Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Debate with YouTube Antinatalist, Inmendham

This written response to Inmendham's (INM's) aborted response to my video "Nihilism or Transcendence?" will finish up my exchange with himfor the time being, at least. Here's his video:



And here's my point-by-point reply, written in note form (the times given from the video are approximate):

1:00 INM: Living things are merely machines competing to replicate the DNA molecule; that’s our natural function; BC: that is what animals tend to do, at some level of explanation, but there’s nothing objectively right or wrong about that function; this is why INM’s anthropomorphic game metaphor is misleading; in any case, humans are clearly unlike other animals in that we’ve gained more self-control so that we’ve partially transcended that primitive function; INM commits the genetic fallacy when he reduces all human behaviour to its evolutionary origin in some primitive function; “magic” isn’t needed for this transcendence, since natural forces and systems plainly add levels to themselves through evolution and complexification; INM fails to understand the implications of nature’s evident creativity

1:30 INM: some animals are also conscious and so they feel pleasure and pain and the ratio of those mental states is unfair; BC: here INM commits the naturalistic fallacy, since he hasn’t shown that pleasure and pain are really good or bad; his reductionistic naturalism implies only that animals subjectively care about their pleasure and pain, but that’s just another natural fact that has no normative implications; what INM needs is a normative axiom or principle that isn’t identical to any statement of mere fact, but that would be tantamount to conceding my point about how nature transcends itself—in this case by adding a normative dimension to the factual one

2:20 INM: BC says life is worth living, but he has the “right” to say that only because he’s an “arrogant optimist”; BC: INM hasn’t shown how anything in nature is right or wrong, so his talk of anyone having the right to do anything is vacuous, as far as his worldview is concerned; until he comprehends how nature transcends itself, thus falsifying his reductionism, his moralistic naturalism will be incoherent and he won’t be logically entitled to his AN (i.e. to his condemnation of procreation)

3:00 INM actually takes my advice and changes his method, by watching some of my video, taking notes and thinking, and then cutting to his response, as opposed to filming his first impressions (later on, when he loses all patience, he returns to his earlier, egregious method); but he nevertheless rejects my criticisms of that method (even though, as I just said, he temporarily adopts my recommendation); his defense of his main method mostly makes a strawman out of my argument, since he focuses on the point-by-point aspect and not on the first impression one; of course, I have nothing against fairly representing a viewpoint, by quoting the target argument; as is clear from my list of seven criticisms, the problems are with cutting back and forth so often that the quotations lose their meaning, and with giving only your first impressions, without giving yourself any time to think about the arguments and maybe engage in a more constructive dialogue

3:30, 5:30 INM says he implied that I’m a pantheist, not a theist, but that was later in his multipart reply, as I recall; earlier on, he speculated that I might be a theist and he wasted some time on that possibility; that’s only a minor example, though; a more troubling example comes up near the end of the present video, where instead of asking for me to clarify what I mean by “reductionism,” INM falls back on a strawman (see below); this is what happens when you’re in a hyper-defensive mind-frame instead of a philosophical one, when you don’t give yourself time to think much about what you’re hearing or reading before you respond; the reason I paraphrased or reconstructed INM’s argument in the first 18 minutes of my first video on INM’s radical pessimism is that I wanted to demonstrate that I understand the overall argument; also, I wasn’t aware of a video that lays out his whole world picture and I wasn’t about to delve more deeply into INM’s 2000 videos; anyway, INM agreed with most of my summary, even riffing on my formulations, so there was no red herring in that summary (as I explained in the “Nihilism or Transcendence?” video, there was arguably a red herring in my definition of “AN,” but my objections didn’t assume the slippery slope argument that informs that definition)

8:15 INM denies that he lost the forest for the trees when he filled his multipart video response with just his first impressions; I’m not saying that everything he said was irrelevant, but he did indeed miss the logic of the argument; the logic is that INM’s AN presupposes the very transcendence I talked about; INM calls that transcendence “phantasmagorical nonsense” and “leprechaun gold,” so he also fails to understand that his reductionism is opposed to the natural evidence of evolution, complexification, and emergent properties (i.e. the evidence of natural rather than magical creativity)

11:15 regarding my point that INM has no basis for speaking about consent, because he’s a determinist, he says there can still be intelligent or uninformed decisions in a deterministic world, as well as a “right” to exercise our intelligence; e.g. if someone sells you a car but lies about its condition, they take away your ability to make a correct, informed decision; I agree that misrepresentation and degrees of intelligence can exist in a deterministic world, but consent is the choice to permit something to happen; in other words, it’s the choice to withhold your ability to oppose something, given that you have that degree of self-control; in a deterministic world, though, everything that happens is forced to happen, so consent becomes impossible because there’s no such thing as self-control (instead, the self is controlled by external things); as I said, in such a world there’s only the simulation or superficial appearance of such a higher-level quality; for example, suppose a robot thinks about whether to allow someone to pick it up and move the robot to another location, and the robot eventually signals its “approval” by blinking a green light on its head; assuming the robot has no autonomy at all, but merely performs some calculations based on its perception of stimuli, it becomes a gratuitous anthropomorphism to speak of the robot’s thus having given its “consent”; again, INM must grant my point about nature’s self-transcendence (and thus give up his philosophical reductionism) before he’s entitled to his normative rhetoric, including his talk of consent

13:15 INM speaks of some behaviour as stupid, malicious, evil, cruddy, shitty, and so on, and he denies that determinism prevents him from positing those bad qualities; but as I said throughout the video, it’s determinism plus reductionism plus atheistic naturalism that together imply nihilism; INM still has to choose between nihilism or transcendence; if he wants to talk about right and wrong, he’s got to acknowledge that nature transcends itself, adding values and purposes to facts, and autonomous people to the herd of animals; once he acknowledges that, he must take seriously what I say about the potential to create a better world, as opposed to giving up on our species for fear that life will always be as dreadful as its most primitive manifestations

13:30 INM slides from making normative category judgments, saying that I’m an apologist for some “malicious and cruddy” behaviour, to saying that those judgments are merely “logical”; this is yet again the naturalistic fallacy; logical relations have no normative implications; therefore, just because some statements are illogical doesn’t mean they’re bad; illogic isn’t inherently bad as a matter of fact; science tells us the facts, so notice how in their capacity as scientists, scientists don’t posit values when they speak of natural forces and systems; INM pretends that value judgments spring from mere rationality, like Athena from the head of Zeus; all you’d have to do to see the naturalistic fallacy there is to watch INM state an explicit argument (with premises separated from the conclusion and specifying the rules of inference used), going from rationality to normativity; the fallacy is hidden because he speaks, rather, in anthropomorphic analogies; near the end of this video he loses his patience on this very point (see below)

14:30-15:45 INM says that even in a deterministic world there are wills that make decisions based on their experience, and that the more experience someone has the more skills and wisdom they have and thus the better their decisions; here INM is assuming the transcendence thesis, not determinism; this is because he stops short of tracking the causal relations outside of the individual, as though the complete explanation of a “decision” were just the psychological one that might as well posit our autonomy—for all INM’s talk of the mere internal causes of a decision; by contrast, the determinist thinks that the distinction between the inner and outer causes is arbitrary, which thus makes the talk of “will” or of “decisions” arbitrary and superficial as well; when INM calls us “machines,” he’s dehumanizing us in the deterministic manner, since machines are more obviously caused to act from outside their borders (unlike the human brain), but when pushed on the anti-normative implications of determinism, he retreats to the transcendence thesis without acknowledging as much

16:50 INM: saying that nature is divine is “idiotic”; BC: this demonstrates a churlish lack of self-awareness on INM’s part; he uses hundreds of colourful metaphors in each of his many videos; likewise, when I say that nature is divine, I’m using that word ironically but also in such a way as to get at a fundamental truth about nature’s creativity; the importance of this truth is apparent from what happens when we fail to understand this aspect of nature, such as when we resort to reductionism, like INM, and reduce personhood to animalism and psychological egoism, and normative values to the facts of pleasure and pain; to say that nature is divine is to say that nature creates itself from chaos, so that only a mindless monstrosity is the ultimate creative power rather than any person; using the theistic term in an ironic way to get theists to perceive the atheistic implications of naturalism is hardly idiotic

17:10 Likewise, INM says it’s idiotic to play with the word “undead,” since it has “mystical” connotations; again, it’s just a striking metaphor that gets at a fundamental implication of philosophical naturalism; we can see the undeadness when we look at the gray area between life and death, such as the virus; is a virus alive or dead? A virus is so simple and mindless and yet it seems to act with purpose; likewise, we’ve been fooled by all the order in nature to think that gods are behind natural processes; instead, there are just the processes that unfold themselves, and to call them undead is to call attention to the fact that nature at the fundamental level is neither inert nor animated by mind or spirit; nature is zombielike in that respect; again, zombies are popular nowadays, so this is a useful metaphor

18:00-19:30 regarding my point that most people give implicit consent to having been born, by not killing themselves after their formative years, INM says there are other reasons why they don’t kill themselves; specifically, it takes time to figure out how bad life is, people acquire attachments to friends and family, and dying is an ordeal we want to delay as long as possible; I agree there are lots of reasons why we don’t kill ourselves, but a main reason is the one I gave: people prefer to live because they get a lot out of life; a tiny minority of people, including antinatalists, may be suicidal and they don’t give their consent, but I’m talking about those who aren’t at all suicidal; the fact is that they have the option to kill themselves and they don’t; there are relatively painless ways of doing so and any personal attachments would have to be balanced against the fundamental lack of consent which the AN posits, that is, against the radical pessimism and depression which entail that life is evil; at 19:50, INM goes off on a deranged rant about how people aren’t in favour of legalizing suicide (I’m putting this as charitably as I can); this is irrelevant, since a suicidal person wouldn’t care whether the act is legal or not; an act can be morally but not legally right, but even the question of its moral right is irrelevant to the point at issue, which is just that most people implicitly give their consent to having been born, by not being suicidal; at around 20:30, INM says that I’m hypocritical for not advocating for everyone’s right to commit suicide, and that only if I advocated for that right would I have a respectable argument here; again, this personal attack is a red herring; regardless of whether I think suicide should be legal (and INM has no knowledge whatsoever of what I think on that topic), the connection between implicit consent to having been born and the fact that most people aren’t suicidal is plausible

19:45 INM slips up when he says that the reason he personally doesn’t kill himself is that he’s “here to fight” people like me or Mengele who torture animals, etc etc; again, INM shows here that he’s committed to the transcendence thesis, that he believes we can do some good in the world, in this case by fighting evil; he’ll maintain that this fight is ultimately futile, since we’re always just cleaning up part of our mess and we can never clean it all up, as he says; but I say the same thing in my articles: I say the best we can do is be tragic heroes since primitive nature wins in the end; the question is whether a partial victory is sufficiently worthy to provide a superior alternative to the effective termination of our species through AN; by holding out the option of fighting against perceived evil, INM is implying that we can do some good in the world, but this should lead him to approve of procreation as long as we ensure that our children follow in our footsteps; of course, this is what actually happens, since most parents teach their children their values; of course, the problem is that people have different ideas of noble pursuits; but is it “magical thinking” to say that one day there will be more consensus on right and wrong? Would that require a miracle? And does logic or science alone compel us to think that such a consensus is impossible or improbable, even in the distant future? Hardly

21:00 regarding what I say about nature’s self-transcendence in the metaphysical sense, INM says I should transcend my “crappy, parasitic paradigm” and “earthling bigotry,” and agree that there’s no way out of the primitive evolutionary game; this is back to psychological egoism, but culture already demonstrates that we have the potential to transcend that kind of primitive selfishness; INM himself says he chooses to live (and make videos) to fight those he regards as evil-doers, so presumably he thinks that’s a less selfish thing to do, compared to eating meat and being deluded; my point about transcendence is a metaphysical one, which is that nature adds emergent levels to itself, so we go from biology to psychology and sociology; our cultural games aren’t entirely reducible to the biological process of natural selection; our behaviour can be modeled or explained in different ways, depending on the concepts we’re working with; INM resorts to the reductionistic ones of selfishness and replication of DNA, as though those concepts could explain the difference between a Mozart concerto and the noise made from banging your head on the piano keys; the point is that once we see that nature metaphysically transcends itself through evolution and complexification, we have reason to think the norms of evolutionary life can change too; nature’s not a static or inert place, so the antinatalist should stop with the cynical eliminations and reductions of everything to the most primitive levels; at 25:00, INM says there’s no reason to think nature is going to evolve anything other than “trilobites, sea monsters, dinosaurs,” and the like; here INM contradicts what he says about the value of his being a warrior for the AN cause; INM goes back and forth between cynically reducing everything to the most primitive level, to positing emergent, transcendent levels to make room for the superiority of his life to that of the deluded, procreating masses; moreover, we can look at how anomalous our culture and technology and autonomy are, to expand our minds regarding the possible future transformations of species

22:55 INM denies that reductionism implies nihilism; actually, the point was that reductionism plus determinism plus radically pessimistic and atheistic naturalism together have that implication; but sticking just with reductionism, INM unfortunately confuses the scientific with the philosophical kind when he asks rhetorically how merely dissecting something, taking it apart to see how its parts function, implies that we can’t appreciate the whole thing’s value; that is scientific reductionism which I haven’t been taking any issue with; scientists explain things by analyzing them, reducing them to simpler mechanisms; that’s all fine, because unlike the philosophical reductionists, such as INM, scientists don’t take the extra step of eliminativism, of denying the reality of the higher-level patterns once you’ve figured out how the parts work

the problem is that INM’s reductionism amounts to eliminativism; that’s why he thinks he can get away with saying that life boils down to selfish parasitism or to the replication of DNA or, to give his most expansive account, to consumption, reproduction, cannibalism, and addiction; he thinks biology shows that that’s what’s going on at the deeper level, so therefore we can just dismiss the higher-level phenomena, such as culture, morality, autonomy, personhood, and so on; INM goes back and forth between reducing personhood to animalism and thus eliminating autonomy and personal responsibility and all other grounds for making normative distinctions, and implying nihilism, on the one hand, to committing the naturalistic fallacy and identifying the facts of sentience, pleasure, and pain as being sufficient for goodness and badness, to make room for the normative force of his AN and for his misanthropy, on the other; that is, he goes back and forth between nihilism and the transcendence thesis instead of choosing between them

25:15 just as he does at 39:25 of Part 3 of his earlier video reply, INM proves my earlier video’s point about the danger of his game metaphor; here, he says “there’s no transcending the model” and “you can’t fix the function; that’s the whole point: it’s a desire machine”; notice how obvious it is that machines are precisely those things which can be fixed—and not just fixed, but re-engineered altogether, so that the machine takes on new functions (as in our exaptations which replace our adaptations); so why would AN imply that machines must keep their old functions? I think it must be that INM is misled by his anthropomorphic interpretation of natural selection as a “game,” which leads him to think that our functions are somehow obligatory rather than just tendencies that can be physically overcome, just as a mountain can be climbed

26:15 INM speaks of AN as a failsafe, value-neutral option, since it does no harm; however, if everyone stopped having children, our species would end and that might prevent a greater good from emerging in the future; thus, there are no value-neutral options; if we kill ourselves, for example, we prevent the good we might have done from happening, and if we don’t have children, we prevent the good our children might have done from happening; I believe David Benatar tries to get around this by saying there’s an asymmetry between preventing harm and preventing good (somehow it’s fine to prevent harm, but it’s not bad to prevent the good from happening), but I hardly think his convoluted argument on that issue is transparently rational

26:45 INM rebuts my point that he commits the naturalistic fallacy when he says that pleasure and pain are good and bad, respectively, by saying that he has firsthand evidence, namely the fact that he feels the one is good and the other is bad; he says there’s nothing that can undo the “intrinsic quality” of those sensations; unfortunately for INM, scientists are the ones who tell us what’s intrinsic in our sensations, and neurologists don’t posit the rightness or the wrongness of the firing of our neurons that equals our sensations of pleasure and pain; so it looks like the normative evaluation of our factual sensations is optional; and how could it be otherwise? Just list the facts and see for yourself whether they have any normative implication

INM’s thinking here is sloppy, preoccupied as he evidently is by his unremitting hostility; what INM knows for sure isn’t that pleasure is good, but that he prefers pleasure to pain; what he knows is that some mental states feel better than others; and he might even infer that all creatures feel the same way; those are the facts, that creatures feel pleasure and pain and they prefer the one to the other; that implies subjective values; to be clear, there’s no naturalistic fallacy in inferring such subjective values, since those values are nothing more than our personal preferences; no, the fallacy is when you speak of objective or absolute right and wrong, based just on those facts of how things feel to us  

INM proceeds to a strawman, saying that I don’t agree that pleasure and pain are good and bad, respectively; the issue isn’t whether we prefer pleasure to pain; obviously we do; the issue is whether INM’s radically pessimistic naturalism logically entitles him to make his normative claims; in other words, the issue is how best to explain our evident preference for pleasure over pain; can we explain the difference between right and wrong in the world, merely with INM’s type of naturalism, which includes eliminativism and determinism? Or will we need to posit nature’s ability to add levels and properties to itself?

28:40 INM quotes my video where I say, “Let’s talk a bit more about morality” and then he points out that he already said in his multipart response that he wants nothing to do with that word “morality”; and this just demonstrates my point about the poverty of the first impressions approach to YouTube videos, because by this point INM has returned to his old method; he gives here his first impression without having watched the rest of my video, and so he’s unaware of the fact that just a few minutes later I respond directly to INM’s point that he rejects the term “morality”; but this doesn’t stop INM from accusing me of putting words in his mouth and from calling me “fuckhead” for doing so, etc etc

30:10 INM says that if pleasure and pain are only subjectively valuable, that means the values are arbitrary, like the preference for one ice cream flavour rather than another; this confuses objectivity with universality; the philosopher Kant argued that all our judgments are subjective in that they project our innate cognitive forms onto the world we sense, but he maintained that because we have the same basic forms, our judgments often have universal scope, meaning that we would all make the same judgments in the same circumstances; so subjective judgments can be universal; likewise, if our brains work the same way in terms of our ability to feel pleasure and pain, we may all agree that one is preferable to the other; those judgments wouldn’t be arbitrary since they’d be based on our common brain structures

but none of this is relevant to the point I was making, which is that INM’s version of naturalism seems to entitle him to speak only of subjective values, i.e. of our preference for pleasure; that’s all normative rightness and wrongness come to in his worldview, to that biological preference; if that makes normativity too arbitrary for him, that’s his problem, assuming I’m right that his worldview has that implication

30:30 INM adds that his value judgments are rational rather than just subjective, because they apply the Golden Rule; Kant tried to make morality rational in that way and there are few Kantians around nowadays; that’s because critics pointed out that even evil people can be consistent in their behaviour as long as they’d be OK with other people abusing them in the way they abuse others, were the circumstances reversed; for example, suppose an evil person is torturing a weaker person and the evil person is asked, “Would you want to be tortured in that way?” If the evil person says, “Yes, I’d be fine with being tortured in the possible world in which I’m this weaker fellow who can’t stop the torturer,” there would be nothing illogical in the evil person’s thinking, no violation of any law of reasoning; in any case, logic is irrelevant here, since it skips over the relevant differences between us, including the circumstances that contribute to our personal development; logic treats everything the same, which is why we can use place-holder symbols in logical arguments; but right and wrong are context-sensitive; for example, one person might deserve pleasure while someone else deserves pain, and it wouldn’t even make sense to imagine a possible world in which the two people reversed positions, since then they’d have different histories and experiences, so they wouldn’t have acted in the ways they’re actually being rewarded or punished for; so if you’re looking to logic to ground your morality, you’re scrounging in a bare cupboard

31:30 INM replies to my reference to David Hume on the is-ought gap and the naturalistic fallacy; I pointed out that, contrary to what INM says, there’s no badness that’s inherent in the physical event of pain or of murder; INM replies that we can rationally figure out that murder is bad, based on our personal experience of pain; INM is moving the goalposts here, since our cognitive faculties and experience aren’t inherent in the mental state of pain or in the event of stabbing someone; of course, I’m not denying that we can come up with arguments for the badness of various events; that’s not the point at issue; the question is whether a determinist and a reductionist/eliminativist like INM can get away with speaking of right and wrong without committing the naturalistic fallacy, by reducing right and wrong to the “inherent” or “intrinsic” facts of pleasure and pain (i.e. to neural events) and then back-peddling to what we can judge based on rationality, sentience, and experience; here again, INM is implicitly agreeing with the transcendence thesis, since rationality, sentience, and experience are already higher-level phenomena than trilobites, dinosaurs, and the replication of DNA

13 comments:

  1. I know this is a very old post but I feel the need to comment anyway. I'm really glad someone with a background in philosophy took the time to deconstruct Inmendham and his arguments. He is a deeply unhinged man who makes the Antinatalist community look like a bunch of whack jobs (which they are not).

    I used to describe myself as an Antinatalist and an Efilist, but have since grown out of that movement. For the longest time, I believed their arguments to be irrefutable-so it makes me glad someone out there has the balls to provide onjections.

    I realize now that Inmendham's Efilism has a lot of issues, and while I disagree on some of your rebuttals you did a great job pointing out its most glaring holes. What's problematic in these negative utilitarian/consequentialist lines of thinking is that they never seem to derive an is from an ought.

    They can't seem to describe why pleasure and pain are objectively bad and always say "well, we know they just are by definition." These kinds of answers I think are very poor and I'm glad you pointed that out by the end.

    I have no idea if Inmendham is all that active anymore but if he is I have zero desire to listen to him. Thank you for the great post

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    1. I'm glad you got something out of that discussion. I haven't looked into Inmendham or antinatalism in some years, but my understanding is that I'm far from the only one to have leveled criticisms of his views. It was always the same: Inmendham would get furious and spew venom on anyone who threatened his precious worldview, clearly indicating that it's more emotional than philosophical for Inmendham. He's appalled at all the stupidity and suffering in the world, which is fine, but he takes out his frustrations on scapegoats such as meat-eaters or sexual reproducers or anyone who disagrees with him or looks at him the wrong way.

      There's no question Inmendham makes antinatalists look unhinged. But who's watching him who isn't already an antinatalist? He's published thousands upon thousands of videos over a period of many years, and he still has just a little over ten thousand subscribers. That indicates he's more of a repellent than an attractor.

      Anyway, I think you meant the problem is deriving an ought from an is, not the other way around. That's the problem of the naturalistic fallacy. Yeah, my main problem with his view is that it strikes me as incoherent.

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    2. Different Anon, but I find Eflism hard to ignore. I don't know if you know this, but there's an Eflism wiki(https://efilism.fandom.com/wiki/Efilism_Wiki). That states that "Efilism forms an objective framework for reality, to account for anything relevant that could arise and challenge it."

      Q: What does that do for Antinatalism?
      A: It grants Antinatalism immunity to all deontic counter-arguments. Which includes the entire domain of subjectivist and armchair philosophy.
      Consider even the vogue sophisticated counter-arguments raised against Antinatalism, like the precious is/ought gap or the naturalistic fallacy. Efilism correctly flips that fallacy onto natalism and closes the case. IE: "Can breed doesn't equal ought to breed, goodbye." There will be no citing of "is/oughts" that allow natalism to squirm free here: https://efilism.fandom.com/wiki/Objective_Truth

      Also I wonder what you think of this comment on that video: The naturalistic fallacy is when you refer to something being natural and therefore an obligation or an ethical imperative. Saying that suffering is something all sentient beings try to avoid is an observation, there is nothing in that descriptive observation that jumps from an is to an ought. The part when antinatalists say that we should not create suffering is contrary to what we observed and its derived from considerations of the nature of sentience not directly from that observation. In this case a naturalistic fallacy would be to say: suffering is natural, whats natural is good and thus nature should inform us (be normative over) about what we ought to do, therefore it is morally permissible to cause suffering. Which is the exact opposite of what AN says.

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    3. Indeed, all the confusion and incoherence I recognized in Efilism from my 2014 encounter with Inmendham's worldview is packed into that handy introduction to his rants on that fanclub page.

      We agree only, more or less, on the premise of nature's monstrousness, its inherent amorality, inhumanity, godlessness, and pointlessness. (I’d add reference to an aesthetic dimension, since nature is supremely creative too, but we can leave that out.) From the pessimism and darkness of that insightful starting point, confusion reigns in the Efilist. She argues for antinatalism on the basis of nihilism and her disgust for natural life, but not for suicide or mass murder. That’s arbitrary. Efilism entails the goodness of supervillainy as the final solution to end nature’s mad experiment in torture. But the Efilist pretends her worldview isn’t so radical and grotesque.

      The Efilist will say she’s opposed to murder even when the murder achieves her highest good (the cessation of life/suffering), because she presumes, despite her nihilism, that pleasure is good and pain is bad. That’s why she’s so appalled at how the world treats living things. Alas, utilitarianism or hedonism contradicts nihilism.

      Of course, if values do emerge, just as wateriness emerges from H2O molecules, then the Efilist must concede that escape from the state of nature is possible after all. If there are orders of being, with the monstrousness of mindless nature (DNA, natural selection, etc) at the ground floor, and special domains emerging from those basic processes, we can indeed strive to bring into being anti-natural societies, ones that are directed towards intelligently-selected ends, ones that help those who suffer, give us reasons to live, and try to eliminate hunger, poverty, and torture. Obviously, that’s what civilization’s about. No matter how difficult or often hypocritical that project may be, the point is that once the nihilist switches (arbitrarily) to implicit utilitarianism, she implies that we’re not permanently trapped on the ground floor after all, notwithstanding all her melancholic rhetoric.

      This is why my favourite line in that Efilist introduction is, “Of course it's wise to end gratuitous misery…” Of course? Despite the pointlessness of life that the intro went on and on about? How did it suddenly come about that we ought to care about our fellow living creatures, if everything is pointless and nothing matters? In so far as we’re crudely reduced to physical objects or playthings of indifferent DNA, there are no moral considerations. Moral values would be illusions, at best. So why is the “enlightened” Efilist ranting about unfair life is? Evidently she empathizes because she thinks suffering is wrong, but how does her reductionistic worldview justify that moral assessment? Why is pleasure good and pain bad if there’s no God and everything’s ultimately absurd? Efilism is just so muddled on this point.

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    4. Or take the freewill issue as another example (discussed in the “Objective Truth” article on that website). The Efilist says freewill is impossible because every event has a cause. But that’s only to return to the metaphysical ground floor. Does the Efilist mean to suggest that nothing exists besides causes and effects as such? That the higher-level distinction between, say, trees and oceans is empty because all that really exists are causes and effects as such? Surely not! Surely other categories arise, such as the tree and the ocean. So why not autonomy (from the human brain)? The Efilist needs to make up her mind whether she wants to stay on the ground floor or venture into the territories of the special sciences and of emergent levels of being.

      Elsewhere on that website (second link below), the Efilist wants to distinguish her view from nihilism, by saying that nomic necessity establishes that everything matters after all, since natural law preserves everything that happens (from the eternal, God’s-eye perspective, as Spinoza would say, which is the source of this mysticism). In the words of the article, “Everything is truly purposeless and futile—but everything really matters forever.” But that’s the naturalistic fallacy again. Even supposing time is illusory and everything is permanent (events can’t be undone), how would that imply that everything has a value? When we say something matters, we mean it’s not just a meaningless fact, but that it’s important in some way, that it has some worth or a purpose. It’s just a non sequitur to leap from permanence to mattering. Mattering is a normative concept, but permanence is a quantitative one. So how is the former derived from the latter?

      Regarding that comment on the YouTube exchange, my point was that Inmendham’s rhetoric implicitly commits the fallacy of assuming that pleasure is good just because it’s natural—because his rhetoric of the inescapable gladiatorial arena and the game of evolution and so forth entail there’s no escape from nature. If he denies the possibility of higher orders of being that aren’t mindless and absurd, and yet, contrary to the nihilism which is entailed by much of his rhetoric, he insists on being a utilitarian, pleasure could be good only because of some natural fact or other. He gives himself no other grounds to justify his values. How do respectable values suddenly arise in a universe of monstrous facts if nothing anti-natural (such as a worthy way of life) can emerge?

      Inmenham wants to appeal to logic and reason as his salvation. “Just follow the logic,” he’ll shout. But logic can establish only the validity of arguments, not their soundness or the truth of their assumptions, and science doesn’t prove the value of anything. So when his back is against the wall, Inmendham will say it’s just self-evident that pleasure is good and pain is bad. Nonsense! Some pleasure is bad and some pain is good. Real nihilists don’t shit the bed like this; they don’t betray their amoral vision of a heartless universe, because deep down they’re softhearted and need to vent their contempt for the world that alienates them.

      That’s what Efilism really is. This is not remotely a logical or scientific worldview. It’s an emotional self-defense strategy for certain cynics who can’t have children for some reason, or who have been hard done by and feel like rationalizing their failures and victimhood. Efilism is not a form of enlightenment.

      https://efilism.fandom.com/wiki/Objective_Truth

      https://efilism.fandom.com/wiki/Efilism_Vs._Nihilism

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    5. Hi Benjamin, same anon as before. I appreciate the attention you give to the topic. Anyhow, in the Youtube comments of a back and forth video discussion between BlitheringGenius and Inmendham I found an interpretation of Efilism from user Hyπατία, and I wanted to know if it lines up with how you conceive it. Any further thoughts are appreciated.

      1st Half | Hyπατία says:
      "My understanding of efilism (far from being exhaustive) is more or less based on the below:

      Negative utilitarianism =/= hedonism. Even if they are related in where they source value from, they are not the same. Efilism is more closely related to negative utilitarianism than hedonism, if hedonism is to be taken as significant at all, then its only insofar that it localizes the source of value in experienced qualities. In which case efilism would be closer to a canonically non-existent negative hedonism. But what superficial analyzers may identify as hedonism in efilism, it is rather merely a phenomenological analysis of the content and structure of qualitative experience. It does not merely perform a naive psychological introspective analysis of feelings, but gets into a proper description of the content of these experiences, and it elucidates how the universal (aka shared by all brains capable of synthesizing qualias of experience) quality categories of experience arise. It observes, that all experiences are qualitatively weighted, and that on closer examination their weight (aka importance, mattering) is given by their degree of negativity.

      The "badness" of a weighed experience is not just a perspectival judgment, but an immediate, inherent component, the main qualitative essence of such an experience. The very concept of "bad" in language is but the label of this internal/inherent/immediate quality all sentient beings directly experience. Experiences tend to cluster based on their degree of this inherent quality, and they behave like a currency of evaluating qualities in general. Negative experiences tend to be the ones which decisively underlie the motivation structure of psychologies - and this is also clear from analyzing the action of evolutionary processes driving organisms on paths of least resistance.

      Positive experiences are more complex, less basic experiences, and as far as they are basic are mostly composed of - phenomenologically speaking - the lack of or the elimination of negative qualias. Hence the value of a product or service, in inherent terms is proportional to the required work that went into them, as "work" in this context being analogous with effort, and effort being a qualitatively negative experience, regardless of any derived instrumental worth. The more valuable something is, the more hard it is to produce, the more hard it is to produce, the more suffering it requires. Rarity (scarcity) also adds to value through the same enhanced weigh of suffering it needs to be acquired. This is even true with reference to the nature of the universe itself, where the forces of entropy are pitted against the forces of order and steady-states. Anti-entropic actions use up energy, in biological terms this translates into energies needed to achieve states of homeostatic equilibrium, which are never stable and in constant frustration.

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    6. Part 2
      Efilism begins from an understanding of nature/life as a whole (evolution, naturalist ontology), proceeds with an existential analysis of what is sentience and its predicament in the world, it explains how value constitutes itself/emerges from the way we exist in the world as creatures with conditions of well-being and qualitative states of mind exposed to an uncaring, unintelligent, non-teleological, overbearing and yes, violent reality. It then turns to analyze what the standards of reason are in relation of what have been described, and it finds nature to be lacking compared to those standards. It utilizes logical extrapolation and relational analysis to understand the essential sameness of the structure of all possible experience-machines (how the pre-teoretical formation of degrees of mattering within experience, significance and value arise from our direct interaction with the world, and how the mechanisms of deprivation-satisfaction underlie the motivational structure of being in the world, how what has value/weight/significance is proportional to what degree of suffering it costs - how this negative currency of value ultimately underpin all our personal, social, even the value of certain material goods, heck even the gravity and value of works of art).

      It concludes that reducing and especially preventing harm is the best course of action demanded by the reasoned understanding of all the above, hence it aligns with negative utilitarianism: reducing harm is more important than increasing happiness. The conclusion is possible due to the fact that we have the "freedom" and the standards of reason to judge (note the standards and values of logic like truth are not the same as the standards of nature/evolution, like survival), evaluate and ultimately disagree with what nature has been revealed to be in relation to creatures who can be harmed. We also can understand via reason, that existential nihilism is true: we live for no cosmic purpose, we play no grand narrative, we have no functional role in the machination of the universe: the suffering payed for existence statistically is staggeringly high FOR NO GOOD OR REDEEMING REASON.

      Efilism then proceeds to chart an efficiency calculation based on the principle of harm reduction and prevention. It concludes that based on what it established so far, there are objectively more and less efficient ways of acting in the world: for every interaction in the world there is more or less suffering produced, and if reduction of harm is the goal, then some interactions are in relation to this goal objectively better than others. The ideal of harm prevention is of course preventing the game/the state of affairs which produces the need for harm reducing interventions in the first place: hence the ideal goal of efilism is to phase out the vicious cycle of reproduction, to put an end to the useless and malignant repetition of the inherently flawed condition of sentient existence. This is the ideal however, until then we should use whatever means there are to reduce harm, making existence more cost-effective, although admittedly one can only imperfectly do so (here I would also add the moral impediment argument from Cabrera's negative ethics). Still, in the light of all the above, reason itself demands us to act in harm-reducing rather than harm-producing ways."

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    7. I think I conversed with Hypatia in the YouTube comments of these or of other Inmendham videos. There’s some overlap between our views, based on this summary, in so far as Efilism is consistent with the themes of existentialism and cosmicism or at least of philosophical naturalism. But lots of people agree with those themes, and they’re not what distinguish our views.

      Efilism is basically the view that antinatalism follows from existentialism and cosmicism (cosmic pessimism), because the latter entail utilitarianism and utilitarianism entails antinatalism. I dispute those alleged intermediary links.

      This summary from Hypatia isn’t particularly coherent, nor is it consistent with what Gary said in his YouTube debate with me. The claim that some values are inherent or self-evident runs up against the naturalistic fallacy. Saying that badness is inherent in certain events is like the theist saying that God’s existence is axiomatic, obvious, or properly basic. Not so in either case. Moreover, this claim contradicts what Hypatia calls “existential nihilism” (second-last paragraph). If nihilism is true, there are no inherent, objective values.

      Hypatia says Efilism isn’t identical with utilitarianism, but I don’t believe I ever reduced the latter to the former. In my videos I said explicitly that I disagree that antinatalism follows from existentialism, cosmicism, or philosophical pessimism, where I took Gary’s views (Efilism) to be that the opposite inference should be made, the middle link being utilitarianism.

      But as Hypatia summarizes it, utilitarianism doesn’t follow from those dark philosophical premises, after all, but rather from a cliché attributed to Teddy Roosevelt of all people, that if something’s easy, it’s not worth doing, and thus that what matters is what costs suffering in its production (“how what has value/weight/significance is proportional to what degree of suffering it costs—how this negative currency of value ultimately underpin all our personal, social, even the value of certain material goods, heck even the gravity and value of works of art”). That bit of homespun American pragmatism is hardly equivalent to existentialism or cosmic nihilism. There’s some truth in this cliché, of course, but I doubt it makes for a comprehensive account of how values emerge. It’s refuted in the art world, since lots of postmodern art is easy to make and it’s valued highly out of decadence.

      In any case, I reject the claim that “reduction of harm is the goal.” Some kinds of suffering are good, such as sacrifices made for a noble aim. In particular, enlightenment generates higher forms of suffering, such as anxiety, melancholy, ennui, and so forth. Thus, we ought to suffer to prove we understand what’s really going on at the existential level. Happiness in the sense of contentment, rather, is a sign of delusion and of existential inauthenticity.

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    8. So I reject the utilitarianism. But even if we went along with that link to antinatalism, the Efilist has no good reason not to promote suicide or mass murder as a means of ending greater suffering in the long term. I argued this in all my articles on Inmendham’s views and on antinatalism. Why not kill people in their sleep so they won’t suffer anymore? Why not kill everyone who knows them, so they won’t suffer in response to that first person’s absence? Why not be in favour not just of antinatalism but of the active self-destruction of our species to prevent the suffering of future generations? Of course, if everyone stopped having babies, that would end our species, but assuming that’s not going to happen, the Efilist has no good reason, based on her utilitarianism, to reject the secondary option of mass murder or suicide (nuclear or biological war, for example) to achieve the same goal, namely the elimination of harm.

      Utilitarianism is notorious for entailing that minorities can be sacrificed to benefit the majority, because the goal is the maximization of pleasure. Once we enter into our calculations the potential suffering of all future generations, it seems massive suffering of all extant people, via nuclear war, say, would be justified to benefit those nonexistent future generations, to prevent their suffering from coming into the world. (Benatar’s asymmetry argument is bogus, if it has any bearing on this point.)

      Notice the difference between the sacrifices entailed by the Efilist’s utilitarianism and the sacrifices I’m in favor of. I say individuals ought to suffer on behalf of their knowledge of life’s tragic dimension. That same dark knowledge entails empathy and pity towards others who are in the same existential plight, as hapless, trapped, fallible creatures. So far from entailing mass murder, my premises promote a nondeluded form of morality. Moreover, we need future generations to live to continue to testify with their enlightened suffering, against nature’s absurdity.

      The claim in Hypatia’s second-last paragraph, that “the standards and values of logic like truth are not the same as the standards of nature/evolution, like survival,” flatly contradicts what Gary said in his responses to my videos. I argued precisely that “transcendence” from nature is possible, since consciousness, reason, freewill, morality, and personhood in general are just such emergent categories. And I inferred that if emergent properties are possible, and artificiality and human intelligent designs can transcend nature-as-amoral-wilderness (which the Efilist accepts implicitly in speaking of rational standards as non-natural), we needn’t give up hope that future generations will have progressed, in which case antinatalism is fatalistic and defeatist.

      Gary ridiculed that and argued on the contrary that everything is shit and stuck in the mire of natural brutality. Now it’s possible that Gary was arguing as much only out of spite so as not to give me the satisfaction of hearing him admit that he agrees with me and that antinatalism therefore doesn’t follow from our shared harsh premises. That would be the sort of pettiness I’d expect of a fake philosopher. The incoherence of Hypatia’s summary buttresses that suspicion.

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  2. Great rebuttals against Efilism, friend. It's really annoying when Gary's fan-club prides their ideas as being the most logical and most bullet-proof ideology in existence. I read some of the other comments here, and I wanted your opinion on something. I've had some of Gary's followers in the past explain to me that if suffering is a universally bad feeling in every living thing's brain, then the is/ought gap isn't a problem since it always needs to be prevented (unless one needs to cause suffering in A in order to prevent A from causing suffering to B, or unless a little suffering today is necessary to prevent greater suffering in the future.) Personally, I'm not too confident this avoids Hume's Guillotine but I'd like to hear your take on this

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    1. Thanks.

      I'm not sure I understand what the response is supposed to be. The rarity or universality of a described fact has no bearing on the is/ought gap; the gap in logic between descriptions and prescriptions is there either way. So even if there were a universal revulsion against pain, as a matter of biological fact, that fact alone, that we want to avoid pain wouldn't show that we're right in that respect, that we ought to keep trying to avoid pain.

      In any case, when someone says "unless" the pain is needed to achieve a higher good, that person is conceding that, on the contrary, the rejection of pain isn't universal after all. There are all kinds of exceptions, such as going to the dentist, practicing a hard task to improve your skills, and so on. Ascetics go a step further and say pain is good because happiness is for sheep who are ignorant of the hidden nature of reality or we should punish ourselves because of our original sin.

      So this response to Hume is a total failure. In practice, what I think Gary has in mind is that if something is common enough, we just get to accept it as it is, by way of pounding our fist on the table, berating those who say otherwise, and pretending we're not committing a fallacious appeal to popularity. This is what I recall seeing from his videos: he'd resort to ridiculing those who say pain isn't morally bad just because we instinctively think it is.

      Sam Harris does the same in The Moral Landscape. He just throws his hands up and writes off those who disagree with him; in his case, that's because he dismisses the entire philosophical discussion of the is/ought gap, on the irrelevant and laughable grounds that entering into that discussion would be boring, as he says in a footnote.

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    2. Thanks for your reply, Benjamin. Of course, if I were to present this rebuttal towards Gary's followers they'd likely accuse me of being un-compassionate or psychopathic like they usually do. Gary honestly seems like if Harris realized he lost that debate with David Benetar and went full on misanthrope

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    3. I used to argue with Gary's followers a little in the YouTube comments. Some of the commenters are more reasonable than others, but it is something of a cult we're dealing with there. When they so easily resort to personal attacks, we know they're emotionally committed to certain dark beliefs, so arguing them out of them is futile.

      But this point about the naturalistic fallacy is straightforward. There's a logical gap between descriptions and prescriptions. If you have a set of descriptions, they don't logically imply a prescription. It doesn't matter what those descriptions are about, as long as they're not just reworded or covert prescriptions. There will be an open question whether any statement of fact ought to have a certain value. It doesn't matter whether the fact is particular or general, contingent or necessary. It's the facticity that's incommensurable with normativity or morality.

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