037. Antinatalism

A discussion on the end to our means.


Questions to ponder

  1. Who are you and why were you born?
  2. Zapffe (1933) begins his essay The Last Messiah, “One night in long bygone times, man awoke and saw himself.” Who did he see? And does he (and/or she) look different now than in bygone times?
  3. Zapffe suggests that there are four major ways one “gets through the day”:
    1. isolation, “a fully arbitrary dismissal from consciousness of all disturbing and destructing thought and feeling (“One should not think, it is just confusing.”);
    2. anchoring, “any culture is a great, rounded system of anchorings, build on foundational firmaments, the basic cultural ideas”;
    3. distraction, “[o]ne limits attention to the critical bounds by constantly enthralling it with impression”; and
    4. sublimation, “[t]hrough stylistic or artistic gifts can the very pain of living at times be converted into valuable experiences”.
      Ought we engage in more or less of these “survival tactics”?
  4. Is human consciousness the equivalent of the Irish Elk’s antlers, “in all its fantastic splendor pinning its bearer to the ground”?
  5. Given the choice, do you think most “possible” people would opt into existence?
  6. Should we want to have more children born or fewer? 
  7. Benatar (1997) posits an inherent asymmetry to the presence of pain in existence (on the whole, not a great thing) and the absence of suffering in non-existence (on the whole, generally a good thing). Is there necessarily harm coming into exist?
  8. Benatar asks, “Who would there be to suffer the end of homo sapiens?”
  9. Will there come a time when human beings capable of and desiring to create “the end of the world” will do so? If so, when do you think that will be? If not, why not?
  10. Emil Cioran begins The Trouble with Being Born, “Three in the morning. I realize this second, then this one, then the next: I draw up the balance sheet for each minute. And why all this? Because I was born. It is a special type of sleeplessness that produces the indictment of birth.” Why might bouts of insomnia cause us to question our birth? Why might we question our existence (or the existence of others) when depressed and not when triumphant?
  11. Cioran goes on, “I know that my birth is fortuitous, a laughable accident, and as soon as I forget myself, I behave as if it were a capital event, indispensable to the progress and equilibrium of the world.” What significance do you place on your own birth? The birth of a family member? A neighbor? Some antipodal stranger?
  12. Rulli (2016) concludes, “The best reason to procreate is in order to experience the parent-child relationship. But adoption offers a viable and worthwhile alternative to procreation for those who want to parent. Adopting an already existing child does not make one complicit in the potential harms of procreation, nor does it add a new person to an overpopulated world.” Must one be pro-adoption (at least in spirit) to be anti-natalist and humanist?
  13. When shall we end?

Essays to consider

  1. The Last Messiah
  2. Why It Is Better Never to Come into Existence
  3. Every Conceivable Harm: A Further Defence of Anti-Natalism
  4. The Ethics of Procreation and Adoption

Something to consider

In a recent report, the World Health Organization notes, among other things, that “nearly 30 million babies are born too soon, too small or become sick every year and need specialized care to survive”, that “in 2017, 2.5 million newborns died, mostly from preventable causes”, that unless “rapid progress” is made, some countries will not meet the basic healthcare needs of their newborns “for another 11 decades”. The question before us, why bother? Are we (or at least some unfortunate subset of us) destined to pain, suffering, and death (and perhaps little else) simply from being born? Is this “the cost to be born”?