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Thread: This is why I'm an anti-natalist

  1. #1
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    This is why I'm an anti-natalist

    I've come to the conclusion that while many lives are worth living, no life is worth creating if that life will involve more stress than the very basic amount necessary for a functioning nervous system. I won't go into detail but I believe happiness and suffering are asymmetrical in value for at least two reasons. Suffering is qualitatively worse than happiness is good, it is better not to suffer than it is good to experience happiness. Also, the absence of suffering is good whereas the absence of pleasure/happiness is only bad if an organism has a desire to experience pleasure/happiness. Since an aversion to suffering is a negative desire, causing someone to suffer is bad even if they don't have a conscious desire to avoid suffering (and sperm/egg cells are fortunate not to suffer even if they don't consciously realize how fortunate this makes them). I still say that many lives are worth living because the pleasure and happiness we experience in life helps to mitigate our suffering but again, the opportunity for pleasure and happiness is only worth fullfiling if one has a desire for pleasure/happiness, it's beneficial to avoid suffering even if one does not have a desire to avoid suffering.

    There are at least 4 reasons why I will not procreate

    1) Ecological. There's no point in reducing one's carbon footprint if you're just going to create more carbon 'feet' altogether. Climate change will be the result of many famines, floods, tsunami's, poor crops etc. and these things will cause great suffering.


    2) There are so many existing children who could benefit from the resources I would be willing to spend on a not yet existing child I would create. If not adopted children then I could even use all the money that would have gone into diapers, college education, clothes etc. and donate it to a children's charity.

    3) This is not the kind of society I would want to bring my children into. They will spend most of their lives working at a job they find tedious and boring and most people underestimate how much of a bad thing this is. Half the products they consume will be linked to sweat shops, tortured monkeys or some kind of amoral, capitalist activity. People are mean at worst and insensitive at best, sooner or later they will be mistreated or victimized.


    4) Even in my ideal anarcho communist society where everyone was loving and compassionate, they would suffer for some natural reason if not from interactions with unsympathetic, fellow humans. Whether it's chronic insomnia, the flu, an anxiety disorder etc., something will cause them to suffer.


    I would consider reproducing if climatologists unanimously agreed that global warming was a hoax, every orphan on the planet was adopted and poverty was eliminated, capitalism and statism were abolished tomorrow and every human on the planet became a dedicated empath and if science somehow came up with a means to eliminate all unnecessary suffering, maybe some kind of shot soon after birth or a magic pill or something.

  2. #2
    Registered User billl's Avatar
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    This is a very interesting post, one which I have great sympathy for on many counts, and I in fact think you are taking a position that could fairly be called "heroic." I am not as pessimistic, I think, and I don't mean to impugn anyone with kids, because we still do need them--but efforts in this direction will definitely improve our chances for a healthy and happy future, I think, and should be appreciated.

    However the last paragraph doesn't sound so good to me, the last half of it in particular:


    Quote Originally Posted by African_Love View Post
    I would consider reproducing if climatologists unanimously agreed that global warming was a hoax, every orphan on the planet was adopted and poverty was eliminated, capitalism and statism were abolished tomorrow and every human on the planet became a dedicated empath and if science somehow came up with a means to eliminate all unnecessary suffering, maybe some kind of shot soon after birth or a magic pill or something.
    I think people should try to accomplish these goals without inflicting a mood- or thought-altering drug or whatever on a child, especially as standard practice. In fact, pressuring (or, Zeus forbid, forcing) adults to take on such medication or other brain-affecting technology would be a great failure on the part of humankind, in my opinion.

    I am able to accept that, sometimes, trauma or disease might make it advantageous for some portion of the population to receive some form of mental medication, treatment, therapy, etc. However, I think it isn't the ideal condition for anyone. And, once things reach the point where it became a matter of course that more than 5% of the population were strongly advised (or convinced by ad campaigns) to take such medicine, I think there'd be a problem somewhere that we would be compelled to try and fix without resort to medicine. And a future where 50% or 100% of us were taking such medicines, etc. would simply be one in which humanity had been reduced to a subservient position to the structures and stresses that had evolved to create such a situation.

    A magic pill, if effective, would probably have to be pretty Orwellian in some way, perhaps promoting uniformity of behaviors, submissiveness to authority, or just some general kind of enhanced susceptibility to trance/hypnotic states. Even if it just blocked off selfinsh/violent impulses, the side-effect would likely be increased vulnerability to peer pressure and might-makes-right tactics, and the diminution of the individual.

    I'm not sure how we would want to achieve everyone on the planet being a "dedicated empath." But I think, again, this sort of thing would probably have side-effects that many people wouldn't like--both in the enforcement of its universality, as well as in the resulting "culture." But I'm not familiar with the phrase, really, so I could be wrong. Is it connected to some movement, religion, or some spiritual writer or something?

    I know you are just throwing "maybes" out there, maybe out of frustration with the situation, so I don't mean to "combat" you about any of this . But it's an interesting problem, and an interesting post, and it's in the Philosophical Lit Forum, so I just wanted to contribute my reaction.

  3. #3
    Orwellian The Atheist's Avatar
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    African - an interesting and understandable post.

    Trouble is, the only outcome of the action is the end of the species. You're saying that we've out-evolved ourselves by evolving the ability to have empathy and understand suffering, and that that outweighs the good available during one's life.

    For the child in my avatar, I'd agree with you 100% - his life would be immeasurably improved by having not started.

    It's one of the many reasons why people started religions - if you can kid yourself there's a being which will kiss it all better, you can just avoid those questions entirely.

    People quite often present the case to me asking how atheists decide these type of questions, and the simple answer is, for the vast majority of people, especially in the 21st century, it is better to have lived than not lived.

    Quote Originally Posted by African_Love View Post
    I've come to the conclusion that while many lives are worth living, no life is worth creating if that life will involve more stress than the very basic amount necessary for a functioning nervous system.
    There are a couple of points here:

    We need to decide what constitutes "suffering". This must include, who judges the severity of it, and whether it serves a purpose.

    How are you going to quantify the minimum amount for functional neurosystem? It could be that we don't suffer enough in the 21st century.

    Quote Originally Posted by African_Love View Post
    I won't go into detail but I believe happiness and suffering are asymmetrical in value for at least two reasons. Suffering is qualitatively worse than happiness is good, it is better not to suffer than it is good to experience happiness.
    Why is suffering worse than happiness?

    We forget suffering quickly, yet enjoy happiness in memory ever after. This is why women have multiple children. We are designed to overcome suffering and embrace happiness. That's evolution at work, and it works.

    It seems to me you're taking an overly-depressive view of suffering.

    Quote Originally Posted by African_Love View Post
    Also, the absence of suffering is good whereas the absence of pleasure/happiness is only bad if an organism has a desire to experience pleasure/happiness.
    We are designed to experience it, which is why we spend so much money on leisure.

    Quote Originally Posted by African_Love View Post
    Since an aversion to suffering is a negative desire, causing someone to suffer is bad even if they don't have a conscious desire to avoid suffering (and sperm/egg cells are fortunate not to suffer even if they don't consciously realize how fortunate this makes them). I still say that many lives are worth living because the pleasure and happiness we experience in life helps to mitigate our suffering but again, the opportunity for pleasure and happiness is only worth fullfiling if one has a desire for pleasure/happiness, it's beneficial to avoid suffering even if one does not have a desire to avoid suffering.
    What you're doing here is taking an unfair and arbitrary view. There is no need to presume that a child will epxerience more suffering than joy.

    Given that you're using a computer and internet connection, I doubt you share a village with kids like those in my avatar, so there's a hgih likelihood you are from a socio-economic group which will ensure a relatively suffering-free life for your offspring.

    Quote Originally Posted by African_Love View Post
    There are at least 4 reasons why I will not procreate

    1) Ecological. There's no point in reducing one's carbon footprint if you're just going to create more carbon 'feet' altogether. Climate change will be the result of many famines, floods, tsunami's, poor crops etc. and these things will cause great suffering.
    Humans cause an incredibly tiny part of the emissions which are harmful to our planet.

    Our machines cause plenty, and with education, we might learn to use them wisely.

    I have no doubt that climate change is already causing horrific suffering. Whatever the cause, it's factual that the climate has changed in West Africa and parts of it are now subject to drought conditions which were previously unknown.

    Not having kids in the west won't change that.

    Quote Originally Posted by African_Love View Post
    2) There are so many existing children who could benefit from the resources I would be willing to spend on a not yet existing child I would create. If not adopted children then I could even use all the money that would have gone into diapers, college education, clothes etc. and donate it to a children's charity.
    Those are certainly valid reasons, and pretty admirable!

    Quote Originally Posted by African_Love View Post
    3) This is not the kind of society I would want to bring my children into. They will spend most of their lives working at a job they find tedious and boring and most people underestimate how much of a bad thing this is. Half the products they consume will be linked to sweat shops, tortured monkeys or some kind of amoral, capitalist activity. People are mean at worst and insensitive at best, sooner or later they will be mistreated or victimized.
    As a cynical old bloke, I'm inclined to agree with you, and if I thought my kids would be subject to becoming just more mindless robots in the rat-race of society, I wouldn't have had any.

    Fortunately, I'm confident that my kids' unorthodox upbringing will ensure that they devote their lives to the pursuit of happiness above all. They may well be victimised, but they're smart enough to deal with and emotionally armed to cope with it.

    Quote Originally Posted by African_Love View Post
    4) Even in my ideal anarcho communist society where everyone was loving and compassionate, they would suffer for some natural reason if not from interactions with unsympathetic, fellow humans. Whether it's chronic insomnia, the flu, an anxiety disorder etc., something will cause them to suffer.
    I'm interested that you use chronic insomnia and anxiety disorders as part of suffering kids are likely to encounter when the facts show that those things only affect a minority of people. The 'flu is here and gone in a week, and while it's unpleasant, it's not what I'd class as suffering.

    I suspect you are skewing your view of the world.

    Quote Originally Posted by African_Love View Post
    I would consider reproducing if climatologists unanimously agreed that global warming was a hoax, every orphan on the planet was adopted and poverty was eliminated, capitalism and statism were abolished tomorrow and every human on the planet became a dedicated empath and if science somehow came up with a means to eliminate all unnecessary suffering, maybe some kind of shot soon after birth or a magic pill or something.
    Have you ever read Huxley's Brave New World? He shows just what that kind of society would be shaped like, and along with all other models, it's deeply flawed.

    I'm not going to recommend you either stay childless or have children, because neither is a decision to be taken lightly. Just make sure you make the decision for the right reasons.

  4. #4
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    Trouble is, the only outcome of the action is the end of the species.
    Why do you think the end of the human species would be a bad thing? Only individuals who are alive want to be alive. Once you are dead, you will neither know nor care that you are dead so being dead is not problematic. Life is always, to some extent, problematic.

    You're saying that we've out-evolved ourselves by evolving the ability to have empathy and understand suffering, and that that outweighs the good available during one's life.
    No, I'm saying that every child born will suffer. Yes, they will also experience pleasure and this is a good thing but the absence of pleasure is not bad. The absence of suffering is good. Since sperm/egg cells don't have a desire to experience pleasure, it's not unfortunate that they experience no pleasure but they are fortunate to not suffer even if they don't have a conscious desire to avoid suffering.



    People quite often present the case to me asking how atheists decide these type of questions, and the simple answer is, for the vast majority of people, especially in the 21st century, it is better to have lived than not lived.
    Like I said, many lives are worth living but no life is worth creating. Sperm/egg cells do not consciously want to become sentient, human beings so we aren't doing them a favor by procreating. They don't have to have a conscious desire to not suffer to benefit from not suffering. A little girl born in the West is fortunate to not be circumcised even if she doesn't know how painful it would be or that there are cultures where it is normal for girls to be circumcised, she still benefits from not being mutiliated.



    We need to decide what constitutes "suffering".
    Distress : any form of anger, sadness or anxiety.


    This must include, who judges the severity of it, and whether it serves a purpose.
    It doesn't matter how little suffering a life involves if you understand why procreation itself always causes more harm than benefit. To cause someone to suffer is bad, to not cause them pleasure/happiness (if they have no desire for it) is not bad.

    How are you going to quantify the minimum amount for functional neurosystem? It could be that we don't suffer enough in the 21st century.
    Considering suicide and mental illness rates, people suffer enough.



    Why is suffering worse than happiness?
    I'm a magic genie and I give you this option : tails, the worst, most intense suffering your imagination can possibly conceive. Heads, the greatest euphoria and pleasure your imagination can conceive. Is it worth the risk?

    We forget suffering quickly, yet enjoy happiness in memory ever after. This is why women have multiple children. We are designed to overcome suffering and embrace happiness. That's evolution at work, and it works.

    I would point out that we have to (forget suffering quickly), in order to adapt to it, but this isn't necessarily true. Studies suggest that people recall bad experience more readily than good ones.

    It seems to me you're taking an overly-depressive view of suffering.
    My view is not emotional or personal, it is frank. I would have agreed with you not so long ago. Research also suggests that people with low self-esteem and who suffer from depression tend to have more accurate views of themselves and their situation.



    We are designed to experience it, which is why we spend so much money on leisure.
    And it benefits us to satisfy our desire for pleasure, sperm/egg cells have no such desire.



    What you're doing here is taking an unfair and arbitrary view. There is no need to presume that a child will epxerience more suffering than joy.
    They don't have to and I haven't claimed that they will. I'm only acknowledging that they will suffer, significantly at that.

    Given that you're using a computer and internet connection, I doubt you share a village with kids like those in my avatar, so there's a hgih likelihood you are from a socio-economic group which will ensure a relatively suffering-free life for your offspring.
    You're rationalizing what circumstances "justify" suffering. Young girls with poor body image suffer terribly when they're bombarded with perfect, good looking supermodels who are thin and have flawless skin, even if they have the basic necessities of life. You underestimate how the 'small' things in life damage people. The nerd in high school who was picked on and humiliated every day of his life suffered greatly before he ended up hanging himself. But none of that should have mattered because he had a computer. Everyone suffers when they have chronic insomnia, when they find out their partner cheated on them, when they have to lock the door a million times to ease their ocd, when they worry about finding a job, when they face the prospect of getting older and eventually dying etc.

    Your positive, optimistic view is healthy but not always accurate. It's a coping mechanism.



    Humans cause an incredibly tiny part of the emissions which are harmful to our planet.
    This is just not true. I have a million and one links about anthropocentric global warming that I'm too lazy to get out. Human actvity since the industrial revolution is primarily responsible for the global warming of today.

    Our machines cause plenty, and with education, we might learn to use them wisely.



    Not having kids in the west won't change that.
    It won't change what's occured but it will prevent even more global warming. Westerners consume more of the resources than any other region in the world. The devastating truth is that the eradication of world poverty (and an increase in the planet wide usage of fossil fuels as a result) would further devastate the ecosystem beyond imagination.







    I'm interested that you use chronic insomnia and anxiety disorders as part of suffering kids are likely to encounter when the facts show that those things only affect a minority of people. The 'flu is here and gone in a week, and while it's unpleasant, it's not what I'd class as suffering.

    I suspect you are skewing your view of the world.
    I think most people underestimate how much suffering their lives actually entail. E-coli is unpleasant, the fact that it may go away in a week or two is irrelevant, we live in the present.



    Have you ever read Huxley's Brave New World? He shows just what that kind of society would be shaped like, and along with all other models, it's deeply flawed.
    I have a link to it online, I haven't read it though.

    I'm not going to recommend you either stay childless or have children, because neither is a decision to be taken lightly. Just make sure you make the decision for the right reasons.
    I absolutely will not have biological children. If I'm lucky, maybe one day I could adopt but my stance on this is pretty firm.

    Bill,

    I'll respond briefly. Imo, morality is only a question of harm and benefit. Something is morally wrong if it causes someone else to suffer or deprives them of benefit and morally good if it alleviates/prevents someone else from suffering or causes them to experience pleasure/happiness. I see nothing wrong with using technology to ease suffering and increase happiness and if it does just that (for everyone and not just some people), I can't think of any undesirable side effects.
    Last edited by African_Love; 11-07-2009 at 05:52 PM.

  5. #5
    Registered User billl's Avatar
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    African_Love, I apologize for this enormous post. I am afraid you might feel outnumbered or the victim of overblown rebuttal, especially since your previous reply to me was rather more economical. Again, it is the interesting nature of the discussion that compels me to expound in such an indulgent manner. I apologize and want to emphasize that my focus is not at all directed at you personally (despite some of the passion I might show in the writing), nor do I want it to be construed as me taking offense to you presenting your ideas. Finally, I know you are busy dealing with TheAtheist as well--perhaps another poster will join in and come to aid you in your defense!

    Quote Originally Posted by African_Love View Post
    Bill,

    I'll respond briefly. Imo, morality is only a question of harm and benefit. Something is morally wrong if it causes someone else to suffer or deprives them of benefit and morally good if it alleviates/prevents someone else from suffering or causes them to experience pleasure/happiness. I see nothing wrong with using technology to ease suffering and increase happiness and if it does just that (for everyone and not just some people), I can't think of any undesirable side effects.
    side effects
    I just want to point out (as a rather extreme example, I apologize) that a person with a whip could teach someone that listening to them was more pleasant than NOT listening to them, given enough time and sadistic perseverance. Also, technology is very close to reaching the point (if it hasn't, in fact, already) where a person's "pleasure centers" or whatever could be directly stimulated; and drugs, etc. could (in theory) be devised which "allowed" people to feel "happy" in almost any circumstance.

    The undesirable side-effects, I believe, would be a loss of human dignity, or even our traditional idea of human progress. If we can't help but build a world that is so confusing, stressful, and alienating that the only way most people can continue to manage is by forcing them (by law, or out of desperation) to take medicines and/or submit to technological alterations--then idea of human rights will have been dealt a terrible blow.

    Really, the thing that I was most moved to respond to in your original post was the idea that tech would be a completely positive "solution," side-by-side with hints at mandatory usage, and a possible indifference toward variation amongst individuals (who, I believe, might be allowed to have varying dedication to empathy--or at least be at varying stages of its development--depending on their focus on other aspects of personal development).

    advancing human rights
    There is plenty of abuse and manipulation going on in the world today, but I believe the last century saw unprecedented portions and percentages of the population gain the right to vote; freedom from tyranny; and freedom to speak, write, or read what they want. And I'd say technology (in particular, communication technology) played a big role in it. The idea that our thoughts themselves would suffer under an unprecedented technological assault or despotism in this century or any future one is nothing that we should embrace, in my opinion.

    lowering the bar
    These solutions involving drug or tech "alterations" of human thought remind me of how students would be much happier if scoring 30% or higher earned them an "A"; or how we would all be happier if our best friend were no more important to us than a complete stranger, in a world where shared private experience and hard-earned trust counted for nothing.

    the imperatives of technology
    Of course, technologies are better at some things, and worse at others, and as we adopt them, our lives are often warped, perhaps profoundly ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshal...axy_.281962.29 ). It might be understandable that our ideas about "being human" or "advanced culture" might change as new technologies become available. The danger (as I see it) is that technological "gurus", or profit-oriented tech-corporations could follow the tech down certain convenient-for-them paths (e.g. increased networking, increased sharing of measurable data, filtering content based on choices made in other loosely similar contexts, encouraging addictive forms of usage, controlling the frequency of exposure to certain types of information, etc.) at the expense of other areas of human experience (e.g. spontaneity, harmless inconsistency, the surprises found along quiet and inefficient endeavors, the pleasure of individual effort and privacy).

    using technology without being used by/via technology
    Of course technology is often very beneficial, and that includes lots of technology that we might use as medicine in certain situations (in an atmosphere on informed consent, or in emergency medical care). Instead of happiness and empathy drugs, however, I think we should be focussing on tech that makes the world itself a happier and healthier place. I realize that this is easier said than done, and I think that's why the drugs and other congnitive-tech "solutions" can seem so appealing.

    I am not anti-technology, but I think it is becoming an increasingly real issue whether these new technologies that are growing up around us are our tools that we are constantly improving and adapting in order to enhance our lives, or if, on the other hand, we are increasingly adapting ourselves to enhance the technology and/or its creators.

    Instead of happiness and empathy drugs, I think we should be focussing on tech that makes the world a happier and healthier place. And, of course, we should leave a door open for cautious and informed exploration of cognitive-enhancing drugs/tech by those individuals who choose to do so--while maintaining protections and respect for those who don't.

  6. #6
    Internal nebulae TheFifthElement's Avatar
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    There are a number of quotes I could reference here but these two probably sum it up:

    Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy - Joseph Campbell

    joy and sorrow are inseparable...together they come and when one sits alone with you...remember that the other is asleep upon your bed... - Khalil Ghibran

    Joy and sorrow are two sides of the same coin, without one we cannot experience the other and what's left is apathy.

    Never underestimate the capacity of children to both experience and deliver joy.
    Want to know what I think about books? Check out https://biisbooks.wordpress.com/

  7. #7
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheFifthElement View Post
    There are a number of quotes I could reference here but these two probably sum it up:

    Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy - Joseph Campbell

    joy and sorrow are inseparable...together they come and when one sits alone with you...remember that the other is asleep upon your bed... - Khalil Ghibran

    Joy and sorrow are two sides of the same coin, without one we cannot experience the other and what's left is apathy.

    Never underestimate the capacity of children to both experience and deliver joy.
    How very wise Fifth. Kudos.
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

    "Love follows knowledge." St. Catherine of Siena

    My literature blog: http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/

  8. #8
    Registered User billl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheFifthElement View Post
    Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy - Joseph Campbell

    joy and sorrow are inseparable...together they come and when one sits alone with you...remember that the other is asleep upon your bed... - Khalil Ghibran

    Joy and sorrow are two sides of the same coin, without one we cannot experience the other and what's left is apathy.

    Never underestimate the capacity of children to both experience and deliver joy.
    I really enjoy Joseph Campbell's work, and have learned some important things from reading some of his stuff, and from the incredible interviews he did with Bill Moyer's.

    Of course, the world is a complex place, and in a certain sense, these quotes are pretty good food for thought. However, I don't agree with them completely. If we really take these quotes to heart, our society can actually become more apathetic than it should, towards unnecessary suffering, or in seeking improvements to our condition/situation. I think it is pretty obvious that a person's life can have either more suffering or more joy in it, and our rebellion and struggle against suffering has often led to improvements that outweigh the unintended negatives. It doesn't seem like a zero-sum game to me, but I think that quotes like these can sometime invite such an interpretation.

    An enlightened appreciation of the suffering/joy duality is useful for coping and keeping a realistic outlook, but I think it is reasonable for us to seek paths that reduce suffering. And, without due subtlety of interpretation, the idea that we can experience joy in suffering comes very close to Orwellian propaganda.
    Last edited by billl; 11-09-2009 at 07:40 PM.

  9. #9
    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    I tend to agree with Garret Hardin's solution to the problems faced with the harm caused by bringing more children into the world, which is to make an attempt to limit the number of children to 1 or 2 per couple to stabilize population growth (assuming medical technology stops extending lives!). This seems like an attainable goal if we can make contraceptives, and education about the use of contraceptives, more available. Apart from a few exceptions it seems that most parents in developed economies prefer not to have more than a couple children because of the cost of having one relative to the low cost of preventing conception.

    The emancipation and equality of women will also go a long way towards lowering birth rates in developing nations.

    So, it all goes back to the cliche answer of more education and money.

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