One useful way to think about people’s bedrock philosophical positions would be to think of their preference orderings over different possible futures. Let’s define a few such futures.
Future X is a peaceable, non-coercive human extinction-sooner-rather-than-later, something rather like what David Benatar recommends to us in Chapter 6 of Better Never to Have Been. No omnicide, no one pushing the Big Red Button, no forced sterilizations or other coercive measure to stop people from breeding. Just the spread of antinatalist convictions through reflection and persuasion until people stop breeding and, nature taking the course it will, human extinction results.
Future P is the achievement of a hypothetical Good Posthuman Condition, described in this post, something that might be achieved through technology.
Future H is something like the continuation of the status quo. A species of highly-sociable, language-and-technology using apes has the run of Planet Earth and nearby space perhaps and breeds generation upon generation of itself — until at some point in the future some resource critical to the apes’ survival is exhausted, resulting in extinction then.
Now with these conditions defined, we can imagine having different preference orderings that might define different types of possible worldview. I’ll use the same notation I’ve used before with the “>” sign meaning “is preferred to.”
Optimistic humanists. Have a preference ordering something like H > P > X. Cheery folks who think that human life is really good, and have doubts, possibly related to “meaning” about whether a posthuman condition could be all that good. I think something like this is the professed worldview of most people.
Technophobic humanists. Have a preference ordering like H > X > P. Think that human life is good, but find the idea of a posthuman condition, even a good one as I’ve tried to define it, deeply repellent. This appears to be position of writers like Bill McKibben and Jürgen Habermas.
Cheery Transhumanists. Have a preference ordering of P > H > X. These are your garden-variety, slightly-to-very juvenile transhumanists whose position is “human life is great! I want more! More!”
Negative Posthumanists. Have a preference ordering of P > X > H. Think human life is terrible, for reasons that probably don’t need to be rehashed for readers of this site. They don’t care about “meaning,” but are very bothered by sentient suffering and want to see it overcome. If this can be overcome in a way that allows for there to be a lot of pleasure in the world, then great. If not, a peaceable extinction is preferred to the status quo. This is pretty much my current view.
Pessimistic Extinctionists. Have a preference ordering of X > P > H. A tricky state of mind for me to enter into, but I can see someone espousing a position like this if they worry about “meaning,” and think that the world doesn’t provide any, so we’re better off dead, but if we must be alive, then it would at least be better to be alive with less suffering and more pleasure.
Misanthropic Extinctionists. Have a preference ordering X > H > P. I don’t know anyone who takes this position and one would have to be pretty damn cranky to hold it. What rationale could it have? “Human beings are horrible and they’d be better off not existing at all, but if they’re so insolent as to exist, they’d better suffer.”
I’d be willing to classify as an antinatalist anyone who order X > H, so Negative Posthumanists, Pessimistic Extinctionists, and (sigh) Misanthropic Extinctionists would all count. (It gets a little tricky with Negative Posthumanists. I’ve myself wondered whether whatever sentients that might exist in a Good Posthuman State would make new people. My best guess is exceedingly speculative, and squicky-weird to boot. A subject for a future post.)
For want of a better term, “Meaningist” would be anyone who orders X > P. I confess it’s something that I find very hard to grasp: wouldn’t joy be better than nothing? But I’ll take a stab at understanding. There seems to be an enduring feature in the psychology of many people that might be described as the Horror Of Nothing To Submit To. Many people — and not just religious people — feel lost at the thought of no guide vast and cosmic to their lives: no Will of God, no Law of Nature, no Objective Moral Reality, no Categorical Imperative, no Authoritative Tradition, what have you. Without these things they feel miserable and lost. Argue against them and they feel threatened. And I can sort of see how any posthuman condition looks like the negation of all these things: Promethean defiance of the Will of God, the rewriting of the laws of nature, the substitution of what will make us feel joy for the yoke of moral duty, the shameless shucking off of tradition. Why so many people are like this would require a whole department of Nietzsches to figure out, but that they are like this, I don’t think many will doubt.