On Optimism & Self-Awareness

“You may look upon life as an unprofitable episode, disturbing the blessed calm of non-existence”

“Optimism is not merely the thoughtless talk of those who harbour nothing but words under their shallow foreheads… It seems to be not only an absurd, but also a really wicked way of thinking, a bitter mockery of the unspeakable suffering of mankind”

“If we were to conduct the most hardened and callous optimist through hospitals, infirmaries, operating theatres, through prisons, torture-chambers, and slave hovels, over battlefields and to places of execution; if we were to open to him all the dark abodes of misery, where it shuns the gaze of cold curiosity, and finally were to allow him to glance into the dungeon of Ugolino where prisoners starved to death, he too would certainly see in the end what kind of a world is this ‘meilleur des mondes possibles’.

— Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation


Pollyannaism leads most people to think that they and their (potential) children will be spared non-inevitable suffering. But everybody must experience at least some of the harms in the catalogue of misery. (…) The optimist surely bears the burden of justifying this procreational russian roulette. Given that there are no real advantages over never existing for those who are brought into existence, it is hard to see how the significant risk of serious harm could be justified. If we count not only the unusually severe harms that anybody could endure, but also the quite routine ones of ordinary human life, then we find that matters are still worse for cheery procreators. It shows that they play russian roulette with a fully loaded gun — aimed, of course, not at their own heads, but at those of their future offspring.”

— David Benatar, Better Never To Have Been


“This is the great lesson the depressive learns: Nothing in the world is inherently compelling. Whatever may be really “out there” cannot project itself as an affective experience. It is all a vacuous affair with only a chemical prestige. Nothing is either good or bad, desirable or undesirable, or anything else except that it is made so by laboratories inside us producing the emotions on which we live. And to live on our emotions is to live arbitrarily, inaccurately — imparting meaning to what has none of its own. Yet what other way is there to live? Without the ever-clanking machinery of emotion, everything would come to a standstill. There would be nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to be, and no one to know. The alternatives are clear: to live falsely as pawns of affect, or to live factually as depressives, or as individuals who know what is known to the depressive. How advantageous that we are not coerced into choosing one or the other, neither choice being excellent. One look at human existence is proof enough that our species will not be released from the stranglehold of emotionalism that anchors it to hallucinations. That may be no way to live, but to opt for depression would be to opt out of existence as we consciously know it.”

“For the rest of the earth’s organisms, existence is relatively uncomplicated. Their lives are about three things: survival, reproduction, death — and nothing else. But we know too much to content ourselves with surviving, reproducing, dying — and nothing else. We know we are alive and know we will die. We also know we will suffer during our lives before suffering — slowly or quickly — as we draw near to death. This is the knowledge we “enjoy” as the most intelligent organisms to gush from the womb of nature. And being so, we feel shortchanged if there is nothing else for us than to survive, reproduce, and die. We want there to be more to it than that, or to think there is. This is the tragedy: Consciousness has forced us into the paradoxical position of striving to be unself-conscious of what we are — hunks of spoiling flesh on disintegrating bones.”

“As a survival-happy species, our successes are calculated in the number of years we have extended our lives, with the reduction of suffering being only incidental to this aim. To stay alive under almost any circumstances is a sickness within us. Nothing could be more unhealthy than to “watch one’s health” as a means of stalling death. The lengths we will go as procrastinators of that last gasp only demonstrate a morbid dread of that event. By contrast, our fear of suffering is deficient.”

“Most people learn to save themselves by artificially limiting the content of consciousness.”

— Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against The Human Race