The term “Eichmann horizon” designates two long-term perspectives which must be taken into account in every generative decision:
a) Firstly, the perspective of a thesis not, indeed, explicitly advanced by Hannah Arendt, 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;
b) Secondly, that of the fact that we provide, through procreation, for the great episodes of inhumanity that the future surely holds – 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.
 “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)
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.
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.
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?”
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”.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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,)