“Dicy Transformation” (from Theodicy to the Obligation to Formulate an Anthropodicy)

By “Dicy Transformation” we understand a displacement of the onus of justification: the transition from the obligation to formulate a Theodicy to the obligation to formulate an Anthropodicy. Although the “Age of Enlightenment” involved, not least, enlightenment as to the untenability of theodicies, the belief in some sort of Creator remained, generally speaking, intact. Even Voltaire considered atheism to be something harmful to society and famously formulated the proposition: ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him’ (Implosion of God). Kant too, due to certain moral-philosophical considerations, would gladly have held to the notion of a Creator God but was obliged by the structure of his own philosophical system, strongly critical of all metaphysical claims, to relegate this notion to the status of a “postulate of pure practical Reason”, i.e. an idea to which nothing that actually existed could be demonstrated to correspond. In the following remarks we want to trace out, on the one hand, how Kant’s re-examination of the classical question of theodicy – “how could a God both entirely good and all-powerful possibly have permitted all those ills and evils to exist by which human beings in the world are so affected?” – culminates in an obligation to formulate an anthropodicy which remains, by Kant himself, unrecognized and unexpressed.

Then, in a second consideration of this “dicy transformation”, we trace out, by use of examples, the reaction which ensued in many literary works of the modern period on this failure and collapse of the “theodicy” idea. This reaction took the form of the ascription of various negative attributes to a God no longer conceived of as essentially good and eventually, with the ever more rapid decline in belief in a God of any shape or nature, in the transposition of these negative attributes from the human-being-creating deity to human-being-creating human beings (parents), thus giving rise to an obligation to form, in place of a theodicy, an anthropodicy. In literature, all these negative attributes of God’s which resulted from the collapse of theodicy were asserted and represented[1] in the form of those mythologemes of the “bored”, the “wicked”, or even of the “sadistic” Creator which reflect back upon all the natalistically enlightened parents who failed to live up to that obligation to an anthropodicy which is implicit in every act of procreation.

There counted, for Kant, as established already from the time of the “Critique of Pure Reason” (1781) onward, the truth that he sums up as follows in his 1790 “Critique of Judgment”: that no theoretical proof is possible of “the existence of a Prime Being, in the sense of a Godhead, or of the existence of the soul, in the sense of an immortal spirit” (Kant). If Kant, then, even after that “critical turn” in his philosophy which affected the status, in his eyes, of all metaphysical propositions held fast to the notions of God and the immortality of the soul as “postulates”, this is to be explained not in terms of the theoretical but rather in terms of the practical-ethical aspects of his thinking. Kant’s views about the history of humanity up to the time of his writing are of crucial relevance here: without these postulates the horror of this history would be so overwhelming and unadulterated that one could only turn away from it in horror. Kant says as much explicitly in his 1784 essay “Idea for a Universal History With Cosmopolitan Purpose”, in which the tone he adopts seems curiously uninhibitedly metaphysical:

“For what good does it do to praise the glory and wisdom of Creation in the reasonless realm of Nature and to recommend this latter to our contemplation if that part of this great theatre of the highest wisdom which contains the end and purpose of all this – namely, the history of the human race – is to remain a ceaseless reproach to all this wisdom and glory the sight of which forces us to turn our eyes away from it with indignation?” (Kant, Schriften zur Geschichtsphilosophie)

If Providence is to be justified (theodicy), then an especial “viewpoint from which to observe the world” (ibidem) must be selected. If one considers history as if there were some “rational intent” (ibidem) underlying it, one must not despair about the course it is taking and feel impelled to avert one’s gaze from it but may rather hope that one day things will be better: “One may look, broadly speaking, upon the history of the human species as the execution of a hidden plan of Nature intended to bring to realization an internally – and, to this end, also externally – perfected state constitution, this being the only condition in which Nature can carry to full development all those talents and predispositions which it has implanted within Man.”[2]

In his 1786 essay “On the Conjectural Beginning of Human History” Kant explicitly expounds this “hidden plan” and speaks (using once again a language which bears little trace of that turn toward the critique of all metaphysics which characterized his philosophical breakthrough of this decade) of “the extreme importance of being content with Providence”: “The reflective human being feels a sorrow, one that can even become a moral corruption…He feels dissatisfaction with Providence, which governs the course of the world as a whole, when he considers the ills that so afflict the human race without, as it seems, there being hope for something better.” (ibidem) Kant names here, as the greatest of these evils, war and the preparation for war. Nevertheless, he adds, at our present stage of culture “war is an indispensable means of bearing culture onward; and only after the complete perfection and consummation of culture (to occur God knows when) would an eternally-enduring peace be something salutary, indeed only then would it be something possible for us. Thus, as regards this matter, we are surely guilty ourselves of causing those evils over which we so bitterly lament.” One cannot fairly deny that there is something monstrous about such a line of argument. On the one hand, all history up to the day of Kant’s writing is supposed to be subject to some divine Providence or some secret plan (which, however, for Kant, who had already long since made his “metaphysics-critical turn”, ought to have been obsolete notions already, or at best postulated “as if”s); on the other hand, human beings are supposed, since they are endowed with freedom, to be themselves at fault for not having yet succeeded in achieving a “complete perfection and consummation of culture” and thus having to continue to make war on one another. The “perpetual peace”, then, to which Kant was later to devote an essay that bore its name, proves to be something that must be earned and indeed something which is not even, at every stage of culture, “salutary” for Man.

A “second cause for human dissatisfaction” which is registered by Kant concerns the brevity of human life, a fact with which every begotten human being finds himself confronted. But Kant invests no hope in an “extension of a game that struggles constantly with toils and labours” and portrays what states of things the “unsociable sociability” that applies at our present low stage of culture would lead to if the average human lifespan were increased to, say, 800 years. He arrives at the conclusion that “the vices of a human race that would enjoy such long life would increase to such a point that they would no longer deserve anything but to be eradicated from the earth in another Great Flood.”

Even in the above-mentioned essay on “Perpetual Peace”, from 1795, Kant still holds to this conclusion that the human species is, at our present stage of culture, well nigh morally worthless. It would be impossible, he argues, to justify God’s ever having created such creatures. A theodicy, then, would be impossible if it were certain that no higher culture than our present one is possible. Since, however, there is no such certainty, hope exists:

“Yet the process of Creation, by which such a brood of corrupt beings has been put upon the earth, can apparently be justified by no theodicy or theory of Providence if we assume that it never will be better, nor can be better, with the human race. But such a standpoint of judgment is really much too high for us to assume, as if we could be entitled, theoretically, to apply our notions of wisdom to the supreme and unfathomable power.” (“Perpetual Peace”)

Kant puts himself here, clearly, in a position of stalemate: If there is a God, there is no way to justify his creating such miserable beings as we, in our present state, are. What remains, however, is the vague hope of a better future for humanity, never entirely to be excluded as a possibility. Certain remarks of Kant’s in his 1791 essay “On the Miscarriage of All Philosophical Trials in Theodicy”. This essay is of especial significance because the reflections contained in it carry Kant closer to an historically-informed antinatalism than does any other of his many writings. In this essay too, indeed, Kant holds true to the principles established by his “metaphysical-critical turn” and makes it clear that, in speaking of God, we are speaking of an object “which is not attainable by way of knowledge (theoretical insight)”. Since, however, the postulate of God’s existence is indispensable for the “moral economy” of human beings, Kant constructs his text on the “Miscarriage of Theodicy” as if argument about the actions and omissions of God (even despite the existence/non-existence of this latter’s not being, for him, matters susceptible of proof or disproof) were possible before the court of human reason. Kant advances arguments typical of God’s defenders, only to refute them in such way that the failure of all theodicy is pointed up.

A defender of God, for example (so Kant argues) might advance before the court of reason the claim that life is not so bad and so filled with pain as those accusers of God, who demand a theodicy, maintain.  Kant formulates this position as follows: “the assumption that evil and misfortune tend to outweigh, in the fates that befall human beings, the pleasant enjoyment of life is surely a false one because each man, no matter how badly it is going for him, will tend to prefer going on living rather than dying.” To this defence of God Kant opposes the following argument:

“The reply to this sophistry may be left to the sentence of every human being of sound mind who has lived and pondered over the value of life long enough to pass judgment, when asked, on whether he had any inclination to play the game of life once more, I do not say in the same circumstances, but in any other he pleases (provided they are not of a fairy world but of this earthly world of ours).”  

Whereas, then, the defenders of God advance the argument that whoever has once entered into existence will not willingly leave it even if it becomes an existence full of pain, Kant believes he can cite as a decisive counter-argument to this the fact that no one would ever want to live through his existence once again – or even through a modified version of this existence – once they had gained a thorough knowledge of life and had reflected upon it in its reality. Whoever is inclined to dismiss this as just a personal opinion of Kant’s should take into account the fact that Kant’s contention here is clearly the superior one from the point of view of the logic of argumentation. Whoever already finds themselves in the midst of existence is held fast there, bionomically, by a biological imperative remote from all considerations of reason and largely immune to any philosophical “enlightenment”; were someone able really to reflect on the existence that he is held in (so argues Kant) he would certainly not choose to begin to exist and to live once again. Whether Kant is right in this assumption could only be established through taking a representative opinion survey.

Kant also has the defenders of God advance one further argument, namely the following: “the preponderance of painful feelings over pleasant ones cannot be separated from the nature of an animal creature such as the human being”. Which is as much as to say that the presence of human beings on earth is not to be imagined without considerable physical pain. But here Kant poses the decisive counter-question, one which carries him very close to the position of historically-informed antinatalism: He writes: “The retort to this is that, if that is the way it is, then another question arises: namely, why the Creator of our existence called us into life when this latter, in our correct estimate, is not desirable to us?” Here Kant distances himself very significantly from that presupposition that it is right and good for human beings to exist which is otherwise so rarely examined and questioned. If one strips the transcendental-theological superstructure away from the problem that Kant poses here there remains – in the place of that “Creator of our existence” who is, in any case, within Kant’s system nothing any longer but a “postulate” – self-procreating Man himself, who is unable either to prove or disprove God and immortality. Where we emphasize, therefore, how fundamentally questionable this “Creator”, who persists together with all his salvationary requisites only as a “postulate”, must be considered to be, we suddenly find that it is no longer God who stands accused before the “court of reason” convened by Kant but rather those human beings that procreate their species.   

Implicit in Kant’s remarks here is the notion that there exists an obligation, if one is to beget other human beings, to provide a justification or legitimation for doing so (anthropodicy). Moreover, the reproach, directed to all appearances to God, that He would have done better to create no human beings at all than to create suffering human beings in fact applies more trenchantly to Man than it does to God, since the human parents who create children are not able, as the divine Creator is supposed to be able, to assure their children a compensation for their lived sufferings in some “life after life”. Although of course, to repeat this yet again, just this “compensation by the after-life” is something that stands, in Kant’s philosophy, very much open to question. According to the “Critique of Practical Reason” of 1788 the “after-life” is not to be conceived of in the form of a paradise that would function as an institution of compensation for earthly travails but rather as an opportunity for further fulfilment of duties and obligations in the “endless progress of immortal souls from the lower to higher degrees of moral perfection”  (see “Critique of Practical Reason”, Dialectic, Part 2, IV: The Immortality of the Soul as a Postulate of Pure Practical Reason).

But if those human souls which have hitherto been brought into existence really are to have this opportunity to “progress from lower to higher degrees of moral perfection” after the deaths of their bodies, then the question naturally arises of why Kant at the same time insists on the necessity of prolonging our earthly “vale of tears”, with its wars and preparations for war supposedly serving the cause of the progress of culture, until the advent of some nebulous “perpetual peace”. Is it not enough, on Kant’s assumptions, to hope that those souls which have already entered into existence will achieve this progress toward perfection posthumously, after they have left it?

Although Kant never explicitly formulated and proposed the idea, his critical philosophy in combination with his harshly realistic view on the course of history up to the present day strongly suggests that what is needed is not a theodicy but rather an anthropodicy: i.e. a justification of the creation of human beings by human beings in view of the course that human history has hitherto taken and can be expected to take. Kant’s thoughts on child-rearing and education might also be brought into play here as a building block for such an anthropodicy. On the one hand, Kant argues that it is morally incumbent upon parents to do everything within their power to see to it that their children, up until their coming of age, remain so content with the existence which these parents have decreed for them that they would have chosen this existence, in preference to non-existence, if they had had the choice (Inversion of Natal Guilt (Retrospective Absolution of Parents)). On the other hand, however, one would have also, in order to be consistent with Kant, to advise these “pre-existential” children not to choose existence in the world, since Kant himself says that no one who had once gotten to know what existence in the world is would ever opt to enter into it over again!

In his essay “On the Common Saying: ‘This May Be True in Theory But It Does Not Apply in Practice’” from 1793 Kant bases his argument upon “my inborn duty of influencing posterity in such a way that it will make constant progress (and I must thus assume that progress is possible) and that this duty may be rightfully handed down from one member of the series to the next. History may well give rise to endless doubts about my hopes and, if these doubts could be proved, they might persuade me to desist from an apparently futile task. But so long as they do not have the force of certainty I cannot exchange my duty (as a liquidum) for a rule of expediency which says I ought not to attempt the impracticable (i.e. an illiquidum, since it is purely hypothetical). And however uncertain I may be, and remain, as to whether we can hope for anything better for mankind, this uncertainty cannot detract from the maxim I have adopted, or from the necessity of assuming for practical purposes that human progress is possible.”

Here, Kant opposes to that historically-informed antinatalism which will seem a very convincing stance to anyone taking a clear look at human events as they have unfolded up to the present day (see, in particular, his formulation that doubts arising from history “might persuade (him) to desist from an apparently futile task”) the thought that one should not allow the chain of human procreation to be broken because there exists, for parents, the vague prospect of influencing, through their raising of their children, some better “posterity” and because no one can say, apodictically, that better times will not come some day.

But even this thought does not suffice to eliminate from the world the fundamental question that Kant poses in his essay on theodicy: Why is it that we are made to begin to exist in the first place? Why should hastening, for example by the proper raising of our children, the arrival of that hypothetical “point in time so happy for our posterity” be of any importance at all if, on the way to this point in time, billions of human beings must suffer and die without any reason being able to be given for their begetting other than an egotistical one?

By taking up the standpoint that Man’s “unsociable sociability”, along with the interminable series of wars and conflicts that it causes, reveals rather “the organizing hand of a wise Creator than the destructive hand of some malevolent spirit” Kant oversteps those limits which he himself had drawn, at least once he had progressed in his thought to the stage of the “Critique of Pure Reason”, and which dictate that we can know nothing of God and may not even suppose His existence to be knowable. On these terms, however, it appears just as justifiable to proceed on the assumption of a malevolent Creator as upon that of a benevolent one. Thus, it is rather with his talk of a “malevolent spirit” that Kant strikes the note that we want to develop below.

 

“Dicy Transformation” in Literature: Disguised Antinatalism in the Diabolicization of God

The mythologeme of the “evil God” acts, so to speak, as the rearguard of that ideology of a “Creator deserving of our worship” which was driven out of the human race’s self-understanding by the foundering of theodicy on critical rationality. As we shall show below by citing various examples, this rearguard has continued, long after the end of Man’s “theological epoch” as a bulwark which allows human beings to block out from view an obligation to develop an anthropodicy which is nonetheless taking ever clearer form as an historical necessity.

Enlightenment, indeed, displaced God from that central position within the intellectual and emotional economy of the human species which He had occupied for so long. But this displacement did not, for all that, do away with the reproach that had been made to this God of having placed Man in a badly-ordered world.  This reproach continued to be present, objectively, in the world; it only found new addressees: namely: procreating human beings. In the same measure as Man rid himself more and more entirely of God there increased, objectively, the obligation to justify the creation of human beings by human beings – that is to say, to provide an anthropodicy. The objective obligation that has emerged from this “dicy transformation” has hardly, if ever, been recognized as such, let alone the attempt made to put it into practice. Although talk of “the death of God” has become a commonplace in our culture in the last two hundred years, we have continued (as we are able, from the necessary hermeneutic distance of the present day, to recognize) to cast against God those reproaches which really ought to be cast against procreating human beings. Even atheists, like Thomson cited below, have done this.

The assaults of reason made it plausible that the “good God” was nothing but a product of human culture, thus pushing Him into the background as a figure who could be held responsible for the world as it exists; but the reproach that had formerly been directed at Him as the Creator of human beings now fell upon human beings themselves: if it had been a bad thing for God to create human beings and place them in this world, it must also be a bad thing for human beings to beget other human beings. It would be a peculiar sort of speciesism to say that putting human beings into this world was a bad thing when God did it but becomes a good thing when human beings do it. Looked at in this way, the blasphemous diabolicization of God grounds an obligation to create an anthropodicy and gives rise to a certain antinatalist impetus. Below, we shed light on these connections and implications by reference to certain selected testimonies from literature regarding “the evil God”.

Let us begin by looking at a passage from George Eliot’s (1819–1880) novel “Adam Bede”, in which this authoress – while being fully aware of the real facts of procreation – gives expression to the dominant, and not merely vulgar, notion belonging to an intact Christian religiosity whereby each individual owes his or her existence, at least in the last instance, to God (more than to their own parents). A leading character in this novel, the Methodist lay preacher Dinah Morris, states:

“We know very well we are altogether in the hands of God: we didn’t bring ourselves into the world, we can’t keep ourselves alive while we’re sleeping.” (Eliot, Adam Bede)

In intensified form, even if in a form that displays more markedly a Reticence in Accusation, the – paradoxical – question is posed by Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909) in his “Anactoria” of what terrible crime human beings could have committed that has merited their being created by God and placed in such an intolerable world, furnished with a body whose pulsebeat measures the passage of time and announces thereby the constant approach of death[3]:

“Him would I reach, him smite, him desecrate, / Pierce the cold lips of God with human breath, / And mix his immortality with death. / Why hath he made us? what had all we done / That we should live and loathe the sterile sun, / And with the moon wax paler as she wanes, / And pulse by pulse feel time grow through our veins?“ (Swinburne, Anactoria)

If one substitutes for the diabolicized God of these lines (the “zero point”, or the husk, of what had once been believed to be a God essentially good) the figure of human parents (the actual “creators” of new human beings) it is these latter who become the ones reproached with having brought their progeny into existence and thereby exposed them to the pains of fugacity.

In his collection of poems “Romanzen und Jugendlieder” Platen (1796–1835) performs, indeed, no actual diabolicization of God; he touches more clearly, however, even than Bürger does on the God Taboo inasmuch as he envisages us all, quite generally, as damned to the condition of human beings:
“[…] O seek to sleep away each night / The pain and sorrow of each day; / For who can punish God, / For having damned and condemned us to be human beings!” (Platen, Romanzen und Jugendlieder, Werke Bd. 1, Lyrik)

A secular heir of the spirit of these lines would find himself having to declaim: “For who would feel able to accuse or punish his or her own parents?” The notion is already tangibly present here – even if it is not explicitly articulated – that the quarrel is not with divine providence but it is rather one’s own parents omission to Assess the Consequences of Procreation that must be deplored and regretted.

Once the notion of theodicy had essentially collapsed, we see the emergence in the literary tradition of something that can be called – inasmuch as it extends far beyond that disputatious wrangling with the divine which was already known from the legacy of antiquity – a genuine “mythology of evil”. The deity is henceforth represented as an entity motivated by boredom, or as wicked or blind, so that moral reproaches are now heaped upon it. As this artificial myth of the “evil God” gradually becomes more and more porous, these reproaches begin to attach and adhere rather to procreating human beings themselves.

[1] The remarks made here have benefited greatly from Karl S. Guthke‘s important work Die Mythologie der entgötterten Welt (1971)

[2] The objection of  Seume (1763–1810), however, seems as if tailor-made to be brought against Kant: “If human beings do finally one day become reasonable, the earth will perhaps die thereby from Marasmus senilis” (Apokryphen)

[3] This recalls Jean Paul‘s of Time as Death with ever thinner crescents (Death àPaul).

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Dictatorship of the Embryo

In distinction from the male of the human species, the human woman, for Nemilov – author of the book “The Biological Tragedy of Woman” – is not just the victim of a biological illusion but has also “to pay a high price through her protracted and many-faceted service to what serves ‘the genius of the species’”. This service requires a reorganization of her entire organism. The conditions under which the reconstruction and reorganization of this organism take place can only be described as extremely cruel and brutal. Nature establishes in the body of the woman a pitiless dictatorship of the ripening fruit, concentrating her whole body on the task of protecting this minuscule new piece of living matter and mercilessly demanding, to this end, a complete abnegation, on the mother’s part, of her own self. Everything for the germinating seed, everything for the ‘genius of the species’; and for the mother only pains and discomforts of every kind.” (Nemilov)

We are dealing here, then, with the following constellation: women are, on the one hand, either voluntary accomplices or coerced accessories in this “Diktat of birth”; at the same time, they are subject – to a much greater extent than is the male of the human species – to the Diktat of that specific human being whose existence they are causing to begin: i.e. the embryo. Simone de Beauvoir surely means something of this sort when she writes of how a woman experiences her pregnancy as “at the same time an enrichment and a mutilation. The foetus is at once a part of her body and a parasite which lives at her expense.” (Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, Book Two, Part Two, VI. Motherhood) “Day by day a polyp, which has been born out of her body but is strange to this body, is battening upon her being”. The biological dictatorship of the embryo culminates in the àParturitionist Terror and then finds immediate continuation in the social Diktat of the newborn.[1]

Developing these thoughts of de Beauvoir’s in a blackly humorous spirit, Klinger describes to us the “shrewdness” of the child in the moment of parturition: “Weakness is the mother of power; and when the valiant son does not rend his mother’s body, when being born, in two it is not through clemency that he refrains from doing so. For if he did, who would be there to suckle and to feed him?” (Klinger, Betrachtungen und Gedanken)

[1] See also on this topic Sonja Martina Allen, Eine Poetik der Mutterschaft: Maternitätsbilder bei Else Lasker-Schüler und Marie Luise Kaschnitz, S. 192.

Diktat of Sex / Diktat of Nature

Lodged within the genetic structure of the Diktat of birth is another “dictatorship”: namely, the dictatorship of sex. “Borne by the blood, the sex hormones arrive with the same speed as the bloodstream in even the remotest parts of the body and establish here that ‘dictatorship of sex’ which is necessary to the maintenance of life on earth. Penetrating, together with the blood, the brain, the sex hormones intervene here too in the central governance of the entire body and establish here too their dictatorship. Working their effects upon the nerve-centres, they ‘eroticize’, as certain physiologists have so aptly put it, the brain itself. They give to the entire activity of the nervous system a specific sexual orientation, attune this activity to a specific kind of sex, and the hormone-influenced brain begins to see the whole world through this sexual prism.” (Nemilov, The Biological Tragedy of Woman)

According to Nemilov the Diktat of sex imposes “upon the organism that ‘vital tension’, that ‘joy in existence’ which distinguishes a young, healthy body.” (Nemilov) This latter notion of a ‘joy in existence’, then, which occupies a central position within the categorical organon of the pronatalists, would represent, on this account, a fundamental “cunning of biology” – with men and women[1] as the beings tricked and manipulated by this cunning.

[1] “Woman, in particular, exists with body and soul entirely under the dictatorial sway of the drive of Nature; a life outside of this drive, and against this dictatorship, is simply out of the question for a woman.” (Hueck, Wohin steuern wir? p. 36)

Diktat of the Recollecting Self

If, and insofar as, the research of Daniel Kahneman and others, and the theories built upon this research, are valid human beings are constitutionally incapable of judging and evaluating, retrospectively, the unpleasant experiences that they have undergone in their real negativity – that is to say, in the concrete negativity of their actual moment-by-moment living-through of these latter.

It is also surely, in large part, this constitutionally-dictated tendency to the distortion of retrospectivity that nourishes and sustains human optimism and pronatalism. We may speak, therefore, of a tyranny of the retrospective self inasmuch as its dominance precludes our ever becoming conscious of the actual extent of human suffering. Where we take into account such constitutive cognitive distortions as that of the dominance of the recollecting self, it becomes clear why human beings can find (their own) life to be a beautiful thing even then when they have spent months or years of it in a concentration camp. If these months or years ended with liberation, or if the life in question took a positive turn in some other sense, this long experience of pain and humiliation will tend to be blanked out. In retrospect, the time spent in such a concentration camp will appear to be much more tolerable than it would have been judged to be if one had asked its victims for their view of it day by day during their actual lived experience of this ordeal.

This fact that the experiencing self tends to be dominated and suppressed by the recollecting self is of the most extreme importance for antinatalism. This tyranny of retrospectivity is clear evidence that our positive self-assessments of our own lived reality – and thus the optimistic psyche itself – hide a truth that is very different. To put it more concretely: whoever begets a human being begets a creature that is bio-psychologically so constituted that it is prevented, by a kind of protective screen, from achieving a realistic grasp of its own lived reality.

Diktat of Birth (Diktat of Existence)

The phrase “Diktat of birth”[1] means that there has arisen – albeit very belatedly – in the realm of metaphor an antinatalistic counterpart and adversary to the decidedly pronatalistic metaphorical formulation: “the Gift of Life”. This phrase “Diktat of birth” is, at the same time, a succinct formula for certain essential aspects of the Kantian nativity theorem (Reversal of the Guilt for Nativity). “Diktat of birth” means: we exist without our assent thereto, and without our ever having acquiesced in the beginning of our own existence. Since, however, each human being actually begins to exist several months prior to his or her birth, it would be more ontologically accurate to speak not of a “Diktat of birth” but rather of a “Diktat of existence”.

The expression “Diktat of birth”, it should be noted, does indeed belong to the metaphorical realm or aspect of antinatalist thought. Outside this realm of metaphor – i.e. in a real ontological sense – the notion of a “Diktat of birth” cannot be claimed to make sense. Because, in ontological reality, nothing was “done to us” – nothing “befell us” – when acts were performed that caused the beginning of our existence. We were not torn thereby out of some “grey area” of quasi-existence (àGuf-Raum) into the bright light of full being. If we understand by “birth” precisely this beginning of our existence (and not, for example, the act of our issuing from our mother’s womb), then there was simply no one there upon whom this “Diktat” of existence could have been imposed; no subjectivity there which might have either resisted, or striven toward, receiving it. It is entirely rightly, then, that Lütkehaus conceives of the “Diktat of birth” “not in the sense that something, here, is actually dictated to someone – since, prior to birth, and without it, there is simply no such ‘someone’ there… but rather in the sense that this ‘someone’ is itself and as such dictated.” Alternatively, one might speak indeed of an “imposing of birth” (Lütkehaus, Vom Anfang und vom Ende, S. 21) It is, however, to be noted that our existence does not begin with our birth but rather between conception and birth: specifically, when a “self” begins to be present for the first time, i.e. when the brain of the foetus can first be said to bring consciousness into being. Expressed in non-metaphorical terms, then, we are dealing here not with a “Diktat of birth” but with the bringing about of a àBeginning of Life.

A precursor of the metaphor of the “Diktat of birth” is Julio Cabrera’s remark about the manipulation of the existence of another being. Objection must be made, however, also to Cabrera’s argument where he contends that we exercise power of ordinance over the being of another not only where we kill this latter but also where we act in such a way as to bring it about that he comes into existence. An “ordinance”, therefore, is issued that a human being should begin to exist.

Nevertheless, this notion of a “Diktat of birth” has a legitimacy that extends beyond its role merely as a formulation antagonistic to the familiar pronatalist formulation “the gift of life”:  Life cannot, indeed, be said to have been dictated to “us” (that is to say, to a specific real person); nevertheless, it is true to say that àMinor Demiurges decided (or at least it came about “by chance”) that one human being more would have to live and to die. In other words, with every progenerative decision that is taken it is decided that one further human being has to live and to die. The decision – or the “chance” – in question is not something that applies directly to the human being affected but rather to the whole order of being that encompasses this latter.

The notion of a “Diktat of birth” perhaps acquires its most precise signification in the  Bionomic Proposition of Ernst Bloch which advances the thesis that nobody began to live because he wanted to but once the person in question had indeed begun to live, he had thenceforth no choice but to want to do so. The rational kernel at the heart of all talk of a “Diktat of birth”, then, proves to be: a Diktat of life itself. Expressed in deliberately paradoxical terms, this Diktat would run: “Whoever is alive wants to live – whether he wants to or not!” Our bodies constantly make claims on us which compel us to go on living whether we give our intellectual consent and approval to this or not. The “Diktat of birth” thus means: “Once we are in the world, our own organism dictates to us a continuance in this world – whether we wish it or not”.

 

Jaspers, Karl (1883–1969)

In borderline situations, argues Jaspers, we despair of the sense and substance of every existence:

“I did not consent to wanting this life and am unable to see anything in it that might determine me to say ‘yes’ to it.” (Jaspers, Philosophie II, S. 304) Even where such a thought drives a person toward suicide, the person “tired of living” may become party, in and through this very impulse to take his own life, to a new experience the effect of which will be to preserve it: the experience of being free to take one’s own life in this way may prove apt to point up how life does indeed have a substance – namely, the experience of freedom itself – and that this substance does, in the end, weigh more heavily than the reasons which might have inclined one to renounce this life. Jaspers thus has the “Diktat of birth” and àHaving to Want to Live rebound from a wall of human freedom. It must be borne in mind, however, as an objection to Jaspers that that subject who, “tired of life”, suddenly discovers his own freedom precisely in his resolution to kill himself, has not, simply by refraining from suicide, freed himself from despair or pain.

Immediately afterward, however, Jaspers does, after all, take into account the “Diktat of birth” by noting that, although we may indeed enjoy the freedom to take our own lives, we do not enjoy the freedom to give these lives to ourselves.  This being the case, we exist essentially unfreely and out of a basic ground of unfreedom – and as soon as we succeed in wresting a freedom from this unfreedom and in emerging from this latter, this emergence is tantamount to our ceasing to exist: “Since it was not me that gave life to myself, when I decide, I decide only to allow to persist that which already is. There can be no all-encompassing action in which I ‘give my life’ (to myself) that would correspond to the all-encompassing action that I perform when I ‘take my (own) life’.” (Philosophie II, S. 308)

[1] The coiner of this fundamental component of antinatalistic terminology seems to have been Lütkehaus, see the latter‘s Nichts, S. 43 and passim.

Enlightenment, Natalistic

Well-known is Kant’s dictum defining “enlightenment” as “Man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity”. Now, each person’s coming into the world is something not “self-imposed” but rather imposed by his or her parents. Consequently, we need to qualify and situate this “self-imposition” of a state of “immaturity” diagnosed by Kant. A part of a human individual’s “immaturity” is always imposed by, and the responsibility of, the parents. Kant himself, indeed, indirectly recognizes a partial responsibility of parents for all such “immaturity” when, in his Metaphysics of Morals, he assigns to parents a duty to raise and care for their children until these latter have achieved existential autonomy. With regard to Kant the question (albeit an apparently crude one) arises: if “immaturity” is reprehensible because it runs counter to the essence of human autonomy and liberty, why does Kant not unequivocally call for an end to be put to the bringing into the world of more or less “immature” beings? The answer, of course, is that Kant – entirely aligned here morally and intellectually with the spirit of the Enlightenment – believes firmly, if not in the absolute perfectibility, then at least in the partial improvability, of the species Man.

Natalistic enlightenment is a drawing of attention to the fact that the “self-imposed immaturity” of which Kant speaks is, in the last analysis, imposed by others, i.e. imposed by each child’s parents (Parental Guilt). The ultimate aim of natalistic enlightenment is the antinatalist abolition of all parentally-imposed “immaturity”, for example through making all potential parents familiar with an Evaluation of the Consequences of Begetting Children.

Despite a large number of antinatalist statements and insights already on record – the present handbook included – we continue to live in antinatalistically unenlightened times. Here there applies the following formula: the degree of parental guilt of a procreating couple corresponds to the degree in which these latter have been natalistically enlightened. Paraphrasing Kant, we might say: “Enlightenment always also consists, in part, in Man’s emergence from an immaturity imposed by parents and thereby from that legacy of Nature that is the nexus of procreation.”   

Appointment to and Dismissal from Existence

Kant judges suicide to be a crime, a murder, and essentially a “violation  of one’s duty toward oneself”. In that part of his justification of this judgment which concerns us here Kant also adduces the notions of a violation of one’s duty toward one’s fellow men and, finally, of one’s duty toward God Himself, “who has entrusted to each man a post and station in this world, which said man abandons (if he takes his own life) without having been dismissed therefrom…” (Kant, Metaphysics of Morals, Metaphysical Principles of the Doctrine of Virtue (On Taking One’s Own Life, § 6)) This would mean that we are lieutenants or deputies of God’s here on the earth and have simply – devoid of all existential autonomy – to wait until some imponderable decree from on high comes to put an end to this service. From each individual’s point of view, indeed, the event that begins his or her sojourn in the world presents itself as equally imponderable. Human procreation has been going on for thousands of years until one day, for some reason that it is impossible to fathom, “I” come into existence (àIchfälligkeit). From the imponderability, for the individual, of this beginning at least Kant shows himself willing to draw moral conclusions: since no one ever gave consent to his or her summoning into existence, it is morally incumbent on our parents to render life sufficiently pleasant for us, up to the point of our coming of age, that it might plausibly be thought that we would have consented to it, had we had the choice between existing or not existing.  But given that Kant showed full philosophical comprehension of this fact that the entry of each individual into his or her condition as an existing being is something that is effected by a law or power external to this individual, whose consent to this “appointment” must therefore, by rights, be acquired retroactively, logical consistency would surely have required him to take the same attitude to the individual’s exit from this condition and to accord to human subjects the moral right, instead of waiting patiently on their “dismissal” by God, to “dismiss themselves” from their “post” as existing beings.

Imprecation of Parents (Breaching of Parent Taboo)

In her book “Beyond Taboos” Alice Miller describes how the taboo on passing judgments about the parents of patients in therapy can result in even analyses that go on for years remaining, in the end, unsuccessful. Miller argues that therapists should accompany their patients through the therapeutic process in an overtly partisan spirit, so that children can be liberated from that tolerance vis-à-vis their parents that tends to be imposed on them.[1] She must count as the first author who has dared to breach the “parent taboo”, inasmuch as she has argued in her books for the idea that it is a necessary prerequisite for any therapeutic success that parents be brought to book for the suffering that they have brought into the world. One key aim of the present handbook on antinatalism is precisely to contribute to our ceasing to think of the heteronomous nature of the beginning of the existence of every child as a true but trivial circumstance concerning no one but the individual thereby coming into being and of parents as the responsible parties only for a psychological suffering that may well be removable by appropriate psychotherapies; rather, the present work advances the view that parents must be looked on as those who have made possible all other forms of suffering as well: suffering which can only be put an end to by thinking and acting in an antinatalist spirit.

 

Carl von Hohenhausen (1816–1834)

It is in the Letter of Farewell to His Father composed by Carl von Hohenhausen, who, as an àExistential Protestant, ended his own existence with a pistol-shot in 1834 at the age of 18, that we encounter a secularized reproach against the initiators of existence which goes on, however, in a second step, to at least partially excuse the reproacher’s own human progenitors:

“What should one be grateful to one’s parents for? For the fact that they yielded to their natural drives and created a life the fortunate or misfortunate fate of which did not lie within their power? […] This is also why I have never been able to persuade myself that I owe gratitude to God, my father in a remoter sense or at least have never been able to adopt the belief that I have a duty to bear life even were it to become unbearable.”

After he has repudiated all obligation to gratitude vis-à-vis both God and parents he accords to his parents, though not to God, a nativistic absolution. The parents are absolved of all subjective guilt, although von Hohenhausen demands in return that his parents make no posthumous reproaches to him for having committed suicide:

“Without you, my parents, I would not have been a suicide! But I do not accuse you, I only accuse Fate, not to say God. You are short-sighted human beings, but God…!! […] But truly, just as you are without guilty as regards my suffering, so am I without guilt as regards yours.” (Hohenhausen) Von Hohenhausen subtly brings to expression here the notion that, if no subjective guilt weighs on his parents, there nonetheless weighs upon them an objective one. They are objective àAccomplices of the àConditio in/humana.

 

 

Thomas Bernhard (1931–1989)

In the work of Thomas Bernhard, profoundly shaped by antinatalist sentiment, the imprecation of parents makes its appearance freed of all the inhibitions passed down by tradition and the world takes on the aspect of a parentally perpetuated penal colony:

“We spare our parents, he said yesterday, instead of charging them our whole lives long with the crime of having begotten human beings. (…) They begot me without asking me and they oppressed me by begetting me and by casting me into the world in this way; they committed, upon and against me, both the crime of begetting and the crime of oppressing.” (Thomas Bernhard, Alte Meister)

[1] See Miller, “Beyond Taboos”, p. 80 at: http://www.alice-miller.com/content/de/E-book_Jenseits-der-Tabus.pdf. The notion “parent taboo” is actually to be found in a text on Miller’s work accessible at : http://www.anis-online.de/1/ton/18.htm.

Paradox of the “Advantage of Existing”

When one draws their attention to the gruesome conditions under which meat is produced, creophages/creophagists[1] always have ready to hand the argument of the essential advantage of existence over non-existence: it is not to be denied, they say, that the raising, feeding-up and slaughtering of animals involves significant suffering for these latter; but it must also be considered that, in so far as they function as “meat stock”, there is at least accorded to these animals a certain span of life, instead of no life at all;  without the human demand for meat, in other words, these animals would never have been bred, i.e. would never have existed at all – something which, it is contended, would not have been an acceptable alternative. Better a bad life that ends horribly than no life at all – so runs this strange “carnedicy”[2].

In order to provide their anthropodicy, pronatalists too assert a supposed essential advantage of existence; but they overlook thereby the fact that it is impossible to actually specify and name someone for whom it might be “advantageous” to begin to exist. 

[1] Human beings who, despite the existence of alternatives, consciously decide to remain consumers of animals bred, fattened up, tortured and slaughtered to just this end.

[2] See Akerma: Carnedizee – Philosophie als fleischlastiges Denken statt brotlose Kunst, in: Tabula rasa. Zeitung für Gesellschaft und Kultur, Februar 2011

Imprecation of Existence and Prevention of Existence

Rölleke emphasizes the essentially unrealistic character of the topos of the imprecation of existence and explains the provenance of this unrealistic character in the following terms: “The train of thought of the ancient philosophers was more or less as follows: death is the worst of all evils; an evil is something that one seeks, with all the means at one’s disposal, to avoid or to combat; how much more, then, would one seek to avoid or combat this worst of all evils! But death is an evil that can at best be postponed, never completely avoided. The only way of avoiding it would be – to never have been born. And thus we have, on the one hand, the childish nature of the deduction of the proposition and, on the other, its utterly unrealistic character.” (Rölleke)

One might call the topos of the imprecation of existence an unrealistic and egoistic, or merely self-related, antinatalism, since (at least in terms of its literal phrasing and initial apparent meaning) it appears to be a formulation restricted in its application to the one lamenting individual alone. As Rölleke’s exegesis brings out, however, this imprecation of existence always also bears a universally valid and applicable character and implies that it would be better if not just this lamenting individual but humanity in its entirety did not exist. That there always attaches to the egoistical or merely self-related form of antinatalism an element of universal antinatalism becomes clear where we remind ourselves that experiences of suffering are not merely something undergone by a few specific individuals but an essential aspect of the Conditio in-/humana.

Against this background the imprecation of existence can be seen as indeed the nucleus of a universal antinatalism: one which thereby seems anchored much more deeply and broadly in human cultural history than is usually supposed. And just as the imprecation of existence represents a nucleus, of initially merely egoistical import, of a tendentially universal antinatalism, so too does it harbour in every case a latent reproach to those parents responsible for the begetting of each respective imprecating individual. This reproach indeed is, due to a deeply-rooted àParent Taboo, only very seldom explicitly expressed; but it is inevitably implied already in the four-thousand-year-old exclamation: “O that I had never been called into life!”

The realistic core of that which Rölleke calls the unrealistic character of the imprecation of existence is the moral imperative that prescribes existence’s prevention: i.e. the abstention from all procreation – since it is only in this way that human beings can be prevented from getting into situations in which they cast such an imprecation upon their own existence.

In view of all this it seems astonishing that this imprecation of existence, manifesting itself everywhere and in all historical periods, should indeed have remained so markedly limited to the self and to the lamentations of the self and we have to ask: why did the formulation generally remain a self-related one instead of empathetically extending itself to the plight also of others? Why is it that this cry of pain that pervades our cultural history tends to remain passive, instead of extending itself actively and anticipatively, with anticipative and preventative effect, to the prospective fate of others? This would be the step from the ex post facto imprecation of one’s own existence to the prevention of future existences.

There follows directly from the self-referential “It would have been better for me never to have been born!” the notion “it was bad for me to have been born!” And, insofar as this “me” is, for the respective parents of each individual brought into the world, always only an – initially unknown, merely imagined – “someone”, this self-referential imprecation of existence always implicitly comprises the idea: “it is bad to beget anyone, to give birth to anyone!”. Or, expressed in positive terms: “It is better if one has no progeny.” This conclusion is supported by that imperative of universalization that is inherent in every form of ethics: whoever imprecates his own existence is bound, in terms of the logic constitutive of every line of ethical reasoning, to take explicitly into account the conditions of the possibility of the imprecation of their own existence on the part of other human beings. No one is really master of their own fortune or misfortune; but very many of us are masters or mistresses with power of decision regarding the fortune or misfortune of others: namely, over those new human beings over whose being or non-being we have the power to decide. To be born may be a fate – but begetting and bearing other human beings does not have to be! It is so less today than it ever was. In times and places where contraceptive methods are generally easily available it may indeed be reasonably demanded that the merely self-referential topos of the imprecation of existence be construed as an imperative exhortation to existence’s actual prevention.

The Imprecation of Existence

In European literature the topos of the imprecation of existence has tended to manifest itself in such formulations as “O would that I had never been born!” and other formulations derived from it. It was most likely Heinz àRölleke who first systematically researched this imprecation of existence as a topos of European literature. Rölleke himself has stated that his reading yielded more than 600 passages expressing this idea. Rölleke claims that this topos forms a tradition stretching back unbroken for thousands of years. Best-known perhaps – though certainly not the earliest – among these topoi is a passage from the fourth speech of the Chorus in àSophocles’s “Oedipus at Colonus” that runs: “Not to have been born exceeds every other thing in value (is, of all things, the best for Man)” This passage is neither the oldest ancient document of the topos that sees an “advantage” in the me phunai (“never having been born”) nor the only one. In the European Middle Ages comparable formulations drawn from the Christian Bible also acquired great cultural impetus and reshaped, in part, the Ancient Greek cultural heritage.

Rölleke rightly points out that extreme and critical situations apt to result in such expostulations as the wish never to have been born must have been part of the experience of human beings at all periods in history[1] and imprecations of existence therefore such as to have been able, at all times, to be formed out of the original matter of each individual’s really or potentially lived life. Just as the theory of physical Nature was “born twice” – once in antiquity and then again, centuries later, in the early modern age[2],  – so too have antinatalistic forms of thought germinated several times in different historical periods and independently of one another.

Where one compares, however, the Ancient Greek and the Biblical traditions of this topos there emerges, argues Rölleke, an interesting difference between the two: “Whereas the formulations of this sort in the literature of antiquity, although couched in very general terms, nevertheless refer, as a rule, to a specific human being in a specific situation, the Fathers of the Church invariably interpret the Biblical propositions referring to an individual person and an individual situation (as in the cases of Jeremiah, Job or Judas) as propositions of universal application and validity. Jeremiah, Job and Judas are each construed respectively as ‘types’.”

The following remarks of Rölleke’s regarding the broad dissemination of the topos of the imprecation of existence are of very great interest here since it is possible to construe this topos as a kind of disguised antecedent of:

“How widespread such a despairingly unrealistic imprecation of one’s own existence actually is, and how universally human this reaction is too (egregious and outrageous as it may initially seem) – this is made clear by the history of European literature in three ways:

  1. This proposition is over and over again interpreted as a universally valid one, as a self-evident gnomon: namely, that it would be better for each human being, indeed for humanity as a whole, not to exist.

  2. It is a formulation which can be proven to recur continuously at regular intervals throughout the whole of European intellectual and literary history.

  3. Already at the point where this formulation is first to be identified, in written form, within the tradition it displays the character of a generally-valid aphorism, a topos (that is to say, a truism). And most of its later occurrences seem to me to share this “topic”, truistic quality.

Sufficiently numerous examples will be cited below to prove the thesis that the articulation of this proposition extends to humanity as a whole. As regards the unbroken nature of the tradition: the first documentary evidence of this sentiment known to me is to be found in ancient Egypt, namely in the so-called First Intermediate Period, that is, approximately 2000 BC. From this period a note has come down to us reading: “The misery of life is so immeasurable that I wish I were dead; and even the little children say: o that I had never been called into life”. This formulation is somewhere around four thousand years old; for the last two and a half thousand years analogous propositions occur in a more or less unbroken chain in our literary and intellectual tradition […] Definitive documentary proof is thereby present of the extreme age of this proposition, of its perenniality, and (above all) of its quality as a topos, i.e. as a proposition bearing on the type “human being” in general – proof, that is to say, of the fact of its being independent of any personal individual destiny or of any state that a specific human being might happen to find himself in at any specific time. Documented also, therefore, is the constantly latently present meaningfulness of this proposition, its susceptibility of being filled up at any time, and as it were suddenly once again, with personal feeling and meaning for any individual human being. As Thomas Mann once put it: “What one has to put up with others have already put up with; and yet others, at some yet earlier time, have given it articulate formulation. There always responds, then, to every cry of despair de profundis an answering cry from somewhere else.”

Interestingly, Rölleke claims that this topos “O would that I had never been born” is not only present from the beginning to the end of the literary history of Europe but even spans the cultural production of the human race as a whole:  It would be better if the human race had never been “born”, that is to say, if human beings had never existed.

[1] From the antinatalist perspective: already by the very fact of their having been begotten human beings have at all times been exposed to such extreme and critical situations.

[2] See Sohn-Rethel‘s essay: Von der Wiedergeburt der Antike zur neuzeitlichen Naturwissenschaft, Bremen 1987.

Feminism

Key caesura in our social history which marks the point of humankind’s becoming aware that the umbilical cord of our species’ configuration with Nature has once and for all been cut: in feminism there emerges and prevails for the first time the insight that women are not destined by their nature to bear children. Women finally shake off the yoke that they had borne over into their modern social existence from that transitional historical sphere in which culture had remained enclosed and informed by Naure. Feminism is thus, from its inception and by definition, an ally of antinatalism.

Feminantinatalism

If women have found themselves, throughout most of human history, caught, to a great extent, within a vice formed by masculine domination on the one hand and the notion of woman’s “natural biological purpose” on the other, that struggle of women for self-determination which has developed in the course of the last two hundred years opens up an antinatalist potential which has met with the resistance of many of the luminaries of our poetic and philosophical traditions.

 

Helene Druskowitz (1856-1918)

The principle at the base of the feminist antinatalism of Helene Druskowitz runs as follows:

“Once they (i.e. women) come to perceive the higher law of life there will become clear to them also that higher purpose which consists in their role as humankind’s guides into death, as preparers of the end of all ends. This will then become humankind’s ideal, replacing our present ideal without real goal or end!” (Man as Logical and Moral Impossibility and as the Scourge of the World)

Druskowitz hereby formulates that moment of àAbsolute Definitiveness that is indissociable from antinatalist moral theory. Antinatalism is susceptible of completion and consummation in a more definitive sense than is any other moral theory. This is so inasmuch as, if the antinatalist moral programme were once to be carried through to its conclusion, no relapse back into the state against which this moral programme had raised its protest would ever be possible (unless, as one might imagine, it were to come about that the animals left behind once the human race had ebbed away should themselves then develop into self-aware beings).

“Existence Allowance”. For an Unconditional Nativistic Basic Income

How we exist depends, to a significant extent, on ourselves. But that we are is neither a merit of ours nor a mistake we have made.  Being intelligent beings more or less free to act as we choose we are able, to a limited degree, to shape and direct the mode of our being: that is to say, to live out, or plan, our lives within that only limitedly elastic framework which is prescribed for us by a birth at some higher or lower point in the social scale – or to transcend all those paths and courses which were seemingly set out for us beforehand. As regards the matter of our existence, however, none of us ever had the choice between choosing this latter or turning it down. Looked at in this way, our being-in-the-world is an existential straitjacket which has been fastened onto us or, put more precisely, “begotten onto us”. The only way to take it off is to choose to put an end to one’s life; and regarding its putting on in the first place we had no choice at all.

We want to show here how there can be deduced from this fact that, although we can be held (partially and conditionally) responsible for how we are, we cannot be held at all responsible for our being-here per se, the legitimate demand for an unconditional basic income for all those born into the world: No individual can do anything to remedy the fact that they were begotten and born. But to demand of each such individual, from around 20 years after the date of their birth on, that they should thenceforth rely on their own resources and energies alone in order to get through all that still remains of their existence, is to treat them precisely as if they had chosen to beget themselves, a choice for which they are now obliged to bear the consequences. In reality, however, the responsible parties for the being-in-the-world of the individuals in question are, on the direct causal plane, their parents and, on the social and ideological one, the society into which these parents bore them.

Already Immanuel Kant, effecting a complete inversion of the traditional nativistic way of thinking, had pointed out in his Metaphysics of Morals that it is rather parents who owe it to the children whom they have begotten without asking their consent to care for them until they are of an age to care for themselves. Instead of demanding from the unconsentingly begotten children that they even be thankful for this unfree – since, from the children’s viewpoint, necessarily unconsented-to – begottenness, Kant speaks rather of a duty of care and sustenance on the side of the parents. Children, argues Kant, have “an original and innate (not inherited) right to be cared for and sustained by their parents up to the point when they are able to maintain themselves.” (Kant, Metaphysics of Morals: Metaphysics of the First Principles of the Doctrine of Right, Part 1, § 28) The child’s right to be cared for and the parents’ obligation to care are seen by Kant to persist right up to the point where the child is capable of earning his or her own living.

The decisive question, then, is how or whether we can, or must, think out all the implications of this inversion of the nativistic way of thinking which was initiated by Kant. Because what happens once the child does indeed attain this point of “capability of caring for him- or herself”? Let us hold to Kant: the begetting of a human being is, for him, no mere private matter but rather something bound up with a certain educative mission because it is an act “whereby we…have brought a person into the world without their consent; for which deed there becomes incumbent on the parents an obligation to render, so far as it lies within their power to do so, the person thus brought into the world content with their state.” (ibid.) That education of the human race incumbent on parents must, then, according to Kant, consist in forming, out of each human being who initially began to exist without giving his or her consent thereto, someone “existing out of conviction”. Such an individual “existing out of conviction”, we may suppose, would happily take on whatever means of livelihood presented itself in order to “care for himself”. But must he do so? Not at all! Even that begotten individual who has come of age, or has otherwise become capable of supporting and caring for himself, does not for all that become a person who can be said to have included, at some point, the so-called “gift of life” on some putative list of presents that he would have wanted to receive. 

In the case of people who have already come of age and become capable of materially supporting themselves parents become absolved of the obligation which Kant demands they accept and recognize. Instead of being a matter for the parents it now becomes a matter for society as a whole to take upon itself responsibility for the basic sustenance of the children, now become adults. – This is a task which society best handles by ensuring for these children-become-adults an unconditional income sufficient to basic subsistence.

An initial attempt to conceive of the nature of such an unconditional nativistic basic income might see it as a compensation for the fact that there has been unreasonably imposed upon every begotten and born individual a certain highly onerous set of “tasks” consisting in the suffering-through of all the toils, sicknesses and forced partings from loved ones necessarily involved in existence as well, at the end, as (each individual’s own) death itself.  Insofar, then, as the state will in no case attempt to dissuade its citizens entirely from all procreation – were it to do so, it would be setting the “death of the state” as the very aim and goal of the state – it becomes bound to provide these citizens, their whole lives long, with the financial resources required to ensure an existence in keeping with basic human dignity (this latter, of course, being defined differently depending on the specific time(s) and place(s) at which it is lived).

To the extent, that is to say, that the policy it pursues is not a decidedly antinatalistic one, the state is to be considered as the inheritor of certain duties originally incumbent upon parents – and also as a joint and several debtor on the existential plane, under whose pronatal-ideological protection parents “bring” their progeny “into existence” with a perfectly clear conscience. Here, the nativistic basic income functions more precisely as a form of indemnification which the joint and several debtor, the state, has to pay, their whole lives long, to at least those among its citizens who assert the claim that they did not ask for their own existence and who remain unsatisfied in the face of those existential impositions which are approved by parents and by state as no more than reasonable.  

This gives rise to the question of the unconditionality of the nativistic basic income:  should it be accorded in its full amount also to those who have become parents themselves, i.e. to people who clearly in some sense have an affirmative attitude to existence since, if they believed this latter to be intolerable, they would certainly not have imposed it upon their own children? If someone decides to procreate he performs a retroactive confirmation of his existence in at least three respects:

  1. He retrospectively confirms that it is a good thing to be put or brought into the world without having made the choice to be so.

  2. He declares that the world into which he himself was brought is a world life in which is so little to be considered an unreasonable moral imposition that, according to his own assessment of the consequences of procreation, one may with a clear conscience bring further human beings into this world as well.

  3. He brings to expression the notion that he himself is so fortunate in his constitution as a human being and so suitable for the task of educator that there is no reason at all for worry or concern in his allowing this genetic constitution to take, on equal terms, form and to develop a consciousness and thoughts and experiences in a new human organism and in his forming and molding this new being with the educational means at his disposal.

But even despite this triple retroactive confirmation of existence which is performed, at least implicitly, by every person who procreates, a basic subsistence allowance should nonetheless, unconditionally, be paid out also to parents. As much is demanded not just by the practical dimension of political justice but also, in addition, by the consideration that, to many, that existence which has been imposed upon them will begin to seem especially intolerable in the case where their chosen manner of giving meaning to this their existence – admittedly, a manner which only perpetuates the meaninglessness which they were attempting thereby to flee – proves to involve financial detriment for them.

The demand for an unconditional nativistic basic income breaks with the notion of “social parasitism”. Such a basic susbsistence allowance for all takes seriously the insight: no one can help it that he or she was born. Although “how we are” may fall within the sphere of our own responsibility, no human being can be said to be responsible for the fact “that he is”. Whoever has ended up coming into existence through no fault of his own (and as much is true of every single one of us) has a claim to resources that will enable him to maintain this existence. The basic allowance for anyone obliged to bear existence is a necessary prop and support in our confrontation with that existential fear and anxiety to which each person is potentially subject who – having reached an age where they can “provide for themselves” in Kant’s sense – would otherwise be forced to earn their subsistence by pursuing some occupation utterly devoid of sense.

Nobody has the possibility of saying “no” to the beginning of their existence. The nativistic basic income provides a basis for the freedom, as a citizen come of age, not to have to say “yes” to everything. As a basic allowance for anyone obliged to bear existence it functions as a retroactive indemnification for the fact that, in the very beginning, one did not have the ability to say “no”. A state which refuses to its citizens a basic allowance of this sort treats them as if – as was envisaged to be the case in Samuel Butler’s novel Erewhon – they had, as pre-existent beings, voluntarily aspired toward the Conditio in/humana, for which reason they would now have no right to pose any conditions or demands at all (àUnwillingness to Be)

 

Valentin, Karl (1882–1948) – Bill for Existence

Whereas Balzac describes how the poor Père Goriot is driven to ruin by his daughters, Karl Valentin turns the tables here. Goriot’s eldest daughter demands larger and larger gifts of money to maintain her in that life of luxury which the existence her father has “gifted” her with has become. – The roguish Valentin suggests an effective retort to such demands. He draws up and submits to his own daughter, when this latter goes off to Königsberg to become an actress, a detailed bill for her existence up to that point in time:

“Dear daughter!                                 Munich, 3rd of February 1932

In view of our discussion during our last meeting in Munich on 5th of August 1931 I make so free as to send you, with best wishes, the enclosed invoice for your existence in the hope that you will find yourself in agreement with the prices specified therein.  

Costs of midwife, paid on

21.9.1910                                           20,-

1 small tin bathtub                 6,-

Lukewarm water, 10 pfennigs daily for a period of six years                                             219,-

(…)

Compensation for personal suffering (during birth), calculated and invoiced by mother                                                                                                                                                 100,-

(…)

Piano and guitar lessons        700,-

(…)

In view of the fact that you are my own flesh and blood I have conceded a

10% reduction, giving a total sum of

                                               22162,70

Said sum is payable within a period of eight days, after the elapse of which I shall, regretfully, be obliged to initiate legal measures for its recovery.

Yours cordially and respectfully

Karl Valentin“ (In: Max Puntila, The Apples of Pegasus)

Valentin succeeds in producing here a grotesquely distorted representation of àParental Gratitude in a society in which – as indeed had already been demonstrated by Balzac in his huge cycle of novels – all values and relationships are translatable into and reducible to money, according to the principle: you owe me your existence so be so good as to pay me what you owe; and be so good also as to compensate your mother financially for the pain you caused her in the process of your coming into the world (àTerror of Child-Bearing).

In Valentin’s grotesque it is no longer the parents that call their child into existence; rather, the mother is now the vehicle by means of which the child brought itself into the world and the father the breadwinner who must see to this child’s material support.

At its apex-point Valentin’s grotesque becomes an outright inversion of the  àAccusation Over Existence: it is no longer the child that charges his parents with being responsible for his having come without his consent – or even in a state of sickness – into the world; here, a father threatens to bring a formal juridical charge against his child if this child does not return to him, in pecuniary form, what is owed to him by this child according to our traditional moral conceptions: namely, gratitude.

(Un)Freedom of Existence

Continuing on from the question of the freedom of the will we should also pose the question of “the freedom of existence”. As regards the beginning of one’s own existence no one has ever enjoyed the freedom to consent to or to refuse this latter. But as regards the end of existence we do generally gain, in the course of growing up, at least an abstract freedom (freedom of decision and freedom of action) not to have to continue to exist any longer.

But, even there where a will to put an end to existence manifests itself, we can speak only in a very qualified and conditional sense of “freedom” once we take into account the sub-personal, bionomic will to survival which holds us firmly in existence even where we wish to quit this latter.

In short: We were absolutely unfree not to begin to exist and we are only qualifiedly and conditionally free to put an end to this existence.

Cazalis, Henri (1840–1909)

It is to àCazalis that we owe a lucid insight into the structural unfreedom of both the beginning and the end of existence. In contrast to Sartre, who entirely fails to do justice to this problem when he attempts to offset our structural incapacity to choose the beginning of our own existence by citing our capacity to choose, at any moment, the option of suicide. At the same time Cazalis demands that that natural existential constitution and those personal faculties which were randomly endowed upon each of us should be susceptible of enhancement: “Where, though, am I free upon this earth? Did I possess the freedom to be born or not to be born? Am I free not to have to die? Do I possess the freedom to alter my brain, my physical form and the natural faculties which were endowed upon me at and through my birth?”

Existential Blackmail

No one was ever in a position to exert any influence on the events and actions which led to his presence in the world. In principle, however, any one of us is in a position to bring it about that the world goes on existing without us in it. Against the background of these facts the cynical suggestion is often made to people who are not in agreement with their own existence having been brought about heteronomously that, instead of complaining, they would do better simply to make use of the possibility of taking their own life, with the giving of which to them they are plainly not in concurral. Where this option is not taken up, it is hereby implied, the repudiation of existence surely cannot have been so very seriously meant by the repudiator.

Besides this form of “existential blackmail” Pascal Bruckner also draws our attention to the following form: “There is a new blackmail parents exercise on their children: I made you so you must be happy.“ (New Scientist, 16 April 2011, p. 51) Spelled out explicitly, this form of existential blackmail takes the following shape: parents expect from their children, as thanks for the Gift of Life, not just the usual gratitude for existence but a gaiety and joy which cannot possibly, in fact, be summoned up on demand.

Parental Obsolescence

Whoever procreates imposes upon their children not only existence itself, with all its imponderabilities and the certainty of death in the end, but also the burden of having to come to terms with the inevitability of they, the parents, becoming decrepit. All parents, without exception, burden their children with this “parental obsolescence”.

Parental obsolescence enters into account as a neganthropic threshold in the face of which the exclamation is to be expected: I would have preferred a course of events in the world whereby I would never have existed rather than having to witness, and eventually having myself to undergo, all that my parents suffer before me.

Parental Freedom

This refers to that freedom and facility to remain without progeny that has been won only gradually in the course of human history: the natalistic self-emancipation of Man in the form of a gradual separation from the umbilical cord of the natural species connection. With increasing parental freedom we must expect an increase also in the expression of such positions as the following, stated by Maarten ‘t Hart (*1944): “Why should one long for a son? Why should I expose someone to this life: a life to which one is yielded powerlessly up, for which one did not ask, which was rather merely something that befell one?” (‘t Hart, Gott fährt Fahrrad, p. 25)

Parental Declaration of Non-Liability for Suffering

“We are aware that, in begetting them, we deliver our children up to an unforeseeable fate: namely, besides to possible joys and pleasures, also to sufferings that must count as unacceptable and to certain death, not only their own but also that of their relatives, which they will have necessarily to witness. It is also clear to us that we cannot possibly gain their consent to any of this before the act of their begetting. We reproduce, for our own pleasure and at the expense of new human beings, the Conditio in/humana and it is this alone that renders possible all future sufferings, catastrophes, wars and mass murders. We feel unable to acknowledge any responsibility for all these negative consequences because they are a matter of force majeure, over which we have no control.

In the end it may prove to be the case that we have indirectly contributed to the perpetuation of suffering already known from the past on into the future; but this does not fall either within the sphere of our responsibility, since we declare ourselves responsible only for the bringing-up of our own children, who may in their turn go on to become responsible.

Nothing is predetermined. Only if someone could prove that specifically our child and no other is bound to die or grievously suffer, after the passage of some years, in some ecological, atomic or war-related catastrophe would we perhaps choose to refrain from begetting said child, just as we would possibly choose not to procreate if it were proven to us that any child we might have would, due to our own genetic predisposition, be born afflicted with some grave illness that would cause him or her serious suffering.

Our own experience has left us convinced that the pleasurable aspects of life mostly outweigh, and compensate for, all negative experiences that may befall us, for which reason we may also suppose it to be probable that our child will also form a positive judgment of the quality of his or her life.

If having-been-begotten were a Diktat rather than a gift, then in the first place, there would necessarily be far more human beings who declare that they would have preferred never to have been born. And in the second place there would be far more people who would refrain, due to their own wish never to have existed, from begetting children of their own. Since these attitudes are in fact shared by relatively few among those already born and since existence is indeed experienced rather as a gift than as a Diktat, we must assume that we too can continue to carry on the business of procreation with a good conscience.”

Gratitude towards Parents

Natalistic gratitude toward parents is the feeling that, without the pro-generative decision taken by one’s own parents, one would never have come into the enjoyment of existence. A Natalistic Fallacy is committed and it is reasoned as follows: “If my parents had not begotten me things would not have gone so well for me as they are in fact going” This is a natalistic fallacy because, if I had never begun to exist, there would have been no “me” for things to go either well or badly for. In order to recognize this it is necessary for us to  Jump Over Our Own Existential Shadow.

 

Second-Degree Gratitude Toward Parents

The question necessarily arises of whether one can reasonably speak of a “gratitude toward parents in the second degree”: i.e. of a gratitude on the part of the child for his or parents’ readiness to accept whomever it was that they happened to beget, that is, blindly to embrace the “great unknown” that the child him- or herself always is. But such a “second-degree gratitude toward parents” would only be justified if it were the case that children imposed themselves existentially upon their parents. In fact, however, the opposite case applies: children are “called into existence” by these latter.

Dealing With the State of Being Alone

Among the reasons motivating acts of procreation there surely counts the need to somehow deal with the state of being alone. So as not to remain alone in the world (be it radically alone as a single individual or “alone together” as a couple) one acts in such a way that a new human being begins to exist – while knowing, indeed, that this new human being will now be threatened, in his or her turn, by this same state of aloneness. It is this paradox, and this moral inconsistency, that is expressed by Thomas Bernhard, in his novel “Frost” through the following formula: “To beget, because one wants no longer to be alone, another aloneness; this is criminal.”

The Perceived “Antinatalist Imposition” and Defensive Reactions Thereto

Like every moral theory antinatalism is based on the principle of universalizability. That is to say: whoever argues for antinatalism is logically bound to argue not only that it would have been better if others had never begun to exist and had never procreated but that it would be better if he himself did not procreate and indeed would have been better if he himself had never lived. Such an argument, however, is interpreted by many as a threat to his own life and the lives of his descendants, relatives and friends. The antinatalist universalization, in other words demands that we  jump over our own existential shadow. This jumping over our own existential shadow, however, may appear less inherently unworkable if we hold strictly to the linguistic form in which the problem was initially posed and, instead of saying: (A) “For the antinatalist it would be better if X had never lived”, say: (B) “For the antinatalist it would be better if X had never begun to exist”. In (A) antinatalism appears to be setting as its aim the taking of someone’s life (an actual killing!);  in (B), by contrast, what the formulation expresses is just an existence’s happening not to begin, something by which no actual person can be said to be directly affected.

Nevertheless, since we have in fact all by definition already “seen the light of the world”, it can be extremely difficult to cognitively “jump over our own shadow” in this way. When the antinatalist says to the non-antinatalist: “Suffering can only be abolished through the abolition of human existence itself”, the non-antinatalist may understand this as amounting, in various ways, to an actual threat to him and his:

  1. “I, my potential offspring, my relations and all those I know should, this antinatalist says, exist no longer; clearly, he aims to take our lives and condemns the very idea of our survival.”

  2. “This antinatalist advocates for a state of affairs whereby we would never have seen the light of the world and would have stayed forever within the shadow of non-being.”

  3. “By advocating for my having never been, this antinatalist is making a case for my Having Stayed Dead – a frightful idea, since it would mean that I would have missed out on all that I have experienced.”

  4. “By describing my non-being as something good and to be wished for, this antinatalist is making a case for my death.”

Where this strange misunderstanding of the antinatalist claim as a hostile and aggressive imposition is taken to the extreme there may be projected onto the antinatalist an actual desire to kill people. This projection would take the following form: the antinatalist wishes that none of us had ever begun to exist, i.e. wishes for our non-being; but such non-being could, at this point, only be brought about by means of the actual killing of existing beings. In the last analysis the antinatalist must wish for the actual killing of all human beings now alive, which is why there is often off-handedly imputed to him a will to destroy all mankind, or an extreme misanthropy. One especially vigorous form of defence against this perceivedly hostile imposition consists in denouncing the antinatalist himself as the only one whose non-birth is really to be wished for and urging him to commit suicide if he wishes really to follow out to its logical conclusion the position that he defends. In this way there would be averted the supposed threat posed by the antinatalist to the very existence of the non-antinatalist.

Concurring with the antinatalist ethical argument presupposes that one is able, by means of a rewinding back before one’s start of existence, to take a distance from one’s own existence in just the same way as one is able to take a distance from the existence of one’s relatives or acquaintances. We encounter what is probably one of the most pronounced instances of this “taking of a distance from one’s own existence” in an interview given by the Austrian poet Ilse Aichinger to the journalist Julia Kospach, in which Aichinger states that she believes her “own existence to be entirely unnecessary”. (Aichinger, Es muss gar nichts bleiben)

Eichmann Horizon

The term “Eichmann horizon” designates two long-term perspectives which must be taken into account in every generative decision:

  1. a) Firstly, the perspective of a thesis not, indeed, explicitly advanced by Hannah Arendt[1], though associated with and suggested by her work and documented both by social-psychological experiments (such as Milgram’s) and recent real historical genocides, to the effect that each of us, under the right historical circumstances, is capable of becoming an Eichmann;

  2. b) Secondly, that of the fact that we provide, through procreation, for the great episodes of inhumanity that the future surely holds[2] – even if their concrete form cannot yet be even vaguely discerned on the historical horizon – both the future victims and the future perpetrators which, if (a) holds true, almost every human being is capable of becoming.

Against the background of this “Eichmann horizon” appeal can no longer be made to the notion of the collective innocence of those involved or complicit in natality. In the form of the “Eichmann horizon” we lay claim to an extension of responsibility in terms of which not only the commanders, planners and active agents in such great episodes of inhumanity would be guilty but, above and beyond this, also all those antinatalistically àenlightened persons who, in spite of their possessing the historical education to know better and the freedom to decide otherwise, continue to beget future victims and perpetrators: i.e. enlightened parents.

[1] Arendt 1964 in conversation with Joachim Fest: “What I meant to say was absolutely not: ‘Eichman is in all of us’, ‘each of us has an internal Eichmann’, or anything of this sort”. Siehe:http://www.hannaharendt.net/index.php/han/article/view/114/194, accessed on 13.1.2013.

[2] “No effective steps have been taken to prevent a repetition – potentially and in basic principle entirely possible – of an Auschwitz-like catastrophe.” (Zygmunt Bauman, Dialektik der Ordnung. Die Moderne und der Holocaust)

Egological Footprint

An answer to the question “Why, in times when total prevention of all natality has become a real material possibility, do human beings still bring other human beings into existence?”: “In order to be able to say that they have left a ‘footprint’ which will endure on this planet after their own demise!” Thus, we need to take into account, besides Man’s much-discussed “ecological footprint”, also his “egological footprint”. The ontology underlying this is, admittedly, a doubtful one since parents cannot, in fact, pass on their consciousness, their ego, to their progeny. Each one of us is, in his or her essence, that consciousness which is brought to realization by his or her brain. There can be no such thing, then, as self-procreation in the sense of a passing on to our progeny of our actual self. Contrary to what is insinuated by a well-loved superstition, nobody actually “lives on in their children”. What is passed on is merely the hereditary genetic material (nobody speaks of an “hereditary consciousness”), the so-called “genotype”, the inevitable inherent ills of which people prefer not to recall. For all that, though, it is indeed “a second edition of their own selves” (Dohm, Die Mütter, S. 169) that parents tend to want to experience through their children.

We recognize more and more an obligation to keep our “ecological footprint” as small as possible, so as not to impair more than is necessary the conditions of existence of the billions of human beings who share the earth with us. At the same time, however, little or no thought is given, in the relatively wealthy industrialized nations, to the fact that that “egological footprint” which we are encouraged, from every direction, to leave in as large a form as possible threatens to render obsolete all our ecologically-conscious action and forgoing of consumption. Because with each new citizen of this planet which we mortals set walking in our footsteps so as not to quickly vanish, without trace and unremembered, from the earth we also cause an incalculably long sequence of consuming generations to leave deep ecological footsteps in our stead.

Inverted biography

A further argument for antinatalism can be derived from the thought experiment of an inverted biography: When pronatalists are made aware of the decay and suffering of old age, they often reply that before physical and mental decay lies the time of childhood, youth and adulthood.

Even though most people seem to agree that the suffering of old age is unbearable, for most people old age is somehow always far away. Either old age has not come yet or old age is secluded behind thick walls. The defusing of the sufferings of old age on the grounds that they are far away is ethically unacceptable. For they do not become less horrible on the ground that one has to experience them only later in life.

What would happen if the sufferings of old age were to be sustained at the beginning of life? According to this thought experiment, children would then be born with disease symptoms corresponding to Parkinson’s disease, osteoarthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis or dementia, rheumatism, swallowing disorders, decubitus or high blood pressure. As the children grow older, the symptoms would gradually decrease. In such a world, the antinatalist moral theory would probably meet with more resonance than in our factual world. For the consequences of the suffering of most reproductions would be immediately visible and would thus be way more reproachable, whereas in our world they do only become apparent after decades – and often only when the causers of these sufferings (the parents) are no longer alive. Morally speaking though, the suffering at the end of life associated with typical diseases of old age is no less serious than the corresponding suffering at the beginning of life in the frame of this thought experiment. But old age is discriminated against – also ethically.

 

Sisyphus’s Revolt as the Ebbing Away of Humanity after the Withdrawal of Paradise

Had Camus enjoyed the benefit of the teachings of Henri Cazalis (1840–1909), or had Cioran been familiar with the arguments of this latter’s “Livre du néant”, both authors would perhaps have felt inclined to formulate more radical propositions than they did in fact formulate regarding the necessity of a metaphysical revolt of those “Sisyphus”es that we all in fact are.

On Cazalis’s diagnosis of our condition there remains, after the collapse of the paradisiac institutions of compensation, and after the falling of the religious veil, only the ebbing away of humanity, if modern Man is not to drag out his existence, and pass it on to others, as Sisyphusist: “The day will doubtless come when Man will no longer wish to procreate and propagate himself. And for what possible reason indeed, would he wish that?  To prolong this infernal comedy? To pursue these labours of Sisyphus on into eternity? To grub and dig forever in this filth and nothingness? Once, Man had God and the hope of a light-filled existence after death. But modern science proves to us that we are nothing but animals among all the other animals – with animal passions that we like to dress up with shining, dazzling lies; our “flashes of inspiration” are nothing more than neuroses; our prophets are madmen and our religions are mere figments of the imagination which were born of our own pitiful brains. The old veils have been lifted. In the end there is only the ignominious grave and nameless Death… And, all this being so, can it really be that there are still people who tranquilly go about eating, drinking, sleeping and procreating?”

Inversion of Gratitude

The notion “inversion of gratitude” evokes a change of mentality which is currently still only in its very earliest stages but in the course of which a hitherto general and normal gratitude toward one’s parents for having “allowed one to come into the enjoyment of existence” may change into an attitude of accusation vis-à-vis these parents for having forced one into this same existence that one had hitherto been pressured to construe as a “gift”.

Being Grateful

We should be grateful, so we are told, for every day of our lives which remains unblighted by some terrible catastrophe or serious illness. We are told the story of someone’s brother who nodded off for just a split second while he was driving and who is now a paraplegic who also has the deaths of two people who were in the car with him on his conscience; or of someone’s neighbour who invested all his savings in putting down a deposit to buy his own apartment but had no sooner done so than he fell ill with cancer and can now no longer even reach the fourth-storey apartment he sacrificed so much for because the lift in the apartment building is broken and the costs of its repair exceed the budget of the community association that administers it. Such configurations of circumstances are legion.

It is constantly demanded of us that we be grateful that we have hitherto been spared such personal disasters. But the general operativity in our consciousnesses of a àGenerative “Blind Spot” prevents our achieving insight into the fact that new human beings do not begin to exist as a result of a spontaneous and inevitable natural process but rather as a consequence of human decisions and acts and are thus deliberately rendered up to those disasters the provisional and uncertain absence of which from their lives they are supposed to be obliged to feel gratitude for. And a marked lack of empathy allows human beings to expose other human beings to all imaginable strokes of ill fortune in this way instead of taking steps to refrain from bringing these vulnerable human beings into existence.

Cynicism of the Dissociation from Existence

It is possible to imagine a world in which we would be born in a state of decrepitude and then, as we grew older and progressed toward the time of our death, became ever healthier. It is to be supposed that, were our lives to take such a course, our attachment to existence in the world would become stronger and stronger the older we got. In our actual world, however, the opposite is the case, as is well known and as is described by Justinus Kerner in the following poem:

“In the end God sends us suffering, / In order that the world, / When we must take our leave of it, / Does not hold us back so strongly.“

These lines bespeak the sheer cynicism that inheres in the bringing about, and in the praising, of our existence in a world like this one, in which the organisms that dwell in it become afflicted with sicknesses which serve to make it a little easier for us to let go of the will to go on living that is innate in us.

Deprivation of Existence

“Had I never come to be, I would have suffered from a deprivation of existence!” According to this mythologeme and pronatalistic theorem, which has exerted considerable effect in the modern age, a decision not to procreate leads necessarily to a “possible” human being, conceived of as a “self existing before the self’s conception” or as a “proto-self”, being denied their share in the joys of existence. One of the people responding to our àQuestionnaire gave the answer that, if he had never begun to exist, he would never have had the enjoyment of reading Baudelaire.

The concept of the deprivation of existence represents an expression of àGratitude to Parents, since parents are envisaged to be those who put an end to this condition as suffered by their children by allowing them, through an act of procreation, to come into the world.

The notion of deprivation of existence also comes into effect in cases where we say, for example, that someone was robbed or cheated of their life, or of some years of their life. It is true, indeed, that, if someone creeps up on me and shoots a bullet through my head, I cease thenceforth, forever, to exist. But it remains, nonetheless, untrue to say that I have been robbed or cheated of my life, or of that part of my life which I may still have had to live. Because any “I” who could possibly have been robbed or cheated of something in fact ceased, in the moment of that pistol-shot, to exist.  The person shooting me, then, did not take my life but simply took me out of a world which continued to existence without me. It is right to say that I, a living being, was removed from the world but not that “my” life was taken from me. A symmetrical situation obtains as regards existence’s beginning. When I began to exist, life was not “given to me”; I simply came to be added, as another living being, to a world which had already previously existed without me.

 

Use is made of this “argument from deprivation” by anyone who expresses or subscribes to the view that he, or someone else, would have been deprived of something, or would have had something withheld from them, if they had never begun to exist. One philosopher who propounds this “deprivation” thesis is R. N. Smart in his essay “Negative Utilitarianism”, where he writes: “… conscious existence is so remarkable in itself that it is wrong to deprive the unborn of the right to ‚drink in daylight’ (to use a colourful South Sea Pidgin expression). But the metaphysics of this feeling are odd.“ (cited from Akerma 2000, 227) The metaphysics laid claim to here by Smart, however, is not just “odd” but completely untenable, if it does indeed imply an existence preceding existence.

Antinatalism is the theory of the cultivation of the end of humanity

The core proposition of philosophical anthropology is the theorem that Man is, as it were, a cultural being by nature. The meaning conveyed by this paradoxical dictum is that however far back we trace the history of Man we at no point encounter human beings without some sort of culture and cannot, indeed, even conceive of the former without the latter. Palaeo-anthropology has discovered, wherever it has discovered any traces at all of our human ancestors, also traces of culture and cultural practices.

But if it is indeed the case that to think “Man” is at the same time necessarily to think “culture”, then it follows that Man must be conceived of as a cultural being throughout the entire duration, backward and forward, of his existence – that is to say, as a cultural being not just from the very start but also to the very end. And as such a “cultural being to the very end” it would be incumbent on Man not just passively to wait until Nature – in the form of material catastrophes, and finally and definitively of the expanding sun itself – puts an end to his existence as a species but rather to cultivate this end himself. Antinatalism is the theory of the cultivation of the end of humanity. If one refuses to pair with the theorem of Man as a cultural being by nature the statement that Man is also a cultural being to the very end, then one has thereby halved the cultivatedness of Man and made of him, after all, once again a half-natural being, that is, a natural being to the very end.

What we have said about this core proposition of philosophical anthropology applies all the more there where the natural and the cultural aspects of Man are most closely intermeshed with one another and where the facts of nature penetrate most deeply into our culture: namely, in the sphere of procreation. As the ambit of what is cultural in Man increases and our species takes a greater and greater distance from all that is natural both around us and in us, the begetting and birth of new human beings becomes less and less a casual and accidental matter and more and more a matter of conscious decision.  

Gehlen, Arnold (1904–1976)

Gehlens thesis that Man is a being “one of whose most important characteristics is that he must take up some stance with regard to his own self” (Der Mensch) has a dimension to it which was most likely not perceptible to Gehlen himself: no “stance taken up with regard to ourselves” – as a species – can be comprehensive unless we adopt the anthropofugal perspective or, in other words, unless we succeed in gaining a distance from our own selves sufficient for us to be able to raise the question of whether human beings should exist at all, thus “ethicizing” the blind process of Nature.  

Antinatalism Historically Informed

The antinatalism that we argue for is an historically informed one. Which is to say that we take seriously all of documented history up to the present day as our best informant regarding the àConditio in/humana. What has been passed down to us of human history hitherto does not, for us, provide any reasonable grounds for hoping that “humanity”, or even just the overwhelming majority of human beings, can look forward to a future governed and guided by the basic principles of justice, let alone to some future “golden age”. Since it is impossible to look into the future, let us confine ourselves to the past and the present and extrapolate from these latter: At the end of the 19th Century it was recognized that production and distribution techniques and technologies informed and guided by the natural sciences had developed to such a point that it was thenceforth, in principle, possible for the whole of humanity to lead a life of peace and happiness. The feasibility of all that had once seemed merely utopian was proclaimed and the inauguration of this age of realized utopias took the form of the establishment of ostensibly socialist – but in fact state capitalist – societies which took their own populations hostage in the name of the total happiness of some indeterminately located future, thus perverting that dream of a pacified and reconciled human existence that had seemed on the point of becoming a reality.

Not least among the reasons why the bold promises of the 19th Century and of earlier utopias have proven to be unrealizable is that that massively increased rate and scale of technological progress – upon which the idea of a pacified and satisfied age of Man was made to rest – is in fact causing all those sources of raw materials, without which these promises cannot be put into practice, to run out and dry up. Indeed, the waste products of this ever more rapid and massive technological progress are well on the way to undermining the very natural foundations of all plant, animal and human organisms on earth.  To say nothing of the fact that the much-celebrated (and indeed factually incontestable) progress in humanity’s powers and forces of production tends necessarily always to pave the way to the further development and sophistication of weapons and instruments of destruction – in those cases, indeed, in which the inventions and innovations that improve production and human welfare are not themselves side-products of the development of technologies of destruction.

The fundamental question of what valid reason there can be for perpetuating the human race was posed in the last century by a writer much renowned in his day but nowadays largely forgotten: Maurice Maeterlinck (1862–1949), winner of the 1911 Nobel Prize for Literature. He did so with reference to the work of another writer whose name has since sunk even further into obscurity than Maeterlinck’s own. In 1934 Maeterlinck wrote: “WHY, we may ask with Georges àPoulet in his unknown masterpiece Nothing Is…, why should there be prolonged the existence of a species whose development only increases its capacity for suffering?” (Maeterlinck, “Before the Great Silence” (1934))

A little later in the century the author Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902–1991) offered an especially concise and trenchant formulation of this same historically informed antinatalism in his story “The Letter Writer”: “The thought of raising children seemed absurd to him. Why prolong the human tragedy?” (The Letter Writer,)

Existential “Complaints” Department

An imaginary institution in which all those poets and thinkers who have defended the notion that some kind of anthropodicy legitimating human procreation can be formulated would work in shifts, publicly justifying, to those who come and lodge a complaint about the existence that has been forced upon them by their parents, the sorrows and sufferings imposed upon the former by the latter.   

Dante Transformation

With the phrase “Dante transformation” we allude to the insight expressed by Schopenhauer to the effect that the Hell described by Dante in the first book of his “Divine Comedy” is nothing more nor less than the life that we live here on earth. To undergo the “Dante Transformation” is to recognize that all children who are begotten are “begotten into Hell”, because Hell is nothing belonging to the “afterlife” but rather human life itself. Concomitantly with this “Dante Transformation”, then, there arises a need for an anthropodicy: if our life in this world is Hell parents are under a moral obligation to justify what they do when they bring children into it through procreation.

Authors such as Octave àMirbeau or Franz Kafka – whose “In the Penal Colony” may have been modelled on Mirbeau’s “The Garden of Tortures” – located Hell in corners of human life as it is actually lived, whereas Thomas àBernhard, holding more strictly to the original Schopenhauerian insight, considers this life as a whole to be Hell.

Damnator

We designate as “damnators” those bearers of science and culture who, although having proven themselves capable of humanistic reflection and having enjoyed the benefit of exposure to neganthropic ideas, continue nevertheless to urge, with a good conscience, that further human beings be rendered up into the grip of an uncertain destiny and an all too certain death. For so long as God was looked upon as a kind of “dictator of the world” (->Children of God) and before it became the general judgment that it is rather human beings that damn other human beings to human existence, it was indeed God, instead of the human ->Perpetrators of Existence, who was accused of being the “damnator” here. It is such an accusation that the Late Romantic poet Platen articulates, for example, in the lines in which he envisages human beings as “God’s convicts”:

„[…] O seek to sleep away each night / The pain and sorrow of each day; / For who can punish God, / For having damned and condemned us to be human beings!“ (Platen, Werke, Vol 1: Lyrik p. 69)

Rousseau (1712–1778)

A “damnator” of the very first rank is Rousseau who, on the one hand, meticulously lists all the sufferings that await each child brought into the world but, on the other, gives all responsibility for these sufferings to “Nature”:

“Fix your eyes on Nature, follow the path traced by her. She keeps children at work, she hardens them by all kinds of difficulties, she soon teaches them the meaning of pain and grief. They cut their teeth and are feverish. Sharp colics bring on convulsions. They are choked by fits of coughing and tormented by worms. Evil humours corrupt the blood, germs of various kinds ferment in it, causing dangerous eruptions. Sickness and danger play the chief part in infancy. One half of the children who are born die before their eighth year (…) This is Nature’s law. Why contradict it?” (Rousseau, Emile)

Parfit, Derek (1942–2017)

We also number among the “damnators” the renowned philosopher Derek Parfit who, in his compendious work “On What Matters“ from 2011 engages in some reflections on whether, and how, the continuation of human history can be justified in view of the course that this history has taken in the past. Even if the past, argues Parfit, must be judged, in its totality, to have been “bad” – by which he basically means a predominance, on balance, of human suffering over human happiness – one does not have the right to draw conclusions from this past about the likely quality of the future. Because the balance of suffering and happiness could shift quite significantly in this latter and the future thus prove to be much “better”, in general, than the past. Parfit goes so far as to imagine humanity in the shape of a single person and to ascribe to this personified “mankind” various phases of life. In terms of this allegory human history up to the present day would be an unhappy childhood which might, as often occurs in the life of real individuals, find more than adequate compensation in a later life that would prove, on balance, a happy and fulfilled one:

“Even if the past has been in itself bad, the future may be in itself good, and this goodness might outweigh the badness of the past. Human history would then be, on the whole, worth it. We could also truly claim that the past was worth it, not in itself, but as a necessary part of a greater good. On this view, the past would be like an unhappy childhood in some life that is on the whole worth living.“ (Parfit, On What Matters, Vol. 2, p. 612) But in this passage Parfit commits a category error which it is hard to believe a thinker of his brilliance was even capable of. He compares an in fact subjectless entity which has been constructed by conceptually aggregating many individuals (“mankind”) with the biography of an actual individual subject who might alone, in any real and valid sense, look back and judge that the sufferings undergone in earlier phases of his existence have become acceptable in light of all the happiness which later fell to his lot. We are fundamentally in disagreement with Parfit here, believing as we do that it is quite generally and universally wrong to act in such a way that a human being begins to exist who must necessarily undergo suffering.

The “damnatory” trait in Parfit’s thought becomes especially clearly visible where, failing entirely to take into account the suicide threshold he allows himself the following reflection: “Even if our children’s lives would be worse than nothing, they might decide to bear such burdens, as many people have earlier done, for the sake of helping to give humanity a good future. We could justifiably have children, letting them decide whether to act in this noble way, rather than making this decision on their behalf, by never having children.“ (Parfit, p. 615) Parfit’s attitude, clearly, is that moral attitude which was developed to terrible extremes in such cases as those of Stalin or Mao: he is prepared to approve as morally valid actions which will result in a miserable existence for certain human beings just as long as this misery can be justified by reference to a “glorious future” expected to be enjoyed by quite other human beings than these.

Bionomic Propositions

Bionomic propositions are formulations which thematize our pre-conscious determination to go on living, which tends to persist quite regardless of our will or freedom of choice. They shed a stark light on why, when we ask such questions as “Are you glad that you were born?”, we must always expect to receive pronatalistically distorted answers. From such bionomic propositions we can also clearly see why it is cynical to suggest to a refuser of existence: “Well, you should just kill yourself, then!” (->Suicide Cynicism):

 

Gandhi (1869–1948)

“Our body itself is so made that it makes us work for it, even if we are unwilling.“ (Works Vol.. 37, p. 329)

 

Bloch, Ernst (1885–1977)

“No one is alive because he wants to be. But once someone is alive, he has no choice but to want it.” (Naturrecht und menschliche Würde, p. 15) So as to avoid possible misunderstandings, let us reformulate this in the following way: “no one wanted to begin to live; but once one’s life has indeed begun, one finds oneself pushed and pressured to live on by both bodily organism and psyche – regardless of whether one wants to live on or not.”

Bloch’s bionomic proposition sheds a stark light on why, when we ask such questions as “Are you glad that you were born?”, we must always expect to receive pronatalistically distorted answers.

The bionomic proposition is contested by, for example, the considerations advanced by Hans Saners, for whom a real possibility of freedom is to be found in a supposed “ability to initiate” endowed upon us at and by our birth (see Saner, Geburt und Phantasie, p. 31). Saner, however, fails to take account here of what Bloch calls the freedom-negating claims of the organism.

Axiarchism and Kakonarchism

“Axiarchism” designates the notion, propounded by the Canadian philosopher John Leslie, that the universe exists because it is good that it exists, and that it is governed by good abstract values or ideals. On this account of things, the universe would exist by ethical necessity. But insofar as this can be said to be the case, there manifests itself also the bad side, the à”Unethics” of this so-called ethical necessity: millennia of devouring and being devoured, merely so that, with the beginning of human history, rational beings could start to hunt, make war on, and destroy one another?

One would have at least as much reason to propound, then, instead of a doctrine of axiarchism, one of kakonarchism, whereby the universe exists because it is bad that it exists, and whereby the abstract values that govern it are all bad values, or “anti-values”: misfortune, disaster, distress, harm, perdition, ruin, evil, detriment (these are all meanings of the ancient Greek term to kakón). In his essay “The Theory That the World Exists Because It Should” Leslie acknowledges this reservation at least so far as to say that he can fully comprehend the view of those who hold that the universe exists not because its existence is ethically required to exist but rather “because it is an ethical disaster.”[1]

[1] Leslie, The Theory That the World Exists Because It Should, in: American Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 7, Number 4, October 1970, p. 286–298, here: p. 292.

Conditio in/humana

That the phrase “conditio in/humana” is written as it is is meant to signify that the conditions of “being human” continue, in part, to be inhuman, that there is no “being human” that does not involve inhumanity, and that the persisting presence of human beings on earth is not imaginable without significant inhumanity. The expression “conditio in-/humana”, in other words, is intended to convey the fact that the repugnancies of existence are structural to this latter and not things that happen to befall this particular person or that, or that are tied to some specific political system. It is part of the “conditio in-/humana” that human beings, while being by their nature creatures that tend to gather in civilized societies and communities, remain nonetheless also natural beings, each with a body which is susceptible of feeling pain and of dying, and which is constantly exposed to the possibility of aggression and even (in the worst case) of torture from the side of others. Being regularly exposed to the aggressivity of other people is not a merely accidental feature of our condition or something linked to specific historical epochs alone; it is rather a component element of our very “being-in-the-world”.

A finely-differentiated categorization of the “conditio in/humana” is offered by Müller-Lyer in his “Sociology of Suffering“

An Antinatalist confession in Eugène Ionesco’s novel THE HERMIT

With THE HERMIT (1973), Eugène Ionesco (1909–1994) has presented a fascinating book in which the handed-down Gnostic world feeling at one point shades off into modern antinatalism.

THE GNOSTIC WORLD FEELING IN IONESCO’S THE HERMIT:
„I had been born bowed down with grief. The universe seemed to me a kind of enormous cage, or rather a big prison… There was a crowd of prisoners, and as far as I could tell most of them were unaware of their condition.“

Nietzsche (1844-1900) had famously questioned man’s ability to sympathize declaiming:
„Thus the value of life for ordinary, everyday man is based only on his taking himself to be more important than the world. The great lack of fantasy from which he suffers keeps him from being able to empathize with other beings, and he therefore participates in their vicissitudes and suffering as little as possible. On the other hand, whoever would be truly able to participate in it would have to despair about the value of life; if he were able to grasp and feel mankind’s overall consciousness in himself, he would collapse with a curse against existence–for mankind, as whole, has no goals and consequently, considering the whole affair, man cannot find his comfort and support in it, but rather his despair.“ (Nietzsche: Human, All Too Human)

The protagonist of the novel THE HERMIT is such a person who carries the world upon his shoulders:
“I had the feeling that I was bearing within me all the fear and anxiety of billions of human beings, the malaise of the entire human race.”

The protagonist is afflicted with a disease against which there is no cure: metaphysical anxiety:
“There have been billions of people born into this world, and each has been saddled with the universal anxiety. Each one, like Atlas, has had to support the full weight of the world as though he or she were all alone…”

Apart from metaphysical anxiety, however, Ionesco’s hero is knows the pain of birth and of dying behind and ahead of him:
“Born in horror and pain, I also live in horrible dread of the end, the exit. I’m caught in an incredible, inadmissible, infernal trap, between two frightful events.”

He also has gained insight into what one may call our bionomic base-stratum:
„We are acted upon; we do not act. I think I’m eating for myself. Actually, I’m eating out of my instinct for self-preservation. I think that I love and that I’m making love for myself, but I’m only obeying the laws which control me, I am simply acting to perpetuate the species.”

All these observations culminate in an antinatalist confession of the Protagonist:
„I ought to start a family. I should have children. Man is made to have children, and there is nothing cuter than little ones underfoot. And then / when they grow up and you grow old, they don’t abandon you to poverty; no, they reach out a helping hand when you need it the most. If there’s anything worse than living alone, it’s dying alone, with no one around to offer you a little milk of human kindness. I didn’t know what was in store for me.“
“The very idea of fathering Cain filled me with panic. What a stupid idea, I said to myself in my darker moments, wanting to start it all over again just when we’re almost at the end, when it’s so easy to have done with it.“

In spite of his clairvoyant insights into the condition inhumana Ionesco does not talk of parental guilt when it comes to answering the question of why there are so many people out there who feel ill at ease:
“I became aware of my malaise. It’s true, I said to myself, since the day I was born I’ve always been ill at ease, uncomfortable. Why?”
„And then all of a sudden, unexpectedly as it always is when it leaps upon me, suddenly the idea that I’m going to die. I shouldn’t be afraid of death, since I don’t know what death is, and besides, haven’t I said that I ought to give in and not fight it? To no avail. […] Each of the billions of people on the face of the earth is filled with such fear… / Why was that? What caused it?“

The answer to this question obviously resides in this observation: Because your parents acted in such a way that you began to exist.
Whereby, because of ever more antinatalist enlightenment, today’s parents load far more parental-guilt upon themselves than at the time of Ionesco.

Profession of Beliefs: Natal-Ethical Profession for Parents-To-Be

We want only what is good both for ourselves and for our child and it is a good thing to live and to participate in as many of life’s joys as possible; this, indeed, is why we conceived our child; it would be a bad thing not to live; nevertheless, we are aware, and are willing to live with the fact, that our child:

  1. will be born endowed with all those negative inclinations, capabilities, and needs that are so typical of our species, including those toward harming, killing (for example, in wars) or murdering, as well as inclinations to rapacity and envy;

  1. will be born and will become part of humanity, although the past has shown that anthropogenesis, as a way for the human species to form itself, has failed;

  1. will be delivered into the sway of a largely unmasterable bionomic, socionomic, and economic-political fate, as well as into that of natural events and occurrences, to which there necessarily belong every type of suffering as well as mortality in many forms which could befall him at any time;

3.1. will be compelled to engage, after years of having some useful skills drilled into him, in some forty years of almost daily drudgery in order to earn his living, with no certainty of being able to secure thereby a high standard of living;

3.2. will be exposed not only in periodically-recurring periods of economic crisis but indeed at any and every time to the possibility of no longer being able to earn by his labours enough to sustain the life that we are giving to him (i.e. the possibility of becoming “unemployed”);

3.3. will, even if he succeeds in maintaining for his own existence the quality of life that he wishes, necessarily thereby deprive other people of scarce resources necessary to their lives and will, by reason simply of his existence, his adaptedness to social reality, and his “going along” with the majority, contribute to degrading the quality of such indispensable resources as air and water;

3.4. will have no competent authority before whom he might claim his right to a good quality of life (assuming good health!) and to compensation for his sufferings;

  1. will possibly become the co-begetter of further generations of human beings suffering pain and inflicting pain on others in much the same way and degree;

  1. will have to experience, and psychologically and emotionally deal with, at some point in his life and perhaps while he is still a child (!) the deaths of his grandparents and his parents as well as those of numerous other relatives and friends, along with beloved pets;

  1. will, should he in fact not wish to accept this life that we have well-meaningly “gifted” him with, have no effective way of “giving this gift back” to us but will rather, at best, have the option only of “taking his own life” (taking it, as it were, from himself) with all the brutality and the possibly actually unforeseen and catastrophic outcome that this may involve;

  1. will, at least toward the end of his life – certainly for the duration of days or weeks but possibly during months or even years – have to suffer through torments that have been all too well and thoroughly documented.[1]

[1] The idea for this natal-ethical profession of beliefs comes from Guido Kohlbecher.

Annaba (alias Philippe Belotte, *1944) and his ANTIPROCREATIONISM

Already in 2008 the French journalist and author Annaba could look back on a forty-year career as an antinatalist thinker:

“For forty years now you’ve been laughing me to scorn / Over my antinatalist imprecations.“[1]

Like Kurnig before him, Annaba does not speak of “antinatalism” – which was to emerge as a philosophical notion only later by separating off from the “antinatalism” current in the theory of population – but rather uses the concept “antiprocreationism”.

The earliest of Annaba’s “imprecations upon procreation” that remain accessible to us are to be found in his “Cris, sans titre, sans musique, sans rien…” from the year 1973, from which we quote the following passages:

“Oh would that Humanity rebelled / Against the procreators!… / Instead, however / Humanity chooses to protect and cultivate / The crime of procreation!… / They speak of love / But it is the drive to procreate that speaks.“ (Annaba, CRIS, SANS TITRE, SANS MUSIQUE, SANS RIEN…9

In the following passage Annaba clearly states the shared complicity of all those who procreate in the perpetuation of suffering and misery:

“Only the person who procreates is responsible / for themselves / for society, / for Humanity and its crimes…“ 

[1] „Depuis quarante ans vous vous gaussez / De mes imprécations antiprocréationnistes.“ (Philippe Annaba, Proférations gnostiques)

Self-Aware Machines and Computers

Philanthropic antinatalists argue against bringing human beings into existence inasmuch as it is inevitable that these latter will suffer. If we knew with certainty that we would one day be able to call into existence computers possessed of consciousness and self-awareness, it would be morally incumbent upon us to refrain from doing so in the case where such machines would be expected to be capable also of experiencing suffering.

One voice which warned early on about the potential problem of machine consciousness was that of Samuel Butler. At the period when Butler published his ideas on “machine antinatalism” the steam engine was still the non plus ultra of human technical inventiveness. But Butler could already see a time approaching in which technical development would have progressed so far as to be able to bring forth self-aware machines. To make this thesis plausible for his contemporaries he pointed to the earth at that primeval period when it had been no more than a ball of boiling semi-liquid minerals whose crust was slowly beginning to cool and harden. Who would have imagined, looking at this red-hot, semi-liquid ball, that one day beings endowed with intelligence would walk about upon it? The fact, then – so argued Butler – that our machines currently have nothing resembling a self-awareness is no guarantee that this shall always remain the case. A mollusc has only the most basic rudiment of a “consciousness” and Nature required millions of years to develop human and animal consciousnesses in the full and specific sense of this term. How much more rapid, by comparison, has been the development of man-made machines which are, as it were, relatively speaking, a product of “the last five minutes” of the earth’s history. Is it not safer, then, asks Butler, in view of a future that may last many more millions of years, to nip the potential calamity of self-aware machinery in the bud and to take steps to prevent the emergence of any such thing as “machine consciousness”? Whereas, however, by Butler the potential calamity was seen to consist in self-aware machines gaining sway over those who designed and built them[1], our concern is a different one: namely, that it must be ensured that no electronic systems with mind-like properties are developed or allowed to arise until the possibility is absolutely excluded that such systems, like naturally living beings, might experience suffering.

[1] See Chapter 23 of Butler‘s Erewhon, Penguin Classics 1985, p. 198 ff .

Advanced Extra-Terrestrial Intelligences Who Will Have “Ebbed Away”

Our hope of receiving communications sent from outer space by extra-terrestrial intelligences must be a hope overshadowed by doubt just insofar as we conceive of these extra-terrestrial intelligences as truly advanced intelligences. This is so because any truly intellectually advanced beings that may have existed on distant planets will surely, from fear of falling back into some earlier, warlike phase of their existence still filled with pain and suffering, have long since ceased all procreation. Thus even if, due to the vast distances involved which ensure that signals sent out at the speed of light reach us only after the passing of millennia, we might still receive “messages” from such advanced intelligences, we can be almost sure that the beings who sent them have long since voluntarily “ebbed away”.   

[Excerpt from my book ANTINATALISMUS. Ein Handbuch, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

The Absent

Had the world taken a somewhat different course, and had some billions of people made other decisions, or similar decisions at some points earlier or later than they actually made them, billions of additional human beings might have come to exist, or billions of human beings different in key respects from those who actually entered into existence. These are “the absent ones”, “whose” non-existence, strangely, is regretted by no one. “Strangely”, because it is clear that most people would be inclined to reject any hypothetical alternative world-course in which they themselves would never have begun to exist.

[Excerpt from my book ANTINATALISMUS. Ein Handbuch, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

Enlightenment and Guilt

[Excerpt from my book ANTINATALISMUS. Ein Handbuch, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

With this our handbook on antinatalism we situate ourselves within the tradition of philosophical enlightenment. The handbook enlightens its readers by showing that the apparently “most normal thing in the world” – namely, that there are human beings and that these human beings are (re)produced – becomes, on closer examination, questionable. Because, in the last analysis, it is procreation which leads to ever more generations of human beings’ being placed before new problems as well as the ever-recurring old insoluble ones and the Conditio in/humana’s being perpetuated.

It would, of course, be all too easy to assign the guilt for all this misery to the parents of this world. At least in advanced industrialized societies parents mostly take the position of only wanting the best for their children. And this “wanting the best”, of course, is taken to include conceiving them in the first place. – What is not taken into account here is the onto-ethical fallacy that is committed when someone assumes that they are doing something good for a not-yet-existing person by bringing it about that they begin to exist.

Anti-natalists concede that there are indeed some good arguments for procreation that need to be considered: for example, the consideration that a sudden stoppage of births occurring simultaneously all over the world could – in contrast to a slow ebbing away of fertility – significantly lower the quality of life for all existing human beings. But at the same time anti-natalists are of the view that unconfessed selfish motives often underlie the wish for children and that the arguments against procreation far outweigh, on balance, those for it. Anti-natalists do not adopt, thereby, a hostile attitude to parents, or to people who want to become parents, but rather attempt, through argument, to convince them that it is better to bring no more children into the world.

Our category of Parental Guilt, then, does not concern, to an equal degree, all parents at all times but rather only applies in the full sense where parents – and most especially women – firstly enjoy a certain degree of self-determination regarding pregnancy and birth and secondly have been able to form some accurate idea of what is awaiting their children once they have given birth to them. A genuine parental guilt we ascribe only to fully reflective individuals living in the “Information Age” who make pro-natal decisions even in the face of doubts they may harbour, or who may even be familiar with the moral theory of antinatalism but opt nonetheless to engage in procreation. A good point of comparison here is ethical vegetarianism. Someone raised in a traditional society or in a generally carnivorous environment may never give a thought to the ethically unjustifiable consequences of meat-consumption. But once they have been made acquainted with the arguments for ethical vegetarianism, this same person will be acting, if they continue to consume meat, contrary to a better ethical insight which now lies fully within their reach. A similar line of reasoning applies in the case of procreation. People who have had an opportunity to consider the option of non-procreation, or who have somehow felt the necessity of doing so, or who have actually been made familiar with the moral theory of antinatalism, do indeed incur “parental guilt” in the case where, knowing better, they nonetheless persist in procreating.

Atroxology/Neganthropology

[Excerpt from my book ANTINATALISMUS. Ein Handbuch, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

The concept “atroxology” derives from the Latin term “atrocitas”, meaning “the horrible”, “the repellent”, “the hard to bear”.

The concept was coined by Karl Georg Zinn. In his book “Cannons and Plague. On the Origins of Modernity in the 14th and 15th Centuries”  Zinn uses the term “atroxic” to designate the intensity of destructive events and activity especially around the beginning of modernity in the 14th Century in connection with the invention and the first utilization of firearms and later, worldwide, in the course of the 20th Century. Zinn calls for the development of an “atroxology” as “the doctrine of destructive human action”. His own writings can be read as “an introduction to the atroxology of the 14th Century”. Zinn justifies his neologism “atroxic” by pointing out that the German language (in which he wrote his book) contains no word adequate to the naming and conceptualizing of “the temporal concentration and the extreme atrociousness and inhumanity of the orgy of destruction” in question (Zinn).

In terms of the conceptual apparatus of antinatalism Zinn’s atroxology would be classed as a neganthropology. Antinatalists make the case for an atroxology/neganthropology being made a compulsory component of all teaching of history in public educational institutions. Schoolchildren must be informed and enlightened regarding all the horrendous costs and losses which have hitherto inseparably accompanied our stubborn prolongation – from individual to individual and from generation to generation – of the experiment “Man”.  Enlightened polities require citizens informed enough to make mature decisions – i.e. citizens who have been familiar since their schooldays with just what it means to prolong for even a minute longer the experiment “Man”.

Anthropopath

[Excerpt from my book ANTINATALISMUS, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

Defender of the view that human beings should continue to exist as far into the future as possible, quite regardless of how good or bad the conditions of this existence have been, are, or will become.

Blind Spot, Thanatalistic

[Excerpt from my ANTINATALISMUS, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

Parents who deliberately bring about the birth of a child whose medical prognosis firmly states that it is bound not to live beyond seven weeks, or eight months, or nine years, are often condemned as lacking moral conscience. Parents, on the other hand, who act in such a way as to bring about the entry into existence of someone who, by biological certainty, will die only after seventy, eighty or ninety years are congratulated. But even the eighty-year-old human being is the child of specific parents. The illnesses he suffers and his death may even be more harrowing than the deaths of children who die at the age of a few weeks, months or years and of whom it is said that they had better never been born or conceived. Why, then, is no reproach ever made to the parents of these “children grown old”? Is it thought that the eighty-year-old “deserves” the sickness and death that he now suffers, because he has also experienced much that is good in life? Does it “serve him right” if he now “does penance” for this former happiness?

The fifty-four-year-old succumbing to a coronary; the ninety-year-old hit by a car because she is no longer nimble enough to get across the street in time – these are not nameless figures in middle or extreme old age but remain, rather, all their lives the children of specific parents. When a five- or a nine-year-old child dies the parents are mostly there to be seen; when an older or much older person dies, they are not. But in both cases the parents in question have condemned their children to death. This applies to the five-year-old who is certain, due to a genetic disposition, not to become much older but also, equally, to the ninety-year-old, in whose case it is the general biological make-up of the human species that ensures that he will not far surpass his present age.

That in the case of the death of older people the parents tend to become a àthanatalistic “blind spot” in this way follows, of course, essentially from the fact that these parents are mostly no longer alive. Their own demise – be it through accident, sickness or the simple biological limits of human life – has seemingly absolved them of all responsibility for the death of their children. Older people no longer have any parents who must witness the death of their own children. This leads us to mount a thought experiment. Let us imagine that medical progress one day secures for all human beings a lifespan of between 100 and 200 years, during the latter half of which they remain in a mental and physical state that we see in a still-robust seventy-year-old of the present day. Imagine also, however, that it would remain impossible to predict at what point in the additional century of life opened up to us by medical science a particular individual would die or enter into a condition of mental or bodily decrepitude. A consequence of this would be that countless aged parents would have to witness the sickness and death of their hardly less aged children. Millions of sprightly 170-year-olds would live lives relatively free of suffering, while their 140-year-old children would already be wasting away.

Whereas parents today can safely assume that they will most likely not have to be witnesses to the deaths of their children, this thought experiment opens up the prospect of a situation in which this would no longer be the case. Would this affect human beings’ generative behaviour? Let us draw an analogy. One argument for vegetarianism runs: most people would perhaps give up their consumption of meat if they were obliged themselves to kill the animals whose flesh they consume or even if they were forced just to watch the process of slaughtering performed by others in the slaughterhouses. Might a similar psychological mechanism be applicable in the case of procreation? Would human beings reconsider their progenerative decisions if they knew that there was a strong probability that they would live to witness the deaths of their own children?

In the world in which we actually live, however, the principle which applies is clearly rather that which we have called the principle of the “thanatalistic blind spot”. Borne up and supported in this by their own natural mortality, parents involuntarily render themselves oblivious to something that would perhaps, if there were any real likelihood that they would have to experience it, be so intolerable to them that they would not take the actions that bring it about: namely, the decrepitude and death of their own children.

Encompassing validity of antinatalism

Let us imagine that the world would be much better than it really is: people would not be afflicted by diseases, hunger and thirst. At the end of their lives they would pass away peacefully instead of dying horribly. Would this be a reason to reject the antinatalist moral theory? No. For the unpredictable but periodically recurring wars alone are reason enough not to act in such a way that new human beings begin to exist. Not to mention the conflicts on a social and individual level: the struggles for recognition and dignity, envy, resentment and harassment. Until anti-natalist moral theory loses its validity, one would have to conceive of man in a thought experiment in such a way that he is no longer is a human being.

 

Complicity and Antinatalism

We live in a complicit society. What does this mean? It means that the absolute majority of all consumers take neganthropic and neganimalic decisions that harm people and animals, even if there are good alternatives: We fly over a well-developed bus and train network instead of using bus and train. We drive the few hundred metres to the bakery by car instead of using our bicycles. Parents encourage their children to eat meat rather than explaining the ethical advantages of a vegetarian diet and setting an example. Parents celebrate when their children, who have just reached legal age, have passed the driving test. Instead of persuading them to protect the climate, they give their children money so that they can participate in the poisoning of the air we breathe as early as possible. We live in a complicit society because – in the information age – we are well informed about the consequences of our actions. If this is taken into account, it is clear that antinatalist moral theory has a pretty bad hand. Antinatist moral theory argues that life and death are unacceptable. The notion of the complicit society now points out that parents seem to have no problem leaving their children a destroyed and run-down world and encouraging their own offspring to destroy our environment. To the extent that this is the case, parents will also have no difficulty in exposing their children to the intolerability of existence by producing them. Which does not bode well for the ethical aspirations of antinatalism.

 

Antinatalism (continued)

[Excerpt from my ANTINATALISMUS, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

Antinatalism, Cosmic

The cosmic antinatalist reckons with the possibility – a terrible one from his or her viewpoint – that sentient or even intelligent beings might have come into existence also on other planets. Such cosmic antinatalists dearly hope, of course, that this is not the case and that sentient or intelligent entities have not in fact arisen on any planet but our own. Each new discovery, therefore, of a planet on which there exist conditions similar to those on Earth causes a quiver of apprehension in these antinatalists, since any one of these new worlds might prove to be inhabited by beings capable of suffering.

 

Antinatalism, Misanthropic

Can there be such a thing as misanthropic antinatalism? We read in Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals: “The man who feels happy only when others are suffering is called a ‘hater of Man’ (or ‘misanthrope’); the man to whom it is a matter of indifference how badly or how well others are doing, provided only that he himself is content, is called an egomaniac (or ‘solipsist’)”. If the misanthrope feels happy only when others are suffering then the misanthrope cannot possibly wish that these others should cease to exist. With the ebbing away of humanity the ills that beset humanity would likewise be constantly on the ebb and misanthropes would find less and less occasion to be happy.

 

Antinatalism, Ecological

One essential reason why an end should be put to the bringing into existence of new human beings is that human beings the primary guilty parties are in such things as: the extinction of other species, the mass slaughter of animals, and the destruction of eco-systems. Many people are already aware that there are very few decisions that an individual can take which will so help to spare the world’s natural resources and make such an important contribution to the protection of the environment as will the decision not to procreate.[1] This was surely the basic meaning of the Dalai Lama’s remark: “I have said that I sometimes feel that the Earth would be better off without humanity”  (The Dalai Lama’s Appeal to the World)

Ecological antinatalism can be divided up into at least three sub-types: a suffering-oriented (pathocentric) type, a value-oriented type and a teleological type.

The position of suffering-oriented ecological antinatalism is that human beings should cease to procreate because other animals undergo unspeakable suffering at the hands of human beings.

That of value-oriented ecological antinatalism is that humanity needs to ebb away because the role of Man in the world is inevitably that of a destroyer of values, human beings tending to cause the extinction of animal species or the destruction of ecosystems.

Finally, that of teleological ecological antinatalism is that there are certain ends or purposes inherent in plants, animals, species and ecosystems which, as a result of human presence and intervention in the world, are failing to achieve development.

[1] „Some people now feel that remaining childless, or adopting, is the single most effective environmental decision they can ever make.“ (Leo Hickman, A life stripped bare)

Antinatalism (continued)

[Excerpt from my ANTINATALISMUS, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

Antinatalism, Dysteleological or Nihilistic

A distinction must be drawn between, on the one hand, a teleological ecological antinatalism (the actions and the very presence of Man lead to the decline and the destruction of seemingly teleologically-structured eco-systems) and, on the other, a genuinely dysteleological antinatalism. According to the latter an end would need to be put to procreation because the existence of each individual, as well as of the species as a whole, is without sense or purpose. Such a dysteleological antinatalism is a position one might have expected to see propounded, for example, by writers and philosophers of “the absurd” like Albert Camus. No really substantial moves, however, were in fact made in this direction by these writers.

Antinatalism, Fundamentalist

Every discomfort, however minor and momentary, that is experienced by a living being is more than such a living being can reasonably be expected to accept and to live with; and every life, however rich and pleasant, must necessarily contain such moments of discomfort; every life, therefore, is, in its essence, bad and it is morally incumbent on us to call none into existence.

 

Antinatalism, Theolatric

For Philipp Mainländer the created cosmos is a roundabout path that God was obliged to take in order to reach his actual goal: non-being. On this account, human beings who refrain from procreation would be practicing a form of theolatry or “service to God”, since they hasten thereby the achievement of the end-goal of a cosmic process conceived of as culminating in the non-being of God.[1]

 

Antinatalism Hedonistic

“Hedonistic antinatalism” advances a view whereby procreation is to be forgone not in view of the inevitable suffering that will be undergone by the children thereby brought into the world but rather in view of the numerous hardships that parenthood can involve for parents themselves. An example of a work advancing this position is Corinne Maier’s 2007 book “NO KID. 40 Reasons Not to Have Children“, which stood at the top of the best-seller lists in France for many weeks. Its arguments can be said to be prefigured in Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata. Maier, however, does not develop the logic of these arguments to the point of a general reflection on whether it might not be morally requisite to raise the suggested injunction on procreation to the status of a universal commandment (i.e. that of promoting the extinction of the human race).

 

Antinatalism, Historically-Biographically Informed

Historically-biographically informed antinatalism extrapolates from history as we have hitherto known it, and from the individual biographies which make it up, to form an idea of the likely future and concludes that the catastrophes, both for the species and for the individuals who compose it, which this idea leads us to expect  are such that we cannot reasonably be expected to want to live with them.

[1] For more details here see Akerma, The Ebbing Away of Humanity (2000), Chapter 12: Mainländer: Ebbing Away as Service to God.

Antinatalism

[Excerpt from my ANTINATALISMUS, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

Antinatalism

This is the place to take a closer and more detailed look at the title of the present handbook. On close examination we must recognize that what the antinatalist wishes to bring to expression is in fact something rather different from that which the term “antinatalism”, strictly and narrowly construed, conveys. This strict and narrow sense of the term “antinatalism” is, of course: “against birth”. But human beings who are born exist already previously, as the unborn. It would, then, be more correct to say that what the antinatalist aspires to is, first and foremost, that no more human beings should begin to exist. An internal differentiation of the notion “antinatalism”, then, yields, at the very least, the following forms of this latter:

 

Antinatalism, Anthropocentric

Anthropocentric antinatalism is concerned solely with the “ebbing away” of the human species, whereas àUniversal Antinatalism focusses on the question of how to prevent the coming into existence of all beings, of any species whatsoever, who are capable of pain and suffering. Anthropocentric antinatalists make the argument that animals are beings incapable of granting their consent, for which reason, they say, it cannot be morally permissible to sterilize entire animal species.

Antinatalism as Demographic Policy (Denatalism)

Before “antinatalism” and “pronatalism” came to be adopted as designations of moral-theoretical stances, they were part of the vocabulary of political demographics, with a demographic policy aimed at restricting the birth-rate being called “antinatalist” and one aimed at increasing it being called “pronatalist”. The principal difference between demographic and moral-theoretical antinatalism consists in the fact that the former does not aim at bringing about the actual extinction of a state’s population, let alone that of humanity in general, but only at a more or less substantial reduction in the birth-rate (so-called “denatalism”); the moral-theoretical antinatalism endorsed by the author of the present handbook, however, does indeed make the case for consciously and deliberately bringing about the extinction of the entire human race.

 

Antinatalism, Christian-Theological

An example of antinatalism “wearing the mask of theology” is provided by Johann Friedrich Weitenkampf’s 1754 book Lehrgebäude vom Untergang der Erde. Weitenkampf explores here the question – all too justified a one, given Christian presuppositions – of how it is conceivable that God should want to annihilate, in a great apocalypse, the world He created after allowing it to endure for just the short span of a few millennia. The astounding answer given by Weitenkampf to this question runs: God will not annihilate the material world entirely; He will “only” see to it that the earth is transformed in such a way that human beings can no longer procreate upon it. In this way Weitenkampf constructs a theodicy such that the benevolent Creator is absolved of the charge of having planned from the beginning the destruction of his own world. The argument serves also to acquit this supposedly benevolent Creator of the accusation of another type of cruelty: namely, that of allowing and even wanting the number of damned souls to grow so great “as to surpass all human reason…” (quoted from: Blumenberg, Selbsterhaltung und Beharrung, p. 194) Since the majority of human beings are predestined to suffer eternal damnation in Hell (Massa damnata) and “since, furthermore, no hope exists that the human race will ever change” (l.c. p. 195), it is, claims Weitenkampf, to be expected that God, out of pity for the yet unborn, will limit the number of the damned in bringing about sooner rather than later this non-annihilatory “Last Judgment” which will ensure that human procreation will no longer be possible in His created world (for further details see Blumenberg, Selbsterhaltung und Beharrung, S. 194ff). This Christian-theological antinatalism that we encounter in Weitenkampf’s work can easily be transposed into a secular form: since there is little hope that human history will ever take a course very different from the terrible course that it has hitherto taken, it would be cruel to continue to beget human beings and thereby increase beyond all limits the number of those who have suffered.

Anthropodicy

[Excerpt from my ANTINATALISMUS, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

The question as to an “anthropodicy” is the question as to how past, present and future suffering is to be justified given the fact there is no absolute necessity that human beings should exist at all, since it is possible in principle that each one of us simply forgo begetting progeny.

By ridding itself of the notion of God, the modern forma mentis might have seemed to successfully rid itself also of the question of how the suffering of the world is to be justified. Whereas the thought of the pre-modern era had expended a large part of its energy on this question of why a benevolent and all-powerful Creator, omniscient and omnipotent even over future events, would possibly allow his creatures to undergo so much pain and misery, this question was not so much answered as dismissed and dissolved by modern science and modern thinking with the blunt observation: there is no God. God, in other words, has gradually been pushed, in the modern era, out of every sphere and aspect of the world that can really concern us, surviving at best as some featureless and characterless force extrapolated backward from the Big Bang.

Without God, clearly, one needs no theodicy. That is to say, there is no longer any point in enquiring into such matters as why God has permitted so much suffering or whether – if the creation of no other world than this deeply imperfect one were possible – He would have done better to forgo Creation of world and Man altogether.

But modernity rid itself of the desire for a theodicy without seeing that, by doing this, it burdened itself with the obligation to provide an anthropodicy in this latter’s stead. This anthropodicy takes the form of the parallel but modified question: how can it be justified, in the face of so much suffering undergone in the past, being experienced in the present, and to be expected in the future, that human beings beget more human beings?

 

The Pre-Modern “World-Riddle”:

If the all-powerful Creator of the world is indeed both good and all-powerful, why does He allow His creatures to sufferRead More »

The Aim of Natal Enlightenment: Subjectivization of Objective Complicity

[Excerpt from my ANTINATALISMUS, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

Without knowing what they are doing, and partly even with the best intentions, human beings who persist in their pro-natal decisions make themselves complicit in laying the basis of future calamity. And even when they do know, at bottom, what they are doing they succeed in blocking this insight out – at least temporarily. We speak, therefore, of an objective complicity of all parents. Natal enlightenment consists, in the last analysis, in a subjectivization of this objective complicity.

Dealing With the State of Being Alone

[Excerpt from my ANTINATALISMUS, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

Among the reasons motivating acts of procreation there surely counts the need to somehow deal with the state of being alone. So as not to remain alone in the world (be it radically alone as a single individual or “alone together” as a couple) one acts in such a way that a new human being begins to exist – while knowing, indeed, that this new human being will now be threatened, in his or her turn, by this same state of aloneness. It is this paradox, and this moral inconsistency, that is expressed by Thomas Bernhard, in his novel “Frost” through the following formula: “To beget, because one wants no longer to be alone, another aloneness; this is criminal.”

Adorno and Antinatalism

[Excerpt from my ANTINATALISMUS, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

As a theoretician of systematic structures of collective self-delusion, and of the historical failure of the human civilizational project, Adorno often expounds positions which approximate to those of antinatalism without ever fully adopting this latter philosophical stance as his own.

 

Adorno’s Blindness to the Truth of Antinatalism and His Complicity in the Calamity of a Persisting Human Race

There is hardly any other philosophical critic of existing human society whose diagnosis lies so close to antinatalism as does that developed by Adorno. And yet Adorno shows no compunction at all about brushing antinatalism dismissively from the philosophical agenda. He proves himself here to be a willing victim of that very structure of collective self-delusion that he devotes his work to condemning. He adopts as his own (as with the image of the dog’s happily wagging its tail in the following passage from his philosophical magnum opus) the vocabulary of this collective delusional structure and thereby renders himself complicit in the calamity which he himself declares to be rapidly approaching:

“To those who cannot rest content with mere despair it seems legitimate to ask whether it would be better that nothing exist at all. But this question too is insusceptible of any answer valid for all cases. Of a person in a concentration camp it may indeed be said – assuming that someone who was lucky enough to escape this fate has a right to pass judgment here at all – that it would have been better for them never to have been born. But this notion of a saving nothingness evaporates, nonetheless, in the face of every glimmer of joy or hope that lights up the eye of any creature, indeed even in the face of the faint strumming of a dog’s tail as he enjoys some tasty morsel that he will have forgotten a moment after having eaten it.” (Negative Dialectics)

Perhaps Adorno’s blindness to the force of antinatalist arguments can be explained by the fact that he tended to reject any notion which seemed to imply that the negation of the negative would suffice, already in itself, to establish the positive (see Adorno, Metaphysik) This would imply, in turn, his refusing to see anything positive even in his own “new categorical imperative” of “arranging our thoughts and actions in such a way that Auschwitz can never be repeated” if such a rendering impossible of Auschwitz proved only to be a stage on the road to the vanishing of mankind in general.– And this, in its own turn, could mean that he – contrary to all that he otherwise taught – secretly wanted to hold fast to the petitio principii that the existence of humanity is an unquestionably positive thing in itself.

 

Minima Antinatalia

In his “Social Theory and the Critique of Culture” Adorno plainly assumes the production of further human beings after Auschwitz to be a “given” beyond all philosophical question, while at the same time famously calling into radical moral question the production of further works of art: “to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric…” (“Social Theory and the Critique of Culture”) This is a statement that he revises in his philosophical magnum opus, the Negative Dialectics, where he places in question, indeed, the very moral right to life of those, like himself, who barely escaped sharing the fate of the tormented and annihilated but continues to leave unquestioned the production of further human beings: “Continuing life has as much right to self-expression as has the tortured man to scream; therefore, it may have been wrong to say that, after Auschwitz, poetry no longer has a right to exist. It is not wrong, however, to pose the no less cultural question of whether, after Auschwitz, one has a moral right to go on living at all, and specifically whether someone has this right who escaped the camps only by chance and ought really to have suffered and died there with all the millions of others.” (Negative Dialectics) For all its vaunted mindfulness of the defining, irrecuperable calamity of Auschwitz, Adorno’s philosophy hesitates and holds back before a full-blown antinatalism.

Besides flight into the aesthetic realm as a realm whose logic is uncoupled from that of the commodified social universe, another strategy that Adorno acknowledges for the subject’s survival in the “false whole” is eccentricity. Whereas for Helmuth Plessner Man is an eccentric being by definition, Adorno sees the eccentric in sociological terms, as the type of the résistant;

“What would a happiness be that were not measured in terms of the immeasurable sorrow of what is? Because the way of the world is ruined and disrupted. Whoever takes care to adjust and adapt himself to this latter becomes thereby complicit in the madness, while the eccentric alone resists it and puts a temporary halt to the folly.” (Minima Moralia, aphorism 128) By this logic parents would need to cherish the hope, at least, that their child will grow up to be an eccentric. But did Adorno consider the immense cost in suffering involved in any such following of an “eccentric” path in life? Blindness to the force of antinatalist arguments is in fact the true failing of Critical Theory as a whole – a failing which became all the more marked once the Frankfurt School tradition had cast off its initial revolutionary impetus.

 

The Shaming of Old Age

[Excerpt from my ANTINATALISMUS, translated into English by Dr Alexander Reynolds]

The Shaming of Old Age

It is an aspect of the Conditio in/humana that almost all historically existing societies – our own present-day society not excluded – have given their older members to understand that they are surplus to requirements. Unlike that sense of “guilt” over having been born at all, which is surely felt by only a very few human beings, the shame at having grown old is surely a widely shared one, among women even more than among men, so that Hedwig Dohm was able to note in 1903:

“There are such things as tombs for those who are still alive: lingering illness, or sorrow beyond all healing. For women, old age itself is such a tomb. They are sealed up in it long before their actual death.”

“Poor old woman! It is as if you need to be ashamed that, old and useless as you have become, you still linger on in life. Old age weighs on you like some wrong you have committed, as if, simply by existing, you are usurping a place that rightly belongs to others.” (Hedwig Dohm, The Mothers)

Shockingly, this sentiment that the old commit a sin simply by persisting in existing finds support in the words of a writer renowned as an ethicist, the famous Hans Jonas. “The dying-off of the old makes room for the young” – with this brutal enunciation that cleaves slavishly to the logic of biology as if it were the arbiter of all morality (to be found in the essay “Mortality: Burden and Blessing” in Jonas’s “Philosophical Investigations” the great “ethicist” lends a hand to the project of inculcating into our older fellow citizens a bad conscience over still being in the world at all when they have long since become, from the biological viewpoint, “surplus to requirements”. Jonas decidedly did not suffer from. But he exhorts us nonetheless to act in such a way as to allow ever more human individuals to enter into existence in this world (a world in which, in his own view, suffering outweighs happiness) while at the same time he crudely exhorts these same individuals, once they have grown old, to see as soon as possible to their own abolishment.  This ethical betrayal of the old corresponds to his example par excellence of an ontic given-ness of human need: it is, for Jonas, the needy babe in arms – and not, for example, the no less needy aged man or woman – whose very being implies a certain moral duty and thereby bridges the divide between “is” and “ought”.

Up and down the ladder

Parents do everything they possibly can in order to get their children up the ladder. At the same time they do everything they can to mask out the fact that they have sent a human being downhill.

’tis early practice only makes a master!

Visited a relative the other day. She lives in a dementia community. An infant was also present. Someone’s grandson. He unerringly approached a rollator and held on to the handles. I said to the boy’s father: ’tis early practice only makes a master! The laughter got stuck in his throat.

Will he proceed acting in such a way that a second child will begin to exist?

Pollyanna in Top Shape

Should you feel like listening to my latest antinatalist song, here you are:

Pollyanna in Top Shape (Blind People Can See)

The lyrics:

You say blind people can     see

You can turn red lights to   green

You say that we learn from pain

I know that some fish can   fly

How                dare you         say:

It’s                   all child’s        play 

Some people love to conceal

The dark side of life which is real

Someone who’s deaf will not hear

The stagings of William Shakespeare

How dare you say:

It’s all child’s play 

You say when children do cry

This is something quite all right

You say old people just fade

I know what dying is about

Why do you deny?

How do you reply?

I’m not a merchant of doom

What about neighbours’ gun rooms?

You see through rose coloured glass

Beware of the snake in the grass

Why are you so shy?

In my mind’s eye 

You’re like Pollyanna in top shape

Reposing in blooming landscapes

Your glass is always half-full

You’re never anti-natal

How dare you say:

It’s all child’s play

You say I’m just chemistry

You claim it’s all entropy

Dub our feelings electric smog

There be no real dialogues 

Why are you so shy?

In my mind’s eye 

You say that love’s just a spark

Evoked by minor down quarks

Sympathy’s no real thing

Even so you’ll have offspring 

Why are you so shy?

In my mind’s eye

You say there is no free will

All bound by mechanical

Process reaction and stuff

So your mind, too, is hand-cuffed?

More Zapffe (Norwegian-English)

Antinatalisms in Zapffe’s book OM DET TRAGISKE (About the tragic):
‘You got me. But my son you will not get. You were committing a fateful mistake when assigning even procreation to my will. And you did not do this out of love…, but rather to burden me with the heaviest of all responsibilities…: Am I to perpetuate this species or not? And from now on I will ask no longer what you want; rather you shall ask what I want. And I will no longer offer further sacrifices to the God of life. I will punish you with the ability you bequeathed to me in order to torment me; I will turn my clairvoyance against you and thus bereaving you of your victims. And the abused millions will stand behind me like a plough… And evermore will two people create one human being… Thus you will feel your powerlessness begging me on thy bloody knees.’
[“Mig fik du, men min søn skal du ikke faa! En skjæbnesvanger feil begik du, dengang du agsaa la avlen ind under min vilje. Og ikke av kjærlighet gjorde du det, men for at jeg skulde møte dette værste av alle konkrete ansvar…: Skal jeg føre denne slegt videre eller skal jeg ikke? Og nu spør jeg ikke længer hvad du vil, men du skal spørge havd jeg vil, og jeg vil ikke mere ofre til livets gud. Jeg skal ramme dig med den evne som du frigav for at pine mig, jeg skal bruke min indsigt imot dig og berøve / dig dit bytte. Og de misbrukte millioner skal staa bak mig som en plog… Og altid skal to avle én… Da skal du kjende din avmagt og tigge mig, mennesket, paa dine blodige knær.“ (Om det tragiske, p. 239f)]

‘I will have to desist from the creation of new holders of interest. This decision would initialise a terminal epoch in the development of humankind; […] This renouncement, this refusal of a continuation represents the utmost cultural possibility of mankind.’
[„Jeg maa undlate aa skape nye interessebærere. Beslutningen vil danne en avsluttende epoke i menneskeslegtens utvikling […] I denne forsagelse, dette nei til fortsættelsen, ligger menneskeformens ytterste kulturelle mulighed.“(Zapffe, Om det tragiske, Pax Forlag 1996, S. 402)]

 

In an interview with the newspaper Aftenposten in 1959 Zapffe says:
“Above all, we must give ethical relevance to the issue of procreation. Before you give a beggar a coin, you will turn it twice carefull considering the case. A child, by contrast, is thrown into the cosmic grossness without hesitation.”
[„Fremfor alt må vi gjøre forplantningsspørsmålet etisk relevant. Man endevender en mynt under valgets kvide, før man gir den til tiggeren. Men et barn slænger man ut i den kosmiske råskap uten å blunke.“]

In the interview from 1959 – as opposed to his Om det tragiske, where each couple was supposed to have only one child – Zapffe does here suggest a two-child policy:
“The sooner man dares to put himself into a harmonious relationship with his biological conditions, the better. And this means to withdraw voluntarily, in protest against his conditions of life in this world; similar to other species of animals in need of warmth, that went extinct when the temperature dropped. The moral climate of the universe is effectively unbearable for us, and the withdrawal can be carried out painlessly through the two-child norm. Instead, we disseminate, appearing as conquerors everywhere since extreme hardship taught us to suppress the formula in our hearts. Perhaps most inappropriately, this hardening is reflected in the thesis that the individual has the “duty” to endure nameless suffering and a horrible death inasmuch as this saves or favours the rest of the group to which the person belongs.”
[„Jo snarere menneskeslekten våger å harmonere med sine biologiske forutsætninger, des bedre. Og det er å trække sig frivillig tilbake, av ringeakt for sine vilkår i verden, likesom varmehungrende dyrearter døde ut da temperaturen sank. Det er altets moralske klima vi egentlig ikke kan tåle, og avviklingen kan ske smertefritt gjennem to-barns-normen. Isteden utbreder vi oss og seirer overalt, fordi vi av nøden har lært å lemlæste formelen i vore hjerter. Det urimeligste utslag av denne styrkende forgrovning har vi kanske i tesen om, at den enkelte har “plikt” til å bære navnløse lidelser og den værste død, dersom det redder eller gavner resten av den gruppe han tilhører.“]

In an interview in 1984 Zapffe emphasizes the aspect of procreative irresponsibility:
“To have children, to let a fate come into existence – perhaps a whole series of fates without any limitation in time – is a project so heavily burdened with inevitable evils and enormous risks (physically and psychologically) that potential parents endowed with a fully developed sense of responsibility will tend towards passivity or show themselves incapable of acting. Especially at a time when immense threats close off the horizon silencing the yes to life.”
[
„…å avle barn, å starte en skjæbne, evt. en vifte av skjæbner uten begrænsning i tid – er et foretagande så ladet med både sikre onder og svimlende risker – fysisk, psykisk og sjælelig sett – att potensielle forældre med moden ansvarsbevissthet vil være disponert for passivitet eller handlingslammelse på dette punkt, især i en tid som vor, der overvældende truende aspekter fylder horizonten og lammer vort Ja til livet.“ (Zapffe in an interview with Geir  T.H. Eriksen, in: Gateavisa N° 102 (7/84), page 29–31, here: p. 30)]

In a late interview in 1989/1989 Zapffe confesses a rigorous no to life:
“From the no to life immediately follows that one stops procreation. I do not want to participate in the creation of new life.”
[
“Den givende handling som følger av et nei til livet, det er jo at man innstiller barneforplantningen. Jeg vil ikke være med på å skape nytt liv.“ (Zapffe in an interview with Av Bo Viuf, see: http://www.oslo.net/historie/MB/utg/9601/perspekt/1.html, visited on 14.9.2014)]

[Translated from Norwegian into English by Karim Akerma. The newspaper articles have kindly been made available to me by Andreas Moss]

 

Zapffe in translation

In his vast magnum opus OM DET TRAGISKE Zapffe describes man’s being as structurally and indissolubly tragic. In spite of this, man is capable of revolting against what nature and life have forced upon him. Here, Zapffe expresses this in poetic language:

‘You got me. But my son you will not get. You were committing a fateful mistake when assigning even procreation to my will. And you did not do this out of love…, but rather to burden me with the heaviest of all responsibilities…: Am I to perpetuate this species or not? And from now on I will ask no longer what you want; rather you shall ask what I want. And I will no longer offer further sacrifices to the God of life. I will punish you with the ability you bequeathed to me in order to torment me; I will turn my clairvoyance against you and thus bereaving you of your victims. And the abused millions will stand behind me like a plough… And evermore will two people create one human being… Thus you will feel your powerlessness begging me on your bloody knees.’

The existential dilemma of a self-conscious being that has been released from nature – equipped with a deeply felt need for meaning – can only be solved by the abstention from procreation:

‘I will have to desist from the creation of new holders of interest. This decision would initialise a terminal epoch in the development of humankind; […] This renouncement, this refusal of a continuation represents the utmost cultural possibility of mankind.’

[Translator’s note: As you may have noticed English is not my first language, and I may improve my translation eventually. I read Zapffe’s book OM DET TRAGISKE in the Norwegian original when writing my ANTINATALISMUS. There are quite a few people in the antanatalist community suggesting an English translation of Zapffe’s large book. With the above translated excerpts I try to make accessible for English readers what are –according to my reading experience – the most explicit antinatalist passages in Zapffe’s book]

An antinatal improvement paradox

Imagine a world with an ever diminishing number of sentient beings. In most antinatal settings such a world would become increasingly better. This is the case if we leave out of account such settings under which the suffering of the remaining sentient beings increases geometrically along with the diminishing number of sentient beings (due to diminishing mutual aid when there are only few humans left, this under the improbable premise that a human will be the last sentient being).

At some point in time this world will be inhabited by only one being capable of negative sentience – the famous ‘last of the race’. Such a world we would label as extremely good compared to a world inhabited by billions of beings capable of negative sentience.

Let us have a closer look though at how we are to evaluate this world with the demise of the last sentient being. No negativity whatsoever will be experienced in this world after the last death has taken place. Has this world become the best of all possible worlds under antinatal auspices? At first glance we’re inclined to saying yes. At the same time, however, rather than the best of all possible worlds, this world would have become ethically neutral in an antinatal setting (and not only within the framework of antinatalist moral theory but according to any ethics impregnated by utilitarian thoughts). Even though such a fictitious world would be open to esthetical evaluation, the raison d’être for ethical evaluation would have vanished with the last being capable of negative sentience.

An apparent solution to the antinatalist-improvement paradox would be pointing out to other inhabited worlds: With the demise of the last sentient being on our planet the universe would with all probability have become better since we have good reason to assume that there are many other planets inhabited by sentient beings capable of negative experiences. However, reading the term “world” as “planet” does not help much further if we proceed to interpreting “world” as the sum of all sentient beings in the universe: With the demise of the last sentient being the universe wouldn’t have become ethically the best of all possible worlds but ethically neutral. Still we seem entitled to say that such an ethically neutral world is better than a world inhabited by beings capable of negative experiences.

What about a UNIVERSE A inhabited by beings capable solely of positive experiences? Is such a world better than an ethically neutral UNIVERSE B void of all sentience? From the point of view of an IMPOSSIBLE OBSERVER (since self-refuting) of UNIVERSE B it is not the case that UNIVERSE A is to be deemed better – since there can be no motivation to create positively sentient beings for their own sake.

‘Paternalistic’ antinatalism

There was NOBODY there of whom it could be said that she/he was forced into existence – and thus harmed – when future parents procreated and a new human began to exist.

Once the new human exists, though, we are entitled to say  that the human being in question didn’t have the liberty (and couldn’t have had the liberty) to refuse the beginning of its existence. Persons can accept their existence when it would be too late to reject it. They can only reject their existence when it’s too late. This is where antinatalism comes into play as a kind of paternalistic moral theory. Among other things antinatalism takes very serious the chance – and enlightens about the fact – that a new person might reject her very existence.

 

Born without consent (Holbach)

In his System of Nature  we find Baron Paul d’Holbach (1723-1789) claiming in proto-antinatalist  fashion (he didn’t defend antinatalism) that

“[man] is born without his own consent.”

Let’s have a closer look at this: There was NOBODY there to either accept or refuse her own beginning. There wasn’t even SOMEBODY out there on whose behalf we could have been in favour of or against his beginnings. Still, once a new sentient being has begun to exist, its negative feelings or emotions will override its positive impressions (unless it dies shortly after having begun to exist, without having had bad negative sensations att all). Therefore one should never act in such a way that a new sentient being begins to exist.

Alongside Holbach’s observation we often find the claim that man is being harmed by his coming into existence (by his being born as we say in everyday-language). In everyday-antinatalist language this makes perfect sense. Things seem to look different, however, if we leave aside common language delving into the ontology of the expression COMING INTO EXISTENCE. Consider that an entity cannot be affected by its coming into existence, that is to say: by its very beginning. It needs to be there in order to be affected. If an elementary particle begins to exist it is not affected by its beginning; once it exists it can be affected. In a similar manner there was no (pre-existing) ME that was done harm to when I began to exist. The harm followed only later when I (the sentient foetus) had the first negative sensations.
For the above mentioned reasons I prefer saying: If people procreate or breed they act in such a way that one more sentient being will have negative sensations. There might have been some sentient beings though that never had negative experiences. Think for example of a foetus that recently had gained proto-consciosness. It perhaps experienced a trance-like feeling of warmth or a reddish colour or a sugary taste. Then the foetus died in the fraction of a second. At no point was there any harm being done to that foetus.
Let’s think of a second foetus whose first sensation was heat or a garish light or a bitter taste. Was this foetus harmed by its own coming into existence? No. Its very existence (and in this case: sentience) was a precondition for any harm to be there.

 

Natalist stalemate

When some antinatalists argue from the idea that
There was NOBODY who wanted to come into existence.

Pronatalists may claim with the same right that
There was NOBODY who did not want to come into existence.

While antinatalists speak of existence as being imposed on non-existers, pronatalists conceive of a deprivation of existence with respect to non-existers.

Both arguments seem to be wrong for ontological (semantic) reasons.

 

 

Harmed by coming into existence?

There seems to be a tacit agreement among antinatalists that someone is harmed when coming into existence. A closer look at the ontology of ‘coming into existence, however, seems to reveal that this might not hold. Since none of us was there before he had begun to exist, our having begun to exist cannot have made us worse off. We cannot compare (1) a state of the world which did not yet include us and (2) a state of the world which includes us and then say a harm was done to us in that very instance we had begun to exist.

The harm will follow only later unless we assume that already the very first dawning of sentience in a foetus in the womb is of a negative kind. But even then we shouldn’t say the human being was harmed coming into existence but rather: a new human being began to exist experiencing pain from the outset.

‘Coming into existence’ is a somewhat misleading expression for: ‘a new sentient being has begun to exist”. ‘Coming into existence’ does not alter the ontic status of a living being for good (as pronatalists claim) or worse (as antinatalists claim). Rather, ‘coming into existence’ changes the status of the world: from now on there exists one more being capable of suffering.

Rather than saying A SENTIENT BEING HAS BEEN FORCED INTO EXISTENCE we should say THE WORLD HAS BEEN ALTERED IN SUCH A WAY THAT ONE MORE SENTIENT BEING EXISTS.

The corresponding antinatalist imperative will read as follows: Do not act in such a way that a new sentient being begins (unless there are morally overriding other reasons).

Heidegger’s antinatalist omission and parent-forgottenness

While it is understandable that Voltaire didn’t experience an antinatalist breakthrough, the same doesn’t go for Heidegger (1889-1976) in his Time and Being. Heidegger famously speaks of our thrownness. Thrownness in itself is a gnostic term with many points of contact to antinatalism (cf. Hans Jonas: Gnostic Religion: The Message of the Alien God). A less known feature of Heideggers analysis of being is his talking of the “Burden of being” [Lastcharakter des Daseins]: Man experiences that he exists and that he has to exist. Strangely enough Heidegger doesn’t argue that each and every human being exists at the instigation of her parents. Heidegger himself seems to suffer from Elternvergessenheit [if you like: parent-forgottenness]. Not fate but parents are responsible for the burden of being.

Voltaire’s proto-antinatalism

Humanist par excellence and often considered a king of enlightenment Voltaire (1694-1778) also features elements of a proto-antinatalism. One case in point is his Treatise on Tolerance where, in chapter 23, we find him saying (as opposed to d’Holbach (1723-1789, Voltaire still believed in God):

‘No longer then do I address myself to men, but to you, God of all beings, of all worlds, and of all ages; if it may be permitted weak creatures lost in immensity and imperceptible to the rest of the universe, to dare to ask something of you, you who have given everything, and whose decrees are immutable as they are eternal. Deign to look with pity on the errors attached to our nature; let not these errors prove ruinous to us. You have not given us hearts to hate ourselves with, and hands to kill one another. Grant then that we may mutually aid each other to support the burden of a painful and transitory life.

In Voltaire, humanism doesn’t celebrate the joy of existence but rather the need to support one another in order to cope with the burden of existence. As a child of his times Voltaire didn’t see that the “burden of a painful and trasitory life” is forced upon people by unenlightened parents.

Voltaire only belongs to antinatalism’s wider forecourt since he wasn’t outspoken on not passing on the burden of existence.

Is Antinatalism a Humanism?

We can speak of a humanistic attitude where people see themselves as self-creating beings. This means that people are neither products of a God nor are they simply the results of biological evolution.

Against this background, humanism holds: there is neither a religious nor a natural commission for procreation. Rather, in view of the past history, the present and the future to be expected, people must decide whether they want to have descendants or not, whether the “burden of existence” (Voltaire) is justifiable or not.

As opposed to believers, humanists assume that there are no compensating otherworldly, paradisiacal institutions (and no hellish penal colonies). Antinatalism is humanism, at least inasmuch as it takes very seriously the lack of otherworldly or rebirth-based compensation. Antinatalism is deeply humanistic because it takes seriously the burden of existence (the school and workload to be carried out by each individual, shame, betrayal, experiences of the death of the near and the dear ones, the own catastrophe of dying and much more). Pronatalists will oppose this, saying that every person has to have her own experiences and that there is always HOPE for a better future. Humanist antinatalism cannot accept this, since it rejects experimenting on people. And it has the character of experimenting, and human lottery, to bring forth new humans in the sign of “hope” that they may be spared a hard school and working life, serious illnesses, experiencing the death of the near ones and, eventually their own catastrophe of dying.

Humanism and Antinatalism

Some critics doubt the antinatalists‘ humanist vision. Many of those critics envision mankind’s future under the sign of hope. To have given up hope, in the eyes of the critics, is a moral blemish. Saying this, however, the critics are disregarding that – under the sign of hope –they are prepared to experimenting on human beings. They are prepared to experimenting on human beings inasmuch as they are in favour of propagation with uncertain outcomes. Experimenting on human beings would not deserve to be called humanist.

Horror non exsistentiae (Horror of non-existence)

Why is it so difficult for people to even discuss antinatalism? Aristotle and many others, well into the 19th century, didn’t accept the idea of a vacuum (the so called Horror vacui in Latin). Nature, according to those thinkers, abhors a vacuum. Probably many of those thinkers themselves, together with a wider public, abhorred the idea of a vacuum.

In a similar manner people seem to be haunted by some horror of non-existence. If antinatalism would reign, they assume, they would never have begun to exist. And, as a matter of fact, they think this would have been bad for THEM.

On compensation

Antinatalist
There’ll be no suffering if you stop procreating.

Pronatalist
I readily admit there’s a lot of suffering out there. But then the suffering, pain and fear that people do experience is compensated for by the good things in life they do also experience.

Antinatalist
Well, obviously it’s people like you – the defenders of procreation – who find themselves forced to resort to the logics of compensation. It’s you who have to defend your position since you want to change the ethical state of the world by adding more sentient beings. The supreme position is the antinatalists’ position as they don’t want to add sentient beings to the world whose ill-being or well-being we’d have to discuss. This suggests a certain weakness of the pronatalists’ stance.

Emblems of Ethics

Zygotes and early embryos appear to be the emblems of contemporary ethics. As non-sentient and  normally invisible entities they have become telling symbols. While normally invisible zygotes and early embryos are made visible everywhere, normally visible old and sick people are made invisible. But it is them who would deserve to be in the focus of contemporary ethics as they are sentient and, in many cases, suffering.

Newborns are another Emblem of Ethics. In a telling manner Hans Jonas declares the newborn to be the most pitiful being being. According to him newborns do exude a direct ethical appeal which allegedly bridges the hiatus between what there is and what we are to do. Tellingly the same thinker is of the opinion that old people should clear the way for new arrivals.

Systematic and symbolic negligance of the end of life suggests a dimension of unethics within the realm of ethics. At the same time this unjustified negligence serves as a clandestine pronatal device.

 

When pronatalists turn antinatalist

When pronatalists turn antinatalist

Think of couple A+B. Their outset on life is overall pronatalist. They haven’t procreated yet but plan to have their first child in the foreseeable future. Within five years they plan to have two children.

Now horrible news is coming in: Because of a recently released polluting agent all children produced from today on will suffer unspeakably directly after birth.

Scenario 1

The newborn will suffer incessantly and die a few months after birth.

Scenario 2

The newborn will suffer intermittently and die a few months after birth.

Scenario 3

The newborn will suffer intermittently and die within six decades after birth because of that polluting agent.

 

Chances are high that couple A+B will refrain from procreation under scenario 1. And probably the vast majority of all pronatal couples would refrain from procreation even under scenario 2.

How about scenario 3? We have good reason to assume that in the face of this scenario many pronatalist people will refrain from procreation on the ground that they do not want to expose their own children to that pollutant agent which with all certainty would cause their deaths. However, six decades is almost a „normal“ life span.

The morals behind these scenarios is as follows:

Pronatalist people seem to be inclined to refrain from procreation if it is the case that they would expose their children to horrible things. Now, virtually all parents are people who have exposed their children to horrible things such as dying and the deaths of the near and the dear. This morals is prone to make pronatalists see that procreation is wrong.

 

Losing one’s life and winning one’s life

At any given moment most people don’t want to die. While many people fear the process of dying most people do probably fear to lose THEIR lives .

It looks like the fear of LOSING one’s life doesn’t make too much sense. This is so, because I or you will not continue to exist as a person who has lost her life.

In pretty much the same manner – and according to the same illogic – in which many people don’t want to lose THEIR lives most people do welcome that THEY once ‘won’ their lives. A common expression for this is: People are glad that THEY were given the ‘gift’ of life. However, when I began to exist there was no ME who gained the additional feature of life. For this very reason it doesn’t make sense when people try to refute antinatalism on the ground that THEY  and others would have missed out ont he feature of life had their parents not procreated.

Defence systems

Whenever the term ANTINATALISM is mentioned or explained at least one of the following three defence systems will be activated:

A personal defence system: MY PERSONAL EXISTENCE/CHOICE IS BEING QUESTIONED / UNDER THREAT.

A familial defence system: THE EXISTENCE OF MY CHILDREN IS BEING QUESTIONED / UNDER THREAT

A societal defence system: OUR SOCIETY’S EXISTENCE/FUTURE IS BEING QUESTIONED / UNDER THREAT

The personal defence system is due to a kind of DEPRIVATIONAL FALLACY: “The antinatalist is questioning my very existence: Had my parents followed the antinatalist’s ethical advice I would still be NOTHING which is somehow equivalent to murder.”

Wherever I explained the antinatalist moral theory pointing to less suffering in the world as compared with pronatal actions, people (even otherwise humane people) were prepared to accept any amount of suffering if only mankind will persist. Only recently did I speak to members of a humanistic league who were prepared to accept a second Auschwitz if only mankind were allowed to continue.

While it looks like there is an updraught for antinatalism at least in English-speaking countries (we don’t know much about such contries China, India…) this moral theory has a problematic special status in Germany. I elaborated on this German thing in a blog post By the way, probably it was Théophile de Giraud who first used the term ANTINATALISM for the moral theory favoured by us.

In the face of these reactions the future of antinatalism may look rather bleak. But there is reason for optimism within this frame: As a consequence of the ever more visible antinatalist world league of which we form part, there will be an increasing number of individuals ready to confess their hitherto clandestine antinatalism – it’s a chain reaction.

 

They were good Buddhists…

One would expect Buddhists to be more outspoken antinatalists than Hindus. While many Hindu sects do believe in a persisting soul which may achieve higher incarnations with every rebirth, there doesn’t appear to be such a thing as a persisting soul in Buddhism. Against this background Aldous Huxley’s elaboration on Buddhist antinatalim seems reasonable at first sight:

“They were good Buddhists, and every good Buddhist knows that begetting is merely postponed assassination. Do your best to get off the Wheel of Birth and Death, and for heaven’s sake don’t go about putting superfluous victims on the Wheel. For a good Buddhist, birth control makes metaphysical sense.” (Aldous Huxley, Island)

On closer examination, however, we find that many a Buddhist will not defend antinatalism. Why? Mahayana Buddhism might develop the following subterfuge: Mankind has to continue to help with other beings that otherwise would be lost in samsara. But what about simpler forms of Buddhism, why aren’t they more outspoken on antinatalism?

Strange though it may seem…

…but you may bring in any number of animals to be slaughtered: It’ll be all right for the vast majority of people. One million, one hundred million or a billion animals. It’s all right. As long as the corpses of all those animals will be eaten up by humans it’s no problem.

Now reveal yourself as an antinatalist suggesting it would be ethical to sterilise a billion sentient animals in order to reduce suffering. People will be flabbergasted calling you immoral.

In a similar manner people are prepared to sacrifice own children to life’s imponderabilities and to lingering illness at the end of their lifes, while they are not prepared to consider abstention from procreation.

When slaughtering is all right, sterilising animals remains taboo

The other day I offered a short introduction into Karlheinz Deschner’s antinatalism when I was accosted by somebody who said:

‘For the sake of stringency you’d have to endorse mass sterilisation of animals, too, since they are pain causing agents.’

Explaining the point of view of an all-encompassing antinatalism I said that he was definitely right. Some of the people who were disgusted to hear this were just having dinner for the preparation of which body parts of massacred animals had been used.

Antinatalism after The Plague?

In his short story AFTER THE PLAGUE T.C. Boyle deals with the literary topic of ‘The last of the race’. As a rule stories on the last of the race will end with a man and a woman meeting thus making sure mankind will continue. Boyle’s plot is rather spicy since his couple among the last of the race won’t match at all. Nonetheless he’s uttering:

‘…and I think you know what I’m talking about… Procreation I mean. If you look at it in a certain way, it’s – well, it’s our duty.”

Will she, who doesn’t like him – and vice versa – give in on behalf of the duty? Not at all:

‘I had my tubes tied fifteen years ago.’

Soon afterwards the male hero is to meet another woman with Boyle keeping us in the dark on the future of humankind.

T.C. Boyle’s antinatalist problem solving

In A CONVERSATION WITH T.C. BOYLE the author is being asked the following question:

“What is your actual view of the Earth twenty years in the future? How about one hundred years in the future? Do you think that our efforts to “Save the Planet” are actually steps taken in the right direction to reverse the damage we’ve done, or is it truly too late for us?”

Boyle’s answer:

“With A Friend of the Earth, I went around the world on my book tours, depressing the hell out of people, while at the same time making them laugh, of course. The only hope I could come up with, and this after a long evening of reading excerpts and taking questions, is a program I’d like to initiate. It’s very simple: if we can all of us on the earth, and no cheating, please, agree to refrain from sex for one hundred years, the problem will be solved.”

No matter how serious Boyle really is about his declaration we should welcome it. Still it is problematic for two reasons: First, the problem is not sex but procreation. The Cathari famously were against procreation but had no problem with sex. Second, once the last man on earth has ceased to exist, the planet won’t be ‘saved’ but continue to be a place in which countless sentient animals suffer unspeakably.

Institutions for compensation: of paradise and future

Christian apologist C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) in his essay THE WORLD’S LAST NIGHT:

“I can imagine no man who will look with more horror on the End than a conscientious revolutionary who has, in a sense sincerely, been justifying cruelties and injustices inflicted on millions of his contemporaries by the benefits which he hopes to confer on future generations: generations who, as one terrible moment now reveals to him, were never going to exist. Then he will see the massacres, the faked trials, the deportations, to be all ineffaceably real, an essential part, his part, in the drama that has just ended: while the future Utopia had never been anything but a fantasy.” (The world’s last night and other essays)

What may be upon us at any given moment, according to Lewis, is not only an End but a Judgement after which some souls may enjoy infinite bliss. This, Lewis says, does not hold for the atheistic revolutionary for whom all agonies of the past must be vain without a better future in this world or in another world.

Lewis’s argumentation obviously comes with strings attached: How dare he, along with the ‘conscientious revolutionary’, compensate for the reality and the intensity of bygone agonies by pointing to mankind’s prolonged future? Does the reality or the intensity of the pain experienced long ago by person P depend on whether or not mankind has a future or on the quality of future lives?

Against the background of Lewis’s rumination the following question becomes ever more pressing: By means of which ressources do today’s this-worldly parents justify procreation in the face of an obstructed future?

Lament for the Born

Wakeful larks – Unconceived

Silence, darkness, sisters, twins, spurn gloomy thoughts of putting in

New beings into space

Darkness round you quite profound, creation sleeps, there is no sound

I will give it here a tongue

(Refrain)

Wakeful larks will listen to my midnight song

Wakeful larks trill melodies to cheer the doom

Haste, haste, haste, death lies in wait, on mental floor, is at the door

Knocking on the supreme void

Every night you‘d die again, each morn are born anew and then

Find yourself torn, forlorn

Einstein said just move on fast and time will blast your future passed

Move on stay unborn and flee you fray dim child of dust and see

(Refrain)

Wakeful larks will listen to my midnight song

Wakeful larks trill melodies to cheer the doom

Prisoner of life  you’d call the stars  to listen to the song of

yore before the fall into

Space-time warps your very thoughts be content, your being nought

is fine, decline to be, behold

(Refrain)

Wakeful larks will listen to my midnight song

Wakeful larks trill melodies to cheer the doom

 

New book on antinatalism (published on 15 February 2017)

ANTINATALISM. A Manual (German title: Antinatalismus. Ein Handbuch, 736 pages). My book discusses and documents insights into man’s not being obliged to exist and to procreate as a gain in freedom against bio-social defaults. The book pursues the ethical purpose of making readers willing to procreate change their mind. Readers critical towards procreation will be corroborated in their antinatalist attitude. In order to do this the manual makes use of a wealth of arguments, neologisms and statements on natality from thousands of years. Even though many of these statements may belong, as it were, only to the outskirts of antinatalism, they are still proof of the fact that man – as a cultural being – has always been able to take a critical stance against the bio-social radical of procreation.

Inasmuch as it advocates universal antinatalism the book also takes into account other sentient beings claiming: It is almost always better not to act in such a way that a sentient being begins to exist. This is where humanistic antinatalism and ethical vegetarianism meet.

The book is designed as a manual from A to Z. Feel free to have a look even if your German is only rudimentary since a digital translator available on the net will help you grasp the gist of every single alphabetic entry. Just click on the following LINK and go to the preview (VORSCHAU in German) were you will be provided with the FOREWORD, CONTENTS, INTRODUCTION and all entries in alphabetic order from A to E:

Antinatalism. A Manual

The book is written in German and is available as an e-book and as hard copy.

Ruthlessness. Dietary and procreative

Food consumption and procreation are two aspects of the human condition that need to be challenged. What would become the vegetarian movement started to scrutinize meat consomption as a behaviour pattern responsible for unspeakable suffering. After hundreds of years of dietary enlightenment those of us who still eat meat will have to tolerate that they are called RUTHLESS: They continue their complicity with animal suffering in spite of their being well aware of the cruel pictures.

The case for our procreative habits is analogous but different inasmuch as anti-procreative enlightenment has just begun. Cruel pictures of suffering humans are all around us. But there is no comparable movement revealing the link between suffering humans and procreation. And, of course, the majority of all people who’ve come into contact with the antinatalist moral theory will just carry on as before. Proving their ruthlessness: Complicity with future human suffering. The majority – but not all. And every single revoked pronatal decision counts.

Babies and brains

Four grown ups and one baby around a dinner table. At some point in time they are talking such nasty things as Altzheimer’s and the necessity to take care of one’s ailing parents. Later at night the couple with the baby express their wish to have yet another baby a few years from now.

As a matter of fact they do not grasp the connecting line between today’s babies and tomorrow’s Altzheimer patients. Is there really no insight, not the slightest feeling of guilt or comprehension of the fact that they as parents are acting in such a way that a few decades from now one more person will suffer from diseases of ageing? Actually, this should be a no-brainer.

Woman sued by own (fertilised?) eggs

It looks like a claim might be admitted in Louisiana against a woman named Sofia Vergana on behalf her own deep frozen (fertilised?) eggs. This opens up an odd metaphysics of non-existence. Hitherto courts did hardly ever allow any reasoning from the viewpoint of non-existence: As a rule, a person could not sue her parents because they acted in such a way that the person began to  exist, simply because that ‘person’ was not better off before she began to exist.

Deep-frozen eggs are no living human beings (even though some people might dispute this). If it is now possible to sue somebody because he or she failed to act in such a way that a new human being begins to live, then this is a pronatal judgement from the vantage point of non-existence. By the same token it would then be possible for a person who never wanted to exist to sue her parents because ‘they forced existence upon her as a non-exister’.

The Compensating Self

The compensating self underwent a series of attacks:

Along with waning faith came the dismantling of paradise. A future void of paradise means there’ll be no afterlife compensation for yesterday’s and today’s grievances, and perhaps no remuneration for ethically good deeds.

The next trauma for the compensating self was the dismantling of history: With the shipwreck of the Russian and the Chinese Revolution, at the latest, it became clear to the compensating self that there would be no better future for all.

Hereupon the compensating self restricted itself to its own children saying: ‘My children and grandchildren will lead a better life!’ We all know that this is a rather ambitious projection against the backdrop of global warming not to mention dwindling resources such as arable land.

Today the compensating self is depleted and exhausted. But it carries on with its business even though – because of its emptiness – it has become ruinous.

In order to propagate non-propagation antinatalists may want to point out the nowadays ruinous character of the compensating self.

Being fine without approving beginning of existence?

Is it all right if the serene antinatalist propagates non-propagation? For many a contemporary it is not. Many people seem to conceive of antinatalists as fundamentally messed up characters. An antinatalist in their view will have to be someone who is completely dissatisfied with his life, someone for whom life is an ordeal. However, an antinatalist might be satisfied with his or her personal life and still think it would have been better to never have begun to exist. There is no contradiction in this from the viewpoint of the logic of morals (an important point made by Julio Cabrera in his CRÍTICA DE LA MORAL AFIRMATIVA and later on by Saul Smilansky in his 10 MORAL PARADOXES).

Eve’s Antinatalism in John Milton’s (1608-1674) Paradise Lost

In John Milton’s Paradise Lost, after the Fall and before the expulsion from paradise, it becomes clear to Eve that all future generations will have to suffer as a result of the first parent’s sin. In the face of future suffering, she suggests to Adam to either refrain from procreation or to commit suicide:

If care of our descent perplex us most,
Which must be born to certain woe, devoured
By death at last, and miserable it is
To be to others cause of misery,
Our own begotten, and of our loins to bring
Into this cursed world a woeful race,
That after wretched life must be at last
Food for so foule a monster, in thy power
It lies, yet ere conception to prevent
The race unblest, to being yet unbegot.
Childless thou art, childless remain: So death
Shall be deceaved his glut, and with us two
Be forced to satisfie his ravenous maw.
But if thou judge it hard and difficult,
Conversing, looking, loving, to abstain
From love’s due rites, nuptial embraces sweet,
And with desire to languish without hope,
Before the present object languishing
With like desire, which would be misery
And torment less then none of what we dread,
Then both our selves and seed at once to free
From what we fear for both, let us make short,
Let us seek death, or, he not found, supply
With our own hands his office on ourselves;

(Tenth Book, 979-1002)

Milton ’s Eve is promoting here either abstention from procreation or suicide to escape from the suffering of existence. In the face of wrongful existence for the future members of the human race, Eve first suggests the antinatalist option, then suicide.

Read more:

Theodicy shading off into Anthropodicy in Milton, Twain and Kant

Questionnaire on procreation*

Feel free to answer any or some of the following

QUESTIONS

 

 

ANSWERS

1.

What do you say to a child who asks you why he is on earth?

2.

You did not exist before being generated by your parents. Would it have been bad had your parents not had children?

3.

Apart from the question of whether you think it is important that just you have been conceived: Is the existence of human beings in general important to you?

4.

Ought human beings to exist irrespective of the conditions under which they exist?

5.

If no one procreated as from today, there would hardly be any humans on earth in some 100 years from now. No one to suffer from diseases, in famines and from natural catastrophes or on the death bed.

If you are in favour of humans being here in 200 years from now: how would you justify this in the face of the evils mentioned above?

6.

How far into the future does your interest in humanity’s continued existence stretch?

7.

Do you hold that the happiness which some people experience compensates for the suffering many other people go through?

8.

Do you believe that the suffering somebody experiences now is compensated for by the happiness that he experienced in the past or might experience in the future?

9.

Our freedom always includes the freedom to do evil as well. Do you think it is an integral part of our dignity to be able to harm someone and liable of being harmed at any time?

10.

Is it not so that the generation of human beings is immoral as nobody can guarantee them a humane life and death free from severe suffering?

11.

The lamentation „It would have been better not to have been born“ is almost as old as morality.

Should you not favour the existence of people 200 years from now – until which point in time (if at all) was procreation justifiable:

– People never ought to have existed.

– Until the First Worldwar and Armeniocide.

– Until the Judeocide

– Until the invention of the atomic bomb.

– Until the Rwandan genocide.

– Other caesura:

 

12.

Is it not so that procreation implies moral complicity with the suffering that ensues?

13.

In a few billion years our sun will have morphed into a red giant rendering impossible the continued existence of living beings on earth. Ought we to wait until we singe or should we phase out before by means of abstention from procreation? If so, how much time before should we phase out?

14.

Would you like to be the creator responsible for this world? If you had not been able to create a world different from the one known to us – would you have refrained from creation for all time, remaining blissfully by yourself?

15.

If you, in the fictitious role as a Maker, had refrained from creating the world, would you not then have to reject our creation of people which is mimicking God?

[ *by Karim Akerma and Guido Kohlbecher]
 

Primortality

Most parents presuppose the principle of primortality. They start a new life from the tacit assumption that they will die well before their child since for most parents loss of a child would be the biggest catastrophe they can think of.

When deciding to procreate most parents don’t seem to be aware of the fact that for most children loss of a beloved parent is among the biggest catastrophes they can think of. At the same time most children are doomed by their parent to be still around when their parents pass away.

In order to progagate non-propagation antinatalists might talk about the immorality of the principle of primortality wherever they meet people prone to procreate.

Philosophy as the Brain of Religion

Religion did and does not only work as the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. Religion also took and takes painstaking care that ever new souls begin to exist under soulless conditions.

In irreligious times and places philosophy takes over as the brain of religion, covertly arguing in favour of mankind’s perpetuation.

Antinatalism and Unconditional Basic Income

For abvious ontic reasons nobody wanted to begin to exist and no one wanted not to begin to exist. This is a constellation which we may dope the nativistic stalemate. Nobody is “forced” into existence – as some antinatalists have it – and nobody is deprived of existence as some pronatalists put forth. However, every person exists at the behest of other persons. People do not initiate their own existence. Our sheer existence does not fall into our own responsibility.

Even if some parents consider their offspring as a misfortune the state will usually not do so. As evinces from the upheaval that is made once somebody wants to commit suicide, most states care about their people’s pure existence – even though they may not care at all about their people’s suchness and well-being and will have the elderly fade away in gerontocamps under conditions which beggar description. Resting upon their constituting individuals and being therefore generally opposed to people who favour withdrawal from existence (or antinatalism) states want their populace to exist at all cost. It seems, therefore, reasonable that the state as the comprehensive natalist should grant an unconditional basic income to everyone.

For more cf my article EXISTENZGELD – FÜR EIN NATIVISTISCHES BEDINGUNGSLOSES GRUNDEINKOMMEN

 

Missed You?

‘Missed You?’ might be a good idea for a song to listen to, but read for yourself:

“Look back also and see how the ages of everlasting time past before we were born have been to us nothing.” (Lucretius, as quoted yesterday)

Had our parents not acted in such a way that we eventually began to exist, we wouldn’t have missed ourselves. Nor would anybody.

Make an ethical argument out of this: If NOBODY acts in such a way that someone eventually begins to exist, there will be no one there who would be left out. There are no selves out there on whose behalf we are to procreate.

The foundations for this insight are old. Lucretius is one of its philosophical harbingers.

Horribile apparet?

respice item quam nil ad nos ante acta vetustas temporis aeterni fuerit,

quam nascimur ante.

hoc igitur speculum nobis natura futuri temporis exponit post mortem denique nostram.

numquid ibi horribile apparet?

num triste videtur quicquam?

non omni somno securius exstat?

(Lucretius, De rerum natura)

 

Look back also and see how the ages of everlasting time past before we were born have been to us nothing. This therefore is a mirror which nature holds up to us, showing the time to come after we at length shall die. Is there anything horrible in that? Is there anything gloomy? Is it not more peaceful than any sleep?
[https://www.loebclassics.com/view/lucretius-de_rerum_natura/1924/pb_LCL181.265.xml]

 

Antinatalism and ETI

We would rejoice at the disvovery of extraterrestrial (intelligent) life, wouldn’t we? Wait a minute, the circumspect antinatalist will tell us. Rather than jubilate we should feel sorrow. Why? Well, because other life forms, however alien they may be, will be in need of some kind of conscious alert system to prevent the single living beings from self destruction. Alien living beings, strange though they may be, will be able to feel what we call pain. This is the reason why the full grown antinatalist will not jubilate at incoming radio signals from Alpha Centauri or other regions of space and time.

Ever more inhabitable planets that are being discovered are a strong indicator that there will be much more suffering out there in space than people were generally inclined to assume only a few decades ago.

For more see “Should Extraterrestrials Exist?” (Sollen Außerirdische sein?, chapter 15 of my book ALIEN INTRODUCTION INTO PHILOSOPHY / AUSSERIRDISCHE EINLEITUNG IN DIE PHILOSOPHIE, 2002).

 

Carefree laughter II

When children’s carefree laughter receives a lot of attention this is, of course, also due to the fact that grown up people know innermost it’ll come to an end shortly: Laughter will be siphoned away by the vicissitudes of life.

If parents are well aware that carefree laughter (not general laughter) will end soon and are, thus, familiar with the human condition: why did they start their children’s existence in the first place?

What counts: How to bring it about?

It looks like we can learn from other movements, first and foremost perhaps from the vegetarian movement. Similar to antinatalism the vegetarian movement faces the question of how to make people change decisions that are tightly knit to causing animal (and human) suffering. Similar to parents who like to “have” children, carnivors like to “eat” meat, thus causing the coming into being of ever new myriads of sentient animals.

There might be two major fractions between vegetarians. Members of group A maintain a low profile, they do not try to convince people, they rather try to live on quietly as a still role model. Members of group B, however, act differently: They show around shocking and reproaching pictures from the meat industry that, as a matter of fact, are directly linked to consumer demand. Group B confronts meat eaters with the gruel outcome of their decisions.

One gets the impression that group B is way more successful than group B when it comes to making people change revise their decisions. Therefore, in order to make people change their pronatalist decisions one should make them drastically aware of the consequences by presenting real pictures and by telling real storys. Pictures and stories from illnesses and old age homes for example. But who has what it takes in order to accost pronatal people in such a way?

What counts?

What counts is not only the antinatalist mätopia – a world without sentient beings prone to feel pain – but rather to argue in favour of a revision of pronatal decisions. Contributing to the revision of as many pronatal decisions as possible is at the heart of antinatalist moral theory and practical antinatalist ethics.

Mätopia

Everybody has an idea of utopia. By analogy and against the background of antinatalism and certain forms of nihilism one should also speak of mätopia with non-existence as its ideal (‘mä’ being tantamount to ‘not, non’ in ancient Greek).

Carefree laughter

Every now and then people would say „Listen to that child’s carefree laughter!“ Those incidences should be looked at as a most revealing insight into the human condition. Because what is the make-up of a world in which it is necessary to always highlight children’s light-hearted laughter? Children should be light hearted and carefree all the time. The unfailing attention paid by bystanders and the apparent scarcity of easygoing laughter unwittingly testify to the fact that something isn’t right with acting in such a way that a new human being begins to exist.

Kurnig’s Neo-Nihilism as early 20th century antinatalism

If one subtracted the metaphysics of will from Schopenhauer’s general philosophy some non-metaphysical antinatalism would have to ensue. Therefore, one might suspect that after the demise of German idealism a corresponding thinker, an outspoken antinatalist, would have taken up the vacant systematic place well before the still hesitant antinatalist pronouncements by Norwegian thinker Zapffe or in the setting of Negative Utilitarianism (first and foremost by Hermann Vetter).

As a matter of fact there is such a philosopher. He wrote under the pseudonym of KURNIG defending an outspoken and – with respect to Schopenhauer or Eduard von Hartmann – non-metaphysikal antinatalism.

Here are two quotations from his work ‘Neo-Nihilimus’ as a sample:

“I consider human life as something which is overall unpleasant, as a misfortune. Unborn people would not ask for it. In the face of abysmal misery I was unable to simply watch taking on the passive role of an observer.”

“I beget you (we hear a parent saying) in order to see with pleasure what is inside you and what is not. By the same token, however, I am forcing upon you a lot of suffering and, finally, the ghastly catastrophe of dying.” [Kurnig, Der Neo-Nihilismus. Anti-Militarismus. Sexualleben (Ende der Menschheit), Verlag Max Sängewald, Leipzig 1903]

Those who read German may want to have a look at my contribution on Kurnig’s early antinatalism [website is currently being reworked]: Exodus aus dem Sein. Kurnigs Neo-Nihilismus als buddhistisch säkularisierter Geist des frühen Christentums

 

Is the concept of antinatalism historically tainted?

Even today impartial discussions around the noble ancient Greek concept of euthanasia are hardly possible in German speaking countries. The concept of euthanasia is still tainted because of Germany’s Nazi past and the perversion of the concept by the Nazis.

At first glance the same seems to go for the concept of antinatalism. Before the concept of antinatalism was used in order to designate a moral theory it had been used by such thinkers as German historian Gisela Bock in her contribution ANTINATALISM, MATERNITY AND PATERNITY IN NATIONAL SOCIALIST RACISM (1994). In her text Bock scrutinises Nazi antinatalism as being directed first and foremost against women and especially women of Jewish and “Gipsy” origin, many of whom became sterilized. Bock even draws a line from antinatalism to euthanasia and genocide. Against this background the concept of antinatalism looks tainted and it wouldn’t recommend itself as a name for a humane moral theory.

However, there is a second usage of the concept of antinatalism – prior to designating a moral theory. It is in the domain of research on development policies from the 1970s and 1980s where we find the concept of antinatalism being used in order to discuss such topics as an antinatalistic population policy in a series of developing countries (see e.g. Christian Oswald, Familienplanung als volkswirtschaftliches Investitionsproblem, 1979).

At a second glance it looks like the concept of antinatalism first appeared in research on more recent population policies. And only later was it used in order to reflect on earlier Nazi population policies.

While this suggestion needs confirmation by further research it seems probable that one cannot reasonably consider the concept of antinatalism as a tainted one.

Another gateway to antinatalism? To be or not to be (song)

Will music ever be another gateway to antinatalism?

TO BE OR NOT TO BE

To be or not to be

See for yourself

Being spelling hell

Why not favour stringent void?

So strange, same old game

Life doesn’t match human dignity

Why perpetuate the race?

Song by song we got it wrong

Song by song place duties on

More people to come

Cradle to grave, just one thing is save

Rainbows, time flows from formation to decay

Gateways to antinatalism

Francois Tremblay’s comment on the last post has lead to some further clarifications.  Francois said:

“I think you got the correlation backwards here. It’s atheism that helps people open their minds enough so they can hold to other non-religious positions. All ANs I know except one started off as atheists.”

This is an important topic which would require more elaborations than what follows:

Other points of departure towards antinatalism seem thinkable and even occurred in history. Think of Christian antinatalism: Life in this world is vain and worthless. Leave your family and earthly goods, Jesus said – and do not procreate since the end is nigh. In the same manner quite a few Church Fathers were in favour of strict antinatalism while at the same time sticking with God’s existence.

Or think of Manicheism as a kind of inverted Christianism: Our world is the product of a malevolent creator. According to Manicheism one must abstain from procreation in order to not perpetuate this world. At the same time Manicheism, as antinatalism, sticks with a supreme being outside evil creation.

There is at least a logical pathway leading from vegetarianism towards zoo-antinatalism which will eventually morph into anthropo-antinatalism: Vegetarians – inadvertently or not – opt for non-procreation among farm animals. One can easily agree on this with any vegetarian. This agreed, vegetarians will have to defend restricting antinatalism on suffering farm animals and they are prone to admit that their antinatalism’s scope will have to encompass all sentient beings. Looked at from this angle vegetarianism is a gateway to antinatalism.

Parents might have only good intentions

Let us take the phrase “Parents might have only good intentions regarding their offspring”. Why is it then that a vast majority of parents seem to contribute at full speed to the deterioration of their children’s living conditions? I am not talking here about a general course of civilization but rather about personal decisions which are within everyone’s cruising range:

The decision to drive a car/to eat meat/to use one-way products when other options are at hand is a decision which – if universalised – deteriorates children’s living conditions considerably.

All these decisions are being made before the background of information age. No one could claim: I was poorly informed on the inextricable bound between consumer decisions and one’s children’s living conditions. The conclusion seems inevitable, therefore, that the above mentioned phrase on parents’ good intentions needs revision. It should read: When it comes to consumerist behaviour people as a rule decide to their children’s detriment.

No God as part of antinatalist triad

An antinatalist triad reads as follows:

ANTINATALISM – ATHEISM – VEGETARIANISM

Atheism is a consequence of antinatalism inasmuch as “God” said:

“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Vegetarianism is a consequence of antinatalism inasmuch as a (strict) vegetarian diet reduces the demand for and the production of ever more sentient and suffering beings.

If you so wish listen to the song NO GOD

Historically informed antinatalism

Historically informed antinatalism

History has laid down for all to see the good things and the bad things which people can enjoy and must endure and the atrocities which some people can administer to many others. Presumably, most of the good and bad things will not disappear if we move into the future by ten, a hundred or a thousand years. However, there would be no people at all in the future to experience the good and the bad things if people ceased to procreate as from today. I suggest people should refrain from procreation as the good things in life do not compensate for the bad things and, first and foremost, the best things do not compensate for the worst things.

The experience of unspeakable pain, the agonies of the wounded, sick or dying are not counterbalanced by the delight the sufferer experienced earlier in life; nor is the suffering of the inmates of concentration camps neutralized by many contemporary peoples’ well-being.

The part played by philosophy in the whole of culture amounts to that of an immune system. Where pro-natal religion has set out on the retreat, philosophy is there to keep at bay what one may label the luring gnostic temptation: to abstain from procreation in order to prevent future suffering. In such metaphysical systems as the thought of the Church Fathers, Kant’s teleology, Marxism, positive utilitarianism, R. M. Hare’s prescriptivism or the ontologies of Nicolai Hartmann and Hans Jonas, it ascribes a mission to man, anchoring him in Dasein. In my books SOLL EINE MENSCHHEIT SEIN? / OUGHT MANKIND TO EXIST? (1995) and VEREBBEN DER MENSCHHEIT? / EBBING AWAY OF MANKIND? (2000) I demonstrate how philosophy failed in its endeavour to secure man a metaphysical place in the universe. Without such a place, however, procreation becomes ruinous and selfish.
If philosophy is the brain of religion, then anti-natalism is the neocortex of philosophy. In the guise of the question OUGHT MANKIND TO EXIST? the human spirit offers evidence of its having reached the age of discretion. No matter how much man may be his own product, he originally was, and at least in part still is, a product of natural lottery. By virtue of the moral theory of anti-natalism man testifies to his capability of self-liberation from the presettings of a natural heritage which still permeate our existence. Anti-natalism is man’s emergence from immaturity which is equally imposed upon him by nature and self-incurred.

I am not of the opinion that coming into existence goes along with being harmed, nor does coming into existence go along with a benefit – as harms and benefits presuppose the existence of the respective human being. However, I am convinced that once we are here we will experience severe harm and that many of us will harm others.

To my mind, a universe void of sentient creatures is neither good nor bad. In my judgement, it is ethically neutral. Consider: The first sentient being comes into existence. In scenario A its first sensation is pleasure, whereas in scenario B its first sensation is pain. In my view, a hitherto neutral universe is rendered good in scenario A whereas it becomes bad in scenario B.

Some philosophers claim an asymmetry according to which a universe in wich pain is absent is good while a universe in which pleasure is absent is not bad. In my judgement, pain and pleasure would be symmetrical here: If a universe is deemed good because there is no one in it who experiences pain, then, by the same token, a universe would have to be labelled bad, if there is no one in it to experience pleasure. I do not, however, accept this logic. Consider a universe that, day by day, contains less pain (fewer sentient beings who experience less pain or less severe pain). Such a universe becomes better and better until – at a certain point in time – it has become ethically neutral. This occurs when the last sentient being has ceased to exist. Such a universe might be amenable to aesthetic judgement, but not to ethics.

Is there a moral reason to procreate with respect to the pleasure one’s offspring would experience? I think not.
Is there a moral reason not to procreate regarding the pain one’s offspring would experience? I think the answer should be yes.
Why is this so? Apparently, pleasure and pain do not count equally. Pain seems to weigh more, ethically speaking, than pleasure. This seems to be confirmed if we move to decisions and their reversal. Consider couple C who have decided not to procreate as they think their children would be miserable because of their genetic disposition. One day they are informed this was wrong. Their children would be extremely well off. Now consider couple D who have decided to procreate because they think their children would lead happy lives. One day they are informed their children would suffer extreme pain from the first day on. Apparently there is more reason for couple D to reverse their decision than there is for couple C. Which is to say: Expected pain outweighs expected pleasure by far. In ethics, pleasure and pain do not seem to be on a par.

The slaughterhouse clarification
People who come into existence are not harmed by their coming into existence. Rather, the existence of people or other conscious beings is a prerequisite for there to be harm. I would even admit that some people lead good lives. Nonetheless I am an anti-natalist, and I do recommend to reverse any pro-natal decision on the grounds that many people will suffer unspeakably even though all parents might have only good intentions regarding their offspring: The pleasure parents derive from having children and the bliss some people experience in life are inextricably interwoven with the pain countless other people (and non-human sentient beings) experience. Let me clarify this with respect to the institution of the slaughterhouse: The pleasure most people derive from eating meat is inextricably interwoven with intense suffering on the part of the animals that are raised and slaughtered. The animals’ suffering is not compensated for by the fun most people experience when they eat meat. Pointing to some animals that have decent lives and are killed painlessly is to no avail. In a similar manner, the joy that a considerable number of people experience in their lives is built upon an ocean of suffering. As every procreation implies a lottery (genetically and socially) and as history has revealed to us what man is capable of doing to his counterpart, any decision to procreate should be reversed. – While there is no such reason to reverse a decision not to procreate regarding those few who would presumably lead decent lives and die pain- and fearlessly.

[This is an older text which which I copied from my German website]

Never to have been (song)

Never been listening to an antinatalistic song? They are probably few and far between. Should you ever listen to my antinatalistic song please use headphones. I am a one-man band, recorded it today without having too much time and I apologise for the many flaws of which I’m well aware. But we have to spread the message: propagation of non-propagation. If you like it I will improve it at some point in time. The lyrics are as follows:

Never to have been hadn’t hurt                 Once caused to exist you are stuck inside

 

A world of wonder and of dirt                  Beauty doesn’t compensate for it

 

See the flowers in the mud                       Supposed to bring joy into someone’s life

 

Never act in such a way                              That somebody dies as a consequence

 

This will happen by the way                       Should ever you decide to procreate

 

Interlude

 

Today a dancer, tomorrow comes cancer            Your children see you perish and die

 

Never to have been hadn’t hurt                                 We don’t pre-exist and wait in line

In order to come to the earth                                   transitions from limbo into life

 

Procreation means to prolong                                  An unfolding story of self-deceit

 

Nobody wanted to exist                                             Once you are there you’ve got to stick to it

 

Yesterday’s dancer, today has cancer                   Sees his children come and stand by

 

You told your children you would care                  But as of today you’re no longer there

 

Never to have been hadn’t hurt                                             All the flowers ending in the dirt

[Music and lyrics by Karim Akerma]

In Schellingian fashion

The omniscient god knew that evil would go along with creation. In spite of this he did not refrain from creating. According to German philosopher Schelling (1775-1854) the question of WHY he did not refrain from self-revelation does not even deserve an answer. For the supreme being to refrain from self-revelation would have been tantamount to saying: in order to prevent the opposite of love, love itself shall not exist.

Quite in Schellingian fashion we hear many people say: “How can you sacrifice the love a new human being will give and experience just because this person will also experience evil things? On your account evil would predominate love!”

Frankfurt School

Why is it that the Frankfurt School fell prey of the pronatal context of delusion. Adorno for one saw no chance for change and coined the often quoted phrase: the whole (of society) is wrong. Why didn’t he make a case for antinatalism?

Incarcerated

A
Perhaps more than anything else, contact with people suffering from dementia proves the validity of Plato’s claim according to which we are souls incarcerated in a body.

B
You abnegate those people’s right to exist?

A
What I deny is people’s supposed ethical entitlement to act in such a way that new people begin to exist – to act in such a way that one more brain constitutes one more (self-)consciousness.

Omissions

The ethical value of omissions is widely underestimated. This may have to do with the fact that we take it for granted or as an ethical standard setting that one must not become active in such a way that other people be harmed. We praise people who do something for the benefit of existing other people. Most of us, however, would not praise someone who had decided to not procreate or someone who had revised a former decision to procreate. All this in spite of the fact that a decision to not procreate is an omission which goes along with there being at least one person less who would see her pets, friends, relatives or parents die before the person herself would go through the experience of declining health and dying (to mention just a few bad things).

Aims

Antinatalism is a moral theory that has  two aims. One aim is utopian: mankind’s phasing out by an all-embracing and voluntary abstention from procreation. Another aim is very realistic: To address people in such a way that they decide not to procreate or revise their pronatal decisions. Most people assume the fate and worth of antinatalism as a moral theory hinges on its utopian aim.