Ruthlessness, Generative

In response to the question of how God could have set about the work of creation at all, W. D. Schnurre said: “Creation can only arise out of guilt. Because the creator must be ruthless.” (Der Schattenfotograf) “Generative ruthlessness” designates the fact that the huge majority of human beings tend to welcome the creation of new human beings quite regardless of the conditions under which these latter are going to have to live. In everyday life this “generative ruthlessness” is confirmed by such placatory pronouncements as “Children cry, it’s natural!”, uttered in response to any worried enquiry from another adult about what has upset a child. To the child, meanwhile, there are directed such >paternihilistic dicta as “Just put up with it!”

Flashback Before the Beginning of Life

A philosophy of natality is sometimes praised as an antidote to a supposedly death-dominated philosophical existentialism, represented above all by the Heideggerian version of this latter which, so it is said, places life in the shadow of our eventual ceasing-to-be. The way to proceed, so it is argued, is rather to conceive of existence from the perspective of its beginning with a birth, instead of thinking of being as a “being-toward-death”. But a philosophy of natality can only become an antidote to the irrevocable necessity of dying if it questions back before the beginning of a person’s life. Such a flashback to before the start of my own existence serves to make it clear to me that it was not necessary for me to come to be at all. If being-toward-death places life in the shadow of no-longer-being-existent, this flashback to before the start of one’s life illuminates one’s own existence as something that, together with my own having-to-die and that of those near and dear to me, did not necessarily have to be. Every “existence as being-toward-death” appears superfluous and contingent. Because every “existence on the way to death” is at the same time an “existence from the beginning of a life” and this “beginning of life” is something that, with the progressive loosening of the grip of tradition on our culture and the increasing autonomy of women, passes more and more unequivocally into the sphere of what we can either do or leave undone – that is to say, into the sphere of responsibility of freely-choosing persons. The ->egofugal “flashback” before the respective beginning of each person’s life can be considered as a core element of a philosophy of non-natality.  

If one understands the philosophy of natality as a thought which “flashes back” before the beginning of a person’s life, the positive character of this thought becomes clear: It is no longer in thrall to death inasmuch as its ethical imperative now runs: do not burden others with having to live a life in the shadow of one’s own having-to-die or of the having-to-die of one’s near and dear ones.

Metaphysical Revolt

The true homme revolté is not Camus’ anti-hero, who confronts the absurd with a cry of “nonetheless!”, but rather that person who, by means of natal continence, rises up against bionomic and socionomic imperatives and thereby sees to it that no more humans are exposed to the absurdity of being-in-the-world. If there only develops out of Camus’ individual “revolt” a truly all-encompassing revolution, then “the absurd” will vanish with the vanishing of Man himself.  

Nativistic Remorse

Let us imagine that medicine makes a sudden enormous leap forward in its diagnostic capacities, so that parents are able to receive a diagnostic report on the entire future health of their children as soon as these children are 15 years old. Parents who take advantage of this offer would be informed of the specific organic failings from which their children would eventually die and they would also receive photos of the children in question’s faces as they grew older, at intervals of around 15 years, right up to extreme old age. Would we then see, in these parents, the emergence of something like a nativistic remorse?

Retrojective Devaluation

In the face of death even a utopian spirit such as Ernst Bloch gives up all hope and formulates the notion of a retrojective devaluation of existence along with all its aspirations: “The jaws of death grind all and the maw of decomposition gulps down all teleology; death is the great dispatcher of the organic world – but to this latter’s catastrophe.” [>Catastrophe of Death] “The grave, darkness, decomposition and worms once had and still have, when the awareness of them is not suppressed, a kind of retrospectively devaluing force.” (Ernst Bloch, Das Prinzip Hoffnung) For Bloch “death, considered as the axe of nothingness, is the hardest of all non-utopias.” (Prinzip Hoffnung) The only strange thing here is that Bloch does not trace out further all the consequences of that foundering of the “principle of hope” upon the àHardness of Reality which he here admits does take place.

Retroactive Confirmation

Expressed succinctly, what a >Perpetrator of Existence retroactively confirms is:

– that it is a good thing to be thrust into the world without one’s consent;

– that the world into which he was thrust is a sufficiently good one that one may, with a good conscience, bring further human beings into it;  

– that he himself has turned out sufficiently well mentally and physically, and is sufficiently well suited to the task of raising and educating, that it is a good thing that he should allow parts of his genetic heritage to take on form and substance in a new human being and should set about educationally moulding this new human being with the means at his disposal.

Retrojected Death

A non-explicit attitude discovered by G. Kohlbecher that, paradoxically, connects the thought of one’s own past non-existence with a threatening prenatal annihilation.  

Retrojected (Backward-Facing) Longing for Death

Volker Jehle, the author of a comprehensive history of the work of Wolfgang Hildesheimer, identifies as one of this latter’s most fundamental thoughts that of “never having been born, a backward-facing longing for death…” (Volker Jehle: Wolfgang Hildesheimer. Werkgeschichte. Found  by: GK) That this backward-facing wanting-never-to-have-been is classified by a reflective person as “death”, much like a forward-facing wanting-no-longer-to-be, is something that is far from standing to reason; on the contrary, it prompts to serious reflection. That even the longing for never-having-been tends to be judged by the measure of our death – i.e. of our future no-longer-being – is in fact astonishing and leads one to expect that the most basic propositions of antinatalism – “it would have been best if no one had ever come to exist at all” and “it is morally reprehensible to act in such a way that someone begins to exist” – may in fact be interpreted by certain addressees as if their own lives were thereby being placed in question and their deaths demanded. 

[>Antinatalist Imposition and Resistance to Antinatalism, >Preconceptive-Retrojective Symbolic Suicide (also: Symbolic Retrojective Suicide)]

Religion as Protest Against Existence

Constitutive of religion in the broadest sense is human beings’ dissatisfaction with the quality and the finitude of their existence. When the human being hungry for bread or the human being hungry for meaning in all times and regions of the world creates religions and post-mortal paradises for himself as post-mortal compensation-institutions and begins to believe in these latter, he declares thereby the insufficiency of the reality into which his begetting has brought him and into which, equipped with religious power of attorney, he nonetheless brings children himself. Religions, with their paradises, are the hedged claims to that which is owed to every person begotten without consent as compensation for their own  >Givenness.

The more diligently a person, a group or a sect aspires to Paradise, the more marked will be their subliminal protest against having been called against their will into this existence: if existence at all, then only a paradise-like existence with one’s claim to happiness guaranteed.

Reincarnation Test

Reincarnation is a complicated topic because we most often have great difficulty expressing just what we mean by the term. Because, if it is really “me” who is reborn in such a case, would this not mean that I would have to be able to recall my previous existence? On the other hand, however, we have no doubt that, in the case where we should develop grave senile dementia, it would still be “we ourselves” and no one else who would continue to exist, even though we would no longer be able to remember anything. If we were able here and now to take certain measures which would bring it about that in such a condition of senile dementia we would not have also to suffer certain further pains, we would, it must be supposed, indeed take such measures; we would not say: what happens to me some decades from now is a matter of indifference, if the “I” that exists then will have no memory and will, consequently, be a different person from me. This phenomenon of grave senile dementia is clear evidence that our continued existence is not necessarily linked to the ability to remember. With a little imagination, then, one can envisage how a “second existence” (after one or another form of reincarnation or rebirth) might likewise not necessarily have to involve any memory of the past. For this reason, it would seem not to be entirely unreasonable to try to develop a “reincarnation test” for the purpose of testing nativistic theses and beliefs.

 

Eduard von Hartmann (1842–1906)

One interesting model for such a “reincarnation test” was developed by Eduard von Hartmann in his “Philosophy of the Unconscious”. This involved taking away all his memories from the test subject, without said subject ceasing thereby to be himself (a phenomenon which we do indeed encounter in the most serious cases of senile dementia):

“Imagine a man who, though no genius, is nonetheless a man of up-to-date general culture, equipped with all the material goods of someone in an enviable social position, in the prime of life, and fully aware of the advantages he enjoys over the members of the lower classes, the inhabitants of more primitive nations, and the subjects of more savage times, and who in no way envies the man placed above him who is tormented by all the discomforts that he himself has been spared – a man, in short, who has neither been worn out and made blasé by excessive pleasures nor been oppressed by any especially heavy blows of fate.

Now imagine Death stepping up to this man and speaking as follows: “The time allotted to you has run out and in this very hour you shall fall prey to annihilation. But it is up to you to decide in this moment whether or not, after completely forgetting all that has hitherto transpired, you live through once again, in exactly the same way, this life of yours which is just now coming to an end. Now choose!”

I doubt that the man in question will prefer, to non-being, this repetition of all that has already played out once before – assuming that he considers the matter quietly and without intimidation and that he has not lived his life in a way so lacking in thought or reflection that, unable to perform any brief critique of his own life-experiences, his answer will give expression only to the will to live at any price or his judgment will be entirely distorted thereby. How much more, then, would this man have to prefer simple non-being to a re-entry into a life which would not guarantee to him those favourable conditions that his former life had and which would, on the contrary, leave it entirely up to chance what new conditions of life he might find himself entering into – that is to say, would, with a probability verging on certainty, provide him only with worse life-conditions than those that he had just scorned.

But the unconscious would itself be in the same position as this man at every moment of a new birth, assuming it really had the possibility of making such a choice.”  (Eduard v. Hartmann, Philosophie des Unbewussten)

Even a generally contented man, Hartmann supposes, would not cherish the wish to be reborn in the sense of having, after having forgotten his past life, to live this life through once again.  All the more, then, would a contented man decline to accept his own rebirth under altered conditions: namely, if it were left up to chance (>the Lottery) or to the unconscious just which social or biological condition he would be reborn in. Against the background of the necessity that ethical principles be universalizable we must now ask: if I decline to accept that in my own case my life should be lived through again – let alone that the journey through life should be made anew under biological and social conditions that remain unknown to me – how I can reasonably impose such a life-journey on someone else by begetting him and surrendering him up to the unknown?  Were that “unconscious” (which in Hartmann’s philosophy is blind) endowed with foresight, it would flinch back in horror from every such begetting. We ourselves, however, do possess such foresight, for which reason – and this is the logical antinatalist conclusion of Hartmann’s own exposition, a conclusion he does not share – we should not act in such a way that new human beings begin to exist.

Right to Progeny as a Basic Right to the Free Development of One’s Personality?

The right to beget one’s own progeny is generally held to be a part of the basic right to the free development of one’s personality. The notion of such a basic right is flawed already by reason of the fact that it is not clear why or how the expansion of one personality would be compatible with the generation of a second personality (the child). However broadly one individual (something “un-dividable” by definition) might develop himself, this does not imply any second person.

But if the right to progeny is, nonetheless, still after all considered as a part of our basic right to the development of our own personality, then this means: I am to have the right, with a view to the free development of my own personality, to instrumentalize another personality (one which is unable to adopt an attitude either of affirmation or of refusal vis-à-vis my progenerative behaviour or which, in other words, is unfree with regard to the start of its existence) in such a way that I cause it to begin to be. But there follows in turn from this: whenever any of my progeny find themselves unsatisfied with a state or a phase of their life I need to face the fact that I have practiced the free development of my personality at their expense. My right to progeny of my own as part of a basic right to the free development of my personality results in wrong done to some other person in every case where the basic rights of this person, instrumentalized by me, are not respected. These latter basic rights have been collected and recorded in the UN Convention on Children’s Rights; they relate to health, free time and play, upbringing, education and training without violence, and parental care.

Where we pay attention to the words, which are hardly casually to be dismissed, of the author Friedrich Spielhagen who writes that “no human being has ever seen the light of day for whom there did not come an hour in which he wished he had not been born” (>Spielhagens Sentence) it becomes clear that, by the exercising of my “right to progeny of my own as part of a basic right to the free development of my personality”, I am bringing it about, in an irresponsible way (i.e. in a way that indicates I am only concerned about myself) that someone else gets repeatedly into serious physical and/or mental difficulties. My supposed basic right conflicts in an absolutely non-negotiable way with the equally fundamental imperative to forgo all actions which bring it about that human beings land up in existentially intolerable situations of need and distress. But even where such a situation of existential distress arises, neither the UN’s Children’s Rights Convention nor any other human-rights convention or institution can currently function as a court of appeal before which the persons suffering harm can lay claim to compensation for those harms that these conventions and institutions supposedly exist to defend against. This being the case, Article 2, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany certainly requires some supplementation. Currently, the text runs:

“Every person shall have the right to the 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.”

We propose supplementing this as follows:

Nobody shall have the right to freely develop his personality in such a manner that in the course of such a free development a person shall begin to exist whose rights shall sooner or later be infringed.

Pseudo-Humboldt

Memoirs claiming to be those of Alexander von Humboldt were published in 1861 by a hitherto unknown author. We cite below, from this supposed forgery[1], an antinatalist passage: “I was not made to be the father of a family. What is more, I consider marriage to be a sin and the begetting of children to be a crime. I am also of the belief that that man is a fool, and still more a sinner, who takes the yoke of marriage upon himself. A fool because he thereby throws his freedom away without receiving any fitting compensation; a sinner because he gives life to children without being able to give them the certainty of happiness. I despise human beings in all their various strata; I foresee our posterity being much more unhappy than us – ; would I not be a sinner, then, if, despite seeing things this way, acted in such a way that progeny, that is, more unhappy people, came to be?–

Life in its entirety is the most utter nonsense. (…) If we just knew, at least, why we are here on this earth. But everything is and remains an enigma to the thinking man and the greatest of all good fortunes is to be born shallow and stupid.” (Quoted in: Philipp Mainländer, Die Philosophie der Erlösung. Erster Band) Interestingly, the French philosopher Rémi Brague says of this passage that it is, in the end, a matter of no importance whether the text is a forgery or not, since nihilism was, at that period, a very widely-held view. (see Brague, Les Ancres dans le ciel). In fact, however, we have to do here with antinatalistic formulations of a very emphatic nature which cannot have been widely subscribed to even in nihilistic circles – although it is certainly true that so-called nihilistic currents of thought may have promoted the emergence of just such an emphatic antinatalism such as that which we encounter in >Kurnig.

[1] The decisive role in this discovery was played by Kurt-R. Biermann: Die „Memoiren Alexander von Humboldt’s“, in: ders.: Miscellanea Humboldtiana. Berlin 1990, p. 257 – 264 (Beiträge zur Alexander-von-Humboldt-Forschung 15).

Proto-Self

Before “I” was, there was “it”: the consciousness-less, functioning, embryonic organism, generated either in vitro or directly by the parents, which succeeded in forming for itself a nervous system and a brain which then, at some point, brought forth indeed a consciousness, through which “I” began to exist. When might this have been? We will surely never be able to measure it nor indeed to learn anything precise about it at all. Perhaps we can agree on the fact that a certain knot of nerves, or a brain, is an indispensable precondition for a larva or an embryo’s acquiring a basic consciousness or awareness. A good candidate for the point marking this transition both in human beings and in the higher animals is perhaps that stage of development that is designated by the word “foetus”. When the embryo developed this minimal consciousness or “proto-self” and became a “foetus”, at this point “my” existence began. Had that still-consciousness-less embryo which came later in fact to constitute ME been destroyed before this occurred, then “I” would not have been killed thereby (since “I” did not yet exist). What was destroyed would rather have been an inanimate embryo, although this destruction would have prevented a killable “I” (an “I” capable of dying) from beginning to exist (>Abortion).

Where one takes into account this pre-natal “proto-self”, that “new beginning” so celebrated by advocates of natality (and so vehemently insisted upon against a supposed “stream of death” in philosophy – not just at the point of our birth but already some months prior to this. We can clearly see from this that the attempt to oppose, to the supposedly death-obsessed philosophy so far produced by Man a “philosophy of natality” suffers ab ovo from a certain important flaw. If we begin, in fact, to live already some months before our birth – namely, as soon as a “proto-self” emerges from a merely embryonal “it” – then what ought to give occasion to celebration is this initial constitution of “I-ness” and not the birth occurring several months later.

Pronatal Meta-Level of Ethics

If one is to draw a distinction between ethics and morality, then one may say that ethics is a philosophical questioning of the presuppositions of morality with a view to grounding and justifying this latter; or, in other words, ethics is a theory of morality. For this reason, it is to be expected of an ethics that it take up a distanced and reflectively examined perspective upon those moral notions that count as “self-evident” for a society, or for an era, or for humanity as a whole. It is all the more astonishing, then, that, with the exception of Utilitarianism (more precisely: negative Utilitarianism) no system of ethics has ever thought even to address the question of whether there ought to exist at all those human beings the moral rightness of whose actions then go on to form the objects of ethical debate. Instead of beginning, in a distanced and reflective manner, with this most basic question of whether subjects susceptible of doing good and having good done to them, and of suffering evil, should exist in the world at all, traditional ethics concerns itself with how all the other ideas we have about morality – excepting this question about whether the subjects of ethics should exist at all – can be rationally justified. An example: When Peter Singer writes that there should be chosen “that course of action which, when the books are finally balanced, has the best consequences for all concerned” (Praktische Ethik, S. 24) there remains as a “blind spot” in the reasoning leading to this proposition the issue of whether there should exist people “concerned” by our deeds and misdeeds at all. But an ethics that fails in this way to reflect, besides upon the problems it is aware of, also upon its own “blind spots” is justifiably to be described as “unmindful”.  This, indeed, is what we may call “the unmindfulness of ethics”. Any ethics which fails to take up into its questioning the question of whether there ought to be a human race at all (and which therefore offers no anthropodicy, be it implicit or explicit) necessarily becomes objectively an accomplice in all those misdeeds that those freely-acting subjects, the existence of which such an ethics simply presupposes, are capable of committing. An “unmindful” ethics in the sense we have described implicitly surrenders human beings over to all these terrible misdeeds. All systems of ethics justify (albeit mostly merely implicitly) the facilitation of the contravention of their own norms in ways likely to occasion suffering inasmuch as they are obliged to posit as their highest value a freedom which is also a freedom to infringe values. They are subject, therefore, to the same accusation – in the form of the pointing out of their lack of an anthropodicy – as God is subject to in the form of the pointing out of a lacking theodicy, i.e. of the pointing out that God Himself must somehow be complicit in the existence of Evil.

Inasmuch as our ethical systems have proven so rarely capable of distancing themselves from, and of reflecting upon, our traditional notions of morality to a degree sufficient for the desirability or otherwise of the engendering of new human beings to enter into the field of their considerations (have proven, in other words, so rarely capable of rising into the sphere of meta-ethics) the suspicion must necessarily arise that a certain “biological radical” – namely, the life-instinct driving toward procreation – may have remained spared by all reflection and that there may have occurred, as yet, little or no pushback against its imperatives. In this case, then, we would have to reckon with a biologically-anchored pronatal fatalism in all systems of ethics. In contrast to this, anything deserving of the name of “human dignity” would consist precisely in a reflective self-distantiation from all biological imperatives.

Pronatalists

It may serve, perhaps, as an encouragement for some pronatalist to compose a handbook on pronatalism if we briefly review the ideas of several convinced pronatalists:

Holtug, Nils

Holtug attempted to establish a pronatalist position. In his essay “ON THE VALUE OF COMING INTO EXISTENCE” he propounds the “Value of Existence View”. According to this view the beginning of a person’s existence can either benefit or harm said person and it can be better (or worse) for this latter to exist than not to exist. Holtung thus defends the bold idea that someone can be harmed by reason of their having never come to exist. He is indeed aware that these claims of his must immediately raise the question of how one can possibly either harm or benefit some non-existent “something” by bringing about an existence paradoxically said to be “its” (“something” and “its” are placed in inverted commas here so as to indicate that that neither term really has any ontic referent to which anything could really be done – i.e. they are not referents at all in the strict sense). Holtug appears to understand, then, that the beginning of an entity’s existence is not something that happens to said entity but rather a precondition that must already obtain if anything is ever to happen to said entity at all. It is clearly against this background that he explains his notion that a person can be harmed or benefited by beginning to exist. He does so as follows:

“The thought is that a person is benefited by coming into existence if, on balance, his life is worth living, and harmed if, on balance, it is worth not living.” In this light we can see that what we are meant to understand here by a benefit/harm ensuing from the beginning of an existence is not at all that which one tends, irresistibly, to think of but rather something else entirely. The “benefit” or “harm” in question here corresponds to the answer given by an already-existing person to the question of whether their life Is worth living or not (or to the judgment of the value of the life of such a person by others).

Holtug attempts to “smuggle in” a certain harmful or beneficial quality of existence’s beginning by means of a sort of trick which illegitimately presupposes a continuity between non-existence and existence, as if “I” were to pass out of the state of non-existence into that of existence just as I pass from a state of illness into one of health. Thus, for Holtug, the fact that a certain Jeremy prefers his own existence to his potential non-existence suffices to prove the proposition that he has benefited from the beginning of the former: “Since, then, Jeremy prefers existing to never existing, he has benefited from coming into existence. Had he preferred never to exist, he would have been harmed instead.”

We may be said to have to do with a metaphysical “smuggling in” here inasmuch as Holtug decides to give to the results of a survey taken of already-existing human beings the final deciding word regarding the question of whether “someone” is harmed or benefitted by the beginning of their own existence. Holtug omits to consider here the fact that, if someone consents post festum to his own existence, he does not thereby make any meaningful enunciation regarding whether HE has benefitted or not through the beginning of this existence.  Holtug levels the problem down to the question of whether someone is glad to exist or not and leaves out of account the fact that the question of whether SOMEONE is harmed or benefitted by the beginning of his own existence is really a question without sense.

As regards the moral imperative to create more human beings Holtug argues as follows: Because it is the case that it may benefit human beings to begin to exist there exists a certain moral obligation to bring human beings into the world, provided only that it is to be expected that there will fall to the lot of these human beings a life that is worth living. But since it will never be possible to establish in advance whether such a coming into the world will benefit or harm a human being, Holtug’s pronatalism would have an extremely weak foundation even if one saw no problem with the deliberate misrepresentation at its base.

Parfit, Derek (1942–2017)

After detailed discussion of “never having been”, and of the starting and the ceasing of existence,  Parfit sums up, in his book “Reasons and Persons”, as follows: “I have suggested that, of these, starting to exist should be classed with ceasing to exist. Unlike never existing, starting to exist and ceasing to exist both happen to actual people. This is why we can claim that they can be either good or bad for these people.” „We can similarly claim that causing someone to exist who will have a life worth living, gives this person a peculiar benefit.“

But clearly Parfit is in error here: everything that happens to me presupposes my existence; for this reason, the start of my existence cannot be an event which befalls me. For me myself, therefore, the start of my existence can neither be a good thing nor a bad thing; as long as I have not yet begun to exist, no “I’ is there for whom beginning to exist could be “good” or “bad”; but if I exist, then the beginning of my existence already lies in the past and the question can then only be: “Is it good for me to exist?” The start of my existence can only be something good or bad for that which enfolds and comprises my existence in its entirety. This we express through the impersonal term > “it”. We can say: “it” was good or bad that I began to exist. That the start of my existence cannot be good (just as it cannot be bad) for me becomes clear as soon as we pose the question of what the actual point of commencement is for that action which brings about the effect of a new human being’s beginning to exist. This point of commencement is not the human being him- or herself but rather the entire structure linking humanity and the world that was there already before his/her existence.

 

Singer, Peter (*1946)

Like other metaphysical >Damnators Singer would prefer – had he the choice – a world with beings susceptible both of suffering and of happiness over a world without sentient beings. He points to supposedly imminent improvements in the human condition which he believes confirm him in his choice: “I do think it would be wrong to choose the non-sentient universe. In my judgment, for most people, life is worth living. Even if that is not yet the case, I am enough of an optimist to believe that, should humans survive for another century or two, we will learn from our past mistakes and bring about a world in which there is far less suffering than there is now.“ (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/should-this-be-the-last-generation/) Singer does not consider the notion of a >Trial Period of the human species to be worth even wasting a thought on.

 

McMahan, Jeff (*1954)

McMahan dismisses out of hand the very idea of an ebbing away of humanity: “My own view, though I won’t argue for it here, is that the extinction of human beings would be the worst event that could possibly occur.“ (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/28/predators-a-response/)

We might name, as examples of pronatalists among contemporary philosophers, such figures as Dieter Birnbacher, Vittorio Hösle, Hans Jonas, and Saul Smilansky.

Pronatalism

There may arise in the mind of someone reading this handbook on antinatalism the question of why we have not presented the pronatalist position in stronger terms. Instead of making any great effort to justify ourselves here, we prefer simply to urge that someone undertake to author a correspondent handbook on pronatalism.

 

Pronatalism Argument

There appears prima facie to be a watertight argument for pronatalism in a world containing   àLiving Beings whose constitution would permit only positively evaluated experiences. Would it not, in such a world, be a bad thing not to call into being further so-constituted beings? But initial appearances are deceptive here. It is surely a good thing not to beget beings susceptible of suffering (in this case there will be suffering beings); but it is not a bad thing to refrain from begetting beings that are susceptible exclusively of happiness and pleasure (in this case there will be no suffering beings).

Pronatal Suspension of Reason

According to an insight of Jonathan Swift’s the sole reason why humanity has not yet died out is because God on the one hand equipped this rational being, Man, who forms the crown of His creation with a certain pronatal rational “blind spot” and on the other hand implanted in him a certain centrifugal force with respect to death which causes him to feel his life to be so precious:

„Although reason were intended by Providence to govern our passions; yet it seems that in two points of the greatest moment to the being and continuance of the world, God has intended our passions to prevail over reason. The first is, the propagation of our species; since no wise man ever married from the dictates of reason. The other is, the love of life; which, from the dictates of reason, every man would despise, and wish it at an end, or that it never had a beginning.“

Trial Period of the Species

Of one thing, it seems, we can be certain: the “trial period” of the human species is by now fully elapsed. Elapsed because we have not yet shown ourselves able to find a way of applying all those intellectual and material riches which – along with all the suffering – our millennia-long species-history has accumulated in a way which is useful and beneficial to all. Matters may be expressed as follows:

With the Russian and Chinese revolutions and their countless millions of victims, with Auschwitz and the Gulag, with the World Wars and the Congo Wars, with the genocide perpetrated on the Armenians and that perpetrated on his own people by Pol Pot, along with that further genocide, which might so easily have been prevented by the global community, perpetrated on the Tutsis in Rwanda, humanity’s “probation period” has plainly run its course. The experiment “continuation of humanity’s history” – in which many billions of human beings have been involved – has proven a failure too many times (in the form of these civilizational ruptures) for it to be reasonable to push on with it. And whoever advocates, in view of the course of history up to the present day, that this experiment be indeed pushed on with necessarily accepts and condones that the past and present which have been, for billions of human beings, of unbearable pain and horror, should be extended on into the future.

The assessment that we must today, after the elapse of this probation period, ourselves accord to ourselves runs as follows: let us retire, in mutual agreement, from the course of the world; let us quit our >Service to the Species and send a human-being-less existence on its way with all our best wishes that it should never again bring forth such failures as ourselves.

Priority of Mortality

All men are mortal but not all men are necessarily “natal”.

Attempts to elevate human natality into the same metaphysical rank as human mortality must necessarily fail because natality is not an indispensable or structural factor in existence. Many foetuses die, unborn, in utero. And what woman will, after the invention of an artificial uterus – and after the ebbing away of an initial wave of worldwide protest against this latter – want still to take upon herself the pain and effort of pregnancy and giving birth?

Priority of Perdurability

That there should be, and will be, in future a human race is the absolute priority, which is almost never questioned or examined, of all ethics and of all sketching out of scenarios of the future. Even where it appears certain that future generations will have to suffer from the actions and omissions of past and present human beings, this “priority of humanity” continues to be held sacrosanct.

This “priority of humanity” is thrown sharply into relief by the so-called “greenhouse effect”, of which Amin Maalouf writes as follows: “We know already that the existence of our children and our grandchildren will be dramatically affected by it; it is probable that the generations born in the second half of the 20th century will still have, if I may put it like this, the time to suffer from it themselves.” (Amin Maalouf, Le Dérèglement du monde) We must note here the total absence of any notion that natal continence might be the appropriate means of preventing further human beings from having to suffer the consequences of climate change.

Preconceptive-Retrojective Symbolic Suicide (Also: Symbolically Retrojective Suicide)*

For many people the notion of “wanting never to have been at all” seems comprehensible only in terms of a “wanting no longer to be”: that is to say, as a painful dying rather than as an anticipated wish to have never become a being capable of death in the first place. For anyone for whom their non-being appears conceivable solely and exclusively in terms of a no-LONGER-being (death), all touching on the idea of “not having been born” necessarily presents itself as an implicit threat of murder. Thus, resistance to the ebbing-away of humanity draws no insignificant part of its impetus from something that might be called “symbolically pre-conceptive suicide”.

*(Concept outlined first by Guido Kohlbecher)

Poulet, Georges: From the Imprecation of Existence to the Accusation Against Being: Antinatalism in Georges Poulet’s Unknown Masterpiece “Nothing Is…”

Georges Poulet was perhaps the first to show that the bringing forth of new human beings fulfils the defining conditions of a criminal offence.

In Poulet’s novel Rien n’est… that traditional topos of an imprecation cast upon existence, which recurs again and again throughout European intellectual history, achieves a literary culmination and takes on new form: that of an accusation against being directed specifically against one’s own parents.

Poulet, then, is most likely the first to transcend, in his 1913 Bildungsroman (not yet translated into English) Rien n’est…, the topoi of a hitherto rather impotent and ineffective imprecation upon, and reproach to, existence and to outline that personalisation of the accusation against existence (i.e. an accusation juridified and levelled against one’s own progenitors) which, in former years, allowed secular courts to deal with that metaphysical question of a “right to non-existence” which lies, still today, outside the ambit of the law  (àUnwished-for/Unasked Existence.

In his novel – highly praised in its day by the Nobel-Prize-winning Belgian author Maeterlinck – Poulet demonstrates how the substantial basis for such an accusation can be acquired by following out the logic of the French Code Civil. Turning his back on all “gratitude for existence” – that gratitude which most human beings imbibe with their mothers’ milk (insofar as they do not count among the millions of children who have, since time immemorial, died every year of hunger or of easily avoidable infections) – Poulet draws, as it were, a cork from the bottle of the Napoleonic Code Civil. The genie that thereby escaped from the bottle plainly failed, however, to exert any influence on the forma mentis of humanity during Poulet’s lifetime. Despite the praise received from Maeterlinck it is only in our own day that the idea sketched out by Poulet – that of a juridification and personalization of the ancient imprecation cast upon existence – is beginning to gain some resonance. Certain individuals suffering from serious disabilities – people conceived and borne, necessarily, without their having asked to be and existing without any request on their part to do so –  are now beginning to understand themselves as victims of a misdeed and are, in some cases, setting about defending themselves against those who initiated these existences or against the medical misdiagnoses that contributed thereto (e.g. pre-implantation or ultrasound diagnoses which overlooked serious illness or malformations) using means which already lay, in rudimentary form, to hand in the French Code Civil.
Where it is read and interpreted in the light of Poulet’s analyses and considerations the significant modern legal corpus that is the Code Civil might serve as a model and driving force for those formal “accusations of existence” which are finally, in our present day, being mounted. In other words: precisely within one of the most determinant modern “immunity systems”, through which a civilized future for humanity was intended to be guaranteed, Poulet discovers, under the auspices of “liberty, equality and fraternity, a key weak point in our otherwise barely-questioned social synthesis – a weak point which makes it possible for each individual to legitimately bring a juridical charge against the initiators of his or her existence. Thus, for a humanity the component individuals of which have been enlightened regarding the coercive nature of their existence, there is opened up a legal-metaphysical perspective which promises nothing less than a great wave of such juridical charges – a prospect which should serve to prompt couples thinking of indeed engaging in such existence-initiating action to take some distance from such decisions and thereby contribute to ebbing-away of human existence on this earth.

The progress from the traditional “imprecation cast upon existence”, traceable back to deepest antiquity, to the modern juridical charge against existence can be observed in the following passage, in which the young Andoche attacks his father Galipat (and which we give here both in the French original and in English translation):  

Je sais bien que j’ai l’air de dire une bêtise quand je déclare que je n’ai pas demandé à naître. C’est cependant vrai.
Connais-tu l’article 1382 du Code civil?
– Non, fis-je, surpris de l’arrivée de Code civil dans cette histoire.
– L’article 1382 dit textuellement: «Tout fait quelconque de l’homme, qui cause à autrui un dommage, oblige celui par la faute duquel il est arrivé à le réparer.» Eh! bien, Galipiat a pu prendre un certain plaisir, le jour où ma mère a consenti à le distraire; mais c’est moi qui ai payé la casse, si j’ose ainsi parler. Il y a eu de sa part dommage causé à ma personne, puisqu’il m’a transmis la vie et, avec cette servitude douloureuse, toutes les maladies que lui, sa femme et leurs ascendants à l’un et à l’autre ont recueillies et collectionnées au cours de leurs débauches, de / leurs aventures et de leurs fatigues, sans compter celles que je vais gagner moi-même dans mes propres excès et mes catastrophes personnelles.

I know that I must sound very stupid when I declare that I never asked to be born. But such is in fact the case. Are you familiar with Article 1382 of the Code Civil?
– No, I said, surprised that the Code Civil entered into this matter at all.
– Article 1382 states quite explicitly: “Every human action, of whatever kind, obliges, in the case where said action causes harm to another human being, the person responsible for this harm to compensate the person harmed.”  Galipat, then, may have had a certain pleasure in my mother’s consenting to entertain him. But it was me, if I may say so, who suffered the harm ensuing therefrom. He is the agent of a damage inflicted upon my person, since he passed on life to me and, with this painful servitude, all the sicknesses that he, his wife and their forebears have acquired in the course of their debaucheries, their adventures and their exertions, not to mention those that I am going to acquire myself in the course of my own debaucheries and personal catastrophes.

With this passage Poulet makes a plea for a truly consistent application of penal law, in the sense that all progeny, not just those who turn out to suffer from some serious disability, should be allowed to legally prosecute their progenitors. Poulet has his Andoche defend the idea – which has re-emerged in present-day antinatalist philosophy – that our being brought into being is a harm inflicted on us. My progenitor is taken to count as the “person responsible for a harm done” to me. Should one directly accept the logic of this line of argument, the compensation for the damage done here (the imposition of life being considered here to constitute a “damage”) could only consist in life being taken away again from the person who has thereby suffered damage. But as is evident, life can neither be “given to someone” nor can “someone” be “deprived” of it. In order to form a clearer picture here let us think of an “elementary particle” (rather in the original sense of this term drawn from physics than in the metaphorical sense given to it by Houellebecq) which is resistant, indeed, to all ethical considerations, since, although it is impossible to either improve or cause to deteriorate the condition of such a “particle” but only to alter its position in space, there can nonetheless validly be applied to it that more general notion of “being affected”. Is such an elementary particle “affected” by entering into existence? Not at all. Analogously, “giving the gift of something” to someone presupposes that the “someone” in question already exists. Consequently, an action the effect of which consists precisely in bringing someone into existence cannot be said to be an action that “gives the gift” of anything to anyone at all. And to take something away from someone likewise presupposes that the “someone” in question continues to exist; an action the effect of which consisted in the person affected by it’s ceasing to exist would “take nothing away” from this latter.

Attempts, therefore, to legally prosecute one’s own parents by reason of the fact that they caused one harm or damage by begetting one are ultimately bound to fail due to their lack of rational underpinning: we find ourselves, as a result of our being “called into existence” (though it would be more correct, of course, to say that “one acted in such a way that we arose”) no worse off than if “we” had remained unbegotten. There surely can, however, by tracing out the logic of Poulet’s remarks, be postulated a duty to desist from begetting new human beings for so long as it is not yet guaranteed that these latter will be spared sorrows, hardships, and torments ending in a miserable death-rattle.

Momentum of Positivity and Pollyanna Principle

The “momentum of positivity” is constitutive for nativistic àSystematic Self-Blinding. By this phrase we mean on the one hand the tendency for negative events and experiences to undergo, in retrospect, “positivization” and to be evaluated and described as less negative than they were lived as being when first experienced. A locus classicus for this insight is Eduard von Hartmann’s Philosophy of the Unconscious, in which he explains the “momentum of positivity” to be the result both of the obscuring effect of  >The Spectacles of Memory when looking back at the past and a certain instinct of hope that constantly optimistically anticipates the future.  Also contributing to this “momentum of positivity” is the finding – albeit a disputed one among researchers – that it is generally easier to recall positive things than negative ones.[1]

 

Pollyanna Hypothesis and Principle

Boucher und Osgood (1969) use the phrase “Pollyanna Hypothesis” to introduce their observation that people have a natural inclination to form positive ideas and draw positive conclusions. Boucher und Osgood remark that “there is a universal human tendency to use evaluatively positive (E+) words more frequently… than evaluatively negative words (E-).” (quoted from Baumeister et al.). Across all languages, “good” appears to be the most frequently applied evaluating term (see Rozin/Royzman).

In their 1978 study “The Pollyanna Principle: Selectivity in language, memory, and thought” Matlin and Stang argued that positive information can be more easily called up out of the memory than negative. It was this that they called “the Pollyanna Principle”.

For what reason are negative events or experiences more difficult to recall than positive ones? The reason lies, perhaps, not in the fact that negative things imprint themselves on the mind less firmly than positive ones; rather, this phenomenon seems to be traceable back to the fact that negative experiences are, over the course of time, at least neutralized, where they are not actually transformed into something positive. àWorking-Through of the Negative.

 

The Novel “Pollyanna”

The notion of a “Pollyanna Principle” is inspired by certain views expressed by the eponymous heroine of a novel written by Eleanor Hodgman Porter (1868–1920). The best example of this “principle” is the scene in the novel in which the young girl Pollyanna discovers, in the forest, a man with a broken leg and tells him that she is happy. Happy about what? Well, she explains, that only one and not both of his legs are broken. Pollyanna calls this attitude to things the “game” that she has learned from her now-deceased father: “’Oh, yes; the game was to just find something about everything to be glad about—no matter what ’twas,’ rejoined Pollyanna, earnestly.“ (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Pollyanna/Chapter_5) In fact, Pollyanna finds herself prompted very often, in the course of the novel, to play this “game”. And life itself plays such nasty tricks on her that her ability to maintain this “playful” attitude is put to a very hard test.

The aunt with whom Pollyanna lives gives an explanation, very much in antinatalist spirit, of why Pollyanna is obliged to undertake all those attempts to compensate for daily experiences of suffering that are recommended by adepts of positive thinking and other pronatalists:  “…just because I happened to have a sister who was silly enough to marry and bring unnecessary children into a world that was already quite full enough…” (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Pollyanna/Chapter_1). It remains unclear, however, whether the stance expressed here is a matter simply of a demographic-political antinatalism or rather of a breakthrough to an actual moral-theoretical antinatalism.

What Pollyanna calls “the game” is a competence in mastering existence which children early on acquire through practice or – in the case where they do not succeed in doing this themselves “by imitation” – is “beaten into them” by others. Whoever declines to participate in this “game” of fending off all negativity and refuses to don the >Spectacles of Memory is regularly accused of being a “spoilsport”.

[1] Baumeister et al. (2001) arrive, in their study of memory performance, at the conclusion of a certain dominance of the negative; Shelley E. Taylor (1991) and Rozin/Royzman (2001), however, assume a dominance of the positive.

Dissipation of Positivity

Whoever acts in such a way as to bring about, or contribute to bringing about, the coming into existence of a human being, is also acting in such a way that a being begins to exist whose states of happiness dissolve and dissipate much more quickly than his states of misery.

Person-Free Argument

Opponents of antinatalism might advance the argument that there cannot be ascribed to this latter’s intended object – a universe without beings susceptible of suffering – the predicate “morally good”, since in such a universe there would no longer be present any being for whom anything might be “good” or “bad”. Such a universe, so runs the argument, would be ethically neutralized. But the conclusion that an ethically neutral universe is a better one does, therefore, indeed result from a comparison between this universe and ours. We may indeed say: a world in which there are no beings susceptible of suffering is better than a world in which there are such beings.

Definitive Justification in Performative Mode

Whoever advances the claim that it is impossible to definitively reflexively justify a position thereby asserts the very thing that his argument purports to deny: it is once and for all established (so might one reformulate what he is saying here) that nothing can be established finally and once and for all.   

But besides this reflexive form of definitive justification there must also be considered a definitive justification in resultative or performative mode. The ebbing-away of humanity is the definitive onto-logical justification of certain ethical principles (i.e. of negative >Utilitarianism or antinatalism). We may look, for clarification of this resultative form of definitive justification, to Hans Schafgans’s “Der letzte Mann von Paris”:

“For centuries, the whole Western world was struggling over the right path to salvation and we continued, deep into modernity, to deal with the legacy of these struggles. Today, however, paths are no longer important because there is no more ‘going’.” (Schafgans) A definitive performative justification is achieved where the last human beings capable of procreation remain without posterity and judge that “it is good that it should be so!”

Alloted Task

Parents force their children to bear not just the little package of weights and burdens that result from family life but also to carry out, above and beyond these, an immense number of socially allotted tasks.

A certain protest, albeit a seemingly impotent one, against the compulsion to perform all these tasks is to be found in the work of Hugo Ball: “But we are not, in the end, on a treadmill! One is not in the world simply in order to sweat and strain oneself to death!” (Hugo Ball, Flametti oder Vom Dandysmus der Armen). The protest seems impotent because the guilty parties here are not named by their actual name.

Stalemate, Nativistic

No one ever consented, or could possibly have consented, to the beginning of their own existence.  Many antinatalists derive from this fact the proposition that existing human beings had their existence “imposed” on them when they were “taken out of the state of non-existence” and brought into existence. Such an “imposition of existence” (so it is claimed) clearly reveals the moral reprehensibility of procreation.

Conversely to this, however, one might seek to establish the reprehensibility of the omission to procreate by claiming that, where procreation does not occur, existence is being withheld from certain not-yet-existent individuals. The pronatalist wants to persuade us of the moral superiority of procreation and therefore speaks of àDeprivation of Existence and of the >Gift of Life; the antinatalist, by contrast, points to the moral questionability of procreation and speaks, therefore, of the >Diktat of Birth. Ontologically considered, both positions are fundamentally flawed, since there was in fact no one on whom life was imposed just as it is impossible to identify anyone who might either have been “deprived” of existence or to whom the “gift” of existence could be given. Existence is not one attribute among others but rather the precondition of all attribution. In order to refuse or to lack something, or to have something imposed on one, one must already exist.

If the proposition has hitherto sometimes been advanced in antinatalist literature that “no one” ever wished to be begotten, one might just as easily say that “no one” ever wished not to be begotten.  Talk, then, of a “Diktat of existence”, or of a “deprivation” of this latter, leads into a checkmate situation which can be traced back to an onto-ethical fallacy.  When antinatalists say that someone was compelled to exist they are committing an onto-ethical fallacy inasmuch as originally there was no one there who could possibly have been “compelled” to anything. Likewise, however, pronatalists are committing an onto-ethical fallacy when they contend that someone has had existence “withheld” from them through their not having been begotten, because there is likewise no one there of whom such things might truly be said. “Diktat of existence” and “gift of life”: the two expressions appear to convey diametrically opposed ideas and yet, when it comes down to what is most essential, they have something in common. Or rather, what they have in common is what both essentially lack. Both lack a referent, a subject to which their enunciations could actually apply.

Paternihilism

Given the >Thanatality that is the fate of all human beings as well as the inevitability of experiences of the deaths of near and dear ones along with our own powerlessness in the face of these deaths, parents can be said to surrender up their children – partially blinded by parental joy, perhaps, but certainly not entirely blind to what they are doing – to terribly negative experiences and finally to absolute nothingness.

Parallel Worlds

As if it were not already enough for there to exist a large number of planets in the universe inhabited by beings capable of suffering, we must also reckon – at least if we are to trust Kant’s account of this matter – with a large number of different universes which stand in no causal connection one to the other. Thereby clearly increases exponentially the conceivable number of suffering beings. In 1746, while still a young man, Kant formulated, in his Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces, a hypothesis which was later to be discussed in science fiction and in quantum physics under the title “multiverses”:

“Not correct, then, is the doctrine one hears expounded in the lecture halls of our wisest scholars to the effect that, in the metaphysical sense, there can only ever be a single world. It really is possible that God may have created many millions of worlds, even where ‘world’ is understood in its metaphysical sense; for this reason it remains an undecided matter whether these worlds really exist or not.” (Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces, § 8). And in 1770 Kant develops this thought in his Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World. According to Kant’s argument in this work “multiverses” are possible precisely if it is not the case “that there exists only one single necessary cause of everything” (Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World § 21) Since such parallel worlds exist in no causal relationship to our own reality we will never know how the beings that inhabited them fared.

Non-Being as State of the Self

Jumping over the >shadow of one’s own existence proves such a difficult feat to perform that we, mostly, cannot envisage our own non-being except as some state of our own self. If one holds to what is implied by the following translation from the Chinese, we return, when we die, to the “state” in which we were before we began to exist – a claim which allows us to draw the conclusion that something did indeed befall “us” when “we” were called into life:  

“To die means to have no more feelings at all and to return to the state one was in before one’s birth” (Chunqiu, Spring and Autumn of Lü Bu We). Such a “state” imputed to obtain prior to the beginning of existence seems to demand to be interpreted as a kind of impetus toward being: a minimal self or quasi-self which presses, from its side, for its own actualization through the action of >Perpetrators of Existence. The necessary corrective to this notion is provided by Lichtenberg – even if his formulation of it remains obscure – in his Sudelbücher: “Only a very few people have given the thought that it deserves to the value of not-being. When I think of not-being after death what I envisage is the state in which I found myself before I was born. This is not correctly to be described as ‘apathy’ since apathy is, in a sense, still something that one feels; rather, it is simply nothing. If I pass into this state – although, in fact, neither the word ‘I’ nor the words ‘state’ fit the case at all here.” (Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Aus den Sudelbüchern)

The “Falling Due” of the Self

The event of a human being beginning to exist is one which has been occurring over and over for many millennia. But is it determined (and if so, how) that an individual should begin to exist at one particular point in time? Clearly, each individual was “due” at some particular point in time or other. Our organisms are strongly determined by the genes of our parents and forefathers. Partially, our psyche is genetically determined along with these organisms. But what is it that explains the fact that each of us began to exist, precisely at the time of his or her falling “due”, AS THIS PARTICULAR EXPERIENCING BEING? If the combination of genes is so decisive, why did I “fall due” specifically with this combination and not with some other, at some point in the past or in the future?

Parental Revision (Symbolic Revocation of Burdening by Parents)

Parents impose upon their children not only the world but also themselves, the parents. “Properly raised” children must face the prospect of having to care for fragile or terminally ill parents. Without being able to offer proof of such things here, we must suppose the existence of exclamations in which parents, when it becomes clear to them what a burden they must necessarily become to their children, revoke and rescind this burdening obligation, for example with the words: “Oh if only I had not burdened my offspring with my own self” – something which amounts to an embracing of the antinatalist position.   

Paradox and Significance of Concluding or Culminating Experience

Retrospectively, we often tend to judge unpleasant experiences persisting over long periods much less negatively than one might expect in light of an evaluation of the aggregated negative experiences. As experimental psychology has shown, this is especially the case when the concluding or culminating experience in such a series is a positive one, or at least brings with it an improvement of the general situation.

Clearly, it would be paradoxical to want to apply this lesson about “concluding experience” to the life of an individual. Because with regard to a whole life the person concerned will always, at the moment of such a “concluding experience”, have ceased to exist and will have no more to report to us. Let us nonetheless mount a thought experiment whereby one might, even after the onset of an irreversible cerebral collapse, continue to communicate, as some sort of “post-mortal consciousness”, before ceasing to exist even in this form. We might then ask, in the knowledge that a life’s “concluding experience” exerts such a significant influence, a large number of such “post-mortal consciousnesses” to evaluate the lives that lie behind them. What would they tell us? To the extent that it is the case that a “peaceful going to sleep” at the end of a human life is a myth or a rare exception, the “concluding experience” of the great majority of such “post-mortal consciousnesses” will surely have been a terrible one (>Catastrophe of Dying) So that, under such circumstances, such consciousnesses would come to a negative conclusion about their past lives even if these lives had been, in general, only lightly burdened with suffering.

What does this thought-experiment tell us? In the first place it functions, in accordance with >Ovid’s Rule, as a corrective to that general contentment with life that is to be observed all around us and that draws on the proverbial wisdom that “on rain there always one day follows sunshine”. With death, the sun goes down once and for all – and goes down, indeed, for most of us in a very painful way. If one were to question, then, such “post-mortal consciousnesses” they too would draw the very likely negative experience of dying into the general judgment passed on life and thereby undermine the possibly positive judgments passed by those for whom “sunshine” has indeed often followed “rain”.

>Diktat of the Recollecting Self

Paradises as Compensation-Institutions

On account of their >Deficit of Narrativity we find paradises portrayed less concretely than we do hells. The productive imaginative powers of the species seem to have made a pact rather with evil than with any state of joy.

 

Metaphysics as Insurance-Institution

In the course of, and after the exhaustion of, the religious it is metaphysics that serves as the bearer of hope that the existence of human beings might be equipped with a moral imperative capable of prompting to the perpetuation of that long history of suffering that this existence has hitherto been. There should be recalled here that dictum of Max Scheler’s whereby “metaphysics is no insurance-institution for weak human beings in need of moral support.” (Die Stellung des Menschen im Kosmos, p. 92) Scheler said this against the background of his metaphysics of a human struggle and collaboration in the process of the creation of a God not yet brought to full completion. Without the support of such a metaphysics, however – and this is something that Scheler neglected to consider – the moral imperative grounding Man’s continued existence implodes and undergoes, in the absence of any mechanism compensating for suffering, an inversion into an imperative that rather forbids the generation of any new human beings.

Presence of Panempathy

Classic bearers of panempathy are the Jains, who light no lamps in the dark so that small insects are not burned by them, or the bodhisattvas as they are portrayed in Mahayana Buddhism: enlightened individuals who choose to delay their own entry into nirvana until every suffering being on earth has been redeemed.

 

Eich, Günter (1907–1972)

A rare example, and advertisement, for panempathy is the following poem by Günter Eich, “Consider, that Man is an enemy to Man”:

“Consider, that Man is an enemy to Man / And that he thinks constantly of annihilation. / Consider this constantly, consider it now / During a moment in April / Under this overcast sky / When you believe you hear growth as a fine rustling / And the maidens cut thistles / amidst the songs of the larks / In this moment too consider this! / Consider that, after the hours of great destruction / Everyone will prove that he was not among the guilty ones. / Consider that Korea and Bikini lie nowhere upon the map / But rather in your heart. / Consider that you yourself are guilty of all the terrible things / That happen far away from you.” (Günter Eich, GW, Bd. 1: Die Gedichte – Die Maulwürfe, p. 220f)

If the Categorical Imperative, at least from the moment of Auschwitz onward, has to run: “Every one of your actions must be such as to be able to be accompanied by the thought of Auschwitz”, Eich’s poem can be read as a “postlapsarian” exegesis of this imperative and the question be asked: ‘How can, where what is evoked in this poem is borne in mind, new human beings be begotten?’

 

Wells, H. G. (1866–1946)

A presence of panempathy directed toward the past is to be found in H. G. Wells. In his novel Mr Britling Sees It Through, first published in 1916 in the middle of the First World War, Wells has the eponymous protagonist, drifting off into recollections of his readings in Gnostic literature, articulate the idea:

“Life had a wrangling birth. On the head of every one of us rests the ancestral curse of fifty million murders.” (Mr. Britling Sees It Through, p. 290)[1]. Was the beginning of our existence really worth this price? Would each of us not rather have to exclaim: “Looking backward, I symbolically renounce the beginning of my existence – and each human being ought to do the same if it is really the case that millions of murders might have been prevented had everyone done so – our raison d’être is a folie d’être; looking forward, this can only mean to take one’s distance from it and to beget new human beings on the backs of an unknown number of future victims of murder.”  

>Neganthropy-Profiteers

[1] The number proposed may be a little high, if one takes into account that some 100 billion human beings have existed up to this point.

Panempathy Deficiency and Apathy Regarding the Suffering of the Species

Generally speaking, parents and parents-to-be display generative àRuthlessness, or at least a conscious resistance to all anticipative neganthropic imagination (that counterpart to historical culture that, as a variation of productive imagination, is directed rather into the future), which latter should make them aware that, through the progeny that they generate, they create a chain, the length of which it is impossible to foresee, of successive, ramifying generations, among whom, sooner or later, certain unspeakably suffering individuals will necessarily arise.

Parents, furthermore, have before their eyes the (short-lived) happiness of their own children and put out of their minds all the negative aspects for which they, the parents, are the decisive causal factor. With respect to humanity at present and in future, there predominates a definite apathy vis-à-vis the sufferings of the species.

Panempathy

Characteristic particularly of those religious movements indigenous to or emerging out of India, and quite especially of Jainism, is an extremely high degree of “panempathy”: i.e of empathic sympathy with all those suffering beings who have come into existence without being asked or desiring to. Indian spirituality goes out to meet each living being with a gesture of pity and regret:   ‘unfortunately you exist; may you cease to exist without having to be born and die once again; may those concatenations of cause and effect which reach back deep into the past and stretch forward into an unforeseeable future not manifest themselves,  once again, as a being susceptible of suffering.

Antinatalism is the secular consummation of the religious aspiration to quit the cycle of birth and rebirth. Instead of being born again, and then dying again (regardless of the various different conceptions of the soul with which these may be associated) antinatalist moral theory argues rather for simply ceasing to forge new links in the àChain of Procreations.

An example of the occidental form of panempathy is provided by Chateaubriand’s story “René”, the protagonist of which does not allow himself to be blinded by the light of the world: “Looking at the lights blazing in people’s apartments, I transposed myself mentally into the world of pains and joys that they illuminated.” (Chateaubriand, Atala)

Optimism

Optimism is a form of mobilisation of our mental and psychological resources which is most likely not just philosophico-cultural but actually bionomic (>Diktat of the Recollecting Self) and which acts as a kind of buffer protecting us from any close contact with reality. If this psychological option of optimism had not existed, would procreation not have become a deeply problematical thing at least to those human beings who have, in the centuries since the Enlightenment, been deprived of any prospect of a “world beyond”?  But in accordance with what might be called the basically optimistic attitude the future is expected to be not just as good as the present but far better than it. Where this attitude is applied to the individual it results in the widespread tendency to imagine that oneself and one’s immediate milieu are immune to all strokes of ill fortune. People tend generally to underestimate the probability that they will become unemployed, fall ill with cancer, or give birth to only moderately intelligent children. In view of the murderous nature of human history up to the present day it is hardly possible to describe the optimistic attitude as a rational or realistic one. Also in light of past history the continuing wide prevalence of optimistic attitudes to the world a further reason to suppose that we are dealing here at least in part with a set of mental and emotional responses which are biologically-based and independent of the individual will and which serve to secure the species by helping us to fool ourselves regarding the actual nature of reality.

By now, however, the question of how it is possible that so many people continue to maintain an optimistic attitude even though reality ought in fact to have long since disabused them of this latter appears to have found a natural-scientific answer. Examinations were made of the brains of individuals while they were processing partly positive, partly negative information about their futures. It was found that, whereas on learning these pieces of news the neuronal networks could be relied upon to code desirable information conducive to an optimistic attitude, this was much less the case where the information to be processed was information that proved unexpectedly undesirable. Put simply, our brains are wired in such a way that an optimistic attitude is the natural one for us. And indeed, such an optimistic attitude does indeed appear to be promotive both of the perpetuation of the species and the survival of the individual – even if this attitude is not a realistic one and can consequently have results that are ethically difficult to justify. Especially in the area of procreation. The neurologist Tali Sharot notes: “The brain’s illusions have to be identified by careful scientific observation and controlled experiments and then communicated to the rest of us. Once we are made aware of our optimistic illusions, we can act to protect ourselves.“ (Tali Sharot, Guardian Weekly, 20 Jan. 2012, p. 25-27, here: p. 27) One must add to this finding the condition that all, without exception, of those affected by this optimistic illusion are to be taken into account. Paradoxically, even those human beings are to be “protected” from a merciless optimism who, had this optimism not exerted its powerful effect, would never have begun to exist in the first place.

From what we have said it is clear that Man’s process of self-cultivation – contrary to what the guiding principle of philosophical anthropology leads us to suppose – is still a long way from having come to an end. Man might be described as “a cultural being by nature”. We carry around with us – not least in the form of the reality-distorting optimism that we have been talking about – a legacy from our existence as merely natural beings which demands to be constantly examined and questioned in a spirit of genuine enlightenment.

 

Optimism, Unrealistic Nativistic

If one puts to a relatively large number of people the question of whether their own life has contained more positive experiences, and fewer negative experiences, than the average human life most of those asked will say that their own lives contain more positive things, and fewer negative things, than the average. But a majority which situates itself in this way far from the average must necessarily be suffering from an unrealistic self-assessment. A similarly unrealistic optimism must also be reckoned as regards the offspring of such people: their parents will assume that this offspring will naturally experience more happiness, and less misery, than the average.

 

Diderot, Denis (1713–1784)

Diderot practices a fundamental onto-ethical critique of all forms of optimism that underestimate human suffering when he writes that nothingness is to be preferred to a world in which happiness is to be acquired only at the cost of pain:

“Regardless of what the optimists tell us we will always retort: if the world cannot exist without beings susceptible of feeling and if these beings susceptible of feeling cannot exist without some degree of pain, then everything ought rather to have remained in that condition of perpetual peace. After all, an eternity had already gone by without any foolishness of this sort’s existing.” (Diderot, letter to Sophie Volland of the 20th of October 1760, S. 127)

Optimistic, Life-Loving Antinatalism?

Are we, if we consider our existence to be a tolerable one – i.e. if we are rather of a sunny disposition than “tired of life” – thereby obliged to subscribe to the proposition that it was a good thing that we were begotten? Such a refractory attitude to non-being is defended by Micha Brumlik: “We too, if we find ourselves to be content, under the given conditions, with our lives must thereby also implicitly be of the view that it was a good thing that we were conceived and born.” (Brumlik, Über die Ansprüche Ungeborener und Unmündiger)

But what reasons of moral logic would render it impossible for us to prefer a course of the world in which we would never have begun to exist while at the same time defending the notion that our life at present is worth living? There appear to be no convincing arguments against the moral-logical possibility of even a happy, committed individual’s defending an antinatalist position – even if he were to do so merely out of empathy with those billions of others who may be less happy or fortunate than him. With reference to early Christian antinatalism Hieronymus Lorm (1821–1902) expounded, in a book from 1894, this possibility of a combination of moral commitment and advocacy of an ebbing away of humanity:

“It is perfectly possible for me to sacrifice myself, my fortune and my life, motivated by pity or by love of my neighbour, for the sake of a person, a group, a class, a people or even some cultural cause while all along having the feeling that it would be better for the latter and more in their interest if they had never existed or if they were to be painlessly extinguished. The notion has, in recent years, now and again been weighed of whether one might wish for, or even actively facilitate, the bloodless suicide of the human race through a cessation of all new births. And one may entirely accept and embrace this notion without ceasing to be a good Christian. Indeed, one may even interpret it to be an idea derivable from the Gospel.” [1] (Hieronymus Lorm, Der grundlose Optimismus)

[1] For a later defence of the combinability of both positions see also: Saul Smilansky,10 Moral Paradoxes, Blackwell Publishing 2007, chapter 10, p. 100ff: Preferring Not to Have Been Born.

Ovid’s Principle

“Praise not the day before the night!” is an old saying that is still often heard today. Its original form, which takes a still darker view, is perhaps to be found in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”:

“Nor should we say ‘he leads a happy life’

Till after death the funeral rites are paid’

(Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book 3, 1)

If we take this principle of Ovid’s seriously then a human life can only count as “happy” if the death that concludes it takes no catastrophic form – that is to say, if the person in question’s dying occurs in such a way that we may also call the person “happy” in respect of this dying. But how many people does such good fortune befall? One among 100,000?

Ontopathological Syndrome

The person who experiences a sense of horror whenever he tries to grasp the notion that the universe might never have come into existence can be said to suffer from “ontopathological syndrome”[1]. Whoever is susceptible to such an ontopathological syndrome is quite probably likewise susceptible to the >Fear of Never Having Been.

[1] The concept was coined by Grünbaum, see Jim Holt.Why does the world exist

Imposition Error

The false notion that life is something that is imposed upon a somehow pre-existing person. The “imposition error” committed by many antinatalists is the counterpart to the “gift error” committed by many pronatalists, who believe that life is a “gift that is given us”. But just as “no one” was there beforehand upon whom existence might have been “imposed”, there was likewise “no one there” from whom existence might have been withheld or to whom it might have been “gifted”.

>Stalemate, Nativistic

Swooning

For Schopenhauer “just as sleep is the brother of death, so is swooning its twin brother” (Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung). And the swoon, indeed, is closer to death than is sleep, inasmuch as the former is entirely dreamless.  The French author Daniel Pennac has documented a kind of childish striving toward non-being: a friend squeezes tightly the narrator’s chest after this latter has completely expelled his breath, giving rise to a transitory non-existence (unconsciousness) which is what had been desired. “We played at inducing swoons in one another…it was assuredly a delightful experience!”[1]

[1] „Nous avons joué à nous évanouir… En tout cas, c’est vraiment délicieux !” (Journal d’un corps, eBook, Pos. 277-78 and 281)

Livestock and “Humanstock”

Within the line of sight of antinatalism as a moral theory lie not just human beings but also non-human animals. Animals too begin to exist, are born, and suffer. Billions of animals, indeed, begin to exist solely because human beings wish to consume either them or their glandular secretions (milk and products derived from it). This, for example, is the only reason for the existence of many billions of cattle, to speak here only of them. In order to quench the world’s thirst for milk calves must continue constantly to be born. Because only animals who have just given birth can provide human beings with the milk that they desire – milk of which the calves are largely deprived, often to the point of becoming anaemic. Instead of being raised by their mothers and nurtured with these latter’s milk, the calves are taken away and brutally slaughtered so that they can be served up as tender meat on our plates. It is something very peculiar that parents not only expect their children to eat, without demur, the flesh of mercilessly slaughtered lambs and other animals but also never tire of urging their sons and daughters to gobble down more and more of such fare. Were it not for our thirst for milk, eggs and meat many billions of animals would have been spared beginning to exist whose fate, in this existence, consists in being, at the end of an existence already rich in terrible pains, brutally slaughtered or even cooked while still alive (as happens to hundreds of thousands of pigs in slaughterhouses, who are barely stunned beforehand). But there will always be an >Axiopath to hand who will subscribe to the view that the life of an animal that is dedicated wholly to the increase of the supply of meat is better than no life for this animal at all.  And as regards, at least, the meat on people’s plates, one must, unfortunately, number among these “axiopaths” that Esther Vilar whom we have mentioned, elsewhere in this handbook, as someone engaging in a thoroughly antinatalistic reflection:

 

Vilar, Esther (*1935)

“We slaughter animals, then, and eat them. But precisely our pitiless behaviour here is all that ensures that these animals get to see the light of day. And if one had, oneself, the choice between not being born at all or being born and living for a short while, after which one would be executed without too much pain – would not each one of us prefer the option of a short life ending in execution and being consumed for our flesh? But perhaps this line of argument assumes too vigorous and general a love of life. Perhaps the result of such a survey would turn out, in fact, very differently – since the question, it is true, has never yet been put to people in this way.” (Vilar, Die Erziehung der Engel)

What Vilar undertakes here is nothing less than a >Zoodicy. More precisely: an agro-zoodicy: a justification of the existence of billions of livestock animals on this earth that, had there been no demand for their flesh or for their glandular secretions, would never have been begotten. Looked at in this way, agriculture would be a massive industry dedicated to bringing beings into the light of the world; every farm and every factory-farming institution would be devices for liberation which would indeed bestow the gift of this “light of the world” on creatures who would otherwise never see it.

But Vilar must face the question: what was the alternative for these beings to having this “light of the world” bestowed upon them? Had this not occurred, would these creatures then have languished in some dark Limbo or Hades? Vilar adopts the maternalistic? attitude of believing herself able to speak for all the livestock animals of the world when she finds that a short existence that ends in execution is preferable for them to no existence at all. Indeed, that which she believes she can decide on behalf of these livestock animals she then transposes onto human beings, thus formulating also an anthropodicy: we human beings too, she imagines, would prefer a brief painful existence – though “without too much pain” (!) – ending in execution to no life at all. Vilar performs here a classic Salto Natale. Because the question is not whether a human being or an animal ought, or would want, rather to remain in some state (since non-existence is not a state of a living being) but rather whether a new entity is to be created which is capable of experiencing states at all.

Perhaps it is Vilar’s own àAffinity with Existence which makes it impossible for her to carry out a àRewind back before the start of her own existence, from the point of view of which the question of whether she, Esther Vilar, would prefer to exist or not makes no sense. In any case, she is clearly unable, in this passage, to see that the beginning of the existence of a living being represents no change from a “being-that-way” to a “being-this-way” on the part of an entity which was somehow already in existence prior to this but rather represents a beginning of being in the most radical sense, prior to which there can have been no “being-this-way” or “being-that-way” at all. Vilar’s own wanting-to-begotten and wanting-to-be-born (which she also imputes to others than herself) is a wanting so constituted that she would be willing to accept as part of its price her eventual execution and consumption as nourishment by others. If, in accordance with the general principle underlying ethical systems, we universalize this personal stance of Vilar’s, we end up with the following position: a world in which human beings are killed and eaten by their fellow human beings is to be preferred to a world in which no more human beings are born. We have to do here, then with a cannibalistic “affinity with existence” – with a >Fear of Never Having Been of such magnitude that it prefers to play with the thought of being murdered and eaten by others than to give space to the thought of never having existed.

 

Salt, Henry Stephen (1851–1939)

Perhaps the most important critic of  >Zoodicies of the sort developed by Vilar is Henry Stephen Salt, who wrote: “The argument advanced by many defenders of meat-eating, as by defenders of fox-hunting, to the effect that the pain that it is inflicted on the animals at the time of their death is more than counterbalanced by the pleasure that they will have experienced in the course of their lives, since they would never, had it not been in order to play the roles they do play, have been brought or permitted to exist in the first place [>Proto-Self], is an argument that is more ingenious than it is convincing. This by reason of the fact that it is none other than the well-known, already-discussed fallacy, the arbitrary ruse [we have called it: Salto natale] of making ourselves spokesmen and interpreters of our own victims. […] Instead of committing the absurdity of speaking of non-being as a state which is good or bad or in any way comparable with being, we would do better to consider the fact that the rights of animals, assuming we concede them to have rights at all, must begin with their birth and persist until their death and that we cannot, therefore, get around our established responsibility by means of ingenious speeches about some invented prenatal choice in some invented prenatal state. 

The most sinister consequence of meat-eating is that it degrades the coming into being of countless thousands of living beings. It brings them into life to no better end than to deny their legitimate right to existence.” (Salt)

We may transpose this natal-ontological clarity acquired by Salt through examining the example of livestock animals into the sphere of human matters, something which will lead us to quite other results than those we have seen Vilar arrive at above. It is impossible that the begetting of a human being should ever be committed for this human being’s own sake. If such a begetting serves a purpose at all, this purpose is always only the fulfilment of the wishes or the plans of parents or of society. So as to lend to this state of affairs all the crude clarity that it deserves, there ought really to be introduced into our language, on the model of the term “livestock”, the term “humanstock”.

 

Johnson, Samuel (1709-1784)

As his biographer Boswell tells us, Samuel Johnson drew a clear antinatalistic line of association running from those livestock animals who are known to be bred for an existence full of suffering to the countless human beings begotten without being asked if they wish to be.  From Johnson we learn that that fundamental pronatalistic argument – the one adducing a supposed goodness of existence which makes up for all its suffering – which is still to be heard in our own day was already advanced by Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746). We know of only one passage in Hutcheson which matches the passage quoted from Johnson (below?):

“Don’t we see that the weaker tribes of ‘speechless’ animals are destined by nature for the food of the stronger and more sagacious? Were a like use of inferior animals denied to mankind, far fewer of these animals fit for human use would either come into life or be preserved in it.” (Hutcheson, Philosophiae Moralis)

Johnson will not let this logic stand: the supposed goodness of existence does not compensate for the sufferings undergone in it. No more than are those animals who are created explicitly for the use and pleasure of Man are human beings themselves – begotten by other human beings but often eagerly described as “ends in themselves” – compensated, by the happiness that they may happen to experience, for all the misery that goes hand in hand with an unchosen existence. Boswell reports Johnson as arguing just this, citing in his support the authority of Madame de Sévigné from the preceding century:

“’There is much talk of the misery which we cause to the brute creation; but they are recompensed by existence. If they were not useful to man, and therefore protected by him, they would not be nearly so numerous.’ This argument is to be found in the able and benignant Hutchinson’s Moral Philosophy. But the question is whether the animals who endure such sufferings of various kinds for the service and entertainment of Man would accept of existence upon the terms on which they have it. Madame de Sévigné, who, though she had many enjoyments, felt with delicate sensibility the prevalence of misery, complains of the task of existence having been imposed upon her without her consent.

‘That man is never happy for the present is so true, that all his relief from unhappiness is only forgetting himself for a little while. Life is a progress from want to want, not from enjoyment to enjoyment.’” (James Boswell, Life of Johnson)

Niobean Principle

Excessively proud of her seven sons and seven daughters Niobe took it upon herself to mock Leto, who could call only two children her own: Apollo and Artemis. To avenge their mother these two then killed all Niobe’s children. As the women’s rights activist Hedwig >Dohm is surely right to point out, almost every mother has something “Niobean” about her, inasmuch as “Fate” tends to take all mothers’ children away from them: “Almost all mothers have a ‘Niobean’ trait within them. Even if no Apollo comes to murder their children, they lose them all the same, one way or another: a son finds a way to ruin his own life or a daughter stays trapped in an unhappy marriage. Others may settle down far away from the family home. Or another, perhaps especially well-beloved one may die. And even if only happy destinies fall to her children’s lot, they grow more and more distant from her just the same, because ascending and declining lines never meet. The daughter who becomes a mother stops being a daughter. And now the young mother’s hopes for the future are focussed on her children, while her mother, become a grandmother, recognizes that the children in fact promise nothing.” (Dohm, Die Mütter) Clearly, antinatalism is a proven remedy against this self-woven thread of suffering which, rising out of the past, stretches far into the future.

Nihil inhumani a me alienum puto

Neganthropic motto formed on the model of the traditional Nihil humani a me alienum puto (Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto / Nothing human is alien to me) which occurs in Terence’s comedy The Self-Tormented. Kohlbecher alters this to: „No inhumanness is alien to us“.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (1844–1900)

Nietzsche is neither an antinatalist nor an anthropofugal thinker. He must, however, be mentioned in this handbook, namely as a “fatalist regarding humanity” – as a “poet of thoughts” of truly global significance who conceived, long before many others did, the notion that Mankind must not necessarily be:

“Many species of animal have already vanished from the earth; were Mankind also to vanish, there would be nothing in such an event that would justify our speaking of the world’s coming thereby to lack something. One must be philosopher enough to admire even this ‘nothing’ (– Nil admirari).“ (The will to power)

The Wish Never to Have Been Accompanied by Prenatal-Paradisic Regression

In the instances cited below in evidence of the existence of a semi-antinatalism what those who “wish never to have been” aspire to is, paradoxically, a return into the body of – or at least a lingering in the greatest possible bodily proximity with – that person to whom, in decisive measure, they “owe” the very existence which they reject:   

 

Burckhardt, Jacob (1818–1897)

Jacob Burckhardt, to whom we owe a à “balancing of the books”, in the sense of a àMä phynai, of Classical Greek existence, remarks with regard to his own life: “My life has not been such a cloudless one as it may seem to you to have been and at every moment I would gladly exchange my life for a never-having-been and, were it only possible, would return into my mother’s womb – and this even though I have committed no crime and was raised under the most congenial conditions.” (Burckhardt, letter to Johannes Riggenbach, Basel 28.8.1838)

 

Ardelius/Jersild

“Were we somehow to know in advance what awaits us at the end of life we would perhaps attempt immediately after our birth, despite all resistance thereto, to scrabble our way back into the moist, dark, soft interior of our mothers’ bodies and to stubbornly insist on our right to remain there.” (Ardelius/P. C. Jersild, Gedanken über den Tod)

Imprecation Invoking a “Never Having Been”

In the case of the “imprecation invoking a ‘never having been’” it is not one’s own existence which is a cause of antipathy but that of another person. On closer consideration, however – and contrary to the intention of the imprecator – a curse invoking the “never having been” of another individual proves to be the very contrary of a curse. Whoever wishes that some other person might never have existed wishes, in fact, nothing negative for this latter; rather they wish only for some course of history alternative to the actual one, a course of history from which the person in question would be, as an entity susceptible of being affected both for good and for bad, simply absent.

Dickens, Charles (1812–1870)

„I wish the blessed old creetur had never been born.” (Dickens, Barnaby Rudge)

Eliot, George (1819–1889)

„There was a half-formed wish in both their minds – even in the mother’s – that Harold Transome had never been born.” (George Eliot, Felix Holt, the Radical)

Blackmail Through the Notion of Never Having Been

The authors of a certain dictionary of philosophy, Kirchner/Michaelis, make use of a very subtle method in order to maintain their readers in an attitude of inclination toward existence:  Whoever is perturbed by the thought of having to die, argue these authors, proceeding like metaphysical blackmailers, shows by this perturbation that he would really rather not have been born. They imagine that, with this objection, that they can stifle all counter-arguments raised by any reader who feels repugnance at the notion of having to die:

“That the individual human being dies is a natural, and thus a necessary and rational, thing; whoever becomes perturbed at the thought that he must die regrets thereby his being a human being at all, regrets, that is to say, having been born.” (Kirchner/Michaelis: Wörterbuch der Philosophischen Grundbegriffe) The authors imagine that they have created a metaphysical scenario sufficient to intimidate all objection in creating one which says: if you are not in agreement with your own inevitable death then you are obliged to accept that it would have been better if you had never begun to exist. They demand, in other words, of the people who have a problem with their own necessary demise to perform a symbolic àRenunciation of Existence. They fail to see that there is no one there for whom “never having been” might constitute a harm – and thereby the metaphysical scenario of intimidation that they construct simply implodes. It no more occurs to the authors that human procreation (occurring as it does on the basis of decisions) is a matter of reason and no mere natural occurrence than there occurs to them the idea that the notion of “never having been” might be retrospectively acceptable for one or other of their readers.

The Fear of Having Never Been

The fear of having never been is a weak and subtle form of the fear of death. This fear of having never been arises in all those cases in which it suddenly becomes clear to a person that he was, as it were, within a hairsbreadth of having never existed at all. For example, where the realization dawns on him that, had history taken an only slightly different course from the one it did take, his parents might never have met.

The fear of having never been is a psychological defence mechanism which makes it more difficult to accept antinatalism. Because the spatially and temporally universal precept of antinatalism is: it is better to beget no new human beings. Now, if, at some earlier point in history no further human beings had been begotten, then one would not have existed oneself – something which is seen by many, irrationally, to amount to a death-threat. The coming-to-be of this irrational death-threat might be reconstructed in the following manner: “A compliance, at an earlier point, with this ethical precept on the part of the people who were to become my parents would have led to my not now existing. But since I do in fact exist, then my non-existence can only mean that I have to die.” – The fear of never having been arises essentially out of the incapacity of engaging in >Reeling Back of the Film to a point prior to one’s own existence and represents a case of >Nothingness-failure.

In contrast to Dieter Henrich, Hoimar von Ditfurth shows himself to be free of that fear of never having been in which, for Henrich, all >Gratitude for Existence is based. As Ditfurth argues, very much in the manner of Lucretius: “Repulsive as the thought of a premature end to my conscious existence is to me, I feel remarkably little terror at the thought that I might never have been born. Simply not to have ever left that nothingness into which one is bound, in any case, to return – this is a thought which contains, for me, neither horror nor regret.” (von Ditfurth, Innenansichten eines Artgenossen)

The middle position between Henrich and his gratitude for existence and Ditfurth, who is clearly indifferent to this latter (>Neutral Natalism) is taken up by Thomas Nagel. According to him, the notion that one was very nearly never begotten tends to give rise to a kind of “queasy” sensation: “If you concentrate hard on the thought that you might never have been born – the distinct possibility of your eternal and complete absence from this world – I believe you will find that this perfectly clear and straightforward truth produces a positively uncanny sensation.“ (Nagel, The View…)

Altruism in the Service of Nothing

How metaphysically limitless egoism can be comes clearly to light in the case where a àPerpetrator of Existence points to one of his progeny and claims that he begot this individual not for his (the perpetrator of existence’s) own sake but for the sake of the begotten individual and goes on to insist that, for this reason, very decidedly not an egoist but rather an altruist. Since, however, this begotten individual had not existed before he began, as a consequence of the act of begetting, to exist, no good deed was done him by someone’s acting in such a way that he began to exist. That which the limitless egoist believes himself to have done to is in fact nothing. One might call this an altruism “in the service of nothing”.  

Recalcitrance Vis-à-Vis Not-Being

The refusal to think through to its logical conclusion the thought that, had the natural constants been different or had world history taken a slightly different course, one’s own self, or humanity, or living creatures in their entirety might never have begun to exist, without this having had any significance for anyone. 

Friends, spouses or parents who find themselves confronted with the (indeed easily conceivable) Never Having Been of some person close to them tend to say something like: “Then we would have missed you very much!”. But they overlook, in saying this, the fact that someone must have been actually known to us in order for us to be able to “miss” them  (an exception here is formed by the type of the “Redeemer”).

“Recalcitrance vis-à-vis not-being” is a bastion composed of attitudes of defence and of metaphors which is aimed at shielding us from the insight into the fact that we once were not, and that no one suffers any harm, nor indeed any good, if we cause the existence of no one to begin.

Non-Proportionality in Revisions of Pro-Generative Decisions

In cases where it looks certain, or very probable, on the basis of diagnostic tests, that, if a couple were to beget a child, this child would suffer from some serious disease, then this couple themselves, along with the doctors advising them and members of their social circle, very probably be inclined, or be urgently advised by those around them, to go back on any decision to have children that they may already have taken. 

In a definite ethical disproportion to this situation, there are surely very many fewer couples, doctors or social circles who would incline, or advise, to give up an already-formed wish for children, or to go back on a pro-generative decision already taken, simply because it has become clear to the prospectively procreating couple – for whatever reasons or due to whatever exceptional circumstance or life-situation – that every human being must sooner or later become sick, suffer and die and what terrible forms the process of dying can sometimes take.     [Catastrophe of Dying].

This is all the more astonishing given that having to die counts, for many, as the greatest of all evils. Pro-generative decisions are often gone back on in the face of comparatively much lesser evils. But a drawing of attention to something that is, for many people, the greatest evil of all is rarely if ever accepted as sufficient reason for going back on a pro-generative decision once this latter has been taken. It is clearly, then, not always the case that, the more grave and certain the evil is that can be expected to befall a new human being when action is taken such as to cause this human being’s existence to begin, the more willingly the action that brings about the beginning of his existence will be forgone. This we call the non-proportionality in revisions of pro-generative decisions. It fulfils the condition of an act “with malice aforethought”: the procreating parties implicitly accept and approve, among other things, the necessity of the death of a human being (their own child!) because this is the only way that they can come into possession of a child. 

Relief from Care About Never Having Been

It was not only of care and anxiety regarding death that Epicurus wished to relieve us but also of care and anxiety regarding never having been: “What evil would there have been for us in never having been created? Should one imagine that life stagnated in darkness and sorrow until there dawned the procreative origin of things? Each of us indeed, once born, will want to remain alive for so long as the flattering desire to do so holds him tight. But if one has never tasted of the love of life, and never counted among the number of the living, what hardship would it be to such a one never to have been created at all?” (Epicurus, On the Overcoming of Fear)

Epicurus’s relieving us of the care about never having been contains within itself an antinatalism: if there is no one for whom never beginning to exist could be any sort of disadvantage, must it not, then, be ethically imperative not to beget in the first place human beings whose fear of death would then subsequently need to be placated in the way that Epicurus tries to placate it?

Non-Compensatability of Suffering

Karlheinz Deschner formulates one of the key supporting pillars of antinatalism: “I would have been content if I did not exist, if I had never been born. The joys of life, all taken together, are not sufficient to counterbalance a single great sorrow. No, they do not counterbalance it, say what one may to the contrary, they do not counterbalance it; whoever contends that they do can never have experienced a great, a truly great sorrow. […] Man is an organization of despair.” (Die Nacht steht um mein Haus)

Asymmetry of Non-Existence

If we cast ourselves in imagination back before the beginning of our own existence, we enter the periods of pre-natal (or, more precisely, pre-foetal, since even the foetus forms a kind of  >Proto-Self) non-existence. And if we look forward far enough into the future, we find ourselves dealing with our own posthumous non-existence. No qualitative differences can be distinguished within the non-existence of an entity x. Non-being knows no nuance or gradation. This being the case, the mere reminder that we once were not – that is, of our prenatal non-existence – should be an effective way of relieving us of all worry about our inevitable eventual death: “you” will become merely what you once were: non-existent, nothing. Since my non-existence is nothing that concerns me myself (since, at the time at which it comes to effect anything, “I” will not be, as Epicurus teaches us) the more correct way of speaking would be: a world which existed, for billions of years, without me in it was succeeded, for a few decades, by a world with me, which world will then in its turn be succeeded by  a world which will go on existing, for more billions of years, without me. If there is nothing frightful in a prenatal non-existence which endured for many aeons (see, however, >the Fear of Having Never Been), why should there be anything frightful in an eternally enduring non-existence after death?

Lucretius attempted to justify, by reference to this absolutely equal value of prenatal and posthumous non-existence, an unconcernedness in the face of death. But this “consolation of philosophy” does not work; it remains a bitter medicine. Because what concerns us most of all is not the “me”-less world that precedes and succeeds the time of our existence but rather the fact of having to die: the fact that, in our dying, something beyond our comprehension will befall us. We have to do here with an event of which we assume that it cannot possibly be “practiced” in advance (although we do in fact, each time we fall into a dreamless sleep, anticipate death in its essence and  it is demonstrated to us, each time we reawaken from such a dreamless >Sleep, how “it” was not to have existed for a few hours at a time). The reason why we fear our impending non-existence more than we do the non-existence that lies behind us may well be rooted in the simple fact that, however much we reflect, we cannot rid ourselves of the idea that something will befall us at the end of our lives (that we will have to suffer through the actual process of dying) and that we will undergo something very unpleasant before the world becomes once again a “world without us”.

Whereas the reference to “going to sleep” is an impotent attempt at appeasement with regard to the actual process of dying, the following is an attempt to soothe our fears in respect of our impending non-existence: with our death it is being that becomes ontically “poorer”; we ourselves are not affected by it; likewise, with the beginning of our existence it was being that became ontically “richer”; we ourselves did not become richer or gain anything thereby. Death subtracts us from that remaining part of being to which we were added with the beginning of our existence. The beginning and end of our existence are things that befall not us ourselves but rather the being that surrounds and bears us. As embodied consciousnesses we fall over and over again into the “error” of seeing the beginning of our existence as a gift that was given to us and our death as a loss which befalls us ourselves. Being mind-endowed entities whose existence, nonetheless, rests firmly upon the persistence of our physical organisms, it is inevitable that we have, as it were, “a taste for being” and that we are subjected to the tyranny of the body (>Bionomic Principle). Where IT is and bionomically raises its claims, it is only with the greatest difficulty that I can assert myself and have my way. These observations throw a harsh, clear light on how justified is the description of >Suicide Cynicism for remarks of the kind: ‘whoever is not satisfied with life is free to send him- or herself- back into the condition they were in before they began to exist”.  

 

Friedrich Theodor Vischer (1807–1887)

These matters were also reflected upon by Friedrich Theodor Vischer in his book Auch Einer: eine Reisebekanntschaft, namely in the following way: “Whoever is made unhappy by the thought that, after his death, he will no longer be alive needs to be reminded of the demands of logical consistency. No one ever feels unhappy over the fact that it was only at a certain point that he began to live, that is to say, that before his birth he was not alive[1]; he should be no whit more unhappy, then, over the fact that he will at a certain point cease to live. Admittedly, one great difference exists here: in the meantime, the individual in question will have become accustomed to life – and life, as is well known, is a dish that is decidedly ‘more-ish’!” (Vischer, Auch Einer. On the asymmetry between our attitudes respectively to past and to future non-existence, see also Nagel, The View from Nowhere)

[1] Or rather, to speak more precisely: that before the beginning of his existence he was not alive.

The Wish Not to Be, Typology of

1. The wish never to have been (natally preventive): Mä phynai

1.1 Egoistic: Oh would that I had never been born – life is, for me, unbearable.

1.2 Altruistic: Forgive me for having been born – I am unbearable for others.

1.3 Altruistic symbolic self-renunciation: Had I never existed, then this non-existence might have been part and parcel of a different setting of history’s points: a setting of the points which might possibly have involved also the non-occurrence of history’s terrible genocides.

  1. Intermittent:

2.1 Hypnophilic: Sleep as an abolition of conscious existence (a temporary one, indeed, but one that is accorded by Nature every night and one that is striven for and willingly extended and savoured by those to whom it is accorded).  

2.2 Consumption of narcotics etc.: Striven-for shadowings of the self within a spectrum that stretches from mere dimming of our consciousness into the very antechamber of suicide (suicidal lifestyle).

  1. Risky

Voluntary practice of various types of extreme sport and semi-voluntary exercise of professions with high mortality rates.

  1. Deathwish

4.1. Wishful longing for one’s own natural death (passive death)

4.2. Suicide (active realization of the wish not to exist)[1]

[1] The basic idea for this schema comes from Guido Kohlbecher.

New Beginning

A central theme in “last man” novels and stories, which deal with the figures of “last human beings left alive” after a global catastrophe and in which the notion of a “new beginning” is often affirmed. This genre is problematical because it is based on the false assumption that such great catastrophes have the effect of a “species-catharsis”.

Neronic Principle

Against an unreflective procreation Kierkegaard offers the reflection: “… I would, all the same, recommend to no one that he believe that he could never become a Nero” (Kierkegaard, Either-Or, S. 477) This means: nobody who procreates should believe that he could never beget a Nero.

Permanence of Negativity

Shakespeare was of the view that the evil done by human beings tends to be more enduring than the good done by them: “The evil that men do lives after them, / The good is oft interred with their bones.” (Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesa)

Processing of Negativity

By “processing of negativity” we mean people’s – partially involuntary – inclination to reinterpret negative events or experiences into at the very least neutral and often even outright positive ones (see Shelley E. Taylor, The Mobilization-Minimization Hypothesis). When a human being comes to be there comes to be an entity that will look back on a childhood and youth that will appear increasingly wonderful the older the human being in question gets. This is so because the human ego has succeeded in processing into positives all the negative aspects of its own biography. The fact that crises and sicknesses may have had to be undergone during these early years changes nothing in this regard. The more successful the processing of negativity, the greater the probability that the human being in question will procreate or urge others to engage in procreation.

Negativity Dementia

When someone speaks in favour, while being in full possession of his mental powers, of the bringing of a new human being into the world it may be assumed that this person is suffering from a serious condition of “negativity dementia”. Negativity dementia is a psychical mechanism which allows the Conditio in/humana to appear more bearable to us than it would be without this mechanism. Negative events, indeed, tend to mobilize an organism, in the first instance, to a greater degree than do positive ones; after the negative reaction, however, a mechanism sets in that dulls and mutes the negative experience or even erases it from the memory entirely. People tend to reinterpret negative events, retrospectively, into neutral or even into positive ones (see Shelley E. Taylor, The Mobilization-Minimization Hypothesis). – But this does nothing to alter the actual negativity of the events in question. There counts as an aspect of negativity dementia that phenomenon of “repression” which falls within the sphere of psychoanalysis.

Diversity of Negativity

Whoever contributes to a new human being’s beginning to exist is co-responsible for the existence of a being that lives in a world in which negative entities and events display a broader spectrum of variation than do positive ones – a being, in other words, whose repertoire of reactions corresponds to this greater diversity of the negative and who appears, therefore, better able, also conceptually, to represent negative things and occurrences than positive ones. When their children begin to talk this is always an occasion for the parents to celebrate. But these children become members of a community of language whose vocabulary for the description of corporeal pain is clearly a much subtler and more variegated one than that which describes the more pleasant bodily sensations (see Paul Rozin and Edward B. Royzman, Negativity Bias, p. 296–320, esp..p. 310f.) Already Wilhelm Wundt wrote, in his 1896 “Outline of Psychology”: “Clearly, language has created a far greater variety of names for negative affects than for positive, pleasurable ones. And in fact all observations suggest that it is probably the case that these negative, unpleasurable affects do indeed display a greater diversity in their typical manners of running their course, that is to say, they probably really are of a greater variety.”

Negative Contamination and Purification Through the Positive

Whoever acts in such a way that a new human being begins to exist is responsible for the existence of this latter in a world where contamination through the negative greatly outweighs the possibility of purification through the positive. A drop of mineral oil will pollute some 600 litres of drinking water – but a drop of drinking water will not make the least bit more drinkable 600 litres of mineral oil. Many people would no longer want to touch a plate of food that they’d seen a spider or a cockroach run over – but adding a handful of tofu to a pile of cockroaches will not make this pile seem, to most people, any more edible. If a Hindu from a higher caste accidentally consumes a meal prepared by a lower-caste individual this can mean a diminishing of his status – but a lower-caste Hindu who happens to consume a meal prepared by a higher-caste one does not thereby find his status raised.

Negative Intentionality

Negative intentionality[1] takes the form of the willingness to accept as things that go without saying those negative and even inhumane consequences of progenerative decisions that might, with a certain degree of attentiveness or a minimal mental effort, have easily been foreseen.  Negative intentionality corresponds to the wish to ignore accessible knowledge and evidence and finally even to repress it. At least in our present Information Age such a great degree of negative intentionality must be mustered in order to form and carry out a progenerative decision that it is justifiable to speak of culpable action and thus of >Parental Guilt.

[1] On the concept of negative intentionality see Wolfgang Würger-Donitza: Grundlegung einer negativen Anthropologie. Vol 2. p. 186.

Negative Aesthetics and the Relative Absence of Literary Narratives of Happiness

To the Conditio in/humana there belongs not only the fact that misery weighs more than happiness but also the fact that suffering and negative experience in general tend to yield much more, aesthetically, than happiness and positive experience could ever do. Paradoxically, the pleasure that arises from the enjoyment of art is based to a far greater degree on the artistic processing of negative than it is on that of positive experience.

Were we, therefore, to undertake to scour, in pronatalist spirit, through cultural history and the world’s literature in particular for representations of human happiness, the yield of such an undertaking would surely be much poorer than that of a parallel one in antinatalist spirit. As regards poetry, at least, Thomas Hardy once remarked: “Was there ever any great poetry which was not pessimistic?” (Thomas Hardy, Notebooks) Partially responsible, we may suppose, for this relative absence of literary narratives of happiness is the fact that literature is really only engaging when it finds resonance in the reader’s sense of sympathy and a sense of shared misery is easier to awaken than a sense of shared joy.

The Dominance of Negative Communicability

Whoever brings new people into existence brings them into a material, biological and social world in which the communicability of negative experience far outweighs the communicability of positive. This becomes clear if we consider what tends to trigger feelings of sympathy. Suffering clearly tends to give rise to sympathy as a form of “suffering-with” in a much greater measure than joy does to a “rejoicing-with”. Whoever begets a new human being, then, brings one more being into the world who will much more easily become depressed through the encounter with others’ misery than he will become euphoric through the encounter with others’ joy.

Negatively Communicating Vessels of Culture

The principle of negatively communicating vessels demands of us that we pay attention to the respective “flip sides” to all the brilliant cultural achievements of human history. It can be illustrated in terms of a distant analogy to a bio-physical phenomenon: Highly organized systems – organisms – spread, metabolically, disorder within their environments for the purpose of maintaining the orders peculiar to their own respective systems. They exist, so to speak, at the expense of their environments. Historically, great power complexes, such as empires, function in a comparable way.

When we admire the administration, the school system, the marble halls and other architectural constructions of the highly organized Hellenic and Roman imperial orders we should never lose sight of the fact that there corresponded to this praiseworthy organization a great measure of destructiveness and inhumanity not only in the Roman colonies, for example, but also in the very centre of the Roman empire. The global empire of the Romans perfected the Greek system of coinage and financial commerce, slavery and war economy/militarism. At certain times some three quarters of Rome’s entire state budget was devoted to military expenditures.

As an illustration of the negatively communicating vessels of the market logic of the modern global system we can cast a glance at Amsterdam as the flourishing centre of this system in the period of Dutch hegemony. While cultivated minds among the shareholders of the Dutch East India Company discussed the merits of this or that painter, there corresponded to the “Dutch Golden Age” a period of profound darkness inaugurated by the massacres presided over by this same company in Indonesia. Reduced to a simple formula, there corresponded to the rise and endurance of Western civilization, and indeed of other civilizations besides, a massive degree of barbarism in other regions of the world.

Natal Phobia

Not all forms of antinatalism are based on ethical considerations. Realistic descriptions of the process of birth can lead to a distinct natal phobia. Mothers who describe, in detail or repeatedly, their own birth to their children may well bring it about that these latter forgo procreation.

Reversal of the Natal Debt: The Kantian Natal Theorem

Throughout long stretches of human history the wish for children must have been fed not by the question: “what can I, or should I, do for my children?” but rather by the question: “what can my children do for me?”

The reversal, in recent times, of this natal debt is reflected (even if it is not fully represented) in the following stance taken, anonymously, on this question in the 19th century:

“Question of a pessimist. – Do you not believe that all parents have good reason to try to gain, through lifelong tenderness, care, devotion, and self-sacrifice for their children, the forgiveness of these latter for having brought them into the world? More good reason, that is, than the children have to be thankful to their parents?” (In: (Anonymous) Vox humana. Auch ein Beichtbuch)

The reversal of former ways of thinking that set in in the 18th century is still today not concluded. But it attains new heights where children do indeed make of their own existence a reproach cast at their parents (>Accusation of Existence). The reversal of the nativistic way of thinking will be complete when the metaphor of parents “giving” life to their children will finally have given way, as part of everyone’s normal mental vocabulary, to that of parents’ “imposing” on these children, by causing them to come to be, an existence which often gives no reason for joy and which must inevitably end in death.

 

Kant’s Reversal of the Natal Debt

According to Kant (1724–1804) there ensues from procreation within matrimony: “a duty to preserve and care for its offspring; that is, children, as persons, have by their procreation an original innate (not acquired) right to the care of their parents until they are able to look after themselves, and they have this right directly by law (lege), that is, without any special act being required to establish this right. For the offspring is a person, and it is impossible to form a concept of the production of a being endowed with freedom through a physical operation.* So from a. practical point of view it is a quite correct and even necessary idea to regard the act of procreation as one by which we have brought a person into the world without his consent and on our own initiative, for which deed the parents incur an obligation to make the child content with his condition so far as they can. – They cannot destroy their child as if he were something they had made (since a being endowed with freedom cannot be a product of this kind[1]) or as if he were their property, nor can they even just abandon him to chance, since they have brought not merely a worldly being but a citizen of the world into a condition which cannot now be indifferent to them even just according to concepts of right.” (Kant, Metaphysic of Morals, The right of domestic society. Title II: Parental right. §28; in: THE CAMBRIDGE EDITION OF THE WORKS OF IMMANUEL KANT, General editors: Paul Guyer and Allen W. Woop, p. 429f))

Here too Kant proves to be a thinker who brings about a revolution vis-à-vis ways of thinking handed down from earlier times.[2] One might call this handed-down manner of thinking about the relationship between parents and children either Aristotelian or Confucian: in any case, in traditional societies children were expected to hold their parents in high esteem and to owe them gratitude for everything, quite especially for having brought, by them, into the world in the first place. Kant, however, instead of having children one-sidedly pay by instalments their gratitude for existence back to their parents, says: parents owe the children they have created a duty of care and education until the point in time when it is possible for them to lead an independent life. Blumenberg, therefore, sums up Kant’s natal theorem as follows: “Kant did not, indeed, replace the ancient ethics of the duties of children toward parents; he outdid it, however, with a duty of parents toward their children consisting in the obligation to reconcile these latter with their unasked-for and undesired existence in a world which was seldom favourable to them.”  (Die Sorge geht über den Fluss, p. 202f)

Let us look more closely at Kant’s natal theorem. It expresses the idea that through each act of procreation a person endowed with free will is brought into the world without his or her consent. That this statement is a problematical one we can clearly see just from the fact that we might just as well make the following claim: with every act of procreation a person is brought into the world who has not refused to be so brought. While, then, the pronatalist can insist on the fact that no one refused to be brought into the world, the antinatalist can fall back on the seemingly equally factually correct contention that no one is brought into the world with his or her consent (àStalemate). Both positions seem plausible – and both suffer from the following ontological fallacy: contrary to what is suggested by Kant’s form of expression (and that of numerous poets and thinkers) human beings are not “brought into the world” or into existence from some “other place”. Nobody was, before he or she existed (>Beginning of Existence). A procreation, indeed, is an indispensable precondition for the beginning of a new human existence; but a procreation is not something that “happens” to a human being. Rather, there arises, with every >Living Being, something ontically new: an entity which was not there before and which also did not have any “half-existence” (>Half-Existing Entities). Before the beginning of the existence of living being X it did not exist, so that we cannot say: ‘the beginning of X’s existence was something good, or bad, for X”. In order to be able to experience anything “good” or “bad” one must already exist.

Where we claim that life is imposed upon persons who never gave their consent to the beginning of their own life, a still broader claim is implicitly laid to a flawed onto-logic whereby there might even be human beings who never refused to be begotten but to whom a begetting and bringing into being was nonetheless denied. Where, then, someone reproaches those who begot him with having brought him into existence without his consent these begetters are always in a position to reply: you did not consent to the beginning of your existence but neither did you object to it! They might further retort: ‘we did indeed resolve to beget a human being, but not to beget YOU! (>Nativistic Arbitrariness, >Schiller’s Nativistic Robber). And here there comes to apply once again the reproach of the “diktat of birth”: parents beget children even though they are aware of many of the unpleasant things that necessarily await these latter; that these things will befall them is a structural feature of existence and quite independent of just who begins his or her existence in and through the birth of a child.

The question remains open: why should the parental obligation to take care of their children last only up until the point at which these children can take care of themselves? Assuming that the parents’ decision to act in such a way that their child began to exist was a free decision, does their status as perpetrators, their responsibility and their guilt not extend very much further, so as to cover care for their children even in all those sicknesses and accidents that may befall them after they have come of age? If one really holds to Kant’s basic notion then it must be incumbent upon the parents to reconcile their children to the Conditio in/humana not just until they come of age but right up until the hour of their death. And to the extent that this task of caring for their (grown) children proves to be too much for the parents, the pronatal state must make up what is lacking with an >Existence Allowance.

Even if “voluntary” and “involuntary” are not applicable categories in the case of the beginnings of existences of living beings, that moment of >Parental Guilt that Kant throws light on here remains a reality: parents know beforehand that their child will, in the course of his or her life, end up again and again in situations which will prompt in him or her the thought that it would have been much better if they had never begun to exist (Bernhard refers to this in one of the two passages quoted from his work below); and the awakening personality resists acceptance of that necessity of dying which the parents had condoned (see Sloterdijk below).

 

Nietzsche

According to Kant parents cause beings endowed with freedom – persons – to enter the world without their having assented thereto. And since a person is not a manufactured object but rather an entity through which the order of the noumenal and of the transcendental moral law comes to play a role in the sphere of the phenomenal, parents have no moral right either “to destroy their child as if he were their property or to deliver him up to mere chance”. Nietzsche, however, undermines this Kantian pathos by posing the question of how it is possible to call an entity “free” if it does not owe its existence to any rational act but is plainly a product of mere chance:

“No one knows exactly what they are doing when they beget a child; even for the wisest among us it is a àLottery. And we are expected to believe that Man is ‘free’ even though he owes his existence to an act which is in no sense a rational one!” (Nietzsche, Weisheit für Übermorgen (1869–1889)

Whereas Kant tells us that parents have no moral right to deliver their children up to chance, the child is, for Nietzsche, itself from the very start a product of chance – the chance product of a genetic lottery, as one might put it today. Where Kant expresses the idea that “it is impossible to form the notion of the creation, through a physical operation, of a being endowed with reason” Nietzsche concurs with him but goes beyond him to say: precisely because none of us “owes” his or her existence to an act of reason, no freedom is to be found anywhere in our conditions of emergence. If, then, as Nietzsche claims, parents do not know what they are doing when they bring about the existence of the mere product of chance that is called a child, has there really been any “damage” done here for which the child might claim compensation from his or her parents?

 

Bernhard’s Consideration of Kant

The notion of a world “seldom kind to those born into it” which we encountered, above, evoked by Blumenberg we encounter once again, in radical form, in Thomas Bernhard’s 1963 novel Frost:

“He said: ‘Human beings who make a new human being take an enormous responsibility upon themselves. All unfulfillable. Hopeless. It is a great crime to make a human being about whom one already knows that he will be unhappy, will be unhappy at some point in time. The unhappiness that exists for the space of just one moment is unhappiness in its entirety. To create an alone-ness because one wishes no longer to be alone, this is criminal.’ He said: ‘The instinct of Nature is criminal and to appeal to it is just an excuse, just as everything that human beings touch is an excuse’.” (Bernhard, Frost)

In his Alte Meister from 1985 Thomas Bernhard draws the conclusions that must be drawn from Kant’s new way of thinking as regards the ancient “right” of parents to demand gratitude for their action of bringing forth new human beings: “’We go easy on our parents’, he said yesterday, ‘instead of accusing them, their whole lives long, of the crime of creating human beings;’ (…) They begot me without asking whether I wanted to be begotten…, they committed upon me the >Crime of Begetting…“ (Bernhard, Alte Meister)

 

Sommer’s Consideration of Kant

In his “Identität im Übergang”, published in 1988, Manfred Sommer gives a thorough appreciation and analysis of the Kantian Natal Theorem and expands and develops it so congenially that the reader expects, from one moment to the next, a declaration by Sommer of belief in antinatalism.  Thus, he offers the following formulation, very much in the spirit of the àDiktat of Birth: “the first and most important of life’s transitions – namely, that into life – is experienced as an unsurpassable act of violence. One does not pass willingly from non-being into being. One is compelled to do so.” (Identität im Übergang, Ff/M 1988, p. 19) But if birth is an “unsurpassable act of violence” is it not something which ought to be forbidden? Or does Sommer discover, following Kant, some form of >Parentodicy?

The parent-child relationship, Sommer claims, is a violent relationship because parents “become what they are by doing violence to another: namely, their child. The new citizen of the earth, although he or she is a person, is not consulted on whether he or she wishes to exist or not.” (Loc. cit., p. 21) Herein consists that “misdeed of the parents” which is never to be completely compensated for by any upbringing, however good.  Sommer discovers in Kant’s remarks an expression of “the powerlessness of the child and the initial experience of contingency: of not having been consulted as to whether he wishes to live or not and of having to accept his own existence as a matter of pure chance. It is this that the forms the basis of the initial discontent. It is the first of all existential ‘states of mind’, the ‘sense of life’ that stands at the beginning of all others.” (Loc. cit., p. 22) But what proof can one offer of such a supposed “initial discontent”? Each smile of a small child could, with equal justification, be interpreted as an expression of contentment with the world. Sommer finds, however, an empirical proof in Kant himself, namely in his Anthropology: “the cry that is uttered by a child when barely born” (Loc. cit. p. 22) This fact would be much less noteworthy if the newborns of other mammals, or even of other vertebrates, cried out in this way on being born. As Sommer succeeds in bringing out, for Kant this cry of the human neonate is “an expression of a sense of unease that does not result from physical pain but rather from a kind of embitteredness and outrage.” (ibid. >Crying)

As compensation for their misdeed and so as to “produce and secure a ‘forgetfulness of birth’” (Loc. cit. p. 64), argues Sommer very plausibly, it is incumbent on the parents not only to care for and raise the child until it is in a position to maintain itself but also to educate it in such a way that it becomes a “moral” being. “To be moral means to live as if, before one began to live, one had been asked whether one wanted to and had said ‘yes’. This retroactive agreement is at the same time a justifying assent: the deed of the parents is no longer a misdeed.” (ibid.) That instinct of Nature that Bernhard calls “criminal” is morally sublated; the child that is content with its existence exculpates the parents of their crime of procreation. If the child acts morally, it acts not in a way determined by Nature but rather autonomously; it is impossible for it to come any closer than this to self-creation. It declares thereby that it belongs to the realm of freedom, that it is more than just an entity that things happen to. As a being belonging to the realm of freedom the child is in a position to set causal chains in motion with itself as primary cause. And in the last analysis it may be assumed of this child that it would have brought itself into being, if the sole order under the sway of which it had stood had been the moral law alone. Thus runs our attempt to think through to its logical conclusion Sommer’s exculpation of parents.

What remains problematical about this significant contribution to Kant’s Natal Theorem is that Sommer fails to gain the necessary distance vis-à-vis Kant’s ontological assumptions. Sommer follows Kant in speaking of parents “drawing their child out of non-being into existence” (Loc. cit. p. 42) – whereby he infringes the >Principle of Presupposed Existence and commits a >Salto Esistenziale. Perhaps so as not to pull the foundation out from underneath his own discussion, Sommer refuses to even conceive of an absolute “never-having-been” but rather presumes a pre-existing “I” posed in a stance of waiting, upon which the misdeed is committed. Without such a “pre-I” no one would be there to whom harm might be done through that beginning of existence occasioned by the parents.

 

Sloterdijk’s Consideration of Kant (Retrospective Absolution of Parents)

Basing himself on Manfred Sommer’s investigations (Sloterdijk, Weltfremdheit, p. 274, Fn 1), Sloterdijk also gives some consideration to the Kantian Natal Theorem, which he expands, in the same spirit, by adding in the aspect of the certainty of death, thus reinforcing the antinatalist impulse of the Kantian presentation of the matter:

“If individuals wish to pass over from a mere ‘being there’ to a fully self-responsible existence, they must, as Kant urges, take their life into their own hands[3] and give to their existence a kind of constitution. They would thus have approved, in an act of retroactive consent, the arbitrary act committed by their parents in having allowed the conceiving of a child to be a potential consequence of their sexual intercourse with one another. In a lucid and tactful manner Kant indicates the basic contradiction of the human condition [>Conditio in/humana]: namely, that we must assume human beings to be self-responsible and free even though, as regards the most important question of their lives – that of whether they wanted to enter into existence at all – they had no voice of their own in the matter (…) The day of an individual’s attaining the maturity of self-responsibility, then, would be the day on which he would decide, with full insight into the costs and risks, the certainty of death included, to retroactively accord absolution to his parents [>Absolution of Parents] for the act of coitus which led to his life.” (Sloterdijk, Weltfremdheit, p. 275f)

The decisive thing about the passage quoted is that Sloterdijk – naming things by their proper names – takes up the certainty of death into the canon of neganthropica for which children must retrospectively accord absolution to their parents. Taking Kant as his starting point, he confronts all parents with the task of reconciling their children to the certainty of death. That such a brilliant metaphysical-pedagogical performance could regularly be successfully brought off seems extremely open to doubt. If >Rölleke’s Daughter can, in her statement that if mortality is the condition placed on birth then she would rather not be born, be taken to be representative for all mortal children awakening to their own personality, then one cannot help but be sceptical. And it is only on deathbeds that true absolution is accorded to parents (see Hedwig Dohm, Auf dem Sterbebett). Every “it was not worth it” that is murmured, or even silently thought, upon a deathbed is a sentence of guilt passed upon the dying individual’s parents, who might, if they had wished, have omitted to beget him. We must, then, taking our cue from Sloterdijk but going beyond him, reckon everywhere with a temporally “staggered” revision of that procuration that may possibly once have been accorded to the parents. Where we precisely extrapolate this thought the conclusion appears inevitable that every absolution of parents that was “accorded” in the name of attained self-responsibility was existentially-biographically premature and is thereby null and void. And not only this. The absolution of the parents from the guilt of their act of begetting by reference to the entry of their children into the age of affirmative self-responsibility is obtained by devious means. Obtained by devious means because it suggests a self-responsibility which must, in reality, remain forever unattainable. Regardless of what preventive measures we might take, we will never, at any point in our lives, be able to master our own biological constitution. We are always exposed to biological attacks. The only way granted to us of taking entirely into our own hands that life which is traceable back to the action or omission of our parents is to end it.

Sloterdijk’s philosophical merit consists in having expanded Kant’s considerations regarding natality into a notion of >Thanatality. He takes, however, no more effective a distance than does Sommer from Kant’s Salto Natale of declaring the entry into existence to be a “question within life”. It is not in fact the case that “someone” enters into existence who was previously somewhere else; it is rather the case that, in consequence of a progenerative decision, someone new comes to be. Each consciousness is an irreducible novum with regard to the arisal of which the “combinatorium notion” explains only very little[4]. The often-evoked recombination of genes is, ontically speaking, something quite different from the new consciousness as which each of us begins to exist. Our parents do not call “us” into existence out of some >Guf-Space; before we began to exist it was simply impossible to act with reference to anything identifiable as us at all. But by referencing, in a supposedly identificatory manner, a human being who in fact does not yet exist at all Kant, Blumenberg, Bernhard and Sloterdijk are able to portray the beginning of the existence of “this” human being as something irreconcilable with his essential freedom and to focus on some putative unconsulted person who, without his consent, shall have been “drawn over” into existence.

 

Thomä’s Consideration of Kant

In his 1992 book “Eltern. Kleine Philosophie einer riskanten Lebensform” Dieter Thomä notes: “Kant’s thought is, radically understood, a lesson in the philosophy of the absurd, i.e. in a philosophy which refuses to come to terms with that which is, a philosophy which leaps out beyond the limits of the liveable.” (Eltern, p. 133[5]) What does Thomä want to suggest with these apparently disparaging words? Parents can never possibly fulfill, in any radical sense, that which Kant states, without further justification, discontinues at the point of their children’s attaining maturity: namely, the obligation to reconcile these latter to existence. Inasmuch, then, as reconciliation with a finite and vulnerable existence can never be completely achieved there follows the – for Thomä absurd – conclusion that it is morally indefensible to beget children. But this conclusion is really neither absurd nor “beyond the limits of the liveable” but simply the result of a philosophizing without reservations which questions the implicit foundations of traditional institutions. If this means a systematic demanding-too-much of the addressees of moral theory, this does not affect moral theory itself. It is rather the case that, where life proves “unliveable” in the face of moral-theoretical demands that have been found to be valid, this represents yet a further argument for not begetting a new life in the first place.

Basing ourselves on Kant, then, we may propose the following formulation: the life-form Man is unliveable because a reconciliation with “imposed” existence is in principle impossible. In order to get himself out of this argumentational quandry Thomä too recurs to a >Salto natale. He says in >natalnaturalistic fashion, that the Kantian deduction to the effect that parents incur a burden of guilt with every begetting remains “foreign to life” and that, therefore, “life remains unaffected by the moral conclusion that Kant draws here” (Eltern, p. 133) To Thomä it does not seem plausible “to call parents to account for something with regard to which they had no freedom to act otherwise: if children are to be brought into the world in no other way then one cannot, I believe, derive a reproach from such a way of acting.” (P. 191)

For Thomä, evidently, moral theory needs to take its bearings from “life”. He presupposes the coming into being of children as something that simply cannot be reasonably called into question, neglecting the fact that procreation depends on generative decisions, so that parents – especially in our present era of contraceptives – have the freedom either to act in such a way that a new human being begins to exist or not to act in such a way. From the fact that “life” (i.e. parents and their generative decisions) shows no concern for moral theory Thomä draws the inverse conclusion that Kant’s theorem fails. But on this logic almost every ethics would be a failed ethics – because where have human beings ever let themselves be affected by ethics in their actions and omissions? It is not Kant’s theorem, it seems, that fails but rather Thomä’s attempt to reject the antinatalistic consequences of Kant’s line of reasoning by casting upon it the suspicion of absurdity.

 

[1] In contrast to Kant, Fichte and Hegel do not look upon freedom as something which needs to be considered, from the very start, as being susceptible of being infringed upon by procreation. Rather, for these thinkers, the freedom of the child is, initially, a “freedom still mired in Nature” (see Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right §174)

[2] In his “Metaphysics of Morals” Kant strongly suggested that there is an ontic difference between organisms without consciousness and conscious living beings (for details see Akerma 2006). In his “Critique of Judgment” he raised the question of why human beings should exist at all (see Akerma 2000).

[3] See the stance adopted by Kleist, who demanded of his sister a life-plan which would include the aspect of procreation. >Terror of Childbirth >Kleist‘s Law

[4] See on this topic N. Hartmann, Der Aufbau der realen Welt, p. 456f.

[5] Sommer’s interpretation of the Kantian natal theorem is not, indeed, one that Thomä concurs in; see Thomä, S. 223 Fn 12.

Naivety of Nativity

The belief, persisting despite all the horrors of human history and all the capacity for human self-determination acquired in the course of it, that children are an essential part of human existence, are “the best thing that could possibly happen to one”, or occur, as it were, spontaneously.

Nativististic World-Affirmation. Walter Hueck (1889–1975)

Whoever acts in such a manner that a human being begins to exist affirms this world and makes himself an >Accomplice of future misdeeds and negative experiences. Let him therefore closely examine the world before he binds a child, its whole life long, to this latter. This insight comes down to us from the important antinatalist Walter Hueck:

“Whoever brings a child into the world firstly affirms the world and then loads upon his own shoulders the responsibility for all the terrible and questionable things that it contains. He participates, in his own small way, in the divine work of Creation and is thus responsible and culpable for this world as is the Divinity Himself, for it makes no difference whether one has created the macrocosmos of the universe with all its stars and planets or only the microcosmos of a single human being. Thenceforth it is his world, this world in which all the wickednesses of Man and all the cruelties of Fate occur. He had time to critically examine this world; he had the right to pass a judgment upon it; it lay within his power not to play along with this game and to simply silently withdraw from it, a non-participant observer.” (Hueck, Wohin steuern wir?)

Imprecation of Nativity (Imprecation of Birth), Christian

“Imprecation of nativity” is a term coined by the chronicler of the “wish never to have been”, H. Rölleke, in his essay “O wär‘ ich nie geboren!” (Would I had never been born). In eras and regions pervaded and dominated by Christian faith, says Rölleke, such imprecations of birth occur principally in four types of situation: “in the face of a death that occurs before repentance; in the polemical dialogue between body and soul after death in a state of sin; at the Last Judgment; in the pains of Hell” (Rölleke) As to the quantity of such imprecations of nativity Rölleke has this to say: “And in fact the world teems with such cries of fear and sighs of pain between the 12th and the 16th century.”

Diktat of Nature and Imprecation of Nature

By “the Diktat of Nature” we mean the fact that numerous qualities with which we came into the world were not qualities chosen by us. Through cosmetic measures or various forms of body culture, drugs or psychotherapies human beings revolt against the form of being that happens to have fallen respectively to their lot.

That which we recognize today to be a “genetic lottery” was cursed, as a “Diktat of Nature” already by Schiller in his Robbers: we are products of a game of dice initiated by our parents and will remain so until we have at our disposal some nativistic genetic technology thanks to which human beings who come to birth need no longer be ashamed of their own ugliness or other innate flaws and faults:

“I have every right to speak indignantly of Nature and by my honour I shall assert this right! For why was it not me that crawled first out of our mother’s womb? Why was I not the only child? And why did Nature impose on me this burden of ugliness?” (Schiller, The Robbers)

The character Franz in Schiller’s Robbers moralizes, here, the natural aspect of human being in such a way that he takes up a position in the debate on a liberal eugenics – long before any such debate actually takes place – and, in defence of human dignity, storms and rages against that “buffer of tradition” which Habermas, among others, was to see threatened only 200 years later[1].

In this cursing of Nature, however, no insight has yet been achieved into the fact that our existence, and our existence as the beings we are, are not to be traced back to some impersonal subject “Nature” but rather to the actions and omissions of parents.

[1] See Habermas, Die Zukunft der menschlichen Natur. Auf dem Weg zu einer liberalen Eugenik?

Natural History

Very much in the spirit of this imprecation of the Diktat of Nature we read in Solitaire: “Man is nothing but a clod of unhappiness chained to a large piece of natural history.” (M. Solitaire, Erzählungen bei Nacht, Leipzig 1858, p. 299

Naturality, Frightful

As a leading representative of philosophical anthropology Arnold Gehlen fears the “frightful naturality” of mankind, which comes to light wherever this latter is not bound into institutions. Gehlen wants to protect us from ourselves, from “the setting-free of a frightful naturality, because the weakness of human nature which is not protected from itself by strict forms is of a murderous kind.” (Urmensch und Spätkultur) Gehlen is referring here particularly to the falling away, in the case of humans, of that inhibition about killing which is found in many animals, for which reason he recommended the institutional subjugation of Man. Gehlen, however, was blind to that salutary unnaturalness of human beings which consists in the fact that Man is, as an essentially cultural being, not given over to that Diktat of procreation to which other animals are subject. It is not an absolute necessity that human beings give human beings over to the tender mercies of other human beings.

Naturalness of Antinatalism

Procreation tends to count as something natural; the concerns of antinatalists, however, as forms of culture that are unnatural to the point of reprehensibility. Culture, however, is something that can be called “natural to” Man, inasmuch as, no matter how far back in time we go, we will never find any human beings completely bereft of culture. But does this not mean that antinatalism is more “natural” than that pronatalism which merely imitates extra-human Nature?

Neganimalic Limit-Value

In his book “Responsibility for Future Generations” Dieter Birnbacher gives expression to the idea that it would be, as regards the wellbeing of the entirety of beings capable of suffering, better if mankind were to die out in the case in which it would “transform itself into a gang of animal-tormenting sadists” (Birnbacher, Verantwortung für zukünftige Generationen, Reclam, Stuttgart 1988, p. 86). Now, mankind has in fact long since been, essentially, a community which jointly commissions the torture of animals. This is true in the sense that the animal-tormenting consequences of the consumption of meat have long since been known – either through directly witnessing them, through participating in this torture, or via the media – to almost all human beings. We live in the Information Age and many media report at least at intervals of once a fortnight or so on the sufferings of livestock.

Nonetheless, the globally ever-increasing community of meat-eaters tends to adopt a mocking attitude to vegetarians, justifying their persistence in the eating of meat with the ephemeral pleasures of the palate that it affords, while all along knowing that the price of these pleasures is the suffering of living beings. If the value of these taste-experiences is questioned they will invariably be confirmed (although sufficient nourishment of equal nutritive value is available). This indirect sadism (human beings act, as consumers, consciously in such a way that unnecessary suffering is inflicted on other animals so that they themselves can enjoy meat) fulfils the conditions of Birnbacher’s judgment on the human race and is thus sufficient cause for the emergence of >Species Shame. At the same time it must be supposed that this indirect sadism is not limited to non-human animals.

Neganthropinon

The question regarding the Neganthropinon[1] is the question regarding the single essential negative characteristic which distinguishes Man from other living beings. There have been proposed as such “neganthropemen” the fact that Man alone makes war, murders, lies, is able or is compelled to commit suicide, or to exterminate the entire species, or the entirety of other species.

But there must be stressed, among all these neganthropemen, quite particularly the fact that human beings alone procreate despite the fact of their being fully and precisely informed of just what they are àimposing upon their progeny in doing so. Formulated in a very pointed way: no non-human animal, were it somehow to become conscious of what it were doing, would ever willingly thrust its own progeny into the chain of eating and being eaten.

[1] The concept has been coined in reliance on Michael Landmann‘s „Anthropinon“, see Landmann.: Philosophische Anthropologie, de Gruyter 1982, p. 124

Neganthropic Differential

According to certain calculations (see, for example, Steven Pinker’s book Better Angels of Our Nature) we live in more humane times than did, say, human beings in the age of the Mongol Invasions. These calculations place the respective total human populations in these different eras in relation to the total number of victims of war and other types of slaughter. On this account, the 20th century, despite its two world wars and its genocides, does not come out too badly by comparison.

If one applies the factor of death and ruin of the Mongol Invasions to the several billion people who were alive in the 20th century (so goes the calculation) many millions more would have had to die in this latter era in order for the total suffering to be proportionately equal to that of the former. But such calculations leave out of account the constant growth of a specifically neganthropic differential. With the progress that has been achieved in medicine, science and technology ever more human beings might potentially be preserved from lingering illness, hunger and from the ills ensuing from lack of education and opportunity. The means and the know-how required for this are already available. But the inhumane way in which the world economy is organized does not allow this potential to be realized, so that year after hundreds of thousands of children die from as easily curable a disorder as diarrhea. Some 10 million children under the age of 5 die every year from the consequences of malnutrition, epidemic disease and impure water.[1] The cause of these millions of deaths lies not in any objective lack of drugs or any other goods but above all in the fact that the goods which are already available are not being distributed.

Edmont Kaiser (1914–2000), founder of the child aid organization Terre des hommes, wrote: “If one were to lift the lid from the pot of the world, heaven and earth would shrink back before the cries of pain and woe that would emerge.  Because neither heaven nor earth nor any of us can truly measure the terrible extent of the suffering of children nor the violence of the forces which crush them.”[2]

Instead, then, of living in humane times we live, perhaps, in the most inhumane epoch in human memory, since the means to saving the lives of so many people who will, without the provision of help, be condemned to death have never lain so clearly to hand as they do today and it has never been so easy as it is today to see to it, through contraceptives, that new human beings are not given over to the lotteries of genetic and social fate and come to be born into the most unfortunate and miserable circumstances. The neganthropic differential is something that truly shames us.

[1] For the numbers see Jean Ziegler, Das Imperium der Schande, S. 31

[2] Cited from Ziegler, a.a.O., S. 12

Neganthropic Principle

Cosmological neganthropic principle

According to the cosmological neganthropic principle sentient beings would never have arisen in the universe if the amounts and proportions of certain natural constants had been only very slightly different at the point in time of the universe’s origin than they in fact were. The universe, then, awakens the impression of its microstructure’s having been consciously selected by some malign authority in such a way that sentient beings would have, over a period of billions of years, to live within it a life in which they would be hunted by enemies in fear and terror, be eaten alive, be plagued by hunger, thirst, parasites and sicknesses, or in which they might be tortured for months on end.

If just two of these natural constants had existed in different proportions from those in which they actually existed the universe would look completely different and no sentient beings would most likely have come into existence in it. These proportions were on the one hand the quotients derived from the mass of the proton and the electron (the actual numerical value is 1836,104…) and on the other the value of the microstructure constant. The microstructure constant is the quotient derived from the electrical charge of an electron and the product of the numerical value of the speed of light and of Planck’s Constant (the numerical value is 1/137,036). Even a slight deviation from these numerical values would have resulted in there being no trilobites, no placoderms, no leprosy, no barbarian invasions, no world wars, no millions dead from hunger in Bengal in 1943, and no genocides. If the universe really was planned and finely adjusted, then, the intelligence behind this was a malign one which paid the closest attention to figures defined to the extent of numerous decimal points.

 

Individual neganthropic principle

According to the (as we shall call it here) individual neganthropic principle we can exist only as those beings which we happen in fact to be. Those human beings who suffer from some real or imagined fault or flaw (be it in terms of health, intelligence, beauty etc.) must come to terms with the following thought:

“Your real or imaginary flaw is a conditio sine qua non of your existence. If your parents had begotten, at some other point in time, some other child than the one they actually did beget, then an entirely different genetic recombination would have taken place. Consequently, the person emerging would not have been you but rather someone else. The negativity of your existence is, as it were, the price you have to pay for existing at all.”

If our parents had committed their act of procreation an hour earlier than they did, then someone other than us would have begun to exist. By how many seconds or fractions of a second the time of the act of conception might have differed from its actual time without the child thereby begotten’s ceasing to be “me” (albeit a “me” with different characteristics) – this is a question for which science appears to have no answer.

There arises out of these considerations a further question, which those may wish to pose to themselves who feel at odds with their own existence: if, even despite all the flaws you feel you suffer from, you still prefer your existence to a hypothetical “never-having-existed”, how much worse a state would you have to be in – what further illnesses or failings would you have to be afflicted with – for you to say: it would be better if I had never begun to exist?

 

Historio-neganthropic principle

According to the historio-neganthropic principle we would never have existed if there had occurred, before our birth, some different historical “setting of the points”. If we imagine that history had indeed, prior to our existence, taken a course significantly divergent from the one it did take, it would under such circumstances have been unlikely that those two human beings who were in fact going to become our parents should have begotten a new human being at exactly the moment that they did in fact beget one or indeed that they – or at least the relevant gametes – should have found their way to one another at all.    

Deployed in the right way, the historio-neganthropic principle can serve to establish individual people’s respective degrees of egoistic attachment to existence. To this end, one might pose, for example, the following question: of what magnitude would an historical catastrophe need to be in order for you to be ready to hypothetically accord preference over one’s own existence, in a thought-experimental rewinding to some different historical “setting of the points” which would be such, indeed, that you would never, had things been so, begun to exist?  The principle is a neganthropic one because it implies that it was only borne by the actual historical “setting of the points” – productive of such suffering – that you could come to be.

 

Neganthropic Reagent

The ebbing away of humanity is a neganthropic reagent[1]: where the ebbing away of humanity is refused there is precipitated, in analogy to a chemical reaction, the readiness of those refusing it to allow also future human beings to suffer the ills already known from past and present.

[1] Regarding the structurally-related metaphysical reagent see Akerma (2000).

Neganthropy Profiteers / Exploitation of Neganthropy

When one calls to mind what human qualities and historical events were needed in order for us to be able to begin to exist, then each of us surely has good reason to symbolically rescind the beginning of his or her own existence.

 

Children of Murderers (Freud)

What Sigmund Freud reveals about the history of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is further proof of how inappropriate all pride of the species in itself must be: (>Species Shame): “What no human being desires to do does not have to be forbidden, it is self-exclusive. The very emphasis of the commandment: Thou shalt not kill, makes it certain that we are descended from an endlessly long chain of generations of murderers, whose love of murder was in their blood as it is perhaps also in ours“. (Freud, Zeitgemäßes über Krieg und Tod)

 

Jaspers’s Complex of Generative Guilt

Karl Jaspers too saw us as neganthropic profiteers, and he too neglects to even raise the question of whether the complex of generative guilt, once recognized, might not be dissolved by means of natal abstinence: “He as an individual, once he has awoken to full consciousness of his freedom, knows himself to be guilty in the chain of all those who have lived since the beginning of time. When Man entered into the world, he must, through his freedom, have become guilty already at that time. And each following generation took part in this guilt inasmuch as they appropriated for themselves that which, in the handing-down of life, entered their lives as something that ‘went without saying’. Each individual has from very early on, before becoming aware of it, already taken part in the guilt of his forebears, inasmuch as he must have founded all that which is his upon older stages of life, not only as regards what was good in these but also as regards what was bad, and inasmuch as he both took up untruth and himself committed it. He as an individual becomes, furthermore, guilty of all the wicked things that occur in his lifetime in so far as he did not do all he could, to the point of engaging his own life, to prevent them happening and to bring about the good. He remained alive only at the cost of doing nothing and allowing evil to exist in his world.” (Jaspers, Von der Wahrheit) We associate ourselves with Jaspers’s critique of active omission of action (see on this issue also Saner’s development of Jaspers’s thought under >Complicity) but do so not, indeed, in order to demand action to the point of self-destruction. Instead, we point out that the individual is guilty in the measure that he fails to muster the will necessary to prevent new guilt coming into the world through his own children.

 

We Ourselves as Profiteers (Blumenberg)

Blumenberg opens up an anthropological perspective with which he brings to light a complicity of a special type: we ourselves as profiteers from the sufferings of human history up to this point.  As “profiteers” of this history only, indeed, if we understand our own existence to be something good:

“We presently living people are the ‘profiteers’ of all the gruesome horrors which have so far occurred in history already simply in the sense that we are the descendants of the survivors, who were surely themselves the stronger ones, the more ruthless ones, the more ‘guilty’ ones and thus make their descendants profiteers from their strength in holding on to existence. Wherever one forms the latest link in the chain of an ‘evolution’, guilt is implied in the very basic question of existence. The ‘order of the world’ does not allow us to see ourselves as so morally privileged as to be the descendants and heirs of the guiltless. Whoever presently exists at all owes the fact of this existence to those who succeeded in persisting to be when others could not manage to do so.” (Hans Blumenberg, Wie wird Schuld zum Mythos?)

 

Arthur Feldmann (1926–2012)

Feldmann’s aphorism demonstrates that the basis of the beginning of our existence consists not only in the human victims of history up to this point but also in the hecatombs of animal victims: “We are all worthy people and in our veins flows the blood of that countless number of living beings on whom our ancestors had to feast in order to bring us into being.” (Kurznachrichten aus der Mördergrube) The insight of Blumenberg is reiterated here: that those of us alive today are the profiteers of the countless unspeakable cruelties that were inflicted on animals in the past for no other reason other than the preference for consuming their flesh as opposed to insentient vegetables. Because this was indeed, at bottom, a preference and it is only true in a very qualified sense that our ancestors “had to” nourish themselves with meat.

 

Natal Ecology

Refers to that aspect of ecology which takes into account the generative decisions of a person for the drawing up of their overall ecological “balance of loss and gain”. Important factors in this ecological balance of an individual are the decisions which they take regarding whether, or how much, meat or animal products they consume, whether or how often they drive a car, whether they take long-distance aeroplane flights and so on.  Not incorrectly it is said that a person’s decision to become vegan (i.e. to forgo the consumption of all animal products) is the choice which will, above all other possible choices, have the most positive effect on their individual ecological balance. There can be no doubt but that a vegan lifestyle leaves a smaller ecological footprint than even a vegetarian, let alone a meat-eating one. But too little attention is paid to the fact that the decision to forgo procreation is one that leads to a more positive individual ecological balance even than the choice of veganism. People for whom a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle has a high priority are well advised not to procreate because procreation would leave open the question of whether or not their children or grandchildren would also take the decision to forgo meat and animal products.

Natality Templates

Natality templates are the attempt to express the moral-logical superiority of a specific ethics in terms of simple schemata.

 

David Benatar

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)

1

Presence of pain

(Bad)

 

3

Absence of pain

(Good)

2

Presence of pleasure

(Good)

4

Absence of pleasure

(Not bad)

 

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).

 

Herrmann Vetter

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.

 

Column 1

child will be more or less happy

Column 2

child will be more or less unhappy

produce the child no duty fulfilled or violated duty violated
do not produce the child no duty fulfilled or violated duty fulfilled

 

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 Obligation contravened
Child begotten Yes Yes
Child not begotten No No

 

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.

Natal Myth

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.”[1]

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. [2] 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.[3]

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.

 

Guf Potential

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[4], 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.

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] For further details see Galen Strawson et al.: Consciousness and its place in nature. Does physicalism entail panpsychism?

Natal Myopia

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”.

Natal-Categorical Imperative[1]

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:  

  1. 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)

  2. 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.

  3. 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 (?)

  4. 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.

[1] This formulation draws heavily on some remarks of Kohlbecher’s.

Minimalists

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”[1]. 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)

[1] See, for example, Galen Strawson et al.: Consciousness and its place in nature. Does physicalism entail panpsychism?

Misanthropy and Euanthropy

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

“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.

Modernity

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.

Mortality Myth

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.

Experience of the Deaths of Near and Dear Ones

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”.[1] 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)

[1] „que perderá a los que ama y que los que le aman le perderán… (Cabrera, S. 60)

Natal-Mortal Indifference

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.

From Kurnig to Marie Huot

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)

Early Antinatalist Marie Huot (1846-1930)

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.’

Man and World

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.   

“Humanistic A Priori”

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 Human Beings

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.  

Humanity’s Minute, Humanity’s Day

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)

Metal-Based Organisms

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

Natal-Theoretical Metamorphoses

The most important natal-theoretical transitions from phase to phase are perhaps:

– The transition from Obligations in Terms of Theodicy to Obligations in Terms of Anthropodicy.

– The transition from Guilt of God/Accusations Against God to Guilt of Parents/Accusations Against Parents.

Existence abstraction as a metaphysical reagent

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.

Mill’s Harm Principle

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?

Milton, John (1608–1674)

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

Mäphynai-Antinatalism-Implication

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.

Mä phynai (μὴ φῦναι)

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[1]). 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:  

  1. 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.

  2. 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).

  3. It would have been better if my mother had suffered a miscarriage (>Biblical Antinatalism >Job).

[1] 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.

Deficiency, Existential-Metaphysical

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.

Malign Voluntarism

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.

Final Cause

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.

Laughter

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)

 

Carefree Laughter

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?

 

Landscape Painting

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.

Life In the Midst of Life That Must Die and That Was Not Asked Whether It Wished to Live

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.

Beginning of Life

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.

The Compulsion to Eke Out a Livelihood

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.[1]

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. 

 

Rousseau (1712–1778)

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: The “Lie We Choose to Live By”

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.

Sated With Life

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”.

Having to Want to Live

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. 

Empty Nest Syndrome

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)

Freedom from Suffering and Freedom from Morality

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.

The Misfortune at the Base of Good Fortune

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.

Catastrophes and the Educational Backwardness of Our Species

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.

Lethean Principle

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…”

Final Cause

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.

Future Generations

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.

Cultural Revolution

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”.

Culture

The Failure of the Project of Culture

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.

Critical Theory of Society

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.

Criminality – “Perpetrators of Existence” are Metaphysically Liable for the Actions of Those They Create

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?)

Criminal Antinatalism? – The “Criminals of the Spirit” of Kondylis (1943–1998)

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.

Guilt of Children

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.

The “Better Never to Have Been Born” of Children and Young People

Schmid’s Son

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.

 

Rölleke’s Daughter

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.[1] 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.

 

A 14-Year-Old

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)

 

Dohm’s Grandson

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)

[1] 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)

‘Children Liable for the Actions of Their Parents’ – A Warning Notice

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.

Childhood Illnesses

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.

Death of Children and Death of Parents. Latent Nativistic Egoism

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.

Suffering of Children

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.

Moral Debt of Children

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!”

Childhood

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)

“Childhood-Blindness”

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)

Communism

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.

Compensating Ego

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.