“The quality of human life is, contrary to what many people think, actually quite appalling,” [South African philosopher David Benatar] writes, in “The Human Predicament.” He provides an escalating list of woes, designed to prove that even the lives of happy people are worse than they think. We’re almost always hungry or thirsty, he writes; when we’re not, we must go to the bathroom. We often experience “thermal discomfort” — we are too hot or too cold — or are tired and unable to nap. We suffer from itches, allergies, and colds, menstrual pains or hot flashes. Life is a procession of “frustrations and irritations” — waiting in traffic, standing in line, filling out forms. Forced to work, we often find our jobs exhausting; even “those who enjoy their work may have professional aspirations that remain unfulfilled.” Many lonely people remain single, while those who marry fight and divorce. “People want to be, look, and feel younger, and yet they age relentlessly”:

They have high hopes for their children and these are often thwarted when, for example, the children prove to be a disappointment in some way or other. When those close to us suffer, we suffer at the sight of it. When they die, we are bereft.


The New Yorker interviewer offers Benatar a short list of reasons to live: “love, beauty, discovery, and so on.”

UD wonders about that and so on… The list’s brevity, and its termination in that vague lame und so weiter… Life is worth living, etc., etc. … The gesture is as amusingly languidly lazy as anything Algernon says in The Importance of Being Earnest. Unlike people who make an actual effort to think of one or two reasons to exist —

Music is the best means we have of digesting time. W. H. Auden


[Sophocles wrote:] “Not to be born prevails over all meaning uttered in words; by far the second-best for life, once it has appeared, is to go as swiftly as possible whence it came.” [H]e also let us know, through the mouth of Theseus, the legendary founder of Athens… what it was that enabled ordinary men, young and old, to bear life’s burden: it was the polis, the space of men’s free deeds and living words, which could endow life with splendor… Hannah Arendt, last lines of On Revolution

— the New Yorker reviewer seems to concede Benatar’s point (Benatar famously wrote the anti-natalist Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence) by hopelessly tossing a few easily batted-down balls at him…


UD has the following thought: Life is worth living because it’s hilarious to watch people struggle with how life’s not worth living.

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7 Responses to “The Itchy and Scratchy Show”

  1. adam Says:

    Benatar expresses a dystopian, solipsistic view of life and its possibilities. Why does The New Yorker pay attention to his maundering? Better to understand that life comes with normal oscillations on the emotional level as well as on the physical level. And for him to conflate simple physiological swings – hunger, thirst, cold – with the push and pull of events and emotions is unworthy of a professional philosopher.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    adam: Spoken like a physician! But I find his take-no-prisoners approach to the question of existence intriguing…

  3. adam Says:

    UD, if Benatar wants to be a crybaby, that’s his choice. But does it allow him to issue sweeping dystopian prescriptions for others? The conceit is breathtaking. If he were serious about the option of non-existence, then why hasn’t he offed himself?

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Ah, because life is a horror, but death is even worse than that.

  5. adam Says:

    Yes, UD, to you and me maybe, but not to Benatar.

  6. Polish Peter Says:

    Little does he know how many wry smiles he has brought to the faces of those who now read about his ideas and think, “what a goofball!”

  7. Stephen Karlson Says:

    Seems like the perfect guy to be told to check his privilege!

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