Friday, November 18, 2011

Grouch Logic

Scene: Sesame Street. Oscar the Grouch and his girlfriend Grundgetta are watching Baby Bear try to teach his little sister, Curly Bear, to draw.

Oscar and Grundgetta, as grouches, are annoyed to see Baby Bear and Curly Bear playing peacefully. They attempt to sow discord, getting very excited when Curly Bear fails to grasp the basics of drawing and throws crayons and paper around. The Grouches hope that Baby Bear will flip out, but instead, to the grouches' extreme irritation, Baby Bear sings a fucking song about sharing.

By the end of the day, none of the grouches' trolling has been effective. Baby Bear and Curly Bear learned lessons about sharing, and nobody had a fight. The grouches announce that they feel rotten.

But wait! Grouches LOVE feeling rotten! So they're HAPPY!

I relate this important episode from literature not to demonstrate any point, but merely to illustrate a concept I use frequently: Grouch Logic. Grouch Logic refers to arguments that seem comically nonsensical, not because of flaws in reasoning as such, but because highly unusual preferences and values drive the logic - often preferences in direct opposition to the "common sense" preferences ostensibly shared by the entire reference group.

Philanthropic antinatalists like me are a special group of grouches who start from an eccentric assignment of value ("it's a great harm to be born"). This alone is enough to make most of our conclusions sound comical, no matter how sound our reasoning.


  1. I don't think our assignment of value or our preferences are fundamentally so eccentric. Maybe it would be more accurate to formulate it as "it's a great harm to be born if the conditions of your life are going to be greatly harmful". Most people (except for a bunch of American analytic philosophers who get hung up on semantics) agree with that. What we disagree with them about is whether or not the conditions of all lives are greatly harmful, so we have a disagreement about a matter of fact. Whatever values we hold that are against common sense are derivative from the common shared value outlined above.

    I do wish we were more like grouches in terms of preference satisfaction, though. The world is a really great place if you want to feel rotten all the time.

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  3. I do wish we were more like grouches in terms of preference satisfaction, though. The world is a really great place if you want to feel rotten all the time.

    Yes! And to me, this is essentially the perspective that the Super Life Advocates are pushing: the idea that even feeling rotten is better than nothing, and you're lucky to be alive to experience starvation/bullying/rape/misery, because think of all the unborn people who don't get to experience it.

  4. worn-out flip flopDecember 4, 2011 at 7:47 PM

    Hey, I have followed your blog for a while. You're quite a deep thinking and I am somewhat sympathetic to some of your viewpoints.

    There's a Canadian short animated film that I've seen that actually (perhaps intentionally) gives off a bit of an antinatalist vibe. See here.

  5. worn-out flip flopDecember 4, 2011 at 7:48 PM

    I meant to say "perhaps UNintentionally" but whatever.


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