It is almost taken for granted in discussions of morality, government, and human endeavor in general that life – as opposed to there not being life – is a good thing. Who knows how long this opinion has been around, and when it was that the first person argued against it.

I know of a few places where this point has been challenged in recent times. There was an opinion piece in the New York Times by Peter Singer titled “Should This Be the Last Generation?” in which Singer makes a case for no longer having children so that we can be the last generation. There are also a couple songs by Bad Religion, namely “Better Off Dead” and especially “Pity the Dead” that express skepticism over the idea that living is better than not living.

And certainly there are arguments for ending it all. I won’t go into them, as that’s not why I’m writing this. If you want some arguments, read Singer’s article or listen to “Pity the Dead” (and read the lyrics while you do so you know what he’s saying; he talks pretty fast, but has some interesting things to say!).

What I’m getting at is that the answer this question of whether or not we should bother living is not a de facto “yes.” But I do want to get past this question so we can move on, so how should we decide? I do not simply want to say “yes, we should live” just for the sake of it. And I also do not want to weigh the merits of living and ending it all, as I have already mentioned.

What I will do is take each answer to their logical conclusions. I will say what I think are the only reasonable things to do if you choose to answer the question. And then, perhaps, based on the conclusions we come to, we can decide how we want to answer the original question.

If we answer “no,” if we decide that life is actually not worth living because it contains more suffering than happiness, more strife than peace, what should we do? I think the only options would be what I call the “quick fix” and the “slow fix.”

The “quick fix” would be for everyone to take their own lives. Perhaps not outright using guns or nooses or razor blades, but perhaps after one last planet-wide party. After the huge feast, after the orgy, after getting drunk and high and listening to the best music our humble planet has produced, we could all take an overdose of something or another and die peacefully in our sleeps, before the next day’s hangover and (probably justified) accusations of infidelity, and especially before going back to work.

The “slow fix” would be, as Singer suggests, to no longer have children. Let us soldier through these painful lives we lead, but at the same time not bring any more innocent souls into the world. As the last human being dies off, our species would finally be free from this Hell on Earth. Perhaps our brains are not equipped for reality. Wolves feed by brutally killing deer, and deer live by constantly avoiding the wolves, but neither are smart enough to realize their horrible positions. To them, living is merely so. Too much knowledge, as the God of Genesis might have said, only led us to understand the suffering we actually face.

As poetic as I tried to make those solutions sound, would you take them? I doubt you would take either, but would you agree you would more likely take the latter (if say, forced to decide)? I think there is an easy explanation for this: people don’t want to die. I won’t go so far as to say they like living. Many people, not even those who are crippled by depression, are not happy. Yet nonetheless they do not want to die. (And some people really want to have kids.)

So, at this point I could very well stop and say since we do not want to answer “no” to our question of whether we should bother living, we therefore must answer “yes.”

I will note here that if you answer “no” to the question, the two options I laid out are, as far as I can tell, the only logical conclusions. You may have a slight adjustment to one of my “fixes,” perhaps modifying the “quick fix” to instead party until we have exhausted all resources that are readily available. (If we allow for resources not yet excavated or turned into something usable, I don’t really see how that’s different than what we have now, or the “slow fix.” Why bother working (suffering) at all if your goal is to enjoy life as much as possible before killing oneself?)

You may have come up with another solution, such as killing 90% of the population so that the 10% remaining may start over with the more resources per person, presumably eliminating the problem of suffering for those who are alive. However, that is not answering “no” to the question “is life worth living period?” In this case you are just saying that life is not worth living as it is now and are therefore saying that life would be worth living ultimately if we could change it. This means life is worth living, if only to ensure that eventually we don’t need to put so much thought into this question. This is a “yes” answer. So far as I can tell, the only things that lead from the “no” answer are killing ourselves and no longer procreating – in other words, somehow ending the human race. (If you can think of another conclusion to the “no” answer, let me know in the comments!)

I am not going to stop at our answer of “yes,” however. I want to take this answer to its logical conclusion as I did with the “no” answer. If life is in fact worth living, if the human race is better around than not, what must we do? At the very least, this will give you something to compare to the “fixes” I proposed in response to the “no” answer. Perhaps you will choose “no” after all!

Anyway, unlike the “no” answer, I do not think there are multiple options in this case. I think there is just one thing that needs to be done, as well as a number of things that would probably be a good idea.

I think it is safe to say that if life is worth living, if living is good, then if something happened to us (either you or I personally or the human race as a whole) that killed us it would be bad. So what do we need to do to ensure that this bad thing has as small a chance of wiping us all out as possible?

Simple: we need to get off this rock. As it is now, there is far too much possibility of self-destruction. I won’t get in to the fact that people with Iron Age beliefs are getting access to 21st century weaponry. I won’t get in to the fact that we have enough nuclear weapons on this planet to destroy it many times over. I won’t get in to the fact that we’re slowly killing the planet through our over-use of fossil fuels. I’m sure you all know enough about these things already. But there isn’t just our self-destruction to worry about. If an asteroid hit Earth, we’d be done for. If aliens attacked us, we’d be sitting ducks here on this single planet.

We need to spread beyond our planet. We need to colonize the moon. Colonize Mars. We need to invest in new methods of transportation to get us even further away. This will ensure that no intentional act or accidental disaster could wipe us all out. Because that would be bad, as we’ve established.

That’s pretty much all I can think of that absolutely must be done. Leave the governance of the people, what moral systems we should have, and so on to the ebb and flow of human culture to decide. All that needs to be done is to ensure that we’re around for as long as possible.

I think there are a few things that are “strongly recommended” though. We need to improve the lives of everyone on the planet. If killing ourselves is bad, why give people the idea in the first place? By this I do not mean to censor media so that it does not mention suicide. I also do not think that suicide should be illegal. What I mean is that we should make every place humans live a place where nobody would want to kill themselves. Let’s feed the hungry. Let’s end prejudice and hatred. Let’s eradicate human slavery.

So there you have it. If we’re going to say that life is worth living, if we’re not going to be hypocrites and cowards, living when we think we shouldn’t, then let’s at least look like we mean it. If we’re going to live, then let’s live, and spread, and try to bring happiness to everyone.

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com :)