This is certainly one of the more bizarre books I have read, and believe me I have read some crazy stuff. I say that a lot about the books I read but usually I use that statement with fiction novels. This is certainly the strangest nonfiction book I have read. The only reason I came across this one was because a friend recommend that I read it. When he started explaining what it was about and such, I knew I had to check it out.
Ligotti has mostly written short stories throughout his career, and this book is his first nonfiction book. Politically he identifies as a socialist, which I find interesting, and I also found that he suffers from anhedonia, which is a condition that prevents one from deriving pleasure from seemingly pleasurable activities. Which after reading this book, his stance makes much more sense knowing that. This also begs the question if he would have this same stance as in the book if he did not suffer from this condition? Ligotti is also a musician and has released a few albums playing in a band. There was also some controversy, for lack of a better word, on the HBO series True Detective with the character Rust Cohle. I have never seen the show, but this seemed to rile up quite a few fans online, as there are a handful of articles on the topic online. From what I can tell he is from Michigan and now lives in Florida, other than that he seems to keep a very low profile. He does not have a website or any contact information that I could find other than a message board. He seems to have built this underground cult following that only adds to his mysterious persona, which only makes him more interesting. If anyone knows how to contact him, I would love to ask him for an interview.
This review is going to be somewhat different, as I usually just tell what the book was about and say what I liked and didn’t like. I will do that but I also want to give my argument/counter argument for what Ligotti says in the book.
The basic and entire premise of the book is that human existence is not all right, and he calls this stance being a pessimist. He further makes his case stating that suffering is a part of life and any sort of suffering is unacceptable. He also says that since we know life is suffering, which is a Buddhist philosophy, that life is not ok and we should not in any way seek to continue the existence of the human race. This stance is called antinatalism, which is a new term to me. It basically means that you are against procreation of any type. The book also talks about how consciousness is to blame for all of this mess, as it is because of consciousness that we are aware we suffer. Ligotti’s stance is such that nonexistence is better than life, and that we should not seek to prolong the species because doing so would be to continue suffering, knowingly causing suffering to the next generation.
So, there is a lot to digest in the above paragraph and for the most part all these ideas are new to me. I honestly did not know that anyone could or would have this belief. There are plenty of new ideas in this book, which is always nice, but that does not mean that I agree with them all. So let’s take a look at some of them.
The first is the main idea that being alive is not all right. When I first read this I was like ok, I get what you are saying, now tell me why? When I read his reasoning, I was not sold and am still not sold. Suffering is a part of life, that is one of the pillars or Noble Truths of Buddhism. To say that it is better to not exist at all rather than suffer the least little bit, does not make sense to me. I would argue that despite my life problems I am not suffering in any real sense of the word. I know that I will probably someday die, I say some day because there are some exciting advancements in technology that could push that fateful day far into the future, or maybe remove it from the calendar altogether. But that is another topic for another time. My point is that as I sit typing this I realize that my life is not bad at all, and the good things in my life far out weight the bad or terrible things. Therefore for me, I do not think nonexistence would be better than life in any way. I get to do the things I enjoy and bring me joy, ride my bike, shoot guns, drink lots and lots of good beer, eat wonderful food. These things bring me joy, while there are certainly things that I do not like, like having to go to work, that is not overly terrible, therefore my existence brings me more joy than not having existed at all.
HOWEVER, I think my tune would quickly change if I were to have been born in some 3rd world African country or South East Asia country. Then I would probably rethink my stance. I would argue that there is infinitely more suffering in those countries than in the good o’l USA. So for those reasons I would say that anyone thinking about procreating in those counties should probably not as you are basically introducing a child to extreme suffering not only in infancy but for its entire life. That may sound terrible, but the truth is harsh, and when you think about it this is a valid point. A child or person living in a 3rd world country will endure extremely more hardships than I will. That is why I think that Ligotti’s rational is more suitable for those living in those countries. Sounds terrible, but the logic is sound.
Again I cannot agree with Ligotti because he makes no distinctions as I have, but instead uses absolutes for all of the human race. So I can’t jump on board with this idea as he has stated it.
I find his consciousness argument very interesting. He claims that consciousness is just some flaw of evolution and blames it for his predicament. I cannot disagree with him on this, as based on his logic consciousness is to blame, in terms of it has awakened us to the fact that we are suffering, we know we are suffering, and we know that we will eventually die. Consciousness is responsible for that, but again I do not believe that is a terrible thing. Nor do I believe that consciousness is just some flaw of evolution. To me I think it is more of a natural progression of intelligent beings. I do not think an intelligent being could not be consciousness or self-aware. On some level I think these go hand in hand. I say that because there would need to be a certain level of intelligence for consciousness to appear. I also do not think the reverse is possible, a non-intelligent being that is conscious. I think I understand his argument and I agree with some of it. Consciousness is to blame, but I do not think this is a problem as he does.
What is the point of his philosophy? Does he just want to not exist, well that is easy, go kill yourself, problem solved. However, it seems that he does not want to do that or he would have done that already. So I think he wants to exist just in a blissfully ignorant world. I would love to ask him if he could somehow hook his brain up to a computer and live in a simulation where his wildest fantasies are met every second of every day, there was no “suffering” of any kind and he had no knowledge of the “real world,” if that would be an ok existence? Basically, if he could live in a perpetual state of ecstasy, if that would be ok? He seems to think that if we removed our consciousness he would certainly be happier, and he could potentially be right in terms of no longer contemplating one’s own mortality. But then we would not be any different from a deer or a dog or any other species on this planet. I do not think I would want either of those above scenarios the simulation or the removal of my consciousness.
There is a lot to digest in this book, certainly things that I have never thought about before. In that regard, the book is interesting. However there are few things I did not like. First, I thought the book was well written, meaning the writer uses a wide range of vocabulary and artistically and masterfully constructs extremely magnificent sentences. While I can respect this in terms of the shear writing talent, it got old pretty quick. Why use 30 words to explain something that needs 15 or less? Ligotti, in typical philosopher fashion, seems to follow in the subject matters guide of using extremely long sentences and as many words as possible to get his point across. To me this made the read difficult at times and somewhat of a lull.
The other thing I felt hindered the book were the plethora of references to philosophers that I have never heard of. Extremely obscure individuals who only those with a PHD in the field would know. These individuals are obscure for a reason. If he had used Descartes, Hobbs, or Locke as a reference point I might have listened a little more, but the individuals he uses seem to be just a blip on the total philosophical radar. Ligotti uses Zapff and Schopenhauer heavily as sources throughout the majority of the book. I guess my point is that when presenting a new idea you may want to use important and famous names from your field. Like Michael Jordan said to do this when shooting a basketball, not Detlef Schrempf, yeah remember that guy for the Supersonics, said this is how you should shoot. It’s really a non-point I am trying to make but just wanted to point it out. I would also say that my point is based on extremely limited knowledge of the philosophical world. I know the important players, but it appears that Schopenhauer might be a bigger name than I originally thought. However, I still stand by my argument.
Toward the end of the book Logitti talks in depth about the horror genre and the supernatural. I felt this was a far reach from his original premises of prenatalism, and did not really see the connection he was trying to make here. I ain’t that smart, but I didn’t get what he was trying to say during this portion. It was a lengthy portion as well, consisting of about 50 pages or more.
He did talk about a few individuals that I found fascinating. I cannot remember their names but they are people who have claimed to have reached Nirvana, which is the highest level of enlightenment of Buddhist. I found this portion of the book interesting. How each individual claims to have gotten there is worth reading. His point in mentioning this is the death of the Ego, which is the removal of self. This is hard to explain but nonetheless this portion of the book kept my attention.
Overall I think this was an interesting read for the most part. There were some slow parts than made the read a little difficult, and toward the end I felt the book got a little wordy and long. That means a lot when the entire book is only 228 pages, not including a notes section. I would say it is worth a read if what I have mentioned above fascinates you, but honestly I do not think you will miss much if you pass on this one.