Tuesday, November 19, 2019

On Medium: Rick and Morty: The Cosmic Horror of Perfected Science

This article is on Rick and Morty's opposition to the optimism of new atheists and secular humanists.


  1. Thanks for explaining to me why Rick & Morty is the only show I watch that wasn't cancelled over a decade ago. That show is the best homage to Lovecraft that I have encountered so far.

    “Worse (than evil). You’re smart. When you know nothing matters, the universe is yours."

    That's an insightful quotation, but I would go even further (farther?) than Rick. I would say that once someone passes a certain threshold of consciousness, it becomes impossible for them to be 'good' in any sense that would be meaningful for those who are still below that threshold. And I am not just referring to the universe's indifference to values or it's lack of purpose. Even the Buddhist, who clings to human values of compassion and truth, must still confront the objection that the purpose she has taken upon herself - to end all suffering - combined with her enlightened consciousness, drives her towards something that most unenlightened people would consider the ultimate of evil: the annihilation of all life in the cosmos. After all, if suffering is inalienable from the experience of being alive, and the end of suffering is desirable, then life must come to an end. Through their doctrines of karma and rebirth, the Buddhists are able to postpone this omnicidal dénouement an incalculably distant future and focus on the more immediate goals of meditation and moral improvement; though it still looms at the end of the road.

    But those of us who don't believe in karma and/or rebirth cannot afford such distractions. If life is bad, then death is good. Rick's casual disregard for life, therefore, isn't so much a symptom of sociopathy, but the natural corollary of his enlightenment. His actions are only insane or antisocial from the perspective of those who don't know what he knows.That's not to say that Rick's a bodhisattva (clearly he isn't), but that if he were one, he'd be a very dangerous man! If abandoning all human values and just taking life as it is results in a sort of free floating apathy, retaining them in the face of the grim facts of existence leads to nihilism and death-worship. For an enlightened person, a 'yea' to life would mean something akin to the philosophy espoused by the Marquis de Sade: enjoying oneself at no matter whose expense; while a 'nay' would be Buddhism, Gnosticism, anti-natalism or some other nihilistic agenda which ultimately aims at putting the world out of its misery.

    Neither option is very appealing, but I don't see any way to evade that choice short of a lobotomy. Most of us, if we are ever confronted with it, spin our wheels and oscillate between the two as it suits our moods: if we feel bad, the world is hell, or if we feel good, we think, vaguely, that it's all somehow worth it - as if it's all about us. But could the ecstasy of a sadist justify the torture of millions? Conversely, could the torment of single, innocent child refute a million happy, fulfilled lives? Even if the universe did have a purpose and there were a God, could Heaven ever justify Hell?

    1. You ask some great questions. It's funny that you should mention both Marquis de Sade and the Buddha, since the choice between them is precisely the subject of the article I just posted, a dialogue between those figures.

      Your last question reminds me of a TV show I recently started watching, called The Good Place. It's a philosophical comedy about the afterlife, and I hope it develops in the way I think it should, with a critique of the whole metaphysical framework and the standards for judging souls as being worthy of heaven or hell.

      Your point about the annihilation of life as the ultimate goal of Buddhism raises the specter of antinatalism. What's the Buddhist rationale for sexual reproduction if that just adds to reincarnation and samsara? What the Buddhist can say, though, is that the bliss of nirvana vindicates the existence of living things and even their suffering. Mind you, that's dubious, as Sade and other naturalists would say.

  2. 'The Good Place' sounds edgy for a network show (I wonder how much hate mail they got?). I don't own a TV, but I might be able to watch it online.

    Whether or not nirvana could vindicate samsara is an interesting question, but I think it hinges on just what nirvana is. Buddha describes nirvana as the negation of samsara, which isn't too helpful but maybe the best he can do. Given that our sojourn in samsara is fueled by karma & nirvana is only achieved by not generating any new karma while allowing what remains to run its course, I'm not sure nirvana is even causally related to samsara, which would make our question a mute one. We can only affirm or negate samsara as a whole because everything here is interdependent: to condemn the minutest part is to condemn the whole. But if nirvana is wholly independent from samsara, then nothing here could be justified by it. We could sing encomiums to nirvana while lambasting samsara in the strongest terms without offending Nietzsche or Buddha.

    On the subject of anti-natalism: Buddhists believe that humans alone are privileged to pursue enlightenment. Devas and Asuras ('good' and 'bad' demi-gods in Indian mythology) are too blissed out in the heavens to be disillusioned enough to renounce their hedonistic lifestyles, while those suffering in the various hells are too preoccupied by their suffering to meditate; lower animals, of course, just lack the intellectual capacity to understand Buddha's teachings. With that in mind, procreation and childrearing might be the best thing a Buddhist could do short of achieving nirvana, since she is giving her offspring the opportunity to finally escape samsara.

    Though, even if the Buddhist premises are granted, I find procreation impossible to justify. The odds that my child would live a worthwhile life are on the low end & the odds against him becoming a Buddha are astronomical. Furthermore, I think animals (excluding research specimens) are basically happier than humans, so I see no good reason to facilitate a human birth. I try to look at decisions in terms of odds. Suffering & death are absolute certainties for every human being who will ever live, while the good things in life - sex, friendship, romance, creativity - are only possibilities that may never be realized. Now, would it be ethical to bring a person into this world with the absolute conviction that he will suffer & die simply because I think there is a chance (even a good one) that he might also enjoy himself enough to make the suffering worthwhile? A pro-natalist might try to argue that if everyone thought that way, humans would go extinct; but that is specious reasoning (and begging the question to boot). The fact is that most humans will reproduce given the chance because that is what they are genetically programmed for, so why should you or I be obliged to participate? The world is overrun with orphans, runaways and child sex-slaves who already exist & suffer, whose lives could only improve if even the most incompetent of parents adopted them. Given the above facts, I deem procreation unconscionable; & if it were in my power, I'd have everyone with more than one kid permanently sterilized.

    1. I watched some more of The Good Place and it does indeed head in the interesting direction. The show isn't as powerful as Rick and Morty, though, in my view.

      I'm sure there are different Buddhist views on the nature of nirvana, ranging from the naturalistic to the theological. The most likely scenario is that nirvana is an altered state of consciousness.

      When you say the odds of a child reaching nirvana are low, a Buddhist could say that might be so only in this life, not in the lives to come through reincarnation. Of course, it's doubtful there's any such reincarnation.

      I've written a number of articles on antinatalism, as you may have read. That includes a lengthy debate with Inmendham on YouTube. You make a good point about the benefits of adoption. I'd agree that having kids is hardly a selfless act. Under some conditions, having kids may be unconscionable, especially if the parents are in no shape to raise the kids so the children are guaranteed to have a very low-quality life.

      But ultimately I agree with an argument that's similar to the Buddhist point about reincarnation, which is to say that I look to the distant future for some justification. The point about the link between everyone being an antinatalist and the death of our species is about testing antinatalism as a principle. If antinatalism isn't meant to be extended to everyone, antinatalism could be defended only by hypocrisy. That's why Inmendham makes his thousands of videos, to spread the word because he wants everyone to stop having kids. And it's obvious that if everyone stopped, our species would be terminated. Given the advances of technology, though, there's the chance of a very cool, transhuman future. The universal application of antinatalism would reduce that chance to zero.

  3. I think you are right about there being different conceptions of what nirvana. If I have no idea what nirvana is, how could I know if I've achieved it or if it's even worth pursuing in the first place?

    Reincarnation seems to be the most plausible of after lives, if after lives there be; but most of the evidence that believers in reincarnation cite isn't too convincing. Memories, even memories of this life, are often enough mere fictions created by the ego to protect itself; so unless I can verify that my memories are correct, how do I know they aren't fictions? I might have some vague feeling that I was a soldier in WWI, but unless I have a name to go with that recollection & some details about my former incarnation's life (like the name of his fiancé), as well as a way of verifying that information, then it's no evidence at all.

    However, there is a decent rational argument for reincarnation. If Leibniz was correct in his proof that the constituents of matter cannot themselves me material & Descartes was right to say that mind is, unlike matter, non-extended, then it follow that mind cannot be a mere epiphenomena of the brain any more than an non-extended thing can emerge from what is extended. In that case, extensionless mind could create extended matter, but extended matter could never create extensionless mind. And if a mind can take possession of & inhabit one body, I see no sufficient reason why it could not do the same to successive bodies. What baffles me is why anyone would choose to reincarnate in the first place. Even if you were addicted to physical sensations, any sensation could be simulated by the mind since entire dream worlds can be created by the mind. There's really no good reason to take up residence in a vulnerable piece of meat that's in constant need of maintenance and liable to all kinds of suffering. The Buddhist answer to this conundrum is the law of karma, but I've already thoroughly refuted the theory of karma as not only unverifiable, but incoherent.

    I'm not so sure a principle must be extended to everyone to be justified. Kant applied the what-if-everyone-did-it heuristic to every ethical question and look where it led him: we're obliged to tell a murderer where he can find his next victim because if everyone lied all the time, society would collapse (which itself is a covert appeal to consequentialism, the very system Kant sought to refute with his argument). For me ethics are contextual, though not necessarily reducible to consequences we have no power to foresee. If you want to interpret anti-natalism as a categorical imperative that should apply to everyone in all circumstances , than I'm as opposed to it as you are; but in the context of the here and now, I think anti-natalism would be right for most people. So much more time, work and money is invested in raising children rather than in creating a future for them that would be worth living in. If all the resources that go into child rearing were diverted to fixing our societies & cleaning up the environment, most of our problems could be solved within a few decades or less.

    Yes, I used to follow Inmendham. He started out fairly rational, but his videos became more manic and emotional as time went on. Ultimately, the guy is just preaching to the congregation & offending everyone else.

    1. Sure, if mind is immaterial, reincarnation is plausible. But that's a mighty big "if."

      The question is what exactly the antinatalism is arguing for. If she's saying antinatalism is best for her or for certain other people in specific situations, that's fine, assuming her reasoning is that those individuals don't happen to be equipped to raise children well, so the children would very likely suffer too much.

      But if she's making the more general point that everyone should be antinatalists, regardless of the circumstances, that's a more dubious proposition. As I said in my exchanges with Inmendham, the antinatalist at that point might as well be a cartoonish supervillain seeking to destroy humanity. Indeed, Inmendham's consequentialist logic entails not just that he advocate for antinatalism but that he should actively try to prevent people from having kids, by killing them before they can do so.

    2. "Indeed, Inmendham's consequentialist logic entails not just that he advocate for antinatalism but that he should actively try to prevent people from having kids, by killing them before they can do so."

      I think you're right; though I hope you didn't tell him that during your debate (I really have to watch that). For better or worse, most of us don't have either the courage, the intellect or both to act fully and consistently on our convictions. When I was a vegan I remember someone once asked me why I was so tolerant of non-vegans. "If you really believe the lives of animals are so precious, why do you tolerate those who eat & exploit them? Shouldn't you join something like ALF ('Animal Liberation Front') or at least attempt to shame people for eating meat? Your tolerance is hypocritical & disgusting!" I knew this person wasn't vegan & was just trying to mess with me, but he had a valid point. Given my alleged convictions, I should have been treating non-vegans no different from how I would treat an avowed Neo-Nazi; I certainly shouldn't be breaking bread with them! But I just couldn't see meat eaters as sinners who needed to repent or Nazis who deserved to be scorned. All my friends & family ate meat & so did I for much of my life, so who was I to judge? I was an inconsistent & hypocritical vegan - which was a good thing because once my health began to deteriorate & I had to start eating animal products again, it would have been very embarrassing to ask alienated friends & family for their forgiveness.

      I hate hypocrisy, but maybe hypocrisy is actually for the best if the only alternatives are living without values or taking those values to their absurd, but logical conclusion. What if most Christians really practiced the sermon on the mount or most Muslims followed their prophet's hadith to the letter? Look at how ridiculous ultra-orthodox Jews behave when they try to apply their 613 mitzvot to every aspect of their lives. If humans have no more intrinsic value than other animals - if we aren't made in God's image - then why not practice slavery? If I can enslave a cow for her milk, I ought to be able to do the same to a man for his labor. Inmendham believes that we would all be incommensurably better off dead & but for his irrational sentimentality, a few more people would be resting in peace as we speak. Can you even imagine a religion which would not require some form of hypocrisy from its adherents? I honestly cannot. Not even quasi-religions like Communism or Scientism fit the bill. Nietzsche preached hard heartedness, but he got sentimental over orphans & abused animals. Schopenhauer advocated asceticism, but lived comfortably his entire life. Hitler made an exception of any Jew (tens of thousands) who might be useful to the Reich. What good are religions, philosophies politics, or ethics if we only ever use them as justifications, but never as guides?

    3. You raise great points. Indeed, my next article will be about selling out as a writer, which will touch on the issue of hypocrisy, but what you say here motivates me to write something separately on hypocrisy.

      Which kind of hypocrisy is blameworthy and which is necessary? The more absolute our principles, the more likely our hypocrisy. So balanced, more realistic principles would be easier to practice, but those would lead to the opposite slippery slope: not into zealotry and radical, insane action (such as the antinatalist's attempt to commit mass murder), but into Trump-like transactionalism or compromise with each situation. In that case there's no more principle but just nihilism. So what exactly is a principle? Does it have to be idealistic and thus unworkable? Is "realistic principle" a contradiction in terms? I'll have to think more about this.

      I made that comment about the antinatalist's consequentialism in the article that drew Inmendham to make his four-part video response. I think I might have made that point in my response video too, but I can't remember. Inmendham then responded to that video but gave up early on. I wrote point-by-point replies to Inmendham's videos and a semi-satirical article about him.

      It was quite a slog to watch Inmendham's video responses to me. His start-and-stop method is egregious and anti-philosophical in that it guarantees he'll miss the point, go after red herrings, take cheap shots and so on. In my response video, I began by criticizing his method. I regard him as a cranky, semi-crazy person who sometimes makes interesting analogies and who at least eschews political correctness and conventional secular morality. I'm pretty sure I pinpointed the incoherence of his worldview, but he missed the point because of his YouTube method. I'll give you the links here, if you’re interested in our debate.

      My original article:

      His four videos, my video response and my point-by-point written reply to those four:

      His unfinished video response to my video response, and my point-by-point written reply to that:

      My semi-satirical article about him: