Sunday, November 30, 2014

VHEMT Is Worse Than Humancentric Natalism

Originally published on November 30, 2014. Last modified on August 29, 2016.

Recent figures released by the World Wildlife Fund have validated a hunch I've long harboured; wildlife is depopulating at an exponential rate. While most of us were well aware that the number of animals in the natural habitat had been dwindling in some capacity, hardly anyone foresaw that the total amount of sentience on earth in 2014 would be sliced in half to the total amount that existed forty years ago. And yet here we are.

[Edit: On further inspection, 50% appears to be something of a stretch. See Brian Tomasik's speculative but detailed breakdown for a somewhat lower figure, cautiously keeping species and individual organisms separate.]

This is quite the bombshell for preservationists. What's more, according to the findings, it is unambiguously clear that human impact played a pivotal role in the quickened diminution. While human activity isn’t the sole culprit behind every bit of non-human sentience that’s been halved over the last four decades, it does apply to the overwhelming majority it.

In other words, had human beings gone extinct in the early 1970s, there would be roughly twice as much sentience on earth today as a result of our inactivity. Thus the overall amount of non-consensual suffering taking place on earth right now would have been duplicated; suffering caused by twice as many animals ripping off each other’s flesh to survive per brute instincts. This is one (of many) reasons as to why Unconditional Extinctionism lacks coherence when it targets human beings in the present.

Indeed, Natalists don’t promote procreation in order to abate suffering in the wilderness, just as ordinary breeders don’t ordinarily breed with those same goals in mind. Their collective intentions have nothing to do with safeguarding animal welfare by facilitating hastened depopulation of non-human species. Nevertheless, their collective efforts have amounted to a gigantic plus from where things currently stand. This remains so even after we counter in all the harm that carnists continue causing to select remaining species via factory farming. Such a human-friendly tally is deeply unintuitive, but the plummeting wildlife numbers unmistakably point to human presence serving a valuable end on a panoramic level, albeit inadvertently.

From a strict consequentialist lens, the inadvertent bit is irrelevant secondary. As such, cessation of humans should resonate with sentiocentric pessimists on a provisional basis only. Long-time readers of this blog will know that I've already grappled with this to the point of exhaustion, so I'll digress.

To most people, the above news is major cause for concern. Most everybody still believes in the perpetuation of overall sentience vis-à-vis preserving the integrity of the ecosystem. Contrastingly, the WWF's report is great news from where I’m sitting, as the widely held intimation of harms and pleasures being interpersonally commensurable is a laughable one in my view. Formed off of a rejection of parasitism, my proposed harms-for-pleasures incommensurability applies among separate individuals or among different species. The less non-human sentience on planet earth, the fewer invidiously parasitic trade-offs among them, the better.

This is not to imply that trade-offs involving scoped harms-for-harms reductions should be off the table in all imaginable contexts the way harms-for-pleasures should. Standard non-positive utility practice; restricting the permissibility of trade-offs to below-neutral states only, notably at the non-trivial level.

Similarly, we can infer that positive-for-negative-preference trade-offs amid humans should be impermissible, unlike trade-offs involving negative-for-negative-preferences amid humans on a situational basis. As always, this situational sequencing would factor in the separateness of persons and be based on the qualitative magnitude, rather than mere quantitative effect (i.e. the ‘person-oriented’ view rather than the aggregative ‘experience-oriented’ view).

In any event, the stats on rapid attrition need to be pounced on as they truly sharpen the contrast between humancentric AntiNatalists and sentiocentric AntiNatalists. The former camp is comprised largely of VHEMT members and is profoundly irrational. These people actually ascribe agency to non-human species, so it follows that they concern themselves with warding off global extinction by clamouring for human extinction. In this sense, humancentric AntiNatalism is just cherry-picked AntiNatalism. For every one cherry VHEMT adherents actually pluck, they are content to leave hundreds of thousands of cherries undisturbed, because agency!

Theirs is the polar opposite of a sensible overview, given what regular readers of this blog should know about consensual harm (ethically tolerable harm) and non-consensual harm (ethically intolerable harm), humanity being the only species in history capable of the former. My previous post on various utility formulas goes further into this by allocating the Classical Negative Utilitarianism calculus to all non-human species and the Negative Preference Utilitarianism calculus to humans. Tediously, VHEMT tends towards the converse allocation of formulas, likely even tolerating positive utility formulas or some other type of positive consequentialism (i.e. aesthetic consequentialism). The movement is not a monolith, after all.

The WWF’s revelations will therefore only make VHEMT more set in their haplessly misguided ways. It's not just that they consign themselves to anti-human tunnelvision as it relates to the ills of procreation, but they also fret over the ecosystem per se; believing that its shortened span stands to produce a disvalue ipso facto.

Pop-pessimism rearing its head in shows like 'True Detective' only compounds this problem (brilliant as that show is on the acting/directing/writing front). Consider the following statement by the dueling protagonist, Rust Cohle, when asked to summarize his worldview:

"I think human consciousness was a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. ... I think the honourable thing for our species to do is deny our programming; stop reproducing. Walk hand-in-hand into extinction. One last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal."

Too much self-awareness a bad thing? Natural law? The somewhat ambiguous implication here is that purely instinctual drives are meaningfully superior to thoughtfulness. Do I detect a speck of nature-endearment, ill conceived as usual?

Further; What's this about a tragic misstep in evolution? As opposed to what? All other self-unaware species galvanized by that same process? Organisms equally as (if not more) sentient as humans; organisms lacking the cognizance to comprehend the risk-equations they've been thrust into by crude engines; organisms who are by all accounts razed by the very process that brought them to the dance. Am I to understand that natural law did no wrong by those organisms? Such profundity!

This fair-weather-Anti-Natalism noise has to go, and if that means eschewing some of the most sophisticated AntiNatalists, like Ligotti, then so be it. No moral theorist should let sophistication or literary prowess get in the way of cogency, and humancentric (fair-weather) AntiNatalists are about as cogent as post-modernists.

Now to the even more interesting part; the above-linked findings show how bizarre it is to see indivisible consequentialists who are AntiNatalists of the sentiocentric caliber continue to be grandly hostile with our adversaries in the Natalist camp (or the natal-sympathizer camp) while having perfectly polite, milquetoast disagreements with members of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, as seen here. Rather odd, bearing in mind that, absent humancentric natalism, there would be twice as much hardship in effect across all non-human species today, as approximately half of them wouldn't have gone extinct over the last forty years given hypothetical non-interference by humans.

Respectful disagreement with VHEMT might make some sense were it not for sentiocentric AntiNatalists’ castigation of non-consequentialism. For those inflexible consequentialists in the Efilist camp, the motives of Natalists and ordinary reproducers should not matter in the slightest, so the fact that they never intended to safeguard animal welfare should be a non-factor in pure value terms. All that should matter is that their beliefs and actions did safeguard said welfare. This is just the logical outgrowth of austere consequentialism in action. Puzzlingly, despite the outcomes, Efilists still tend to assign moral blameworthiness to humancentric Natalists and camaraderie to VHEMT.

This is not an issue for all sentiocentric AntiNatalists mind you, since not all of us purport to be indivisible consequentialists. Make no mistake, I am generally more concerned with outcomes than with intentions, but as my previous posts make clear, I’m happy to provide breathing room for pluralistic sequencing between consequentialism and non-consequentialism whenever we’re evaluating negative consequences carrying only trivial impact (to be ranked below non-conceited good motives). In fact, the title of one of the posts I’m working on now is “Pseudo Dilemma: Consequentialism vs. Non-consequentialism”. In it I'll expand my earlier arguments in favour of Moral Particularism, contra Moral Absolutism.

If Efilists on the other hand maintain that intents are wholeheartedly irrelevant in terms of absolute value (as they've cantankerously told me on numerous occasions), how do they square this with their hospitality towards VHEMT? I’ll probably end up asking them individually, but if they’re reading this, they can tell me themselves.

I should note that, even in ironclad consequentialist terms, VHEMT is a lesser-evil when pitted against the scourge of sentiocentric Natalism (global conservationists). While both tolerate animalistic harms-for-benefits exchanges to an equal degree, at least VHEMT does so sans human suffering. This is ultimately an aside however, because the most common criticisms of both humancentric AntiNatalism and sentiocentric AntiNatalism are hurled from the standpoint of humancentric Natalism, not sentiocentric Natalism (global conservationism).

To recap; if VHEMT had it their way, humans would've been goners well before the 1970s, all so that the remaining life-forms can get to flourish or thrive. This alone should illustrate why divisible consequentialists mustn’t lose sight of the need to slice consequentialist concerns with non-consequentialist ones, no matter how uninviting non-consequentialism may seem on first impression due to the ornery absolutism of deontology.

Of course, even once pluralistic conceptions of value are taken into account, non-trivial negative consequences can supersede over motives when we're retroactively weighing the prospect of a post-1970s Earth without humans versus a post-1970s Earth with humans. All things considered, we can rank the four viable positions thusly:

Optimal: Sentiocentric AntiNatalism

Suboptimal: Humancentric Natalism

Misguided: Humancentric AntiNatalism

Woefully Misguided: Sentiocentric Natalism

More on this in future posts.

Yes, I plan on doing shorter but more frequent posts from now on.