’s time than perhaps most of us would like to admit.

Now maybe it’s sometimes the case that the unhappy individual is in some way ill — in any event I cannot rule out the possibility.  Maybe something like psychotherapy can help like that.  Maybe.  But I find rather galling about the very idea of therapy is the reductive presumption that where the individual is in conflict with the world and therefore unhappy that it is the individual that will be treated as sick and broken and the world treated as being as just fine with what it is.  Laura Kipnis, in her brilliant polemic Against Love parenthetically remarks about therapy (here in the context of people who are unhappy in monogamous relationships, but generalizable well beyond this domain), therapy implicitly tells its patients “You can be fairly certain it’s not going to be those social norms that need a tune-up — sorry hon, it’s you.”

And what a deadly insult to human dignity that is!  Consider what horizons open up when we entertain the possibility that it’s the world that’s dysfunctional, not us.  I admit that I am skeptical (more than skeptical) about any global claim that we can achieve general human happiness through better social policy.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that there are pockets of social dysfunction that ought to be fixed.  Some things can and should be fixed in the world.  For bored, miserable housewives lost in Leaveittobeaverland what as needed was feminist consciousness-raising and  jobs, not prescriptions for Miltown.  (Guess what psychotherapists had to offer.)   For gay men and lesbians trapped in pre-Stonewall America was was needed was liberation, not bizarre attempts to somehow turn them straight.  (Guess what profession — what paragon of scientific rationality — treated gay men and lesbian’s desires to sleep with who they loved as a mental disorder until 1974!) And golly gee, don’t you think what African-Americans really needed was freedom and dignity, not advice patronizing advice to their masters about how to prevent and cure drapetomania?

And yet from how many therapists is once going to get the advice that what an unhappy person ought to do is not to cure herself of what is not in fact an illness but to become an activist to right the injustices that are the source of her misery?  Sorry hon, but the social norms do not need a tune-up.  It’s you.  Take this happy pill.

Of course, many problems might not be fixable by activism or protest.  But even then, it’s an insult to stigmatize someone unhappy about them as sick and broken.  Isn’t it rational to be unhappy about a wretched world?   Wouldn’t it be wiser to try to help people reduce their suffering through palliation?   Or for those for whom the outlook is unrelentingly grim, a quick, painless suicide?  But no, that too seems to be off the table with most therapists, stigmatized as immature, non-adult, irresponsible.    And don’t even think about suicide.  That’s way off the table.

Being stigmatized as sick for having doubts about the world strikes me as a good reason for wanting to run away from psychotherapists, toward whatever free soil we can find.

 Posted by at 19:06
Aug 072011

I really should be writing serious posts on philosophy, especially on some good issues raised recently in comments, but as I’ve been hit by a great wave of work this week I’m reduced to watching stuff on bloggingheds.

Though I’m pleased to see that at least consciousness about a pair of articles about the abuse of psychotropic drugs I blogged about a little while back are filtering out into the larger world.

The book science journalist John Horgan refers to, Robert Whittaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic, looks likely to be near the top of my overlong “to-read” list.

The whole diavlog is likely to be of interest to many readers of this blog, especially to those interested in the problem of just how much (or little, really) human suffering psychiatry seems to relieve, and how much (perhaps) it creates.

As an aside, Horgan and Johnson both in the course of the diavlog discuss something called the Hamilton Depression Scale, both of which they assessed themselves on. In an act of what is probably grave personal irresponsibility motivated by excessive personal curiosity, I found an online version of it and assessed myself. Dissecting myself with that blunt little tool, I was told I had a score of 15: “Evaluation: There are signs of mild depression. Further evaluation may be warranted.”

Oh dear.

 Posted by at 17:15
Aug 042011

I am late to the party on this one, but should post it up al the same.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced new guidelines in Washington Monday requiring health insurance plans beginning on or after August 1, 2012 to cover several women’s preventive services, including birth control and voluntary sterilization.

According to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius the decision is a part of the Affordable Care Act’s move to stop problems before they start. “These historic guidelines are based on science and existing literature and will help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need,” she said in a news release.

In July, the Institute of Medicine issued the results of a scientific review of women’s health needs and provided recommendations on specific preventive measures to help them. Today HHS approved those recommendations.

Whole story via CNN Health, complete with the predictable reaction from a  Roman Catholic cardinal.  Every now and then the people who run the U.S. government do something that does not disappoint.

Hat-tip to Amanda Marcotte, who today goes one better and offers “Two more reasons to be a curmudgeonly childless marriage boycotter.”

 Posted by at 09:22
Jul 312011

Let us defend the things that stop the interests of our genes and serve ours. Contraception. Sterilization. Abortion. The cultivation of non-procreative sexual practices. The renunciation of the pursuit of status, especially when it conflicts with the relief of suffering or the realization of pleasure.

Should antinatalists get kinky?  Sure!

One should start with the realization that pleasure is good, but that there are a lot of people who now exist who suffer from its deprivation.  The existence of this suffering is one of the good reasons for being an antinatalist, after all.  (I concede that it might not be the most important one and that it is dominated by more active forms of suffering, but it still matters.)  Sex is an important source of pleasure, perhaps the most important one.  But there are good reasons to believe that standard-issue partnered sexuality isn’t going to work very well for many people, and indeed, might actually generate more suffering than pleasure.

A creative kinkster helps out here, because she’s in the business of generating forms of sexual pleasure centered on new modes of activity and new ideas, and many of them will be opportunities to step out of the traditional roles and expectations of two-person partnered sexuality (whether through multiple partners or just that useful standby of going solo).  In thinking up and promoting new ways of experiencing sexual pleasure, the kinkster is adding pleasure to the world.  And new ideas, freely spread, are by their very nature nonexclusive — my enjoying some new kink doesn’t interfere with your enjoying it, any more than my enjoying a new story means that it is “used up” and no good for you to read.

At a higher level of abstraction, enjoying kinky sexual activities reinforces the wholesome notion — one antinatalists should have little trouble getting behind —  that sex is for fun, rather than for making babies.

And getting kinky takes a whack at a pronatalist culture, because many forms of kink are forms of mockery and satire aimed at right at that culture.  (One thinks, perhaps, of M. Christian’s terrific story “Guernica” in the collection The Bachelor Machine, in which BDSM enthusiasts recreate and mock the oppressive morality of their culture in hidden clubs.)   Example: the institutional Roman Catholic Church may wield vast political power in favor of a pro-natalist agenda.  Dressing up and playing naughty nun isn’t just fun, it encourages us to laugh at the Church.  And laughter drives out fear.

And what is more, making sex as much as possible an act of the imagination stimulates the imagination.  And imagination is the inveterate enemy of the status quo.  In daring to imagine things that might be, we undermine complacent acceptance of the way things are.  ”The way things are” is a species of technological ape making endless copies of itself.  That needs to stop.

Need I add, by the way, that having interesting kinks raises the opportunity cost of having children?  Let us recall fondly blogger Holly Pervocracy’s deliberations on whether or not to have children, which included this point on the con side “Difficult to explain poly/BDSM to six-year-old. Impossible to explain to thirteen-year-old.”   (I believe she came down against, eventually.)

So if you want to get out there and be kinky or be pervy, the by all means do so and feel good about yourself.  You’re not just having fun. You’re making the world better.

 Posted by at 08:06