Natality templates are the attempt to express the moral-logical superiority of a specific ethics in terms of simple schemata.
David Benatar attempts to establish, with antinatalistic intent, an asymmetry whereby it is a good thing, with regard to the suffering which thereby does not enter the world, if a couple begets no offspring. Intuitively, one might expect there to obtain here rather a symmetry, inasmuch as it could also be argued that a couple’s begetting no offspring means that a certain quantum of happiness does not enter the world, and is by this token a bad thing. Benatar, however, insists that the situation is rather to be characterized as asymmetrical, since the non-existence of happiness is, in itself, “not bad”:
Scenario A: Scenario B:
(X exists) (X never exists)
Presence of pain
Absence of pain
Presence of pleasure
Absence of pleasure
In the case where person X is begotten (scenario A), argues Benatar, it is bad if this person suffers and good if this person experiences happiness.
In the case, however, where no person X is begotten (scenario B) the non-existence, indeed, of the suffering which they would surely have had to undergo had they been begotten is indeed a good thing, but the non-existence of the happiness which they would likewise surely have experienced had they been begotten is rightly to be characterized merely as “not bad”.
This natality template of Benatar’s has been the object of much discussion (although it should be noted that Benatar does not discuss an earlier natality template of Vetter’s, which we discuss below), it appears to suffer from a fundamental flaw. Benatar distinguishes between scenarios A and B. In scenario A there exists a specific person, designated as X. Hardly anyone will wish to contest the fact that this “person X”’s suffering is axiologically a bad thing and their happiness a good thing. In scenario B, however, no person exists. Consequently, our judgments, relative to scenario B, regarding the existence or otherwise of suffering and happiness cannot be person-related or X-related but must rather have an impersonal character. Thus we can say, for example: àIt is a good thing that there are no beings capable of feeling pain living on the moon; the absence of suffering in this case is good. But, according to Benatar, the same does not apply to the absence or non-existence of happiness; the non-existence of this latter, he says, is merely “not bad”. One would surely expect, however, that where such an impersonal attitude is adopted a symmetry would obtain (Benatar allowing such a symmetry in the case of the person-related judgments): i.e. one would think that, if the non-person-related absence of suffering is to be characterized as simply “good”, then the non-person-related absence of happiness would have to be characterized as simply “bad”. Benatar contends, however, that this is not so: the non-person-related absence of happiness in scenario B he designates as merely “not bad”. He defends this position as follows: “… if the absence of pleasure in scenario B is ‚bad“ rather than ‚not bad’, then we should have to regret, for X’s sake, that X did not come into existence. But it is not regrettable.” (p. 38f) But here there must be raised against Benatar the objection that it is not for X’s sake that we regret the absence of happiness in question (since there exists no X “for whose sake” this might be regretted) any more than we might approve the absence of suffering for X’s sake (since in this context too there exists no X “for whose sake” anything can be done); rather, we simply say, without making reference hereby to any person, àIt is bad.
Clearly, Benatar fails to sufficiently weigh the necessary logical consequences of the fact that in Box 3 above he evaluates the absence of suffering as morally good, even though it cannot be said to be good for X that the suffering in question is not undergone (since, in the context posited in Box 3, no person “X” exists). In other words: if the absence of suffering in the scenario posited in Box 3 is to be considered “impersonally” good (since it is clear that in this scenario no “X” exists), why should the absence of happiness in the scenario posited in Box 4 not be considered “impersonally” bad (since it is equally clear that no person “X” exists in this latter scenario either)? It is difficult to make out what leads Benatar to the conclusion that the absence of happiness can only be described as “bad” where a person X is assumed to exist with regard to whom this absence of happiness is so. Difficult, specifically, because in Box 3 he describes an “absence” of just this sort – namely, of suffering – as “good” without any person’s being posited as existing with regard to whom this absence would be so.
It must, indeed, be taken into account that Benatar’s asymmetry argument is only the founding half of his antinatalist position and that, as he himself declares, this foundation would not be complete without the other half that comes to supplement it: namely, his “quality of life” argument, whereby every beginning of life, without exception, does harm to the person whose life thereby begins and every life, without exception, is so bad that it would be better for it never to have begun (see Benatar, Every conceivable harm, p. 146).
More convincingly than does Benatar’s natality template the natality template formulated by H. Vetter (of which Benatar makes no mention) demonstrates that non-procreation is morally superior to the begetting of progeny.
child will be more or less happy
child will be more or less unhappy
produce the child
no duty fulfilled or violated
do not produce the child
no duty fulfilled or violated
The background to this template is the recognition that there may exist no moral imperative to beget another human being even in the case where it is certain that a more or less happy life – and, as we need also to add, a peaceful death – will fall to his or her lot. Whereas, by contrast, there certainly does exist a moral imperative forbidding the begetting of other human beings in the case where it is certain that more or less bad lives will be their fate.
If a child is begotten, it can turn out either to be more or less happy (Column 1) or more or less unhappy (Column 2). And it emerges from this second template that it is the case of begetting alone that can imply the contravening of a moral obligation.
The fact that parents can never know with any certainty what kind of life will fall to the lot of the child that they beget does not mean that the generation of new human beings becomes something morally unproblematical. On the contrary: so long as parents cannot, with certainty, exclude the possibility that their child will be more or less unhappy or will at some point have to undergo some suffering, the in-principle morally unobjectionable scenario: “child not begotten” must take precedence. Which is why Vetter demands “that in any individual encounter, and by any institutional activity in education, mass media, economic and legal policy, people should be discouraged from having children. If such tendencies are successful enough, the number of men on earth may begin to decrease, and if such development continues long enough, the human race will disappear.“ (Vetter 1972)
In his essay “Antinatalism, Asymmetry, and an Ethic of Prima Facie Duties” Gerald Harrison attempts – just like Vetter, but once again without any mention of him – to give a more detailed justification of his antinatalism, which he at the same time understands as a supplement to the position expounded by àBenatar. Harrison proceeds upon the thesis that moral obligations can only exist in cases where there also exist potential victims. Thus, we would be under a moral obligation not to bring about that suffering which necessarily goes hand in hand with every new life but we would be under no moral obligation to actively bring about the joys and pleasures which may also go hand in hand with such a life. This would be true inasmuch as, were we to contravene (by begetting new human beings) the obligation not to bring about suffering, there would be victims of this contravention. But even were we to suppose the existence of a “moral obligation” to actively bring about happiness by means of begetting human beings, there would be no victims in the case of the contravention of such a “moral obligation”: no one can rightly be said to “suffer” from having never been brought into existence, consequently there can be no question here of a “moral obligation”.
Harrison extends this argument by adding to it his own interpretation of the supposed “prima facie obligation” not to impinge upon another person without first getting his or her consent to do so. By begetting someone, Harrison argues, one very definitely “impinges” upon them to a very considerable degree. But with this element of his defence of his own antinatalism – an element which we reject – Harrison clearly contravenes the àPrinciple of Presupposed Existence.
Further natality templates can also be constructed. The following template, for example, emerges where we proceed upon the ethical imperative that nobody should act in such a way that someone will die as a consequence of his action, assuming that no such death would have ensued had the action been omitted:
One more human being must die
Child not begotten
The following natality template (inspired by T. Govier) proceeds on the one hand from the assumption of a couple who are resolved to beget a child and on the other hand from the assumption of a couple who are resolved not to do so. The template makes clear that, whereas unexpectedly poor future prospects for a child that a couple may have resolved to beget should lead to the rethinking of any progenerative decision that may already have been taken, unexpectedly good prospects for such a child need not necessarily lead to the rethinking of an antigenerative one.
Best external knowledge: Child will be extremely happy/healthy
Best external knowledge: Child will be unhappy/unhealthy
Couple willing to beget children because the child will have a good life
No obligation to go back on decision
Obligation to go back on decision
Couple unwilling to beget children because the child will have a bad life
No obligation to go back on decision
No obligation to go back on decision
Whoever had been resolved not to beget a child (for example, because such a child would be poor or might be supposed to be the bearer of a hereditary illness) is not morally obliged to go back on this resolution should new information suggest that it is very probable that his progeny will enjoy, in fact, an extremely good life (because, say, he, as his parent, inherits a fortune or the hereditary disease turns out to be a false diagnosis). On the other hand, those resolved to have children may well indeed, on receipt of bad news about the likely quality of life of this latter, be morally obliged to revise their decision. Here too there is revealed the moral superiority of an antigenerative decision once taken, since this latter does not stand in need of correction even where circumstances change.
One of the most regularly recurringly encountered forms of pronatalistic thought is the explicit or implicit recourse to the notion of some pre-existing soul-like entity, be it individual or non-individual. Since the implicit or explicit claim that there really is such a pre-existing soul or soul-substance represents something of a “foreign body” with the scientific forma mentis of our modern world, we must see in the occurrence of such a notion a modern “natal myth”. Progenerative decisions may well owe a part of their impetus to the effects still exerted, underneath the surface of our modern culture, by such natal myths.
We may recognize, for example, the presence of such a modern natal myth in Esther Vilar’s formulation that “we slaughter animals and eat them but it is thanks precisely to this pitiless behaviour of ours that these animals see the light of day at all.” (>Livestock, Human and Animal). The “existentially grateful” Günther Anders too recurs involuntarily to this myth when he remarks that he is happy to have been allowed to come into this world, a piece of good fortune that has been refused to most (>Gratitude for Existence >Anders).
As in many other places we are witnesses here to the difficulty – which proves, for many, impossible to overcome – of conceding the possibility of the creatio ex nihilo of a consciousness in as radical a way as cosmologists attempt to conceive of the “Big Bang”. It reveals itself to be extremely hard to assure oneself of the fact that animal consciousness (Vilar), or one’s own self (Anders) did not, until relatively recently, exist at all (but the world had nonetheless taken its course without us) and that “we” had neither been helped nor harmed when we began to exist (inasmuch as a “helping” or a “harming” demands a comparison with an earlier existential situation: a situation in which we never found ourselves, since we simply did not exist).
There do indeed occur constellations in which the natal myth serves antinatalist tendencies: for example, when the beginning of an existence is declared to be a harm. We find an instance of this in the first lines of Wildgans’s poem “Nichtsein”:
„Who can have the heart / To awaken a human being / From the slumber of non-being? / Does he not sleep there in sweet twilight / Wishless, spared all fear and all need?”
The Guf Space
As an explanation of modern natal myths we might adduce a certain placeless region which we can call, drawing on a Talmudic mythologeme, the “guf space”. In an old dictionary of mythology we read: “Guf (Talmud.), the gathering-place for all souls, which God is said to have created all at once. The number of souls, this myth contends, amounts to only 600,000 in total and these souls gradually transmigrate through all the universe’s bodies.”
According to Talmudic tradition God stored all those souls which He had created in a single moment within this guf (Hebrew for body but also sometimes called otzar: treasure-house), or in the “Hall of the Souls” located in the Seventh Heaven (also called arabot) intending that they should be united, one by one, with bodies. Once all these souls, it was said, had been called down onto the earth by the process of human procreation the Son of David would appear as the Messiah.  This mythologeme, in other words, makes procreation a salvationary task, since only he who creates progeny contributes to emptying the guf and thus to drawing nearer the day of the Messiah’s arrival. This means also that each new human being that is born acquires the significance of being a kind of symbol of this progressive emptying of the guf. Each human being is significant, indeed indispensable, inasmuch as through being born they have contributed to the coming of the Messiah. This latter, one might say, is “drawn down by human procreation.
One of the rare references in non-Jewish literature to this natal myth of the guf space is to be found in George Eliot’s novel Daniel Deronda: “In the doctrine of the Cabbala, souls are born again and again in new bodies till they are perfected and purified, and a soul liberated from a worn-out body may join the fellow-soul that needs it, that they may be perfected together, and their earthly work accomplished. Then they will depart from the mortal region, and leave place for new souls to be born out of the store in the eternal bosom. It is the lingering imperfection of the souls already born into the mortal region that hinders the birth of new souls and the preparation of the Messianic time.“ (Eliot, Daniel Deronda)
Moreover, this mythologically-founded commandment to procreate may at least in part explain why no thinker with close associations to the Jewish cultural milieu – and particularly not the thinkers of the Frankfurt School – ever recommended renunciation of all procreation, even though the members of this School’s first generation, at least, barely cherished any hope of human society’s ever attaining a state of peace.
By way of explaining and forming a clearer notion of these natal myths that continue to exert their effects even in the modern age we might detach the “guf space” from the Talmudic context of its emergence and place side by side with it, as a hermeneutic tool, a certain “guf potential”, with the aid of which we might draw the following analogy: just as cosmology proceeds on the assumption that there is no such thing as an absolute vacuum, so does this modern mythologeme proceed on the assumption that there is no such thing as a state of absolute “non-self-ness”. Even where there would seem to be absolutely no “self”, there hovers in fact a sort of “guf potential”, conceivable perhaps in terms related to those of panpsychism, a sort of “almost-self” or “proto-self” which can be called into existence at any time, or which, pronatalistically, can or must be helped into a state of full existence.
 Vollmer’s Wörterbuch der Mythologie aller Völker, p. 225.
If this guf is indeed inhabited by only 600,000 souls then it must never have been in fact possible to enjoy the good fortune of never being born.>Polgar, >Freud.
 Alternatively, Adam is sometimes called the treasure-house (in the sense of the store-room) of all souls. See Hans-Joachim Schoeps, Gesammelte Schriften, Abteilung 1, Band 2, Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim 2007, p. 99 Anm. 2. On Guf/Arabot see also Jones, The soul of the embryo, p. 96f.
 See Wikipedia article on “Guf” unter http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guf, consulted on 10.12.12 along with the bachelor’s thesis of Robert Luschan: Die ethischen Ansichten der Weltreligionen hinsichtlich der Empfängnisverhütung und des Schwangerschaftsabbruches und die Möglichkeit einer kultursensiblen Beratung und Aufklärung in Österreich, submitted on 22.9.2010, p. 28.
 For further details see Galen Strawson et al.: Consciousness and its place in nature. Does physicalism entail panpsychism?
The fact that persons willing to conceive children, and especially pregnant women, tend to be extremely concentrated upon the new-born child and have all their emotions focussed upon this one point in experience, meaning that the entirety of the life stretching out before said new-born child, i.e. the long-term consequences of this birth, tend, by contrast, to be “screened out”.
The consequences of the natal-categorical imperative in terms of an “ethics of responsibility”:
Parents and all those who advocate the perpetuation of our species are obliged to declare the pronatal maxims of their action to be maxims valid for all without exception and thus to justify the following:
Human beings have a basic right to have children, even though these latter are necessarily refused the choice of either agreeing to or refusing their own coming into being. (>Diktat of Birth)
Children may legitimately be surrendered up to all that is inherent in the negathropic condition, including being injured along with injuring and killing and to a destiny which, while being unpredictable in all other respects, will always predictably end in death.
Human beings have the right, in their quality as parents, to perpetuate the àSpecies Experiment and to render possible, over and over again, every imaginable suffering, every misdeed, every social catastrophe – such as war and mass murder and death itself (?)
Given the fact that our existential constitution lies largely beyond our control, it is hardly possible to justify, from the above-specified “ethics of responsibility” viewpoint, these just-noted consequences of procreation. Consequently, it makes no sense either to demand that parents bear liability and that there be incumbent on them a duty of reparation.
 This formulation draws heavily on some remarks of Kohlbecher’s.
Those poets and thinkers, who do not restrict to human beings alone the notion that non-existence is a desideratum but rather extend,panempathically this notion to all beings capable of feeling pain or sorrow, since even the slightest negative sensation is, in the face of an option of non-existence, too much.
Büchner’s (1818–1837) Atomic Pain
For Büchner the existence of even the slightest physical pain documents not just the fact of Creation’s having turned out to be a failure but also puts atheism entirely in the right:
“One can deny evil but one cannot deny pain (…) This is the rock on which atheism is built. The slightest twinge of pain, even if it occur only in a single atom, tears a rent in Creation from top to bottom.” (Werke und Briefe)
That such “atoms”, the simplest and most elementary component parts of the world, might possess psychichal properties, a kind of basic consciousness, is a notion that is still today defended by some “pan-psychicists”. We might speak, then, with Büchner of the experiment of Creation’s having proven a failure from that moment on in which a living creature first felt pain or distress. But if Creation finds itself judged and condemned already with “the slightest twinge of pain”, then clearly condemned as well is every human perpetration of existence.
Zola, Émile (1840–1902)
„No, the only happiness is to be nothing; or, if one is something, to be the tree, to be the stone, even less: the grain of sand that cannot bleed under the kicks of men. “ (Germinal)
Hardy, Thomas (1840–1928)
„A woeful fact – that the human race is too extremely developed for its corporeal conditions, the nerves being evolved to an activity abnormal in such an environment. Even the higher animals are in excess in this respect. It may be questioned if Nature, or what we call Nature, so far back as when she crossed the line from invertebrates to vertebrates, did not exceed her mission. This planet does not supply the material for happiness to higher existences. Other planets may, though one can hardly see how.“ (Quoted in: Deborah L. Collins, Th. Hardy and His God)
 See, for example, Galen Strawson et al.: Consciousness and its place in nature. Does physicalism entail panpsychism?
It is quite wrong to hold that antinatalism is borne by a spirit of misanthropy. The credo of antinatalism is rather a euanthropic one, namely: act in such a way that already-existing human beings live lives as good as it is possible for them to live but aspire also through one’s activity to bring about a situation such that no new human beings begin to live.
“Empathy” is a term which embraces both >Shared Joy and Shared Sorrow. A person’s capacity for empathy corresponds to their capacity to project themselves into the being of another person. A person X who possesses this latter capacity is able to ask himself the question: “how might it feel to be, at this moment, Person Y?” Interestingly, most people, given the choice, would not wish to actually become anyone other than the person they are. That is to say: almost everyone feels the fates suffered by all others to be unacceptable for him- or herself. – This is certainly a case of a strong antinatalism.
Insofar as modernity inclines to the judgment that there is no God it relieves itself of the task of discovering a àTheodicy but thereby also burdens itself with the duty of providing an àAnthropodicy.
The mortality myth consists in a notion, not necessarily bound up with religion, whereby the “I” would not completely cease to exist after death but would persist in being as some sort of minimal consciousness or potential for consciousness. The mortality myth is thus the counterpart to the >Natality Myth. It allows the reduction of >Parental Guilt inasmuch as, for those who have recourse to it, death is not the absolute end of a consciousness.
Everyone who is “called into existence” – and supposedly becomes thereby the recipient of a precious gift – finds themselves condemned by their own parents not only to experience the death of these parents themselves and to have to go through the hard work of mourning therefor, but also to experience the deaths of grandparents, aunts and uncles, older and younger siblings, as well perhaps as the deaths of many members of their family by marriage and also those of friends, colleagues and house-pets. These experiences of the deaths of near and dear ones count among the impositions of existence that it is impossible to get around. We know from the very start about everyone born into the world that, in the words of Julio Cabrera, “he will lose people he loves, just as people who love him will eventually lose him”. Even if one is an only child and has parents who were themselves only children, so that only one’s own two parents and four grandparents along perhaps with a small family by marriage come into account, one must still reckon with twelve experiences of the death of dear ones. So as not to have to experience death close-up friends, acquaintances and even family members tend to be left, everywhere where modern mores have become the norm, to die alone.
Jakob Burckhardt addresses this evil of the experience of the death of near and dear ones as a constant component part of our Conditio in/humana in a remark included in his Greek Cultural History about what Greek life, on balance, amounted to:
“In Solon’s story about Tellos the greatest happiness in life is said to consist in two things: namely, in his having been able to die fighting for his country and in the fact of no one in his family’s having died before him.” “Once a family exists, however, one must reckon with the misery of separation and of death. The nurse in Eurpides’s ‘Hippolytus’ says at one point that it is best that relations between human beings should stay distant and superficial, so that it can never come about that one has to bear the pain of two…” (Burckhardt, Greek Cultural History: On the overall balance of Greek life)
 „que perderá a los que ama y que los que le aman le perderán… (Cabrera, S. 60)
How are we to interpret the following testimony to ancient Chinese wisdom? “Thus, the wise man looks into space and does not regard the small as too little nor the great as too much (…) He has gained clarity regarding the straight and even way, so that he is not happy about his birth nor unhappy about his death. For he knows that neither end nor beginning can be fixed or held.” (Zhuangzi, Das wahre Buch vom südlichen Blütenland, S. 181)
Zhuangzi recommends an attitude of natal-mortal indifference, the ataraxic “middle way” between belief in the advantage of having been born and in the disadvantage of having to die. – It is an attitude which “sits out” one’s own life and permits the begetting of further human beings, since these latter too will be free to cultivate the attitude of natal-mortal indifference.
The first modern antinatalist, a man named Kurnig (see my article on Kurnig), left virtually no biographical traces. Information that goes beyond the little we know can be found in a book by the author Francis Ronsin on Neo-Malthusianism. At the same time this book establishes a close link in the history of antinatalist ideas between Kurnig and Huot:
‘It was a woman, Marie Huot, who first made available antinatalist ideas to a large number of people. In reality, the radicalism of Marie Huot’s thoughts is far away from Malthus’s philosophy and has only a distant connection with neo-Malthusianism.’(Francis Ronsin, La Grève des ventres: Propagande néo-malthusienne et baisse de la natalité en France (XIXe-XXe siècles), Aubier 1980, p. 44, translated from French into English by KA)
The above citation offers an early occurrence of the term ‘antinatalistic’ in the current moral-theoretical sense. In addition to that Ronsin’s book also confirms a close link between compassion for animal suffering and the rise of antinatalist aspirations:
‘It was in September 1892, in the Salle de la Société de géographie, boulevard Saint-Germain, that Marie Huot presented her ideas during a public lecture. The scandal was reported in the press. A scandal which, in reality, was more sought after than feared by Marie Huot. She was a member of the Ligue populaire contre la vivisection, and had already become famous by attacking with her parasol Professor Brown-Séquard, who, at the Collège de France, operated on live rabbits. Marie Huot had the taste and talent for brilliant and spectacular actions, designed to give the ideas she defended the benefit of great publicity…’ (P. 44)
In what follows I present an important piece of information which Ronsin has gathered on Kurnig:
‘Finally, a very limited body of information allows me to mention two other organizations that are also important to be linked to the neo-Malthusian movement. A German named Kurnig spreads very original propaganda throughout Europe, from Heilbronn am Neckar, based on what he calls Neo-Nihilism and the total rejection of procreation. Since 1896, he has distributed a first brochure in French: Nouvelle appréciation de l’instinct sexuel (pessimisme, jurisprudence, psychiatrie), in which he claims to be inspired by Schopenhauer’s work and, in particular, by his chapter: Metaphysics of sexual instinct. Kurnig’s efforts to towards France would continue for several years. Having founded an international educational consulting centre in Heilbronn, he published a new manifesto: Neo-Nihilism-Anti-Militarism-Sexual Life (End of Humanity), which he distributed free of charge in a large number of copies, particularly among French teachers.’ (P. 118)
The next quote does even suggest a direct influence emanating from Kurnig having reached Marie Huot:
‘If we are to believe l’Éclair of 8 June 1908 (that very scandal sheet that unintentionally did so much to popularize neo-Malthusianism), “nearly five hundred French teachers have submitted their support to Mr. Kurnig. Every day he receives new ones, which he proudly publishes in his Bulletin.” These figures are certainly very exaggerated since Kurnig’s undertaking caused little noise, if any protest from the repopulators, according to whom: “this intervention by a German to combat the French birth rate could explain many things”. As for the synthesis he makes between nihilism and the rejection of childbirth, his work has most certainly influenced some French neo-Malthusians (in particular Marie Huot).’ (P. 118)
In Marie Huot (1846-1930) we encounter a fascinating animal rights activist who strongly sympathized with Neo-Malthusianism but left it behind in favour of a more stringent moral theory. Considering what humans do to animals and what humans do to other humans, Huot became an early and explicit antinatalist (and is labelled as such by Francis Ronsin in his book La grève des ventres, published in 1980).
As an antinatalist, she not only transcends the denatalist neo-Malthusianism of her time, but also fills the term ‘nihilism’ with new content in a purposeful way by recognizing a consistent nihilism in antinatalism. Huot is also the inventor of the epochal term ‘Grève des ventres’ (Birth Strike), which she called for at a conference as early as 1892 and which from then on offered itself to all women who did not want to offer further victims to the orgies of human destructiveness.
In the following I offer some translations from Huots pamphlet LE MAL DE VIVRE from 1909, which is available here in French language:
‘We have often been accused of being revolutionaries, because we demand a share in social rights for animals; accused of being anarchists, because we do not admit that intelligence arrogates to itself a tyrannical omnipotence towards our less gifted brothers, and accused of being troublemakers, because we want to change this natural as well as merciless order that relentlessly delivers the weak to the whims of the strong.’
‘First and foremost we are nihilists. Not these shy sectarians, who restrict themselves to religious or political questions and stop halfway through the doctrine, terrified at the idea of nothingness, but rebels saying to life: you will not go any further!’
‘Even if man only accepted this burden personally, he could be forgiven; but, passive to the core, he obeys his enemy – the instinct – like a coward. And thus he perpetuates the cursed heritage by giving life to beings who did not ask to be born.
Unconsciously, he most often commits this homicide out of negligence, and he is usually severely punished by the disastrous consequences of this moment of oblivion.
Wherever he premeditated this crime, it must be said, no punishment is hard enough to make him expiate for it.
Whatever the feeling obeyed by those who procreate, as long as they act knowing the facts, aware of the fact that they create an organism sensitive to pain, a soul for disappointment, a wretched being, both victim and perpetrator, they are criminals; and the child has the right to consider his father and mother as mere murderers.
Yes, murderers! Since to give life implies to cause death.
This perspective should suffice to command abstention.
But then what?… It’s the end of the world!… Obviously, it’s the end of the world in the near term… and, for my part, I don’t see any disadvantages. I do not even dislike to behold, in the mists of eternity, the earth, finally purged of its human microbes, left to the flora and wild fauna, waiting for the blessed day when, stripped of its last teeming with life:]
This old shaved globe, with no beard nor hair.
Will roll through the skies like a big pumpkin,
Moreover, everything in the universe indicates that nature itself is moving towards this solution – that it is wise to hustle things on in the general interest.’
‘…the perversity of this Creator inciting his creatures to procreate for the pleasure of seeing them devour each other.’
Very much in accord with antinatalism would seem to be the proposition: “If this individual had never begun to exist he would have been spared all the suffering which he has now had to undergo.” But where the matter is considered more closely, it can be seen that it in fact makes sense only to say: “If this individual had never begun to exist all the suffering that he has had to undergo would never have been in the world / would never have been undergone at all.” The reason for this: if the individual in question had never existed, there would not have been any ‘someone’ who might have been ‘spared’ anything at all.
And since no one was ever somehow already “in the world” prior to his beginning to exist it is, analogously, never possible really to speak of anyone’s having been “given life”. At best, one might speak of the world itself as something to which a further human being has been “given” each time someone begins to exist.
A “ humanistic a priori” can be said to come into play wherever the moral necessity that there be human beings is presupposed to be inviolable – and procreation, consequently, presupposed to be morally enjoined upon us – quite regardless of whatever conditions the human beings in question will have to live under. We run up against such a “humanistic a priori” wherever the response is made, to any such ethical injunction arising out of the complex of ideas associated with antinatalism as, for example, the argument from negative utilitarianism: “But if one were to obey the injunctions of such a moral theory, humanity would die out altogether!” As if, in the face of so supposedly horrific a prospect, the debate on such issues were once and for all, self-evidently, settled.
Experiments on living human beings count officially as some of the most vile misdeeds imaginable. Implicitly, however, they are endorsed and approved of. This inasmuch as every Perpetration of an Existence is an experiment, in which one causes a human being to enter into existence so as to see whether the cherished hopes and the ideals striven for will perhaps allow themselves to be realized.
We often envisage human history as a slowly rolling stream of unspectacular events which is disturbed now and then, at lengthy intervals, by wars, failed harvests and epidemics. But a very different picture emerges if one considers microscopically thin samples of human history – samples of a duration of no more than a minute – and asks, with Stanislav Lem, just what is befalling a given number of human beings in the space of one such minute. If one does this one recognizes that each such minute is so laden with suffering that one would wish, ideally, to halt the course of the world altogether:
Lem (Doubts About the Nihil inhumani a me alienum puto)
“The image of what people do to other people to torment them, to humiliate them, to exterminate them, to exploit them regardless of their being ill or healthy state, in their age, their childhood, their infirmity, in fact uninterruptedly, in every single minute – this image can take away the breath of even the most hardened enemy of mankind, who believed that no human infamy was alien to him.” (S. Lem, One human minute)
Experiments are underway aimed at creating “non-organic organisms” from metal compounds. Cell-like entities have already been successfully manufactured from molecules with metallic content (polyoxometalates). Work is currently going on on endowing these organisms with the property of a capacity for self-replication.
Where the implications of these experiments are taken fully into account we need to include in any moral calculation the possibility that there might not only be organic, carbon-based extra-terrestrial organisms (ETO) but far more organisms than there has hitherto generally been assumed to be. The basis for transitions, on other worlds and planets, from functioning organisms to living beings capable of experiencing both joy and suffering would be much broader than it could possibly have been if the only organisms coming into account in this regard were carbon-based ones
Antinatalism does not only demand that no more human beings be begotten; with strict consistency, it also advances the thesis that it would be better if none of the already-existing human beings had ever begun to exist. This is sometimes interpreted as meaning that antinatalism requires of the individual human being that he condone and approve of his own destruction. But this is a – perhaps deliberate – misunderstanding. What antinatalism requires is a ’Winding-Back’ to a Point Prior to One’s Own Existence – that is to say, a mental setting-back of the course of events in the world to a point in time before one’s own ‘I’ had begun to exist in order to be able, from the perspective of this imaginary place, to answer the question of whether someone was there who wanted to begin to exist.
We antinatalists invite this “winding-back” to a point before one’s own Beginning of Life in the conviction that nothing will be found there beyond, perhaps, a wish for children on the part of one’s parents or also – and this will by no means seldom be the case – an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy.
This exhortation to a “winding-back” before the beginning of one’s own existence may prove apt to bring about a revealing of certain metaphysical elements within the current forma mentis. Someone who holds the view that ”it” would have been morally wrong if they had not begun to exist hereby becomes obliged to describe this “it” more precisely. But said person can only do this by explaining themselves in metaphysical terms. They might, for example, advance the view that they were, at one point, a kind of àHalf-Existent Entity, a potentiality awaiting its actualization (i.e. that they were, as such a potentiality, “quasi-existent”) and that this potentiality would have been destroyed had they not, in fact, at some point begun really to exist. Or they could say that before the actual beginning of their existence they were a “slumbering soul” that was awakened, or called into existence, only through the act of procreative conception.
In his essay “On Liberty” John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) lays down that so-called “harm principle” which now counts as one of the fundamental principles of liberalism: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community against his will is to prevent harm to others.”
Now, there is no doubt but that, every time action is taken such that another human being begins to exist, the points are set in such a way that harm, indeed harm to the point of death, for another will inescapably result. Would, then, a truly civilized community based on Mill’s “harm principle” not have the right to constrain people to practice contraception, so that couples would not act in such a way that a third party – once he or she began to exist – would inevitably come to harm and even have to die?
The author of Paradise Lost represents a landmark in the history of antinatalism: he has the first human couple instigate a metaphysical àRevolt: he has Adam complain that God has placed him in quite intolerable conditions of existence without his (Adam’s) wishing it. And he has Eve meditate on whether, in the face of all the ills that await them, it is not better simply to cease to procreate.
Milton thus reveals for the first human couple the possibility of allowing there to follow upon the first disobedience that took place in Eden a kind of “second Original Sin”: namely, the refusal to perpetuate an already accursed existence.
Paradise Lost stands as a turning point from theodicy into anthropodicy. – Past, from this point on, are those comparatively paradisical conditions in which human beings could push off from themselves, onto some superhuman being, the guilt and responsibility of the Conditio in/humana
Whoever, as “mä phynai-ist”, considers the mere fact of having stepped, or been thrust, into existence as something open in its very principle to ethical question thereby passes a judgment not just on himself but on everyone else as well. The principle of universalizability at the base of all ethical systems dictates that one must pass upon people who find themselves, or who are placed, in comparable situations to one’s own judgments which are at least similar to the judgments that one passes upon oneself.
Mä phynai! is a hypothetical, an unrealizable wish. It is, therefore, in the first instance not an imperative which might be turned against each individual’s respective progenitors with the meaning: “Why did you beget me?” This Mä phynai! Is not so much a case of prescriptive speech as of an expression of regret which, generally speaking, laments one’s own fate alone. Nonetheless, it does indeed convey, beneath its surface meaning, a certain prescriptive force: whoever is of the view that it would, in principle, have been better for him never to have been born, does indeed implicitly prescribe to others that they ought not to beget offspring – inasmuch, namely, as the Mä phynai! conveys the message that it would have been better for every individual without exception had he or she not been begotten. If one lays bare to view those actual human actions – namely, the active begetting and bearing of children – which necessarily lie behind any critical rejection of the passive experience of being born, there comes into view along with them a hidden but nonetheless millennially enduring critique of nativity itself, a subterraneously onflowing deep antinatalist current within human cultural history.
Whoever, then, claims, in basic principle, for his or her own self this stance of “better never to have been born” is also bound to say of others too that >it would have been better had they never begun to exist and is thereby, at least implicitly, always him- or herself an antinatalist.
That imprecation cast upon existence which has become a topos par excellence spanning all the epochs of human culture takes the form of the lament: “Oh would that I had never been born!” (in Ancient Greek: μὴ φῦναι / mä phynai). This exclamation, recorded in many different cultural documents, implies, in the first place, a symbolic rescission of each individual’s respective having-come-into-the-world (>Rescission of Conception). But, since the person uttering such an exclamation had necessarily to have already been born in order to utter it, we have to do here with a nativistic-performative self-contradiction. This nativistic-performative self-contradiction “Oh would that I had never been born!” evokes the question: “But what, then, ought to have become of you instead of being born?” Let us sort through the various conceivable responses to this question. If our lives, in every case, began in fact not with our birth (>Birthdays: the Lie We Choose to Live By) but rather months before that as a foetus, the demand that one “never be born” might have been satisfied in one of three ways:
It would have been better to remain in utero. Prophets, thinkers and poets such as Jeremiah or >Rousseau (1712–1778) have discussed this remaining in utero as the better option.
It would have been better if my coming into the world had been prevented by the aborting of that embryonic organism that was eventually to become me (>Oh would that I had been aborted).
It would have been better if my mother had suffered a miscarriage (>Biblical Antinatalism >Job).
 Peter Jacob (in his book ‘Lieber Herr Grünberg. Oder vom Glück, nicht geboren zu sein’) raises, without giving any conclusive answer to it, the question of whether the dictum ought not rather to run mä genesthai. Nor do we offer any conclusive answer to this question here.
No one could, or had to, either consent to the beginning of their own existence or refuse it. It is only after one has been in existence for quite some time and has become a person that one can possibly adopt a consenting or refusing attitude toward this beginning of one’s existence. But the “no” of the no-sayers is ethically weightier than the “yes” of the yes-sayers. Were people, starting from today, henceforth to act in such a way that no more human beings began to exist, then there would be no more yes-sayers who might retroactively consent to their own existence. But in the case where human beings continue, as hitherto, to be begotten, there will surely be some among them who condemn the action which brought about the beginning of their existence.
Whereas the category of objective >complicity leaves it an open question whether someone acting in accordance with the Conditio inhumana is or is not informed about the consequences of their actions, the expression “malign voluntarism” refers to informed actions whereby evil is knowingly accepted and condoned, collaborated in or perpetuated. The person who buys meat accepts and condones the suffering of animals which goes hand in hand with this latter and initiates, through his purchase, a new chain of suffering stretching through the birth, fattening-up, transport and slaughter of ever new generations of animals.
Whoever acts in such a way that a new human being begins to exist constrains him at the very least to experience the sickness and death of other human beings and animals or to suffer these things himself and thereby imbeds him in a >Concatenation pervaded by suffering.
The malign voluntarism of a meat-eater or àPerpetrator of Existence is, admittedly, parameter-dependent: that is to say, it is proportional to the quantity of – fully and properly mentally processed – information about just what and how much suffering is involved in meat-production / a human life. But since it was never, at any point in the past, as easy as it is today to acquire information about these things, malign voluntarism is surely more prevalent in the present day than it ever was.
All physical and mental sufferings, all misery, all sickness, all pain, all war, all murder and mass murder, all death and dying of any kind are things made possible first and foremost by the parents of the persons affected by them. All complaints and accusations in connection with these things, then, must be directed not against Nature – known by everyone to be hostile in many regards to human existence already before any possible decision to become a parent – or against the highly vulnerable existential constitution that is Man’s but rather, first and foremost, against these parents themselves, at least in the measure in which they can be taken to have participated in the antinatalistic àEnlightenment typical of the modern era. Such complaints and accusations, in other words, must throw light primarily and essentially on the guilt of these procreating parents qua final causes of all the suffering. Far too seldom are these parents called to account by their victims – even under those circumstances in which human mortality allows such a calling to account – for the moral guilt that they bear. And society is careful, indeed, never to expect of those among its members who cherish a will to procreate any painful awareness or sense of bad conscience on account of this irresponsible causation of so much suffering and so much death.
One is tempted to say: in laughter there announces itself an anthropodicy which no one has yet succeeded in verbally articulating. It has often been urged upon a suffering humanity that we limit the Conditio in/humana’s dominion over us by simply laughing at “the way of the world”. Where human beings laugh they declare their existence to be, even if only for a moment, something other than a total failure. Laughter thus resembles a “God of the moment” who announces the unattainability of Paradise.
But how can the Conditio in/humana be “laughable”? Let there suffice, as an answer to this question, what Helmuth Plessner writes in his “Laughing and Crying”: “To the extent that sympathy or disgust does not prevail as, for example, at the sight of the crippled or the sick, every emancipation of what is usually instrumental,whether physical or not, has a comic effect. Exaggerated ceremonial, mechanical bureaucracy, hybris, which substitutes human regulation for nature’s are laughable. What is decisive here is not ugliness, which repels us, or irrationality, which irritates us, but stiffness and the want of life.” (Plessner, Laughing and Crying. A Study of the Limits of Human Behavior, Northwestern University Press, Evanston 1970, p. 82) If this reflection of Plessner’s holds true, must he not laugh loudest who comes to understand that human beings tyrannize other human beings unnecessarily inasmuch as, generation after generation, they act in such a way that progeny of theirs begin to exist?
Dohm, Hedwig (1831–1919)
The topos of distancing oneself from the Conditio in/humana by laughing at it, in its entirety inclusive even of one’s own death, is a topos which we encounter again in Hedwig Dohm, who – on her own deathbed, no less! – composed a small piece of writing whose protagonist achieves a demise of a certain grace by laughing herself to death over the divine >Experimentum mundi:
“And the dying woman laughed scornfully when it occurred to her that the creation of creatures destined from birth on to become just food for worms or, in the case of the cremated, a handful of ashes, was perhaps only a joke on the part of the cosmos or some experiment of God’s!
Did human life, then, have any sense to it at all? No, no, a thousand times no. It is either a grotesque plundering or a will to self-destruction. Laughable, then, too was all the pointless trouble that the universe had given itself to bring about the emergence of superfluous bipeds like ourselves. One could truly laugh oneself to death over it!
And indeed she laughed. And laughed on without stopping, loud and louder still until she choked on her own laughter.” (Hedwig Dohm, Auf dem Sterbebett, in: Der Missbrauch des Todes)
One notices the carefree laughter of children and signals to those present to be silent and attentive whenever it occurs. Could it be, then, that one is fully aware of how life’s various sorrows will soon render fewer and fewer the occasions for this laughter as light and spontaneous as birdsong? But if so, why did one bring these children into the world at all, since one knew how very short that phase of their lives would necessarily be in which they would be capable of such carefree laughter?
The first drawing of a landscape without human beings – though featuring human constructions – may well have been Leonardo da Vinci’s Arno landscape of 1473, while Albrecht Altdorfer’s “View of the Danube with Castle Wörth” (circa 1522) is possibly the first painting in which no human beings at all are to be seen.
It is surely Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840), however, who must count among the first painters who took up a genuinely anthropofugal perspective in painting. His landscapes devoid of all human presence anticipate a world as it will be after the ebbing away of humanity. In giving rise to a certain aesthetic pleasure in the viewer, such paintings devoid of all human presence secure, in a subtle way, this viewer’s consent to the notion of a liberated and pacified world. Friedrich’s artworks are important objects of a comprehensive “philosophy of antinatalistic forms” which is not limited merely to textual expressions and articulations.
When Albert Schweitzer formulated the proposition most succinctly expressive of his philosophy of “reverence for life” – “I am life that wishes to live amidst life that wishes to live” – he forgot to add that each of us is life in the midst of life which is forced to live – forced, namely, by the will of other persons or due to a blind process of Nature.
Most, if not all, human languages contain a word which designates the end of our existence: that death which represents the consummation of the long process of dying. But are there languages which have an equally concise term for the beginning of this existence? One can, of course, in almost any language, have recourse, where all conciser terms are lacking, to the composite expression: “beginning of life” as a direct counterpart to “life’s end”. Whereas, however, the term “death” and its equivalents in the various languages can count, unproblematically, as synonyms for “life’s end”, the same is by no means true of “birth” as a synonym for “life’s beginning”. This inasmuch as it has long since been common knowledge that we are alive prior to our being born. Let us opt, then, for the moment, for the notion and expression “beginning of life”.
In contradistinction to the “organismic” theory of the beginning of a life the “mentalistic” theory which we wish to present here holds that a new living being begins to exist only at the point at which an organism (or some other entity) begins to display mental characteristics.
Mentalististic Theory of the Beginning of Life
A new living being begins to exist at the point where a hitherto consciousness-less organism acquires consciousness or (as we might also put it) at the point where such an organism begins to display psychical or mental characteristics. A different sort of “beginning of life” might hypothetically occur in another way: namely, through some non-organic entity – an electronic system, for example – acquiring sentience for the first time.
On earth/in the universe in general what is generally called “life” began when the first organism acquired psychical properties.
“The beginning of life” is thus to be distinguished from conception, from the first emergence of an organism, and from birth. A human being begins to live when an existing human organism (a foetus) develops for the first time psychical/mental qualities such as the capacity to experience pain or taste. Generally speaking, the beginning of a life takes the form of a transition from the state of an organism without consciousness to that of an organism endowed with consciousness. Organisms (or other entities) with consciousness constitute living beings.
Organismic Theory of the Beginning of Life
The overwhelming majority of people favour the thesis whereby a new living being begins to exist at the point at which a new functioning organism arises. On this thesis, the fact of a new human embryonic organism’s having come into being would mean that a new human being has begun to live.
According to this “organismic” theory of the beginning of life a highly complex electronic system possessed of (self-)awareness, for example, would still be no living being, since such a system does not constitute an organism.
Even after three industrial revolutions the great majority of people still find themselves compelled either to lead a completely precarious existence in material indigence or psychical distress or, alternatively, to put themselves through around a decade of drudgery in school and university in order to acquire the privilege of subjecting themselves to another four decades of drudgery at an office desk. To impose on someone this lifetime of drudgery which needs, moreover, to be performed in accordance with that further, almost universally deplored imposition of punctuality – a drudgery which everyone dreams of escaping by flight into some imagined never-ending weekend – is a neganthropem which parents-to-be attempt to block out with the wishful thought that their child, in contrast to all others, will surely be a genius and will thus find himself dispensed from the drudgery imposed upon the millions. But whoever turns out to be in fact not so dispensed will find himself compelled to betake himself, already as a young man, to one of those institutions legally established to the end not of self-realization but rather of self-derealization and of the undermining of human dignity: namely, factories, offices, building sites or “temples of commerce”, which leave their marks on the faces, bodies and minds of those who are employed in them. There is hardly anything that human beings toil at their lives long as hard as they do at the work that is their livelihood and at the education that prepares them for it – both things that are heteronomously imposed upon them by those actions of others which bring it about that they begin to exist.
The newborn child who first sees the light of our industrialized world almost certainly does so in an environment which is filled, early every morning, with the ringing of alarm clocks, appointed to ensure that the sleepers they awaken arrive at the proper hour for artificially illuminated study in their schools or to put in their shifts at their places of employment, with the exception of those who work the night shift or who are “unemployed” and therefore, according to the generally predominant notion, simply surplus to requirements in this world. The counter-argument – namely, that one should be happy to be able to sustain one’s own life, and/or the lives of others, by the work of one’s own hands and to have learned all the skills that are required to do this – does not hold water, inasmuch as the beginning of our existence was not something that merely inhered in the nature of things but was rather an event that depended upon the actions or omissions of human beings.
We find in the following formulation of Rousseau’s a condemnation of all procreation in view of the compulsion to eke out a livelihood:
„How swiftly life passes here below! The first quarter of it is gone before we know how to use it; the last quarter finds us incapable of enjoying life. At first we do not know how to live; and when we know how to live it is too late. In the interval between these two useless extremes we waste three-fourths of our time sleeping, working, sorrowing, enduring restraint and every kind of suffering.“ (Emile, or Education. Translated by Barbara Foxley, M.A. (London & Toronto: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1921; New York: E.P. Dutton, 1921, p. 172))
Birthdays are celebrated because we tell ourselves that the day so feted was the day on which we began to live. And indeed, it is from the day of our birth onward that our age is measured. At the same time, however, the majority of human beings proceed upon the view that our life in fact begins at our conception, some nine months before our birth – a view which would imply rather that it is our putative “conception day” that needs to be celebrated. We have to do here, then, with a “lie we choose to live by”. The truth lies somewhere between these two conceptions, even if not exactly midway between them: we began to live when our brain first achieved consciousness.
That person might credibly claim to die “sated with life” who believed himself justified in thinking that he’d experienced, in his own existence, all that is essential in human life. But on such terms there would be few, if any, human beings, since that massive acceleration of social and technical transformation which has set in since the 19th century, who would have grounds to make such a claim. It is to be feared that all too many have died, and continue to die, “still hungry for life”.
Whoever is alive wants, generally, to go on living. But this “wanting” is not something that the subject in question “wants to want” but rather a product of the actions of other agents or other forces: firstly by action or omission on the part of the person in question’s parents; and secondly by the demands of this person’s own body which incite the embodied individual to to go on living even when they find themselves in a situation without any possible positive issue.
A configuration of factors which affects women around the time of menopause and is comprised of the following “limit situations”: the woman in question’s children have already left home or are about to; her own parents are sick, in need of care, or dying; and her already elderly husband is gradually becoming senile or in need of care himself. The females among the children who “leave the nest” of such a household are often condemned to repeat, themselves, this regretted final third of the lives of their mothers. (See Christian Lauritzen, Jetzt, da ich älter bin)
Axiopaths are, oversimplifying somewhat, people for whom human beings exist for the sake of ethics, rather than ethics’ existing for the sake of human beings. Removed, in a laudable degree, from any charge of being such an “axiopath” is Hans Lenk (*1935), who declares himself fully ready to embrace a world without morality provided only that it were also a world without suffering:
“To buy a world without suffering at the price of freeing it also of morality – this would, indeed, be no hard renunciation to perform. But such a world, of course, is unimaginable: living beings are forced to bring about the destruction of other living beings if they are to continue to exist themselves – and this is no less true of us human beings, capable though we are of morality, than of other living entities. All such entities are profoundly damned to do evil.” (Lenk in: Willy Hochkeppel (Ed.), Die Antworten der Philosophie heute)
Considered from the broadest of all perspectives, however, Lenk commits the error of viewing a world freed from suffering at the price of freeing it also from morality as an acceptable prospect, indeed, but also as a mere speculation which envisages an object that could never, in fact, be brought to realization. He blocks from his mind the fact that the existence of human beings hangs directly from the thread of procreation – a thread which can be cut at any time. Lenk’s statement about us humans to the effect that we are “profoundly damned to do evil” depends on the false supposition that this procreation is something imposed on us by Nature with the same irrecusable necessity as is breathing.
Whoever is meditating the begetting of children should also acquaint him- or herself with the thought that the happiness and wellbeing of these children will surely have, in no insignificant degree, its source and sustenance in the mental comparison of their own condition, however bad, with the conditions of people even worse off than themselves. This means: whoever wishes his or her own children to lead a happy life must, even if unintentionally, also wish that there be people worse off than these children; he or she lays claim, nolens volens, to the suffering of others as a resource for the happiness of those closer to him or her: the misfortune at the base of all good fortune.
The English language, oddly, appears to have generated no term of its own for this general truth that the misfortune of another person can often be a key source of our own happiness and has had to borrow the German term Schadenfreude to point up this phenomenon’s importance in our psychical economy. Now there appears to be scientific confirmation that our happiness depends in large part upon the sufferings of others: “Generally speaking, people feel better when they compare themselves to people who are not doing as well as themselves.” (Isabelle Bauer, siehe http://www.concordia.ca/cunews/main/releases/2011/03/01/regrets-study-examines-how-people-can-cope.html, accessed on 19.5.2015). The same study seeks to provide evidence for the pre-scientific observation that we feel worse wherever we compare ourselves with people we see to be better off than ourselves. Prospective parents must take into account the fact that this misfortune of others which forms the base of one’s own sense of good fortune will surely play a more decisive role in any happiness their children will enjoy than will any >Shared Joy.
Critics of antinatalism often bring the charge against it that it tends to paint far too black a picture of humanity’s future. The human race, they say, will surely learn from the species-catastrophes that have already occurred and find ways of avoiding such catastrophes in future. But whoever believes this has failed to consider the as it were “innate educational backwardness” of our species about which Sloterdijk has the following to say: “With the question of the ability, or otherwise, of our species to learn we touch on the critical point: the human race suffers a priori from a certain ‘educational disability’ inasmuch as it is not a subject but an aggregate.” “In order for a learning after great catastrophes to be possible, there would have to be assumed to exist a unitary subject that would comprehend the catastrophe as its own.” (Sloterdijk, Eurotaoismus, S. 116 und 117) Further evidence of this “educational disability” of our species is provided by such daily occurrences as parents’ changing their location several times a day by the use of internal combustion engines or, taking up from time to time a position next to turbine engines, sojourn for a few days in this country and a few more in that, thus undermining the future of the children they ostensibly dearly care for. Instead of raising their children to behave in ways compatible with the preservation of the environment, they choose rather to give them the gift of driving licences.
In Greek mythology Lethe is a river of the Underworld by drinking from which one acquires forgetfulness of all that is past. In the cults of metempsychosis widespread in ancient Greece it was said that souls needed to drink from this river prior to their rebirth or reincarnation in order to wipe out the memories they still retained of their directly preceding existences. Clearly, the continued existence of our species presupposes a similar “Lethean principle”. How else is it possible to explain that parents, even in the face of the >Balance Sheet of the Total Suffering of the Species, continue to impose existence on ever more new human beings and that women take upon themselves, again and again, the >Torture of Birth? Without such a “Lethean Principle” that pronatal >Intentio recta that is blind to the neganthropic aspect of our condition could hardly be sustained and that >Intentio obliqua which reflects carefully upon each respective individual wish to procreate would be far more widespread.
In a letter to her daughter from the 31st of May 1671 Madame de Sévigné writes with regard to Providence:
“If we were always to continue in the same mind we are in at the end of a journey, we should never stir from the place we were then in ; but Providence, in kindness to us, causes us to forget. It is much the same with lying-in women. Heaven permits this forgetfulness that the world may be peopled…”
All physical and mental sufferings, all misery, all sickness, all pain, all war, all murder and mass murder, all death and dying of any kind are things made possible first and foremost by the parents of the persons affected by them. All complaints and accusations in connection with these things, then, must be directed not against Nature – known by everyone to be hostile in many regards to human existence already before any possible decision to become a parent – or against the highly vulnerable existential constitution that is Man’s but rather, first and foremost, against these parents themselves, at least in the measure in which they can be taken to have participated in the antinatalistic àEnlightenment typical of the modern era. Such complaints and accusations, in other words, must throw light primarily and essentially on the guilt of these procreating parents qua final causes of all the suffering. Far too seldom are these parents called to account by their victims – even under those circumstances in which human mortality allows such a calling to account – for the moral guilt that they bear. And society is careful, indeed, never to expect of those among its members who cherish a will to procreate any painful awareness or sense of bad conscience on account of this irresponsible causation of so much suffering and so much death.
There is much talk today of the right of future generations to inherit a more or less undamaged world. Philosophically speaking, the establishment of the rights or the rights-claims of people who do not yet exist a frustratingly intricate problem. Remarkably, however, one hears little or no mention of the fact that it can equally well be argued that future generations must have a no less morally weighty right not to be begotten or not to be thrust into existence. Put more precisely: The human beings living at any given point in time have the duty to refrain from begetting any further human beings wherever there is some indication that the rights, or claims to rights, of those who are begotten will not be able to be satisfied.
According to the most fundamental proposition of philosophical anthropology Man is essentially and by nature a cultural being. The proof that this is so, however, has yet to be provided. For the present, human beings still remain merely “natural beings” (instead of raising themselves to the level of “cultural beings”) inasmuch as, in large part, we are merely “naturally” here. This in the sense that we still go on, as we have for millennia, perpetuating our kind “quasi-naturally”, much as Nature has commanded all animals to do since the beginning of time, instead of choosing to procreate only when and if it is ethically legitimate to do so – just as if we still all hung on the umbilical cord of a blind, Nature-driven species-necessity.
If human beings really took seriously the principles of “human dignity” which they ascribe to themselves – such as “autonomy” and “freedom from extreme suffering” – they would surely not perpetuate the human species-experiment, which involves so many people slipping sooner or later into a vegetating existence completely bereft of all dignity (here we need only think of the inmates of our >Geronto-camps), but would rather act in such a way that, within around a hundred years, this merely natural perpetuation of the species would be, by a concerted uprising against the impositions of Nature, eliminated.
Through such a “cultural revolution” Man would free himself from certain apparent iron necessities involved in his very nature. As such a “cultural revolutionary” he would become the physician of his own negative condition, cutting the umbilical cord of the apparently naturally given and unalterable structure of the species. Only the last members of the human species, people who had freed themselves in this way from the constraints of Nature, would truly do honour to the name “cultural beings”.
Although, as we have said, he drew from this observation no truly antinatalist conclusions, Auschwitz, for Adorno, represented “irrefutable proof of the failure of the project of human culture as a whole.” (Negative Dialektik) And in our own view too Auschwitz must count as the final, morally definitive, turning-point event establishing the profound ethical questionability of the bringing forth of further human beings. The proof that “the project: culture” had failed, however, can be seen to have been established at a far earlier point in history than the mid-20th century. We see this proof, for example, in the millions of human beings that “cultivated” Europeans murdered or otherwise caused to perish, in their hunt for gold and silver in Central and South America, already centuries before this date.
The “Critical Theory” developed by the so-called “Frankfurt School” is a subtle form of the rejection of existence per se. Marx’s own critical theory had presented itself, in its day, as a “critique of political economy”. It had expressed a belief that it was possible to prove, by reference to unalterable laws of development, that our presently existing society was “pregnant” with another and better one and would, inevitably, at some point “give birth” to this latter. Despite all increases in productive power, however, this society “entirely other” to our present one was born not as a paradise of true humanity but rather as this latter’s “deformed twin”: namely, as the Stalinist state capitalism, or “barracks socialism”, of societies such as the Soviet Union on the one hand and as the “national socialism” of Hitler’s Germany on the other. In the rest of the world the capitalist system achieved consolidation on a global scale. The Frankfurt School’s “Critical Theory”, therefore, as successor form to Marx’s 19th-century “critique of political economy”, could speak henceforth only of the hope of the survival of autonomous individuality even in a society in which “the whole had become the false”. The “entirely other” became, in this 20th-century heir to classical Marxism, something that could, for the present, only be conceived of theoretically, not practically implemented. Indeed, in the most refined and reflective products of Frankfurt School theory, the sole remaining path to the experience of this “entirely other” lay through the aesthetic realm and the rarified air of avant-garde art.
But why, one must ask oneself, did Critical Theory lapse, with the Frankfurt School, into such a fatalistic attitude? Why did its practitioners content themselves with the role of passive observers while more and more human beings were delivered up to barbarism? Why did they not make it their concern to cut the umbilical cord of the supposedly natural continuance of the species? The answer is: Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse proved, in the end, incapable of performing the intellectual act of recognizing this supposedly natural continuance as a systematic structure of (self-)delusion and of proceeding to contribute to its severing by pushing forward to the adoption of an antinatalist position qua the sole true overcoming of the “false whole” that is human society.
When we speak of “objective criminality” we mean by this that the begetting of new human beings should always be recognized as the condition sine qua non of those crimes and offences which many children, once they have become older (i.e. many younger and older adults) commit. Which means also that these children – that is to say, all human beings, since all were once someone’s children – can legitimately cite the fact of their existence’s having been àBrought About by Someone Else as an exculpation for any behaviour contraventive of social norms that they may have been guilty of:
Since I did not wish, Myself to exist, This existence now brings, Much sorrow to others!
The common legal principle, then, that “parents are liable under law for the actions of their children” has a “criminatalistic” dimension that goes far deeper than its merely juridical one. Criminals, deviants, “good-for-nothings”, hustlers and con-men can all metaphysically excuse their own misdeeds with the argument that their very existence is due only to a wish on the part of their parents and that they found themselves, already burdened with certain essential character traits, cast into an existence which it is no easy thing to reject and escape (>Cynicism of Suicide). The moral “vanishing point” of this line of existential exculpation is the argument, opposed by the delinquent to anyone who might undertake to judge or condemn him for his crimes or moral failings, that, however much of a sinner or evildoer he may have proven to be, the extenuating circumstance must always be taken into account that he is entirely without responsibility for the fact that he is and thus for at least certain essential aspects of how he is (>Heteronomy of Existence). – Walter Hueck has given exemplary expression to this idea: “No human being is responsible for his own personality. He did not choose his own character; one cannot legitimately reproach him with his poor health or the paucity of his intellect. He did not ‘want himself; he was brought into existence without being asked about it and one must therefore take him as he is.” (Hueck Wohin steuern wir?)
An argument developed by Kondylis clearly shows why the antinatalist, as a radical critic of the meaning normally ascribed to human existence, has to reckon with the most violent resistance from his fellow men:
“Whoever calls into question ‘the meaning of life’ necessarily challenges the human drive to self-preservation and counts thereby, among his fellow human beings, as a ‘criminal of the spirit’ who undermines the foundations of social existence quite as much as ordinary ‘criminals of the deed’ tend to render useless, through their contravention of practical social norms, society itself as an institution devoted to this human self-preservation. The claim to power, by entrenching itself behind the belief in ‘the meaning of life’, provides itself with the greatest possible appearance of ‘objectivity’, the most perfect disguise conceivable.” (Panajotis Kondylis, Macht und Entscheidung)
Should it really be the case that claims to power lie dug in behind all professed belief in ‘the meaning of life’, the antinatalist must renounce all hope of agreement or approval from the side of such entrenched power-structures. The antinatalist, indeed, does not call into question the possibility that one can lead a ‘meaningful’ life; he casts doubt, however, directly upon the moral dignity of procreation and thereby “threatens”, at least symbolically, the continued existence of human society.
We encounter the antinatalistic form of this “guilt of children” wherever someone – inverting the real state of affairs – burdens the beginning of their existence with guilt. “Inverting the real state of affairs”, we say, because guilt always presupposes freedom, whereas no one was ever free to choose the beginning of his own existence (contrary to the view of Sartre, who made the incomprehensible attempt to draw even this beginning of one’s existence into his characteristic vision of the individual’s “free choice of his own being”).
A classic topos of “child’s guilt” is the tragic constellation in which the birth of a child occurs together with the death of his or her mother. This constellation is familiar to us, for example, from Dickens’s Oliver Twist.
It was by his six-year-old son that the author Wilhelm Schmid was enlightened as to the fact that it was not a matter of fun that he had brought someone into existence but that he had rather, by so doing, brought it about that one more human being had to die:
“I have a six-year-old son who has shocked me by suddenly announcing: I wish I had never been born. I am appalled to hear this because he is a decidedly lively and happy little man. I believe that he is also very pleased with the family of which he is part. And this little fellow says to me: ‘I wish I had never been born. I wish I were still flying with the butterflies.’ (Because we told him the story that, before he was born, he was flying around with the butterflies). But it was only when I had spoken more to him about it that it emerged just why he felt this way: he does not want to die. And he has now grasped, for the first time, that to be born means, automatically and necessarily, also to die.”
To Schmid’s consolation, and in support of his son, let it be said that it is perfectly possible for someone to be entirely content with his own life and yet be able to hold, without contradiction, that >it would be better never to have begun to exist.
The five-year-old daughter of the renowned scholar of narrative topoi, Heinz Rölleke, once uttered, according to Rölleke himself, the following words: “Well, then I would rather not have come into the world at all.” (Rölleke, p. 9) His daughter, Rölleke goes on, “uttered these words without spite or anger and quite definitely without the slightest trace of despair” on learning from him that all human beings must, at some point, die. Here once again the claim is borne out that children are often the best philosophers since, unlike grown-ups, they are able to think, and to draw their conclusions, in a way that is undisguised and unobstructed by the inessential. If one orients oneself by Rölleke’s own investigations into the topos “Mä phynai”, then his daughter was thinking in a “classical Greek” manner: the only way to avoid one’s own death – and having to witness the deaths of those near and dear to one – is never to have come into the world at all. Ironically, Rölleke does not take entirely seriously this profound seriousness of the child, which allows not just his daughter but many other children besides to think in a way that spans epochs. If he had done so, then he would perhaps have brought to light the hidden reproach to which he does not need to feel himself exposed for as long as he dismisses his daughter’s utterance as a mere curiosity instead of supposing it to contain an important psycho-genetic constant: namely, why did you cause me to come into this world, since this means that I must know in advance of my own death and be witness to your death and that of many other human beings besides? In short, Rölleke fails to acknowledge the reality of that >Experience of the Death of Near and Dear Ones which is generally an experience imposed on all children.
Very much in the spirit of Schmid’s son and Rölleke’s daughter are the words of an anonymous 14-year-old who succeeds in seeing through the nativistic >Instrumentalization of children and rendering of them a means to nativistic ends:
“You put me into this world without asking me. You gave me a name, declared me a member of the Christian confession, and provided me with a family home, all without my assent or agreement […] You ask me if I see any sense in the life we lead here on this earth? I would like to ask you in my turn whether you saw any sense in your putting me here? Did you envisage that I would be just another link in the chain of society, earning money only in order to spend it? Am I nothing but an ‘exhibit’ for you?” (In: Krömler [Ed.], Horizonte des Lebens, p. 26 and 27)
In view of the stint that must be performed, Hedwig Dohm’s grandson also prefers non-existence to existence – although he eschews all experimentation with the thought of “never having been born”. “My little seven-year-old grandson finds that death is a finer thing than life. On being asked ‘Why?’ he replies: ‘When you’re alive, you have to do so much work.’” (Hedwig Dohm, Die Mütter)
 A grown-up who speaks like Rölleke‘s daughter is the character Berliner in Grabbe’s “Napoleon oder die hundert Tage”: “O if my mother had only held me back within her and never borne me; then I would not need to die.” (Grabbe, Napoleon oder die hundert Tage, S. 407)
On many building sites one finds a notice that is intended to dissuade people from venturing onto the dangerous terrain. It says: “Parents are liable for the actions of their children.” Being the greatest of all known building sites, our earth ought to be fitted out with sky-high warning signs on which all could clearly read: “Children are liable for the actions of their parents.” Because the action of parents is the decisive factor as regards the beginning of the existence of children who then remain bound to and burdened by this existence, and who pay for it, in the end, the penalty of death.
The inevitability of childhood illnesses is so deeply anchored in the consciousness of our species that no one, surely, takes a progenerative decision without having heard of whooping cough, mumps, measles, scarlet fever, rose rash, and chickenpox, not to mention the many digestive disorders, cholics, colds and inevitable teething problems (which are not, indeed, a sickness but painful for all that). The corollary of this is that persons engaging in procreation do so in full awareness of the inevitability of an indeterminable number of childhood illnesses which must be somehow steadfastly put up with, an ordeal which they impose, in all good conscience, on their children.
Many parents would subscribe to the proposition: “the worst thing that could possibly happen to me would be if my child were to die!” Now, every child of every parent is bound, at some point, to die. It is simply that, at said point, the parents in question are, as a rule, already long since dead themselves (>Primortality).
Likewise, many children would say: “One of worst things that could possibly happen to me would be if my parents were to die!” But the great majority of children are condemned by their parents to experience precisely this “worst of things”. The same parents who tremble at the thought of having to experience the premature death of one of their children impose on these same children – clearly without the batting of an ethical eyelid – a comparably grievous suffering insofar as children are almost bound to have to live through the deaths of those who begot them.
The sufferings of children are often waved aside, without any recognizable sign of àempathy, by the remark that “children are always crying or weeping about something or other”. One forgets, when one says this, that to the child the state of suffering in which he finds himself seems co-extensive with the universe as a whole, that he sees no safe port of pacification in which this suffering will ever be extinguished.
It is a widespread view that children are morally “indebted” to their parents. Especially in traditional epochs and societies this notion is interpreted very literally, underpinning a system very like one of “bonded labour” with numerous onerous duties incumbent on the children and correspondent enforceable rights on the part of the parents. As Hedwig Dohm (1831–1919) explains: “The mother feels sure of her right of possession. She saw in her daughter someone indebted to her for life. She is the creditor, her daughter the debtor.” (Dohm, Die Mütter)
A similar relation of indebtedness is assumed by one of literature’s best-known àPerpetrators of Existence: Balzac’s Père Goriot, who, even on his deathbed, raises himself effortfully upright and cries: “Bring me my daughters! They owe me their lives! They are mine!”
The objection is often made to antinatalists that they overlook what a wonderful time we experience already at the very start of our lives, in our childhood – so wonderful, indeed, that grown-ups find solace in recalling it throughout all the rest of their lives. Scientific research into childhood, however, has yielded quite another picture of this stage in all our lives. Thus, we read in the foreword of a book which sheds light on millennia of childhood experience: “The research results presented here are, unfortunately, deeply depressing. They testify to the long, sad history of the mistreatment of children which began in primeval times and is still today not at an end.” (Willam L. Langer, foreword to: Lloyd deMause, The History of Childhood) It has only been since as recent an era as the 18th century that there has begun to arise – in the Western world, at least – such a thing as a humane attitude to children.
On the Drawbacks of Being a Child
“He told Dimple that childhood was a kind of affliction, certainly physical and possibly mental. Children were at a hopeless disadvantage; they were unsuited for the world. They were short and ungainly and stupid, half-people… They needed constant attention and they couldn’t communicate their needs. All they could do was wait for it to pass, years of waiting until the blight was gone.“ (Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis)
Children remain the children of their parents even if, from the point of view of their development, children stay children only for a very brief part of their existence. For by far the greater part of this existence children are grown-up men and women. But whoever decides to have children will necessarily initially experience these children in their not-yet-adult form. This “childhood-blindness” tends to block our vision of that existence as men and women in states of maturity or senility that our own children may one day lead: existences that may give rise, for example, to such a scenario as the following: a still-robust 80-year-old mother who pushes about in a wheelchair her already decrepit 60-year-old son.
The author Thomas Bernhard speaks very decidedly, then, in the spirit of antinatalism when he evokes this problematic in the following terms: “Because people are wrong to believe that they are ‘bringing children into the world’. To say so is such a cheap misrepresentation of the real facts. What they bear, when they give birth, are grown-ups, not children. They bear, in reality, a disgusting, sweaty pub landlord with a pendulous belly or a mass murderer. People say that they’re ‘having a baby’ but in fact what they’re ‘having’ is an eighty-year-old man whose bodily fluids are leaking in every direction, who stinks and is blind and limps and can barely move from gout; it’s him, not ‘ a baby’, that they are bringing into the world. But this gouty old man is precisely what they do not see, so that Nature can continue to have its way and all this mess can go on and on.” (Andre Müller, Interview with Thomas Bernhard 1979, see: http://www.a-e-m-gmbh.com/andremuller/thomas%20bernhard%201979.html, viewed on 26 June 2015)
The question of whether human beings should exist, or why we should exist at all, is the “blind spot” in all critiques of the capitalist mode of production – a mode of production which tends to render human beings superfluous. On the other hand, it would perhaps only be in a society which had brought to realization the Marxian principle of fully-developed communism, whereby each would give according to his ability and receive according to his needs, that human beings would finally enjoy the leisure to address themselves to the question of whether human beings should be at all.
The pronatally “compensating ego” has hitherto experienced three substantial defeats: 1. The falling away of ->Heavenly Compensation Mechanisms, i.e. of the notion of a trans-mundane restitution for past and present sufferings and a trans-mundane reward for as-yet-unrewarded good deeds. 2. Its becoming clear to this “compensating ego” , since the evident failure of communist revolutions on both the Russian and the Chinese models, that no “better future for all” will ever be realized. 3. The growing realization that even the last support remaining to this “compensating ego” – the relatively modest expectation that at least “our children and grandchildren will likely have better lives than ours” – represents, in view of unforeseeable climatic developments and a more and more desperate struggle for natural resources, a blindness in the face of reality.
Whoever, despite his own insight into the Conditio in-/humana represented by each and every individual human fate, adopts a stance that tolerates and supports the continuation of all the various human social experiments, including that great experiment which is the perpetuation of the human species, thereby makes himself an accomplice in suffering and misery.
Let us introduce what we have just called the fact of objective complicity with neganthropy by citing another morally relevant form of complicity: namely, the objective complicity of the purchaser of meat products with the suffering of non-human animals. The person buying meat may, under certain circumstances, wish only the best for themselves and those whom they buy it for and may even – under circumstances which are, admittedly, in the contemporary world much rarer – be unaware that they are participating in initiating, with this buying of meat, a whole new chain of suffering (->Concatenation). Put very simply, each piece of meat purchased sends a signal to the market that the gap left by the meat just consumed must immediately be filled by more meat. Where these “gaps” become numerous they necessarily imply, assuming the predominance of the profit motive, the continued slaughter of animals and the slaughtered beasts leave behind, in their turn, a “gap” which must be filled by the raising and fattening-up of successors. This is bound up with unspeakable suffering for the animals and with further degradation of the environment – and the objective accomplice of it all is the diner at the table next to ours who prefers his meat “a little bloody”. In an entirely analogous way, whoever produces progeny is – even if he wishes only the best for these latter – an objective accomplice not only in the sufferings of these his children and his children’s children but also in the future fate of humanity itself, inasmuch as he implicitly suggested, in and through the course of his procreative activity, the Conditio in/humana to be something acceptable (both for himself and for all human beings yet to be).
If the objective complicity in future misery of all those who engage in procreation can be taken as a “given”, certain special circumstances must nonetheless obtain before this complicity can be rightly described as also a subjective complicity. The transition from the phase of objective complicity to that of subjective complicity requires inter alia that we human beings cease to see ourselves as acting, when we procreate, merely “mediately”, as creatures of God (->Children of God) – or, if not in obedience to God’s direct command, then at least under the almost God-like pressure of social norms and expectations – and begin to view this action of procreation more or less as a choice motivated by our own moral judgment or our own egoistic wish for children. Speaking quite generally, then, we may say that the degree of subjective complicity with all suffering is at its maximum wherever the process of secularization has made its maximum inroads into human society and consciousness. That is to say: on the one hand among the citizens of the numerous industrialized societies which now exist all over the globe and on the other hand among the authors of those existentialist and religion- and society-critical works which have so decisively contributed to the rejection of the very notion of “God” without going on to call into question the blind perpetuation of the basic structures of procreation. One aim of antinatalistic ->Enlightenment should certainly consist in an ongoing effort to “subjectify” the long-existing objective complicity and thereby to increase the need for this complicity to answer for and justify itself.
Individuals are – as Georg Simmel points out in his book On Social Differentiation – the intersection points of social threads; they are not, however, the final focal points of these threads. Which is to say: the social threads in question do not issue into these individuals as rivers issue into the sea but rather continue to exert their action beyond the individuals through which they pass. It is in this sense that Adorno raises the question of “what concatenations we owe our own existence to and how this existence is bound up with calamity…”
At the very latest once a mankind settled in fixed communities began to practice livestock farming, human beings must have come to the realization that a connection exists between sexual intercourse and procreation. The earliest formulae that have come down to us for preventing the start of the existence of a new human being are around 3500 years old, originating in ancient Egypt. Already thousands of years ago, then, human beings were antinatalistically active and attempted to prevent, above all through the use of certain herbal preparations, that new human beings came to be. The great historical turning point, however, and the opening of a veritable “age of contraception”, occurred only very recently, when the contraceptive pill began, in the 1960s, its triumphal progress through at least parts of the modern world.
An unwritten – and illusory – àContract Between the Generations contains the provision that children owe their parents a debt of gratitude for these latter’s having “called them into existence”. Parents may only hope that this “debt of existence” owed them by their children will be paid off, in their old age, in such a way that they are spared the Geronto-Camp.
Ingratitude of Children
Balzac provides us with an example of one of the countless imaginary ->Contracts Between the Generations that did not work out: “One has to die in order to understand what that is: a child’s love…Oh my young friend, do not marry and cherish no wish for children! You give them life and on you they inflict death. You bring them into the world and they drive you out of it.” (Balzac, Father Goriot)
From the Classical Greek κατά-τροπος: “turned downward”. Dys-ontic correlate to our Conditio in/humana which may contribute to the correction of pronatal decisions. The world does not keep its promises and parents cannot keep the promise that they implicitly make to their children in and by their begetting of them. Everything either collapses under its own weight or sinks quickly into a state of damage, destruction or decrepitude; building it up again is always a long and weary process. This fundamental catatropic tendency inherent to all being is counterbalanced by no opposite anastatic tendency (ἀνά-στασις: raising up, rebuilding). It takes just a split second for someone to cut themselves, but the healing of the cut can take weeks. And one’s fellow men are more captivated by the sight of a demolition than by that of a construction.
Müller-Lyer remarks that human beings tend generally to honour those who torment them more highly than they do those who render them happy. Thus, the names Tamerlane and Genghis Khan are known to all, whereas mankind’s great benefactors in the fields of chemistry, technology and health have remained completely unknown. “The explanation for this seems to be that destruction is something easy to perform and spectacular to behold. It lands like a bomb and creates a sensation. The work of construction, however, being a slow and silent activity, is much harder to appreciate at its true value.”
Capitalism was and remains a system that is at once insatiably hungry for new human beings and ruthlessly eager to throw these human beings on the scrapheap: its aim is both to set, at any and every point on this earth, the maximum number of human beings to the task of creating value in exchange for remuneration as close as possible to zero and to replace, wherever possible, these working human beings by mechanical or digital machines. Thus we may say that capitalism displays at the same time pronatalist and antinatalist tendencies. Its pronatalism is manifest in such formulae as “We do not have enough [cheap!] workers!” or “We need more consumers [with money to spend!]” Its antinatalism, on the other hand, comes to expression in its tendency to render human beings “surplus to requirements”, i.e. to replace human workers by machines.
Considered as a whole, capitalism is extra-human, since the conflict inherent to it between pronatalist and antinatalist system-internal requirements is not fought out with a view to creating any sort of subjective human satisfaction but rather for the sake of a subjectless “profit” which demands nothing but to be eternally reinvested.
There lies in the logic of capitalism not just a thoroughly inhumane but indeed an entirely “a-human” world, since this form of economic endeavour leads tendentially toward a fully-automated form of production for which – paradoxical as this may sound – humanity as a whole in the end proves “economically unviable”. At the vanishing point of the perspective opened up by global capital stands the subjectless “total capitalist” that creates value to no end and for no one and who, finding humanity to be a “drag on the industry”, has “given it its cards”.
 See Tomasz Konicz: “The whole of human civilization has become a waste product of the valorization of capital and the ever-spreading tendencies toward crisis unmistakably indicate that humanity is no longer a ‘paying enterprise’.” (Das System ist die Katastrophe, Telepolis, 26.3.2011, URL: http://www.heise.de/tp/r4/artikel/34/34405/1.html, last accessed on 26.3.2011). See also the book: Der überflüssige Mensch by Ilja Trojanow (Residenz Verlag 2013).
A moral theory which refuses suffering as an unreasonable imposition and thus, as an antinatalism, looks upon the begetting of human beings who will inevitably have to undergo various forms of suffering as a morally reprehensible act – such a moral theory does not emerge and stand alone in a vacuum but can find, in fact, many points of institutional contact and support and respectable – even if not always conscious and willing – allies:
An example of how portions of antinatal morality find themselves (unintendedly) embedded within the fabric of our large institutions is that very high criterion for what constitutes “health” that the WHO took up, in 1948, into its official definition of this latter concept:
Here, “health” is defined no longer merely negatively – as a measurable absence of illness – but rather as a lived wellbeing. Whoever has slept badly; whoever finds it impossible, try as he might, to recall the final line of a poem he has laboriously learnt by heart; whoever sits anxiously in a delayed train; whoever experiences an urgent need to urinate in the middle of an important meeting; whoever, contrary to his expectations, finds he has not been invited to a friend’s birthday party – each and all of these people, according to this definition, is suffering “illness”. This definition, in other words, throws a glaring light on the facts that even the most fortunate human life is made up of a near-uninterrupted series of states that are far from optimal and that the human being who begets another human being is bringing into existence a being bound to be incessantly more or less ailing.
Only from that moment on where this sovereignly-proclaimed criterion of the WHO would cease to be a mere proclamation and become rather a right guaranteed to every denizen of the earth would the bringing of new human beings into existence once again become something that might be contemplated as possibly morally defensible. Prior to such a state of affairs’ coming to pass, we will continue to enter existence as by definition ailing beings and waste away miserably for a number of decades until we at last succumb to that final sickness called death.
Following on from this WHO definition we argue that there should be established at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg an authority to which every individual who feels him- or herself to be “ill” in this positive sense proposed by the WHO can appeal and lay a claim to compensation for the personal suffering occasioned by their having been begotten.
Stated in explicitly antinatalist terms: through its re-determination of the meaning of the notion “health” the WHO has established a claim, the ambitiousness of which must be welcomed, which implies the repudiation of that all-too-hasty contentment with existence which has arisen through the habituation of millennia of need and deprivation. On account of the unattainability of “health” in the sense defined by the WHO, the framers of this definition have been accused of utopianism and of nurturing a moral culture of near-limitless entitlement. Instead, however, of scrapping this ambitious definition, it seems to us much more appropriate to retain these claims, once so formulated, to a successfully constituted existence and – where and insofar as the conditions set here cannot be guaranteed to all those new human beings arising from procreation – to cease to engage in this latter.
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
The contents of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which came into force in 1990, have been summed up in the form of a 10-point programme by the Children’s Rights organization of the UN (UNICEF). Among the ten basic rights outlined here counts the “right to health”. But, inasmuch as “health” in the sense in which this term is defined by the World Health Organization would be almost impossible really to attain, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is tantamount in substance to a (paradoxical) claim that children have a right not to be begotten and not to be born. But since, for basic ontological reasons, the unbegotten are unable to raise any claim, the true content of this Convention consists in an obligation, incumbent on potential begetters, not to beget children.
The question is almost never posed of whether it is morally defensible to beget other human beings. Within the context of an as it were “pronatal immune system” procreation passes for something normal, natural and even necessary. It counts as normal because all cultures, in all periods, have been “human-begetting” cultures. It counts as natural inasmuch as all non-human species too beget their own kind. And it counts as necessary because without procreation humanity would die out. – But this in its turn must count as something catastrophic. This recourse to the notions of the normality, naturality and necessity of procreation serves to obscure the existence of blatant contradictions between, on the one hand, certain widely-shared values and, on the other, the inhumane consequences of progenerative actions for the millions of human beings affected by them. As long as the pronatalistic immune system remains unnamed, its victims too remain invisible: billions of begotten human beings who must undergo existential and corporeal crises such as lingering illnesses and mortality in their own selves and be witnesses to them in their family and loved ones and who may also become victims of wars or other catastrophes – things which are in fact neither normal, nor natural, nor necessary.
Perinatal Immune System
Also part of that cultural “immune system” without which those antinatalistic seeds which are sown around everywhere in our culture would surely begin to sprout is that silence, never explicitly agreed upon but everywhere observed, regarding what has been designated, in the title of a book, as “the violence of childbirth”. In this book, authored by Isabelle Azoulay, we read that “…our expectations regarding childbirth have been so thoroughly tinted by fine-sounding promises for the future that the notion that birth could be the source of many ambivalent feelings hardly ever any longer arises. Our culture really has driven a wedge, so to speak, between our consciousnesses and these unacceptable realities.” (Azoulay, Die Gewalt) “We can look upon women’s typical repression of the memory of the pain of childbirth, as well as the more general amnesia of society in this regard, as bolts slid across our lived experience to spare our bodies and minds all contact with these unacceptable but fundamental realities.” (Ibid.)
The philosophy of Man has propagated the insight that Man is by his very nature a cultural being. This truth could well be made to apply also to human childbirth, inasmuch as the unimaginable pains involved in this latter could be reduced to a minimum, or made to disappear entirely, by anaesthetics. Nevertheless, it is still the case that no more than around ten per cent of women experience largely pain-free childbirth. It would almost appear as if even our modern civilization still lies under the curse of its sadistic God who decreed to Eve and her descendants “in sorrow shall you bring forth children”. Childbirth, which is frequently accompanied by an actual fear of death, represents, we may say, a violent intrusion of our most basic biology – the “acultural” par excellence – into the sphere of culture: “In view of the fact that even physicians consider the pains of childbirth to count among the most extreme states of pain experienced by human beings, the silence that generally reigns regarding these pains seems like a secret conspiracy, as if everyone had implicitly commonly resolved to close their collective eyes to the reality of this limit-experience: birth.” Instead of recommending to women about to give birth that they request peridural anaesthesia the currently predominant practice among midwives and doctors is to do the very opposite and urge them to undergo the almost intolerable pains of childbirth as if this were a positive experience. This despite the fact that trauma of the pelvic area ensuing from childbirth is not something we see only in human beings of recent generations but rather something that has been occurring for four million years. These traumas are to be traced back to the fact that the diameter of the birth canal and that of the head of the neonate are as a rule almost identical so that, if there is even a slight variation in either of these factors, it can easily come about that the pelvic diameter proves too small (see New Scientist, 7. January 2012, p. 11) Regarding the unacceptability of procreation and birth, we may say, there predominates a collective silence, accompanied by an unspoken collective awareness of what is actually the case.
The Norwegian antinatalist Zapffe found one important point of departure for his own thought in an aspect of the teachings of Jacob von Uexküll (1864–1944) on human beings and our relation to our environment: in non-human animals, taught von Uexküll, there exists a significant degree of harmony between organic endowment, environment, and way of life. For this reason, animals move, as it were, with the confidence of sleepwalkers through their respective environments, perceiving in these environments only structures that bear meanings peculiar to their respective species. Nature has accorded to them only those sense-organs which are absolutely indispensable for their specific forms of existence and has thus assigned to them firm and fixed worlds of perception and affection. In Man’s case, however, this restriction has been shattered. He has been dismissed from this harmonious world and now has an unquenchable need: the need for sense and meaning.
The Antinatalism of Meaninglessness in “The Last Messiah” (1933)
Speaking very generally, our species’ dying out by way of natal abstinence appears to Zapffe to be an imperative because it represents the only rational way of dealing with that self-awareness with which Nature provided us in order then immediately to dismiss us from its bosom as thenceforth eternal strangers to it. As a self-aware entity, the human being has a need for meaning which the essentially indifferent cosmos is unable to quench. Zapffe first formulated his thoughts on this issue in “The Last Messiah”, a short essay of 1933, written in a highly poetic language. Below, we present some passages from this work, culminating in an exhortation to allow humanity to ebb away: “One night, in time long past, Man awoke and saw himself as he is. He saw that he was naked amidst the cosmos, homeless in his own body. His thought, which dug and questioned back behind all that is, cast everything into dissolution and disintegration, confronting him always with new riddles and causing, over and over again, dismay and consternation to burgeon in his brain.” 
“What had happened? There had occurred a breach in the former unity of life and all that lives: a biological paradox, something monstrous, absurd, a catastrophic hypertrophy. Life had overshot its own goal and broken its own banks. It had equipped one of the species brought forth by it with a weapon – namely, “mind” in this term’s full self-reflective sense – that had proven all too powerful. Mind not only endowed this species with omnipotence over its external environment; it also represented a great danger for this species’ own wellbeing.” 
“He enters Nature like an uninvited guest; he stretches out his arms and pleads to be led back to that which brought him forth. But Nature no longer answers. In Man, it performed a miracle; but ever since it did so, it no longer knows or recognizes the miracle it performed.”  “Know yourselves, be unfruitful, and let the earth, when you are gone from it, lapse into stillness and silence.” 
Om det tragiske (On the Tragic) (1941)
In his voluminous magnum opus “On the Tragic” Zapffe portrays Man’s mode of existence (in accord here with Josef Körner) as structurally and thereby irremediably tragic. Man, however, has the capacity to rebel against that Nature and that life which enslaved him – a truth the antinatalistic consequences of which Zapffe develops only at very few points in his body of work. He does so, however, in the following passage, framed in the poetic language which he had favoured in “The Last Messiah” but which is quite untypical of the otherwise sober style of the magnum opus:
„You got me. But my son you will not get. You made a fateful error when you subjected even procreation to my will. And you did not do this out of love…, but rather to burden me with the heaviest of all responsibilities…: Am I to perpetuate this species or not? And from now on I will no longer ask what you want; rather you shall ask what I want. And I will no longer offer sacrifices to the God of life. I will punish you with the ability that you bequeathed to me in order to torment me; I will turn my clairvoyance against you, thus robbing you of your victims. And the abused millions will stand behind me like a plough… And evermore will two human beings create one more of their kind… Thus you will feel your powerlessness and come begging to me, to Man, on bloody knees.“ 
The problem constituted by the existence of a humanity dismissed from the enfolding bosom of Nature – and reflectively aware of this dismissal, so that we find ourselves thirsting after meaning in a cosmos that is essentially meaningless – can only be solved by the cessation of the production of all further human beings:
„I will have to desist from the creation of all new stakeholders in this failed project. Such a decision would, indeed, usher in a terminal epoch in the development of humankind; […] But this renunciation, this ‘no’ opposed to all continuation of the human project, represents in fact the utmost cultural possibility of mankind.“ 
If Man is by his very nature a cultural being, then it is imperative that Man’s end too be an end informed by that reflection and volition that are constitutive of culture.
Antinatalism of Suffering
At least in the first half of his life the impetus for Zapffe’s call for an “ebbing away of humanity” appears to consist essentially in the conflict between a meaningless cosmos and a being which demands, by its very nature, that things have meaning and sense. But in interviews from the later years of his life Zapffe begins to speak of the inescapability of certain experiences of suffering which no potential parent with any sense of responsibility would ever think of expecting any child they may beget to put up with. A transitional phase here is represented, perhaps, by an interview given to the newspaper Aftenposten in 1959. Here Zapffe says:
“Above all, we must give ethical relevance to the issue of procreation. Before one gives a coin to a beggar one looks at both faces of it, carefully considering what one is about to do. A child, by contrast, is thrown into the brutality of the cosmos without hesitation.”
More precisely, Zapffe proposes, in this interview – in contrast to his statements in “On the Tragic”, where he had proposed that every couple should have just one child – a “two-child policy” as a way for humanity to “ebb away” without suffering:
“The sooner Man dares to put himself into a harmonious relationship with the biological conditions of his existence the better. And this means withdrawing voluntarily in protest against his conditions of life in this world; just like other species of animal, for whom warmth was a vital need, passed into extinction when the temperature dropped. The moral climate of the universe is effectively unbearable for us and the withdrawal from it can be carried out painlessly by way of the two-child norm. Instead, we ‘go forth and multiply’, presenting ourselves everywhere as if we were conquerors, since extreme hardship has taught us to suppress this formula in our hearts. This hardening of our sensibility is perhaps most indecently reflected in the thesis that the individual has the “duty” to endure nameless suffering and a horrible death inasmuch as this saves or favours the rest of the group to which the individual in question belongs.”
This passage combines a reminder of the “unbearable moral climate of the universe” with certain concrete thoughts regarding how the failed project of humanity might at last be wrapped up and also regarding that unacceptable imposition of death and of suffering in general which always necessarily goes hand in hand with the bringing of new human beings into existence, human beings who never expressed any desire to be begotten and born.
This aspect of the irresponsibility of all generative behaviour is particularly emphasized by Zapffe in an interview from 1984:
“To have children, to let a fate come into existence – perhaps a whole series of fates without any limitation in time – is a project so heavily burdened with inevitable evils and enormous risks (physically and psychologically) that potential parents endowed with a fully developed sense of responsibility will tend towards passivity or show themselves incapable of acting. Especially at a time when immense threats close off the horizon, silencing any potential ‘yes’ to life.”
In a late interview from 1989/1990 Zapffe comes down unequivocally on the side of a rigorous “no” to life: “From the ‘no’ to life there directly follows a cessation of procreation. I do not want to participate in the creation of new life.” 
As indicated above, one does not perhaps go far wrong in reckoning Zapffe among those thinkers whose thought has undergone a certain transformation in the direction of antinatalism: one which begins with a certain advocacy of antinatalism in view of the intolerable meaninglessness of self-aware human existence and moves toward something like an antinatalism proper founded in the fact of this existence’s being so overwhelmingly full of suffering that no one can reasonably be expected to accept and bear it. Zapffe’s early “antinatalism of meaninglessness”, however, does not appear very convincing – and this for the following reasons: Zapffe, as we have seen, portrays Man as a being who has been, as it were, “dismissed from Nature” by reason of a certain “surplus of consciousness” – which latter, indeed, lies at the root of Man’s awareness of, and ability to reflect upon, himself – and who, therefore, finds himself in the midst of a meaningless cosmos and suffers terribly from this fact. In the first place the question arises of whether Zapffe does not, perhaps, overly romanticize the existence of human beings – at this point, as should be noted, only conscious, not yet genuinely self-conscious beings – “in the bosom of Nature”. Because it is true, after all, of the great majority of sentient animals that, after lifetimes filled with sicknesses, injuries, hunger and vicissitudes either as hunter or as prey, no easy or merciful death falls to their lot. And furthermore the course of events, in terms of the interface between Nature and history, within the transitional space between animal and Man is not as Zapffe suggests it to be: as far back as our knowledge of Man reaches, we see him “always already” accompanied by culture and by ritual actions from which we can conclude the existence of certain mythical world-images which prevented a sense of meaninglessness from ever arising. Zapffe conceives of Man as a biological “hiatus being” who is no longer, as the other animals were and remain, merely aware but rather becomes abruptly and immediately self-aware and proves unable to withstand the sudden onslaught of that meaninglessness which he nonetheless presupposes as a given. No such Man ever existed, however, in our species’ history or prehistory, since Man was “always already” an artist, at least as regards his anchoring of himself in the world by means of myth and religion. Zapffe fails to recognize this even though precisely such an “anchoring” forms one of his key themes: “anchoring” in the world as an unconscious precautionary measure aimed at precluding full exposure to the assault of meaninglessness – this is a topic which occupies him at great length throughout his major work “On the Tragic”.
It was only, in fact, after the implosion of that harmoniously ordered world-whole to which the Greeks gave the telling denomination “cosmos”, and after the subsequent collapse of that conception of the world as God’s Creation which had been this vision’s successor and inheritor, that Man found himself cheek by jowl with a universe bereft of meaning. No such confrontation as is described in Zapffe’s “The Last Messiah” – namely, that of a primitive Man, dismissed from the bosom of Nature and abruptly self-aware, with a tormenting, absolute nothingness – can ever really have occurred. This confrontation is rather something which was reserved for us, the “late humanity” of the present day.
In fact, however – and this much at least can be said in the defence of his early philosophical schema – Zapffe adduces, in “The Last Messiah”, no less than four distinct strategies or systems serving to keep at a distance the onslaught of a meaningless universe. These are: isolation, anchoring, distraction and sublimation. By “isolation” Zapffe understands the deliberate rejection of all those disturbing and destructive thoughts and feelings which may happen to come to an individual’s awareness. Regarding “anchoring” Zapffe notes:
“Every cultural unity is a large-scale system of anchoring, fully rounded-off in itself and constructed upon those supporting pillars that are the culture in question’s fundamental ideas.”
These trust-building “anchoring mechanisms” – parents, home, even the life of the streets – exert their effects from earliest childhood on. “Distraction” is considered by Zapffe to be an extremely widely prevalent mechanism of self-protection: attention to the universe’s meaninglessness remains constantly below a certain critical threshold, inasmuch as our attentiveness is constantly fed by new distracting impressions. “Sublimation”, finally, designates rather a transformation than a repression. It is very telling that the US antinatalist Thomas Ligotti – on whom Zapffe’s work “The Last Messiah” exerted a great influence – chose to call his own work on “the conspiracy against the human race” the sublimation of his personal “cosmophobia”. If one reads these Zapffe’s four systems or strategies as strategies of “de-anxietization”, the connection becomes clear between his work and the work of Hans Blumenberg, who also accorded to mythical world-descriptions and mythical forms of life the function of “de-anxietization”.
 „En natt i lengst forsvunne tider våknet mennesket og så seg selv. Han så at han var naken under kosmos, hjemløs i sitt eget legeme. Allting oppløste seg for hans prøvende tanke, under over under, redsel over redsel sprang ut i hans sinn.“
 „Hva var skjedd? Et brudd på selve livs-enheten, et biologisk paradoks, en uhyrlighet, en absurditet, en hypertrofi av katastrofal natur. Livet hadde skutt over målet og sprengt seg selv. En art var blitt væpnet for sterkt, – ånden gjorde den ikke bare allmektig utad, den var like farlig for sin egen velferd.“
 „Han kommer til naturen som en ubuden gjest; forgjeves rekker han sine armer ut og bønnfaller om å bli gjenforenet med det som har skapt ham: Naturen svarer ikke mer, den gjorde et under med mennesket, men siden kjente den ham ikke.“
 „Kjenn Eder selv, vær ufruktbare og la jorden bli stille etter Eder.“
 Ders.: Tragik und Tragödie. Ein vorläufiger Versuch über Wesen und Gestaltwandel des Tragischen, in: Preußische Jahrbücher Bd. 225 (1931).
 „Mig fik du, men min søn skal du ikke faa! En skjæbnesvanger feil begik du, dengang du agsaa la avlen ind under min vilje. Og ikke av kjærlighet gjorde du det, men for at jeg skulde møte dette værste av alle konkrete ansvar…: Skal jeg føre denne slegt videre eller skal jeg ikke? Og nu spør jeg ikke længer hvad du vil, men du skal spørge havd jeg vil, og jeg vil ikke mere ofre til livets gud. Jeg skal ramme dig med den evne som du frigav for at pine mig, jeg skal bruke min indsigt imot dig og berøve / dig dit bytte. Og de misbrukte millioner skal staa bak mig som en plog… Og altid skal to avle én… Da skal du kjende din avmagt og tigge mig, mennesket, paa dine blodige knær.“ (Om det tragiske, S. 239f)
 „Jeg maa undlate aa skape nye interessebærere. Beslutningen vil danne en avsluttende epoke i menneskeslegtens utvikling […] I denne forsagelse, dette nei til fortsættelsen, ligger menneskeformens ytterste kulturelle mulighed.“(Zapffe, Om det tragiske, Pax Forlag 1996, S. 402).
 „Fremfor alt må vi gjøre forplantningsspørsmålet etisk relevant. Man endevender en mynt under valgets kvide, før man gir den til tiggeren. Men et barn slænger man ut i den kosmiske råskap uten å blunke.“
 „Jo snarere menneskeslekten våger å harmonere med sine biologiske forutsætninger, des bedre. Og det er å trække sig frivillig tilbake, av ringeakt for sine vilkår i verden, likesom varmehungrende dyrearter døde ut da temperaturen sank. Det er altets moralske klima vi egentlig ikke kan tåle, og avviklingen kan ske smertefritt gjennem to-barns-normen. Isteden utbreder vi oss og seirer overalt, fordi vi av nøden har lært å lemlæste formelen i vore hjerter. Det urimeligste utslag av denne styrkende forgrovning har vi kanske i tesen om, at den enkelte har “plikt” til å bære navnløse lidelser og den værste død, dersom det redder eller gavner resten av den gruppe han tilhører.“ Der norwegische Text wurde uns von „Planet Zapffe“ (http://www.knunst.com/planetzapffe/) zur Verfügung gestellt.
 „…å avle barn, å starte en skjæbne, evt. en vifte av skjæbner uten begrænsning i tid – er et foretagande så ladet med både sikre onder og svimlende risker – fysisk, psykisk og sjælelig sett – att potensielle forældre med moden ansvarsbevissthet vil være disponert for passivitet eller handlingslammelse på dette punkt, især i en tid som vor, der overvældende truende aspekter fylder horizonten og lammer vort Ja til livet.“ (Zapffe im Interview mit Geir T.H. Eriksen, in: Gateavisa Nr. 102 (7/84), Seite 29–31, hier: S. 30).
According to antinatalistic moral theory there would be no obligation to act in such a way as to cause new human beings to exist even if the human beings in question were destined to be happy. Many may conclude from this that antinatalism is a moral theory unconcerned with the issue of happiness. But this is not the case. Even if it seems to us impossible to find a foundation for any supposed obligation to “make” happy human beings, there certainly does exist a moral obligation to make already-existing human beings content.
That a believer in God might – in the tradition of Job – make reproaches to Him for all the sufferings that human beings must undergo on earth is all the more unlikely the more such a believer would have to fear that, by such an action, he would be putting the salvation of his own soul at risk. But God functions, nonetheless, in the history of the constitution of antinatalism, on account of the responsibility for all aspects of existence that is ascribed to Him, as a sort of a “catchment basin” placed before the accusation eventually levelled against human parents, and as a sort of area of accumulation for complaints about existence. Where accusations directed against God arise, these accusations serve initially also to shield and cover over Parental Guilt and to forbid the emergence of reproaches directed against human parents. But with the àImplosion of God and the loosening-up of religious obsessions and idées fixes the historically-accumulated accusations against God fall back upon the heads of procreating human beings. Man, freed of religion, inherits the accumulated guilt of God, in the shadow of which he continues to procreate.
In the course of what we might call “the implosion of God” we observe, in the “ideal-typical” case, a falling-back upon the heads of human beings themselves of those >Accusations Against God, reproaching Him with having created Man, which have accumulated over millennia in the work of poets and thinkers. All of a sudden, the accuser becomes the accused.
Although it is often held to in full simultaneous knowledge of the actual biological facts of parenthood, that notion of our being “children of God” which accompanies the belief in God the Father as Creator conveys an understanding whereby human beings are always also born from God or begotten by Him in the measure that they declare their faith in and allegiance to Him. This understanding, which tends to exculpate parents, was and remains apt to mask the relations of guilt and responsibility that actually apply here.
In cultures where both world and Man are taken to have their origin in an omnipotent Creator and thereby in an overwhelmingly powerful will behind origin and being, it is – tendentially at least – very difficult for the “wish never to have been born” to come to clear expression. In the three monotheistic religions this “wish never to have been born” is tantamount to a “critique of God” that has a taboo placed on it because, as a general tendency, it is perceived as liable to be punished by the withdrawal of salvation. The “wishes never to have been born” encountered in the writings bearing the names of the prophets Job or Jeremiah had necessarily to be somewhat “defused” and reinterpreted as imprecations cast by Man not upon God but upon himself: “Man curses the day of his birth because it is only through this day that he acquires the possibility of sinning,” we read in an exegetical textbook by Balthasar Corderius from 1646 (quoted from Rölleke, S. 16) The taboo on God is a bulwark from which any impulse to curse God or His creation tends, as it were, to rebound, becoming reflected instead as a curse which Man casts upon himself.
Thus, regret at having been born remained, in cultural history, essentially a self-related regret and achieved only a passive form of expression. It is only in certain isolated cases that the hint of a reproach directed against the Creator Himself makes itself heard – in the form of the question as to why – given the uncertainty of salvation – this Creator decided to create His creatures at all, since this involved either a passing or an eternal experience of hellish suffering. In a certain Frankfurt passion play the cry is even directed at Christ Himself: “Woe to you that you were ever born!” (quoted from Rölleke, S. 23) Here we are only a short way from an accusation against God Himself, since it was not by two human beings that Jesus was begotten.
As the notion of a divine presence withdraws from our lives, indeed, the taboo on God likewise becomes less strict. The “wish never to have been born” is no longer reflected back into Man’s own abjection but begins to emerge and assert itself now as an imprecation on existence/Creation. Milton and Shakespeare count among the better-known voices articulating this idea. Equally interesting, however – though barely appreciated – is that “accusation against God” articulated under the auspices of Islam which we find, for example, in the poets Attar and Chayyam (1048–1131).
It is only for already-existing beings that acts or omissions can be better, indifferent or worse. In accordance with this fundamental-ethical principle of presupposed existence it cannot be possible to make identifying reference to anyone for whom it would be better, indifferent or worse to begin to exist or not to begin to exist. If I say: “For me, it would have been better/worse not to have begun to exist” I am attempting to “get around” certain logical and ontological circumstances which in fact can never possibly be gotten around. Simple as this insight may be, it proves very difficult to hold to it in the course of actual anti- or pronatalistic argument. Everywhere, there tends to occur a sliding into judgments of the type: with the beginning of our existence there occurred an improvement, or a deterioration, in “our” state. Poets and thinkers often express themselves in just this way, even though the beginning of our existence is really not an event which can be said to happen to us, nor to harm or help us. Inasmuch as it is logically excluded that something exists before it begins to exist the beginning of the existence of a living being can bring this being neither into a better state nor into a worse one.
No one can be identified for whom it would be better to begin to exist than to go on not existing.
No one can be identified for whom it would be better to go on not existing than to begin to exist.
It may be supposed that our inclination to give preference to being over non-being is to be traced back, in a measure that is impossible precisely to determine, to bionomic influences. In other words, it may be that, in our giving to being the connotation of “good” and to non-being the connotation of “bad”, there comes into effect a certain bio-axionomic primordial stratum of all morality which is the real constituent agent behind all our intuitions and moral evaluations. The intuitive privileging of being over non-being in the wake of this bio-axionomic primordial stratum of our thinking and feeling generates a kind of whirlpool-like sucking of everything toward existence which surely plays a role also in the form taken by pronatal stances and attitudes. All talk of people’s “not being” tends to call forth a spectrum of emotional judgments which ranges from “bad” to “threatening”. Very generally speaking, we may say that it is this spectrum that generates the “whirlpool-like sucking of everything toward existence” which causes human beings to call other human beings into life.
In debates about generation and procreation one often hears it said that “potential human beings have a right to actualization” or, in other words, by begetting progeny one “actualizes” a human being who already existed in potentia. Nicolai Hartmann uses, in his ontology, the phrase “half-existent entities” in order to criticize the notion, still widely held to in his day, that so-called “potentialities” were in some sense already real. He supports this phrase with the argument that that which is “only potential” is not real precisely for the reason that it is – at least at the moment and in some cases permanently – not possible for it to be real. There is, in other words, no half-existing “potential realm” above, beside, or behind the realm of the actual. This notion of “half-existent entities” goes to nourish the >Natal Myth insofar as “human beings in potentia” appear to be, in ontic terms, something more than just nothing.
This central concept in the onto-ethics of Nicolai Hartmann describes a neganthropic aspect of the mode of being of the real: we imagine that everything that is conceivable is possible; but in fact it is really only ever the actual that is possible, or that was possible before it was made actual. If we cherish a belief in a – so to speak àhalf-existent – plurality of numerous possibilities and potentialities which are all somehow “at our disposal”, this is because this belief helps to console us and to avert our attention from the true “hardness of the real”.
Parents beget children in order that these children will be able, as the phrase goes, to “make their fortune” in the world. But as the other phrase which speaks of “the rat-race of pleasure” suggests, this is much harder than it is often assumed to be. Even after some extraordinary improvement in their circumstances or after some amazing stroke of luck people tend to slip back, after some time, to some much lower level of happiness. Things are different when it is a matter of a great catastrophe in people’s lives: in such cases it tends to take a much longer time before people once again acquire their former contentment.
Whoever acts in such a way that another human being begins to exist is responsible for the fact that there now exists one more being who may possess, indeed, in the words of the US Declaration of Independence, “an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness” but who is constituted, in fact, in such a way that it will always be difficult for him to maintain himself for long on a very high level of happiness, whereas a single stroke of adversity will often leave him permanently discontented.
 See, for example: Baumeister et al., Bad is stronger than good, S. 326.
Quite aside from any experiences of happiness or suffering that new human beings brought into existence might undergo, the question also arises of the effect of salvation or calamity for other human beings that might proceed from this existence. Indeed, not a few people have justified their pronatal decision by pointing out the possibility that the child that they beget might become a bringer of salvation to mankind. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach sketches such a scenario in her story “Das Schädliche”:
“Nordhausen mourned for her for a long time, then took to himself a beautiful, virtuous wife and lived happily ever after. What kind of a future would have awaited him had he married Lore? And their children – what calamities might they have brought down upon the world? Might they have brought down… Here too we find ourselves placed before a question. They might also have brought salvation. Countless examples from life and from history prove…but of course, what does ‘proof’ mean?” (Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach)
One aspect of Asiatic religiosity to which we cannot refuse our appreciation must surely be the following: that the faiths – and also the forms of philosophical reason and reflection – that have emerged from the matrix of this religiosity have been able to raise themselves very much further out of that apparent self-evidence of our “simply having imperatively to be” – an apparent self-evidence grounded in the bionomic realities of our status as component elements of physical Nature – than the Middle Eastern/Occidental counterparts to these Asiatic religions have ever succeeded in doing. But Occidental philosophy, as “the brain of religion”, can today, through antinatalism, link up with the legacy of these extra-Occidental forms of belief and reason.
Due to the “home advantage” enjoyed by existence one must proceed very carefully when attempting to find out whether someone is “happy to have been born”. Just the questions alone “Are you happy to be alive?” or “Would it perhaps have been better if you had never begun to live?” will tend to activate the drive to self-preservation, the involvement of which may bring it about that these questions are answered in a way that is merely defensive, without any real thought or reflection about the topic going into the reply. What is required, then, is a subtler nativistic hermeneutic which does not “assault” the questioned party with a symbolic threat to his existence in the form of an “all-or-nothing” interrogation. Such a subtler manner of proceeding would gingerly try to explore in what measure the questioned individual’s life really is important to him, by taking into account any risky behaviour this latter might engage in and his contentment from moment to moment.
 Sarah Perry was quite right to point this out; see Perry, Every Cradle is a Grave, p. 187.
With his “heuristic of fear” Hans Jonas speaks out in favour of the position that, as regards certain experiments and innovations in the fields of genetic and atomic technology, the possibility of things going wrong must be taken very seriously and the implementation of the new discoveries and inventions therefore often deliberately forgone. But why does Jonas not apply this “heuristic of fear” there where it is most eminently a question of Man himself: namely, in the question of human beings’ bringing forth of other human beings? In view of the fact that the human being who is thereby begotten might potentially be deeply unhappy or may suffer in his life some catastrophe the “heuristic of fear” would appear to require that further human procreations be forgone and that the >Experimentum mundi be broken off. Instead of recommending this, however, Jonas chooses to hold, with his “principle of responsibility” – within the larger context of which his “heuristic of fear” is developed – in a manner which runs precisely contrary to this “heuristic of fear” to the notion that Man must go on existing at any price, thus proving himself to be an irresponsible pronatalist after all.
The notion “nativistic hiatus” designates the divergence from one another, in very great measure, of sexuality and procreation since the advent of easily accessible and easily applicable reliable methods of contraception. Together with the general spirit of modernity, which tends to unanchor human existence from all its former moorings in metaphysics, this nativistic hiatus forms one of the pillars of practical antinatalism.
We are nowadays constantly exhorted to see to it that our personal and collective “ecological footprint” stays as small as possible. We hear an especially great deal of talk about our “carbon footprint”. But of a similar degree of importance is the moral imperative to limit our “himsa footprint”. The Sanskrit word himsa signifies “injury” or “violence”; ahimsa, on the other hand, is the principle of non-violence, non-injury. The person who lives frugally, consuming no meat or (so far as possible) no animal products at all, leaves behind him a relatively small “himsa footprint” – in marked contrast to the person who frequently takes journeys by plane or car, and quite especially in contrast to the meat-eater, who with every meat-product he consumes contributes to extending the chain of breeding, fattening-up, and brutally slaughtering living beings.
The heaviest “himsa footprint” of all, however, is left by the person who procreates. Parents bring a human being into the world who will, with absolute certainty, become a victim of one or another form of biological violence (i.e. sickness, accident or death) and will also, with a barely lesser degree of certainty, become a victim (or a perpetrator) of one or another form of social violence (chicanery, punishment, insult or humiliation). Whoever procreates condones, in one way or another, that course of history up to the present day which is so filled and over-filled with violence and lays a new foundation stone for this violent history’s perpetuation.
It is normal to condemn individuals who knowingly pass on to, and impose upon, their progeny some medical handicap from which they were already aware they themselves suffered. But there exists a precise equivalent to this irresponsibility on the historical-neganthropic plane. Each newborn citizen of the earth is irresistibly drawn into those neganthropic interrelations and chains of action and reaction which extend into every time and place making up the history of our species. He is seized by these neganthropic chains of interrelation and compelled to contribute to their perpetuation. An example: whoever undertakes to praise the excellent qualities of Dutch painting during the so-called Golden Age of Amsterdam, then the richest city in Europe, must be supposed to be blocking out of his mind the fact that the Netherlands were, at the time, the hegemonic power within the modern global economic system and that the organization which played the most decisive role in this hegemony, the Dutch East India Company, either slaughtered or deported to Batavia, in or around 1621, the entire population of the Banda Islands in order to replace them with Dutch colonists. (see Eric R. Wolf, Europe and the People Without History). Today, at our advanced stage of globalization, almost every consumer of any product tends to promote some form of mischief or misery somewhere in the world.
Psychological mechanism, ancillary to the drive to self-preservation, which generates that >Momentum of Positivity which is required if individuals are to push on with their own existence and bring others into existence through procreation: “However badly things are going for a human being, so long as there glimmers in him even one last spark of vital force he will cling to the hope of future happiness. If hope were not in the world it would be the turn of despair and we would have, even despite the fear of death and the natural drive to self-preservation, to record suicides without number.” (Eduard v. Hartmann: Philosophie des Unbewussten) We might add to this that, without this “ancillary instinct” of hope, not only would the number of suicides be far greater; the number of procreations would also be far fewer.
In accordance with a peculiar logical consistency belief in Hell leads to a theological antinatalism. Devout Christians or Muslims run, with every procreation, a Hell-related risk which is really greater than they can conscientiously accept, inasmuch as it is impossible for these devout parents to foresee with any certainty whether or not their child will end up in Hell.
Before yet more children are brought into the world it must first be ensured that they are welcome in this latter. And whether the world has attained the requisite degree of hospitableness for more children to begin to exist in it can, for example, be established by observing whether children are starving in this world, or being forced to work before reaching an age appropriate for it, or whether they are obliged to serve their parents as “prestige objects / subjects” or are otherwise directly instrumentalized.
The notion “priority of the world’s adjustment” refers to the imperative whereby it would not be considered to be incumbent upon newborn human beings to adjust and adapt themselves to the world; rather, the bearing of new children should, on this account, be suspended for some time until the world has been made – by those who have already been living in it for some time – has been made a world more worthy for human beings to live in, that is to say, has been, for its own part, adjusted and adapted to the needs of those who might potentially be born into it. Otto Reutter offered a humoristic formulation of this point:
“Don’t be born, little man!
Wait till there’s a world here that’s more to your liking.“
This “priority of the world’s adjustment” implies that existing human beings have, first of all, to reform the world from the bottom up, and reorganize it in such a way as to make it a welcoming place for new arrivals, before there can be even any thought of bringing forth new human beings to inhabit it. We encounter a moderate and modified form of antinatalist thinking similar to this one both in Tolstoy’s “Kreutzer Sonata” and in Dostoevsky’s (1821–1881) “Demons”:
“But one thing is necessary above all else: there should be no superfluous human beings born into the world. Rather, reorganize the world in such a way that no human being will be superfluous in it and then bring into it as many human beings as you please.”
We designate by the term “humanomania” the widely-held conviction that human beings must, imperatively, continue to exist indefinitely on into the farthest future and that any price in suffering is worth paying in order for them to do so. Humanomania is often sustained by the view that the presence of human beings in the universe is an absolutely indispensable value in itself (>Axiopathy) or the view that a golden age for humanity will one day be realized.
The question of the neganthropic threshold-value arises both on the individual and on the collective level.
The question of an individual-neganthropic threshold-value is one which arises in two distinct respects: namely, reflexively, in respect of one’s own self, and in respect of one’s children. Reflective, self-related neganthropic threshold-values are established when we ask ourselves: “in what sort of situation would I have to find myself in order for me to say, it would have been better if I had never been born”?
But in order to establish the second, child-related sort of individual-neganthropic threshold-value we would need rather to ask parents in spe: “Imagine that medical diagnostic techniques had progressed so far that it were possible, by means of genetic analysis of the embryo, to predict not just some serious illnesses but practically every form of malady and disease from which the person that this embryo becomes would suffer throughout the whole length of their life: how serious would the predicted illness have to be – or how many less serious illnesses would have to be predicted to ensue, one after the other, in the prospective person’s life – for you, as parent in spe, to decide rather to forgo allowing the embryo in question to become your child?”
Would the knowledge that certain childhood diseases – such as measles, chickenpox, scarlet fever, and whooping cough – would certainly occur be enough to cause this prospective parent to revise their pronatal decision? Or would there be needed for this the certainty, rather, of more serious illnesses, such as thyroid disorders, leukemia, skin cancer, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, gall stones, kidney stones, collapsed veins, coronary disease, rheumatic disorders, pulmonary fibrosis, rosacea, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, or the many varieties of allergy? And if the inevitable arisal of one or more of the illnesses on this long list – which might easily be made still longer – really were enough to cause someone to revise a pronatal decision once taken, should it not then be the case that every single such pronatal decision would need by rights to be revised, since we can be absolutely certain that every human being, without exception, will have one day to experience the catastrophe of death (unless the human being in question happens to die a very sudden death or slips down gradually into a deeper and deeper state of unconsciousness)?
The Kantian Limes – The Question About a Collective-Negathropic Threshold-Value
Already for Kant, a man of the 18th Century, there remained little hope that the human species could be improved: “The experience of both ancient and modern times must leave every thinking person in doubt and embarrassment regarding the question of whether our species’ condition will ever improve.” (Kant, Schriften zur Anthropologie) Of such an affirmation it would seem reasonable to expect that it should issue, if at no earlier point in history then quite definitely after the terrible experiences of the 20th Century, in numerous professions of adherence to an historically-informed antinatalism. We see, however, that this is a long way from having been the case.
For this reason we ask: after what war or genocide, what famine, plague or natural catastrophe was it finally enough, or would it finally be enough? How many future human beings would someone wish to see rendered up to a terrible destiny before he or she began to view the non-violent termination of the history of our species as an ethical imperative? Which event in human history forms the caesura by which one might consider Michael Landmann refuted and revealed as a >damnatorial accomplice in the Conditio in/humana, when he claims – light years removed from Kant – that “the human race learns from the suffering which it has inflicted on itself. Error provokes, by a logic of thesis and antithesis, improvement.” (Landmann, Fundamental-Anthropologie)
Another Kantian limes concerns the theory of justice and conveys the notion that humanity deserves its own extinction if justice has become extinct among human beings: if society, for example, has reached such a point that the offer is made to a criminal condemned to death that he allow medical experiments to be conducted upon himself the results of which might serve the wellbeing of humanity in general: “Because when justice perishes the continued existence of human beings on earth is an existence without value.” (Kant, Metaphysik der Sitten, Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Rechtslehre, 2. Teil, E. Vom Straf- und Begnadigungsrecht)
The Tyranny of a Majority Contented with a Minimal Quality of Life
For the important ethical thinker Dieter Birnbacher the future of humanity is not, in the first instance, something which self-evidently simply “has to be”. He writes: “Rather, we are necessarily running, by pushing on with the history of humanity, a certain risk. (…) Whether our persistence in this project is ethically justifiable or not cannot be proven or disproven except in light of the balance of costs and benefits, which can only ever be drawn up ‘after the fact’.” To all appearances, what Birnbacher writes here implies that, after the massive human catastrophes of our history, especially those of the 20th Century, we still enjoy a morally defensible choice regarding whether or not to take the risk of exposing human beings to such experiences also in the future (>Damnators). Birnbacher’s ‘only after the fact’ qualification serves here, in reality, to give a carte blanche to procreation: only once new human beings have come into existence, it implies, can it be judged whether the decision in favour of procreation was or was not a justifiable one. – But this is tantamount to the annulling of all >Parental Guilt. Birnbacher, however, cannot be reproached with blinding himself to the facts. In the final decade of the 20th century, he notes, more human beings will have starved to death than in any previous decade in history. This decade also saw mass murders on an almost inconceivable scale, with victims (as in Rwanda) running into the hundreds of thousands.” Clearly, Birnbacher foresees, for the 21st century, crimes and catastrophes on a comparably enormous scale. He is unable, however, to see any grounds in this for considering “that we should wish for the next, or the next-but-one, generation the blessing of never being born.”
Plainly there was not reached, for Birnbacher, even with the terrible events in Rwanda any neganthropic threshold-value such as to prompt him to take his distance from his own speech in favour of a persistence in the Experimentum mundi. What considerations, precisely, does he offer in this regard? The basis, for Birnbacher, of the above-mentioned ‘balance of costs and benefits’ is the ‘balance of happiness’ of a merely arithmetically calculated ‘greater number’ of individual human beings. For so long as “life, for this greater number of human beings, has not become something which they feel they cannot bear being asked to put up with” it is not, for example, future species-embracing catastrophes that represent the worst of all evils but rather: the ebbing-away of humanity. Birnbacher bases himself here on the subjectively-perceived quality of life of “the greater number”. But this amounts in the end to nothing more nor less than the justification, in the name of “the majority”, of the imposition of the grossest suffering and misery. It would be legitimately conceivable, under the auspices of such a philosophy, that a human majority whose numbers would run into the billions might lead a life full, in their own perception, of happiness while a human minority, whose numbers would run into barely fewer billions, would suffer unspeakable physical and mental misery.
As far as the life of the majority is concerned, progenerative decisions are, more precisely speaking, justified in Birnbacher’s eyes for so long as life, for this “greater number” of the human race, “has not become something which they feel they cannot bear being asked to put up with” – a statement which seems to imply that the life of those we bring into the world to live on after us may indeed permissibly be “something they have to put up with” – but not may not permissibly be “something they cannot bear being asked to put up with”. Birnbacher specifies this aspect of “something one can bear being asked to put up with” more precisely by giving a direct answer to the question of just when a life can be said to be meaningless: “Life is meaningless only in the case where the most important and fundamental of our aims and ends are constantly disappointed and we fail to adapt these goals to the realities of our existence to such an extent that a bare minimum of fulfilment becomes possible.” Birnbacher arrives at this assessment on the basis of his own preferred version of Utilitarianism, i.e. of an ethical system with a subjective-hedonistic axiology. Birnbacher is certainly right in taking up the cause of Utilitarianism here because, although the value-basis, or basis in evaluational premises, of this latter doctrine is indeed a narrow one, it is a value-basis which is not contested by any other system of ethics, for which reason it can lay a strong claim to universal validity. The value-basis of Utilitarianism consists in the value of “wish-fulfilment subjectively experienced as valuable” – for which Birnbacher uses the briefer form of expression “the value: quality of life”. In terms of Utilitarian ethics a positive value is assigned to experiences which are subjectively experienced as positive, while a negative value is assigned to experiences which are subjectively experienced as negative. The value of life thereby inheres in an extra-moral characteristic, namely “therein, that life is predominantly experienced, by those who are living it, as satisfying”. Thus far, however, the only question answered would be that of whether, or for how long, an already-existing life is to be persisted in; and a suicide comes into consideration only if someone is unable any longer to achieve a certain minimum of self-fulfilment.
Now, the question that specifically concerns us is whether one can, and how one does, move from the question of the continuability of an individual life to an answer to the question of whether it is legitimate to cause other lives to begin. On the basis of the value: “the quality of life”, remarks Birnbacher, the question “should human beings exist?” can only possibly be answered in the affirmative: it is better for more of that which is good to exist than for less of it to. “If the existence of a being with a (generally considered) positive quality of life represents a value, then it is ceteris paribus better if more instances of this being exist rather than fewer instances of it.” Firstly, this answer would imply that human beings are to be brought into existence in order that the maximum possible quantity of value enter into the world. But this sounds extremely implausible, since we would be dealing here with an increase in value that does, prima facie, no one any good – because nothing good is done for a person beginning to exist by this mere fact alone of their beginning to exist (as Birnbacher himself, indeed, citing Erich Kästner, explains). And secondly, were this logic to be followed out, there would be a danger of there coming into being what a hostile observer would be inclined to call “the tyranny of a certain minimum quality of life”: if, merely statistically considered, of some ten billion people some six billion are, in terms of their own subjective perception of their lives, “doing well”, while some four billion, judging by all established value-criteria, are “doing badly”, the advocacy, or the practice, of procreation would be, on the basis of this “majority vote”, morally meritorious even in the case where it could not in all conscience be held that this proportion of happiness to unhappiness were likely to alter at any point in the foreseeable future. In the last analysis Birnbacher justifies the continuation, indefinitely on into the future, of a certain status quo by reference to billions of human beings the pressure of whose suffering is not yet so great that they are driven to suicide.
But, being an informed and judicious philosopher, Birnbacher does not just reckon with the occurrence of further enormous human catastrophes; he is also aware of the mechanisms of the biological and social >Lottery (see Birnbacher, Analytische Einführung in die Ethik, p. 235). Despite this being the case, though, he makes no serious attempt to enter, ex ante, into an >Assessment of the Consequences of Begetting Progeny. Let us attempt, therefore, to better understand his position. In his 2007 book “Analytische Einführung in die Ethik” Birnbacher expounds in more detail his as it were “quantitative” conception of ethics: “More happiness must always be a better thing than less, regardless of whether this ‘more happiness’ comes about through an increase in the enjoyment experienced by already existing individuals or through the existence of more individuals who will also find enjoyment in their lives.” (p. 223) In order to make more plausible this “sum-of-utilities”-based imperative to procreate, which contains within itself an anthropodicy, Birnbacher has recourse to cases involving so-called “negative utilities”. He reminds us of the fact that, when there occurs a mass accident or a famine, it is, in the end, not at all a matter of indifference to us whether the number of victims amounts to ten, or a hundred, or a hundred thousand (c.f. ibid. p. 223f). But what Birnbacher leaves out of account here is the after all decisive circumstance that we have to do, in the case of these victims of accidents and famines, with already-existing human beings. There is indeed no question but that an accident which claims the lives of ten people is (all other things being equal) less bad than one which claims the lives of a hundred. But our reference point here consists in existing persons, the smallest possible number of whom should have to undergo suffering. Birnbacher, by contrast, pleads for the bringing into existence of additional, not-yet-existing human beings (“blank spaces”, ontically speaking) in order that the total “utility sum” of the world is accrued. We have to do here with a true >Salto natale. With his reference to the imperative to minimize suffering Birnbacher touches on the moral theory of negative utilitarianism, with which Karl Popper aligned himself, adducing the convincing consideration that we know far better what to do in order to decrease suffering than we know what to do in order to increase happiness. The value-basis of negative utilitarianism is, in fact, much narrower even than that of the happiness-based version which is advocated by most Utilitarians. Negative Utilitarianism’s stance, indeed, toward progenerative decisions must necessarily be a dissuasive one: after an act of begetting there begins to exist a >Living Being that must necessarily suffer – something which runs counter to the negative-Utilitarian imperative to minimize suffering in the world. “Sum-of-suffering” negative Utilitarianism has the advantage here over the “sum-of-happiness” Utilitarianism advocated by Birnbacher, since it restricts itself to existing sentient beings and does not comprise the implausible imperative to bring forth, so as to arrive at its moral-theoretical goal, additional such beings. The moral-theoretical intention of “sum-of-suffering” Utilitarianism is, at least as far as our own earth is concerned, fulfilled when the sum of suffering in the world has become equal to zero – that is to say, when no sentient being capable of suffering any longer exists (or no sentient being capable of suffering any longer suffers). For this reason Birnbacher calls our “sum-of-suffering” Utilitarianism “a radical variant of negative Utilitarianism which is hardly acceptable in view of the consequences that flow from it” (ibid. p. 236). The question is only: “hardly acceptable” for whom and for what reasons? Behind this judgment there doubtless stands the “intuition”, or personal aesthetic preference – never to be shaken by any future mass murder or natural catastrophe – that a world with human beings, or at least some sort of sentient being, in it is “better” than one without such beings.
 According to Birnbacher “we are entirely right to chuckle over Erich Kästner’s joke that ‘there really are people who still believe that they procreated in order to give pleasure to their children” (ibid. p. 368). And in his book “Analytische Einführung in die Ethik” (2. 2007, p. 224) Birnbacher even adduces Narveson’s finding whereby Utilitarian ethics is not a training in how to create happy people but rather a general answer to the question: “how should we act in order that human beings become happier thereby?”
Without knowing what they are doing, and partly even with the best intentions, human beings who persist in their pro-natal decisions make themselves complicit in laying the basis of future calamity. And even when they do know, at bottom, what they are doing they succeed in blocking this insight out – at least temporarily. We speak, therefore, of an objective complicity of all parents. Natal enlightenment consists, in the last analysis, in a subjectivization of this objective complicity.
With this our handbook on antinatalism we situate ourselves within the tradition of philosophical enlightenment. The handbook enlightens its readers by showing that the apparently “most normal thing in the world” – namely, that there are human beings and that these human beings are (re)produced – becomes, on closer examination, questionable. Because, in the last analysis, it is procreation which leads to ever more generations of human beings’ being placed before new problems as well as the ever-recurring old insoluble ones and the >Conditio in/humana’s being perpetuated.
It would, of course, be all too easy to assign the guilt for all this misery to the parents of this world. At least in advanced industrialized societies parents mostly take the position of only wanting the best for their children. And this “wanting the best”, of course, is taken to include conceiving them in the first place. – What is not taken into account here is the onto-ethical fallacy that is committed when someone assumes that they are doing something good for a not-yet-existing person by bringing it about that they begin to exist.
Anti-natalists concede that there are indeed some good arguments for procreation that need to be considered: for example, the consideration that a sudden stoppage of births occurring simultaneously all over the world could – in contrast to a slow ebbing away of fertility – significantly lower the quality of life for all existing human beings. But at the same time anti-natalists are of the view that unconfessed selfish motives often underlie the wish for children and that the arguments against procreation far outweigh, on balance, those for it. Anti-natalists do not adopt, thereby, a hostile attitude to parents, or to people who want to become parents, but rather attempt, through argument, to convince them that it is better to bring no more children into the world.
Our category of >Parental Guilt, then, does not concern, to an equal degree, all parents at all times but rather only applies in the full sense where parents – and most especially women – firstly enjoy a certain degree of self-determination regarding pregnancy and birth and secondly have been able to form some accurate idea of what is awaiting their children once they have given birth to them. A genuine parental guilt we ascribe only to fully reflective individuals living in the “Information Age” who make pro-natal decisions even in the face of doubts they may harbour, or who may even be familiar with the moral theory of antinatalism but opt nonetheless to engage in procreation. A good point of comparison here is ethical vegetarianism. Someone raised in a traditional society or in a generally carnivorous environment may never give a thought to the ethically unjustifiable consequences of meat-consumption. But once they have been made acquainted with the arguments for ethical vegetarianism, this same person will be acting, if they continue to consume meat, contrary to a better ethical insight which now lies fully within their reach. A similar line of reasoning applies in the case of procreation. People who have had an opportunity to consider the option of non-procreation, or who have somehow felt the necessity of doing so, or who have actually been made familiar with the moral theory of antinatalism, do indeed incur “parental guilt” in the case where, knowing better, they nonetheless persist in procreating.
The Israeli philosopher Saul >Smilansky is the author of several important essays on antinatalism. His intensive concern with the topic, however, appears not to have prevented him falling into the serious error of grotesquely underestimating the presence of anti-natalist insights and sentiments in the cultural legacy which has been passed down to us. Curses cast upon existence, such as we find in the Biblical Book of Job (>Biblical Antinatalism) are, Smilansky argues, only rare and exceptional cases within this legacy. Curses cast specifically upon one’s own existence in this way represent a partial or incipient form of antinatalism. Because we are obliged to assume that other people will at some point find themselves in situations similar to our own. And then the – in each case ethically imperative – universalization of the wish never to have been born implies a doubt regarding whether anyone at all should be engendered and brought into the world. Since Smilansky, however, feels himself justified in viewing the presence of such partial or incipient forms of antinatalism in our cultural tradition as so minor as to be negligible, he feels able to write that:
“It also seems significant that there is so little expression of the wish not to have been born, or at least this is so with most people who live under objectively tolerable conditions. If life were so bad, then – even if we bracket the possibility of suicide – we could expect much more expression of the Job-like wish not to have been born, in common sentiments, literature and the like. The idea is culturally available. Yet the sentiment is hardly to be found, except with those who are by temperament unusually melancholy, or are in depression, or, like Job, have some good reason for feeling so.” (Smilansky, Life is Good)
Our handbook provides the proof that Smilansky is in error here – and indeed not just Smilansky. Even Heinz Rölleke, to whom we owe one of the most comprehensive collections of >Wishes Never to Have Been Born (namely, his treatise O wär‘ ich nie geboren… (“Oh, That I Had Never Been Born”), enormously underestimates the presence of anti-natalist formulae in our culture when he writes, for example, that “moreover, there is to be found in the literature of the present day, so hostile to sentiment and emotionality, neither direct anathematizing nor direct praising of natality. It is obvious, rather, that this literature tends to accept human existence as something that is not, indeed, entirely penetrable in its meaning but that remains, nonetheless, unalterable.” (Rölleke)
Two things, however, need to be borne in mind regarding the numerous declamations of the “Oh, that I had never been born!” sort, as well as other “antinatalisms”, that we and other authors have gathered together out of the work of lyricists, dramatists and the writers of narrative literature and to which we have added our own commentaries. Firstly, it is to be remembered that we are dealing here, in the great majority of cases, with expressions of the self-understanding of fictional figures and not necessarily with any conviction actually held by the authors who created these latter. Secondly, it is also to be borne in mind that what comes to expression in these declamations is often no more than a momentary depression and that no conclusions can be drawn from such passing moods even about the Weltanschauung of the literary figure in question, let alone about that of his or her creator. And in light of these considerations the question does indeed seem justified of whether we tend to ascribe to great a significance to spontaneous >Wishes Never to Have Been Born and other traces of antinatalism. One might reply to this objection by pointing out that the sheer number of “antinatalisms” (in the sense of either indirect or explicit anti-natalistic forms or enunciations) to be found in our global literary tradition is such that the import of antinatalism in literature is hardly to be underestimated for this quantitative reason alone – however ephemeral any single anti-natalistic enunciation may appear within the context of a novel, a drama, or a poem. It must, furthermore, be taken into account that the anti-natalist topoi that one encounters again and again in the works of our literary tradition may well represent the slowly accumulated sediments of moods and of currents of feeling embracing the minds of many individuals. That is to say, these topoi may, in many cases, have already established themselves within the “psychic economy” of entire cultured classes within various civilizations before finally coming to be worked into literary form by individual members of these classes – a possibility that certainly speaks in favour of a certain extra-textual presence of antinatalism. A significant example here is Emile Zola’s novel Fécondité (Fertility).
By drawing together anti-natalist testimonies along with certain incipient forms of antinatalism emerging throughout the centuries and commenting upon these testimonies and incipient forms, we hope to demonstrate to our readers specific ways in which – according, at least, to our own reading of the matter – humanity has, through the enunciations of certain individuals, “seen reason”, as it were, and begun to distance and emancipate itself from the mere naturality of procreation. Antinatalism takes seriously the notion that Man has by now established himself as a constitutively cultural being who is in a position to call critically into question that heritage from his natural, animal past that is procreation and to distance himself, by deliberate omission of action, from this fatal heritage. In our view, the notion that the continued existence of humanity represents a self-evident moral imperative amounts to a systematic structure of self-delusion (i.e. to what the Critical Theorists of the Frankfurt School referred to as a Verblendungszusammenhang) which is underpinned and sustained in part by certain laws of our physical being as organisms and in part by certain culturally-nourished prejudices and fallacies. How strong a grip this systematic structure of self-delusion has on us is clear, for example, from the fact that radical social critics like Adorno did indeed provide a thorough analysis of the systematic and collective “blinding of oneself to the truth” that, as they argued, constituted life in contemporary capitalist society but were unable to develop their key insight that “the whole is the untrue” in the more radical sense that we have outlined over these last few pages: namely, that of calling philosophically into question that systematic structure of self-delusion that consists in procreation, and in the perpetuation of the human race, itself. The following collection of “antinatalisms” documents moments in the history of philosophy, literature and culture at which this systematic structure of self-delusion has indeed begun to crumble, or has even been seen through entirely.
There decidedly counts, in fact, among those claims regarding what is “ordained to be so by Nature” which the Critical Theorists viewed as persistences of the “mythological” on into the modern world and our own present day, the claim that Nature dictates that all human beings must die. Antinatalism reveals this supposed natural necessity of human mortality to be mere ideology. Because our condition as beings who will die is not a condition given in and by Nature but rather a condition brought about by Man himself. The Marxian insight inspiring the Critical Theorists, then, does not go far enough: “the point” is not to criticize society as it is presently constituted and thus to change it; it is rather to abolish human society’s very existence by the application of reason.
The author of a handbook on antinatalism must necessarily face the question: “why do you argue for and promote a practice of non-procreation instead of devoting yourselves to (what would seem at least) the more fruitful enterprise of bringing aid and succour to already existing human, beings? Why expend argumentational energy in the cause of preventing potential human beings from beginning actually to exist – since such merely potential human beings cannot, since they are only potential, actually be “helped” by such a course of action – when there exist millions upon millions of human beings to whom one might really offer aid and succour? Our answer to this (entirely justified) critical enquiry runs as follows: it is not just actions that can be morally meritorious but also the omission of certain actions. To give one – simplified – example: someone who omits to perform an action that would pollute the environment by cancelling a long-distance flight sees to it that the living conditions of other human beings are better than they would have been had he gone ahead and performed this action.
To show support and solidarity for suffering human beings is indeed a good action. But it is also morally meritorious to revise and rescind one’s wish to have children and to act in such a way as to avoid procreation, because in this way (at least) one less human being will begin to exist who will need such support and solidarity, inasmuch as he will have to undergo mental and physical pain and suffering, will inevitably at some point have to witness the sickness and death of close relatives, and will have eventually himself to die. Even if “no one” can actually be named for whom ”it might be better not to begin to exist”, it is nonetheless generally acknowledged to be bad to act in such a way that “someone” must die as a result. But it is exactly this that is done by the person who acts in such a way that, as a consequence of his or her action, someone begins to exist. Whoever creates a human being by procreation does indeed act in such a way that a human being must (eventually) die from his or her action – something which, except in cases of self-defence, tends to be unanimously condemned before the bar of our common moral sensibilities. In short: when we say “it is better to do x, or to omit to do y”, the action, or omission to act, concerned can be moral even in the case where it is not possible specifically to name a person for whom “it” is better. – We compare “states of the world” with one another and give the preference to a “state of the world” O, which comprises no suffering (and likewise no joyful) beings, over a “state of the world” M, which comprises both these latter, even if in the “state of the world” O there is no one who actually gains or profits from the fact that no one exists. This inasmuch as, in “state of the world” O, it is also the case that no one can suffer from this fact that no one exists, whereas in “state of the world” M there will indeed necessarily be “someone there” who suffers.
If one understands the concept “nihilism” – which may at first seem vague – to signify a noological nihilism, then the meaning of this concept is as follows: There is nothing – and most especially there are no objective values or goals – worth living for. Looked at in this way, nihilism contains an anti-natalist impulse. This is the case inasmuch as, within a nihilist perspective, children too are necessarily disqualified as something worth living for. Moreover, noological nihilism cannot help but pose the questions: “Why bring about the entry into existence of a human being of whose life one can know with certainty that it will not be worth living or will remain without meaning or sense? Why “condemn” him or her to such a nihilistic existence?”
In his 1799 open letter to Fichte, Jacobi reproached his philosophical colleague with an idealism that he described as nihilism; he was alluding thereby to the fact that, for Fichte, the “I” was the only reality. Whereas this ontological nihilism à la Fichte (and à la Berkeley) does no more than declare that nothing outside the “I” is real, a nihilism that we might call “onto-ethical” propounds the position that it is better that nothing should ever have existed at all – including, in this case, each respectively cognizing “I” itself – and that it is ethically incumbent upon us to aspire to such a state of nothing at all’s existing any longer. A paradigmatic statement of this onto-ethical nihilism is to be found in Georg Büchner’s “Danton’s Death“, where we read that “nothingness has killed itself. Creation is its wound. We are its drops of blood.”
If we now proceed to a further differentiation internal to this category of onto-ethical nihilism, we arrive at a stance of existence-repudiation for which Ken Coates has coined the denomination “rejectionism”. Existence-repudiators/rejectionists are all those literary figures with views prefiguring or approximating to antinatalism who, down the millennia, have exclaimed to the world in general: “Oh would that I had never been born!” And rejectionistic, or repudiating of existence, in this sense are quite particularly also certain religions such as Jainism, Hindu belief systems, or Buddhism, to whose lay adherents, nonetheless, procreation is permitted.
Onto-ethical nihilists and existence-repudiators can be said to take up a position approximating to antinatalism inasmuch as they negate and reject the existence of both world and humanity without thereby being anti-natalists. Thus, Eduard von Hartmann would be an example of an onto-ethical nihilist and rejectionist who nonetheless firmly and explicitly declares himself to be against antinatalism. That onto-ethical nihilism is by no means identical with antinatalism is very clear also from the recent substantial study “Nothing” authored by Ludger Lütkehaus, in which antinatalism plays as good as no role at all. Similarly, poetry and narrative literature abound with rejections of existence, without this necessarily implying that the figures in whose mouths these repudiations are placed – let alone the authors themselves who place them there – are anti-natalists.
Common, however, to onto-ethical nihilism and rejectionism is what Ulrich Horstmann, in his 1983 book Das Untier (“The Beast That is Not a Beast”), calls the “anthropofugal perspective”. By this he means “the perspective of Man’s speculative flight from Man himself…, the beast that is not a beast’s distancing of itself from its own being and from its own history” (Das Untier) The “anthropofugal” philosopher, according to Horstmann, is distinguished by the fact that – like a rocket which attains a velocity great enough to overcome Earth’s gravity and to reach outer space – he has achieved an intellectual “escape velocity” which enables him to break free of the gravity of “that ideological sphere of influence and force which holds ‘the beast that is not a beast’ with both feet on the ground of supposed facts and which prevents him from ever seeing past the horizon of these latter.” (ibid. p. 9) If we add this further distinguishing factor of an anthropofugal perspective – i.e. the attaining of a humanistic intellectual “escape velocity” – into the differentiating analysis of nihilism and related stances that we have already undertaken, we arrive at the following picture:
Onto-ethical nihilist (ontofugal): “It would be better if the world as a whole did not exist!”
Rejectionist (existence-repudiator): “Oh would that I had never been born!”
Anthropofugalist: “It would be better if human beings did not exist.”
Anti-natalist: “Every action which leads to a further human being’s beginning to exist is morally questionable and it is morally incumbent upon us to cease to procreate, so that mankind as a whole dies out.”
Horstmann recognizes and states, indeed, with reference specifically to those mythological tales of Great Floods and other rescissions of the act of Creation, that “the ‘beast that is not a beast’ has always, in one way or another, admitted to itself that it would be better for it never to have been.” (10) Nevertheless, Horstmann remains, with his anthropofugal perspective, some way short and outside of antinatalism proper. We can recognize this particularly clearly from the fact that his concrete perspective explicitly eschews any moral vision. Instead, Horstmann has recourse to the idea of putting an end to all suffering by an amorally executed apocalypse brought about by weapons of mass destruction. Such a non-moral vision of apocalypse had already been presented at the beginning of the century by Albert Ehrenstein in his poem Der Kriegsgott (“The God of War”)
[…] Cease crying out to a God who does not hear. / Let your thoughts probe no further than this: / Some little under-demon rules this earth, / […] / This, though, remains: / After bloody flux and plague, / There may rise howling up in me a desire, / To put an end to you completely!”
 See the distinction drawn between ontological (there exists nothing outside the “I”) and noological nihilism by W. Weischedel.
 See Ken Coates’s study “Rejectionist Philosophy from Buddhism to Benatar”.
 Ehrenstein’s poem clearly draws here on the legacy of >Gnosticism, for which the world we dwell in is ruled and governed not by a benevolent Creator but by a wicked Demiurge of a lower order than the Unknown God.
The 20th Century has seen several breakthroughs to a fully-developed anti-natalist position occurring independently of one another. If we divide these breakthroughs up in terms of language regions, we get the following picture:
Kurnig, Guido Kohlbecher, Martin Neuffer, Karim Akerma, Gunter Bleibohm.
Philippe Annaba and Théophile de Giraud.
Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world:
Julio Cabrera and Rafael Tages Melo.
Herrmann Vetter, David Benatar, Jim Crawford, Thomas Ligotti, Ken Coates, Sarah Perry and several others.
These anti-natalist breakthroughs were made possible by a large number of (cultural- and intellectual-)historical tendencies and occurrences which we will call “antinatalism-friendly conjunctures”. To name here just a few of these “antinatalism-friendly conjunctures”: the rise of a secular culture, in the emerging literature of which there were often developed critical discourses on God as bearing ultimate responsibility for the deficient existence of Man; the metaphysical thought of Schopenhauer and his follower and popularizer Eduard von Hartmann; nihilism; feminism.
That philosophy of non-procreation which has recently come to be called “antinatalism” consists in fact in moral-theoretical positions which only gradually emerged and detached themselves from the cultural tradition and from the moulding and (de)forming pressure of metaphysics (specifically of a Schopenhauerian metaphysics of the will) and found, most likely, a form of expression more or less fully adequate to their substance only around the turn of the 19th to the 20th Century in the writings of a thinker publishing under the nom de plume of >Kurnig. Underlying work on the present handbook on antinatalism has been a conviction that, besides the many clear declarations of an adherence to anti-natalist principles, fundamental callings into question of all procreation and explicit appeals to abstention from natality, it is possible to discover within the material that has been historically handed down to us a large number of testimonies, appeals and statements of position which are not, indeed, to be classified as genuinely anti-natalist positions but are nonetheless to be considered as, so to speak, “seeds of antinatalism” within our cultural tradition, and that these testimonies, appeals and statements need also to be taken into account in a work of the present kind. In addition, then, to what we will call “direct antinatalisms” in past and present-day thought, it is the intention of the present handbook to familiarize its readers also with these “seeds of antinatalism” that are to be found in the philosophical, epic, dramatic, and lyric literature produced throughout the history of human civilization. By pointing out the presence of (proto-)anti-natalist elements within the whole of our literary heritage we provide documentary evidence that the protest against existence in general has been going on, just under the surface of our shared human culture, since time immemorial and that antinatalism is not to be dismissed as a mere symptom of latter-day “decadence”. We might mention, for example, three classical sources of inspiration for anti-natalistic forms and for the critique of procreation both in the past and in the present day, namely: the antinatalism of the Ancient Greek tragic dramatists; the antinatalism of Ancient Asia; and a certain biblical antinatalism (in qualified form, the >Wish Never To Have Been Born of Job and, quite particularly, the exemplary family- and childlessness of Jesus in view of the imminent Last Judgment, a family- and childlessness which is again urged repeatedly in Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians) as opposed to the biblical pro-natalism in the form of the Old Testament injunction to “be fruitful and multiply”. Thus, two of the ancient sources of antinatalism have a religious character, while of the third of them – the antinatalism of the Ancient Greeks – it can perhaps most correctly be said that it corresponds to that pessimistic sense of existence that was diagnosed by Jacob Burckhardt.
Varying a well-known dictum, we may say: history is the progress of Man’s awareness of his actual freedom from all the limits and guidelines that Nature appeared to have set for him – and antinatalism is the most trenchant and consistent conceptualization of this freedom. Even though antinatalism does not epitomise the learning process of mankind as a whole – with antinatalist insights having dawned only sporadically – it is nevertheless the case that the closing decades of the 20th Century saw a noticeable increase in the drawing of anti-natalist conclusions from the information provided by all hitherto-documented history.
The antinatalism that we argue for is an historically informed one. Which is to say that we take seriously all of documented history up to the present day as our best informant regarding the >Conditio in/humana. What has been passed down to us of human history hitherto does not, for us, provide any reasonable grounds for hoping that “humanity”, or even just the overwhelming majority of human beings, can look forward to a future governed and guided by the basic principles of justice, let alone to some future “golden age”. Since it is impossible to look into the future, let us confine ourselves to the past and the present and extrapolate from these latter: At the end of the 19th Century it was recognized that production and distribution techniques and technologies informed and guided by the natural sciences had developed to such a point that it was thenceforth, in principle, possible for the whole of humanity to lead a life of peace and happiness. The feasibility of all that had once seemed merely utopian was proclaimed and the inauguration of this age of realized utopias took the form of the establishment of ostensibly socialist – but in fact state capitalist – societies which took their own populations hostage in the name of the total happiness of some indeterminately located future, thus perverting that dream of a pacified and reconciled human existence that had seemed on the point of becoming a reality.
Not least among the reasons why the bold promises of the 19th Century and of earlier utopias have proven to be unrealizable is that that massively increased rate and scale of technological progress – upon which the idea of a pacified and satisfied age of Man was made to rest – is in fact causing all those sources of raw materials, without which these promises cannot be put into practice, to run out and dry up. Indeed, the waste products of this ever more rapid and massive technological progress are well on the way to undermining the very natural foundations of all plant, animal and human organisms on earth. To say nothing of the fact that the much-celebrated (and indeed factually incontestable) progress in humanity’s powers and forces of production tends necessarily always to pave the way to the further development and sophistication of weapons and instruments of destruction – in those cases, indeed, in which the inventions and innovations that improve production and human welfare are not themselves side-products of the development of technologies of destruction (>Development of the Forces of Destruction).
The fundamental question of what valid reason there can be for perpetuating the human race was posed in the last century by a writer much renowned in his day but nowadays largely forgotten: Maurice Maeterlinck (1862–1949), winner of the 1911 Nobel Prize for Literature. He did so with reference to the work of another writer whose name has since sunk even further into obscurity than Maeterlinck’s own. In 1934 Maeterlinck wrote: “WHY, we may ask with Georges >Poulet in his unknown masterpiece Nothing Is…, why should there be prolonged the existence of a species whose development only increases its capacity for suffering?” (Maeterlinck, “Before the Great Silence” (1934))
A little later in the century the author Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902–1991) offered an especially concise and trenchant formulation of this same historically informed antinatalism in his story “The Letter Writer”: “The thought of raising children seemed absurd to him. Why prolong the human tragedy?” (The Letter Writer)
But even where the anti-natalist successfully repudiates these charges of hostility to children or of general hatred of humanity, it will inevitably still be pointed out to him or her that life does not consist of suffering alone and that every sentient existence has its moments of happiness or even whole stretches of time that are suffused with a sense of joy. But, in the life of any individual, the happiness felt in the past and that which one might expect to feel in the future can counterbalance and compensate for the suffering one is experiencing in the present moment only to a very qualified and limited extent. That is to say, past and future happiness can do this only for suffering of a certain degree of intensity and only during certain specific stages of a human life. Likewise, it is only to a limited extent that presently-experienced happiness can counterbalance and compensate for the suffering one has experienced in the past or may expect to experience in the future. Generally speaking, we may say, the competence of happiness to offer comfort and solace for suffering is a decidedly restricted one. This becomes especially clear if we quit the “Robinson Crusoe” viewpoint that we have briefly adopted above, which sees the equation of happiness and suffering as resolving (or failing to resolve) itself within the span of a single individual existence, and consider Man as a social being. Even someone who may have experienced their own life as a bed of roses will usually leave mourning and sorrowing people behind them if they – as it will seem to these latter – unexpectedly and without prior sign of illness pass away. And this quite aside from the incorrigible optimism leading such a person to an evaluation of their own life and its happiness which possibly stands sharply at odds with the conclusions that might be arrived at by an impartial external observer of this latter.
Furthermore, to pass over onto the plane of the social in a still more emphatic sense, the relative wellbeing of one single caste, class or stratum within a society surely does not compensate for the suffering of other social groups in said society; likewise, the comparatively happy and prosperous life led by many in advanced industrialized nations does not compensate for the suffering undergone in the vast regions of the world that are plagued by poverty, war and famine.
Finally, to consider the question from the intergenerational viewpoint, the good life enjoyed by citizens of today’s affluent societies does not compensate for the miserable existences of people in the much poorer societies of the past; and likewise, the vague prospect of a humanity which might in some future century finally find itself both materially and mentally liberated, freed even from the structural violence of the need to work to survive, does not compensate for the present hardships of those who, today and tomorrow, will continue to be put out into a world where they must eke out a bare existence by the bitter sweat of their brow.
“Anti-natalists are against any more children ever seeing the >Light of the World; consequently, anti-natalists are hostile to children.” So, or in similar terms, runs another formulaic accusation that is routinely brought against anti-natalists. It is a formula, however, which distorts and misrepresents antinatalism’s true concern. The argument put by antinatalism is not an argument against children but rather an argument in favour of already-existing human beings’ reconsidering and revising any decision that they may have taken to procreate. That is to say, antinatalism does not argue against real, existing children but rather argues for childlessness.
As a philosophy of non-procreation, antinatalism is not against children but rather concerned with and focussed on the suffering that children will inevitably have to undergo once they have begun to exist. The moral theory of antinatalism, indeed, derives a significant part of its motivating force from the sufferings undergone by children, making, as it does, the case that it will only be once the world has been made fit for children (and indeed for human beings in general) to live in that it will become potentially morally defensible to act in such a way that yet more children begin to exist. As long as the world falls short of that high standard of “fitness for human beings to live in” that we see established and portrayed in many of the >Utopias und Ideas of Paradise that have arisen again and again in the history of the human imagination, the right thing to do – so argues the moral theory of antinatalism – is to refrain from procreation (>Priority of Adaptation to the World). If it were possible, indeed, to bring to realization overnight a utopia of prosperity and wellbeing in which human beings would no longer have to suffer any of the ills that they presently suffer, then antinatalism would lose thereby a part, at least, of its moral impetus and its justification for existence as a moral stance. Far from being “hostile to children”, anti-natalists exhort us to consider just what an infringement upon the moral space of another human being it is when one acts in a way that results in such a human being’s beginning to exist. To express the matter in a way that necessarily involves a certain ontological paradox: anti-natalists defend the right of children not to exist.
Were human beings, starting from today, to cease procreating with one another, the human race would die out within the span of about a hundred years. And this dying-out of humanity as a result of such “natal abstinence” is indeed the long-term objective of antinatalism. There is more, however, to the moral theory of antinatalism than just this long-term objective. This moral theory begins in an engagement with individual people and in the attempt to convince them, through reasoned argument, that it is better to reconsider any intention that they may already have formed of begetting a child, or indeed to refrain from forming any pro-natal intention in the first place. From the anti-natalist viewpoint, anything which results in someone’s reflecting upon their decision in favour of procreation and natality, or in their not making such a decision, or in their reconsidering and revising such a decision once they have made it, is an ethical success. If we succeed in bringing about through our work the reconsideration and revision of even one single “pro-natal” decision, then this work will have been more than worthwhile. Because to do this is to bring it about – to mention here only a tiny fraction of all that we might potentially mention – that there will exist one less human being than there might have: one less human being, that is to say, who, had he or she in fact come into existence, would have had to suffer illnesses, torment and persecution, witness the decline or death of parents, relatives, friends and beloved house-pets and finally – as last survivor, perhaps, and in unaided solitude – become old, sick and frail themselves before death overcomes them too.
Since the present handbook adopts a stance in favour of a world without children and eventually even of a world without human beings, it is inevitable that some of its readers will be inclined to level against its anti-natalist author(s) the accusation of “hating children” or even of “hating human beings” in general.
Let us deal briefly first with the second, and the broader, of the two reproaches. It is not misanthropy (“hatred of human beings”) that prompts the anti-natalist to make the case that no more human beings should be brought into the world. What prompts the anti-natalist to argue thus is rather the wish that no more human beings should come into existence who, at least at certain moments or during certain phases of their lives, will surely be exposed to the hatred and the chicaneries of other members of their species and will thereby be driven into the most degrading and humiliating of situations. Looked at in this way, it is not misanthropy that is the motivating and driving force behind antinatalism but rather, on the contrary, philanthropy.
If we set aside that element of anthropocentricism which tends to cling, due to its etymology and history, to the notion “philanthropy” and re-conceive this latter in terms of all living beings capable of feeling pain or pleasure, the maxim of an antinatalism consistently universalized in this way runs: “help all already existing living beings to the limit of your power to do so, while at the same time making arguments to the effect that nothing ought to be done which will cause further living beings to begin to exist.
To the extent that, in modernity, those sociobionomic imperatives which once strictly determined the maintenance of the species are tending to become modifiable and as it were “fluid” under the effects of human reflection and communication, the history of the species tends to take on an experimental character and become an >Experimentum mundi. We distinguish between involuntary large-scale experiments with the species, such as the revolutions occurring in earlier and later modernity, and that one great large-scale experiment with the species in which, as the world becomes more and more unified into a single world-system, ever more nativistically >enlightened citizens of the world are playing an active part. All those experiments with and on human beings which are each of them, taken individually, strongly condemned are in fact only possible within the framework of that large-scale experiment with the species which rests upon the lottery with genes and individual destinies that is represented by the begetting of children by procreation; the narrowing of our gaze to focus upon such individual crimes, however, succeeds precisely in distracting us from the fact of this larger-scale “experiment on human beings”.
In his text “The Philosophical Significance of Birth” Hans Saner notes that we observe a “forgetfulness of birth” going hand in hand with an “obsession with death” in Western philosophy from Plato, through Augustine, right up to Kierkegaard and Heidegger (see Saner, Geburt und Phantasie). Without wishing to play off the notion of birth against that of death, Saner does urge us to correct “forgetfulness of birth” within the framework of a philosophy of “natality”. There should thereby be opposed, with compensatory effect, to the (in Saner’s view over-valued) constant talk of death and “the end” a discourse bearing on the positive nature of life’s beginning. Each human being, argues Saner, not only has a birth behind him but is also, as a “birthed being”, endowed with the essential characteristic of nativity “through which he is capable of initiating action or, in a metaphorical sense, of ‘giving birth’.” Throughout his entire life the human being remains an “initiator”, from and by reason of his birth. There can be no doubt but that Saner is striving, with these remarks, toward a pronatal valorization of birth and of existence.
This striving of Saner’s to oppose to the philosophical tradition’s obsession with death a pronatal philosophy of natality has been much appreciated by Sloterdijk, who remarks with regard to this latter notion: “this expression (natality) which seems simply to designate something self-evident, does not in fact belong to the vocabulary of philosophy – an extremely telling fact. It is an artificially-created word, a neologism dating from the second half of our present century and occurs indeed, as far as I am aware, for the very first time in Hans Saner’s own book Geburt und Phantasie. Von der natürlichen Dissidenz des Kindes, Basel 1979. We may say, however, that the ground was prepared for this term by Hannah Arendt’s meditations on human ’Natality’ in her magnum opus The Human Condition…“ (Sloterdijk, Eurotaoismus. See also the same author’s Zeilen und Tage)
Maeterlinck, Maurice (1862–1949)
We also encounter also in the work of Maeterlinck (who elsewhere, in antinatalist spirit, denounces >Species Cowardice) an attempt to point up that death is something of secondary rank to life and natality: “We do destiny a wrong when we link it, to the extent we have done, with death or catastrophe. When will we give up this idea that death is more important than life and disaster greater than happiness? Why do we always look to the side of tears when we judge a being’s destiny and never to the side of joy? […] Does death, then, take up a greater place in existence than birth? But one fails to take birth into account when one weighs up the destiny of the wise man. What makes us happy or unhappy is what we do between birth and death, and not in death itself…“ (Maeterlinck, Weisheit und Schicksal, cited in: Harald Beck (ed.))
To the extent to which it is justified to speak of a Fear of Birth, we may perhaps conceive of our custom of celebrating the day of our births as a corresponding measure of compensation, a sort of attempt at reparation. In tacit recollection, as it were, of the terrible shock he suffered in coming into the world, the attempt is made to sweeten, on this one particular day, the existence of the individual so deeply damaged by life by providing him with cakes, gifts and company designed to cheer his spirits. The point, in the end, is to ensure that he does not lose all taste for existence. Birthday parties, as passing earthly events, are counterparts, on a very small scale, to those religious “heavens” and “paradises” which are conceived, on a much larger scale, as “institutions of reparation” which endure eternally.
The birthday party also functions as a sort of measure of “drowning out” which serves to prevent a recollection of the profoundly heteronomous beginning of every life and thus to forestall any reproaches toward the parents.
Polgar, Alfred (1873–1955)
Philosophical anthropology has pointed out that the new-born human being remains – in comparison with the newborns of other mammals – unable to fend for itself for an especially long period of time. Polgar expresses very eloquently the fact that, due to this unusually long period in which we are in need of help and protection, we retain all our lives a certain childlike character trait which makes it acceptable for people still to address us as “birthday boy” or “birthday girl” even when we are well advanced in age.
“The mischance of having been born is a burden we drag behind us all our lives. No one is ever rid of this burden even one day earlier than his very last. The whole span of time that is allowed us here is spent in coming to terms with this fact; and to forget it for a few moments now and then seems our only possibility of becoming, for these brief moments, contentedly aware of its consequences.” (Alfed Polgar, Die Mission des Luftballons)
Hueck, Walter (1889–1975)
One acute critic of regular, institutionalized commemoration of our birth is Walter Hueck, in whom we find a synthesis of Polgar’s notion of our peculiar helplessness and Musil’s notion of our elapsing time. A birthday is an event to commemorate the day that we came, in a pitifully helpless state, into the world: i.e. a commemoration of an event which – if we are to believe the testimony we ourselves offered of our own experience on that day – was no very happy one for us (>Cries of the Newborn); at the same time, however, a birthday is a reminder that we have become a year older and that there now remains one year less to us on this earth, even if we are spared death by sudden accident or sickness. Hueck asks forthrightly: what exactly is it that is being celebrated at birthday parties? Is it the misery experienced at the time of our first entry into the world, or is it rather the rapid approach of our departure from this world?
“I have never really been able to understand the meaning of birthday celebrations. In the first place a birthday is a commemoration of the moment when we came into this world, helplessly whimpering and smeared with stool. And I think one would have to be a shameless optimist to celebrate the annual rolling around again of this pitiful hour with pomp and solemnity. (…)
A birthday celebration is a blasphemy. Birthday wishes are insults. What truly motivates them is Schadenfreude.” (Hueck, Menschen unter sich)
 This is the meaning of Manfred Sommer’s question: “Is the birthday party a kind of apotropaic ritual intended to fend off the shattering of that vitally necessary ‘amnesia regarding birth’ which threatens to occur each time the anniversary of this day of parturition rolls around?” (Sommer, 1988)
If Auschwitz is constitutive for >Species Shame – i.e. if, now that it has proven possible for such a thing as Auschwitz to occur, human beings would need, were we ever to encounter an extra-terrestrial intelligence informed about our species’ history, to feel deeply ashamed about belonging to this latter – it is surely also the case that no one, even if they had formerly done so, can, after the terrible genocide perpetrated in Rwanda, any longer reasonably cherish the hope that the era of our species’ catastrophically failing to live up to its own moral standards might now be over. There is, then, every reason to maintain that our species is simply a failed project. Who would wish to contribute, through procreation, to the continued existence of a species which has proven a failure in this way? Roméo Dallaire has left us, in the form of his book “Shake Hands with the Devil”, an extensive account of what was, to quote the book’s sub-title “the failure of humanity in Rwanda”. Dallaire writes: “Rwanda was a warning to us all of what lies in store if we continue to ignore human rights, human security and abject poverty…From the Rwandan exodus in 1994 until genocide broke out once again in 2003, it has been estimated that four million human beings have died in the Congo and the Great Lakes region and, until very recently, the world did nothing except to send an undermanned and poorly resourced peacekeeping mission. Five times the number murdered in Rwanda in 1994 have died…” (Roméo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil)
In contrast to individual human beings we cannot present a >Questionnaire to the entire human species with the request to fill it out with the relevant information. But nothing of the sort is required. The species has, in fact, constantly and continuously provided such information about itself, even if this has only been in indirect form:
Religions are manifestations of a claim to happiness that has remained unsatisfied here on earth. They are an expression of a profound dissatisfaction with earthly existence. Eternal life, Paradise – or the soul’s next reincarnation, which is assumed to be better – are supposed to compensate for the suffering experienced in our lives here on earth. No one, perhaps, has ever expressed this better than Marx:
“The misery of religion is at one and the same time the expression of real misery and the protest against this latter. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the mind of mindless circumstances. It is the opium of the people.
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is at the same time the demand for the people’s true happiness. The demand that the people give up their illusions about their condition is at the same time the demand that that condition be given up which requires illusions in the first place. The critique of religion, then, is, in incipient form, the critique of that vale of tears the ‘halo’ around which religion itself is.” (Marx, Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie. Introduction, MEW Vol. 1, p. 378f)
Philosophy is the brain of religion and steps, after the dissolution of the notion of religion as something “self-evident”, into this latter’s place, so as to go on immunizing our earthly “vale of tears” against that radical critique which pleads the cause of an abolition of the human race itself.
Much like religions, utopias are long-term self-evaluations on the part of the species which have come to be expressed in verbal form. Ernst Bloch (1885–1977) recognized in utopias those unfulfilled promises to humanity which need to be preserved with a view to their realization in the future. At the same time, however, mankind’s utopias speak of that falling-short in terms of due happiness which has accumulated throughout mankind’s whole past. That is to say: utopias do not just point, with positive significance, forward but always also, with negative significance, backward. That leap into the future inherent in the utopian idea passes judgment on both past and present, submerging them in a light that reveals their insufficiency. That utopian panopticum that is assembled by Bloch in his Principle of Hope resembles a gigantic mirror, the reflected light of which illuminates the shortcomings and the privations of the species both in past and present.
Science Fiction – The Species’ Reflection on Itself Through the Medium of Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence
Another rich source of testimony offered by the species about itself is the self-reflection of humanity in the form of those (literary or cinematic) fables of the science-fiction genre which envisage this latter’s encounter with some extra-terrestrial intelligence. Attempts, in such fables and fictions, to answer the question of how extra-terrestrials would perceive us in fact provide information about our own selves, since science fiction is, of course, always the product of human authors who are merely imaginatively adopting the perspective of extra-terrestrials.
And to make mention, in this connection, of a still more ramified task: what testimony regarding itself does our species offer through the “Perry Rhodan” series of outer-space adventure stories which has been running constantly, in publication after publication, since the 8th of September 1961? The novelettes forming the series have now sold more than a billion copies in total, thus influencing the “psychical economy” of a very significant readership worldwide. It represents the largest-scale science-fiction series ever produced, its story sub-divided into complex cycles of mutually interconnected plots and dramas. Indeed, it constitutes the longest continuous narrative in the entire history of literature, of dimensions that put Balzac’s massive “Human Comedy” in the shade, not only providing a sketch of the outlines of mankind’s future history but also reaching back many millennia into an almost inconceivably distant past played out in regions far beyond the earth.
By “species cowardice” we understand a constellation whereby, on the one hand, there exists a certain insight into what is morally ruinous in the perpetuation of the human species but, on the other hand, we see a certain avoidance of this insight and a refusal to accept its consequences. Cazalis describes this phenomenon when he writes that humanity ought really to be ashamed of itself (>Species Shame) but Man remains enslaved to the comparatively trivial experience of procreation:
“One cannot stress often enough how old this world already is. Contemporary Man has been seized by such a profound ennui and despises his own species to such a degree that he would surely take no steps to ensure its continuation, had Nature (…) not seen to it that procreation is associated with certain pleasures, the temptation of which – one should not hesitate to admit it – human beings can only rarely withstand for very long. Sometimes, however, one observes how Man rages and revolts against himself, full of shame at being so fatally similar similar to other animals and a ridiculous slave of Nature’s moods.” Cazalis leaves out of account here that potential separation of sexuality and procreation that was both preached and practiced by the Cathars and which is vouched for also by the Bible.
Maeterlinck too makes reference to this “species cowardice” diagnosed by Cazalis when he writes:
“If Man possessed a less intimidated understanding, humanity would long since have ceased to exist. Because then it would probably not have accepted life in the form in which it is imposed on us.” (Maurice Maeterlinck. Found by: Guido Kohlbecher)
We might develop Maeterlinck’s thought and say that a humanity less intimidated by the heritage of Nature and by cultural tradition would long since have carried through a Cultural Revolution involving our freeing ourselves, once and for all from that illusion of the ”naturalness” of all procreation and would have died out, instead of heeding, with cowardice and complacency, the “call of Nature” and imitating this latter, falsely taken as a model.
 „On ne dira jamais assez comme ce monde est vieux. L’homme s’ennuie si profondément aujourd’hui, et méprise si bien son espèce, qu’il ne ferait rien sans doute pour la perpétuer davantage, si la Nature (…) n’avait eu l’esprit d’attacher à la reproduction certaines voluptés auxquelles, il le faut bien avouer, l’homme a rarement la force de résister longtemps. – Mais parfois alors on le voit s’irriter, se révolter contre soi-même, honteux d’être aussi fatalement bestial, aussi ridiculement l’esclave du caprice de la Nature.“ (Henri Cazalis, Le Livre du neánt. Pensées douloureuses et bouffonnes, siehe https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Page:Cazalis_-_Le_Livre_du_n%C3%A9ant,_1872.djvu/60)
A species’ universal history is its certificate of good or bad conduct. Would, on the basis of our own species’ record in this regard, an extra-terrestrial civilization entrust us with the carrying out of responsible tasks? Would they even engage us as minor auxiliaries?
Erich Fromm (1900–1980)
People who procreate implicitly attest thereby to the species’ conduct-certificate’s being free of any major taint or blemish; with the birth of their child they affix to this certificate, as it were, a stamp which renders it valid for the span of one further generation. Erich Fromm, however, states the following:
“The history of humankind reports an extraordinary destructiveness and cruelty and the aggressivity of Man is clearly of a far greater order than that of his animal ancestors; Man is, in contrast to the majority of animals, a real ‘killer’.” (Erich Fromm, Anatomy of Human Destructiveness)
Several philosophers have recognized the fact that Man is “forced to be free” or “condemned to be free” without asking just where this “forcing”, this “condemnation” comes from. We, for our part, point here to the >Perpetration of Existence committed by the parents, without which no one would be “condemned to be free” in this way.
Hartmann, Nicolai (1882–1950)
“The freedom of a human being does not consist in whether he wishes to act or not in a given situation; because omitting to act is also a form of action and may, if it is a matter of an omission not in accordance with what was right, redound upon the omitting individual as guilt. Rather, the individual is always forced to act. (…) He is forced to take a free decision. Or, to express the same notion in inverse terms: in being forced to take a decision he is free.” (Zur Grundlegung der Ontologie,)
In a “fading out” – decidedly reprehensible from a philosophical point of view – of all parental responsibility Sartre proposes the formulation that “Man, condemned to be free, bears the weight of the whole world on his shoulders: he is responsible, as a way of being, both for the world and for himself.” (Being and Nothingness) There never occurs either to Hartmann or to Sartre the idea of giving a critical turn to this notion they present of a “condemnation to freedom” and adopting an anthropofugal perspective.
Antinatalism appeals to human freedom inasmuch as it challenges human beings to liberate themselves from unproven intuitions nourished and sustained by biosocionomic imperatives and holds, moreover, human beings to be capable of such a self-liberation. Antinnatalistic moral theory summons and deploys human freedom in order to make of it something definitive: how much true freedom the species shall have acquired will be measured in terms of the extent to which it succeeds in eluding these biosocionomic imperatives. The final and definitive proof of its self-liberation would be its extinction. The positive substance of freedom consists in the freedom, in principle, both of the species and of the individual to step out of that nature-bound history which caused the species itself to arise.
Re-Dedication of Rousseau’s (1712–1778) Famous Dictum on Freedom
“Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains”, complains Rousseau in The Social Contract. Rousseau, however, overlooks, in this famous dictum, the fact that every human being is actually born unfree, inasmuch as he began to exist without his consent being asked or given. Let us modify, then, this famous dictum so as to make of it a motif of antinatalistic >Enlightenment: Every man is born heteronomously, as the respectively final link in a chain which reaches back deep into the past; may he seize and exercise the freedom that will make of him the last link in this chain..
What Is Evil About Freedom Is That It Is the Freedom to Do Evil
“Because there is no such thing as a freedom to do good alone; only that person who is essentially capable of doing evil things is capable of the ‘good’ in the moral sense of the term.” (Nicolai Hartmann, Zur Grundlegung der Ontologie) And: “To affirm freedom is tantamount to taking upon oneself the source and origin of evil.” (Paul Ricoeur, Guilt and Ethics) “What is evil about freedom is that it is the freedom to do evil” (Guido Kohlbecher) – It is hard to imagine a more perspicuous expression of the dark side of the Conditio in/humana.
With his “Black Book of World History” Hans Dollinger presented a thorough documentation of this formulation of the notion of freedom, confirming its truth with a statement which takes into account the co-Extensivity of the development of humankind’s powers of production and of destruction: “The history of humanity is thus not only a succession of cultures which climb to higher and higher stages of civilization. Nor is progress simple progress. The human race’s achieving of more freedom and power has enabled us not only to do more good but also to do more mischief, not only to be more active in creation but also more active in destruction.” (Dollinger, “Black Book of World History”)
In order to conceive of a world without evil one would have to conceive of a world lacking also that faculty of freedom which allows evil acts to be performed. Such a world would be, by the same token, devoid of all morality – since the beings existing in it would not have the freedom to decide whether to do good or to do evil. For which reason the objection immediately arises: would the removal of all freedom from the world not be too great a sacrifice to make, even if what was gained in exchange was a world free of all suffering? Hans Lenk is right to oppose this reasoning in the following terms:
“Were it possible to acquire a world without suffering by making it a world free of morality – this would not be a difficult sacrifice to make. But such a world, of course, is simply not conceivable. Living beings are dependent on the killing of other such beings if they are to continue, themselves, to exist. This is true even of human beings capable of morality. Such beings too are profoundly condemned to do evil.” (In: Die Antworten der Philosophie heute, edited by Willy Hochkeppel. Discovered by: Guido Kohlbecher)
If we try to follow out Lenk’s argument here to its conclusion, we need first to carry out a clarifying correction to his stance the necessity of which may have escaped his notice. It is absolutely decisive to understand that it is not the case that – morally capable – human beings just “are” condemned to do evil; rather, someone condemns them to this condition: namely, their parents, without whose >Perpetration of Existence upon them, more or less freely committed, or whose progenerative decision they would simply not exist as “beings condemned to do evil”. If it is evil to condemn someone to do evil, there is clearly implicitly thereby passed a negative judgment regarding the progenerative decision that lies at the basis of this condemnation; a contragenerative decision would be, by contrast, to be evaluated as morally good. Put very concisely, Lenk’s insight leads to a conclusion which restates but goes beyond a certain core proposition of Sartrean Existentialism: each individual human being was involuntarily condemned by his parents to do evil.
Let us look again at Lenk’s statement that even a world without freedom could not be conceived of as a world without suffering because living beings depend by their very nature on the killing of other living beings. Firstly, as regards human beings possessed of free will, it is well-known that these latter have the option of nourishing themselves solely on vegetable organisms, which we must suppose do not suffer. And it is not difficult to imagine a world populated by living beings who would be, without exception, vegetarian. The actual natural history of our world took, indeed, a different course. This is the unwritten natural history of increasing freedom, of the progressively increasing divergence between stimuli and reaction which culminates in Man, with his defining freedom to do evil. Precisely the fact that billions of human beings remain meat-eaters when they might just as easily be vegetarian is a prime example of this freedom to do evil – in a way that causes harm to both animals and human beings – and of how this freedom is something that human beings actively choose.
Freedom, Negative (Adorno)
In the following passage Adorno is close to achieving the insight that the highest possible exercise of the faculty of freedom would consist in an ontically definitive taking-back of this freedom through an embarking on the path of an ebbing-away of humanity:
“Freedom has retreated into pure negativity and what, in the age of Art Nouveau, was called ‘dying in beauty’ has now been reduced to the wish simply to curtail both the endless humiliation of existence and the endless torment of dying in a world in which there have long since come to be worse things to be feared than death.” (Adorno, Minima Moralia, Aph.) Despite his undeniable sensitivity, however, to the “endless humiliation of existence” and the “endless torment of dying”, Adorno does not carry through to its logical conclusion his social critique qua critique of suffering; this inasmuch as he omits to advocate a renunciation of the bringing forth of new human beings whose future is bound inevitably to consist in just such lived humiliation and just such a torment of death.
Fear of (the Immobilization) of Freedom
Thinkers such as Kant, N. Hartmann or Ricoeur who expressed their views regarding the moment of evil necessarily inherent in all freedom were well aware what consequences had necessarily to follow from the continuation of human history. Notwithstanding this fact, it appears to have been simply out of the question for all these thinkers that this history could ever be immobilized and brought to an end by a collective abstention from all procreation and natality – as it also was, to judge by the following passage, for the philosophical anthropologist Michael Landmann (1913–1984):
“Fearing that he [Man] will misuse his freedom, many philosophical systems do not allow this freedom to become a thing that Man is aware of and many repressive social and political systems do not allow this freedom to actually emerge. But one hereby immobilizes, in order to avoid a certain historical risk, the historical process itself.” (Landmann, Was ist Philosophie?) Landmann’s error consists in his failure to recognize that it is precisely in a specific immobilization of the historical process that the very highest degree of human freedom would come into effect. What stance would Landmann have adopted toward an expression of human freedom consisting in the resolution to remove the whole basis of human unfreedom by being so free as to cease bringing forth any being endowed with freedom? This would be a final and definitive victory of freedom – not of unfreedom.
The “woman question” is not just the question of female emancipation from biosocionomic constraints and impositions but also, and above all, a question formulated by Hedwig Dohm (1831–1919) but standing in need of further elaboration: “Why give life to creatures that, barely ripened into adulthood, will be snatched away by war?” (Hedwig Dohm: Der Missbrauch des Todes. Senile Impressionen) The question that this question of Dohm’s demands to be developed into runs: “why bring about the start of the lives of human beings who, if they do not fall victims to some natural or social catastrophe, will still have to perform those >Alloted Tasks of Existence which consist in falling sick and dying? This is all the more a “woman question” inasmuch as it continues still today to be first and foremost women to whom the task of raising children and caring for the sick devolves.
Out of the distant past the àGod Taboo and the >Parent Taboo continue to exert their effects even in our present-day world. Both are articulated – apparently out of a single imaginative origin – by the prophet Isaiah:
Isaiah’s Creatio-Nativistic Forbidding of the Question
“Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, what makest Thou? Or thy work, He hath no hands?
Woe unto him that sayeth unto his father, what begettest thou? Or to the woman, what hast thou brought forth?
Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel and his Maker: Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.” (Isaiah 45, 9-11, King James Version)
In these words of the prophet Isaiah Creation reveals itself to be a dictated “having-to-be”. It is not that a human being “may” partake of existence – in order, for example, to enjoy it – but rather that he “must” and should bear, without complaint, that existence which has been formed for him by that “potter of men”, God the Father (the Bible speaks of Adam being “formed from the dust of the ground” but the Hebrew word yatsar that the King James version renders as “form” is also the term used for the potter’s moulding of his clay) or imposed upon him by his parents’ act of begetting (likewise an act “of the father”). (>Lamentations of Jeremiah).
Taboo on the Question of Whether Human Beings Ought to Exist
It is surely to be expected that no enlightened mind would attempt to place questions relating to whether the human species ought or ought not to exist beyond the ambit of reason and rational discussion. Such, however, is not the case. In his speech “Reflections from the Perspective of the Philosophy of Law on Bio-Technology and Bio-Ethics at the Threshold of the Third Millennium” Arthur Kaufmann formulates, with reference to Hans Jonas, a certain prohibition of a humankind-related question which Jonas was not, in this particular form, familiar with:
“One can, of course, pose the question of why permanent human life should exist on earth at all; but one can also say of this question that it is simply unanswerable […] There is, in this question, simply nothing to discuss. We cannot behave as if there were going to be no life at all after us; or at least we cannot behave as if we would not be responsible for it” (Arthur Kaufmann, Reflections from the Perspective of the Philosophy of Law on Bio-Technology…)
This ethical edict – in questions regarding whether a human race should exist or not there is simply nothing to discuss – could hardly be more unethical. Kaufmann excludes a priori the very possibility of our behaving in a way such that nobody after us will come to exist.We certainly concur with Kaufmann that we are bound to take account of those who may live after us. But notwithstanding this, we may not, with Kaufmann, block out the ethical question of whether further generations of human beings should come into existence at all. Kaufmann leaves entirely unconsidered the issue of whether it might not possibly be more ethical to refrain from thrusting any more human beings into a world which we have hitherto entirely failed to make a world worth living in.
Is it possible to imagine that anyone not of a sadistic disposition could possibly perform an action in awareness that, after the passage of some decades, another human being would, as the result of said action, die in torment and in terror? Surely not. And yet nothing seems to be more widely accepted, and more looked on as natural, than just this. All parents, without exception, act as if it were right and proper for them to procreate children who, within the space of a few decades, will have imposed on them, as a consequence of this procreation, the torments and terrors necessarily befalling dying human beings.
One might consider, however, by way of a partial moral exculpation of antinatalistically unenlightened parents, the fact that these latter, in their imposing of the agonies of death upon their progeny, are subject to that same irrational distortion of future events as most human beings, in other situations and as regards evaluation of other aspects of the future, tend to be subject to: we clearly generally incline toward viewing a negative event which will occur with absolute certainty, but only in a few decades’ time, as less grave a matter than an event which will take place within a few days or months from the present moment.
Thrusting others into a state such that they have to suffer death, then, counts among those “remote impositions” to which we clearly apply quite other moral yardsticks and other criteria of rationality – namely, irrational ones – than we apply to “proximate impositions”. Perhaps because we believe that time will somehow provide a solution to the problem in question. In the case of that inevitable fate of decline and death that overcomes each begotten human being, however, there can be no “solution to the problem” but at best a shorter or longer postponement – unless, that is, one is so cynical as to look on the fact that parents will have, in most cases, slipped free of their responsibility by dying (>Primortality) before the children they have begotten have to face death and the agony of death themselves. The “solution” here is cynical because the infernal pains that one imposes upon a human being by begetting him do not become more bearable just because they are to be suffered through some 85 years from the moment of the begetting and not five months or five minutes from it.
Further questions arise in connection with this. Would parents beget a child if it were certain that it would die at the age of five months much in the way that many old people are dying right now? If not, then why not? Because such a brief life would “not be worth it” for the parents – or “not be worth it” for the child? But why should that imposition that is mortality be less a matter of moral concern and hesitation if it comes to realization only after the elapse of 25, 55 or 85 years instead of after the elapse of just five months?
The bringing into being of a human being is, in principle, an act with fatal consequences (->Beginning of Existence). Decisive for the moral evaluation of such an act is the attitude taken toward it by those involved. In the case of most acts of procreation we are dealing with acts of unconscious negligence: the persons involved in the act are not consciously resolved to commit a – morally reprehensible – deed with fatal consequences. The procreative partners are not consciously envisaging the fate of sickness and suffering that must inevitably overcome the child they are begetting; they repress the thought of this child’s having one day necessarily to die even though they would have been able to foresee this just in view of their insight into what must be universally presupposed of the Conditio in-/humana and ought, therefore, to have rescinded their own progenerative decision to bring themselves into possession of a child.
It is only in the cases of a very small fraction of all procreating individuals that we may proceed on the assumption of a conscious negligence (->Enlightenment of Parents): the procreating parties do indeed consciously reckon with the possibility of sickness and suffering befalling the child that they beget but trust – in an entirely unrealistic manner – that these miseries and misfortunes will not in fact come to pass once they have brought themselves into possession of a child.
Regardless of whether or not a joint decision to perform such a deed is taken, such couples constitute accomplices in an act of culpable negligence; the two persons participating in said act may be said to be acting negligently in various different combined degrees of consciousness or non-consciousness. Where we also take into account that broader milieu which spurs on and incites the procreating couple to the act of procreation, including the physicians who support and abet it, we find ourselves dealing with a broad community of culpably complicit individuals who are all participant in the act in question as an act with necessarily fatal consequences.
The German Criminal Code prescribes, in its article §222, the following punishment for the occasioning, through negligence, of the death of a human being: “Whosoever through negligence causes the death of a person shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding five years or a fine.” To the extent that the state is unwilling to penalize the creation of a human being as an act with fatal consequences assignable to other human beings as its causing or occasioning agents – or where said state, indeed, presents itself as the instigator, “fellow traveller” or aider and abettor of such progenerative acts with inevitably fatal consequences – it is incumbent on this state, by way of an atonement and indemnification which it needs to impose upon itself qua state recognizant of the rule of law, to support, as far as it lies within its powers and for the whole of his or her natural life, every one of its citizens who entered existence qua negligently begotten being facing the inevitable prospect of death, said support to extend to the provision to said citizen of a “good death”, should this be wished for. In other words: so long as the state does not foreswear and take its distance from any action as an instigator, “fellow traveller” and abettor of negligent procreation it must, in a precise and consistent further development of that inversion of natal guilt and responsibility initiated by Kant, offer to all those condemned by this negligent procreation to suffer death a basic material security (Allowance for Those Obliged to Bear Existence) as well as a death “with dignity”. This, the state’s abetment of “euthanasia” (in the term’s proper, antique sense of a “dying well”) cannot, indeed, compensate entirely for the state’s original aiding and abetting of negligent procreation (inasmuch as the former cannot reverse or cancel out the latter); it must nonetheless be looked upon as an indispensable component of humane culture and as an element of the aggregate indemnity owed by the state to its citizens.
Georg Hensel (1923–1996)
Georg Hensel rightly points out the fatal consequences that go hand in hand with every bringing into being of a human life: “The worst of all unpunished murders, with constant bodily harm and torture of the soul, lasts around seventy years: it is called ‘life’” (Georg Hensel, Glücks-Pfennige. Discovered by: Guido Kohlbecher)
Considered more precisely, of course, the bringing into being of a human being is not a murder, because the action of parents does not begin with an already-existing person whose existence they then put an end to. The fact remains, however, that the ->Perpetration of an Existence does indisputably constitute an act with mortal consequences provided only that, as a consequence of procreation, a human being has begun to exist.
Rudolf Bayr (1919–1990)
Someone thinking in terms of a philosophical neganthropy would be obliged, nonetheless, to raise the question of whether in one regard at least – namely, with regard to the person directly concerned and affected – negligent procreation does not represent an even greater injury than does negligent homicide. Because, whereas the latter act puts an end to an existence laden with suffering, the former sees to it that such an existence begins. This, argues Rudolf Bayr, is why negligent procreation should be more heavily punished than negligent homicide: “Negligent procreation ought to be penalized in the same way as negligent homicide, only the punishment should be still heavier, since the latter puts an end to the misery, while the latter initiates it.” (Bayr, Momente und Reflexe. Aufzeichnungen. Discovered by: Guido Kohlbecher)
The community of the procreators makes the hypocritical claim that its actions have been guided merely by the wishes of those human beings whom it brings into the world and that it has merely given these latter what they wanted: existences of their own. We might see a model for this hypocritical formulation in what Adorno writes at the start of the 129th aphorism of his Minima Moralia: “Hypocritically, the culture industry claims to be guided only by the wishes of the consumers and to give these latter simply what they want.”
Inasmuch as most people do not find themselves capable of Jumping Over the Shadow of One’s Own Existence, they will tend to respond, when so interrogated, that – had they somehow been asked this question before they began to exist – they would have wanted to begin to exist even if they had known that the existence awaiting them would be a miserable one. On this topic Friedrich Theodor Vischer (1808-1887) has this to say:
“What I find most touching in the face of a child is the way that it appears so sweetly and so pitifully to say: ‘I cannot help it that I was made to exist’. – By rights, really, each individual ought to be asked beforehand whether he wishes to exist. One would need to know the life-destiny that awaited him beforehand, predict it for him in detail, and then ask: do you wish, under these conditions, to enter into existence? If one were obliged, truthfully, to predict to the person being asked the question an extremely unhappy life, would he still reply ‘yes’ to this question? – But at this point the whole scenario that is envisaged here cancels itself out, and does so in a very instructive manner. Of course the person of whom this question were asked would reply ‘yes’ to it! Because the whole proposition developed here presupposes that this person is somehow ‘alive before he is alive’. Were this not so, it would be impossible to ask him anything. But this being the case, the person in question has already ‘gotten the taste’ of life, already accustomed himself to existence – and once in the midst of existence in this way, not even the Devil himself will prove able to resist its charm!” (Vischer, Auch Einer)
The “moral” of these remarks of Vischer’s is very clear: refrain, already in the first place, from acting in such a way that a new human being begins to exist, since this latter will almost always prove to be a “yes-sayer” to his own existence.
Contrary to what is commonly supposed, human beings and other living entities do not begin to exist only at their birth. – This is already supported by the fact that individual creatures belonging to the majority of species are indeed not “born” but rather crawl or slither out of eggs or larvae. And those creatures which are indeed “born” in the strict sense of the term begin to exist in utero, before they are actually born. Thus, whereas the end of the existence of a living being is designated by the term “death”, language lacks a symmetrical notion to designate the beginning of such a being:
Since “birth” designates the emergence of an already-living being from the maternal womb but not the actual beginning of the life of the being in question, people asked about their age regularly leave illegitimately out of account those months which they spent, alive, in utero. For lack of a better notion, then, let “beginning of life” designate the beginning of the existence of a new living entity.
In order to be able to answer the question of just what it is that distinguishes our beginning of life/beginning of existence, we must first establish what we essentially are, or what we are identical with. Mostly it is held that we are identical with our functioning organism and that we began to live shortly after conception when our organism began to exist/to function. With the following contention we take up a divergent viewpoint to this one: Our organism was begotten, but our organism constitutes us. More precisely, it was the brain of our already-functioning organism which constituted us, as soon as its functionality was sufficiently complex to generate simple consciousness (sensations). We maintain that we are not identical with our functioning organism but rather with the consciousness generated by our brain. Consequently, we can state our position more precisely as: Our organism was begotten, but our brain generates us. This proposition contains the interesting implication that we would never have begun to live – and would never have had to die – if the organism had been destroyed before it created the brain which later generated the consciousness that we essentially are.
The question as to the point in time at which human brains begin to generate a rudimentary consciousness can hardly be answered with any precision. If one assumes that in order for consciousness to exist at least certain primitive neural structures must be present, we can say that an embryo less than eight weeks old will certainly have no consciousness. This being the case, such an embryo is, indeed, a functioning human organism but still no living human being. If this hypothesis holds, then the many spontaneous miscarriages which occur constitute no “loss of human life” but rather only the loss of functioning human organisms; similarly, abortions carried out before the embryo has attained an – estimated – age of eight weeks are not to be classed as the murder of human beings but rather only as the destruction of functioning human organisms. In all the cases known to us the beginning of the life of an entity takes the form of a transition from organism to living being.
In support of our thesis of a difference in principle between organisms and living beings we offer the following considerations: (1) If we ask ourselves what we essentially are, it is possible for us to strip away from ourselves, in thought, all our body parts and finally even our entire organism without our thereby ceasing to exist; but the brain that generates our consciousness cannot possibly be “thought away”; were we to replace the brain in our head with some other functioning and consciousness-generating brain, then someone else would exist there in our place. (2) For some decades now this thesis has actually found some practical application in the form of brain-related criteria for declaring an individual dead. In hospitals a human being is declared dead when it is established that the brain of the individual in question has irreversibly ceased to function, even if the body of the patient, through artificially-assisted respiration, continues to do so. (3) There exists, then, a decision-procedure based on firm criteria for the question of whether, when faced with a functioning organism, we are dealing with a living being or whether this is only the case where we find ourselves faced with an entity possessed of consciousness: Would we deny to an electronic system of which it had been unequivocally established that it possesses awareness or even self-awareness the title of “living being” simply because it cannot count also as a functioning organism? Or would we rather say that we do indeed have to do here with a living being because the being in question has sensations, emotions or even reason?
We must hope that each of us would indeed feel it to be right to categorize an electronic system possessed of awareness as a living being and an electronic system possessed of self-awareness as a person. Because it is on ontological categorization that ethical characterization depends. An electronic system susceptible of feeling pain to which one were unwilling to ascribe the status of a living being would be far easier to subject to mistreatment than would be one considered as a living being.
Against the background of all that has just been said it seems to us that there applies, as regards the onto-ethics of the beginning of a life, the following truth: the beginning of the life of a human being is not something that “concerns” the human being in question; it is rather the precondition for anything’s being such as to “concern” a human being at all.
 The state of having been born, says John Stuart Mill in his System of Deductive and Inductive Logic, is a separable accident of the human species. This is especially the case inasmuch as foetuses are unborn human beings. Existence, on the other hand, is an inseparable attribute of every human being – for which reason it is onto-logically impossible to carry a human being over into existence. (Mill, System of Deductive and Inductive Logic)
 For further details see: Akerma, Lebensende und Lebensbeginn (2006).
Throughout almost its entire history humanity has suffered from toothache. Progress in dentistry, therefore, counts – along with the discovery of methods and procedures of narcosis and also of penicillin and antibiotics in general, which have saved the lives of countless patients – among the most renowned euanthropica. Up until 1829 the method used to put an end to unbearable toothache was searing irons. When these were brought into contact with the teeth the pulp of these latter was actually destroyed which mostly led to the patients’ losing consciousness from the pain.
Affirmative ethics claims the givenness of a certain essential Evil in the world – bound up with that very endowment with freedom definitive of human beings – while never envisaging the alternative: namely, a negative ethics for which the presence of freely acting beings in the universe does not represent a value of the highest order. (See on this topic Julio Cabrera) All ethics legitimates (though it mostly only does so unconsciously or tacitly) the facilitation of infringements, apt to cause pain and suffering, of its own norms, inasmuch as it posits Freedom as the highest of all values, even though freedom is always also the freedom to act contrary to ethical values. Whoever, striving after an Anthropodicy, exalts the value of freedom is open – since he tolerates, thereby, evil – to a similar accusation to that which can be levelled against the theological ethicist who attempts to provide a theodicy by pointing to the fact that God has given Man the freedom also to do good, even though he uses this freedom, often enough, to do evil.
To the extent to which it holds true that beings who are both vulnerable and endowed with the freedom to do evil – conditio sine qua non of all ethics –, ethics must be an enterprise aiming at establishing which moral principles can permit us to ebb away with the minimum possible degree of suffering.
Every form of ethics which unreflectingly presupposes the continuing existence becomes thereby the accomplice of the Conditio in-/humana. Ethics, indeed, is committed in its basic intention to the furtherance of the cause of humanity. But any ethics which, in the face of human history up to the present day fails to see itself centrally confronted by the question of whether human beings have a moral right to procreate at all is blind and shares in the guilt for all the suffering that will be undergone in the future.
Ethics becomes unethical when it holds that there is no alternative for it but to have to appeal to the givenness of freedom in the cosmos as something positive. Because the freedom of acting subjects is always also the freedom to perform those bad and evil actions which were the reason why ethical principles were necessary in the first place.
Ethical questions have been debated for thousands of years already. How is it to be explained, then, that the most fundamental ethical question – namely, whether human beings ought to exist at all – has hitherto been neglected? This might be connected with the fact that not least among the many things that ethics is its: an essentially vitalistic phenomenon, a philosophical manifestation of the drive to self-preservation. There would thus be comprised within the very “genetic structure” of ethics irrational answers to certain fundamental questions. This can also be expressed by saying that ethics, in the most basic respect, remains at the stage of morality: it simply accepts as a “given” the (right to) being of human beings endowed with the Freedom to Do Evil, instead of questioning back behind this “given” after the manner of a true philosophy of morality.
 Compare the standpoint of Fernando Savater in his introduction to Cabrera‘s „Crítica de la moral afirmativa“.
Ethics is the enterprise of rendering, by way of the universalization of principles of action, that freedom to do evil that is part and parcel of the characteristic human capacity for freedom compatible with the essential vulnerability that also necessarily characterizes all human beings. The need for ethics is founded, then, in the essential vulnerability of all those human beings who have been introduced into the world and it follows from this that ethics would need first of all to demonstrate “meta-ethically” that this introduction of human beings into the world is something that indeed ought to have happened if ethics is to present itself as the genuinely ethical enterprise it must aspire to be. In other words: ethics is initially, and will continue to be, merely affirmative and not (as a philosophical ethics owes itself to be) genuinely probing and radically critical for so long as it merely poses the question of how human beings should live (act) instead of posing the question of whether it is right at all to act in such a way that further vulnerable human beings begin to exist. What is really needed is a “theory of generative action” which questions back behind what is dictated to and stipulated for us by the legacy that Nature has bequeathed us.
The phobia of awakening signifies that “coming to” is by no means always a transition that is welcomed by the person concerned. It designates the fact that many people, even those who are generally in good spirits in the morning, emerge from sleep, be it a dreamless sleep or one filled with dreams, only reluctantly and against their own will. From this fact we may existentially extrapolate that many a person must wish in their heart that the first of all such “awakenings” – the start of one’s own existence – had never taken place.
This concept, coined by Eduard von Hartmann, denotes a psychical mechanism which brings it about that, when reviewing all that has occurred in a life, memory tends always to place in a more favourable light the negative experiences of the past:
“Consider first how, in our memories, unpleasant impressions tend quickly to fade and be blotted out while the more pleasant ones linger on, so that even an event or an adventure which proved, in reality, to be profoundly negative in its consequences glows in our memory in the most delightful colours (juvat meminisse malorum); this being the case, it must follow that an individual’s memory, looking back and summing up, must come to a much more favourable conclusion about the quantity of joy and pleasure contained in this individual’s life than could ever be come to by a mind observing and adding up, its functions unobscured by these “spectacles of reminiscence”, the amount of pleasure and unpleasure actually experienced by this individual in his or her life. Whatever reminiscence is not yet able to provide in the way of covering up the suffering that has actually already been experienced will certainly be provided, as regards the suffering that will most likely really be experienced in the future, by the instinct of hope…; thus, the balance drawn up as regards the past will tend to be involuntarily falsified in the case of all younger people by drawing into this balance the idea of a future which has been purged, through hope, of all the principal causes of suffering undergone in the past, without thereby taking into account those additional causes of suffering that may have since been added. In other words, it is not one’s own life as it really was, and will be, that is used to draw up the balance between the total quantity of pleasure and the total quantity of pain in one’s existence but rather one’s life as it appears, to the uncritical eye, in the beautifying mirror of reminiscence and wreathed in the deceptive perfume of hope. It is no wonder, then, when a result appears to be yielded which is little enough in accordance with reality. – Consider, then, also the fact that the foolish vanity of human beings extends so far that they would not only rather seem good than really be good but also rather seem happy than really be happy, so that each of us takes care to hide that which makes us suffer most and thereby shows off a prosperity, a contentment and a happiness which he does not, in reality, possess.” (Eduard v. Hartmann, Philosophie des Unbewussten. Zweiter Teil: Metaphysik des Unbewussten)
Long after Hartmann certain psychological experiments performed by the psychologist Daniel Kahneman have confirmed that the effects of such “spectacles of reminiscence” are indeed as real as Hartmann claimed them to be. The proofs thereby provided of the real existence of this psychical mechanism lend support to antinatalism inasmuch as they tend to undermine the cogency of that contentment with existence which we find expressed everywhere and to reveal this latter as mere deceit and self-deceit.
Antinatalism is susceptible of completion and conclusion in a more definitive sense than are other moral theories. This is the case because antinatalism has a goal such that, once it is reached, no immoral actions will be any longer possible at all, at least on this earth. – Unless it were to come about that the animals left behind once the human race had ebbed away should themselves then develop into self-aware beings.
With the emergence, through the separation of sexuality and procreation, of the nativistic Hiatus the perpetuation through procreation of the modern cosmopolitan has taken on the character of an experiment. The gaily-painted kindergarten, the shabby old-people’s-home, or the hospice made less oppressive by coats of bright paint can no more hold at bay than can phrases like “home birth”, “underwater birth” or “early education through music” the truth of what children are actually born into: namely, a gigantic experimentum mundi into which parents more or less arbitrarily thrust their children as said experiment’s “guinea pigs”. The philosopher Sloterdijk has attempted to provide a definitive characterization of this experimentum mundi. Here, we shall supplement Sloterdijk’s account by pointing up the experimental character that procreation has taken on in our global Information Age. Sloterdijk writes: “The experimentum mundi is no longer something that goes on merely in the minds of mystics, philosophers, princes of the church and great statesmen; the terms ‘global war’, ‘global mission’, ‘global politics’, ‘global economy’, ‘global travel’ and ‘global information’ now refer to explosively real things and point to processes of great complexity, unpredictable wilfulness and extreme disruptive power.” (Sloterdijk, Versprechen)
Guinea-Pigs in God’s Laboratory (Williams, Tennessee, 1911–1983)
In his play “Camino Real” Tennessee Williams formulates the insight that we are the guinea-pigs of a divine experiment. But with the driving of God out of the world, it is clearly now human beings that thrust other human beings (their children) into this world-laboratory:
Where we replace Williams’s “God” with the nativistically-enlightened individuals that make up the species Man we find ourselves faced with a criminal experiment carried out by human beings on human beings: “We’re all of us guinea pigs in the laboratory of God. Humanity is just a work in progress.“ (Williams, Camino Real, Block Twelve)
Experimentation carried out on human beings is indeed usually looked upon as a criminal activity. But where the experiment is one performed on one’s own children it becomes something that is approved of: people are eager to see what it is that one or another child may one day become and it is left carefully out of consideration that what a child will become most certainly and above all else is, in the end, a person who declines and dies.
The Bloody Laboratory of History (Koeppen, Wolfgang, 1906–1996)
In Koeppen’s novel Death in Rome, published in 1954, the experimentum mundi is frankly and forthrightly described as “the stinking, bloody laboratory of history”. Of the novel’s protagonist it is said: “He did not wish to procreate. The thought of being the cause of another life, a life which would be exposed to unforeseeable encounters, fortuities, actions and reactions and which might also itself be the cause of many future eventualities through deeds, or thoughts, or through further procreation on this living being’s own part – the thought, in short, of becoming the father of a child, of this challenge thrown down to the world – this was a thought which truly appalled and horrified him” (Koeppen, Death in Rome). Koeppen does not neglect to make mention here, however, also of that àThirst for Existence on which the moral imperative of universal natal abstinence tends always to founder: “it seemed deeply disgusting to him, this ravenous greed for life to which we all are damned, this addiction to procreation by which even the poorest are beguiled, this appearance of eternity which is really no eternity at all, this Pandora’s Box of distress, terror, and war…” (Death in Rome)
The World-Experiment (Bloch, Ernst)
Nevertheless, that most renowned and prolific among all the philosophers of “hope”, Ernst Bloch, feels able still, despite Auschwitz and the GULAG, to arrive at the conclusion that the “world-experiment”, even if it cannot be said to have been a successful one, cannot for all that be said to have definitively failed either: “The world is indeed a single vast experiment conducted upon itself: an experiment which has not yet proven successful but has not yet proven a definitive failure either” (Bloch Tendenz-Latenz-Utopie; a similar passage is to be found in Experimentum Mundi) Bloch is fully aware not only of the great species-catastrophies of which our “world-laboratory” has been the scene; he also explicitly thematizes the contingency of every sort of hope upon the inevitable death of the individual and on the end of the cosmos itself. Where, then, does he draw his hope from? Perhaps – like Leibniz – from the fact that our earth represents only a tiny dot in the vastness of the universe and that other regions of the cosmos might offer more reason for this hope. As Bloch puts it: “the processual course of the world is not yet concluded, with all its setbacks on the path of life’s self-determination both on our difficult dark earth and beyond it” (Experimentum Mundi) We have to do here with a pseudo-anthropodicy: here on our “difficult dark earth” the history of humanity, which has long since entered an “experimental” phase, may well have proven to be a failed experiment; on other planets, however, the experiment may not have proven such a failure. The anthropodicy in question here is a pseudo-anthropodicy because there is no way to derive from this merely hypothetical success of the experimentum mundi on other worlds the conclusion that it is not morally imperative to put an end to procreation here on earth.
Micro-Experiments and Macro-Experiment
Each human being is a walking micro-experiment. His experimental character consists in the following: humans mix the stuff of human-ness (genetic material) together and observe what emerges and whether what does is that which was wished for. It does not help at all to claim that this experiment with the stuff of human-ness is a “natural” one. Because “natural-ness” is not a characteristic apt to endow actions – actions which might also not have been engaged in – with moral dignity.
Although they came to the world as “micro-experiments”, human beings find themselves thrust into an open “macro-experiment”. This “macro-experiment” is history, with its billions of experimenters (parents).
It is to be expected that bio-technichal modifications of the human species will not, prima facie, be refused or rejected by those who give their consent to the experimentum mundi. At least not in the case where bio-technical procedures might succeed in making it possible to establish some degree of reliability: a reliability by which the experimental character applying hitherto in each case (the uncertain outcome of every act of procreation) will be to some degree diminished.
No real person can say that it is, for him, a matter of self-evidence that he should, at some point or other, have begun to exist – because “he”, after all, had had all along a “right to existence” which no one had had, on their side, any right to “withhold” from “him”.
Nor, on the other hand, can any real person say that “he” had a right not to begin to exist.
In both cases the “he” here is just a phantasm. The person in question is alluding to a space-time complex from which he was, in fact, entirely absent.
First, we have the beginning of our existence initiated for us, something toward which – for want of existence or of self-awareness – we can take up neither an attitude of consent nor one of rejection. Then, should we wish, decades later – tired of living, or incurably or mortally sick – to cease existing and thus, finally, to draw the heteronomy of our existence’s beginning back within the “catchment area” of our autonomy, it very often happens that we have a continuance in existence decreed and prescribed to us, this time too entirely without our consent.
It would not only be regrettable were news one day to reach us of intelligent beings existing beyond our earth. It would be sad even just to learn that beings capable of experiencing pain and suffering had arisen on other worlds.
Would the discovery of a planet seemingly very similar to our own at twenty light years’ distance from the earth be grounds for rejoicing because it is possible that intelligent living beings might exist there? Most definitely not. We must presume that there preceded the emergence of any such intelligent beings a long evolutionary prehistory of eating and being eaten. Intelligent beings replace this biological prehistory with real history which is hardly to be imagined, at least on planets not blessed with paradisical conditions of life, except as a history full of struggle and conflict.
Sure news of other inhabited planets, then, would be the occasion rather for the institution of a day of public mourning. This inasmuch as, up until the arrival of such news, we might have rested content in the assumption that our species, and its development of destructive forces, mass murders and wars, had, at least, remained, and would remain, restricted to a single planet and might thus have cherished the hope that all this would come to an end with us; but, after this point, we would face the certainly that this “us” would not, after all, be limited to our world alone.
 For more on this see Akerma, Das moralische Gesetz des bestirnten Himmels.
The vegetarian movement has succeeded in penetrating into that ostensibly sacrosanct sphere of personal privacy which indeed encompasses our accustomed dietary practices but in fact only apparently, not really, protects these dietary practices from moral-theoretical interventions: One is fully justified in retorting to the meat-eater who says: “What I eat is nobody’s business but my own!” with the words: “What you consume stays a private matter of your concern alone only for so long as no other being capable of pain is affected by it”.
Similarly, an antinatalist movement should succeed in bringing it to public recognition that the begetting of human beings is no merely private matter which is insusceptible of any ethical evaluation. Because every procreation presupposes new human beings as persons affected by the Conditio in/humana with its endpoint in the final catastrophe of death.
A psychopath is someone with an abnormal emotional world. An “axiopath”*, by analogy, would be someone who tends to insist upon the existence, the assertion and the real implementation of values – refusing to conceive of the nonetheless conceivable possibility of a willed “ebbing away of humanity” – even if this assertion and implementation prove to be bound up with high costs in suffering for human beings. In the “worst-case scenario”, such an axiopath remains convinced of the “value of values” and of their real implementation even when this real implementation proves to be bound up with so many negative consequences (human costs) that it becomes questionable whether anything at all of the values originally pursued survives.
The unwritten history of the conscious efforts of thinkers to maintain, or to assert and implement, values while screening out of their consciousnesses all the terrible costs in human and other suffering which go necessarily hand in hand with such assertion and implementation of values.
A term descriptive of everything which (explicitly or implicitly) praises or demands the assertion and implementation of values even at high costs in terms of human suffering.
The position of genetic antinatalism emerges in consideration of the mass of suffering which has sedimented, over hundreds of millions of years, in our genetic constitution. The history of living beings on earth is less “a success story culminating in the human being” than it is a blindly self-perpetuating tragic puppet-show – interrupted only by the song of the birds – the marionettes of which, held on ever looser strings, have attained only at the stage of their evolving into human beings the possibility of taking into their own hands the direction of this tragic spectacle. Although small parts of this genetic constitution are already billions of years old, our “heritage” in this respect is full of inherited ills and evils. Far from our present genetic constitution being one which has matured away its faults, it remains still today a product of chance with entirely uncertain consequences wherever human beings beget other human beings.
It would be possible to recount the history of living beings on earth as the unsupervised macro-experiment of an unknown Demiurge: an experiment whose defining limits are so hazily defined that an “ethics board” composed of extra-terrestrials would doubtless recommend that it be discontinued. This is also the view of the author of the following lines, who advocates indeed not antinatalism but rather a repairing of this genetic heritage productive of so much suffering by means of bio-technical optimization:
“Our evolution has come at a tremendous cost. They say history is written by the victors – well, our genome is a record of victories, of the experiments that succeeded or least didn’t kill our ancestors. We are the descendants of a long line of lottery winners, a lottery in which the prize was producing offspring that survived long enough to reproduce themselves. Along the way, there were uncountable failures, with trillions of animals dying often horrible deaths.
Our genome is far from a perfectly honed, finished product. Rather, it has been crudely patched together from the detritus of genetic accidents and the remains of ancient parasites. It is the product of the kind of crazy, uncontrolled experimentation that would be rejected out of hand by any ethics board. And this process continues to this day – go to any hospital and you’ll probably find children dying of horrible genetic diseases. But not as many are dying as would have happened in the past. Thanks to methods such as embryo screening, we are starting to take control of the evolution of the human genome. A new era is dawning.” (New Scientist, 15th September 2012, p. 35)
The question arises nonetheless of whether a morally better era really will begin as a consequence of this illumination and improvement of our genetic heritage, since human beings remain products also of their social circumstances. The programme of a genetic optimization concedes, indeed, the lottery-like character of large areas of our Conditio in/humana but appears at the same time to be a last bastion established against antinatalism, or a strategy of flight from this latter.
The Goncourt brothers were not just the literary men who gave their names to the Prix Goncourt, the most famous of the French literary awards; they were also early visionaries of an as it were “two-track” ebbing-away of humanity:
“How is it that there has never arisen, at any point in history or anywhere upon our earth, a sect of wise men which has set itself as its goal the bringing about of the extinction of the human race, given the cruelty of the ills to which this latter is subject? How is it that no one has yet preached a doctrine of bringing about this extinction through abstention from procreation and – for those who feel they need to embrace this self-extinction more urgently – through directing the efforts of public chemical laboratories toward discovering and teaching to others the gentlest possible form of suicide: a combination of nitrous-oxide-like gases which would make of the transition from being into non-being nothing more arduous than a fit of laughter?”
Here, with a view to hastening that ebbing-away of humanity which will take, by the path of abstention from procreation, at least a century, these two authors envisage, as a supplement to this, the demand for a form of suicide so serene as to actually invite imitation on the part of those who observe it. Their ideas were as visionary as – to judge by that question we have just cited regarding “why there has never arisen at any point in history a sect with the goal of bringing about the extinction of the human race – their ignorance of earlier antinatalistic movements was great (the Manicheans and Cathars had been sects pursuing just this aim). The question does arise, however, of why the number of anthropofugal, or properly and fully antinatalist, sects and individuals has remained so small; it is a question that can be answered by reference to the prevalence of pronatalist bio-socionomic imperatives. As regards the present day, one would have to point, were one to try to name two more or less organized groupings with sect-like character here, to the Church of Euthanasia or the VHEMT.
„Comment ne s’est-il pas formé à aucune époque de l’histoire, à aucune place de la terre, une secte de sages pour laisser mourir la vie humaine devant la férocité de ses maux ? Comment n’ a- t- elle pas encore été prechée cette fin de l’humanité par l’abstention de la procréation et encore, pour les plus pressés, par la recherche et l’invention du plus doux suicide, par des écoles publiques de chimie, où serait enseignée une combinaison de gaz exhilarants faisant un éclat de rire du passage de l’etre au non-etre ?“ (In: Goncourt, Edmond et Jules. Journal. Mémoires de la vie littéraires. 1864–1878. Tome 2. Paris: Fasquelle/Flammarion (1956). Entry of 10 March 1869, p. 504.
Whoever begets children thereby makes him- or herself – depending upon the extent to which they have received, or failed to receive, education and enlightenment in this regard – either an objective or a subjective accomplice in the later internment of his or her own children in geronto-camps.
How is this complicity of parents in the eventual internment of their own children in geronto-camps to be explained? It seems likely that there comes into play here, besides àPrimortality, another specific psychological mechanism: parents envisage their children as their children only for stretches of time lasting as long as those in which they expect, themselves, to live. Parents aged sixty-five may have a mental picture of how the lives of their now-forty-year-old children will look in another five years’ time. But they cannot imagine the conditions of existence of these children at the age of eighty because by then they – the parents – will have long since ceased to exist. Once the probable horizon of their own lifetimes has been surpassed, parents tend to lose mental sight even of their children’s lives. This parental àDeficit of Futurity opens up, for the human mind, a certain mental latitude for the begetting of children and thereby also for the rendering-up of these children to an eventual phase in their lives – not inevitable but nonetheless far from improbable – which will be spent in the misery of a care home or old people’s home.
How would parents react were one to ask them about this far from improbable future of their own children in geronto-camps? Many might apply the àCompensation Theorem and respond, for example, as follows: “Before he ends up in the old people’s home my child will have enjoyed a good and full life; or at least I, for my part, can say that I have done all I can to see to this!” Interestingly, this “deficit of futurity” as regards people’s own children stands in contrast and apparent conflict with that “consciousness of futurity” as it bears on the general conditions of life on our planet which is more and more widespread today among the environmentally-aware educated classes in all countries.
How might the reality of one of these geronto-camps in fact look which one tacitly imposes on one’s own children through the very act of begetting them? Let us take a look at the first-hand account given by a care-worker who worked in five different such care-homes and old-people’s homes in Germany: “On entering the room I flinch back involuntarily, struggling with the impulse to run away. A stench of sweat, faecal matter and putrefying flesh fills the room in which the 88-year-old Christel Anders is lying curled up into a ball… When I lift the bed-covers I am hit by a wave of nausea; I run out; then I pull myself back together, swallowing back my disgust. Sticking to the lower third of the sheet dried blood and old pus. The bandage on the old woman’s heel is wet through and – judging by the experience I have gathered in these places – most likely not changed for around two weeks. The flesh beneath it has festered and gives of a stench of putrefaction. … She must be suffering truly cruel pain.” (Markus Breitscheidel, Abgezockt und totgepflegt, p. 85f)
Explanation of the Geronto-Camps
These conditions that are met with in the geronto-camps give the lie to the widely-held view that parents are only responsible for their children up until the moment when they attain adulthood. Parents living in our present “Information Age” know very well what grotesque conditions obtain in these geronto-camps and do indeed themselves bear responsibility for having rendered up their own children to these “Dantean” places. We may draw up, with regard to these geronto-camps, the following list of justified reproaches that children might level against their parents at any time at all:
By begetting me you tacitly accept and approve that:
On many days I will not be given enough to eat and drink, while on others food and drink will be forced on me faster than I am able to swallow them;
I will have inserted into my body, without medical necessity, stomach probes and infusion that will cause damage to it;
I will not be brought to the toilet as often as I need or wish to be and catheters will be inserted into, or diapers applied to me in ways that will damage by body;
I will not be washed, dressed, or have my hair combed or my false teeth put in every day, even though I request this;
I will not be allowed to leave my bed every day and get out into the fresh air, even should I wish to do so;
I will not be able to choose or refuse, on the basis of their congeniality or uncongeniality to me, those I share a bedroom with;
I will have to die alone, with no one to hold my hand even in my dying hours.
Geronto-camps are the gulags of our advanced and de-traditionalized societies which have left behind them both the joys and the miseries of the formerly nigh-universal form of living in extended families. They are the scandal that cries to high heaven inherent in every pronatal attitude; but at the same time they also form the inevitable crux of the antinatalist eutopia. Because it would be above all the slow ebbing-away of humanity which would necessarily, at some point, transform the whole earth into an old people’s home of planetary dimensions. In mitigation of this fact, however, it is to be expected that a human race capable of the self-reflection which would initiate such an “ebbing away” would also be capable of forming and designing the process of its own extinction – taking advantage here both of the fruits of the whole technological tradition and of the fact that the earth’s resources would need, at such a point, to be divided up between fewer and fewer human beings – in a manner much more humane than has hitherto been imaginable.
Old people’s homes carry the raison d’être of modern (post-)industrial societies ad absurdum: these societies “suffer” from falling birth-rates and tend, therefore, to encourage procreation. At the same time people who have their economically active lives and the zenith of their mental and physical vigour behind them are left to perish in concentration camps for the aged, in a way which unmistakably demonstrates that it is above all in their quality as entities susceptible of being exploited and “turned to account” that human beings are allowed or made to enter into existence and the “human dignity” one hears so much about is something that falls into neglect and irrelevance once these human beings’ capacity for economic productivity is at an end.
Gandhi (1869–1948) is acknowledged as the spiritual and practical father of modern India, the only democracy yet to establish itself in a country whose population exceeds a billion. Many of today’s middle-class Indian citizens, however, with their smart-phones and their private automobiles, think back on him with mixed feelings. Because the resistance that he called for was not just a resistance to Britain’s colonial domination; the lean man with the spinning wheel also called for a resistance to the usurpation of human spiritual concerns by Western technology. Thus, he not only spoke out, in 1940, against methods of artificial insemination – which, as he believed at the time, could not possibly bring forth anything but idiots or monsters – but also, more generally, against an age he saw approaching “when men and women will walk, if they at all do, only for pleasure but go to their work on wheels or fly to it.” (Gandhi, Collected Works, vol. 78, p. 341f) And in fact, already from the 1940s on, a fertility clinic had been in operation in London the methods and results of which he could hardly have approved of since it seemed to Gandhi that procreation – assuming it should occur at all – should do so only within the framework of marriage.
How would Gandhi be looked on today in India – and in the world as a whole – if people were really aware of what his ideals were on the question of ethics and population? Contrary to what might easily be supposed these ideals of Gandhi’s were not such as to point in the direction of a “one-child policy” of the sort recently practiced in China. Nor did they amount to the principle: “As many people as the land can sustain”. The father of modern India did not imagine any upper population limit stretching into the millions. The number of human beings inhabiting the earth which Gandhi ideally envisaged was that “Nirvana figure” the notion of which was clearly first conceived in India and which found its way to Europe by way of the intellectual and commercial channels of the Arab world. This number was: zero. Gandhi’s ideal as regards population was not a small number of human beings but rather: no human beings at all; a “no-child policy”. Both in India and everywhere else in the world.
That Gandhi, the icon of peace, should have cherished in his heart the ideal of a world without human beings sounds like a declaration of war against common sense, if not against humanity itself. In fact, however, Gandhi expressed his views on this ideal of a world without human beings in so many of his writings over a period of so many years and provided such a plausible justification for this ideal, deploying that logic of the rejection of suffering which has formed the core of the Indian philosophical tradition from the start, that it would be child’s play to provide evidence that he did in fact hold to this position and the question needs much rather to be raised of why Gandhi is not universally perceived as an indeed a proponent of a “no-child” politics and ethics.
Ironically, Gandhi was not just the demiurge of an independent nation but also the father of four children. To his second-eldest son, Manilal (1892–1956) he addressed, on the 17th of March 1922 a piece of writing contending that it would be better had he, Manilal, never been begotten and that it would have been no loss (since to whom could it have been a loss?) if neither son nor father nor any one of the countless human beings somehow linked with them had ever existed. Since it is a father who is writing here to his son, Gandhi symbolically revokes, as it were, ex post facto with the following words the begetting of his son: “…I do not at all believe that procreation is a duty or that the world will come to grief without it. Suppose for a moment that all procreation stops, it will only mean that all destruction will cease.” (Vol. 26, p. 369) Furthermore, Gandhi contends, not one child in a million is really a “wanted child”; rather, almost all are – as he goes on to note, doubtless very much in a self-critical spirit – incidental products of a mode of behaviour arising directly from Nature and one by which Man is not really distinguished from any other animal: “Probably one in a million may be resorting to intercourse for purposes of procreation. I have not come across any such person so far.” (Vol. 85, p. 418)
Gandhi’s version of the pacifist slogan so often cited in post-war Europe “Imagine there were a war and nobody went” runs as follows: “Imagine the world were full of war and destruction and no more human beings were ever born into it!” Applied specifically to the period of British colonial rule in India this amounts to what Gandhi wrote on 25th of April 1921in a letter to his friend, the Christian missionary and social reformer Charles Freer Andrews (1871–1940): “If I could find a way of stopping procreation in a civil and voluntary manner and whilst India remains in the present miserable state, I would do so today. But I know that it is impossible.” (Vol. 23, p. 89) It would only be possible if society consisted entirely of perfect Brahmachari – i.e. of people who were devoted to following Brahma’s path of renunciation. For a perfect Brahmachari, Gandhi explained after having received many letters asking him about his stance on celibacy, nothing is impossible. But such a perfect Brahmachari, he went on, is an ideal almost impossible to attain and nearly as difficult to realize as would be the actual drawing of an infinite Euclidian straight line. (see: vol. 21, p. 356) When he was flooded with letters enquiring further about the meaning of Brahmachari Gandhi had (on the 29th of April 1926 in the weekly newspaper Young India) also this to say about the meaning of the word: the true Brahmachari knows no desire for procreation: “The whole world will be to him one vast family, he will centre all his ambition in relieving the misery of mankind and the desire for procreation will be to him as gall and wormwood.” (Vol. 35., p. 17f [Young India, 29.4.1926])
Gandhi also saw a special immorality in begetting children in India so long as British colonial rule there endured. He said, for example, in 1920: “We only multiply slaves and weaklings if we continue the process of procreation whilst we feel and remain helpless, diseased and famine-stricken. Not till India has become a free nation, able to withstand avoidable starvation, well able to feed herself in times of famine, possessing the knowledge to deal with malaria, cholera, influenza and other epidemics, have we the right to bring forth progeny. I must not conceal from the reader the sorrow I feel when I hear of births in this land.” (Vol. 21, p. 357)
But as we will now further explain, Gandhi does not just propose, in his role as a politician, that British rule in India might be combatted by means of a “procreation strike” that would deprive this rule of those it ruled over; in his role as an ethicist he also thinks much more profoundly, in a manner directed to human being in its entirety. The British came and will go away again; unfulfilled needs, sicknesses and the inevitability of dying remain, however, as fundamental and inevitable dimensions of existence. War and violence can really only be overcome in the measure that we cease to cause new human beings to enter into an existence which is already ruinous and structurally marked by violence. This is the case inasmuch as every human being that is begotten is thereby condemned by his or her parents to decay and perish. With his reflections so permeated by anticipative empathy and genuine moral responsibility Gandhi deliberately forgoes a widely disseminated pronatal argument which runs: ‘If I (I myself) bring a child into the world, then the chance exists that the world may become just a little better through his or her action’. Gandhi’s “principle of responsibility”, on the other hand, runs: ‘Before we can even think about bringing children into the world those presently alive will have to have prepared this world for the arrival of these children’. But it was not just colonial India of the 1920s, in Gandhi’s view, that was many decades removed from being so “prepared”. The freedom-fighter Gandhi, inspired by a vision of eternal peace, knows that it is not just India that suffers from a colonial defect but rather human existence itself that is shot through with the structural shortcomings that we have indicated – shortcomings that can be abolished only in and through the abolishing of the very existence of human beings on the earth. This structural shortcoming is the co-extensiveness of procreation, existence and violence. Gandhi’s basic principle, therefore, runs:
“If destruction is violence, then the creation of a thing is violence too. This is why procreation involves violence. The bringing into being of something that is doomed to perish does in fact contain violence.” (Vol. 37, p. 337f)
As a consistent proponent of the principle of non-violence (Ahimsa) Gandhi cannot condone the bringing forth of new human beings who are all doomed to die – be this (in the India of the colonial period) of hunger or be it (elsewhere in the world or at other times in history) of sicknesses or accidents or through the colonization of their lifeworld.
Gandhi is perhaps the only “icon of peace” who is entirely rightly seen as such: peace cannot be said to prevail as soon as no warlike confrontations are any longer occurring; but only then, when human beings are no longer causing other human beings to enter into an existence already formed and shaped by violence. Whoever thinks of begetting another human being is playing with the thought of condemning a human being to perish – an act of violence which we must, with Gandhi, condemn.
It is not progeny of one’s own that constitutes, for Gandhi, the goal of human life but rather that principle of Moksha that is characteristic both of Buddhism and of Hinduism: the putting of an end to those sequences of procreations, births, deaths and more births that form an endless chain. In a discussion with the social reformer G. Ramachandran (1904–1995) in October 1924 Gandhi replied to the question of whether the abolition of humanity by non-procreation that he preached was not also a form of violence and did not amount, indeed, to the destruction of humanity itself by saying: “Then you fear there will be an end of creation? No. The extreme logical result would be, not extinction of the human species, but the transference of it to a higher plane.” (Vol. 29, p. 267f) – The earth, in any case, would be empty of human beings.
 Cited from: The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (Electronic Book), New Delhi, Publications Division Government of India, 1999, 98 Volumes
We have “birth-houses” in the form of maternity units; but there is barely an example in our societies of “death-houses”. A tolerable death, however, is surely the very least that a civilized society owes to its citizens, all of whom became such, after all, through no deliberate choice of their own. It is Witold Gombrowicz (1904–1969) who argues particularly eloquently for “death-houses” as compensation for our existential heteronomy and portrays, furthermore, how far we still are from this point:
“Why is the death of human beings still today so like the death of an animal? Why do our death-agonies remain so solitary and so primitive? Why have you not succeeded in civilizing death?
To think that this terrible thing, the final death-agony, is still so rife among us as in the very first days of Creation. In the course of millennia we have succeeded in changing nothing here, have left this savage taboo quite intact. We have television and use electric eiderdowns, but we still die as the men and women of savage eras did. Very occasionally, a doctor will secretly and ashamedly shorten the sufferings of a dying human being with an increased dose of morphine. A desperate intervention, always too little in the face of the terrible omnipresence of death and dying: I call for “death-houses” in which the most modern means for bringing about an easy death would stand at the disposition of everyone. “Death-houses” in which one might bring about one’s death unproblematically without having to throw oneself in front of a train or hang oneself from a doorknob. “Death-houses” in which exhausted, broken, used-up human beings might confide themselves to the care of specialists who can ensure for them a death without shame or excessive suffering.” (Gombrowicz, Tagebuch 1953-1969)
In this following passage Gombrowicz speaks of being “condemned to life” but does not name the “condemners” (the parents) by name, even though he does insist that the inevitable fate of all (children) who are caused to begin to exist is a fate that is clearly known to everyone:
“Each one of us is slowly and gradually destroyed until the day when his or her countenance is no longer to be recognized at all – and you know this, you know of this inevitable fate, yet lift no finger to spare this suffering to yourselves and to your own. What are you afraid of? That all too many people will simply bolt if you open the gates too wide? Allow those who wish to die to do so. Force no one to carry on living just because dying would be too uncomfortable – to do so is base and cruel […] This life to which I am condemned can trample me and violate me with the cruelty of a savage beast; but I possess a great and sovereign recourse against this: I can take my own life. If I do not wish to, I do not need to go on living. I did not invite myself into this world but I have the choice, at least, of leaving it… and this is the foundation of my freedom. And indeed also of my dignity (because to live with dignity means to live of one’s own free will).” (Ibid.)
In the case where humankind fails to achieve insight and to set in motion the process of its own ebbing away, eternal peace on earth will only be achieved once the lighter elements of the sun have fused together and it has become, instead of the yellow giver of all life, the red ball that burns this life into annihilation.
The so-called “Apology Paradox” addresses the following state of affairs: if someone asks pardon for the terrible misdeeds of their forefathers – and if this asking for pardon is really sincerely meant – then this person is also accepting and embracing their own non-existence. The reason for this is that, in certain regions of the world, major neganthropic events such as slavery or the genocide of the Jews have been so crucially determinative of the course of history that their not having taken place would have meant that the person asking pardon for them would most likely never have begun to exist at all.
In her essay “The Apology Paradox” Janna Thompson acknowledges the paradox inherent in this fact that a sincerely-meant apology for the misdeeds of one’s forefathers must imply a sort of renunciation of his or her own existence on the part of the person making the apology. Speaking more concretely: if a person born in Germany after the historical genocide perpetrated upon the Jews apologizes for the crimes committed by his or her recent ancestors, then this person must necessarily also wish that the course of historical events leading up to this genocide should have been quite different than it actually was. Had this been the case, however, then the parents of the person offering the apology for the actions of his or her forefathers would either never have met or have met, at least, at some quite other point in time, so that the person in question would never have been begotten. Since, however, almost every individual is happy to have begun to exist we are confronted here, says Thompson, with a paradox: on the one hand one indicates, by offering this apology, that one would have preferred that history take a different course; on the other hand, one suddenly recognizes that one’s own existence is placed symbolically in peril thereby.
For antinatalist moral theory, however, this connected group of ideas addressed by Thompson displays no real paradoxical aspect: even someone who states of themselves that they are quite content to be in existence can at the same time express, without falling into paradox, the view that they would nonetheless have preferred that world history had taken a course such that they would never have begun to exist at all. The appearance of paradox arises only if one assumes that someone would have been in some way harmed by this existence never begun, or that something would have been withheld from someone thereby.
In particularly marked cases of the Parent Taboo there can occur a complete sublimation of Parental Guilt which takes the form of an inverted reflection of this latter: instead of reproaching his parents, be it even in an oblique or cryptic manner, with having begotten him, the child asks pardon – vis-à-vis these parents, society in general, or the world – for his own existence. One piece of evidence that testifies particularly forcefully to the existence of this configuration and for the overwhelming force of the “parent taboo” is the title of Elisabeth Edward’s autobiographical work: “Pardon Me For Having Been Born! Memoirs of an Augsburg Woman”, the narrating subject of which feels guilty by reason of her very existence and concludes her narration with the words: “I hope that I too can be forgiven and I say: ‘Pardon me for having been born!’” (Edwards)
If one were to take a survey on the subject the great majority of human beings would most likely answer that they are happy to have been born – or, in the words of D. H. Lawrence: “He dashed his glass to the ground and declared, by God, he was glad he had been born, by God, it was a miracle to be alive.“ (Lawrence, Women in Love) Now, firstly, this question “are you happy that you were born?” is an extremely crude all-or-nothing question and, secondly, we must, when such a “big question” as this one is posed, consider the possibility of cognitive distortions. In this case particularly the phenomenon of substitution (cf. Daniel Kahneman) needs to be taken into account; which is to say that it may be that a simpler rather than the true, larger question is really being answered here. Such a simpler question – which, instead of the larger question that is seemingly posed, is in fact being unconsciously and involuntarily responded to here – might, for example, be: “Are you happy that you can, at this moment, go on living?”
In order, then, to arrive at some genuinely nuanced and differentiated conclusion regarding the question of whether human beings are happy that their parents acted in such a way that they began to exist we must make use of a subtler way of proceeding. If it were really the case that human beings were happy to have been born then it would be to be expected that their lives, and the continuation of these lives, would be something extremely valuable to them and that they would never engage in any sort of behaviour which might in any way be detrimental to the quality of these lives and to their continuation. But as the antinatalist Sarah Perry explains in her book “Every Cradle is a Grave”, this is not the case. What we observe, on a very large scale, is rather types of behaviour which take great risks with future quality (and duration) of life in order to make the present more bearable. One form of this behaviour has been given the apt appellation “desperate partying“. Consumption of Narcotics and other dangerous leisure-time activities or types of sport strongly indicate that it is not suicide alone that constitutes a sign that life is not generally or consistently very highly valued by human beings and that it must rather be made bearable by certain types of behaviour detrimental, in the longer term, to life (cf. Perry).
Balzac provides a masterful description of such “desperate partying”: “These primates work day and night, slaving away, never pausing for a moment…Then, however, they show utter disregard for the future and, avid for pleasure, throw away in the tavern, great lords for a day, all the money they have sweated to earn…” (Balzac, “The Girl With the Golden Eyes”) Balzac speaks of the “unhappy ‘happy people’” (ibid.) whom we need always to bear in mind when evaluating answers given to the “big questions”, among which there counts the question of whether someone is happy to have been born.
What ephemeral factors the answer to such a question can depend on is clearly shown by a study in which two groups of subjects were asked to answer two questions – firstly in the sequence AB and then in the sequence BA:
A How happy do you currently feel?
B How many dates have you had in the past month?
B How many dates have you had in the past month?
A How happy do you currently feel?
When the questions were posed in the sequence AB, no greater degree of happiness, surprisingly, was reported by those who declared that they had had many dates; the correlation was, in fact, practically zero. When, however, the same questions were posed to another group in the sequence BA, a significant correlation was to be noted: those who had had many dates stated themselves to be happier. Clearly, what was at issue here was a certain emotional resonance: among the persons questioned, those who had had many dates were reminded of happy phases of their lives, which in turn influenced their answer to the second question (see Kahneman).
Gambling With One’s Life
Far from looking upon one’s own life as the highest and most unassailable of values, the famous mountaineer Reinhold Messner recommends a certain “gambling” with one’s own life as an appropriate reaction to the fact that one’s existence began heteronomously: “A human being is simply thrown into life, or he suddenly finds himself ‘there’ with a certain stretch of time at his disposal in which he can ‘gamble’ with his own life, that’s the way I see it (…) And one can really only gamble with one’s life if one recognizes that one has limits, that sooner or later one is going to die. As soon as one realizes this, it becomes unimportant when exactly this happens…“ (Reinhold Messner, Mein Paradies, die Berge, in: Paradiese, Saphir Verlags GmbH, Munich 1978) By the same logic it would, then, already have become unimportant that, at a certain point, one began to exist and it can no longer be looked on as imperative that one act in such a way that some new human being begins to exist – the right existential attitude for whom would now, in any case, consist in likewise “gambling” with a life that would become for him, once he had gained insight into Thanatality, something unimportant.
Despite the oft-cited notion that we are all “architects of our own good fortune” we still really do not know how many people can legitimately be so described: very much in our lives, certainly, is predetermined by the lottery of our genes and our destiny. It remains quite beyond dispute, however, that no one is the architect of his or her own entry into being. That we came into existence did not lie in our own hands; we were never in a position either to aspire to this state of existence or to refuse it. The only possibility we have of acting, in questions of being and non-being, as autonomous entities is in the question of non-being. Durs Grünbein thus offers the following formulation with regard to people committing suicide: “Fearing the possibility of terrible suffering, they decide to put an end to things themselves. Mortally wounded by the involuntary act of birth, they aspire, through a brutal clutching at this end, to win back their sovereignty as subjects.” (Das erste Jahr, Ff/M 2003, p. 50f) But why does Grünbein emphasis here the “brutality” of the suicide’s “clutching” at his end? Is it not much more brutal to simply suffer, far from all autonomy, the catastrophe of dying, or to damn people who have become incapable of such an action to simply waiting out the end which will overtake them as it does all creatures?
It was Wolfgang Pfleiderer who found the right words in this connection: “Dying is an art. Most people simply let themselves be struck dead.“ (Wolfgang Pfleiderer, Bienen und Wespen, p. 41. Found: GK) The true art of living, in fact, may consist in autonomously and axionomically taking back into one’s own hands that dying which was involuntarily mandated by one’s parents to Nature, instead of waiting for this unknowingly commissioned “contract killer” to bionomically execute the parental sentence of death. To such a line of reasoning it is often retorted that “suicide is the coward’s way out” – to which Pfleiderer replies by pointing out that, whereas the majority of human beings are doubtless cowardly, suicide remains a relatively infrequent phenomenon: “Suicide is cowardice – but if this were the case it would surely occur much more often!” (ibid.., p. 18) In fact, the person who extracts himself, by suicide, from a creaturely situation which offers no other way out resists thereby the nigh-ubiquitous masochism of our world and proves himself to be, qua deserter from his servitude to this world, the true sovereign of the earth.
To every individual’s constitutionally-guaranteed freedom to procreate there corresponds, in neganthropic terms, the impossibility of any individual’s adopting, beforehand, any position with regard to the beginning of his or her own existence – that is to say, an aspect of unfreedom.
Let us consider Article 2 of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, paragraphs (1) and (2):
“(1) Every person shall have the right to free development of his personality insofar as he does not violate the rights of others or offend against the constitutional order or the moral law.
(2) Every person shall have the right to life and physical integrity. Freedom of the person shall be inviolable. These rights may be interfered with only pursuant to a law.”
From paragraph (1)’s guaranteeing of the right to the free development of personality one may derive a right to freedom of procreation. At the same time, according to paragraph (2), each citizen has the right to physical integrity. This, however, would require the existence of a duty to give birth to a healthy child: a duty which is almost never spoken about. But this in turn means: nobody has the right to be born healthy. – The disadvantage of having to accept being born unhealthy counts as an acceptable price to pay for avoiding the infringement of the freedom of procreation.
From an antinatalist perspective the progress achieved by humankind corresponds to the degree to which humankind succeeds in abolishing itself qua Nature-bound nexus of procreation and suffering. Decisive as regards the undermining of this Nature-bound nexus of procreation are the factors: basic material sustenance and methods of contraception. In the 20th century the development of technical-agricultural forces of production and that of mankind’s powers of destruction stayed more or less in equilibrium with one another. It was thus at the same time the most progressive and – by reason of certain aspects of this very progress – the most regressive century in mankind’s history. From the antinatalist perspective, however, the 20th century is decidedly to be classed as the most progressive century, since without the invention of modern methods of contraception it is to be supposed that many billions more human beings would have begun to exist.
In French literature of the 19th century Flaubert forms an antinatalistic antithesis to the marked pronatalism propounded, for example, by ->Zola: “The thought of bringing someone else into the world fills me with horror. I would curse my own self if I were ever to become a father. A son of my own! Oh, no, no no! Let my flesh and blood perish along with me and let me not pass the tedium and ignominy of this life on to anyone else.” (Flaubert, quoted in Tintenfass. Magazin für Literatur und Kunst, Nr. 4, Diogenes, Zürich 1981 p. 265)
Beginning of Existence Without Consent
Already in the autobiographical novel he composed in his youth, “Memoirs of a Madman”, Flaubert insists, in antinatalist spirit and in a manner that prefigures the work of Georges àPoulet, on the non-consensual character of the beginning of our existence: “But first of all: why were you born? Did you want to be? Were you asked if you wanted to be? It was simply blind fate that brought you into the world… Great as you may be today, you were at one time something as filthy as spittle and as ill-smelling as urine; then you went through various metamorphoses, much as a worm does, and finally came out into this world, near-lifeless, shrieking, crying, with eyes still tight closed, as if you felt hatred for this sun, which you have nonetheless exhorted, so many times, to rise.” (Flaubert)
The Last Human Beings and the End of Humanity
Flaubert’s anthropofugal imagination not only prompts him to paint a portrait of the end of humanity and to wish this end to come all the quicker because of the cruelty hitherto displayed by Man; in one passage he even wishes for something that most people, if they encounter antinatalist ideas, perceive as an especially horrific and repugnant possible consequence of these latter: namely, to live on earth as the very last of the human race: “Infinite space will surely have one day to become weary of this speck of dust which makes so much noise and disturbs the majesty of the void. (…) A few last human beings will still wander back and forth across the dried-out earth and call out to one another now and then. But when they approach one another they will wince back in horror, terrified by each other’s appearance. And they will die alone.” (Flaubert) “When the world no longer exists, oh yes, it is then that I would want to live, without Nature, without human beings; how glorious that emptiness will be!” (Flaubert)
Flaubert is no proponent, indeed, of an ecologically-based àAntinatalism of the sort that we encounter among supporters of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement; nevertheless, he gives expression to a certain ecologically anthropofugal vision: “The trees will grow and bear their leaves without any human hand being there to rip them down and break them. The rivers will flow on through gaily-coloured meadows; Nature will be free without human beings to subjugate it; and this species will die out, for it was an accursed one from its infancy onward.” (Flaubert)
 This vaguely recalls the phrase ascribed to Saint Augustine: Inter faeces et urinam nascimur.
 The wanderings of human beings in a world of this sort has been powerfully described by Cormac McCarthy in his novel “The Road”.
It is in Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness” that we encounter one of the most striking cases of blindness to parental guilt. Because, although it is a central thesis of Sartre’s that we are all of us “condemned to freedom”, he remains entirely blind to the fact that it is our parents that condemn us to what goes under this latter name. Indeed, instead of speaking of parental guilt, Sartre goes so far as to say that Man, being condemned to be free, “bears the weight of the entire world on his shoulders; he is, as his very way of being, responsible both for the world and for himself.” (Being and Nothingness) And that “it is specific to human reality that it is without excuse” (ibid.) Implied here is a vision whereby the person “landing up” in a war would have to accept this as his own fault inasmuch as it would always be open to him to kill himself and thus remove himself from all that might befall him. But we consider this to be àSuicide Cynicism and ask: how could Sartre ignore the fact that we human beings are not causes of our own selves – that we are not primordial products of our own freedom but rather the beginning of the life of every human being is subject to the action or omission of his or her own parents?