I haven’t abandoned my antinatalism quintet. No, it’s just the matter of priorities, weighted by the obligations of a day job and an incurably lazy temperament. The subject keeps coming up, though. In odd places. I notice there’s now a Wiki stub, which more or less appropriately traces the core idea to Schopenhauerian pessimism. And I’ve engaged in the discussion now and then, as disparate currents have come to my
attention. The semantical wrangling will surely inform my argument, such as it is, and such as it develops. But the comments appending these various and typically hostile online demurrals only harden my suspicion that the case against procreation represents a special, species-deep class of heresy.
No real surprise then, that the first forum to corner the discourse should describe antinatalism as "the greatest taboo." With some literary license, the host posits a carefully structured triarchy, which I am at present prepared neither to embrace nor deny. It goes like this:
. . .there have been three schools of thought which, throughout history,
have been held out-of-bounds to honest inquiry and criticism. The first
is religion; at least, when it comes to questioning the efficacy of the
idea itself, since certainly the supporters of the various creeds have
spent no little energy in lambasting all metaphysical belief systems
other than their own. The second is the concept of free-will, a belief
that even many a dyed-in-the-wool atheist and/or scientific naturalist
seems disinclined to let go of, mostly based on a rather ill-contrived
‘intuition’; which, in my opinion, flies in the face of the modern
scientific schema i.e. cause-and-effect, or "somebody get that ghost
out of our deterministic paradigm!"
The third, and probably
hardest, notion to stomach is the conviction that something is
fundamentally wrong with life itself, and that we should therefore stop
breeding, and let the race die out under one of two scenarios. . . This idea is so radical, and supposedly counter-intuitive,
that the discussion is considered by most to be beyond the pale of
Thus elucidated, the forbidden questions cast antinatalism is as the ultimate
breach of intuitive safety, with the great myths of all time reducing cleanly to Religious Truth, Free
Will, and Existential Affirmation. This affects a singularly pessimistic gestalt — one which begs deep consideration and tempts those dormant depressive-realist chords. But I am not depressed. Not just now. I want to live and laugh yet am damned to suffer and die.
So the gestalt bleeds into a brute picture of Camusian absurdity, where there is but dim solace for the living. You can play at Nietzschean affirmation, but the dismal calculus doesn’t yield. You can drift into an endless logomachy, and hang yourself with philosophical terms of art, and difference. But the choice — or consequence — defies abstraction .
I’m not smart enough to plum the depths, but I know a few things. And the default position, however forbidden, requires no such mastery. All that’s needed is a shot of humility, and the sincere recognition of the true weight of risk, that is so inevitably, and so lightly, presumed and dismissed. Because suffering is real, and the stakes are always, crucially unknowable.
Obliquely challenged, I tried, in one of those meaningless threads, to steer nearer to the moral thing:
The question of whether antinatalism is or isn’t rational in
comparison with, um, everything else, will depend on your premises and
preferences. The point I continually come back to is insipidly simple.
Where the interests of those who do not yet exist are at issue,
speculation about deprivation is always misplaced while speculation
about risk is always germane.
There is simply no way of knowing with any degree of certainty how
good or bad a life will be until that life is set into motion. I would
argue that most lives are worse than people imagine them to be, but one
needn’t adopt the pessimistic view to recognize, in purely factual
terms, that people — and other sentient critters — suffer horrible
misfortunes every day. People succumb to debilitating afflictions.
People are raped and assaulted. People starve. People are burned and
tortured and shot and holocausted and conscripted into warfare. People
mourn, and suffer from heartbreak and loneliness and failure. Yes,
there is love and laughter and pizza, and the occasional blow job if
you’re lucky. But there is no rational reason to believe that the
never-existent miss out these things, at least not in the sense that
implies experiential deprivation. Where there is no sentient (or
potentially sentient) being, the absence of pleasure seems morally
meaningless. Should a person be brought into existence, that person may
or may not feel blessed by their lot, but as real as their potential
for fulfillment may be, they are yet likely to suffer, and there is the
very real chance that their suffering will be immeasurable.
I believe that chance is the salient point, and the prescription
that follows is clear cut: play it safe. Don’t create new people and no
one gets hurt. The alternative is to roll the dice, without the consent
of he or she who is yet to be, and to hope for the best.
As the hipster chicks in my office are fond of saying, “that’s not ok.”
In concluding that the pessimistic lens is neither necessary nor sufficient to sustain the antinatalist default against wanton breeding urges, I do not seek to expunge or deny the grim evidence. Benatar’s view from the veil probably stands. Things are far worse than they seem. I know this as well as the new kid. But make no mistake, I aim to win this debate. Because the people-makers are acting in bad faith; with every new life they create, with every unconsenting heartbeat they countenance, they flout their own cherished rules.
It’s not about words, nor the question of the good. Plainly and always, it comes to the problem of harm, a problem amplified by the obdurate fact of our eternal uncertainty. It’s the Golden fucking rule, if you prefer, pursued to its deepest logic. Or the physician’s oath. Pitted against the rank arrogance evinced in these tired and smugly reflexive post hoc procreative justifications, the impetus rests simply in minimizing the potential pain that life entails. And in avoiding the murder that is death. Once the stakes are confronted, the last ditch appeal to memes and genes is revealed as the basest refuge. Factual reasons are not moral reasons, and those who pretend otherwise should and do know better.
No one should ever have children.