It didn't help that I apologized. The offense was there. The rude way I phrased it didn't help. But even if I hadn't, it was laid bare that I hold a view the other person considers disgusting, and it's a view that impacts her greatly. Combined with other differences we'd had, it sealed the end of that relationship. I'm now minus one passionate romantic interest; and, more painfully, minus one friend. Leaving me at... a low number around zero.
It's always been difficult for me to make friends. In first grade, I was pinned down on the floor, and beaten by a group of classmates for sticking to what they thought were preposterous claims. I insisted that the Sun is a star (they believed differently), and that 100 times 100 is 10,000, not 1,000.
It's gotten worse over the years. It's now easy to find people who believe the Sun is a star, and who believe that 100 times 100 is 10,000. But I have chased down some difficult, inconvenient questions about life, and I've arrived at answers which I believe are well-founded and rational, but which most people find completely abhorrent. As a result of those beliefs, I feel I can no longer talk honestly to anyone, except my wife.
(Thank goodness for my wife. If I didn't have her, I couldn't talk with full honesty to literally anyone. Honey, I love you.)
So what are these ominous beliefs? What questions did I pursue, and what abhorrent answers did I find?
The value of lifeMany seem to operate on the assumption that all human life is invaluable, and that anyone who thinks otherwise must be a horrible person. I find neither to be the case.
I find there are two things that can be valued about human life. One is the ability of each person to experience, to feel. This is a passive trait shared by everyone. The other is the capability of each person to contribute - to improve the experience of others. This is an active trait, of which not everyone has the same amount.
If we're going to value human life, we need to decide we're going to value it either on the basis of each person's ability to feel and experience, or on the basis of each person's capability to contribute, or both.
If we decide we should value life based solely on each individual's ability to feel and experience, then we must take into account what we are currently doing to animals. Animals cannot contribute much. They can contribute bodies for our consumption, and their existence contributes to the entertainment of those who appreciate them. Evidence shows that many animals - of the kinds we torture and consume on an industrial scale - are sentient, and do feel. We use them for meat, regardless. We value their lives based on what they contribute - their dead bodies - and not based on what they experience.
We likewise do not actually value humans based on their ability to feel and experience. If we did, people in the developed world would be doing much more for others around the world who are much worse off. There is action in this regard - there are people who care; but for the most part, they are the exceptions. If we really cared, each individual one of us would recognize that world GDP is $85 trillion (in 2012), and that with 7 billion people in the world, the average income, if redistributed, would be USD 12,143 per person, per year. If you make any more than that, and you really care about poor Africans based merely on their ability to feel and experience, you should be saving and improving their lives wholesale, with every cent you earn above that averaged amount. In most western countries, you could survive on the remainder. It would not be nearly as comfortable, but way more comfortable than the Africans have it, and you would be saving thousands of lives.
But you do not do this. You do not do this because you do not care about those thousands of lives. You do not care for those people based merely on their ability to feel and experience. You care based on other things, such as their impact on your life, and their proximity to you.
My argument is, this is okay. You should not care. It's not your mistake, not your fault, not your guilt, that you are not saving those lives, or not helping as many as you could. I in fact argue the opposite. It is the people who do help - the Bill Gates's of the world - who are likely to be misguided, and could be using their money for purposes more helpful to humanity. Historically, if a people were capable of climbing out of poverty, they did. And if they weren't, no one has been able to help them.
Is this cruel and cold-hearted enough? Ah, hand on to the railing. It gets rougher.
PopulationIf you concluded, based on the above, that I believe life should be valued, and is actually valued, based on its ability to contribute, and everything else is pretense - you are correct. Even today, as oceans rise due to rising man-made CO2 levels, and as species like the rhino go extinct due to demand in Asia for hokum virility medicine, idealists are trying to convince us that the Earth can support even more people than it already has.
Sure, it can. But it's becoming an Earth that is less and less a place anyone will want to live in. Hopeful people argue that population will begin to shrink again once birth control and education are truly available to women on a global scale - and they may be right, for the time being; birth control and education are definitely excellent goals to pursue. But ultimately, evolution favors genes that multiply, not genes that result in educated individuals. I think people who count on birth rates falling on their own are underestimating the capacity of the human race to be stupid. Ultimately, if we allow something, it's going to exist. There are going to be groups of people which are going to stick to a policy of having many children, and will raise their kids to have the same beliefs. Such groups might start out small, but they will reproduce at rates faster than anyone, and their children's children will come to be dominant. Without an intervention, evolution is going to favor those who multiply, and the world is going to approach a Malthusian state. We are already beyond the point where there are so many of us that our effect on the planet is detrimental.
Technological idealists hope science will find ways we can avoid a Malthusian catastrophe, even in the face of rising population. This can work for a while, but it will ultimately be stopped by the laws of Physics. The energy of our Sun is very large, and we can use lots more of it than we do now; but it is finite. Even if we expand outward at the speed of light, in all directions, and utilize other stars, the energy we gain that way increases with time to the power of three, as we occupy more volume. Our population, however, will multiply exponentially. No matter how small the annual growth - if there's any uncontrolled annual growth, the exponential multiplication will exceed the rate at which we gain new space. It will ultimately become necessary for us to decide who gets to live, and who doesn't; who gets to be born, and who doesn't. Otherwise, nature will decide for us, and its decisions will be done through predatory and chaotic behaviors, and will not be in our best interest.
We don't have to go centuries into the future to see that we will eventually need to make population decisions, and enforce them. We already have such decisions in front of us today. We're not making them, and it's costing us in quality of life - in extinctions, in pollution, in overcrowdedness of an increasing number of areas. The Chinese are smart to ruthlessly limit their population growth; for all their other faults, thank goodness they have an authoritarian government with the guts to do that. But what good is that if India is growing at an annual 1.4%? If we want anything to remain of this Earth, we need population control to be global.
The best of all worldsThere's a problem in utilitarianism known as the repugnant conclusion. In a naive and straightforward construction, utilitarianism holds that total utility (the goodness of a particular outcome) is the sum of the individual utility for every person (the sum of everyone's individual outcome). The conclusion that results from this premise is that a very large population, with low but positive individual satisfaction, is a better outcome than a smaller population with very high individual satisfaction. In other words, based on these criteria, a utopia is beaten by dystopia. It's called repugnant, because that's not what most people would intuitively prefer.
I argue that the solution to this problem is not to value outcomes based on the sum of individual utilities, but based on the median utility expected to be experienced by a random individual that participates in the outcome. In other words - we should seek to make a world we would want to live in, even if we didn't know who in this world we are going to be. In my assessment, this would be a world with a smaller population than we have currently, but with the quality of the population improved.
AbortionI agree with pro-lifers that abortion is a form of murder. It's not the same as murder, but it's related.
And then, much more importantly, I agree with pro-choice people that abortion should be available to women everywhere, and should be done based on the mother's choice, alone. I am pro-choice.
We must exercise choice of what humans are born, and what humans aren't. If we don't exercise this choice, nature will choose more poorly. As a rule, a child whose own mother doesn't want him in this world should not be in this world. The "natural" outcome, letting the child be born regardless of what the mother wants, is not best. Nature is cruel, harsh, and random.
Abortion is necessary to prevent the birth of people with a known low ability to contribute. The birth of such children is not only a net cost, but it usually means that one or more children will not be born who might have had a much higher contributing capacity. Developmentally disabled children take a lot more effort to maintain, and frequently displace more than one child that could exist and contribute.
EugenicsPeople are expensive. A new human, once she exists, comes with rights and wants and entitlements. The amount of resources available to everyone decreases as we add more people. If we want the best outcome for everyone, we must ensure that people we create are not born only for their passive ability to feel and experience, but also for their ability to improve the experience of others. It is our duty to create people who will go out and create; not just sit there, and be maintained, and benefit from others' creations.
The reputation of eugenics is now destroyed due to the unethical ways it was administered in the 20th century. Atrocities like mass killings and forced sterilizations became implicitly linked with what is, ultimately, care about the future of humanity - a desire to make decisions that are in our descendants' best interest, and not to leave important aspects of their well-being to an ungoverned process of nature.
MurderThe reason our societies do not permit the killing of already born humans is not because our lives are inherently precious. If lives were precious, we wouldn't have capital punishment, or drone strikes killing tens of innocents in other countries.
The reason murder is a crime is because one, it causes damage; the person you killed was likely of benefit to the human race, and you destroyed something vastly more significant than whatever reason you did it for. Secondly, killing of people inflicts pain and suffering on others who remain. Thirdly, no individual participant in society wants to be killed. The vast majority of people don't want it, and our voices together make the law.
As of February 23, 2014, I am retracting this opinion. I have experienced what it is to love a person who fits some of the criteria I discussed here. I now believe that, assuming the numbers are manageable, having people who are different than others enriches us more than it costs us. Life where everyone is the same, and no one defies expectations, would be less interesting. I'm deeply sorry for the hurt this opinion has caused to people I care about, as well as to anyone I don't know.
In light of all of the above, I consider it peculiar that we almost never discard individuals who show themselves to be unfit at a young age. In this list of young murderers, only one was executed. Stereotypically, the one that did was black. Others received varying, but more lenient treatments.
Murderous children are rare. Compared to that, children with serious developmental disabilities are relatively common. Most every child who's born like that takes the place of a potential other child, who could exist without the disability. Routinely, we choose to preserve the life of the disabled child, usually at great expense to the family, to public health care, and/or both.
Is this not a choice we make? It is a choice between two worlds: one world in which there's this disabled child, and another world, where we have euthanized it, and instead allowed the parents to create a new functional, contributing human being. Is making this choice not a murder of the potential human being that could be?
I understand people love their disabled child. What they apparently do not like to imagine is the potential love and connection they could feel with another child that would have been healthy. From my anecdotal exposure to a handful of families like that, it seems almost as though a Stockholm syndrome develops. The family members of such children talk about the challenges of raising them - it might be just the difficulty of taking care of a growing, near-incapable person, or it might be the full-fledged tantrums of an autistic child who flings feces, throws furniture at people, and screams so much and so often it makes the neighbors move. Yet, almost in the same breath, these same family members will say how much they love this person, and how their lives wouldn't have been the same without them. They say this, as if in complete disregard to the family member that they otherwise could have. A sister who would walk, and go to school, and find a boyfriend, and get married, and have children. A brother who would be there for you, who would support you, whom you could actually talk to about your life.
ReactionsI suppose you can see why I don't have so many friends.
I've tried to explain opinions like the above in discussions on reddit. I've been called such names, so many times, I gave up. Apparently, for wanting us to exercise essential choice in how the future will be like, I am a sociopath. I eventually deleted my account, and I'm no longer commenting.
But what hurts me the most... is that I deeply offended someone I really cared about, and lost what I thought was going to be a lifelong friend.
I do not wish my views to be something other than what I think makes sense. I do wish more people would understand what I have to say. And I wish I had more skill in sharing it... or not to share it.