I just received Andy Nowicki‘s “Considering Suicide” and Jim Crawford‘s “Confessions of an Antinatalist“, both available from Ninebanded Books. I had read the latter in advance, all I know about the former comes second-hand. In spite of my ignorance, I thought I’d talk about the connection between the two.
As he said in his interview with Underworld Amusements, despite the “reactionary Catholic” viewpoint he’s pushing, most of the attention Nowicki’s book has received has been from atheists. A major topic of concern in his book is abortion, the cover image consists of differently colored ultrasounds of a fetus arranged in a circle. Nowicki seems to regard abortion as the great moral atrocity of our time, whereas Crawford (though I could be confusing him with David Benatar) thinks aborting a fetus before it can be born is a positive good or at least prevention of a great wrong done to the possible child. I’ll ignore the former for a second ans ask, why does the latter has such an unconventional view? Because sometimes (perhaps almost always) life sucks and then you die. The sucking and dieing are bad enough they could outweigh any positive aspects of life, and the unborn child itself certainly never agreed to make that bargain.
Back to Nowicki: the last line on the back cover sums up his central question as “Is life worth living?”. Near the beginning (perhaps merely speaking in character, the ambiguity is intentional) he says it is not and we may as well kill ourselves. Why? I haven’t gotten that far, but my impression is that he is trying to lay out, like H. P. Lovecraft but from the perspective of a believer, the horror of life in a universe without God. Even if genuine atheism will always represent a minority position and in the United States a comfortable majority consider themselves Christian, Nietzche (or whoever, if it wasn’t him) may be right to have said that we have killed God. We live in a post-God society, and the inhabitants of the Middle Ages who believed in ways we would have trouble relating to would concur with that diagnosis. This leaves Nowicki alienated from society and pessimistic about life. He could well be motivated by hostility to secularism and find happiness in a Straussian solution where religion is promoted even though he is aware of its falsity. Not that a hypothetically real God deserves much respect when he permits fetuses to be murdered and ugly fat chicks to identify with attractive actresses on TV.
Or maybe for all I know a personal connection with God (mediated of course through Mary, the Saints or other papist demigods since he’s Catholic) actually does play a role. Guess I’ll have to find out when I read it. Crawford would be able to relate to that, since he was once a pastor, having previously become a Christian after having a religious experience while tripping on LSD. The loss of belief in God, as testified recently by this commenter, can be quite depressing. It’s not for nothing that a book consisting of the miserable accounts of how ex-communists lost their secular faith (can’t even avoid the religious analogy when introducing it) was titled “The God That Failed”.
I can relate to having religion serve as the cornerstone to your weltanschauung, but I was never spiritual. I was told as a child that if I prayed to God he would answer, and I really truly believed what I was told. I repeatedly prayed and tried my hardest to detect a response, but never did. I felt nothing and came to the conclusion that God had chosen not to communicate with me. I tried to understand why that was and concluded that since the universe actually does revolve around God it shouldn’t be surprising that he doesn’t feel obliged to respond to some insignificant kid’s requests. As I became older and heard about the story of Job, my conception of God as unfathomable and unquestionable by mere humans was confirmed. I continued to pray routinely despite the fact that an omniscient being didn’t need to be told anything, because I was commanded to do so and as the ultimate authority God must be obeyed. I didn’t find it at all hard to accommodate belief in evolution, since that Alien God (whether called evolution or Azathoth) was what I already worshiped. I was not phased by lots of atheist arguments I heard, since I was a sophisticated and consistent bullet-biting monotheist, unlike the functionally pagan masses who comprise most religious believers. My viewpoint had to match the reality known from science, and so it came to be that there was hardly any difference between it and standard atheist materialism. I didn’t so much renounce religious belief at any one point as eventually admit to myself I had been an atheist for some time but clung to religion out of path-dependency and the undesirability of admitting I had been wrong about something I had been proud to hold as the core of my identity.
Am I miserable? I think of myself as happier than most. People tell me I don’t seem happy, but I’m more muted (especially externally) or “flat” than unhappy. I don’t have very high highs or low lows, just the fairly steady maintenance of a level I’d say is above zero. Certainly high enough above zero that I continually put off sleep to engage in my everyday activities without noticing how late its gotten. I have to admit that I go on living simply because it is the default and I am wired to continue maintaining my vital functions. But I don’t have specific reasons or goals. If I was struck by lightning it would prevent me from finishing some books, but there will always be more of them than I can consume and one is as good as the next. Is this horrifying? I don’t think so. I have used the conclusion that life is on net good to argue against antinatalism (and yes, I’ll get to work on a rejoinder to Jim one of these days). In that respect at least I’m fairly normal. Why all the angst from our authorial odd couple? Do either of them really hate their own lives that much? I get the impression they don’t but have intellectually convinced themselves that life more abstractly is misery despite all the concrete people who enjoy it. Nowicki perhaps absorbed that thinking through being a college english teacher, who both despises and exhibits all that post-modernism discussed in his book. Crawford had to work hard to think up that stuff, though I suppose he had help from actually living through bad things (at least as a 20th century white american man might judge).
I think this was originally going to have a conclusion before I injected myself into things, but I can’t think of one now. Got to get to sleep so I can get up in time to take an express train and pick up another book.