Sunday, January 9, 2011

On voluntary human extinction

In a nutshell: I'm currently against it. Feel free to try to convince me of its worth, but keep in mind the high probability that I've already heard your argument in some form, somewhere.

Voluntary human extinction implicitly assumes that the rather logical notion of reducing suffering in the absence of consent is equally as valid as the subjective notion that one's own life is not worth living. To me, the idea that everyone must be convinced that their own personal lives are horrible is just as repugnant and idiotic as the idea that children should accept the fact that they emerged involuntarily. This is only the start of my contention, however, as I don't even think that the choice to continue living, once born, is entirely psychological, or an individual choice to be made.

Proponents of voluntary extinction make claims of either 1. the amount of suffering introduced by our existence at the expense of other life (the amount of resources that you consume that could go to a deer or cat instead, for example), or 2. the amount of potential suffering that we could unknowingly introduce by accident, via sensation and deprivation, simply by existing. This doesn't make sense to me, as 1. implies that we are currently capable of defining every variable involved in determining the outcome of the equation, and 2. ignores all of the suffering that we may be able to prevent by existing, given the possibility of eternity, and of the existence of sentience in multiple locales.

In the case of 1., it is certainly possible that automated, technological means of redesigning the natural world could emerge at some point, capable of removing negative sensation from that environs. In both cases, given that we can't predict future suffering with any degree of accuracy for now, it makes more sense to voluntarily exist to the end of learning more about our predicament than it does to voluntarily disappear from the universe outright. How irresponsible the alternative must be, if it indeed turns out that trillions of planets contain or will contain mass-energy configurations similar in content and substance to whales and buffalo, and that we can do something about it!

We may suffer as a result, but we've chosen to -- rationally, based on a thorough assessment of our circumstance and the need to withhold judgment in the absence of a more all-encompassing value equation. We may accidentally impose harm onto other sentient creatures as a consequence of our existence as well, but this is necessary if we are ever to determine the scope of reality as we know it, and, thus, the suffering contained therein.

Note, also, that artificial intelligence and the eventual replacement of the central nervous system with a superior, efficient body alert system may be possible, meaning that, in the future, humans (or intelligences, more accurately) may become physically incapable of suffering. The fundamentals of life are probably already understood in our current time, but again, that says nothing of our scope of the problem, so why shouldn't we augment our bodies while in pursuit of a working picture and understanding of what, elsewhere, warrants solutions?

But what if everyone decides that they, personally, cannot handle the horrors of life in the meantime? What if there, eventually, are no volunteers for the job at all? This is why I made the above statement that whether someone should kill himself is not a decision to be made individually. In our present time, this is true thanks to the potential existence of friends and relatives, who may suffer greatly as a consequence of a person's suicide; eventually, it may be true in the face of sentience -- and, thus, value -- emerging over and over again (even if only in different iterations of the universe, given that possibility as proposed by M-theory) in a state of ignorance.


  1. Well, I´m not gonna to try and convince you of anything, I respect and want to understand your points of view.

    May I address your post as a response in my blog?

  2. I said that anyone is free to try and convince me. I don't think it's a sign of disrespect at all, because I want to understand the world, so yeah, give it a shot.

    I don't support the perpetuation of the human species via new life; I just think that anyone who is ALREADY alive should consider doing more than killing themselves as a solution to the problem of life on Earth.

  3. Leaving Society, I assume you're the author of the above blog. I completely agree with your last paragraph in your comment: the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement isn't about suicide, it's about not perpetuating the human species via new life.

  4. Les: Thanks for the link. I wasn't referring to any movement, as I wasn't aware that there was an explicitly defined movement using that term in the first place. Instead, I was referring to the actual, voluntary extinction of the human species in the sense of there no longer be humans on the planet. In any case, this movement looks geared toward bettering the biosphere by allowing it to "thrive" in our absence, which I'm not really in favor of, either. I don't know whether you're from the antinatalist "community" or if you're an active member of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, but if you're the latter, then many of my posts here should clarify my position, should you be interested.

  5. Yes, there´s the VHEMT movement, I thought you were already aware of it.

    I´m all in favor of different points of view, so I was more like wanted to have a blog debate, but I see I didnt even understand your post in the first place.

    So you were talking about suicide? Antinatalism is not about suicide either.

  6. Yeah, I know that antinatalism isn't about suicide. I was only referring to the act of completely removing humans from Earth, and nothing more. There were no criticisms of antinatalism in the post.

  7. As I understand it, you're espousing a more radical version of my (admittedly radical) views on suffering.

    Correct me on any points I get wrong, but let me give you a kind of cartoonish version of what I see your position as being:

    1. We don't have much knowledge about the world, what with our pathetic little evolved meat-brains.

    2. Suffering is really bad.

    3. We should seek the best solution to ending/preventing suffering.

    4. Ending humanity might not be the best solution to this problem, since there might be non-human suffering on a scale we can't even imagine (alien life, animal life, etc.).

    5. We should keep humanity going in order to find out the best way to end ALL suffering throughout the Multiverse.

    Yes? No? A little bit?

  8. Cartoonish indeed!

    Although you get the basic set of premises right, with regard to 1., I don't know whether we have much knowledge or not, as we're currently only capable of relatively comparing our knowledge base to that possessed in the past. However, I do think that, from a raw probability standpoint, it's likely that we know everything that we need to know about the mechanics of the universe; it's just that to what extent this knowledge is useful beyond Earth remains an unknown, which is important to me, even if I profess doubt that complex life is common. I also think that this concession of ignorance, while necessary, is trivial in the face of what should be done in our everyday lives in the meantime.

    Beyond that, I was mostly with you until premise 5., which seems mildly satirical. I hope that your initial assertion of similarity between our views wasn't an attempt to justify this sarcastic ending!

    I may claim that I have an interest in living for as long as possible in order to be as "productive" as possible, but I make no co-claims regarding the likelihood of this pursuit being beneficial to anything, and would never do so with any degree of confidence in my current circumstance. It's easy to exaggerate and make fun as soon as people make hypothetical projections about the future ("Plug your brain into the borg and download a new mind, man!"), but in my case, I don't take any particular projection seriously; I just don't KNOW whether the continued existence of humanity will ever do any good or not.

  9. I'm aware that I mentioned multiple universes in my post, by the way; it was an extreme statement, but necessary if I was going to apply a sense of completeness to my argument. It doesn't mean that I actively or positively believe that entropic decay will really cause some kind of brane collision, or that I think that humans are the janitors of the universe, and it certainly doesn't mean that I take seriously the somewhat silly suppositions that we're part of some grand, beauteous multiverse.

  10. I am NOT making fun of any of your ideas - please presume good faith on my part. My style of writing is a little sarcastic/flippant. I'm actually just trying to understand your position.

    My choice of the word "Multiverse" was trying to cover all bases of ignorance, not implying anything about your beliefs.

    What are the ends of this "productiveness"? Or can we not know yet?

  11. I don't know what the ends are. All that I know is that, at the moment, overpopulation, unemployment, disease, world hunger, poverty, uneven distribution of wealth, etc. are all enormous problems; furthermore, similar problems have existed prior to the evolution of the human species for a little under a billion years. The termination of the phenomenon of childbirth isn't enough to do anything about those of us who've ALREADY been born; likewise, the outright elimination of humans from the planet isn't going to do anything particularly meaningful to alter the plights of the rest of the sentient organisms that coexist here. All that I'm saying is that we should at least think about these things over the next several decades, or until we can determine one way or another whether we'll ever be able to help non-humans in any meaningful capacity.

    I hope that this isn't offensive, taboo, or some kind of no-no, but I'm not a member of any particular group at the moment, so I guess it wouldn't matter, anyway.

  12. Please also note that "This is why I made the above statement that whether someone should kill himself is not a decision to be made individually" does NOT mean, "The individual in question would not be involved in the final decision at all, regardless of the outcome." This is a social issue -- not an individual issue, and certainly not a "group" issue at the expense of outlying individuals.

  13. I guess that I should end this with a question: Do either of you -- Sister Y or Shadow -- think that the best course of action is to humanely extinguish the human species as soon as possible?

  14. I think the best course of action is to extinguish the human species as soon as possible - yes.