Better to remain in potentiality

I am a pessimist, in the philosophical sense of the word. Think Schopenhauer and Cioran, two of the most corrosive philosophers in recent history, but also Gnosticism and Buddhism — both Theravada and Mahayana. I agree that procreation is an extremely problematic act. It would be better if all of us voluntarily stopped reproducing and abandon this horror show that is conscious and sentient existence. There are reasons why I choose to emphasize this in my writings, regardless of the subject being related to existential or political questions. I understand that there might be some confusion, since pessimist thinkers are viewed as apolitical or, worse, conservative or even reactionary.

Painting by Andrew Blucha

As incredible as it may seem, I owe a lot of my political shift (to the left) to reading pessimistic philosophers and writers, although the shift didn't occur only because of them, of course. What touched me while reading these thinkers was the emphasis they gave to the innumerable sufferings conscious and sentient beings — that is, animals, including the homo sapiens — go through. The antinatalist ethic is connected directly to the question of physical and mental suffering, as well as to the existential problem. I do not see these problems as obstacles we need to overcome “heroically”, like a Nietzsche or a Camus would. In reality, I see them as signs that we were very unlucky to be born. But unlike other animals, we have a privileged position in nature. We are capable of denying the natural program, something that the rest of the animals — who are also sentient but “irrational” — can't.

The ethics of voluntarily renouncing the world is an answer to suffering. When we extrapolate that to the collective, we enter the realm of politics. Politically, then, I defend that we should organize the polis in such a way that the suffering of our species is minimized. If this view is close to negative utilitarianism or not, it doesn't matter, because it's what can be done. That is why I started to defend the existence of a robust welfare State that takes care of the destitute and promotes a minimum amount of comfort for all. This is a radical change in they way I think which took years to happen, and it remains happening. For a long time, between twenty to almost thirty years of age, I followed the regular program of many middle class fools. That is, I leaned toward the right, although I had leaned left before my twenties.

Having made that clear, it is important to make something else clear. In the end of the day, I think that even if we achieve our most utopian dreams of liberation, that is, even if we are capable of forging a more fraternal and less predatory society, there will still exist a nefarious background behind the phenomenon of life. In special, life equipped with sensations and consciousness, animal life, will remain a constant struggle to fill literal voids — hunger; self-preservation and reproduction instincts — and existential voids — boredom; lack of a higher meaning to life and its sufferings. That means that even if we achieve an egalitarian and fraternal utopia, this won't alter the nefarious background of consciousness, no matter how incipient it may be. From roaches to humans, we were thrown here against our will in order to wither and enter in attrition with one another.

Like the insects, we will keep living inside a program that hurts us and considers us disposable. Life suffers and, to make matters worse, it consumes itself trillions of times everyday in order to survive. Even if the goals of the so-called “trans-humanists” become true, even if we are capable to extend life indefinitely through medical technologies or by transferring our minds to supercomputers, nothing will change the need to fill voids and the friction we all cause and suffer just by existing. We will always need to consume energy in order to survive, which is equivalent to always having to feed, which is a way to fill a literal void. Besides, we'll continue having an enormous existential void. Like Julio Cabrera would say: the existential frictions would continue to haunt us even if we were immortals.

There's a moment in the book Drawn and Quartered in which Cioran writes that Pliny, the Elder, considered men superior to the gods because they can commit suicide, something that denied to immortal deities. Cioran uses this as proof of the inferiority of Christian theology compared to Pagan philosophy. According to him, invoking wisdom is never to invoke Christian wisdom. The point I want to make here is that, yes, absolute immortality can be seen as a nightmare from which one is incapable of escaping. That is God's immortality. At least no “serious” trans-humanist defends immortality in absolute terms; we'd still be dependent on energy sources and we'd still be able to die thanks to accidents and other misfortunes.

Life destroys us, it cuts us up in pieces. There is nothing we can do to remedy this. Today, the western world and its peripheries are seeing a dreadful increase in fundamentalist irrationality, in white supremacism — at least in what is considered to be white or “more European” in each country, something that varies from place to place — and neofascist political movements. In other words, the world right now tends to get even further away from a minimally fraternal society. Realistically, the struggle for a better world, if it wants to succeed, should last generations. It just so happens that it is not right to create new beings to suffer, regardless of the circumstances.

Certain aspects wouldn't change even if we were born in a utopia. Now, it's even worse to create new sentient and conscious beings in the hopes that they will take our side and fight our struggles. It's not a matter of resignation. We should fight for a better world now, today, with all our might. But it is not worth bringing new beings into the world to finish a task that, in the end, won't free us from our deepest condition — we are suffering beings, imprisoned in a material body made of flesh, a body that has its days numbered.

In the best scenario inside this universe dominated by entropy and decadence, human life is like a forced labor camp where many are killed everyday in an indiscriminate fashion. What can we say, then, about the least favorable scenarios? What can we say of human life in a territory dominated by religious fanatics, scandalous inequalities, abject poverty and brutal criminals? Not even the few decent places in the world justify this endeavor, let alone the vast majority of indecent places. For those who are already here, it is worth trying to make the world a better place, even if we live in a place like Finland, which already has a high standard of living. But for those who inhabit the tranquility of nothingness, those that exist only in potentiality, it is not worth coming into existence. It wouldn't be worth it even if our existence was truly godlike.

by Fernando Olszewski