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Does Manosphere Blogger Vox Day Really Support the Murder and Mutilation of Women?

Most women, it is fair to say, don’t want to be deprived of education; they don’t want to be considered little more than baby-making machines; and they don’t want “independent” women to be maimed or murdered.

But according to the influential manosphere blogger Vox Day, women who object to any of this just don’t know what’s good for them. In one of the most repellant manosphere rants I’ve run across yet, Vox attempts to rebut PZ Myers’ critiques of evolutionary psychology with a series of bizarre and hateful assertions about women, offering his own “scientific” rationales for keeping women down. Is this all somehow satire on his part? He certainly seems sincere.

TRIGGER WARNING for all that follows; Vox explicitly defends the maiming and murder of women.

Vox starts out by arguing that depriving women of education makes solid evolutionary sense:

[E]ducating women is strongly correlated with reducing their disposition and ability to reproduce themselves. Educating them tends to make them evolutionary dead ends. … 40% of German women with college degrees are childless. Does PZ seriously wish to claim that not reproducing is intrinsically beneficial to women?

Instead of being educated, Vox goes on to argue, girls should be married off young so they can start popping out babies:

[R]aising girls with the expectation that their purpose in life is to bear children allows them to pursue marriage at the age of their peak fertility, increase the wage rates of their prospective marital partners, and live in stable, low-crime, homogenous societies that are not demographically dying. It also grants them privileged status, as they alone are able to ensure the continued survival of the society and the species alike. Women are not needed in any profession or occupation except that of child-bearer and child-rearer, and even in the case of the latter, they are only superior, they are not absolutely required.

Next, he defends the practice of throwing acid in the face of “independent” women:

[F]emale independence is strongly correlated with a whole host of social ills. Using the utilitarian metric favored by most atheists, a few acid-burned faces is a small price to pay for lasting marriages, stable families, legitimate children, low levels of debt, strong currencies, affordable housing, homogenous populations, low levels of crime, and demographic stability. If PZ has turned against utilitarianism or the concept of the collective welfare trumping the interests of the individual, I should be fascinated to hear it.

He moves on to honor killings, arguing that they too are good for women, because

female promiscuity and divorce are strongly correlated with a whole host of social ills, from low birth and marriage rates to high levels of illegitimacy.

He offers a similar rationale for female genital mutilation, before launching into this bizarre racist attack on abortion rights:

[F]ar more women are aborted than die as a result of their pregnancies going awry. The very idea that letting a few women die is worse than killing literally millions of unborn women shows that PZ not only isn’t thinking like a scientist, he’s quite clearly not thinking rationally at all. If PZ is going to be intellectually consistent here, then he should be quite willing to support the abortion of all black fetuses, since blacks disproportionately commit murder and 17x more people could be saved by aborting black fetuses than permitting the use of abortion to save the life of a mother. 466 American women die in pregnancy every year whereas 8,012 people died at the hands of black murderers in 2010.

Vox wants “girls” – presumably teenagers — to be married off young and start popping out babies. Yet in his mind female fetuses are “unborn women.”

Despite Vox Day’s repellent ideas about women – and his proud racism – he’s an influential figure in the manosphere, mentioned approvingly and regularly cited by others who present themselves as more moderate voices. It may not be a shock that the reactionary antifeminist blogger Dalrock includes Vox in his blogroll, and cites his work with approval (see here and here for examples). But, astoundingly, he’s also regularly cited approvingly by antifeminist “relationship expert” Susan Walsh of Hooking Up Smart (see here, here, and here). And she has even written at least one guest post on Vox’s “game blog” Alpha Game.

At this point I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked by any of this.  But I still am.

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David Marshall
9 years ago

Pecunium: I quoted Vox’ comment from the thread pointing out that these were not his own views, but what followed (in his view) from PZ Myer’s assumptions about reality. I picked that up from his OP, even before reading his explanation. Admittedly, I can see why some readers, less attuned to satire, and expecting genuine mysogeny (whether or not for good reason), might not have picked it up.

I haven’t read much of Vox Day’s “other writings,” which apparently include a book, along with lots of blog posts. But what I have read, confirms that this is his style. So I was not surprised to find him pointing out below that the OP was not intended to express his own POV.

pecunium
pecunium
9 years ago

But it does express views consistent with his POV.

And you still aren’t answering the questions.

1: What is VD’s point?

1a: How is it satire.
1b: If none of his other works are to be considered, how can we know it’s satire?

2: How does this batch of over the top points differ from his other writings? (see 1a-1b above as to why this matters, your attempt to dismiss it as irrelevant notwithstanding)

3: What about his “mocking” makes the logical failures, intellectual errors (e.g. the mis-statement of utilitarianism), etc. worth ignoring?

I’ll help you out.

sat·ire (str)
n.
1.
a. A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit.
b. The branch of literature constituting such works. See Synonyms at caricature.

So what is the vice/folly.

For extra points show how this most recent writing is fundamentally different in end result from this:

It’s pretty clear to me that one of the most destructive forces in our society has been women’s suffrage…. I’m not advocating some sort of sharia here – as far as I’m concerned, women can work wherever and wear whatever they want. But allowing them a voice in government and politics is disastrous, if not suicidal, and has led directly to the loss of more American lives in three decades than in every war since the Revolution.

It’s a simple question, actually. Is the nation better off or worse off as a result of women’s suffrage? If so, how? It’s a tough case to make, unless you want to argue that divorce, illegitimacy, homosexuality and falling real wages are the historical signs of a healthy society.

Voting is not a God-given right as delineated in either the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights. Liberty, in fact, denies universal democracy, (or mobocracy as it was known), a fact that anyone who has read the Federalist Papers would know the Founding Fathers understood very well. The dichotomy of a libertarian favoring limited suffrage is only an apparent contradiction to the ideologically and historically ignorant.

Prove, from his other writings that he doesn’t believe that no reasoning could ever be made to justify the methods in the piece you are defending. Those ends which claims to achieve the ends he says need to be attained to being the US/West back the place he thinks it ought to be.

If you think his present denial is somehow more compelling than more than nine years of consistent theory… then I suppose it could be irony he’s using. But I don’t see any real repudiation; just a pro-forma denial that he wouldn’t advocate for, going quite that far.

Not without some proof it would work.

Why are you so hot to defend him?

pecunium
pecunium
9 years ago

David Marhsall: I haven’t read much of Vox Day’s “other writings,” which apparently include a book, along with lots of blog posts. But what I have read, confirms that this is his style. So I was not surprised to find him pointing out below that the OP was not intended to express his own POV.

However you don’t need to look at his other writings to evaluate this one:

This is what he said, about acid in the face:

It depends upon the objective and the metric, obviously. If one takes utilitarian metrics and the objective of the common good of the collective seriously, one can make an excellent case, perhaps even a conclusive one, for it being good policy.

I don’t really worry much about what people who can’t follow the if/then concept think.

So, if one can show that it works, in the pursuit of a perceived good, it’s a reasonable thing to do.

Now, he says he’s not a utilitarian, that just means a different appeal to his morals is in order. It doesn’t mean he’s against it in all cases.

And in his given case, women aren’t included in the metric; their unhappiness isn’t measured, or the entire idea fails.

I can see how someone less attuned to his writings might have missed all the actual misogyny in his style.

Now, a woman doesn’t deserved to get raped simply because she is a slut. That would be tantamount to saying that all women deserve to be raped, … I don’t shed any more tears over a slut getting raped than I do over a gambler winding up broke. It’s not inevitable, but the odds are what they are.

That’s far from atypical.

Sharculese
9 years ago

less attuned to satire,

bleating about how it’s satire over and over doesn’t change the fact that it’s at best, weak, poorly thought out satire

you dudes seem to think claiming it’s satire gets you a free pass from having your creepy, hate-filled arguments criticized, and allows you to stomp your feet about how anyone who tries just doesnt get your incredible genius. it doesnt.

Argenti Aertheri
Argenti Aertheri
9 years ago

“I quoted Vox’ comment from the thread pointing out that these were not his own views, but what followed (in his view) from PZ Myer’s assumptions about reality.” — that’s some interesting cherry-picking considering I’m half way through the comments over there and he keeps defending his points as being absolutely correct. Not as being viable arguments, but The Truth About Things. He’s completely ignoring some truly obviously misogynistic comments, or would you like to argue that this isn’t misogynistic —

“and yet, as more women become more educated, the pool of men that they desire to marry shrinks, leaving an increasing number of women with naught but their cats, vibrators, and twilight fan fiction…”

“I picked that up from his OP, even before reading his explanation.” — pretty sure we all picked up that this was his misrepresentation of PZ’s views…

“Admittedly, I can see why some readers, less attuned to satire, and expecting genuine mysogeny (whether or not for good reason), might not have picked it up.” — see Pecunium’s comments re: satire

“I haven’t read much of Vox Day’s “other writings,” which apparently include a book, along with lots of blog posts. But what I have read, confirms that this is his style.” — everything he writes is satire saying the same thing? How is anyone supposed to know that it’s satire then?

“So I was not surprised to find him pointing out below that the OP was not intended to express his own POV.” — citation needed (Pecunium do you have your graphic handy?)

In VD’s post — “Using the utilitarian metric favored by most atheists, a few acid-burned faces is a small price to pay…” — we’ve all heard, probably far too many times, that the only thing standing between humanity and things like acid attacks and honor killings (or really, “sin” in general) is religion, or more precisely, Christianity. It’s been done to death, VD has nothing original to say, he just takes a particular vile route to saying the same old shit. As Pecunium has noted, repeatedly, this supposedly utilitarian metric VD is “satirizing” is only utilitarian if women’s happiness doesn’t count. It’s not utilitarianism VD is applying, ergo it’s not satire, he’s arguing with a strawman version of PZ’s questions.

Ignoring the acid attack question, because it is extreme and only likely to infuriate, let’s look at the one question he doesn’t offer support for — 5. How does stoning rape victims benefit women?

5. I don’t see how this benefits women in any way. The effect in dramatically reducing the number of false rape accusations would, of course, benefit men, but since there is no reliable penalty for false rape accusations in modern society, reducing it would be of little benefit to them.

Wtf does the question have to do with false accusations?! He’s addressing something completely different than what was asked.

And satire a la Swift would take the questions and make them so beneficial to women that society at large suffers for it, eg — 6. How does female genital mutilation benefit women? — it benefits women because then they have absolute proof of rape as there’s no way a woman who has to be cut open for sex is going to have no physical signs of rape, therefore we should require FGM immediately after birth to ensure if she’s ever raped the physical damage will be obvious. It also increases the odds that she’ll have only one (or not many) sexual partners, thus decreasing the risk of AIDS and other STIs. <– an attempt at less stupid satire as these things would be beneficial to women which is wtf PZ was asking about. There is no utilitarian argument in favor of any of the questions, any of VD’s answers that amount to “it’d decrease promiscuity” need proof that promiscuity is actually bad, that having lots of sex with the risk of STIs isn’t considered a net gain by the people being promiscuous. (hint, they’re called condoms, and everyone I know thinks they make the risk low enough to be worth the fun times)

If VZ is trying to apply actual utilitarianism (which is not the same as trying to satire the idea of benefiting women btw) — then some of his answers are less egregiously wrong, but he still utterly fails. “Does he really find it hard to understand how not reproducing is evolutionary disadvantageous?” — does VD really find it hard to understand that some people do not want kids, cannot have kids, or do not think passing on their genes would be wise? Including plenty of men? Utilitarianism here would say that that’s their choice, and if it makes them happier to not reproduce, then they shouldn’t have kids.

If VZ was trying to say that utilitarianism cannot be used to answer how something benefits a particular group, he’s just flat wrong as to how utilitarianism works. All his arguments about economics are completely irrelevant, if someone is happy making minimum wage doing what they love, utilitarianism would say they should keep that job and keep enjoying it.

…and why am I actually taking this seriously? Oh right, I made tea and then left it somewhere, silly me…

LBT
LBT
9 years ago

I’m a man who made it through school without loans, but I am leaving my job in two weeks (as of today) and am now desperate for government assistance.

But you know what? I’m STILL not a useless drain on society. Why?

Because I give people love and support and advice. I make educational comic books that make a positive change in people’s lives. (I know, because they send me e-mails.) I’ve educated mental health professionals on how to treat their multi clients with respect. I write stories that people get attached to. I write MSTs that make people laugh. I help people move their furniture, and talk people through panic attacks and fears for their future and suicidal episodes. I do work as a sort of multi Dear Abby on the Internet, and I still semi-regularly get PMs from terrified teen multis who don’t know what to do. This fall, if I’m still here, I hope to be part of a expo panel on comics and mental health.

If I offed myself tomorrow, there would be a bunch of people who’d be REALLY FUCKING SAD. Because they love me, and I bring positive things to their lives.

So yeah, fuck off dude. Just because I’m not making shit-tons of money and need help right now doesn’t negate my right to exist. It just means I ain’t getting paid for the shit I do.

Howard Bannister
Howard Bannister
9 years ago

Y’know, I went through college with some ladies. Let me consider them by numbers…

One lovely lady had parents who had just enough money to pay for her education (though it gouged into their pockets deeply). She took a productive job in private industry, and has been toiling lo these many years…

One lovely lady took loans, and has been working hard and making double payments. Ah, but for the government, so it doesn’t count! Wait, you’re okay with the police, right? You think that kind of raw authoritarian power is okay, right? Okay, we’ll call her productive, just on a pass.

Another lady took loans as well, and has paid them down with her productive job helping people. Ah, but it’s a job that gives back to society, so clearly she doesn’t count. Well, I’ll give you her. Clearly, plainly, that’s the way it is.

I know another who’s taking loans, and is already taking part-time jobs in her industry of choice to help pay her way.

But, yeah. Freeloaders, one and all!

katz
9 years ago

PI wasn’t me (I have only one sentence of noir parody in me), but I approve highly!

cloudiah
9 years ago

Please, PI, tell us who you are so that we can lavish praise upon you! 🙂

Dvärghundspossen
9 years ago

@ Argenti: This is a bit off topic, since clearly your main thesis “Vox is a moron” is correct.

Anyway… There is a big discussion among utilitarian philosophers on whether it’s a moral duty to have babies in case your future kids would probably have overall good lives. The thing is, according to utilitarianism in its standard form you always ought to maximize happiness (or desire preference, but it makes no difference for this argument which you choose). You can do that by making existing people happy as well as by making more happy people.

Now me and my husband don’t want kids. But presumably, if we did have kids anyway for some reason or another, we would love them once they were born, and we would support them well, and they would probably lead reasonably happy lives (lives with a reasonable amount of desire satisfaction in them). Now if us having kids would make an increase in overall happiness, we OUGHT to have kids. Even if WE would be a bit happier without kids than with kids, it might be the case that overall happiness (due to the happiness of the kids) would go up if we had them, and in that case, we ought to have them. Still, that seems like a weird conclusion to draw. It seems pretty obvious that having kids can’t be a moral duty (at least unless we assume some pretty special situation where the human race is about to go extinct.)

This is actually a much-discussed topic among philosophers who subscribe to utilitarianism. A related problem is that if creating more people lower the AVERAGE level of happiness (since resources become scarcer with a larger population), as long as there’s still a net increase in total happiness when we create more people, we ought to create more people. It might be the case that you get the largest possible total happiness with a terribly large population on Earth, very scarce resources, and each life just barely above the “neutral” level happiness wise. Philosopher Derek Parfit calls this “the repugnant conclusion”.

There are different ways to try to deal with these problems, but it’s actually hard to come up with a solution that doesn’t face worse problems than the original one or simply seems terribly ad hoc.

But that was on a sidenote.

Argenti Aertheri
Argenti Aertheri
9 years ago

Howard Bannister — you missed one of the absurd conditions, have any of those lovely ladies reproduced at replacement rate? (that they may in the future doesn’t count I assume) — that’s the only thing women are good for per the MRM, making babiez!!

I wonder if one’s parents putting one through school would even “count” considering that that comment explicitly excluded one’s husband putting one through college (would that be negated if one then put one’s husband through college?) — And why do only women need to reproduce at replacement rate? Who are they reproducing with if men don’t need to reproduce to be “productive”?

So many (incredibly stupid) questions!

katz
9 years ago

Well, you’re empirical argument presupposes that killing each other is bad and living together without killing each other is good. That’s not an empirical claim, since empirics don’t deal in normative claims about “bad” and “good”. So empirics TOGETHER with some normative assumptions can justify morality, yes, but not pure empirics.

Seconding this; statements like “it would be bad to reduce the entire earth to a smoking, lifeless shell” are so self-evidently true that it’s easy to miss that it’s an intuitive assumption rather than an empirical fact.

What you can empirically say is “in order to accomplish goal X (ie, live in harmony with others), you should do action Y.” But that’s not an ethical statement, it’s a pragmatic one.

Dvärghundspossen
9 years ago

Another slightly off topic post… I remember a student I had once who wanted to argue in an essay that abortion is bad from a utilitarian standpoint because it prevents the birth of people who might otherwise have lived happy lives. Well, some people who abort would probably had completely miserable kids if they hadn’t done the abortion, but then again, some of them would probably have had kids with okay lives, so he did have a point. I just pointed out that exactly the same argument could be made against abstaining from having sex in the first place – no sex, no happy babies.
He then refrained from using that argument.

Dvärghundspossen
9 years ago

@Katz: Exactly.

Starskita
Starskita
9 years ago

@ Dvärghundspossen

Not a philosopher here… why does utilitarianism consider “total happiness” in that 4 people are happier than 3 people of the same individual happiness?

To me it makes more sense to use a happiness density metric so the total number of people is not directly relevant to the utility function.

Of course, I’m not a strict utilitarian by any means, since the uniformity of the happiness distribution has high value in my personal ethical system.

And I suppose comparing “happiness” between individuals is a purely theoretical point, since there might be different baselines, but if it were measureable, I would normalize to “potential maximum happiness” or a defined standard level or something.

Ok. now I thought about it too much, and probably people have done all that already, and if I keep thinking about this I’m going to go all existential start jumping to the left “because I can” and be completely unproductive the rest of the day. This is why I am not a philosopher.

Protagoras
9 years ago

Starskita, the problem with using average happiness instead of total happiness is that you can raise average happiness by eliminating people of below average happiness, and that doesn’t seem morally right either. The issue has been much debated by utilitarians and their critics.

Howard Bannister
Howard Bannister
9 years ago

@Argenti:

Howard Bannister — you missed one of the absurd conditions, have any of those lovely ladies reproduced at replacement rate? (that they may in the future doesn’t count I assume) — that’s the only thing women are good for per the MRM, making babiez!!

D’oh! You’re right! Those lovely ladies who are building a better tomorrow are clearly 100% useless! I can’t imagine what I was thinking–just because they’re propping up industry, caring for those who need it, and policing the streets doesn’t mean that they have worth in his eyes.

Although… if that’s the metric for women, why not for men? Has he met his replacement rate quota? If not, how does he justify his own existence? (and clearly that would make an awful person too)

No, wait, sorry. I got confused again and tried to apply standards to men and women, when, duh, he obviously doesn’t do that. *Whew*! Lets me off the hook!

Argenti Aertheri
Argenti Aertheri
9 years ago

“If not, how does he justify his own existence?” — by not having a uterus of course!

And since his entire point seemed to be that education is pointless, none of my female relatives count, and most of my classmates don’t either. So let’s just ignore that my mother is the solo secretary of a mechanic shop and has two kids, she doesn’t count because she only took a few courses after HS, no degree (thus probably proving, to him, that degrees are worthless).

Since I highly doubt art, of any sort, counts as productive by him, I don’t think I know any women who meets all his requirements…then again, the only man I can think of who does is a cousin who teaches, but he’s divorced, so idk how that fits in (and he didn’t pay for his degree, the gov’n did, he’s a veteran, so I guess he doesn’t count either >.< )

Impossible standard is impossible.

Rutee Katreya
9 years ago

Marshall, you are pathetic and fail at art. ‘Satire’ does not mean what you think it means, and you can go fuck yourself for your inane assertions that Vox rehashing his normal beliefs, this time with a straw-utilitarian hat on, falls under the category of things that are satire.

Dvärghundspossen
9 years ago

@ Starskita: Protagoras bet me to it.

One might also attempt to solve the problem by arguing that only existing people count, not future people. But that’s problematic as well, since in that case, we could maximize the happiness of all current people by using up all the planet’s resources and just go “fuck the future!”.

A professor at our department, who’s a convinced hedonistic utilitarian, responded by arguing that people have too dim a view of a life at the neutral level. The problems I just mentioned for utilitarianism arise if we assume that people in general live lives that have more happiness than sadness in them, and that’s a really common utilitarian assumption. This professor however has argued that most people probably overestimate how overall happy their own lives have been. Severely traumatic experiences are obviously difficult to forget, but he thinks we tend to quickly forget all the LITTLE annoyances of life. All the little head aches, all the times the bus were too late and you became frustrated, all the times you felt insecure and awkward… all these little things that would detract from your life’s contribution to general happiness are easily forgotten if we’re asked to estimate how happy our lives are.
Now if most people aren’t really providing a positive contribution to net happiness because their lives, on balance, contain as much suffering as happiness, then there would be no moral duty to procreate. Procreation would in most cases be morally neutral, and we could argue that people ought to do as they please on this point.

I think that’s pretty plausible. It’s really an ungrounded assumption that most people make a positive contribution to net happiness. But I realize many might find this solution to the problem rather depressing.

katz
9 years ago

Dv, I think the problem with that solution is that it rests on the world being in a certain state: If the world suddenly became so awesome that your children would definitely be happy, then you’d be back to the original problem. So it’s more of a workaround than a real solution.

I personally think there are bigger downsides to utilitarianism than the nitpicky logistics, though, because I think there are good things other than happiness. For instance, truth (I would not find it morally justifiable to keep people ignorant of bad things) and autonomy (I would not find it morally justifiable to force people to do or not do things to ensure their happiness, even if it were provably possible to do so).

Rutee Katreya
9 years ago

Dv, I think the problem with that solution is that it rests on the world being in a certain state: If the world suddenly became so awesome that your children would definitely be happy, then you’d be back to the original problem.

In the incredibly unlikely event this becomes a problem…

katz
9 years ago

Right, but philosophy is largely theoretical; it’s a weak system if there are possible scenarios that “break” it, whether or not they’re likely (eg, the utility monster: just saying “well, there is no utility monster, so who cares” isn’t an answer).

Howard Bannister
Howard Bannister
9 years ago

In the incredibly unlikely event this becomes a problem…

Oh, don’t be such a pessimist. I mean, in this next election the US could totally decide to elect a write-in candidate as president of the United States, and it could be Awesome McAwesomesauce, our first socialist female president. And her first act as president would obviously be to appoint David Futrelle the czar of MRA-studies, a field of study given to figuring out exactly how to reintegrate the MRAs into decent society.

It could happen….

Rutee Katreya
9 years ago

Right, but philosophy is largely theoretical

I don’t think this is as true as a lot of people say it is. I remember my philosophy class using blazingly unlikely scenarios only to examine reactions; it isn’t supposed to be considered important how specifically you would react to one of the Kobayashi Maru-like sitautions, but moreso what basis you made your decisions on because those bases would be used for actual situations. Now, I hardly specialized in it, and that attitude could very well be abnormal, but that doesn’t scream “obsessed with the impossible” to me. Even concepts like the Veil of Ignorance were made to argue that society should be designed as though we were behind one, and here’s why, rather than just wondering what would happen if…

it’s a weak system if there are possible scenarios that “break” it … (eg, the utility monster: just saying “well, there is no utility monster, so who cares” isn’t an answer).

…Not the strongest followup. A system of practical ethics that could actually function for what is likely to be centuries without that kind of existential problem actually becoming a problem doing pretty well in my book. Utilitarianism’s problems are much more rooted in the current – and almost certainly continuing – inability to do more than eyeball suffering than it is from the possibility of the world becoming so incredibly and unspeakably awesome that issues of autonomy could come up.

Dvärghundspossen
9 years ago

Whether it’s a problem for a certain ethical theory that there are unrealistic fantasy scenarios where it has counter-intuitive implications – I think that depends on your metaethical views. Meaning what you think morality IS. Is morality something we create to solve practical problems? In that case, not so much of a problem. Is morality about finding TRUE (with a capital T) answers to certain questions, then it might be more of a problem.

I’m more with the former view myself. But I still think Katz has a point. Even if most people largely hoover around “neutral” right now, we can imagine a future where people on average are a BIT happier than they are now; not unrealistically super-happy, just a bit happier, so that most people make a positive (tiny, but still positive) contribution to net happiness. And then we’d once again be stuck with a duty to procreate.

Assuming utilitarianism is the true/correct/best ethical theory, that is. I don’t think so. I think the best moral theory we can come up with would be a bit messy and not something one can completely sum up in a sentence, but that said, I think Kantianism is closer to the truth than standard utilitarianism.

Argenti Aertheri
Argenti Aertheri
9 years ago

The philosophy parts are a bit over my head, but this is probably true —

“This professor however has argued that most people probably overestimate how overall happy their own lives have been. Severely traumatic experiences are obviously difficult to forget, but he thinks we tend to quickly forget all the LITTLE annoyances of life.”

One of the lead theories on depression is basically that they (we) remember those little annoyances better than the happy bits, thus overestimating how much life sucks (more or less, that should pretty obviously be the simple version). I wouldn’t be remotely surprised though if most people do readily forget all the minor annoyances of life, it’d fit perfectly with the theory that not doing so is a cause of depression.

“Oh, don’t be such a pessimist.” — even if we elect someone epically awesome and the economy is instantly fixed and war is permanently ended, etc etc, we’d still have disease and death is inevitable and my hedging above should make it clear how little we really know about most mental illnesses — we might be able to ensure most people would be fairly happy, but ensuring everyone would be happy seems highly unlikely. Thus whether any specific potential child would be happy would still be a matter of chance, making the decision whether to procreate or not still a matter of whether that’d make the (potential) parents happy.

katz
9 years ago

We’re not talking about utilitarianism in general, we’re talking about Dv’s professor’s use of “well, people in general aren’t really that happy” as a solution to the “create more people to create more happiness” problem. It isn’t a very good solution because it’s still predicated on the assumption that a state of the world is true, and it wouldn’t work if the statement weren’t true. Thus, it’s weak compared to a solution that would work for all possible states of the world.

(Another problem with it is that, if increasing the population won’t increase net happiness, then decreasing the population won’t decrease net happiness either, so you still might as well just find the happiest person in the world and kill everyone else.)

Rutee Katreya
9 years ago

And then we’d once again be stuck with a duty to procreate.

Only if one assumes that the duty and expectation would not then create negatives that outweigh the gains, for one. People whine about taxes. Most people do not appreciate even a relatively minute financial intrusion, one which can be used to create massive social goods which even they could enjoy also.

For that matter, people seem to resent the inverse, dictums to not have children, as well as there being an undercurrent that despises the moral duty to reproduce that /already/ exists.

(Another problem with it is that, if increasing the population won’t increase net happiness, then decreasing the population won’t decrease net happiness either, so you still might as well just find the happiest person in the world and kill everyone else.)

Only if you assume the suffering of death is itself irrelevant. Not impossible to argue, but far from ‘intuitive’.

katz
9 years ago

Rutee, do you agree or disagree that, all else being equal, an ethical system that works in all possible cases is superior to one that can fail under certain conditions (either by not providing an answer as to what to do, or by providing an answer that’s clearly morally wrong)?

For instance, if I followed an ethical system that included the precept “If aliens visit Earth, murder everyone,” wouldn’t that be inferior to a moral system that lacked that precept but was otherwise identical, regardless of the probability of aliens visiting Earth?

Rutee Katreya
9 years ago

Rutee, do you agree or disagree that, all else being equal, an ethical system that works in all possible cases is superior to one that can fail under certain conditions (either by not providing an answer as to what to do, or by providing an answer that’s clearly morally wrong)?

I disagree that a system that can only fail in nearly impossible circumstances is meaningfully inferior to a system that can’t fail. It is still at least one tiny iota worse, but not in a meaningful way.

Which strikes me as a silly argument in the absence of an ethical system that works in all cases to begin with.

katz
9 years ago

The key problem here, of course, is that you don’t like discussing theoretical things and I do.

Dvärghundspossen
9 years ago

@ Rutee: I think it would certainly outweigh the gains if people were legally required to procreate. And it would probably outweigh the gains as well if there was a general pressure on people to procreate.
These could be excellent reasons not to promote the general belief that people ought to have babies as soon as they’re in a position to give a baby a reasonably happy life… However, it would still be the case if – a) utilitarianism is true and b) people generally make a positive contribution to net happiness – that my husband and I ought to have a baby despite not wanting one. I’m a philosopher, I realize this implication, so I ought to do my share for net happiness even if I ought not to go around pressuring other people into having babies. That’s still a bit of a weird conclusion.
But as I said before, I don’t think we have reason to assume that people in general make a positive contribution to net happiness.

@Argenti: Well, you never know for sure what the consequences of your actions will turn out to be. So if utilitarianism merely told us that we ought to perform an action if we KNOW with absolute certainty that it will increase net happiness, but if we don’t KNOW this for sure it’s not an obligation, then it wouldn’t really tell us much.
So if the world is an overall happy one, and you have no reason to suppose (such as depression running in the family or the like) that your kid is gonna be worse off than most people, it’s reasonable to assume (although you can’t be completely certain) that your kid is gonna be a happy one, and you have the problem.

Argenti Aertheri
Argenti Aertheri
9 years ago

Dvärghundspossen — I really don’t know enough utilitarianism to either agree or disagree, I was just noting that the neutral view you’d presented fits with what I know of how things actually are. I’m enjoying reading the theoretical discussion though.

I’d say that whether a potential child would probably be happy is kind of mooted if having a child will make the parents less happy, but again, I really not a philosophy buff the way you guys are. I would guess though that if procreating would make the parents less happy, then it would be a matter of weighing whether they’ll be less happy than the child would be happy? Eg you and your husband don’t want a baby, is that to a degree that having one anyways would make the two of you more unhappy than the child would be happy? And then there’s the question of how happy could a child with parents who resent zir be…

You’re a philosophy professor iirc? I should shut up and listen then, I really don’t know much philosophy, my one course was focused on consciousness, the types thereof, etc (and ended up mostly being a few religious students insisting only humans have souls, thus we’re special >.< )

cloudiah
9 years ago

In which Vox Day is too extreme for WND: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2006/05/18/vox-day-too-much-of-a-wingnut-1/

And it appears that he’s a chip off the old block: http://www.startribune.com/local/east/25539759.html

pecunium
pecunium
9 years ago

Dvärghundspossen: I think that’s pretty plausible. It’s really an ungrounded assumption that most people make a positive contribution to net happiness. But I realize many might find this solution to the problem rather depressing.

But, if most people feel they are more happy than not, who (and how) is that to be negated?

Is there an objective, outside, measure of, “happiness”?

This has, IMO, always been the crux of the problem with the strict utilitarian position; happiness is, at its root, unquantifiable.

And then we’d once again be stuck with a duty to procreate.

I don’t think so. If the argument is that people, in general, will be happier, I don’t think I am obliged to create one more person to be happy. I think I am obliged to work so that the people who do exist are happier.

This is because, insomuch as I am a utilitarian, that making extant people happy is something to strive for, but I don’t see any duty to create a new person to make happy.

Dvärghundspossen
9 years ago

Argenti: Seems to me you’re following the discussion just fine.
I’m not quite sure if I’m a professor in the American sense of the word… Here “professor” is an academic title you normally don’t manage to claim until you’re like fifty. But I’m a PhD and a university teacher.
And you’re right that we only ought to have a child if the happiness of the child would outweigh our diminished happiness. Of course, this might not be the case. Many people still see this implication as problematic, just because it COULD be situations where one ought to have a child despite not wanting one and it seems like this should NEVER be one’s duty.
And I think you’re psychology comments were interesting. I took one semester psychology ages ago, and I think I remember that mentally healthy people tend to overestimate how skilled they are in various areas, while clinically depressed people are actually more realistic on this point.

Pecunium: Well, suppose we let people carry a “happy-o-meter” with them at all times where they can press a number between, say, -10 and 10. And every five minutes or so, as soon as they’re not asleep, they press a number signifying how they feel. 10 is absolutely exstatic, – 10 so depressed I can barely stand it and my entire soul just hurts like hell, 0 feeling completely neutral. All the readings are gathered up by some computer that eventually calculate the average happiness of this person’s life. Then we ask the person how happy zie thinks zir life has been and see if it matches.
Or one could imagine that we identify happiness with certain physiological states (brain states, hormonal states) and then put some tiny machine on people which measures these states all the time. (The identification of happiness with physiological states could have been made originally by comparing people’s happiness claims with what their body was like at the point.) Then we ask them and compare with the results from the machine.

I mean, this is pretty unrealistic, just goes to show that the claim “people are mistaken about how happy their lives have been” is not in principle unfalsifiable.

Dvärghundspossen
9 years ago

@Pecunium again: Well, one might suggest that it’s not increasing net happiness per se that counts, only increasing net happiness among people already existing. The problem with that view is that it implies that it would be alright to use up all the planet’s resources and mess up the environment as long as future generations, not us living right now, are the one’s to pay for it.

TK
TK
9 years ago

Where can I find those pre-feminism happiness studies again? Who and how were they asking, exactly? ‘Excuse me, ma’am, is your husband home? No? Okay, quick, assuming you’ve ever considered an alternative to this life, aside from being a prostitute, which do you think you’d prefer?’

pecunium
pecunium
9 years ago

Dvärghundspossen: I mean, this is pretty unrealistic, just goes to show that the claim “people are mistaken about how happy their lives have been” is not in principle unfalsifiable.

That would require some means of mandating the measurement of mood. It’s sort of like the difference between a box which records what television one is watching, with a compiled record.

How do we get the people who are in the test to accurately record their mood, as they have it. I also think that how one perceives a subjective state (i.e. overall sense of happiness) is that subjective state’s actual condition. If I think, at this point in time, that I am in a happy state of life, I am. If I think my life, overall, is better than not, it is, and the various miseries I’ve had, were outweighed by some aspect of the counterbalancing joys. If I end up in a depressive cycle and think it’s all shit, it is.

Because I am only able to live in the now. My life, on balance, is meaningless to me; right now.

Well, one might suggest that it’s not increasing net happiness per se that counts, only increasing net happiness among people already existing. The problem with that view is that it implies that it would be alright to use up all the planet’s resources and mess up the environment as long as future generations, not us living right now, are the one’s to pay for it.

But that is a fundamentalluy self-centered hedonism, and would obviate any non-personal utility.

If one is looking to the aggregate happiness of the future, then the net gain of one person in X Billion is negligible. Better, in that case to work on seeing to it the world, as a whole is a better place to be happy, than deciding that, as most people are happier (as percieved) than not, that the world is better because one more person is being happy.

The problem I see with that is the reification of “happiness” as opposed to the concrete question of who is being happy.

Dvärghundspossen
9 years ago

@Pecunium: I’m not sure I follow you. If we factor in the happiness of future people in the equation there will be a baby-making duty for some people, while if we only factor in the happiness of existing people it would be alright to destroy the world for future generations. The latter isn’t exactly “self-centered” since we’d still factor in the happiness of EVERYBODY living NOW, but we’d disregard future generations.

But yeah, making one extra human being will only make a negligible difference to future net happiness, that’s right. On the other hand, it’s true for almost everybody that MY work for a cleaner environment or world peace or something like that will only make a negligible difference (although it might make a huge difference if millions of people worked towards these goals, the difference between me chiming in or not is negligible). Really, anything I do will only make a negligible difference to the sum total of happiness in the world. If negligible differences don’t count, nothing does.

But yeah, I agree that one ought to focus on concrete individuals and what one could do to help them, and concrete world problems and how one could help solving them, rather than on the abstract entity “sum total of happiness”. That’s the reason I’m not a utilitarian, I think utilitarianism gets ethics backwards. Starting with the question “what’s valuable”, answering that it’s happiness or desire satisfaction or something else, concluding that since this thing is valuable it ought to be maximized, and then one eventually arrives at what agents ought to do.
I think the primal question of ethics isn’t “what’s valuable?” but rather “what am I gonna do?”. You start with an agent who needs some kind of principles to act on, and those principles will point out various goals that the agent ought to strive for. But agents is the starting point, not some abstract entity like “sum total of happiness”.

pecunium
pecunium
9 years ago

Dvärghundspossen: I see the underlying question as one of, “Is happiness a thing, like water, or air?” and, “Is happiness an activity/state of mind for people”.

I happen to think it’s a thing people do, and as such the measure is “are the people who exist happy?”, and will the people who will exist be happy”.

If I have any duty to the people who do exist, I also have to the people who will exist.

I cannot assume no one will have any children, so I can’t say I have no duty those who don’t yet exist; ergo I can’t say, “fuck ’em, I got mine”.

And what I do which perpetuates the activity of happiness, is different from my doing something to create a person who might engage in that happiness.

As you say, it’s a question of what am I gonna do.

Argenti Aertheri
Argenti Aertheri
9 years ago

Dvärghundspossen — not a philosophy point, but here (the US) professor generally means anyone teaching college/university courses (there are types of professors, but it’s polite to just call them all professor) — the only notable exception being graduate students teaching undergrad courses are always? nearly always? teacher’s assistants // TAs. So you’d be a professor here.

I do see one issue with the happy-o-meter part, but maybe it’s not really relevant. The manic half of bipolar tends to mean they’d rate happiness high, while doing things that are objectively not a good idea (and will likely make them unhappy when they come down from the mania and see the mess/get the bill/etc). Utilitarianism’s measure of happiness seems inherently subjective though, so maybe this is moot.

“If negligible differences don’t count, nothing does.” — hello nihilism! That alone might be enough reason why negligible differences should count, just because nothing matters in the grand scheme of the universe doesn’t mean nothing matters at all, ever, period. Then again, I’ve yet to meet a nihilist who wasn’t a complete asshole using it as an excuse to be an asshole, so I’m biased there.

Back to utilitarianism — “If I have any duty to the people who do exist, I also have to the people who will exist.” — this is my take on it as well, I have a duty to other people’s children, future or current, and that’s a separate issue from any duty to procreate.

“I took one semester psychology ages ago, and I think I remember that mentally healthy people tend to overestimate how skilled they are in various areas, while clinically depressed people are actually more realistic on this point.”

I’d thought it more like mentally healthy people overestimate while clinically depressed people underestimate, but that leaves no one getting it right, and is a bit too philosophical a question for modern psychology (I could rant about that for hours, don’t get me started!) — the idea of measuring happiness from brain states is more the direction psych is heading in though, that may actually become possible, though the interest is more in the diagnostic value of an objective measure.

Dvärghundspossen
9 years ago

Thanks for the clarifications Argenti.

Some philosophers have argued that one has duties/should count the happiness of only people who either exist or actually WILL exist, but not purely hypothetical people. The problem with this is how to account for policies that will not just affect the happiness of future people, but also WHOME are gonna live in the future.

Say we can choose between policy 1 and policy 2 regarding the environment. If we choose policy 1 there will be more pollution and shit than if we choose policy 2. So policy 2 seems like the right choice, and would be considered the right choice by a theory that simply tells you to maximize happiness period (if we assume a cleaner environment makes people happier). But if we only count the happiness of people who exist or actually will exist we have a problem.
The problem is, there will be different people living in the world depending on which policy we pursue. Which policy we choose will affect what people are gonna work with, how they’re gonna travel to work etc, and this will in turn affect whome people meet, whome they marry, and when they decide to have children.

So suppose we pursue policy 1, the one that makes the environment more polluted. Now if we were only concerned with maximizing happiness period, that choice would be morally wrong, because we had an alternative, policy 2, that would have resulted in more net happiness. But if we only care about people who actually exist or actually will exist, then our choice of policy 1 wasn’t wrong. That’s because no actual people were made worse off by policy 1. The actual population wouldn’t have been happier if we had chosen policy 2, since if we had chosen policy 2, a different population would have existed in their place.

So I’m not really sure myself how to explain that we have a duty to preserve the environment for the future. I do think moral duties normally apply to actual people, not hypothethical ones. But maybe duties regarding the future ought to be explained in a different way. Maybe they’re more impersonal… like duties to the world rather than to specific people. I’m not sure.

Argenti Aertheri
Argenti Aertheri
9 years ago

Just a thought from my half asleep brain, but could you resolve the question by assuming someone, somewhere, is going end up with great-great-grandchildren, and just add on more generations as needed for the specific policy at hand? It seems like if you don’t make that assumption (and it isn’t really that big of an assumption) then you end up with “people who will exist” only meaning current fetuses — and it seems silly to exclude conceptions that happen tomorrow simply to get around any duty to procreate…but I’m half asleep >.<

This seems too absurdly simple — no particular person has a duty to procreate, but everyone has a duty to remember that someone, somewhere, is going to procreate — those future children would technically be hypothetical people, while still being people who will actually exist. Idk if that works under utilitarianism, but it works for my personal sense of ethics — I mean, I think we have a duty to the planet, and the rest of the species, regardless whether there are humans around to see our effects, but assuming that there will be humans around for "awhile" doesn't seem like an absurd premise (or no absurder than the assumption that happiness is the goal at least).

Idk, there just seems to be a fundamental difference between the children I could hypothetically have and the children someone somewhere could hypothetically have, the latter being statistically highly probable — but I know statistics way better than I know philosophy.

Dvärghundspossen
9 years ago

I wasn’t thinking only about current fetuses, but people who will in fact be born five, ten, a hundred years from now. 🙂
Only which people will in fact be born five, ten, a hundred years from now depends, among many other things, on which policies we have. Different policies, different people will meet and have different babies.

Myoo
Myoo
9 years ago

You seem to forget that there are children in existence right now. It’s not like the whole population of the world consists only of adults.

pecunium
pecunium
9 years ago

Myoo: The extant children don’t count to increasing the pool of people who can be made happy. They already exist, and so the latent happiness we can assume (or not) which everyone has/causes, is already present.

Did that make sense to anyone else? Because I know what I’m trying to say, and I’m not sure I can say it in writing, because it might need some interlocution to clarify.

darksidecat
9 years ago

Well, rule utilitarianism is also a thing, but leaving that aside for the moment, the more people equals more happiness thing does not seem to necessitate a duty on those who do not want children to procreate. There’s a massively obvious solution there, use the resources that would have gone to the people who don’t want offspring to support people who do want more offspring in having more. There are a shit ton of people who would elect to have even more babies if they could do so under the finacial or legal conditions in which they live, or if they had more social support. There are, for example, people living under the one child policy that would rather have more than one if they could. Also, having more adult resources and infrastructure is aided by specialization between those who do and do not want children, you’re going to have a rougher time providing resources if you have no adults with few to no children. You are also going to have far less happy children if you push social resources too far.

Argenti Aertheri
Argenti Aertheri
9 years ago

“Different policies, different people will meet and have different babies.” — yeah but that applies as much to public transit as it does environmentalism, and I don’t think utilitarians would argue that mass transit should be more available because then more people can make different babies. Idk, maybe in philosophy this matters, but since that’d apply to literally anything you can think of, it seems irrelevant. You could use the same argument to say marriage and monogamy are terrible because they limit women to making babies with one man and she could’ve had different babies…well yeah, but so what?

Myoo — I think we’re all using “current people” to include anyone currently breathing, whether just taking their first breath or taking their last, or anywhere in between. The important part of Pecunium’s reply is “they already exist”.

darksidecat — “There’s a massively obvious solution there..” — idk if it’s the utilitarian solution, but I agree that it’s the best solution in practice. And this — “You are also going to have far less happy children if you push social resources too far.” — is certainly true.