Life is Procrastination of Death
Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing something, moving it forward to the next day, if you take it literally. And while that short dictionary definition technically doesn’t imply yet whether the thing you’re postponing is positive or negative, usually we think of procrastination as the attempt to delay a negative experience. In contrast, if you delay something positive, we would rather call that “delayed gratification”.
A lot of people beat themselves up over their own procrastinating behaviour. We generally perceive it as our own fault if we just seem to be too lazy to get an important task done, and instead waste our time doing something pointless just to prevent having to face that task. That’s why some consider procrastination more of an expression of being under stress or suffering from performance anxiety, rather than just a straight-up addiction to whatever short-term pleasurable activity you decide to engage in instead: It’s not necessarily about the positive valence of what you’re doing instead of the thing you should be doing; rather, it often just seems to be about the negative valence of what you should be doing, and avoiding it at all costs - even at those of your long-term detriment. Terms like “anxiety” and “avoidance behaviour” paint a picture that is much more reminiscent of fear than of addiction or being easily distractable. So if you procrastinate, maybe you are not lazy, but you might be a coward instead.
Well, does that feel like a better verdict to you? Probably not. Putting it into more neutral terms, fear is first and foremost an instinct. One of our base emotions. And if fear is an instinct and one possible cause for procrastination, you would consequently expect to find procrastination in other species as well. Which you do – in pigeons, for example.
(Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1350069/) But if we assume that most animal behaviour is guided by their instincts, and acknowledge that even human beings are subject to their instincts, much more often than they would want to, well, maybe we procrastinate even more than we are aware of in our daily lives. Maybe, we are in fact even constantly procrastinating. Now of course, that by itself isn’t a particularly useful concept: If everything is procrastination, nothing is procrastination. But there is of course one particular thing, one very unpleasant thing, that all biological organisms – possibly even including plants – would obviously want to avoid. And if avoidance is not possible, they would at least want to delay its inevitable occurrence as much as possible.
Fittingly, this avoidance behaviour is also linked to fear – a primal fear, even, the fear for our very own safety, arising from our drive for self-preservation. This is why I like to claim that life as a whole is essentially just procrastination of death. There’s this somewhat famous quote – and it has been attributed to different people, so I’m not really sure who to credit for it here – that describes procrastination as very similar to playing “five against Willie”. And this includes the ladies, because guess what, the little man in the boat – his name is technically also Willie. Now, playing “five against Willie” would usually rather fit into the category of “instant gratification” than “procrastination”, but the two are obviously connected: Our instincts will always drive us to pursue having pleasurable experiences as soon as possible and painful experiences as late as possible. This shows us that our instincts must have evolved in a very unstable, unpredictable environment: When you can’t be sure whether you’ll even live to the next day, delaying gratification is a disadvantage, because you’ll never actually get to cash in on your rewards.
In contrast, if you can be sure the world will still be roughly the same tomorrow as it is today, you can plan for the future more reliably. And then, delaying gratification becomes an advantage, because the long-term reward will almost always pay off more than the short-term one. Psychology students usually hear about this first in the context of the Marshmallow Experiment: A way to predict children’s later school success by measuring how long they will sit in front of a single marshmallow without eating it, after they have been given the promise they will receive a second marshmallow if they wait for a previously specified amount of time. This is essentially just a measurement of how long they can delay the gratification of tasting something sweet, even at that early of an age. And that is basically a measurement of conscientiousness, since those children who manage to resist the temptation for the allotted amount of time then go on to become the most successful at school and, by extension, also later in their career life. But the connection of this to the stability and predictability of the environment is something that Jordan Peterson first made me aware of, when he outlined his reasoning for why the conscientious thrive in a stable civilised society.
And he basically described conscientiousness or, as laypeople would probably call it more commonly, “discipline”, as “constantly sacrificing the present for the future”: You’d better take a small hit now to avoid a much bigger hit in the future. As rational as that sounds, it’s unfortunately not what our instincts seem to have set us up for by default. The main problem with procrastination is indeed that the total amount of damage in the long run is usually larger than it would have been if we had faced the unpleasant thing head-on: The suffering accrues over time, like interest rates on a debt. Additionally, we need to endure the fear of having the inevitable still in front of us, rather than being able to enjoy the feeling that we have gotten it over with: Just like the anticipation of Christmas is often better than the eventual Christmas Eve itself – and we use that to teach children delayed gratification – having to wait in the doctor’s waiting room before getting some unpleasant procedure done, or preparing for an exam, can often feel worse than the event itself – because the suffering gets drawn out over time. Consequently, the same logic applies to life itself: The longer you live, the longer you will continue to be affected by your instincts. And catering to those instincts, giving in to them, is usually rewarding – at least in the short term.
That’s why eating your favourite meal, going to sleep after a long day of hard work, the relief of getting the waste out of your body or engaging in bedroom gymnastics, all of that usually is pleasurable to varying degrees. Bedroom gymnastics take a special spot here, because while technically each time you get it on, that extends your life by a couple of minutes, thereby procrastinating your own death, its much more important function is of course to sire children and thus procrastinate the death of your genes. But more on that later. The important point is: If you stopped catering to your instincts, including those responsible for the bare necessities, if you stopped giving in to hunger, sleep, or even just the necessity to breathe – by the way, voluntarily doing the latter all by yourself is not possible – then you would die pretty quickly. So if you stopped procrastinating death, guess what, it would arrive immediately.
If you stop doing bedroom gymnastics, you stop procrastinating the death of your genes, because you won’t sire any further children. Instead, every time we heed one of our core desires, we procrastinate death, postpone it for at least another day. And each time we give in to our desires for procreation, we procrastinate the death of our own genes for another generation. And while the feelings related to those moments of procrastinating death may be briefly pleasurable – do they suffice as a reason for existence if all they’re basically doing is maintaining existence itself, just for its own sake? Especially when not fulfilling these desires results in suffering for the individual who experiences them, and most desires are set up to be insatiable, or only satiable temporarily, because they evolved in an environment of scarcity.
Meaning, they will keep plaguing us with suffering, because they can never be fulfilled for good. There is a microscale and a macroscale to this conundrum. You can be aware of either of them and perfectly keep your sanity – as long as you conveniently ignore the other: The microscale is the insatiability of human desires and the suffering that arises from that. This includes the desire for survival, and in this case, I’m referring to self-preservation for once, so not just to survival of your genes. Because if the desire for survival were satiable, that would mean we could become immortal. So the death of the individual human being is included in the microscale, with the process of dying as one possible expression of the maximum amount of suffering an individual human being can experience.
This is based on the assumption that your body will fight for its survival until literally your very last breath, even when it’s already futile, and your instincts will make you suffer as a result. Thus, I don’t consider the process of dying the beginning of death, but the last bits of the state of being alive. You don’t suffer because you’re as good as dead; you suffer while dying because you are currently still alive, and your organism continues to fight against impending death, as it has always done before. The macroscale is the inevitability of our home planet, Earth, being destroyed one day, by its very own sun that enabled the development of life on Earth in the first place.
And this becomes an issue coupled with the fact that the speed of light is the maximum speed any matter can attain. It will be a Herculean task already to even have a manned spaceship leave our solar system, not even speaking of reaching a different one, not even dreaming of one that fulfils all the very specific requirements of having a rocky, Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone around a G-type star, with gas planets on the outside of the solar system that prevent meteor impacts from being too frequent, with a moon that prevents it from spinning too fast, a planet that has an atmosphere consisting largely of oxygen and nitrogen and enough liquid water on its surface, without having lost its oceans and experienced a massive greenhouse effect as it is currently assumed to have happened on our neighbouring planet Venus. Just for perspective: The closest star system to our own is Proxima Centauri, at a distance of a little more than 4.2 light-years.
Indeed, there seems to be a rocky planet in the habitable zone, called Proxima b, so about five years ago, people got pretty excited: A potentially habitable planet right around the nearest star we could possibly ever hope to fly to? Well, turns out Proxima Centauri is not only very near to us, but also near to that planet, Proxima b: Since it’s a red M-type dwarf star, a planet needs to be much closer to this star to be in the habitable zone than if it were orbiting a G-type star like our own sun. And these M-type stars also have much more frequent eruptions compared to our own sun – which is even worse for a planet that’s so close to one of them, because it gets hit by the full brunt. How did people find that out? Well, because one such eruption happened as recently as 24th March 2017. So if Proxima b doesn’t look like a candidate for future human settlements, where else to go? The next closest stars are already quite a bit further away: Currently, there is one other known one at a little less than 6 light-years away, and then the distances immediately jump up to about 11 to 16 light-years.
So those two are the micro- and the macroscale. Quick side note here: I could also still add a mesoscale to this, which does not refer to the death of the individual, nor to the death of all sentient beings, but instead to the death of a given bloodline or, as we would put it in more modern terms: the death of specific genes. Of course, the ultimate dead-end to each line of genes is whenever they create a person who, for what reason ever, does not procreate, the last in line after a long and definitely uninterrupted line of ancestors who did.
Even if that isn’t currently happening to your own lineage yet, though, each offspring only has 50% of each of their parents’ genes, so the genes that made up you as an individual inevitably get diluted with every further generation down the line: Your grandchildren already only share as many of their genes with you as your nieces and nephews, and so on. But my argumentation in this video is mainly based on the micro- and the macroscale, because they are what’s mainly responsible for the big conundrum of life on planet Earth. Why is this a conundrum? And why can you still remain “happy and sane” as long as you’re only aware of either of these two things? The macroscale threat is usually dismissed by stating the obvious fact that no human being currently alive will get to experience any of the events related to our sun becoming a red giant. Whether it’s the actual red-giant phase in 5 billion years, or e.g. already when the
water on Earth is going to evaporate in just a little over 1 billion years. Until then, there are still ample opportunities for countless generations to be born and experience the joys of life. Or something along those lines. Either way, here you clearly see how the microscale problem that is human suffering is being ignored to justify continued procreation: As long as your children of grandchildren are not the ones who are going to witness an apocalyptic event, the generations that come afterwards don’t concern you anymore. Even if your great-great grandchildren should indeed experience runaway climate change or a meteor impact, you are not going to live long enough to get to know those great-great grandchildren, so why should you care? There is a saying for this in German, and apparently it exists in English as well, yet somehow, English speakers use the French version of that expression, it seems? Anyway, in this case “après-moi, le déluge” is quite fitting, because the deluge, the flood described in the Bible, or a real-world equivalent, rising sea levels due to climate change, those things are indeed one of many possible apocalyptic events human beings could be forced to witness. Usually, this idea of “after me, the flood may come” is applied to hedonistic ambitions, meaning you want to enjoy certain things, no matter what damage you leave behind for those that come after you.
Now, with the exception of man-made climate change, all the other threats to life on Earth are external ones, so for those, the damage that is going to hit us in the end is not going to be of our own making. Meaning that in this case, the problem with this hedonistic idea of “your children and grandchildren can still get to enjoy life long before an apocalyptic event occurs” is not merely that the creation of those children can contribute to accelerating the arrival of the apocalyptic event of runaway climate change; but also, the premise of “getting to enjoy life before this happens” is flawed, because it implies that life were a net positive of pleasure over suffering. And this shows the ignorance of the problem of human suffering, i.e. the microscale. Somebody who is more aware of these microscale problems, in contrast, will generally resort to arguments from hope about future utopias: Technological and cultural advancements that are going to continue, despite occasional setbacks, in an overall upwards trend, until some day, the suffering of human beings will be negligible compared to today.
Thus, having further children is being justified by the goal of these technological and cultural advancements – for which we would obviously need future generations around to make these improvements to the human condition. So the logic here is: “Yes, many future generations will still be born into suboptimal living conditions, but this is justified by each of these generations constantly working towards an even better future than the previous one. And eventually, there will be one generation living in a futuristic Utopia, and we will have the technology to keep that Utopia stable, so that all the suffering up to that point will have been worth it in hindsight.” This world view is not about hedonism, it’s about delayed gratification and self-actualisation on a societal scale; children are not placed on Earth to “enjoy” life, but to “endure” life, for the ultimate benefit of future generations. You might know this image of the world becoming a better place when old men plant a tree despite knowing they will not get to sit in its shade.
And the same principle has been applied to massive cathedrals and other types of huge buildings that took several generations to construct. Thus, the damage supposedly does not come at the end, but at the beginning of the development towards this better future. You would not be having a child for its own sake in this framework, but for the sake of your distant offspring several hundred years from now, people neither you nor the children you create for this purpose are ever going to get to meet in person. But if you could say something to your remote offspring in that far-distant future, it would be “the deluge may come before you”: Even if you believe reaching such a Utopia is possible, you’re willing to accept that all your immediate offspring are still going to experience lots of suffering. So there’s of course still the problem that you’re forcing this mission of yours onto your children without their consent – and the fact that the yet-non-existent generations in the far future don’t have any need for your children to improve their world yet either.
But assuming that some people will inevitably still be born in the far future, and those people are going to be in need of an environment that reduces their suffering, well, if such a Utopia almost free of any suffering can indeed be created – maybe that goal is indeed worth imposing suffering on our immediate offspring in the short-term? Maybe we even have a duty to do so – to preserve everything we have already achieved in terms of reducing suffering, from our cavemen days until today. This is certainly the more sustainable view compared to hedonism. Since we’re being conscientious on a societal scale: Sacrificing the present, even if that means “the well-being of the present generations”, for the future.
And “sustainable” usually implies “something that works long-term”. But does it? The problem with this view is that it ignores the macroscale, in turn, because it fails to acknowledge there will be a definite end point to all technological development on Earth. Not only that, but everything we’ve achieved so far will be destroyed again, as well. Whatever Utopia we might be able to turn Earth into – it won’t last. And it’s far easier for cosmic or even terrestrial dangers to destroy it again than all the centuries it took for previous generations to set up that Utopia in the first place. Even if somebody does acknowledge both the microscale and the macroscale, and posits that the technological advancements that will reduce the microscale problem of suffering will also include ways to leave our solar system in search of a new home, that line of argumentation easily overlooks the fact that we would have to take all our equipment that would make up this technology with us, onto spaceships that carry all remaining survivors of the human species, and can take them at least 4, if not 12 or more lightyears through space to a possible new world, where they would have to start from scratch again – that is, not in the stone age, but by setting up all the technology they brought there.
And if anything breaks too early, there will be no replacements for those parts. So now we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Or in this case, since we’re talking about Earth and the sun, a rock and a hot place: The sun will eventually destroy everything we build up until this point. So eventually, all our efforts of improving the state of the world are going to be in vain. At the same time, the present state of the world is not tolerable as it is, so that we could just stop our improvement efforts.
This is the big conundrum: We’re caught in an eternal loop – or at least one that seems eternal to us – but ultimately won’t be. It’s just eternal in the sense that we as biological organisms haven’t found any way yet of breaking out of it: Genes flow from a man to a woman to a child, who will soon assume their own position on the next iteration of this L-shaped flow, and the cycle immediately starts over again. Life and love are the same thing – a way for genes to survive as long as possible – and the purpose of life is procreation and passing on those genes. That in itself is already circular logic, and therefore insufficient in order to justify the existence of life. Meaning, it would already be hard to make a case for it if life could simply go on forever as an actual eternal, but simply pointless loop.
But no, it’s even worse than that, because the loop will eventually be interrupted – just most likely not voluntarily, by any group of sentient beings, but by accident. Through some catastrophe that we will suddenly find ourselves insufficiently prepared for. And since fate favours the prepared, as they say, when we finally do end up in such a situation where we aren’t, or for which we possibly can’t even prepare at all, everyone who is still around at that time will suffer dearly for that. So if we can’t prevent it, maybe we can only avoid it. Maybe the only way to avoid painful deaths for all the eye-witnesses of the eventual apocalypse is to avoid procrastinating death.
And while it’s hard to stop procrastinating your own death, due to our inherent drives for self-preservation, it’s a lot easier to stop procrastinating the death of our own genes – and with that prevent the deaths of any future vessels for those genes, i.e. our unborn children, by not putting them into a state where they themselves would have to start procrastinating death in the first place. We can stop the train of our own lineage so that they don’t have to. And if you’re somebody who maybe always wanted children, but have now decided to go suppress that urge for rational reasons, then you are technically being conscientious and sacrificing the present for the future, as well: You give up your own vision of a happy family life for the benefit of future generations – by leaving them unborn. Naturally, they’re never going to be able to thank you for that. So the validation for your decision can only come from within yourself.
And maybe other like-minded individuals around you. To wrap this up, I have two more songs I can point you towards – conveniently, one about the microscale and one about the macroscale of the issue discussed here. “Death for Christmas” is the song for the microscale, because it applies to the death of the individual, and the suffering of the individual. It entertains the idea that giving someone the option to leave their own life at will, giving them the ultimate freedom over their own body, might just be the biggest gift one could ever hope to receive. Note that the “present” in the song is not immediate death, but merely the option to induce it for oneself at a point of one’s own choosing – that is, death is a present, but doesn’t occur in the present. Indeed, you often find that severely ill people (physically or mentally), who have gone through a long legal battle to obtain the right to prematurely end their vacation from non-existence, once they’ve finally got that permission in their pocket, they still go on to continue living for a while.
The mere “permission” often takes such a great deal of emotional stress from them that their suffering might actually decrease for a while, giving them less of an incentive to end it immediately. In other words, they get to procrastinate death a little longer. The other song, “Wipeout”, is about the ultimate end point of all procrastination. This is the song set on the macroscale, because it applies to life on Earth as a whole, the death of the planet, and the grand total of suffering of all sentient beings who will be unfortunate enough to witness it.
Whether it’s going to be climate change, a meteor impact, a gamma ray burst, a nearby supernova, or indeed the sun moving into its red-giant phase, humanity will have to find a way to leave this world – one way or another. Neither of these songs is going to be part of my first album “Awake”, but they’re indeed supposed to go on a second album. Most of the songs for that one aren’t completely written yet, though I do have pretty clear concepts for most of them. I’m currently still busy getting the songs for “Awake” mixed and ready for upload, one by one.
But in the end, these two are almost a double album, in the sense that they will function best in unity: Both albums will have some songs referring to antinatalism and some referring to going your own way; however, “Awake” certainly has a stronger focus on going your own way, so that “Wipeout” will in turn focus more strongly on antinatalist ideas. But don’t worry, if you only consider yourself part of one of these two philosophies, there should still be something that speaks to you on both albums in the end. In the meantime, you can check out my video “Bridging the Divide – Between Going Your Own Way and Antinatalism”, to maybe learn something about the respective other side that influences this channel. That’s it for this video, so thank you very much for listening! As always, feel free to disprove my claims in the comments down below, and may you all continue procrastinating death at least until we meet again next time!