Indirect Antinatalisms – The Antinatalism of Entitlement

A moral theory which refuses suffering as an unreasonable imposition and thus, as an antinatalism, looks upon the begetting of human beings who will inevitably have to undergo various forms of suffering as a morally reprehensible act – such a moral theory does not emerge and stand alone in a vacuum but can find, in fact, many points of institutional contact and support and respectable – even if not always conscious and willing – allies:  

 

Health

An example of how portions of antinatal morality find themselves (unintendedly) embedded within the fabric of our large institutions is that very high criterion for what constitutes “health” that the WHO took up, in 1948, into its official definition of this latter concept:

“Health consists not just in the absence of illness and infirmity but is rather a condition of complete corporeal, mental and social wellbeing.” (http://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/i8/0.810.1.de.pdf)

Here, “health” is defined no longer merely negatively – as a measurable absence of illness – but rather as a lived wellbeing. Whoever has slept badly; whoever finds it impossible, try as he might, to recall the final line of a poem he has laboriously learnt by heart; whoever sits anxiously in a delayed train; whoever experiences an urgent need to urinate in the middle of an important meeting; whoever, contrary to his expectations, finds he has not been invited to a friend’s birthday party  – each and all of these people, according to this definition, is suffering “illness”. This definition, in other words, throws a glaring light on the facts that even the most fortunate human life is made up of a near-uninterrupted series of states that are far from optimal and that the human being who begets another human being is bringing into existence a being bound to be incessantly more or less ailing. 

Only from that moment on where this sovereignly-proclaimed criterion of the WHO would cease to be a mere proclamation and become rather a right guaranteed to every denizen of the earth would the bringing of new human beings into existence once again become something that might be contemplated as possibly morally defensible. Prior to such a state of affairs’ coming to pass, we will continue to enter existence as by definition ailing beings and waste away miserably for a number of decades until we at last succumb to that final sickness called death.

Following on from this WHO definition we argue that there should be established at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg an authority to which every individual who feels him- or herself to be “ill” in this positive sense proposed by the WHO can appeal and lay a claim to compensation for the personal suffering occasioned by their having been begotten.  

Stated in explicitly antinatalist terms: through its re-determination of the meaning of the notion “health” the WHO has established a claim, the ambitiousness of which must be welcomed, which implies the repudiation of that all-too-hasty contentment with existence which has arisen through the habituation of millennia of need and deprivation. On account of the unattainability of “health” in the sense defined by the WHO, the framers of this definition have been accused of utopianism and of nurturing a moral culture of near-limitless entitlement. Instead, however, of scrapping this ambitious definition, it seems to us much more appropriate to retain these claims, once so formulated, to a successfully constituted existence and – where and insofar as the conditions set here cannot be guaranteed to all those new human beings arising from procreation – to cease to engage in this latter.  

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The contents of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child[1], which came into force in 1990, have been summed up in the form of a 10-point programme by the Children’s Rights organization of the UN (UNICEF)[2]. Among the ten basic rights outlined here counts the “right to health”. But, inasmuch as “health” in the sense in which this term is defined by the World Health Organization would be almost impossible really to attain, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is tantamount in substance to a (paradoxical) claim that children have a right not to be begotten and not to be born. But since, for basic ontological reasons, the unbegotten are unable to raise any claim, the true content of this Convention consists in an obligation, incumbent on potential begetters, not to beget children.

[1] Siehe: http://www.unicef.de/fileadmin/content_media/mediathek/D_0006_Kinderkonvention.pdf

[2] Siehe: http://www.unicef.lu/Grundrechte. Without it being clear exactly why, the very broad WHO definition of health is considerably mitigated in this latter text.

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Pronatal Immune Systems

The question is almost never posed of whether it is morally defensible to beget other human beings. Within the context of an as it were “pronatal immune system” procreation passes for something normal, natural and even necessary. It counts as normal because all cultures, in all periods, have been “human-begetting” cultures. It counts as natural inasmuch as all non-human species too beget their own kind. And it counts as necessary because without procreation humanity would die out. – But this in its turn must count as something catastrophic. This recourse to the notions of the normality, naturality and necessity of procreation serves to obscure the existence of blatant contradictions between, on the one hand, certain widely-shared values and, on the other, the inhumane consequences of progenerative actions for the millions of human beings affected by them. As long as the pronatalistic immune system remains unnamed, its victims too remain invisible: billions of begotten human beings who must undergo existential and corporeal crises such as lingering illnesses and mortality in their own selves and be witnesses to them in their family and loved ones and who may also become victims of wars or other catastrophes – things which are in fact neither normal, nor natural, nor necessary.

 

Perinatal Immune System

Also part of that cultural “immune system” without which those antinatalistic seeds which are sown around everywhere in our culture would surely begin to sprout is that silence, never explicitly agreed upon but everywhere observed, regarding what has been designated, in the title of a book, as “the violence of childbirth”. In this book, authored by Isabelle Azoulay, we read that “…our expectations regarding childbirth have been so thoroughly tinted by fine-sounding promises for the future that the notion that birth could be the source of many ambivalent feelings hardly ever any longer arises. Our culture really has driven a wedge, so to speak, between our consciousnesses and these unacceptable realities.”  (Azoulay, Die Gewalt) “We can look upon women’s typical repression of the memory of the pain of childbirth, as well as the more general amnesia of society in this regard, as bolts slid across our lived experience to spare our bodies and minds all contact with these unacceptable but fundamental realities.” (Ibid.)

The philosophy of Man has propagated the insight that Man is by his very nature a cultural being. This truth could well be made to apply also to human childbirth, inasmuch as the unimaginable pains involved in this latter could be reduced to a minimum, or made to disappear entirely, by anaesthetics. Nevertheless, it is still the case that no more than around ten per cent of women experience largely pain-free childbirth. It would almost appear as if even our modern civilization still lies under the curse of its sadistic God who decreed to Eve and her descendants “in sorrow shall you bring forth children”. Childbirth, which is frequently accompanied by an actual fear of death, represents, we may say, a violent intrusion of our most basic biology – the “acultural” par excellence – into the sphere of culture: “In view of the fact that even physicians consider the pains of childbirth to count among the most extreme states of pain experienced by human beings, the silence that generally reigns regarding these pains seems like a secret conspiracy, as if everyone had implicitly commonly resolved to close their collective eyes to the reality of this limit-experience: birth.” Instead of recommending to women about to give birth that they request peridural anaesthesia the currently predominant practice among midwives and doctors is to do the very opposite and urge them to undergo the almost intolerable pains of childbirth as if this were a positive experience. This despite the fact that trauma of the pelvic area ensuing from childbirth is not something we see only in human beings of recent generations but rather something that has been occurring for four million years. These traumas are to be traced back to the fact that the diameter of the birth canal and that of the head of the neonate are as a rule almost identical so that, if there is even a slight variation in either of these factors, it can easily come about that the pelvic diameter proves too small (see New Scientist, 7. January 2012, p. 11) Regarding the unacceptability of procreation and birth, we may say, there predominates a collective silence, accompanied by an unspoken collective awareness of what is actually the case.

P. W. Zapffe’s Antinatalism

Zapffe, Peter Wessel (1899–1990)

The Norwegian antinatalist Zapffe found one important point of departure for his own thought in an aspect of the teachings of Jacob von Uexküll (1864–1944) on human beings and our relation to our environment: in non-human animals, taught von Uexküll, there exists a significant degree of harmony between organic endowment, environment, and way of life.  For this reason, animals move, as it were, with the confidence of sleepwalkers through their respective environments, perceiving in these environments only structures that bear meanings peculiar to their respective species. Nature has accorded to them only those sense-organs which are absolutely indispensable for their specific forms of existence and has thus assigned to them firm and fixed worlds of perception and affection. In Man’s case, however, this restriction has been shattered. He has been dismissed from this harmonious world and now has an unquenchable need: the need for sense and meaning.

 

The Antinatalism of Meaninglessness in “The Last Messiah” (1933)

Speaking very generally, our species’ dying out by way of natal abstinence appears to Zapffe to be an imperative because it represents the only rational way of dealing with that self-awareness with which Nature provided us in order then immediately to dismiss us from its bosom as thenceforth eternal strangers to it. As a self-aware entity, the human being has a need for meaning which the essentially indifferent cosmos is unable to quench. Zapffe first formulated his thoughts on this issue in “The Last Messiah”, a short essay of 1933, written in a highly poetic language. Below, we present some passages from this work, culminating in an exhortation to allow humanity to ebb away: “One night, in time long past, Man awoke and saw himself as he is. He saw that he was naked amidst the cosmos, homeless in his own body. His thought, which dug and questioned back behind all that is, cast everything into dissolution and disintegration, confronting him always with new riddles and causing, over and over again, dismay and consternation to burgeon in his brain.” [1]

“What had happened? There had occurred a breach in the former unity of life and all that lives: a biological paradox, something monstrous, absurd, a catastrophic hypertrophy. Life had overshot its own goal and broken its own banks. It had equipped one of the species brought forth by it with a weapon – namely, “mind” in this term’s full self-reflective sense – that had proven all too powerful. Mind not only endowed this species with omnipotence over its external environment; it also represented a great danger for this species’ own wellbeing.” [2]

“He enters Nature like an uninvited guest; he stretches out his arms and pleads to be led back to that which brought him forth. But Nature no longer answers. In Man, it performed a miracle; but ever since it did so, it no longer knows or recognizes the miracle it performed.” [3] “Know yourselves, be unfruitful, and let the earth, when you are gone from it, lapse into stillness and silence.” [4]

 

Om det tragiske (On the Tragic) (1941)

In his voluminous magnum opus “On the Tragic” Zapffe portrays Man’s mode of existence (in accord here with Josef Körner[5]) as structurally and thereby irremediably tragic. Man, however, has the capacity to rebel against that Nature and that life which enslaved him – a truth the antinatalistic consequences of which Zapffe develops only at very few points in his body of work. He does so, however, in the following passage, framed in the poetic language which he had favoured in “The Last Messiah” but which is quite untypical of the otherwise sober style of the magnum opus:

„You got me. But my son you will not get. You made a fateful error when you subjected even procreation to my will. And you did not do this out of love…, but rather to burden me with the heaviest of all responsibilities…: Am I to perpetuate this species or not? And from now on I will no longer ask what you want; rather you shall ask what I want. And I will no longer offer sacrifices to the God of life. I will punish you with the ability that you bequeathed to me in order to torment me; I will turn my clairvoyance against you, thus robbing you of your victims. And the abused millions will stand behind me like a plough… And evermore will two human beings create one more of their kind… Thus you will feel your powerlessness and come begging to me, to Man, on bloody knees.“ [6]

The problem constituted by the existence of a humanity dismissed from the enfolding bosom of Nature – and reflectively aware of this dismissal, so that we find ourselves thirsting after meaning in a cosmos that is essentially meaningless – can only be solved by the cessation of the production of all further human beings:

„I will have to desist from the creation of all new stakeholders in this failed project. Such a decision would, indeed, usher in a terminal epoch in the development of humankind; […] But this renunciation, this ‘no’ opposed to all continuation of the human project, represents in fact the utmost cultural possibility of mankind.“ [7]

If Man is by his very nature a cultural being, then it is imperative that Man’s end too be an end informed by that reflection and volition that are constitutive of culture.

 

Antinatalism of Suffering

At least in the first half of his life the impetus for Zapffe’s call for an “ebbing away of humanity” appears to consist essentially in the conflict between a meaningless cosmos and a being which demands, by its very nature, that things have meaning and sense. But in interviews from the later years of his life Zapffe begins to speak of the inescapability of certain experiences of suffering which no potential parent with any sense of responsibility would ever think of expecting any child they may beget to put up with. A transitional phase here is represented, perhaps, by an interview given to the newspaper Aftenposten in 1959. Here Zapffe says:

“Above all, we must give ethical relevance to the issue of procreation. Before one gives a coin to a beggar one looks at both faces of it, carefully considering what one is about to do. A child, by contrast, is thrown into the brutality of the cosmos without hesitation.” [8]

More precisely, Zapffe proposes, in this interview – in contrast to his statements in “On the Tragic”, where he had proposed that every couple should have just one child – a “two-child policy” as a way for humanity to “ebb away” without suffering:

“The sooner Man dares to put himself into a harmonious relationship with the biological conditions of his existence the better. And this means withdrawing voluntarily in protest against his conditions of life in this world; just like other species of animal, for whom warmth was a vital need, passed into extinction when the temperature dropped. The moral climate of the universe is effectively unbearable for us and the withdrawal from it can be carried out painlessly by way of the two-child norm. Instead, we ‘go forth and multiply’, presenting ourselves everywhere as if we were conquerors, since extreme hardship has taught us to suppress this formula in our hearts. This hardening of our sensibility is perhaps most indecently reflected in the thesis that the individual has the “duty” to endure nameless suffering and a horrible death inasmuch as this saves or favours the rest of the group to which the individual in question belongs.”[9]

This passage combines a reminder of the “unbearable moral climate of the universe” with certain concrete thoughts regarding how the failed project of humanity might at last be wrapped up and also regarding that unacceptable imposition of death and of suffering in general which always necessarily goes hand in hand with the bringing of new human beings into existence, human beings who never expressed any desire to be begotten and born.

This aspect of the irresponsibility of all generative behaviour is particularly emphasized by Zapffe in an interview from 1984:

“To have children, to let a fate come into existence – perhaps a whole series of fates without any limitation in time – is a project so heavily burdened with inevitable evils and enormous risks (physically and psychologically) that potential parents endowed with a fully developed sense of responsibility will tend towards passivity or show themselves incapable of acting. Especially at a time when immense threats close off the horizon, silencing any potential ‘yes’ to life.” [10]

In a late interview from 1989/1990 Zapffe comes down unequivocally on the side of a rigorous “no” to life: “From the ‘no’ to life there directly follows a cessation of procreation. I do not want to participate in the creation of new life.” [11]

As indicated above, one does not perhaps go far wrong in reckoning Zapffe among those thinkers whose thought has undergone a certain transformation in the direction of antinatalism: one which begins with a certain advocacy of antinatalism in view of the intolerable meaninglessness of self-aware human existence and moves toward something like an antinatalism proper founded in the fact of this existence’s being so overwhelmingly full of suffering that no one can reasonably be expected to accept and bear it. Zapffe’s early “antinatalism of meaninglessness”, however, does not appear very convincing – and this for the following reasons: Zapffe, as we have seen, portrays Man as a being who has been, as it were, “dismissed from Nature” by reason of a certain “surplus of consciousness” – which latter, indeed, lies at the root of Man’s awareness of, and ability to reflect upon, himself – and who, therefore, finds himself in the midst of a meaningless cosmos and suffers terribly from this fact. In the first place the question arises of whether Zapffe does not, perhaps, overly romanticize the existence of human beings – at this point, as should be noted, only conscious, not yet genuinely self-conscious beings – “in the bosom of Nature”. Because it is true, after all, of the great majority of sentient animals that, after lifetimes filled with sicknesses, injuries, hunger and vicissitudes either as hunter or as prey, no easy or merciful death falls to their lot. And furthermore the course of events, in terms of the interface between Nature and history, within the transitional space between animal and Man is not as Zapffe suggests it to be: as far back as our knowledge of Man reaches, we see him “always already” accompanied by culture and by ritual actions from which we can conclude the existence of certain mythical world-images which prevented a sense of meaninglessness from ever arising. Zapffe conceives of Man as a biological “hiatus being” who is no longer, as the other animals were and remain, merely aware but rather becomes abruptly and immediately self-aware and proves unable to withstand the sudden onslaught of that meaninglessness which he nonetheless presupposes as a given. No such Man ever existed, however, in our species’ history or prehistory, since Man was “always already” an artist, at least as regards his anchoring of himself in the world by means of myth and religion. Zapffe fails to recognize this even though precisely such an “anchoring” forms one of his key themes: “anchoring” in the world as an unconscious precautionary measure aimed at precluding full exposure to the assault of meaninglessness – this is a topic which occupies him at great length throughout his major work “On the Tragic”.

It was only, in fact, after the implosion of that harmoniously ordered world-whole to which the Greeks gave the telling denomination “cosmos”, and after the subsequent collapse of that conception of the world as God’s Creation which had been this vision’s successor and inheritor, that Man found himself cheek by jowl with a universe bereft of meaning. No such confrontation as is described in Zapffe’s “The Last Messiah” – namely, that of a primitive Man, dismissed from the bosom of Nature and abruptly self-aware, with a tormenting, absolute nothingness – can ever really have occurred. This confrontation is rather something which was reserved for us, the “late humanity” of the present day.

In fact, however – and this much at least can be said in the defence of his early philosophical schema – Zapffe adduces, in “The Last Messiah”, no less than four distinct strategies or systems serving to keep at a distance the onslaught of a meaningless universe. These are: isolation, anchoring, distraction and sublimation. By “isolation” Zapffe understands the deliberate rejection of all those disturbing and destructive thoughts and feelings which may happen to come to an individual’s awareness. Regarding “anchoring” Zapffe notes:

“Every cultural unity is a large-scale system of anchoring, fully rounded-off in itself and constructed upon those supporting pillars that are the culture in question’s fundamental ideas.”[12]

These trust-building “anchoring mechanisms” – parents, home, even the life of the streets – exert their effects from earliest childhood on. “Distraction” is considered by Zapffe to be an extremely widely prevalent mechanism of self-protection: attention to the universe’s meaninglessness remains constantly below a certain critical threshold, inasmuch as our attentiveness is constantly fed by new distracting impressions. “Sublimation”, finally, designates rather a transformation than a repression. It is very telling that the US antinatalist Thomas Ligotti – on whom Zapffe’s work “The Last Messiah” exerted a great influence – chose to call his own work on “the conspiracy against the human race” the sublimation of his personal “cosmophobia”. If one reads these Zapffe’s four systems or strategies as strategies of “de-anxietization”, the connection becomes clear between his work and the work of Hans Blumenberg, who also accorded to mythical world-descriptions and mythical forms of life the function of “de-anxietization”.

 

[1] „En natt i lengst forsvunne tider våknet mennesket og så seg selv. Han så at han var naken under kosmos, hjemløs i sitt eget legeme. Allting oppløste seg for hans prøvende tanke, under over under, redsel over redsel sprang ut i hans sinn.“

[2] „Hva var skjedd? Et brudd på selve livs-enheten, et biologisk paradoks, en uhyrlighet, en absurditet, en hypertrofi av katastrofal natur. Livet hadde skutt over målet og sprengt seg selv. En art var blitt væpnet for sterkt, – ånden gjorde den ikke bare allmektig utad, den var like farlig for sin egen velferd.“

[3] „Han kommer til naturen som en ubuden gjest; forgjeves rekker han sine armer ut og bønnfaller om å bli gjenforenet med det som har skapt ham: Naturen svarer ikke mer, den gjorde et under med mennesket, men siden kjente den ham ikke.“

[4] „Kjenn Eder selv, vær ufruktbare og la jorden bli stille etter Eder.“

[5] Ders.: Tragik und Tragödie. Ein vorläufiger Versuch über Wesen und Gestaltwandel des Tragischen, in: Preußische Jahrbücher Bd. 225 (1931).

[6] „Mig fik du, men min søn skal du ikke faa! En skjæbnesvanger feil begik du, dengang du agsaa la avlen ind under min vilje. Og ikke av kjærlighet gjorde du det, men for at jeg skulde møte dette værste av alle konkrete ansvar…: Skal jeg føre denne slegt videre eller skal jeg ikke? Og nu spør jeg ikke længer hvad du vil, men du skal spørge havd jeg vil, og jeg vil ikke mere ofre til livets gud. Jeg skal ramme dig med den evne som du frigav for at pine mig, jeg skal bruke min indsigt imot dig og berøve / dig dit bytte. Og de misbrukte millioner skal staa bak mig som en plog… Og altid skal to avle én… Da skal du kjende din avmagt og tigge mig, mennesket, paa dine blodige knær.“ (Om det tragiske, S. 239f)

[7] „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).

[8] „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.“

[9] „Jo snarere menneskeslekten våger å harmonere med sine biologiske forutsætninger, des bedre. Og det er å trække sig frivillig tilbake, av ringeakt for sine vilkår i verden, likesom varmehungrende dyrearter døde ut da temperaturen sank. Det er altets moralske klima vi egentlig ikke kan tåle, og avviklingen kan ske smertefritt gjennem to-barns-normen. Isteden utbreder vi oss og seirer overalt, fordi vi av nøden har lært å lemlæste formelen i vore hjerter. Det urimeligste utslag av denne styrkende forgrovning har vi kanske i tesen om, at den enkelte har “plikt” til å bære navnløse lidelser og den værste død, dersom det redder eller gavner resten av den gruppe han tilhører.“ Der norwegische Text wurde uns von „Planet Zapffe“ (http://www.knunst.com/planetzapffe/) zur Verfügung gestellt.

[10] „…å avle barn, å starte en skjæbne, evt. en vifte av skjæbner uten begrænsning i tid – er et foretagande så ladet med både sikre onder og svimlende risker – fysisk, psykisk og sjælelig sett – att potensielle forældre med moden ansvarsbevissthet vil være disponert for passivitet eller handlingslammelse på dette punkt, især i en tid som vor, der overvældende truende aspekter fylder horizonten og lammer vort Ja til livet.“ (Zapffe im Interview mit Geir T.H. Eriksen, in: Gateavisa Nr. 102 (7/84), Seite 29–31, hier: S. 30).

[11] „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 interviewed by Av Bo Viuf, http://www.oslo.net/historie/MB/utg/9601/perspekt/1.html, consulted on 14.9.2014)

[12] Enhver kultur-enhet er et stort, avrundet forankringssystem, bygget over bærende grunnbjelker, de fundamentale kulturtanker. (Den siste messias)

The Promotion of Happiness and Antinatalism

According to antinatalistic moral theory there would be no obligation to act in such a way as to cause new human beings to exist even if the human beings in question were destined to be happy. Many may conclude from this that antinatalism is a moral theory unconcerned with the issue of happiness. But this is not the case. Even if it seems to us impossible to find a foundation for any supposed obligation to “make” happy human beings, there certainly does exist a moral obligation to make already-existing human beings content.

Accusation of God, Guilt of God

That a believer in God might – in the tradition of Job – make reproaches to Him for all the sufferings that human beings must undergo on earth is all the more unlikely the more such a believer would have to fear that, by such an action, he would be putting the salvation of his own soul at risk. But God functions, nonetheless, in the history of the constitution of antinatalism, on account of the responsibility for all aspects of existence that is ascribed to Him, as a sort of a “catchment basin” placed before the accusation eventually levelled against human parents, and as a sort of area of accumulation for complaints about existence. Where accusations directed against God arise, these accusations serve initially also to shield and cover over Parental Guilt and to forbid the emergence of reproaches directed against human parents.  But with the àImplosion of God and the loosening-up of religious obsessions and idées fixes the historically-accumulated accusations against God fall back upon the heads of procreating human beings. Man, freed of religion, inherits the accumulated guilt of God, in the shadow of which he continues to procreate.

Implosion of God

In the course of what we might call “the implosion of God” we observe, in the “ideal-typical” case, a falling-back upon the heads of human beings themselves of those >Accusations Against God, reproaching Him with having created Man, which have accumulated over millennia in the work of poets and thinkers. All of a sudden, the accuser becomes the accused.

Children of God

Although it is often held to in full simultaneous knowledge of the actual biological facts of parenthood, that notion of our being “children of God” which accompanies the belief in God the Father as Creator conveys an understanding whereby human beings are always also born from God or begotten by Him in the measure that they declare their faith in and allegiance to Him. This understanding, which tends to exculpate parents, was and remains apt to mask the relations of guilt and responsibility that actually apply here.

Taboo on God

In cultures where both world and Man are taken to have their origin in an omnipotent Creator and thereby in an overwhelmingly powerful will behind origin and being, it is – tendentially at least – very difficult for the “wish never to have been born” to come to clear expression. In the three monotheistic religions this “wish never to have been born” is tantamount to a “critique of God” that has a taboo placed on it because, as a general tendency, it is perceived as liable to be punished by the withdrawal of salvation. The “wishes never to have been born” encountered in the writings bearing the names of the prophets Job or Jeremiah had necessarily to be somewhat “defused” and reinterpreted as imprecations cast by Man not upon God but upon himself: “Man curses the day of his birth because it is only through this day that he acquires the possibility of sinning,” we read in an exegetical textbook by Balthasar Corderius from 1646 (quoted from Rölleke, S. 16) The taboo on God is a bulwark from which any impulse to curse God or His creation tends, as it were, to rebound, becoming reflected instead as a curse which Man casts upon himself.

Thus, regret at having been born remained, in cultural history, essentially a self-related regret and achieved only a passive form of expression. It is only in certain isolated cases that the hint of a reproach directed against the Creator Himself makes itself heard – in the form of the question as to why – given the uncertainty of salvation – this Creator decided to create His creatures at all, since this involved either a passing or an eternal experience of hellish suffering. In a certain Frankfurt passion play the cry is even directed at Christ Himself: “Woe to you that you were ever born!” (quoted from Rölleke, S. 23) Here we are only a short way from an accusation against God Himself, since it was not by two human beings that Jesus was begotten.  

As the notion of a divine presence withdraws from our lives, indeed, the taboo on God likewise becomes less strict. The “wish never to have been born” is no longer reflected back into Man’s own abjection but begins to emerge and assert itself now as an imprecation on existence/Creation. Milton and Shakespeare count among the better-known voices articulating this idea. Equally interesting, however – though barely appreciated – is that “accusation against God” articulated under the auspices of Islam which we find, for example, in the poets  Attar and Chayyam (1048–1131).

Principle of Presupposed Existence

It is only for already-existing beings that acts or omissions can be better, indifferent or worse.  In accordance with this fundamental-ethical principle of presupposed existence it cannot be possible to make identifying reference to anyone for whom it would be better, indifferent or worse to begin to exist or not to begin to exist.  If I say: “For me, it would have been better/worse not to have begun to exist” I am attempting to “get around” certain logical and ontological circumstances which in fact can never possibly be gotten around. Simple as this insight may be, it proves very difficult to hold to it in the course of actual anti- or pronatalistic argument. Everywhere, there tends to occur a sliding into judgments of the type: with the beginning of our existence there occurred an improvement, or a deterioration, in “our” state. Poets and thinkers often express themselves in just this way, even though the beginning of our existence is really not an event which can be said to happen to us, nor to harm or help us. Inasmuch as it is logically excluded that something exists before it begins to exist the beginning of the existence of a living being can bring this being neither into a better state nor into a worse one.

No one can be identified for whom it would be better to begin to exist than to go on not existing.  

No one can be identified for whom it would be better to go on not existing than to begin to exist.  

The Whirlpool Suction of “Being as ‘the Good’”

It may be supposed that our inclination to give preference to being over non-being is to be traced back, in a measure that is impossible precisely to determine, to bionomic influences. In other words, it may be that, in our giving to being the connotation of “good” and to non-being the connotation of “bad”, there comes into effect a certain bio-axionomic primordial stratum of all morality which is the real constituent agent behind all our intuitions and moral evaluations. The intuitive privileging of being over non-being in the wake of this bio-axionomic primordial stratum of our thinking and feeling generates a kind of whirlpool-like sucking of everything toward existence which surely plays a role also in the form taken by pronatal stances and attitudes. All talk of people’s “not being” tends to call forth a spectrum of emotional judgments which ranges from “bad” to “threatening”. Very generally speaking, we may say that it is this spectrum that generates the “whirlpool-like sucking of everything toward existence” which causes human beings to call other human beings into life.

Half-Existent Entities

In debates about generation and procreation one often hears it said that “potential human beings have a right to actualization” or, in other words, by begetting progeny one “actualizes” a human being who already existed in potentia. Nicolai Hartmann uses, in his ontology, the phrase “half-existent entities” in order to criticize the notion, still widely held to in his day, that so-called “potentialities” were in some sense already real. He supports this phrase with the argument that that which is “only potential” is not real precisely for the reason that it is – at least at the moment and in some cases permanently – not possible for it to be real. There is, in other words, no half-existing “potential realm” above, beside, or behind the realm of the actual. This notion of “half-existent entities” goes to nourish the >Natal Myth insofar as “human beings in potentia” appear to be, in ontic terms, something more than just nothing.  

Hardness of the Real

This central concept in the onto-ethics of Nicolai Hartmann describes a neganthropic aspect of the mode of being of the real: we imagine that everything that is conceivable is possible; but in fact it is really only ever the actual that is possible, or that was possible before it was made actual. If we cherish a belief in a – so to speak àhalf-existent – plurality of numerous possibilities and potentialities which are all somehow “at our disposal”, this is because this belief helps to console us and to avert our attention from the true “hardness of the real”.  

The Rat-Race of Pleasure: Bad Luck for Good Fortune

Parents beget children in order that these children will be able, as the phrase goes, to “make their fortune” in the world. But as the other phrase which speaks of “the rat-race of pleasure” suggests, this is much harder than it is often assumed to be. Even after some extraordinary improvement in their circumstances or after some amazing stroke of luck people tend to slip back, after some time, to some much lower level of happiness. Things are different when it is a matter of a great catastrophe in people’s lives: in such cases it tends to take a much longer time before people once again acquire their former contentment.[1]

Whoever acts in such a way that another human being begins to exist is responsible for the fact that there now exists one more being who may possess, indeed, in the words of the US Declaration of Independence, “an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness” but who is constituted, in fact, in such a way that it will always be difficult for him to maintain himself for long on a very high level of happiness, whereas a single stroke of adversity will often leave him permanently discontented.

[1] See, for example: Baumeister et al., Bad is stronger than good, S. 326.

Propensity to Salvation and Propensity to Calamity (Nativistic Ambipolarity)

Quite aside from any experiences of happiness or suffering that new human beings brought into existence might undergo, the question also arises of the effect of salvation or calamity for other human beings that might proceed from this existence. Indeed, not a few people have justified their pronatal decision by pointing out the possibility that the child that they beget might become a bringer of salvation to mankind. Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach sketches such a scenario in her story “Das Schädliche”:

“Nordhausen mourned for her for a long time, then took to himself a beautiful, virtuous wife and lived happily ever after. What kind of a future would have awaited him had he married Lore?  And their children – what calamities might they have brought down upon the world? Might they have brought down… Here too we find ourselves placed before a question. They might also have brought salvation. Countless examples from life and from history prove…but of course, what does ‘proof’ mean?” (Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach)

The Self-Raising of Man Above the “Imperative to Be” Through Religious Faith and Philosophical Reflection

One aspect of Asiatic religiosity to which we cannot refuse our appreciation must surely be the following: that the faiths – and also the forms of philosophical reason and reflection – that have emerged from the matrix of this religiosity have been able to raise themselves very much further out of that apparent self-evidence of our “simply having imperatively to be” – an apparent self-evidence grounded in the bionomic realities of our status as component elements of physical Nature – than the Middle Eastern/Occidental counterparts to these Asiatic religions have ever succeeded in doing. But Occidental philosophy, as “the brain of religion”, can today, through antinatalism, link up with the legacy of these extra-Occidental forms of belief and reason.

Hermeneutic, Nativistic

Due to the “home advantage” enjoyed by existence one must proceed very carefully when attempting to find out whether someone is “happy to have been born”. Just the questions alone “Are you happy to be alive?” or “Would it perhaps have been better if you had never begun to live?” will tend to activate the drive to self-preservation, the involvement of which may bring it about that these questions are answered in a way that is merely defensive, without any real thought or reflection about the topic going into the reply. What is required, then, is a subtler nativistic hermeneutic which does not “assault” the questioned party with a symbolic threat to his existence in the form of an “all-or-nothing” interrogation[1]. Such a subtler manner of proceeding would gingerly try to explore in what measure the questioned individual’s life really is important to him, by taking into account any risky behaviour this latter might engage in and his contentment from moment to moment.

[1] Sarah Perry was quite right to point this out; see Perry, Every Cradle is a Grave, p. 187.

Heuristic of Fear

With his “heuristic of fear” Hans Jonas speaks out in favour of the position that, as regards certain experiments and innovations in the fields of genetic and atomic technology, the possibility of things going wrong must be taken very seriously and the implementation of the new discoveries and inventions therefore often deliberately forgone. But why does Jonas not apply this “heuristic of fear” there where it is most eminently a question of Man himself: namely, in the question of human beings’ bringing forth of other human beings? In view of the fact that the human being who is thereby begotten might potentially be deeply unhappy or may suffer in his life some catastrophe the “heuristic of fear” would appear to require that further human procreations be forgone and that the >Experimentum mundi be broken off. Instead of recommending this, however, Jonas chooses to hold, with his “principle of responsibility” – within the larger context of which his “heuristic of fear” is developed – in a manner which runs precisely contrary to this “heuristic of fear” to the notion that Man must go on existing at any price, thus proving himself to be an irresponsible pronatalist after all.

Hiatus, Nativistic

The notion “nativistic hiatus” designates the divergence from one another, in very great measure, of sexuality and procreation since the advent of easily accessible and easily applicable reliable methods of contraception.  Together with the general spirit of modernity, which tends to unanchor human existence from all its former moorings in metaphysics, this nativistic hiatus forms one of the pillars of practical antinatalism.

Himsa-Footprint (Neganthropic Footprint)

We are nowadays constantly exhorted to see to it that our personal and collective “ecological footprint” stays as small as possible. We hear an especially great deal of talk about our “carbon footprint”. But of a similar degree of importance is the moral imperative to limit our “himsa footprint”. The Sanskrit word himsa signifies “injury” or “violence”; ahimsa, on the other hand, is the principle of non-violence, non-injury. The person who lives frugally, consuming no meat or (so far as possible) no animal products at all, leaves behind him a relatively small “himsa footprint” – in marked contrast to the person who frequently takes journeys by plane or car, and quite especially in contrast to the meat-eater, who with every meat-product he consumes contributes to extending the chain of breeding, fattening-up, and brutally slaughtering living beings.

The heaviest “himsa footprint” of all, however, is left by the person who procreates. Parents bring a human being into the world who will, with absolute certainty, become a victim of one or another form of biological violence (i.e. sickness, accident or death) and will also, with a barely lesser degree of certainty, become a victim (or a perpetrator) of one or another form of social violence (chicanery, punishment, insult or humiliation). Whoever procreates condones, in one way or another, that course of history up to the present day which is so filled and over-filled with violence and lays a new foundation stone for this violent history’s perpetuation.

World with a “Criminal Record”

It is normal to condemn individuals who knowingly pass on to, and impose upon, their progeny some medical handicap from which they were already aware they themselves suffered. But there exists a precise equivalent to this irresponsibility on the historical-neganthropic plane. Each newborn citizen of the earth is irresistibly drawn into those neganthropic interrelations and chains of action and reaction which extend into every time and place making up the history of our species. He is seized by these neganthropic chains of interrelation and compelled to contribute to their perpetuation. An example: whoever undertakes to praise the excellent qualities of Dutch painting during the so-called Golden Age of Amsterdam, then the richest city in Europe, must be supposed to be blocking out of his mind the fact that the Netherlands were, at the time, the hegemonic power within the modern global economic system and that the organization which played the most decisive role in this hegemony, the Dutch East India Company, either slaughtered or deported to Batavia, in or around 1621, the entire population of the Banda Islands in order to replace them with Dutch colonists. (see Eric R. Wolf, Europe and the People Without History). Today, at our advanced stage of globalization, almost every consumer of any product tends to promote some form of mischief or misery somewhere in the world.

Hope

Psychological mechanism, ancillary to the drive to self-preservation, which generates that >Momentum of Positivity which is required if individuals are to push on with their own existence and bring others into existence through procreation: “However badly things are going for a human being, so long as there glimmers in him even one last spark of vital force he will cling to the hope of future happiness. If hope were not in the world it would be the turn of despair and we would have, even despite the fear of death and the natural drive to self-preservation, to record suicides without number.” (Eduard v. Hartmann: Philosophie des Unbewussten) We might add to this that, without this “ancillary instinct” of hope, not only would the number of suicides be far greater; the number of procreations would also be far fewer.

Antinatalism and the Risk of Hell

In accordance with a peculiar logical consistency belief in Hell leads to a theological antinatalism. Devout Christians or Muslims run, with every procreation, a Hell-related risk which is really greater than they can conscientiously accept, inasmuch as it is impossible for these devout parents to foresee with any certainty whether or not their child will end up in Hell.

Hospitality Principle (Nativistic) and the Priority of the World’s Adjustment

Before yet more children are brought into the world it must first be ensured that they are welcome in this latter. And whether the world has attained the requisite degree of hospitableness for more children to begin to exist in it can, for example, be established by observing whether children are starving in this world, or being forced to work before reaching an age appropriate for it, or whether they are obliged to serve their parents as “prestige objects / subjects” or are otherwise directly instrumentalized.

The notion “priority of the world’s adjustment” refers to the imperative whereby it would not be considered to be incumbent upon newborn human beings to adjust and adapt themselves to the world; rather, the bearing of new children should, on this account, be suspended for some time until the world has been made – by those who have already been living in it for some time – has been made a world more worthy for human beings to live in, that is to say, has been, for its own part, adjusted and adapted to the needs of those who might potentially be born into it. Otto Reutter offered a humoristic formulation of this point:

“Don’t be born, little man!

Wait till there’s a world here that’s more to your liking.“

This “priority of the world’s adjustment” implies that existing human beings have, first of all, to reform the world from the bottom up, and reorganize it in such a way as to make it a welcoming place for new arrivals, before there can be even any thought of bringing forth new human beings to inhabit it. We encounter a moderate and modified form of antinatalist thinking similar to this one both in Tolstoy’s “Kreutzer Sonata” and in Dostoevsky’s (1821–1881) “Demons”:

“But one thing is necessary above all else: there should be no superfluous human beings born into the world. Rather, reorganize the world in such a way that no human being will be superfluous in it and then bring into it as many human beings as you please.”

Humanomania

We designate by the term “humanomania” the widely-held conviction that human beings must, imperatively, continue to exist indefinitely on into the farthest future and that any price in suffering is worth paying in order for them to do so. Humanomania is often sustained by the view that the presence of human beings in the universe is an absolutely indispensable value in itself (>Axiopathy) or the view that a golden age for humanity will one day be realized.

Threshold-Value, Neganthropic – Negative Utilitarianism

The question of the neganthropic threshold-value arises both on the individual and on the collective level.  

Individual-Neganthropic Threshold-Values

The question of an individual-neganthropic threshold-value is one which arises in two distinct respects: namely, reflexively, in respect of one’s own self, and in respect of one’s children.   Reflective, self-related neganthropic threshold-values are established when we ask ourselves: “in what sort of situation would I have to find myself in order for me to say, it would have been better if I had never been born”?

But in order to establish the second, child-related sort of individual-neganthropic threshold-value we would need rather to ask parents in spe: “Imagine that medical diagnostic techniques had progressed so far that it were possible, by means of genetic analysis of the embryo, to predict not just some serious illnesses but practically every form of malady and disease from which the person that this embryo becomes would suffer throughout the whole length of their life: how serious would the predicted illness have to be – or how many less serious illnesses would have to be predicted to ensue, one after the other, in the prospective person’s life – for you, as parent in spe, to decide rather to forgo allowing the embryo in question to become your child?”

Would the knowledge that certain childhood diseases – such as measles, chickenpox, scarlet fever, and whooping cough – would certainly occur be enough to cause this prospective parent to revise their pronatal decision?  Or would there be needed for this the certainty, rather, of more serious illnesses, such as thyroid disorders, leukemia, skin cancer, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, gall stones, kidney stones, collapsed veins, coronary disease, rheumatic disorders, pulmonary fibrosis, rosacea, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, or the many varieties of allergy? And if the inevitable arisal of one or more of the illnesses on this long list – which might easily be made still longer – really were enough to cause someone to revise a pronatal decision once taken, should it not then be the case that every single such pronatal decision would need by rights to be revised, since we can be absolutely certain that every human being, without exception, will have one day to experience the catastrophe of death (unless the human being in question happens to die a very sudden death or slips down gradually into a deeper and deeper state of unconsciousness)?

 

The Kantian Limes – The Question About a Collective-Negathropic Threshold-Value

Already for Kant, a man of the 18th Century, there remained little hope that the human species could be improved: “The experience of both ancient and modern times must leave every thinking person in doubt and embarrassment regarding the question of whether our species’ condition will ever improve.” (Kant, Schriften zur Anthropologie) Of such an affirmation it would seem reasonable to expect that it should issue, if at no earlier point in history then quite definitely after the terrible experiences of the 20th Century, in numerous professions of adherence to an historically-informed antinatalism. We see, however, that this is a long way from having been the case.

For this reason we ask: after what war or genocide, what famine, plague or natural catastrophe was it finally enough, or would it finally be enough? How many future human beings would someone wish to see rendered up to a terrible destiny before he or she began to view the non-violent termination of the history of our species as an ethical imperative? Which event in human history forms the caesura by which one might consider Michael Landmann refuted and revealed as a >damnatorial accomplice in the Conditio in/humana, when he claims – light years removed from Kant – that “the human race learns from the suffering which it has inflicted on itself. Error provokes, by a logic of thesis and antithesis, improvement.” (Landmann, Fundamental-Anthropologie)

Another Kantian limes concerns the theory of justice and conveys the notion that humanity deserves its own extinction if justice has become extinct among human beings: if society, for example, has reached such a point that the offer is made to a criminal condemned to death that he allow medical experiments to be conducted upon himself the results of which might serve the wellbeing of humanity in general: “Because when justice perishes the continued existence of human beings on earth is an existence without value.” (Kant, Metaphysik der Sitten, Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Rechtslehre, 2. Teil, E. Vom Straf- und Begnadigungsrecht)

The Tyranny of a Majority Contented with a Minimal Quality of Life

For the important ethical thinker Dieter Birnbacher the future of humanity is not, in the first instance, something which self-evidently simply “has to be”. He writes: “Rather, we are necessarily running, by pushing on with the history of humanity, a certain risk. (…) Whether our persistence in this project is ethically justifiable or not cannot be proven or disproven except in light of the balance of costs and benefits, which can only ever be drawn up ‘after the fact’.” To all appearances, what Birnbacher writes here implies that, after the massive human catastrophes of our history, especially those of the 20th Century, we still enjoy a morally defensible choice regarding whether or not to take the risk of exposing human beings to such experiences also in the future (>Damnators). Birnbacher’s ‘only after the fact’ qualification serves here, in reality, to give a carte blanche to procreation: only once new human beings have come into existence, it implies, can it be judged whether the decision in favour of procreation was or was not a justifiable one. – But this is tantamount to the annulling of all >Parental Guilt. Birnbacher, however, cannot be reproached with blinding himself to the facts. In the final decade of the 20th century, he notes, more human beings will have starved to death than in any previous decade in history. This decade also saw mass murders on an almost inconceivable scale, with victims (as in Rwanda) running into the hundreds of thousands.” Clearly, Birnbacher foresees, for the 21st century, crimes and catastrophes on a comparably enormous scale. He is unable, however, to see any grounds in this for considering “that we should wish for the next, or the next-but-one, generation the blessing of never being born.”

Plainly there was not reached, for Birnbacher, even with the terrible events in Rwanda any neganthropic threshold-value such as to prompt him to take his distance from his own speech in favour of a persistence in the Experimentum mundi. What considerations, precisely, does he offer in this regard? The basis, for Birnbacher, of the above-mentioned ‘balance of costs and benefits’ is the ‘balance of happiness’ of a merely arithmetically calculated ‘greater number’ of individual human beings. For so long as “life, for this greater number of human beings, has not become something which they feel they cannot bear being asked to put up with” it is not, for example, future species-embracing catastrophes that represent the worst of all evils but rather: the ebbing-away of humanity. Birnbacher bases himself here on the subjectively-perceived quality of life of “the greater number”. But this amounts in the end to nothing more nor less than the justification, in the name of “the majority”, of the imposition of the grossest suffering and misery. It would be legitimately conceivable, under the auspices of such a philosophy, that a human majority whose numbers would run into the billions might lead a life full, in their own perception, of happiness while a human minority, whose numbers would run into barely fewer billions, would suffer unspeakable physical and mental misery.

As far as the life of the majority is concerned, progenerative decisions are, more precisely speaking, justified in Birnbacher’s eyes for so long as life, for this “greater number” of the human race, “has not become something which they feel they cannot bear being asked to put up with” – a statement which seems to imply that the life of those we bring into the world to live on after us may indeed permissibly be “something they have to put up with” – but not may not permissibly be “something they cannot bear being asked to put up with”.    Birnbacher specifies this aspect of “something one can bear being asked to put up with” more precisely by giving a direct answer to the question of just when a life can be said to be meaningless: “Life is meaningless only in the case where the most important and fundamental of our aims and ends are constantly disappointed and we fail to adapt these goals to the realities of our existence to such an extent that a bare minimum of fulfilment becomes possible.” Birnbacher arrives at this assessment on the basis of his own preferred version of Utilitarianism, i.e. of an ethical system with a subjective-hedonistic axiology. Birnbacher is certainly right in taking up the cause of Utilitarianism here because, although the value-basis, or basis in evaluational premises, of this latter doctrine is indeed a narrow one, it is a value-basis which is not contested by any other system of ethics, for which reason it can lay a strong claim to universal validity. The value-basis of Utilitarianism consists in the value of “wish-fulfilment subjectively experienced as valuable” – for which Birnbacher uses the briefer form of expression “the value: quality of life”. In terms of Utilitarian ethics a positive value is assigned to experiences which are subjectively experienced as positive, while a negative value is assigned to experiences which are subjectively experienced as negative. The value of life thereby inheres in an extra-moral characteristic, namely “therein, that life is predominantly experienced, by those who are living it, as satisfying”. Thus far, however, the only question answered would be that of whether, or for how long, an already-existing life is to be persisted in; and a suicide comes into consideration only if someone is unable any longer to achieve a certain minimum of self-fulfilment.

Now, the question that specifically concerns us is whether one can, and how one does, move from the question of the continuability of an individual life to an answer to the question of whether it is legitimate to cause other lives to begin. On the basis of the value: “the quality of life”, remarks Birnbacher, the question “should human beings exist?” can only possibly be answered in the affirmative: it is better for more of that which is good to exist than for less of it to. “If the existence of a being with a (generally considered) positive quality of life represents a value, then it is ceteris paribus better if more instances of this being exist rather than fewer instances of it.” Firstly, this answer would imply that human beings are to be brought into existence in order that the maximum possible quantity of value enter into the world. But this sounds extremely implausible, since we would be dealing here with an increase in value that does, prima facie, no one any good – because nothing good is done for a person beginning to exist by this mere fact alone of their beginning to exist (as Birnbacher himself, indeed, citing Erich Kästner, explains[1]). And secondly, were this logic to be followed out, there would be a danger of there coming into being what a hostile observer would be inclined to call “the tyranny of a certain minimum quality of life”: if, merely statistically considered, of some ten billion people some six billion are, in terms of their own subjective perception of their lives, “doing well”, while some four billion, judging by all established value-criteria, are “doing badly”, the advocacy, or the practice, of procreation would be, on the basis of this “majority vote”, morally meritorious even in the case where it could not in all conscience be held that this proportion of happiness to unhappiness were likely to alter at any point in the foreseeable future. In the last analysis Birnbacher justifies the continuation, indefinitely on into the future, of a certain status quo by reference to billions of human beings the pressure of whose suffering is not yet so great that they are driven to suicide.

But, being an informed and judicious philosopher, Birnbacher does not just reckon with the occurrence of further enormous human catastrophes; he is also aware of the mechanisms of the biological and social >Lottery (see Birnbacher, Analytische Einführung in die Ethik, p. 235). Despite this being the case, though, he makes no serious attempt to enter, ex ante, into an >Assessment of the Consequences of Begetting Progeny. Let us attempt, therefore, to better understand his position. In his 2007 book “Analytische Einführung in die Ethik” Birnbacher expounds in more detail his as it were “quantitative” conception of ethics: “More happiness must always be a better thing than less, regardless of whether this ‘more happiness’ comes about through an increase in the enjoyment experienced by already existing individuals or through the existence of more individuals who will also find enjoyment in their lives.” (p. 223) In order to make more plausible this “sum-of-utilities”-based imperative to procreate, which contains within itself an anthropodicy, Birnbacher has recourse to cases involving so-called “negative utilities”. He reminds us of the fact that, when there occurs a mass accident or a famine, it is, in the end, not at all a matter of indifference to us whether the number of victims amounts to ten, or a hundred, or a hundred thousand (c.f. ibid. p. 223f). But what Birnbacher leaves out of account here is the after all decisive circumstance that we have to do, in the case of these victims of accidents and famines, with already-existing human beings. There is indeed no question but that an accident which claims the lives of ten people is (all other things being equal) less bad than one which claims the lives of a hundred. But our reference point here consists in existing persons, the smallest possible number of whom should have to undergo suffering. Birnbacher, by contrast, pleads for the bringing into existence of additional, not-yet-existing human beings (“blank spaces”, ontically speaking) in order that the total “utility sum” of the world is accrued.  We have to do here with a true >Salto natale. With his reference to the imperative to minimize suffering Birnbacher touches on the moral theory of negative utilitarianism, with which Karl Popper aligned himself, adducing the convincing consideration that we know far better what to do in order to decrease suffering than we know what to do in order to increase happiness. The value-basis of negative utilitarianism is, in fact, much narrower even than that of the happiness-based version which is advocated by most Utilitarians. Negative Utilitarianism’s stance, indeed, toward progenerative decisions must necessarily be a dissuasive one: after an act of begetting there begins to exist a >Living Being that must necessarily suffer – something which runs counter to the negative-Utilitarian imperative to minimize suffering in the world. “Sum-of-suffering” negative Utilitarianism has the advantage here over the “sum-of-happiness” Utilitarianism advocated by Birnbacher, since it restricts itself to existing sentient beings and does not comprise the implausible imperative to bring forth, so as to arrive at its moral-theoretical goal, additional such beings. The moral-theoretical intention of “sum-of-suffering” Utilitarianism is, at least as far as our own earth is concerned, fulfilled when the sum of suffering in the world has become equal to zero – that is to say, when no sentient being capable of suffering any longer exists (or no sentient being capable of suffering any longer suffers). For this reason Birnbacher calls our “sum-of-suffering” Utilitarianism “a radical variant of negative Utilitarianism which is hardly acceptable in view of the consequences that flow from it” (ibid. p. 236). The question is only: “hardly acceptable” for whom and for what reasons? Behind this judgment there doubtless stands the “intuition”, or personal aesthetic preference – never to be shaken by any future mass murder or natural catastrophe – that a world with human beings, or at least some sort of sentient being, in it is “better” than one without such beings.  

[1] According to Birnbacher “we are entirely right to chuckle over Erich Kästner’s joke that ‘there really are people who still believe that they procreated in order to give pleasure to their children” (ibid. p. 368). And in his book  “Analytische Einführung in die Ethik” (2. 2007, p. 224) Birnbacher even adduces Narveson’s finding whereby Utilitarian ethics is not a training in how to create happy people but rather a general answer to the question: “how should we act in order that human beings become happier thereby?”

The Aim of Natal Enlightenment: Subjectivization of Objective Complicity (Introduction, part 12)

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.

Enlightenment and Guilt (Introduction, part 11)

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.

On the Accumulated Number of Professions of Antinatalism (Introduction, part 10)

The Israeli philosopher Saul >Smilansky is the author of several important essays on antinatalism. His intensive concern with the topic, however, appears not to have prevented him falling into the serious error of grotesquely underestimating the presence of anti-natalist insights and sentiments in the cultural legacy which has been passed down to us. Curses cast upon existence, such as we find in the Biblical Book of Job (>Biblical Antinatalism) are, Smilansky argues, only rare and exceptional cases within this legacy. Curses cast specifically upon one’s own existence in this way represent a partial or incipient form of antinatalism. Because we are obliged to assume that other people will at some point find themselves in situations similar to our own. And then the – in each case ethically imperative – universalization of the wish never to have been born implies a doubt regarding whether anyone at all should be engendered and brought into the world. Since Smilansky, however, feels himself justified in viewing the presence of such partial or incipient forms of antinatalism in our cultural tradition as so minor as to be negligible, he feels able to write that:

“It also seems significant that there is so little expression of the wish not to have been born, or at least this is so with most people who live under objectively tolerable conditions. If life were so bad, then – even if we bracket the possibility of suicide – we could expect much more expression of the Job-like wish not to have been born, in common sentiments, literature and the like. The idea is culturally available. Yet the sentiment is hardly to be found, except with those who are by temperament unusually melancholy, or are in depression, or, like Job, have some good reason for feeling so.” (Smilansky, Life is Good)

Our handbook provides the proof that Smilansky is in error here – and indeed not just Smilansky. Even Heinz Rölleke, to whom we owe one of the most comprehensive collections of >Wishes Never to Have Been Born (namely, his treatise O wär‘ ich nie geboren… (“Oh, That I Had Never Been Born”), enormously underestimates the presence of anti-natalist formulae in our culture when he writes, for example, that “moreover, there is to be found in the literature of the present day, so hostile to sentiment and emotionality, neither direct anathematizing nor direct praising of natality. It is obvious, rather, that this literature tends to accept human existence as something that is not, indeed, entirely penetrable in its meaning but that remains, nonetheless, unalterable.” (Rölleke)

Two things, however, need to be borne in mind regarding the numerous declamations of the “Oh, that I had never been born!” sort, as well as other “antinatalisms”, that we and other authors have gathered together out of the work of lyricists, dramatists and the writers of narrative literature and to which we have added our own commentaries. Firstly, it is to be remembered that we are dealing here, in the great majority of cases, with expressions of the self-understanding of fictional figures and not necessarily with any conviction actually held by the authors who created these latter. Secondly, it is also to be borne in mind that what comes to expression in these declamations is often no more than a momentary depression and that no conclusions can be drawn from such passing moods even about the Weltanschauung of the literary figure in question, let alone about that of his or her creator. And in light of these considerations the question does indeed seem justified of whether we tend to ascribe to great a significance to spontaneous >Wishes Never to Have Been Born and other traces of antinatalism. One might reply to this objection by pointing out that the sheer number of “antinatalisms” (in the sense of either indirect or explicit anti-natalistic forms or enunciations) to be found in our global literary tradition is such that the import of antinatalism in literature is hardly to be underestimated for this quantitative reason alone – however ephemeral any single anti-natalistic enunciation may appear within the context of a novel, a drama, or a poem. It must, furthermore, be taken into account that the anti-natalist topoi that one encounters again and again in the works of our literary tradition may well represent the slowly accumulated sediments of moods and of currents of feeling embracing the minds of many individuals. That is to say, these topoi may, in many cases, have already established themselves within the “psychic economy” of entire cultured classes within various civilizations before finally coming to be worked into literary form by individual members of these classes – a possibility that certainly speaks in favour of a certain extra-textual presence of antinatalism. A significant example here is Emile Zola’s novel Fécondité (Fertility).

By drawing together anti-natalist testimonies along with certain incipient forms of antinatalism emerging throughout the centuries and commenting upon these testimonies and incipient forms, we hope to demonstrate to our readers specific ways in which – according, at least, to our own reading of the matter – humanity has, through the enunciations of certain individuals, “seen reason”, as it were, and begun to distance and emancipate itself from the mere naturality of procreation. Antinatalism takes seriously the notion that Man has by now established himself as a constitutively cultural being who is in a position to call critically into question that heritage from his natural, animal past that is procreation and to distance himself, by deliberate omission of action, from this fatal heritage. In our view, the notion that the continued existence of humanity represents a self-evident moral imperative amounts to a systematic structure of self-delusion (i.e. to what the Critical Theorists of the Frankfurt School referred to as a Verblendungszusammenhang) which is underpinned and sustained in part by certain laws of our physical being as organisms and in part by certain culturally-nourished prejudices and fallacies. How strong a grip this systematic structure of self-delusion has on us is clear, for example, from the fact that radical social critics like Adorno did indeed provide a thorough analysis of the systematic and collective “blinding of oneself to the truth” that, as they argued, constituted life in contemporary capitalist society but were unable to develop their key insight that “the whole is the untrue” in the more radical sense that we have outlined over these last few pages: namely, that of calling philosophically into question that systematic structure of self-delusion that consists in procreation, and in the perpetuation of the human race, itself.  The following collection of “antinatalisms” documents moments in the history of philosophy, literature and culture at which this systematic structure of self-delusion has indeed begun to crumble, or has even been seen through entirely.

There decidedly counts, in fact, among those claims regarding what is “ordained to be so by Nature” which the Critical Theorists viewed as persistences of the “mythological” on into the modern world and our own present day, the claim that Nature dictates that all human beings must die. Antinatalism reveals this supposed natural necessity of human mortality to be mere ideology. Because our condition as beings who will die is not a condition given in and by Nature but rather a condition brought about by Man himself. The Marxian insight inspiring the Critical Theorists, then, does not go far enough: “the point” is not to criticize society as it is presently constituted and thus to change it; it is rather to abolish human society’s very existence by the application of reason.

Good Omissions (Introduction, part 9)

The author of a handbook on antinatalism must necessarily face the question: “why do you argue for and promote a practice of non-procreation instead of devoting yourselves to (what would seem at least) the more fruitful enterprise of bringing aid and succour to already existing human, beings? Why expend argumentational energy in the cause of preventing potential human beings from beginning actually to exist – since such merely potential human beings cannot, since they are only potential, actually be “helped” by such a course of action – when there exist millions upon millions of human beings to whom one might really offer aid and succour? Our answer to this (entirely justified) critical enquiry runs as follows: it is not just actions that can be morally meritorious but also the omission of certain actions. To give one – simplified – example: someone who omits to perform an action that would pollute the environment by cancelling a long-distance flight sees to it that the living conditions of other human beings are better than they would have been had he gone ahead and performed this action.

To show support and solidarity for suffering human beings is indeed a good action. But it is also morally meritorious to revise and rescind one’s wish to have children and to act in such a way as to avoid procreation, because in this way (at least) one less human being will begin to exist who will need such support and solidarity, inasmuch as he will have to undergo mental and physical pain and suffering, will inevitably at some point have to witness the sickness and death of close relatives, and will have eventually himself to die. Even if “no one” can actually be named for whom ”it might be better not to begin to exist”, it is nonetheless generally acknowledged to be bad to act in such a way that “someone” must die as a result. But it is exactly this that is done by the person who acts in such a way that, as a consequence of his or her action, someone begins to exist. Whoever creates a human being by procreation does indeed act in such a way that a human being must (eventually) die from his or her action – something which, except in cases of self-defence, tends to be unanimously condemned before the bar of our common moral sensibilities. In short: when we say “it is better to do x, or to omit to do y”, the action, or omission to act, concerned can be moral even in the case where it is not possible specifically to name a person for whom “it” is better. – We compare “states of the world” with one another and give the preference to a “state of the world” O, which comprises no suffering (and likewise no joyful) beings, over a “state of the world” M, which comprises both these latter, even if in the “state of the world” O there is no one who actually gains or profits from the fact that no one exists. This inasmuch as, in “state of the world” O, it is also the case that no one can suffer from this fact that no one exists, whereas in “state of the world” M there will indeed necessarily be “someone there” who suffers.

Nihilism, Rejectionism/Existence-Repudiation and Anthropofugal Perspective (Introduction, part 8)

If one understands the concept “nihilism” – which may at first seem vague – to signify a noological[1] nihilism, then the meaning of this concept is as follows: There is nothing – and most especially there are no objective values or goals – worth living for. Looked at in this way, nihilism contains an anti-natalist impulse. This is the case inasmuch as, within a nihilist perspective, children too are necessarily disqualified as something worth living for. Moreover, noological nihilism cannot help but pose the questions: “Why bring about the entry into existence of a human being of whose life one can know with certainty that it will not be worth living or will remain without meaning or sense? Why “condemn” him or her to such a nihilistic existence?”

In his 1799 open letter to Fichte, Jacobi reproached his philosophical colleague with an idealism that he described as nihilism; he was alluding thereby to the fact that, for Fichte, the “I” was the only reality. Whereas this ontological nihilism à la Fichte (and à la Berkeley) does no more than declare that nothing outside the “I” is real, a nihilism that we might call “onto-ethical” propounds the position that it is better that nothing should ever have existed at all – including, in this case, each respectively cognizing “I” itself – and that it is ethically incumbent upon us to aspire to such a state of nothing at all’s existing any longer. A paradigmatic statement of this onto-ethical nihilism is to be found in Georg Büchner’s “Danton’s Death“, where we read that “nothingness has killed itself. Creation is its wound. We are its drops of blood.”

If we now proceed to a further differentiation internal to this category of onto-ethical nihilism, we arrive at a stance of existence-repudiation for which Ken Coates has coined the denomination “rejectionism”[2]. Existence-repudiators/rejectionists are all those literary figures with views prefiguring or approximating to antinatalism who, down the millennia, have exclaimed to the world in general: “Oh would that I had never been born!” And rejectionistic, or repudiating of existence, in this sense are quite particularly also certain religions such as Jainism, Hindu belief systems, or Buddhism, to whose lay adherents, nonetheless, procreation is permitted.

Onto-ethical nihilists and existence-repudiators can be said to take up a position approximating to antinatalism inasmuch as they negate and reject the existence of both world and humanity without thereby being anti-natalists. Thus, Eduard von Hartmann would be an example of an onto-ethical nihilist and rejectionist who nonetheless firmly and explicitly declares himself to be against antinatalism. That onto-ethical nihilism is by no means identical with antinatalism is very clear also from the recent substantial study “Nothing” authored by Ludger Lütkehaus, in which antinatalism plays as good as no role at all. Similarly, poetry and narrative literature abound with rejections of existence, without this necessarily implying that the figures in whose mouths these repudiations are placed – let alone the authors themselves who place them there – are anti-natalists.

Common, however, to onto-ethical nihilism and rejectionism is what Ulrich Horstmann, in his 1983 book Das Untier (“The Beast That is Not a Beast”), calls the “anthropofugal perspective”. By this he means “the perspective of Man’s speculative flight from Man himself…, the beast that is not a beast’s distancing of itself from its own being and from its own history” (Das Untier) The “anthropofugal” philosopher, according to Horstmann, is distinguished by the fact that – like a rocket which attains a velocity great enough to overcome Earth’s gravity and to reach outer space – he has achieved an intellectual “escape velocity” which enables him to break free of the gravity of “that ideological sphere of influence and force which holds ‘the beast that is not a beast’ with both feet on the ground of supposed facts and which prevents him from ever seeing past the horizon of these latter.”  (ibid. p. 9) If we add this further distinguishing factor of an anthropofugal perspective – i.e. the attaining of a humanistic intellectual “escape velocity” – into the differentiating analysis of nihilism and related stances that we have already undertaken, we arrive at the following picture:

Onto-ethical nihilist (ontofugal): “It would be better if the world as a whole did not exist!”

Rejectionist (existence-repudiator): “Oh would that I had never been born!”

Anthropofugalist: “It would be better if human beings did not exist.”

Anti-natalist: “Every action which leads to a further human being’s beginning to exist is morally questionable and it is morally incumbent upon us to cease to procreate, so that mankind as a whole dies out.”

Horstmann recognizes and states, indeed, with reference specifically to those mythological tales of Great Floods and other rescissions of the act of Creation, that “the ‘beast that is not a beast’ has always, in one way or another, admitted to itself that it would be better for it never to have been.” (10) Nevertheless, Horstmann remains, with his anthropofugal perspective, some way short and outside of antinatalism proper. We can recognize this particularly clearly from the fact that his concrete perspective explicitly eschews any moral vision. Instead, Horstmann has recourse to the idea of putting an end to all suffering by an amorally executed apocalypse brought about by weapons of mass destruction. Such a non-moral vision of apocalypse had already been presented at the beginning of the century by Albert Ehrenstein in his poem Der Kriegsgott (“The God of War”)

[…] Cease crying out to a God who does not hear. / Let your thoughts probe no further than this: / Some little under-demon rules this earth[3], / […] / This, though, remains: / After bloody flux and plague, / There may rise howling up in me a desire, / To put an end to you completely!”

[1] See the distinction drawn between ontological (there exists nothing outside the “I”) and noological nihilism by W. Weischedel.

[2] See Ken Coates’s study “Rejectionist Philosophy from Buddhism to Benatar”.

[3] Ehrenstein’s poem clearly draws here on the legacy of  >Gnosticism, for which the world we dwell in is ruled and governed not by a benevolent Creator but by a wicked Demiurge of a lower order than the Unknown God.

Anti-Natalistic Breakthroughs and “Antinatalism-Friendly Conjunctures” (Introduction, part 7)

The 20th Century has seen several breakthroughs to a fully-developed anti-natalist position occurring independently of one another. If we divide these breakthroughs up in terms of language regions, we get the following picture:

German-speaking world:

Kurnig, Guido Kohlbecher, Martin Neuffer, Karim Akerma, Gunter Bleibohm.

French-speaking world:

Philippe Annaba and Théophile de Giraud.

Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world:

Julio Cabrera and Rafael Tages Melo.

English-speaking world:

Herrmann Vetter, David Benatar, Jim Crawford, Thomas Ligotti, Ken Coates, Sarah Perry and several others.

These anti-natalist breakthroughs were made possible by a large number of (cultural- and intellectual-)historical tendencies and occurrences which we will call “antinatalism-friendly conjunctures”. To name here just a few of these “antinatalism-friendly conjunctures”: the rise of a secular culture, in the emerging literature of which there were often developed critical discourses on God as bearing ultimate responsibility for the deficient existence of Man; the metaphysical thought of Schopenhauer and his follower and popularizer Eduard von Hartmann; nihilism; feminism.

Seeds and Incipient Forms of Anti-Natalist Thought (Introduction, part 6)

That philosophy of non-procreation which has recently come to be called “antinatalism” consists in fact in moral-theoretical positions which only gradually emerged and detached themselves from the cultural tradition and from the moulding and (de)forming pressure of metaphysics (specifically of a Schopenhauerian metaphysics of the will) and found, most likely, a form of expression more or less fully adequate to their substance only around the turn of the 19th to the 20th Century in the writings of a thinker publishing under the nom de plume of >Kurnig. Underlying work on the present handbook on antinatalism has been a conviction that, besides the many clear declarations of an adherence to anti-natalist principles, fundamental callings into question of all procreation and explicit appeals to abstention from natality, it is possible to discover within the material that has been historically handed down to us a large number of testimonies, appeals and statements of position which are not, indeed, to be classified as genuinely anti-natalist positions but are nonetheless to be considered as, so to speak, “seeds of antinatalism” within our cultural tradition, and that these testimonies, appeals and statements need also to be taken into account in a work of the present kind. In addition, then, to what we will call “direct antinatalisms” in past and present-day thought, it is the intention of the present handbook to familiarize its readers also with these “seeds of antinatalism” that are to be found in the philosophical, epic, dramatic, and lyric literature produced throughout the history of human civilization. By pointing out the presence of (proto-)anti-natalist elements within the whole of our literary heritage we provide documentary evidence that the protest against existence in general has been going on, just under the surface of our shared human culture, since time immemorial and that antinatalism is not to be dismissed as a mere symptom of latter-day “decadence”. We might mention, for example, three classical sources of inspiration for anti-natalistic forms and for the critique of procreation both in the past and in the present day, namely: the antinatalism of the Ancient Greek tragic dramatists; the antinatalism of Ancient Asia; and a certain biblical antinatalism (in qualified form, the >Wish Never To Have Been Born of Job and, quite particularly, the exemplary family- and childlessness of Jesus in view of the imminent Last Judgment, a family- and childlessness which is again urged repeatedly in Paul’s Epistles to the Corinthians) as opposed to the biblical pro-natalism in the form of the Old Testament injunction to “be fruitful and multiply”. Thus, two of the ancient sources of antinatalism have a religious character, while of the third of them – the antinatalism of the Ancient Greeks – it can perhaps most correctly be said that it corresponds to that pessimistic sense of existence that was diagnosed by Jacob Burckhardt.

Antinatalism as the Result of a Learning Process on the Part of Human Society as a Whole? (Introduction, part 5)

Varying a well-known dictum, we may say: history is the progress of Man’s awareness of his actual freedom from all the limits and guidelines that Nature appeared to have set for him – and antinatalism is the most trenchant and consistent conceptualization of this freedom. Even though antinatalism does not epitomise the learning process of mankind as a whole – with antinatalist insights having dawned only sporadically – it is nevertheless the case that the closing decades of the 20th Century saw a noticeable increase in the drawing of anti-natalist conclusions from the information provided by all hitherto-documented history.

Historically Informed Antinatalism (Introduction, part 4)

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

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

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

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

The Non-Compensatability of Suffering in Individual, Social, Geographical and Intergenerational Terms (Introduction, part 3)

But even where the anti-natalist successfully repudiates these charges of hostility to children or of general hatred of humanity, it will inevitably still be pointed out to him or her that life does not consist of suffering alone and that every sentient existence has its moments of happiness or even whole stretches of time that are suffused with a sense of joy. But, in the life of any individual, the happiness felt in the past and that which one might expect to feel in the future can counterbalance and compensate for the suffering one is experiencing in the present moment only to a very qualified and limited extent. That is to say, past and future happiness can do this only for suffering of a certain degree of intensity and only during certain specific stages of a human life. Likewise, it is only to a limited extent that presently-experienced happiness can counterbalance and compensate for the suffering one has experienced in the past or may expect to experience in the future. Generally speaking, we may say, the competence of happiness to offer comfort and solace for suffering is a decidedly restricted one. This becomes especially clear if we quit the “Robinson Crusoe” viewpoint that we have briefly adopted above, which sees the equation of happiness and suffering as resolving (or failing to resolve) itself within the span of a single individual existence, and consider Man as a social being. Even someone who may have experienced their own life as a bed of roses will usually leave mourning and sorrowing people behind them if they – as it will seem to these latter – unexpectedly and without prior sign of illness pass away. And this quite aside from the incorrigible optimism leading such a person to an evaluation of their own life and its happiness which possibly stands sharply at odds with the conclusions that might be arrived at by an impartial external observer of this latter.

Furthermore, to pass over onto the plane of the social in a still more emphatic sense, the relative wellbeing of one single caste, class or stratum within a society surely does not compensate for the suffering of other social groups in said society; likewise, the comparatively happy and prosperous life led by many in advanced industrialized nations does not compensate for the suffering undergone in the vast regions of the world that are plagued by poverty, war and famine.

Finally, to consider the question from the intergenerational viewpoint, the good life enjoyed by citizens of today’s affluent societies does not compensate for the miserable existences of people in the much poorer societies of the past; and likewise, the vague prospect of a humanity which might in some future century finally find itself both materially and mentally liberated, freed even from the structural violence of the need to work to survive, does not compensate for the present hardships of those who, today and tomorrow, will continue to be put out into a world where they must eke out a bare existence by the bitter sweat of their brow.

The Accusation of “Hating Children” (Introduction Antinatalism, part 2)

“Anti-natalists are against any more children ever seeing the >Light of the World; consequently, anti-natalists are hostile to children.” So, or in similar terms, runs another formulaic accusation that is routinely brought against anti-natalists. It is a formula, however, which distorts and misrepresents antinatalism’s true concern. The argument put by antinatalism is not an argument against children but rather an argument in favour of already-existing human beings’ reconsidering and revising any decision that they may have taken to procreate. That is to say, antinatalism does not argue against real, existing children but rather argues for childlessness.

As a philosophy of non-procreation, antinatalism is not against children but rather concerned with and focussed on the suffering that children will inevitably have to undergo once they have begun to exist. The moral theory of antinatalism, indeed, derives a significant part of its motivating force from the sufferings undergone by children, making, as it does, the case that it will only be once the world has been made fit for children (and indeed for human beings in general) to live in that it will become potentially morally defensible to act in such a way that yet more children begin to exist. As long as the world falls short of that high standard of “fitness for human beings to live in” that we see established and portrayed in many of the >Utopias und Ideas of Paradise that have arisen again and again in the history of the human imagination, the right thing to do – so argues the moral theory of antinatalism – is to refrain from procreation (>Priority of Adaptation to the World). If it were possible, indeed, to bring to realization overnight a utopia of prosperity and wellbeing in which human beings would no longer have to suffer any of the ills that they presently suffer, then antinatalism would lose thereby a part, at least, of its moral impetus and its justification for existence as a moral stance. Far from being “hostile to children”, anti-natalists exhort us to consider just what an infringement upon the moral space of another human being it is when one acts in a way that results in such a human being’s beginning to exist. To express the matter in a way that necessarily involves a certain ontological paradox: anti-natalists defend the right of children not to exist.

Introduction to my book ANTINATALISM – A HANDBOOK

Were human beings, starting from today, to cease procreating with one another, the human race would die out within the span of about a hundred years. And this dying-out of humanity as a result of such “natal abstinence” is indeed the long-term objective of antinatalism. There is more, however, to the moral theory of antinatalism than just this long-term objective. This moral theory begins in an engagement with individual people and in the attempt to convince them, through reasoned argument, that it is better to reconsider any intention that they may already have formed of begetting a child, or indeed to refrain from forming any pro-natal intention in the first place. From the anti-natalist viewpoint, anything which results in someone’s reflecting upon their decision in favour of procreation and natality, or in their not making such a decision, or in their reconsidering and revising such a decision once they have made it, is an ethical success. If we succeed in bringing about through our work the reconsideration and revision of even one single “pro-natal” decision, then this work will have been more than worthwhile. Because to do this is to bring it about – to mention here only a tiny fraction of all that we might potentially mention – that there will exist one less human being than there might have: one less human being, that is to say, who, had he or she in fact come into existence, would have had to suffer illnesses, torment and persecution, witness the decline or death of parents, relatives, friends and beloved house-pets and finally – as last survivor, perhaps, and in unaided solitude – become old, sick and frail themselves before death overcomes them too.

Since the present handbook adopts a stance in favour of a world without children and eventually even of a world without human beings, it is inevitable that some of its readers will be inclined to level against its anti-natalist author(s) the accusation of “hating children” or even of “hating human beings” in general.

 

Philanthropy

Let us deal briefly first with the second, and the broader, of the two reproaches. It is not misanthropy (“hatred of human beings”) that prompts the anti-natalist to make the case that no more human beings should be brought into the world. What prompts the anti-natalist to argue thus is rather the wish that no more human beings should come into existence who, at least at certain moments or during certain phases of their lives, will surely be exposed to the hatred and the chicaneries of other members of their species and will thereby be driven into the most degrading and humiliating of situations. Looked at in this way, it is not misanthropy that is the motivating and driving force behind antinatalism but rather, on the contrary, philanthropy.

If we set aside that element of anthropocentricism which tends to cling, due to its etymology and history, to the notion “philanthropy” and re-conceive this latter in terms of all living beings capable of feeling pain or pleasure, the maxim of an antinatalism consistently universalized in this way runs: “help all already existing living beings to the limit of your power to do so, while at the same time making arguments to the effect that nothing ought to be done which will cause further living beings to begin to exist.   

Large-Scale Experiments with the Species

To the extent that, in modernity, those sociobionomic imperatives which once strictly determined the maintenance of the species are tending to become modifiable and as it were “fluid” under the effects of human reflection and communication, the history of the species tends to take on an experimental character and become an >Experimentum mundi. We distinguish between involuntary large-scale experiments with the species, such as the revolutions occurring in earlier and later modernity, and that one great large-scale experiment with the species in which, as the world becomes more and more unified into a single world-system, ever more nativistically >enlightened citizens of the world are playing an active part. All those experiments with and on human beings which are each of them, taken individually, strongly condemned are in fact only possible within the framework of that large-scale experiment with the species which rests upon the lottery with genes and individual destinies that is represented by the begetting of children by procreation; the narrowing of our gaze to focus upon such individual crimes, however, succeeds precisely in distracting us from the fact of this larger-scale “experiment on human beings”.

Forgetfulness of Birth-Obsession with Death

In his text “The Philosophical Significance of Birth” Hans Saner notes that we observe a “forgetfulness of birth” going hand in hand with an “obsession with death” in Western philosophy from Plato, through Augustine, right up to Kierkegaard and Heidegger (see Saner, Geburt und Phantasie). Without wishing to play off the notion of birth against that of death, Saner does urge us to correct “forgetfulness of birth” within the framework of a philosophy of “natality”. There should thereby be opposed, with compensatory effect, to the (in Saner’s view over-valued) constant talk of death and “the end” a discourse bearing on the positive nature of life’s beginning. Each human being, argues Saner, not only has a birth behind him but is also, as a “birthed being”, endowed with the essential characteristic of nativity “through which he is capable of initiating action or, in a metaphorical sense, of ‘giving birth’.” Throughout his entire life the human being remains an “initiator”, from and by reason of his birth. There can be no doubt but that Saner is striving, with these remarks, toward a pronatal valorization of birth and of existence.

This striving of Saner’s to oppose to the philosophical tradition’s obsession with death a pronatal philosophy of natality has been much appreciated by Sloterdijk, who remarks with regard to this latter notion: “this expression (natality) which seems simply to designate something self-evident, does not in fact belong to the vocabulary of philosophy – an extremely telling fact. It is an artificially-created word, a neologism dating from the second half of our present century and occurs indeed, as far as I am aware, for the very first time in Hans Saner’s own book Geburt und Phantasie. Von der natürlichen Dissidenz des Kindes, Basel 1979. We may say, however, that the ground was prepared for this term by Hannah Arendt’s meditations on human ’Natality’ in her magnum opus The Human Condition…“ (Sloterdijk, Eurotaoismus. See also the same author’s Zeilen und Tage)

 

Maeterlinck, Maurice (1862–1949)

We also encounter also in the work of Maeterlinck (who elsewhere, in antinatalist spirit, denounces >Species Cowardice) an attempt to point up that death is something of secondary rank to life and natality: “We do destiny a wrong when we link it, to the extent we have done, with death or catastrophe. When will we give up this idea that death is more important than life and disaster greater than happiness? Why do we always look to the side of tears when we judge a being’s destiny and never to the side of joy? […] Does death, then, take up a greater place in existence than birth? But one fails to take birth into account when one weighs up the destiny of the wise man. What makes us happy or unhappy is what we do between birth and death, and not in death itself…“ (Maeterlinck, Weisheit und Schicksal, cited in: Harald Beck (ed.))

Birthday (Party)

To the extent to which it is justified to speak of a Fear of Birth, we may perhaps conceive of our custom of celebrating the day of our births as a corresponding measure of compensation, a sort of attempt at reparation. In tacit recollection, as it were, of the terrible shock he suffered in coming into the world, the attempt is made to sweeten, on this one particular day, the existence of the individual so deeply damaged by life by providing him with cakes, gifts and company designed to cheer his spirits. The point, in the end, is to ensure that he does not lose all taste for existence. Birthday parties, as passing earthly events, are counterparts, on a very small scale, to those religious “heavens” and “paradises” which are conceived, on a much larger scale, as “institutions of reparation” which endure eternally.

The birthday party also functions as a sort of measure of “drowning out” which serves to prevent a recollection of the profoundly heteronomous beginning of every life and thus to forestall any reproaches toward the parents.[1]

 

Polgar, Alfred (1873–1955)

Philosophical anthropology has pointed out that the new-born human being remains – in comparison with the newborns of other mammals – unable to fend for itself for an especially long period of time. Polgar expresses very eloquently the fact that, due to this unusually long period in which we are in need of help and protection, we retain all our lives a certain childlike character trait which makes it acceptable for people still to address us as “birthday boy” or “birthday girl” even when we are well advanced in age.

“The mischance of having been born is a burden we drag behind us all our lives. No one is ever rid of this burden even one day earlier than his very last. The whole span of time that is allowed us here is spent in coming to terms with this fact; and to forget it for a few moments now and then seems our only possibility of becoming, for these brief moments, contentedly aware of its consequences.” (Alfed Polgar, Die Mission des Luftballons)

 

Hueck, Walter (1889–1975)

One acute critic of regular, institutionalized commemoration of our birth is Walter Hueck, in whom we find a synthesis of Polgar’s notion of our peculiar helplessness and Musil’s notion of our elapsing time. A birthday is an event to commemorate the day that we came, in a pitifully helpless state, into the world: i.e. a commemoration of an event which – if we are to believe the testimony we ourselves offered of our own experience on that day – was no very happy one for us (>Cries of the Newborn); at the same time, however, a birthday is a reminder that we have become a year older and that there now remains one year less to us on this earth, even if we are spared death by sudden accident or sickness. Hueck asks forthrightly: what exactly is it that is being celebrated at birthday parties? Is it the misery experienced at the time of our first entry into the world, or is it rather the rapid approach of our departure from this world?

“I have never really been able to understand the meaning of birthday celebrations. In the first place a birthday is a commemoration of the moment when we came into this world, helplessly whimpering and smeared with stool. And I think one would have to be a shameless optimist to celebrate the annual rolling around again of this pitiful hour with pomp and solemnity. (…)

A birthday celebration is a blasphemy. Birthday wishes are insults. What truly motivates them is Schadenfreude.” (Hueck, Menschen unter sich)

[1] This is the meaning of Manfred Sommer’s question: “Is the birthday party a kind of apotropaic ritual intended to fend off the shattering of that vitally necessary ‘amnesia regarding birth’ which threatens to occur each time the anniversary of this day of parturition rolls around?” (Sommer, 1988)

Failure of the Species

If Auschwitz is constitutive for >Species Shame – i.e. if, now that it has proven possible for such a thing as Auschwitz to occur, human beings would need, were we ever to encounter an extra-terrestrial intelligence informed about our species’ history, to feel deeply ashamed about belonging to this latter – it is surely also the case that no one, even if they had formerly done so, can, after the terrible genocide perpetrated in Rwanda, any longer reasonably cherish the hope that the era of our species’ catastrophically failing to live up to its own moral standards might now be over. There is, then, every reason to maintain that our species is simply a failed project. Who would wish to contribute, through procreation, to the continued existence of a species which has proven a failure in this way? Roméo Dallaire has left us, in the form of his book “Shake Hands with the Devil”, an extensive account of what was, to quote the book’s sub-title “the failure of humanity in Rwanda”. Dallaire writes: “Rwanda was a warning to us all of what lies in store if we continue to ignore human rights, human security and abject poverty…From the Rwandan exodus in 1994 until genocide broke out once again in 2003, it has been estimated that four million human beings have died in the Congo and the Great Lakes region and, until very recently, the world did nothing except to send an undermanned and poorly resourced peacekeeping mission. Five times the number murdered in Rwanda in 1994 have died…” (Roméo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil)

Self-Evaluations of the Species and Information Indirectly Imparted by the Species About Itself

In contrast to individual human beings we cannot present a  >Questionnaire to the entire human species with the request to fill it out with the relevant information. But nothing of the sort is required. The species has, in fact, constantly and continuously provided such information about itself, even if this has only been in indirect form:

 

Religions

Religions are manifestations of a claim to happiness that has remained unsatisfied here on earth. They are an expression of a profound dissatisfaction with earthly existence. Eternal life, Paradise – or the soul’s next reincarnation, which is assumed to be better – are supposed to compensate for the suffering experienced in our lives here on earth. No one, perhaps, has ever expressed this better than Marx:

“The misery of religion is at one and the same time the expression of real misery and the protest against this latter. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the mind of mindless circumstances. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is at the same time the demand for the people’s true happiness. The demand that the people give up their illusions about their condition is at the same time the demand that that condition be given up which requires illusions in the first place. The critique of religion, then, is, in incipient form, the critique of that vale of tears the ‘halo’ around which religion itself is.” (Marx, Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie. Introduction, MEW Vol. 1, p. 378f)

Philosophy is the brain of religion and steps, after the dissolution of the notion of religion as something “self-evident”, into this latter’s place, so as to go on immunizing our earthly “vale of tears” against that radical critique which pleads the cause of an abolition of the human race itself.

 

Utopias

Much like religions, utopias are long-term self-evaluations on the part of the species which have come to be expressed in verbal form. Ernst Bloch (1885–1977) recognized in utopias those unfulfilled promises to humanity which need to be preserved with a view to their realization in the future. At the same time, however, mankind’s utopias speak of that falling-short in terms of due happiness which has accumulated throughout mankind’s whole past. That is to say: utopias do not just point, with positive significance, forward but always also, with negative significance, backward. That leap into the future inherent in the utopian idea passes judgment on both past and present, submerging them in a light that reveals their insufficiency. That utopian panopticum that is assembled by Bloch in his Principle of Hope resembles a gigantic mirror, the reflected light of which illuminates the shortcomings and the privations of the species both in past and present.

 

Science Fiction – The Species’ Reflection on Itself Through the Medium of Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence

Another rich source of testimony offered by the species about itself is the self-reflection of humanity in the form of those (literary or cinematic) fables of the science-fiction genre which envisage this latter’s encounter with some extra-terrestrial intelligence. Attempts, in such fables and fictions, to answer the question of how extra-terrestrials would perceive us in fact provide information about our own selves, since science fiction is, of course, always the product of human authors who are merely imaginatively adopting the perspective of extra-terrestrials.

And to make mention, in this connection, of a still more ramified task: what testimony regarding itself does our species offer through the “Perry Rhodan” series of outer-space adventure stories which has been running constantly, in publication after publication, since the 8th of September 1961? The novelettes forming the series have now sold more than a billion copies in total, thus influencing the “psychical economy” of a very significant readership worldwide. It represents the largest-scale science-fiction series ever produced, its story sub-divided into complex cycles of mutually interconnected plots and dramas. Indeed, it constitutes the longest continuous narrative in the entire history of literature, of dimensions that put Balzac’s massive “Human Comedy” in the shade, not only providing a sketch of the outlines of mankind’s future history but also reaching back many millennia into an almost inconceivably distant past played out in regions far beyond the earth.

Species Cowardice

By “species cowardice” we understand a constellation whereby, on the one hand, there exists a certain insight into what is morally ruinous in the perpetuation of the human species but, on the other hand, we see a certain avoidance of this insight and a refusal to accept its consequences. Cazalis describes this phenomenon when he writes that humanity ought really to be ashamed of itself (>Species Shame) but Man remains enslaved to the comparatively trivial experience of procreation:

“One cannot stress often enough how old this world already is. Contemporary Man has been seized by such a profound ennui and despises his own species to such a degree that he would surely take no steps to ensure its continuation, had Nature (…) not seen to it that procreation is associated with certain pleasures, the temptation of which – one should not hesitate to admit it – human beings can only rarely withstand for very long. Sometimes, however, one observes how Man rages and revolts against himself, full of shame at being so fatally similar similar to other animals and a ridiculous slave of Nature’s moods.”[1] Cazalis leaves out of account here that potential separation of sexuality and procreation that was both preached and practiced by the Cathars and which is vouched for also by the Bible.

Maeterlinck too makes reference to this “species cowardice” diagnosed by Cazalis when he writes:

“If Man possessed a less intimidated understanding, humanity would long since have ceased to exist. Because then it would probably not have accepted life in the form in which it is imposed on us.” (Maurice Maeterlinck. Found by: Guido Kohlbecher)

We might develop Maeterlinck’s thought and say that a humanity less intimidated by the heritage of Nature and by cultural tradition would long since have carried through a Cultural Revolution involving our freeing ourselves, once and for all from that illusion of the ”naturalness” of all procreation and would have died out, instead of heeding, with cowardice and complacency, the “call of Nature” and imitating this latter, falsely taken as a model.  

 

[1]On ne dira jamais assez comme ce monde est vieux. L’homme s’ennuie si profondément aujourd’hui, et méprise si bien son espèce, qu’il ne ferait rien sans doute pour la perpétuer davantage, si la Nature (…) n’avait eu l’esprit d’attacher à la reproduction certaines voluptés  auxquelles, il le faut bien avouer, l’homme a rarement la force de résister longtemps. – Mais parfois alors on le voit s’irriter, se révolter contre soi-même, honteux d’être aussi fatalement bestial, aussi ridiculement l’esclave du caprice de la Nature.“ (Henri Cazalis, Le Livre du neánt. Pensées douloureuses et bouffonnes, siehe https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Page:Cazalis_-_Le_Livre_du_n%C3%A9ant,_1872.djvu/60)

Good-Conduct Certificate of the Species

A species’ universal history is its certificate of good or bad conduct. Would, on the basis of our own species’ record in this regard, an extra-terrestrial civilization entrust us with the carrying out of responsible tasks? Would they even engage us as minor auxiliaries?

Erich Fromm (1900–1980)

People who procreate implicitly attest thereby to the species’ conduct-certificate’s being free of any major taint or blemish; with the birth of their child they affix to this certificate, as it were, a stamp which renders it valid for the span of one further generation. Erich Fromm, however, states the following:

“The history of humankind reports an extraordinary destructiveness and cruelty and the aggressivity of Man is clearly of a far greater order than that of his animal ancestors; Man is, in contrast to the majority of animals, a real ‘killer’.” (Erich Fromm, Anatomy of Human Destructiveness)

Forced to be Free, Condemned to be Free

Several philosophers have recognized the fact that Man is “forced to be free” or “condemned to be free” without asking just where this “forcing”, this “condemnation” comes from. We, for our part, point here to the >Perpetration of Existence committed by the parents, without which no one would be “condemned to be free” in this way.

 

Hartmann, Nicolai (1882–1950)

“The freedom of a human being does not consist in whether he wishes to act or not in a given situation; because omitting to act is also a form of action and may, if it is a matter of an omission not in accordance with what was right, redound upon the omitting individual as guilt. Rather, the individual is always forced to act. (…) He is forced to take a free decision. Or, to express the same notion in inverse terms: in being forced to take a decision he is free.” (Zur Grundlegung der Ontologie,)

 

Sartre (1905–1980)

In a “fading out” – decidedly reprehensible from a philosophical point of view – of all parental responsibility Sartre proposes the formulation that “Man, condemned to be free, bears the weight of the whole world on his shoulders: he is responsible, as a way of being, both for the world and for himself.” (Being and Nothingness) There never occurs either to Hartmann or to Sartre the idea of giving a critical turn to this notion they present of a “condemnation to freedom” and adopting an anthropofugal perspective.

Freedom

Antinatalism appeals to human freedom inasmuch as it challenges human beings to liberate themselves from unproven intuitions nourished and sustained by biosocionomic imperatives and holds, moreover, human beings to be capable of such a self-liberation. Antinnatalistic moral theory summons and deploys human freedom in order to make of it something definitive: how much true freedom the species shall have acquired will be measured in terms of the extent to which it succeeds in eluding these biosocionomic imperatives. The final and definitive proof of its self-liberation would be its extinction. The positive substance of freedom consists in the freedom, in principle, both of the species and of the individual to step out of that nature-bound history which caused the species itself to arise.

 

Re-Dedication of Rousseau’s (1712–1778) Famous Dictum on Freedom

“Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains”, complains Rousseau in The Social Contract. Rousseau, however, overlooks, in this famous dictum, the fact that every human being is actually born unfree, inasmuch as he began to exist without his consent being asked or given. Let us modify, then, this famous dictum so as to make of it a motif of antinatalistic >Enlightenment: Every man is born heteronomously, as the respectively final link in a chain which reaches back deep into the past; may he seize and exercise the freedom that will make of him the last link in this chain..

 

What Is Evil About Freedom Is That It Is the Freedom to Do Evil

“Because there is no such thing as a freedom to do good alone; only that person who is essentially capable of doing evil things is capable of the ‘good’ in the moral sense of the term.” (Nicolai Hartmann, Zur Grundlegung der Ontologie) And: “To affirm freedom is tantamount to taking upon oneself the source and origin of evil.” (Paul Ricoeur, Guilt and Ethics) “What is evil about freedom is that it is the freedom to do evil” (Guido Kohlbecher)  – It is hard to imagine a more perspicuous expression of the dark side of the Conditio in/humana.

With his “Black Book of World History” Hans Dollinger presented a thorough documentation of this formulation of the notion of freedom, confirming its truth with a statement which takes into account the co-Extensivity of the development of humankind’s powers of production and of destruction: “The history of humanity is thus not only a succession of cultures which climb to higher and higher stages of civilization. Nor is progress simple progress.  The human race’s achieving of more freedom and power has enabled us not only to do more good but also to do more mischief, not only to be more active in creation but also more active in destruction.” (Dollinger, “Black Book of World History”)

In order to conceive of a world without evil one would have to conceive of a world lacking also that faculty of freedom which allows evil acts to be performed. Such a world would be, by the same token, devoid of all morality – since the beings existing in it would not have the freedom to decide whether to do good or to do evil. For which reason the objection immediately arises: would the removal of all freedom from the world not be too great a sacrifice to make, even if what was gained in exchange was a world free of all suffering? Hans Lenk is right to oppose this reasoning in the following terms:

“Were it possible to acquire a world without suffering by making it a world free of morality – this would not be a difficult sacrifice to make. But such a world, of course, is simply not conceivable. Living beings are dependent on the killing of other such beings if they are to continue, themselves, to exist. This is true even of human beings capable of morality. Such beings too are profoundly condemned to do evil.” (In: Die Antworten der Philosophie heute, edited by Willy Hochkeppel. Discovered by: Guido Kohlbecher)

If we try to follow out Lenk’s argument here to its conclusion, we need first to carry out a clarifying correction to his stance the necessity of which may have escaped his notice. It is absolutely decisive to understand that it is not the case that – morally capable – human beings just “are” condemned to do evil; rather, someone condemns them to this condition: namely, their parents, without whose >Perpetration of Existence upon them, more or less freely committed, or whose progenerative decision they would simply not exist as “beings condemned to do evil”. If it is evil to condemn someone to do evil, there is clearly implicitly thereby passed a negative judgment regarding the progenerative decision that lies at the basis of this condemnation; a contragenerative decision would be, by contrast, to be evaluated as morally good. Put very concisely, Lenk’s insight leads to a conclusion which restates but goes beyond a certain core proposition of Sartrean Existentialism: each individual human being was involuntarily condemned by his parents to do evil.

Let us look again at Lenk’s statement that even a world without freedom could not be conceived of as a world without suffering because living beings depend by their very nature on the killing of other living beings.  Firstly, as regards human beings possessed of free will, it is well-known that these latter have the option of nourishing themselves solely on vegetable organisms, which we must suppose do not suffer. And it is not difficult to imagine a world populated by living beings who would be, without exception, vegetarian. The actual natural history of our world took, indeed, a different course. This is the unwritten natural history of increasing freedom, of the progressively increasing divergence between stimuli and reaction which culminates in Man, with his defining freedom to do evil. Precisely the fact that billions of human beings remain meat-eaters when they might just as easily be vegetarian is a prime example of this freedom to do evil – in a way that causes harm to both animals and human beings – and of how this freedom is something that human beings actively choose.

 

Freedom, Negative (Adorno)

In the following passage Adorno is close to achieving the insight that the highest possible exercise of the faculty of freedom would consist in an ontically definitive taking-back of this freedom through an embarking on the path of an ebbing-away of humanity:  

“Freedom has retreated into pure negativity and what, in the age of Art Nouveau, was called ‘dying in beauty’ has now been reduced to the wish simply to curtail both the endless humiliation of existence and the endless torment of dying in a world in which there have long since come to be worse things to be feared than death.” (Adorno, Minima Moralia, Aph.) Despite his undeniable sensitivity, however, to the “endless humiliation of existence” and the “endless torment of dying”, Adorno does not carry through to its logical conclusion his social critique qua critique of suffering; this inasmuch as he omits to advocate a renunciation of the bringing forth of new human beings whose future is bound inevitably to consist in just such lived humiliation and just such a torment of death.

 

Fear of (the Immobilization) of Freedom

Thinkers such as Kant, N. Hartmann or Ricoeur who expressed their views regarding the moment of evil necessarily inherent in all freedom were well aware what consequences had necessarily to follow from the continuation of human history. Notwithstanding this fact, it appears to have been simply out of the question for all these thinkers that this history could ever be immobilized and brought to an end by a collective abstention from all procreation and natality – as it also was, to judge by the following passage, for the philosophical anthropologist Michael Landmann (1913–1984):

“Fearing that he [Man] will misuse his freedom, many philosophical systems do not allow this freedom to become a thing that Man is aware of and many repressive social and political systems do not allow this freedom to actually emerge. But one hereby immobilizes, in order to avoid a certain historical risk, the historical process itself.” (Landmann, Was ist Philosophie?) Landmann’s error consists in his failure to recognize that it is precisely in a specific immobilization of the historical process that the very highest degree of human freedom would come into effect. What stance would Landmann have adopted toward an expression of human freedom consisting in the resolution to remove the whole basis of human unfreedom by being so free as to cease bringing forth any being endowed with freedom? This would be a final and definitive victory of freedom – not of unfreedom.

The “Woman Question”

The “woman question” is not just the question of female emancipation from biosocionomic constraints and impositions but also, and above all, a question formulated by Hedwig Dohm (1831–1919) but standing in need of further elaboration: “Why give life to creatures that, barely ripened into adulthood, will be snatched away by war?” (Hedwig Dohm: Der Missbrauch des Todes. Senile Impressionen) The question that this question of Dohm’s demands to be developed into runs: “why bring about the start of the lives of human beings who, if they do not fall victims to some natural or social catastrophe, will still have to perform those >Alloted Tasks of Existence which consist in falling sick and dying? This is all the more a “woman question” inasmuch as it continues still today to be first and foremost women to whom the task of raising children and caring for the sick devolves.

Forbidden Questions

Out of the distant past the àGod Taboo and the >Parent Taboo continue to exert their effects even in our present-day world. Both are articulated – apparently out of a single imaginative origin –  by the prophet Isaiah:

 

Isaiah’s Creatio-Nativistic Forbidding of the Question

“Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, what makest Thou? Or thy work, He hath no hands?

Woe unto him that sayeth unto his father, what begettest thou? Or to the woman, what hast thou brought forth?

Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel and his Maker: Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.” (Isaiah 45, 9-11, King James Version)

In these words of the prophet Isaiah Creation reveals itself to be a dictated “having-to-be”. It is not that a human being “may” partake of existence – in order, for example, to enjoy it – but rather that he “must” and should bear, without complaint, that existence which has been formed for him by that “potter of men”, God the Father (the Bible speaks of Adam being “formed from the dust of the ground” but the Hebrew word yatsar that the King James version renders as “form” is also the term used for the potter’s moulding of his clay) or imposed upon him by his parents’ act of begetting (likewise an act “of the father”). (>Lamentations of Jeremiah).

 

Taboo on the Question of Whether Human Beings Ought to Exist

It is surely to be expected that no enlightened mind would attempt to place questions relating to whether the human species ought or ought not to exist beyond the ambit of reason and rational discussion. Such, however, is not the case. In his speech “Reflections from the Perspective of the Philosophy of Law on Bio-Technology and Bio-Ethics at the Threshold of the Third Millennium” Arthur Kaufmann formulates, with reference to Hans Jonas, a certain prohibition of a humankind-related question which Jonas was not, in this particular form, familiar with:

“One can, of course, pose the question of why permanent human life should exist on earth at all; but one can also say of this question that it is simply unanswerable […] There is, in this question, simply nothing to discuss. We cannot behave as if there were going to be no life at all after us; or at least we cannot behave as if we would not be responsible for it” (Arthur Kaufmann, Reflections from the Perspective of the Philosophy of Law on Bio-Technology…)

This ethical edict – in questions regarding whether a human race should exist or not there is simply nothing to discuss – could hardly be more unethical. Kaufmann excludes a priori the very possibility of our behaving in a way such that nobody after us will come to exist.We certainly concur with Kaufmann that we are bound to take account of those who may live after us. But notwithstanding this, we may not, with Kaufmann, block out the ethical question of whether further generations of human beings should come into existence at all. Kaufmann leaves entirely unconsidered the issue of whether it might not possibly be more ethical to refrain from thrusting any more human beings into a world which we have hitherto entirely failed to make a world worth living in.

Impositions Remote and Proximate

Is it possible to imagine that anyone not of a sadistic disposition could possibly perform an action in awareness that, after the passage of some decades, another human being would, as the result of said action, die in torment and in terror? Surely not. And yet nothing seems to be more widely accepted, and more looked on as natural, than just this. All parents, without exception, act as if it were right and proper for them to procreate children who, within the space of a few decades, will have imposed on them, as a consequence of this procreation, the torments and terrors necessarily befalling dying human beings.

One might consider, however, by way of a partial moral exculpation of antinatalistically unenlightened parents, the fact that these latter, in their imposing of the agonies of death upon their progeny, are subject to that same irrational distortion of future events as most human beings, in other situations and as regards evaluation of other aspects of the future, tend to be subject to: we clearly generally incline toward viewing a negative event which will occur with absolute certainty, but only in a few decades’ time, as less grave a matter than an event which will take place within a few days or months from the present moment.

Thrusting others into a state such that they have to suffer death, then, counts among those “remote impositions” to which we clearly apply quite other moral yardsticks and other criteria of rationality – namely, irrational ones – than we apply to “proximate impositions”. Perhaps because we believe that time will somehow provide a solution to the problem in question. In the case of that inevitable fate of decline and death that overcomes each begotten human being, however, there can be no “solution to the problem” but at best a shorter or longer postponement – unless, that is, one is so cynical as to look on the fact that parents will have, in most cases, slipped free of their responsibility by dying (>Primortality) before the children they have begotten have to face death and the agony of death themselves. The “solution” here is cynical because the infernal pains that one imposes upon a human being by begetting him do not become more bearable just because they are to be suffered through some 85 years from the moment of the begetting and not five months or five minutes from it.

Further questions arise in connection with this. Would parents beget a child if it were certain that it would die at the age of five months much in the way that many old people are dying right now?  If not, then why not? Because such a brief life would “not be worth it” for the parents – or “not be worth it” for the child? But why should that imposition that is mortality be less a matter of moral concern and hesitation if it comes to realization only after the elapse of 25, 55 or 85 years instead of after the elapse of just five months?

Negligence

The bringing into being of a human being is, in principle, an act with fatal consequences (->Beginning of Existence). Decisive for the moral evaluation of such an act is the attitude taken toward it by those involved. In the case of most acts of procreation we are dealing with acts of unconscious negligence: the persons involved in the act are not consciously resolved to commit a – morally reprehensible – deed with fatal consequences. The procreative partners are not consciously envisaging the fate of sickness and suffering that must inevitably overcome the child they are begetting; they repress the thought of this child’s having one day necessarily to die even though they would have been able to foresee this just in view of their insight into what must be universally presupposed of the Conditio in-/humana and ought, therefore, to have rescinded their own progenerative decision to bring themselves into possession of a child.

It is only in the cases of a very small fraction of all procreating individuals that we may proceed on the assumption of a conscious negligence (->Enlightenment of Parents): the procreating parties do indeed consciously reckon with the possibility of sickness and suffering befalling the child that they beget but trust – in an entirely unrealistic manner – that these miseries and misfortunes will not in fact come to pass once they have brought themselves into possession of a child.

Regardless of whether or not a joint decision to perform such a deed is taken, such couples constitute accomplices in an act of culpable negligence; the two persons participating in said act may be said to be acting negligently in various different combined degrees of consciousness or non-consciousness. Where we also take into account that broader milieu which spurs on and incites the procreating couple to the act of procreation, including the physicians who support and abet it, we find ourselves dealing with a broad community of culpably complicit individuals who are all participant in the act in question as an act with necessarily fatal consequences.

The German Criminal Code prescribes, in its article §222, the following punishment for the occasioning, through negligence, of the death of a human being: “Whosoever through negligence causes the death of a person shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding five years or a fine.” To the extent that the state is unwilling to penalize the creation of a human being as an act with fatal consequences assignable to other human beings as its causing or occasioning agents – or where said state, indeed, presents itself as the instigator, “fellow traveller” or aider and abettor of such progenerative acts with inevitably fatal consequences – it is incumbent on this state, by way of an atonement and indemnification which it needs to impose upon itself qua state recognizant of the rule of law, to support, as far as it lies within its powers and for the whole of his or her natural life, every one of its citizens who entered existence qua negligently begotten being facing the inevitable prospect of death, said support to extend to the provision to said citizen of a “good death”, should this be wished for. In other words: so long as the state does not foreswear and take its distance from any action as an instigator, “fellow traveller” and abettor of negligent procreation it must, in a precise and consistent further development of that inversion of natal guilt and responsibility initiated by Kant, offer to all those condemned by this negligent procreation to suffer death a basic material security (Allowance for Those Obliged to Bear Existence) as well as a death “with dignity”. This, the state’s abetment of “euthanasia” (in the term’s proper, antique sense of a “dying well”) cannot, indeed, compensate entirely for the state’s original aiding and abetting of negligent procreation (inasmuch as the former cannot reverse or cancel out the latter); it must nonetheless be looked upon as an indispensable component of humane culture and as an element of the aggregate indemnity owed by the state to its citizens.

 

Georg Hensel (1923–1996)

Georg Hensel rightly points out the fatal consequences that go hand in hand with every bringing into being of a human life: “The worst of all unpunished murders, with constant bodily harm and torture of the soul, lasts around seventy years: it is called ‘life’” (Georg Hensel, Glücks-Pfennige. Discovered by: Guido Kohlbecher)

Considered more precisely, of course, the bringing into being of a human being is not a murder, because the action of parents does not begin with an already-existing person whose existence they then put an end to. The fact remains, however, that the ->Perpetration of an Existence does indisputably constitute an act with mortal consequences provided only that, as a consequence of procreation, a human being has begun to exist.  

 

Rudolf Bayr (1919–1990)

Someone thinking in terms of a philosophical neganthropy would be obliged, nonetheless, to raise the question of whether in one regard at least – namely, with regard to the person directly concerned and affected – negligent procreation does not represent an even greater injury than does negligent homicide. Because, whereas the latter act puts an end to an existence laden with suffering, the former sees to it that such an existence begins. This, argues Rudolf Bayr, is why negligent procreation should be more heavily punished than negligent homicide: “Negligent procreation ought to be penalized in the same way as negligent homicide, only the punishment should be still heavier, since the latter puts an end to the misery, while the latter initiates it.” (Bayr, Momente und Reflexe. Aufzeichnungen. Discovered by: Guido Kohlbecher)

Hypocrisy of the “Fulfilment of the Wish for Existence”

The community of the procreators makes the hypocritical claim that its actions have been guided merely by the wishes of those human beings whom it brings into the world and that it has merely given these latter what they wanted: existences of their own. We might see a model for this hypocritical formulation in what Adorno writes at the start of the 129th aphorism of his Minima Moralia: “Hypocritically, the culture industry claims to be guided only by the wishes of the consumers and to give these latter simply what they want.”

Interrogation as to Whether One Wants to Exist

Inasmuch as most people do not find themselves capable of Jumping Over the Shadow of One’s Own Existence, they will tend to respond, when so interrogated, that – had they somehow been asked this question before they began to exist – they would have wanted to begin to exist even if they had known that the existence awaiting them would be a miserable one. On this topic Friedrich Theodor Vischer (1808-1887) has this to say:

“What I find most touching in the face of a child is the way that it appears so sweetly and so pitifully to say: ‘I cannot help it that I was made to exist’. – By rights, really, each individual ought to be asked beforehand whether he wishes to exist. One would need to know the life-destiny that awaited him beforehand, predict it for him in detail, and then ask: do you wish, under these conditions, to enter into existence? If one were obliged, truthfully, to predict to the person being asked the question an extremely unhappy life, would he still reply ‘yes’ to this question? – But at this point the whole scenario that is envisaged here cancels itself out, and does so in a very instructive manner. Of course the person of whom this question were asked would reply ‘yes’ to it! Because the whole proposition developed here presupposes that this person is somehow ‘alive before he is alive’. Were this not so, it would be impossible to ask him anything. But this being the case, the person in question has already ‘gotten the taste’ of life, already accustomed himself to existence – and once in the midst of existence in this way, not even the Devil himself will prove able to resist its charm!” (Vischer, Auch Einer)

The “moral” of these remarks of Vischer’s is very clear: refrain, already in the first place, from acting in such a way that a new human being begins to exist, since this latter will almost always prove to be a “yes-sayer” to his own existence.

The Beginning and End of the Existences of Living Beings

Contrary to what is commonly supposed, human beings and other living entities do not begin to exist only at their birth. – This is already supported by the fact that individual creatures belonging to the majority of species are indeed not “born” but rather crawl or slither out of eggs or larvae. And those creatures which are indeed “born” in the strict sense of the term begin to exist in utero, before they are actually born. Thus, whereas the end of the existence of a living being is designated by the term “death”, language lacks a symmetrical notion to designate the beginning of such a being:

Since “birth” designates the emergence of an already-living being from the maternal womb but not the actual beginning of the life of the being in question, people asked about their age regularly leave illegitimately out of account those months which they spent, alive, in utero. For lack of a better notion, then, let “beginning of life” designate the beginning of the existence of a new living entity.[1]

In order to be able to answer the question of just what it is that distinguishes our beginning of life/beginning of existence, we must first establish what we essentially are, or what we are identical with. Mostly it is held that we are identical with our functioning organism and that we began to live shortly after conception when our organism began to exist/to function. With the following contention we take up a divergent viewpoint to this one: Our organism was begotten, but our organism constitutes us. More precisely, it was the brain of our already-functioning organism which constituted us, as soon as its functionality was sufficiently complex to generate simple consciousness (sensations). We maintain that we are not identical with our functioning organism but rather with the consciousness generated by our brain. Consequently, we can state our position more precisely as: Our organism was begotten, but our brain generates us. This proposition contains the interesting implication that we would never have begun to live – and would never have had to die – if the organism had been destroyed before it created the brain which later generated the consciousness that we essentially are.

The question as to the point in time at which human brains begin to generate a rudimentary consciousness can hardly be answered with any precision. If one assumes that in order for consciousness to exist at least certain primitive neural structures must be present, we can say that an embryo less than eight weeks old will certainly have no consciousness. This being the case, such an embryo is, indeed, a functioning human organism but still no living human being. If this hypothesis holds, then the many spontaneous miscarriages which occur constitute no “loss of human life” but rather only the loss of functioning human organisms; similarly, abortions carried out before the embryo has attained an – estimated – age of eight weeks are not to be classed as the murder of human beings but rather only as the destruction of functioning human organisms. In all the cases known to us the beginning of the life of an entity takes the form of a transition from organism to living being.[2]

In support of our thesis of a difference in principle between organisms and living beings we offer the following considerations: (1) If we ask ourselves what we essentially are, it is possible for us to strip away from ourselves, in thought, all our body parts and finally even our entire organism without our thereby ceasing to exist; but the brain that generates our consciousness cannot possibly be “thought away”; were we to replace the brain in our head with some other functioning and consciousness-generating brain, then someone else would exist there in our place. (2) For some decades now this thesis has actually found some practical application in the form of brain-related criteria for declaring an individual dead. In hospitals a human being is declared dead when it is established that the brain of the individual in question has irreversibly ceased to function, even if the body of the patient, through artificially-assisted respiration, continues to do so. (3) There exists, then, a decision-procedure based on firm criteria for the question of whether, when faced with a functioning organism, we are dealing with a living being or whether this is only the case where we find ourselves faced with an entity possessed of consciousness: Would we deny to an electronic system of which it had been unequivocally established that it possesses awareness or even self-awareness the title of “living being” simply because it cannot count also as a functioning organism? Or would we rather say that we do indeed have to do here with a living being because the being in question has sensations, emotions or even reason?

We must hope that each of us would indeed feel it to be right to categorize an electronic system possessed of awareness as a living being and an electronic system possessed of self-awareness as a person. Because it is on ontological categorization that ethical characterization depends. An electronic system susceptible of feeling pain to which one were unwilling to ascribe the status of a living being would be far easier to subject to mistreatment than would be one considered as a living being.

Against the background of all that has just been said it seems to us that there applies, as regards the onto-ethics of the beginning of a life, the following truth:  the beginning of the life of a human being is not something that “concerns” the human being in question; it is rather the precondition for anything’s being such as to “concern” a human being at all.

[1] The state of having been born, says John Stuart Mill in his System of Deductive and Inductive Logic, is a separable accident of the human species. This is especially the case inasmuch as foetuses are unborn human beings. Existence, on the other hand, is an inseparable attribute of every human being – for which reason it is onto-logically impossible to carry a human being over into existence. (Mill, System of Deductive and Inductive Logic)
[2] For further details see: Akerma, Lebensende und Lebensbeginn (2006).

Euanthropica

Throughout almost its entire history humanity has suffered from toothache. Progress in dentistry, therefore, counts – along with the discovery of methods and procedures of narcosis and also of penicillin and antibiotics in general, which have saved the lives of countless patients – among the most renowned euanthropica. Up until 1829 the method used to put an end to unbearable toothache was searing irons. When these were brought into contact with the teeth the pulp of these latter was actually destroyed which mostly led to the patients’ losing consciousness from the pain.

Paradox of Ethics

Affirmative ethics claims the givenness of a certain essential Evil in the world – bound up with that very endowment with freedom definitive of human beings – while never envisaging the alternative: namely, a negative ethics for which the presence of freely acting beings in the universe does not represent a value of the highest order. (See on this topic Julio Cabrera) All ethics legitimates (though it mostly only does so unconsciously or tacitly) the facilitation of infringements, apt to cause pain and suffering, of its own norms, inasmuch as it posits Freedom as the highest of all values, even though freedom is always also the freedom to act contrary to ethical values. Whoever, striving after an Anthropodicy, exalts the value of freedom is open – since he tolerates, thereby, evil – to a similar accusation to that which can be levelled against the theological ethicist who attempts to provide a theodicy by pointing to the fact that God has given Man the freedom also to do good, even though he uses this freedom, often enough, to do evil.

Ethics and Antinatalism

To the extent to which it holds true that beings who are both vulnerable and endowed with the freedom to do evil  – conditio sine qua non of all ethics –, ethics must be an enterprise aiming at establishing which moral principles can permit us to ebb away with the minimum possible degree of suffering.

Every form of ethics which unreflectingly presupposes the continuing existence becomes thereby the accomplice of the Conditio in-/humana. Ethics, indeed, is committed in its basic intention to the furtherance of the cause of humanity. But any ethics which, in the face of human history up to the present day fails to see itself centrally confronted by the question of whether human beings have a moral right to procreate at all is blind and shares in the guilt for all the suffering that will be undergone in the future.

Ethics becomes unethical when it holds that there is no alternative for it but to have to appeal to the givenness of freedom in the cosmos as something positive. Because the freedom of acting subjects is always also the freedom to perform those bad and evil actions which were the reason why ethical principles were necessary in the first place.

Ethics as Humanity’s Self-Affirmation

Ethical questions have been debated for thousands of years already. How is it to be explained, then, that the most fundamental ethical question – namely, whether human beings ought to exist at all – has hitherto been neglected? This might be connected with the fact that not least among the many things that ethics is its: an essentially vitalistic phenomenon, a philosophical manifestation of the drive to self-preservation. There would thus be comprised within the very “genetic structure” of ethics irrational answers to certain fundamental questions.[1] This can also be expressed by saying that ethics, in the most basic respect, remains at the stage of morality: it simply accepts as a “given” the (right to) being of human beings endowed with  the Freedom to Do Evil, instead of questioning back behind this “given” after the manner of a true philosophy of morality.

[1] Compare the standpoint of Fernando Savater in his introduction to Cabrera‘s „Crítica de la moral afirmativa“.

Ethics

Ethics is the enterprise of rendering, by way of the universalization of principles of action, that freedom to do evil that is part and parcel of the characteristic human capacity for freedom compatible with the essential vulnerability that also necessarily characterizes all human beings. The need for ethics is founded, then, in the essential vulnerability of all those human beings who have been introduced into the world and it follows from this that ethics would need first of all to demonstrate “meta-ethically” that this introduction of human beings into the world is something that indeed ought to have happened if ethics is to present itself as the genuinely ethical enterprise it must aspire to be. In other words: ethics is initially, and will continue to be, merely affirmative and not (as a philosophical ethics owes itself to be) genuinely probing and radically critical for so long as it merely poses the question of how human beings should live (act) instead of posing the question of whether it is right at all to act in such a way that further vulnerable human beings begin to exist. What is really needed is a “theory of generative action” which questions back behind what is dictated to and stipulated for us by the legacy that Nature has bequeathed us.

Phobia of Awakening

The phobia of awakening signifies that “coming to” is by no means always a transition that is welcomed by the person concerned. It designates the fact that many people, even those who are generally in good spirits in the morning, emerge from sleep, be it a dreamless sleep or one filled with dreams, only reluctantly and against their own will. From this fact we may existentially extrapolate that many a person must wish in their heart that the first of all such “awakenings” – the start of one’s own existence – had never taken place.

Spectacles of Reminiscence

This concept, coined by Eduard von Hartmann, denotes a psychical mechanism which brings it about that, when reviewing all that has occurred in a life, memory tends always to place in a more favourable light the negative experiences of the past:

“Consider first how, in our memories, unpleasant impressions tend quickly to fade and be blotted out while the more pleasant ones linger on, so that even an event or an adventure which proved, in reality, to be profoundly negative in its consequences glows in our memory in the most delightful colours (juvat meminisse malorum); this being the case, it must follow that an individual’s memory, looking back and summing up, must come to a much more favourable conclusion about the quantity of joy and pleasure contained in this individual’s life than could ever be come to by a mind observing and adding up, its functions unobscured by these “spectacles of reminiscence”, the amount of pleasure and unpleasure actually experienced by this individual in his or her life. Whatever reminiscence is not yet able to provide in the way of covering up the suffering that has actually already been experienced will certainly be provided, as regards the suffering that will most likely really be experienced in the future, by the instinct of hope…; thus, the balance drawn up as regards the past will tend to be involuntarily falsified in the case of all younger people by drawing into this balance the idea of a future which has been purged, through hope, of all the principal causes of suffering undergone in the past, without thereby taking into account those additional causes of suffering that may have since been added. In other words, it is not one’s own life as it really was, and will be, that is used to draw up the balance between the total quantity of pleasure and the total quantity of pain in one’s existence but rather one’s life as it appears, to the uncritical eye, in the beautifying mirror of reminiscence and wreathed in the deceptive perfume of hope. It is no wonder, then, when a result appears to be yielded which is little enough in accordance with reality. – Consider, then, also the fact that the foolish vanity of human beings extends so far that they would not only rather seem good than really be good but also rather seem happy than really be happy, so that each of us takes care to hide that which makes us suffer most and thereby shows off a prosperity, a contentment and a happiness which he does not, in reality, possess.” (Eduard v. Hartmann, Philosophie des Unbewussten. Zweiter Teil: Metaphysik des Unbewussten)

Long after Hartmann certain psychological experiments performed by the psychologist Daniel Kahneman have confirmed that the effects of such “spectacles of reminiscence” are indeed as real as Hartmann claimed them to be. The proofs thereby provided of the real existence of this psychical mechanism lend support to antinatalism inasmuch as they tend to undermine the cogency of that contentment with existence which we find expressed everywhere and to reveal this latter as mere deceit and self-deceit.

The Definitive and Conclusive Nature of Antinatalist Moral Theory

Antinatalism is susceptible of completion and conclusion in a more definitive sense than are other moral theories. This is the case because antinatalism has a goal such that, once it is reached, no immoral actions will be any longer possible at all, at least on this earth. – Unless it were to come about that the animals left behind once the human race had ebbed away should themselves then develop into self-aware beings.

Experimentum mundi

With the emergence, through the separation of sexuality and procreation, of the nativistic Hiatus the perpetuation through procreation of the modern cosmopolitan has taken on the character of an experiment. The gaily-painted kindergarten, the shabby old-people’s-home, or the hospice made less oppressive by coats of bright paint can no more hold at bay than can phrases like “home birth”, “underwater birth” or “early education through music” the truth of what children are actually born into: namely, a gigantic experimentum mundi into which parents more or less arbitrarily thrust their children as said experiment’s “guinea pigs”. The philosopher Sloterdijk has attempted to provide a definitive characterization of this experimentum mundi. Here, we shall supplement Sloterdijk’s account by pointing up the experimental character that procreation has taken on in our global Information Age. Sloterdijk writes: “The experimentum mundi is no longer something that goes on merely in the minds of mystics, philosophers, princes of the church and great statesmen; the terms ‘global war’, ‘global mission’, ‘global politics’, ‘global economy’, ‘global travel’ and ‘global information’ now refer to explosively real things and point to processes of great complexity, unpredictable wilfulness and extreme disruptive power.”  (Sloterdijk, Versprechen)

 

Guinea-Pigs in God’s Laboratory (Williams, Tennessee, 1911–1983)

In his play “Camino Real” Tennessee Williams formulates the insight that we are the guinea-pigs of a divine experiment. But with the driving of God out of the world, it is clearly now human beings that thrust other human beings (their children) into this world-laboratory:

Where we replace Williams’s “God” with the nativistically-enlightened individuals that make up the species Man we find ourselves faced with a criminal experiment carried out by human beings on human beings: “We’re all of us guinea pigs in the laboratory of God. Humanity is just a work in progress.“ (Williams, Camino Real, Block Twelve)

Experimentation carried out on human beings is indeed usually looked upon as a criminal activity. But where the experiment is one performed on one’s own children it becomes something that is approved of: people are eager to see what it is that one or another child may one day become and it is left carefully out of consideration that what a child will become most certainly and above all else is, in the end, a person who declines and dies.

 

The Bloody Laboratory of History (Koeppen, Wolfgang, 1906–1996)

In Koeppen’s novel Death in Rome, published in 1954, the experimentum mundi is frankly and forthrightly described as “the stinking, bloody laboratory of history”. Of the novel’s protagonist it is said: “He did not wish to procreate. The thought of being the cause of another life, a life which would be exposed to unforeseeable encounters, fortuities, actions and reactions and which might also itself be the cause of many future eventualities through deeds, or thoughts, or through further procreation on this living being’s own part – the thought, in short, of becoming the father of a child, of this challenge thrown down to the world – this was a thought which truly appalled and horrified him” (Koeppen, Death in Rome). Koeppen does not neglect to make mention here, however, also of that àThirst for Existence on which the moral imperative of universal natal abstinence tends always to founder: “it seemed deeply disgusting to him, this ravenous greed for life to which we all are damned, this addiction to procreation by which even the poorest are beguiled, this appearance of eternity which is really no eternity at all, this Pandora’s Box of distress, terror, and war…” (Death in Rome)

 

The World-Experiment (Bloch, Ernst)

Nevertheless, that most renowned and prolific among all the philosophers of “hope”, Ernst Bloch, feels able still, despite Auschwitz and the GULAG, to arrive at the conclusion that the “world-experiment”, even if it cannot be said to have been a successful one, cannot for all that be said to have definitively failed either: “The world is indeed a single vast experiment conducted upon itself: an experiment which has not yet proven successful but has not yet proven a definitive failure either” (Bloch Tendenz-Latenz-Utopie; a similar passage is to be found in Experimentum Mundi) Bloch is fully aware not only of the great species-catastrophies of which our “world-laboratory” has been the scene; he also explicitly thematizes the contingency of every sort of hope upon the inevitable death of the individual and on the end of the cosmos itself. Where, then, does he draw his hope from? Perhaps – like Leibniz – from the fact that our earth represents only a tiny dot in the vastness of the universe and that other regions of the cosmos might offer more reason for this hope. As Bloch puts it: “the processual course of the world is not yet concluded, with all its setbacks on the path of life’s self-determination both on our difficult dark earth and beyond it” (Experimentum Mundi) We have to do here with a pseudo-anthropodicy: here on our “difficult dark earth” the history of humanity, which has long since entered an “experimental” phase, may well have proven to be a failed experiment; on other planets, however, the experiment may not have proven such a failure. The anthropodicy in question here is a pseudo-anthropodicy because there is no way to derive from this merely hypothetical success of the experimentum mundi on other worlds the conclusion that it is not morally imperative to put an end to procreation here on earth. 

 

Micro-Experiments and Macro-Experiment

Each human being is a walking micro-experiment. His experimental character consists in the following: humans mix the stuff of human-ness (genetic material) together and observe what emerges and whether what does is that which was wished for. It does not help at all to claim that this experiment with the stuff of human-ness is a “natural” one. Because “natural-ness” is not a characteristic apt to endow actions – actions which might also not have been engaged in – with moral dignity.

Although they came to the world as “micro-experiments”, human beings find themselves thrust into an open “macro-experiment”. This “macro-experiment” is history, with its billions of experimenters (parents).

It is to be expected that bio-technichal modifications of the human species will not, prima facie, be refused or rejected by those who give their consent to the experimentum mundi. At least not in the case where bio-technical procedures might succeed in making it possible to establish some degree of reliability: a reliability by which the experimental character applying hitherto in each case (the uncertain outcome of every act of procreation) will be to some degree diminished.

Rights to Existence

No real person can say that it is, for him, a matter of self-evidence that he should, at some point or other, have begun to exist – because “he”, after all, had had all along a “right to existence” which no one had had, on their side, any right to “withhold” from “him”.

Nor, on the other hand, can any real person say that “he” had a right not to begin to exist.

In both cases the “he” here is just a phantasm. The person in question is alluding to a space-time complex from which he was, in fact, entirely absent.

Euthanasia

First, we have the beginning of our existence initiated for us, something toward which – for want of existence or of self-awareness – we can take up neither an attitude of consent nor one of rejection. Then, should we wish, decades later – tired of living, or incurably or mortally sick – to cease existing and thus, finally, to draw the heteronomy of our existence’s beginning back within the “catchment area” of our autonomy, it very often happens that we have a continuance in existence decreed and prescribed to us, this time too entirely without our consent.

ETI: Rejoicing Over Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence?

Would the discovery of a planet seemingly very similar to our own at twenty light years’ distance from the earth be grounds for rejoicing because it is possible that intelligent living beings might exist there? Most definitely not. We must presume that there preceded the emergence of any such intelligent beings a long evolutionary prehistory of eating and being eaten. Intelligent beings replace this biological prehistory with real history which is hardly to be imagined, at least on planets not blessed with paradisical conditions of life, except as a history full of struggle and conflict.

Sure news of other inhabited planets, then, would be the occasion rather for the institution of a day of public mourning. This inasmuch as, up until the arrival of such news, we might have rested content in the assumption that our species, and its development of destructive forces, mass murders and wars, had, at least, remained, and would remain, restricted to a single planet and might thus have cherished the hope that all this would come to an end with us; but, after this point, we would face the certainly that this “us” would not, after all, be limited to our world alone.[1]

[1] For more on this see Akerma, Das moralische Gesetz des bestirnten Himmels.

Deprivatization

The vegetarian movement has succeeded in penetrating into that ostensibly sacrosanct sphere of personal privacy which indeed encompasses our accustomed dietary practices but in fact only apparently, not really, protects these dietary practices from moral-theoretical interventions: One is fully justified in retorting to the meat-eater who says: “What I eat is nobody’s business but my own!” with the words: “What you consume stays a private matter of your concern alone only for so long as no other being capable of pain is affected by it”.

Similarly, an antinatalist movement should succeed in bringing it to public recognition that the begetting of human beings is no merely private matter which is insusceptible of any ethical evaluation. Because every procreation presupposes new human beings as persons affected by the Conditio in/humana with its endpoint in the final catastrophe of death.

Axiopath (by derivation from Axiology: Doctrine of Values)

A psychopath is someone with an abnormal emotional world. An “axiopath”*, by analogy, would be someone who tends to insist upon the existence, the assertion and the real implementation of values – refusing to conceive of the nonetheless conceivable possibility of a willed “ebbing away of humanity” – even if this assertion and implementation prove to be bound up with high costs in suffering for human beings. In the “worst-case scenario”, such an axiopath remains convinced of the “value of values” and of their real implementation even when this real implementation proves to be bound up with so many negative consequences (human costs) that it becomes questionable whether anything at all of the values originally pursued survives.  

 

Axiopathology

The unwritten history of the conscious efforts of thinkers to maintain, or to assert and implement, values while screening out of their consciousnesses all the terrible costs in human and other suffering which go necessarily hand in hand with such assertion and implementation of values.  

 

Axiopathological

A term descriptive of everything which (explicitly or implicitly) praises or demands the assertion and implementation of values even at high costs in terms of human suffering.

*Term coined by Guido Kohlbecher

Genetically Informed Antinatalism

The position of genetic antinatalism emerges in consideration of the mass of suffering which has sedimented, over hundreds of millions of years, in our genetic constitution. The history of living beings on earth is less “a success story culminating in the human being” than it is a blindly self-perpetuating tragic puppet-show – interrupted only by the song of the birds – the marionettes of which, held on ever looser strings, have attained only at the stage of their evolving into human beings the possibility of taking into their own hands the direction of this tragic spectacle. Although small parts of this genetic constitution are already billions of years old, our “heritage” in this respect is full of inherited ills and evils. Far from our present genetic constitution being one which has matured away its faults, it remains still today a product of chance with entirely uncertain consequences wherever human beings beget other human beings.

It would be possible to recount the history of living beings on earth as the unsupervised macro-experiment of an unknown Demiurge: an experiment whose defining limits are so hazily defined that an “ethics board” composed of extra-terrestrials would doubtless recommend that it be discontinued. This is also the view of the author of the following lines, who advocates indeed not antinatalism but rather a repairing of this genetic heritage productive of so much suffering by means of bio-technical optimization:

“Our evolution has come at a tremendous cost. They say history is written by the victors – well, our genome is a record of victories, of the experiments that succeeded or least didn’t kill our ancestors. We are the descendants of a long line of lottery winners, a lottery in which the prize was producing offspring that survived long enough to reproduce themselves. Along the way, there were uncountable failures, with trillions of animals dying often horrible deaths.

Our genome is far from a perfectly honed, finished product. Rather, it has been crudely patched together from the detritus of genetic accidents and the remains of ancient parasites. It is the product of the kind of crazy, uncontrolled experimentation that would be rejected out of hand by any ethics board. And this process continues to this day – go to any hospital and you’ll probably find children dying of horrible genetic diseases. But not as many are dying as would have happened in the past. Thanks to methods such as embryo screening, we are starting to take control of the evolution of the human genome. A new era is dawning.” (New Scientist, 15th September 2012, p. 35)

The question arises nonetheless of whether a morally better era really will begin as a consequence of this illumination and improvement of our genetic heritage, since human beings remain products also of their social circumstances. The programme of a genetic optimization concedes, indeed, the lottery-like character of large areas of our Conditio in/humana but appears at the same time to be a last bastion established against antinatalism, or a strategy of flight from this latter.

de Goncourt, Edmond (1822–1896) and Jules (1830–1870) – Happy Death and the End of the Species

The Goncourt brothers were not just the literary men who gave their names to the Prix Goncourt, the most famous of the French literary awards; they were also early visionaries of an as it were “two-track” ebbing-away of humanity:

“How is it that there has never arisen, at any point in history or anywhere upon our earth, a sect of wise men which has set itself as its goal the bringing about of the extinction of the human race, given the cruelty of the ills to which this latter is subject? How is it that no one has yet preached a doctrine of bringing about this extinction through abstention from procreation and – for those who feel they need to embrace this self-extinction more urgently – through directing the efforts of public chemical laboratories toward discovering and teaching to others the gentlest possible form of suicide: a combination of nitrous-oxide-like gases which would make of the transition from being into non-being nothing more arduous than a fit of laughter?”[1]

Here, with a view to hastening that ebbing-away of humanity which will take, by the path of abstention from procreation, at least a century, these two authors envisage, as a supplement to this, the demand for a form of suicide so serene as to actually invite imitation on the part of those who observe it. Their ideas were as visionary as – to judge by that question we have just cited regarding “why there has never arisen at any point in history a sect with the goal of bringing about the extinction of the human race – their ignorance of earlier antinatalistic movements was great (the Manicheans and Cathars had been sects pursuing just this aim). The question does arise, however, of why the number of anthropofugal, or properly and fully antinatalist, sects and individuals has remained so small; it is a question that can be answered by reference to the prevalence of pronatalist bio-socionomic imperatives. As regards the present day, one would have to point, were one to try to name two more or less organized groupings with sect-like character here, to the Church of Euthanasia or the VHEMT.

[1] „Comment ne s’est-il pas formé à aucune époque de l’histoire, à aucune place de la terre, une secte de sages pour laisser mourir la vie humaine devant la férocité de ses maux ? Comment n’ a- t- elle pas encore été prechée cette fin de l’humanité par l’abstention de la procréation et encore, pour les plus pressés, par la recherche et l’invention du plus doux suicide, par des écoles publiques de chimie,  où serait enseignée une combinaison de gaz exhilarants faisant un éclat de rire du passage de l’etre au non-etre ?“ (In: Goncourt, Edmond et Jules. Journal. Mémoires de la vie littéraires. 1864–1878. Tome 2. Paris: Fasquelle/Flammarion (1956). Entry of 10 March 1869, p. 504.

Geronto-Camps (Neologism for “Old People’s Homes”)

Whoever begets children thereby makes him- or herself – depending upon the extent to which they have received, or failed to receive, education and enlightenment in this regard – either an objective or a subjective accomplice in the later internment of his or her own children in geronto-camps.

How is this complicity of parents in the eventual internment of their own children in geronto-camps to be explained? It seems likely that there comes into play here, besides àPrimortality, another specific psychological mechanism: parents envisage their children as their children only for stretches of time lasting as long as those in which they expect, themselves, to live.   Parents aged sixty-five may have a mental picture of how the lives of their now-forty-year-old children will look in another five years’ time. But they cannot imagine the conditions of existence of these children at the age of eighty because by then they – the parents – will have long since ceased to exist. Once the probable horizon of their own lifetimes has been surpassed, parents tend to lose mental sight even of their children’s lives. This parental àDeficit of Futurity opens up, for the human mind, a certain mental latitude for the begetting of children and thereby also for the rendering-up of these children to an eventual phase in their lives – not inevitable but nonetheless far from improbable – which will be spent in the misery of a care home or old people’s home.  

How would parents react were one to ask them about this far from improbable future of their own children in geronto-camps? Many might apply the àCompensation Theorem and respond, for example, as follows: “Before he ends up in the old people’s home my child will have enjoyed a good and full life; or at least I, for my part, can say that I have done all I can to see to this!” Interestingly, this “deficit of futurity” as regards people’s own children stands in contrast and apparent conflict with that “consciousness of futurity” as it bears on the general conditions of life on our planet which is more and more widespread today among the environmentally-aware educated classes in all countries.  

How might the reality of one of these geronto-camps in fact look which one tacitly imposes on one’s own children through the very act of begetting them? Let us take a look at the first-hand account given by a care-worker who worked in five different such care-homes and old-people’s homes in Germany: “On entering the room I flinch back involuntarily, struggling with the impulse to run away. A stench of sweat, faecal matter and putrefying flesh fills the room in which the 88-year-old Christel Anders is lying curled up into a ball… When I lift the bed-covers I am hit by a wave of nausea; I run out; then I pull myself back together, swallowing back my disgust. Sticking to the lower third of the sheet dried blood and old pus. The bandage on the old woman’s heel is wet through and – judging by the experience I have gathered in these places – most likely not changed for around two weeks. The flesh beneath it has festered and gives of a stench of putrefaction. … She must be suffering truly cruel pain.” (Markus Breitscheidel, Abgezockt und totgepflegt, p. 85f)

 

Explanation of the Geronto-Camps

These conditions that are met with in the geronto-camps give the lie to the widely-held view that parents are only responsible for their children up until the moment when they attain adulthood.  Parents living in our present “Information Age” know very well what grotesque conditions obtain in these geronto-camps and do indeed themselves bear responsibility for having rendered up their own children to these “Dantean” places. We may draw up, with regard to these geronto-camps, the following list of justified reproaches that children might level against their parents at any time at all:

By begetting me you tacitly accept and approve that:

  • On many days I will not be given enough to eat and drink, while on others food and drink will be forced on me faster than I am able to swallow them;

  • I will have inserted into my body, without medical necessity, stomach probes and infusion that will cause damage to it;

  • I will not be brought to the toilet as often as I need or wish to be and catheters will be inserted into, or diapers applied to me in ways that will damage by body;

  • I will not be washed, dressed, or have my hair combed or my false teeth put in every day, even though I request this;  

  • I will not be allowed to leave my bed every day and get out into the fresh air, even should I wish to do so; 

  • I will not be able to choose or refuse, on the basis of their congeniality or uncongeniality to me, those I share a bedroom with;

  • I will have to die alone, with no one to hold my hand even in my dying hours.

(One arrives at a catalogue of this sort if one converts the list of minimal demands to be placed on geriatric care drawn up by Claus Fussek into a list of reproaches to this latter, see: http://www.integra.at/files/claus_fussek_mindestanford.pdf [last accessed 15.10.13])

Geronto-camps are the gulags of our advanced and de-traditionalized societies which have left behind them both the joys and the miseries of the formerly nigh-universal form of living in extended families. They are the scandal that cries to high heaven inherent in every pronatal attitude; but at the same time they also form the inevitable crux of the antinatalist eutopia. Because it would be above all the slow ebbing-away of humanity which would necessarily, at some point, transform the whole earth into an old people’s home of planetary dimensions. In mitigation of this fact, however, it is to be expected that a human race capable of the self-reflection which would initiate such an “ebbing away” would also be capable of forming and designing the process of its own extinction – taking advantage here both of the fruits of the whole technological tradition and of the fact that the earth’s resources would need, at such a point, to be divided up between fewer and fewer human beings – in a manner much more humane than has hitherto been imaginable.   

Old people’s homes carry the raison d’être of modern (post-)industrial societies  ad absurdum: these societies “suffer” from falling birth-rates and tend, therefore, to encourage procreation. At the same time people who have their economically active lives and the zenith of their mental and physical vigour behind them are left to perish in concentration camps for the aged, in a way which unmistakably demonstrates that it is above all in their quality as entities susceptible of being exploited and “turned to account” that human beings are allowed or made to enter into existence and the “human dignity” one hears so much about is something that falls into neglect and irrelevance once these human beings’ capacity for economic productivity is at an end. 

 

Antinatalism – Gandhi’s Gait

Gandhi (1869–1948) is acknowledged as the spiritual and practical father of modern India, the only democracy yet to establish itself in a country whose population exceeds a billion. Many of today’s middle-class Indian citizens, however, with their smart-phones and their private automobiles, think back on him with mixed feelings. Because the resistance that he called for was not just a resistance to Britain’s colonial domination; the lean man with the spinning wheel also called for a resistance to the usurpation of human spiritual concerns by Western technology. Thus, he not only spoke out, in 1940, against methods of artificial insemination – which, as he believed at the time, could not possibly bring forth anything but idiots or monsters – but also, more generally, against an age he saw approaching “when men and women will walk, if they at all do, only for pleasure but go to their work on wheels or fly to it.” (Gandhi, Collected Works, vol. 78, p. 341f[1]) And in fact, already from the 1940s on, a fertility clinic had been in operation in London[2] the methods and results of which he could hardly have approved of since it seemed to Gandhi that procreation – assuming it should occur at all – should do so only within the framework of marriage.

How would Gandhi be looked on today in India – and in the world as a whole – if people were really aware of what his ideals were on the question of ethics and population?  Contrary to what might easily be supposed these ideals of Gandhi’s were not such as to point in the direction of a “one-child policy” of the sort recently practiced in China. Nor did they amount to the principle: “As many people as the land can sustain”. The father of modern India did not imagine any upper population limit stretching into the millions. The number of human beings inhabiting the earth which Gandhi ideally envisaged was that “Nirvana figure” the notion of which was clearly first conceived in India and which found its way to Europe by way of the intellectual and commercial channels of the Arab world. This number was: zero. Gandhi’s ideal as regards population was not a small number of human beings but rather: no human beings at all; a “no-child policy”. Both in India and everywhere else in the world.

That Gandhi, the icon of peace, should have cherished in his heart the ideal of a world without human beings sounds like a declaration of war against common sense, if not against humanity itself. In fact, however, Gandhi expressed his views on this ideal of a world without human beings in so many of his writings over a period of so many years and provided such a plausible justification for this ideal, deploying that logic of the rejection of suffering which has formed the core of the Indian philosophical tradition from the start, that it would be child’s play to provide evidence that he did in fact hold to this position and the question needs much rather to be raised of why Gandhi is not universally perceived as an indeed a proponent of a “no-child” politics and ethics. 

Ironically, Gandhi was not just the demiurge of an independent nation but also the father of four children. To his second-eldest son, Manilal (1892–1956) he addressed, on the 17th of March 1922 a piece of writing contending that it would be better had he, Manilal, never been begotten and that it would have been no loss (since to whom could it have been a loss?) if neither son nor father nor any one of the countless human beings somehow linked with them had ever existed. Since it is a father who is writing here to his son, Gandhi symbolically revokes, as it were, ex post facto with the following words the begetting of his son:  “…I do not at all believe that procreation is a duty or that the world will come to grief without it. Suppose for a moment that all procreation stops, it will only mean that all destruction will cease.” (Vol. 26, p. 369) Furthermore, Gandhi contends, not one child in a million is really a “wanted child”; rather, almost all are – as he goes on to note, doubtless very much in a self-critical spirit – incidental products of a mode of behaviour arising directly from Nature and one by which Man is not really distinguished from any other animal: “Probably one in a million may be resorting to intercourse for purposes of procreation. I have not come across any such person so far.” (Vol. 85, p. 418)

Gandhi’s version of the pacifist slogan so often cited in post-war Europe “Imagine there were a war and nobody went” runs as follows: “Imagine the world were full of war and destruction and no more human beings were ever born into it!” Applied specifically to the period of British colonial rule in India this amounts to what Gandhi wrote on 25th of April 1921in a letter to his friend, the Christian missionary and social reformer Charles Freer Andrews (1871–1940): “If I could find a way of stopping procreation in a civil and voluntary manner and whilst India remains in the present miserable state, I would do so today. But I know that it is impossible.” (Vol. 23, p. 89) It would only be possible if society consisted entirely of perfect Brahmachari – i.e. of people who were devoted to following Brahma’s path of renunciation. For a perfect Brahmachari, Gandhi explained after having received many letters asking him about his stance on celibacy, nothing is impossible. But such a perfect Brahmachari, he went on, is an ideal almost impossible to attain and nearly as difficult to realize as would be the actual drawing of an infinite Euclidian straight line. (see: vol. 21, p. 356) When he was flooded with letters enquiring further about the meaning of  Brahmachari Gandhi had (on the 29th of April 1926 in the weekly newspaper Young India) also this to say about the meaning of the word: the true Brahmachari knows no desire for procreation: “The whole world will be to him one vast family, he will centre all his ambition in relieving the misery of mankind and the desire for procreation will be to him as gall and wormwood.” (Vol. 35., p. 17f [Young India, 29.4.1926])

Gandhi also saw a special immorality in begetting children in India so long as British colonial rule there endured. He said, for example, in 1920: “We only multiply slaves and weaklings if we continue the process of procreation whilst we feel and remain helpless, diseased and famine-stricken. Not till India has become a free nation, able to withstand avoidable starvation, well able to feed herself in times of famine, possessing the knowledge to deal with malaria, cholera, influenza and other epidemics, have we the right to bring forth progeny. I must not conceal from the reader the sorrow I feel when I hear of births in this land.” (Vol. 21, p. 357)

But as we will now further explain, Gandhi does not just propose, in his role as a politician, that British rule in India might be combatted by means of a “procreation strike” that would deprive this rule of those it ruled over; in his role as an ethicist he also thinks much more profoundly, in a manner directed to human being in its entirety. The British came and will go away again; unfulfilled needs, sicknesses and the inevitability of dying remain, however, as fundamental and inevitable dimensions of existence. War and violence can really only be overcome in the measure that we cease to cause new human beings to enter into an existence which is already ruinous and structurally marked by violence. This is the case inasmuch as every human being that is begotten is thereby condemned by his or her parents to decay and perish. With his reflections so permeated by anticipative empathy and genuine moral responsibility Gandhi deliberately forgoes a widely disseminated pronatal argument which runs: ‘If I (I myself) bring a child into the world, then the chance exists that the world may become just a little better through his or her action’. Gandhi’s “principle of responsibility”, on the other hand, runs: ‘Before we can even think about bringing children into the world those presently alive will have to have prepared this world for the arrival of these children’. But it was not just colonial India of the 1920s, in Gandhi’s view, that was many decades removed from being so “prepared”. The freedom-fighter Gandhi, inspired by a vision of eternal peace, knows that it is not just India that suffers from a colonial defect but rather human existence itself that is shot through with the structural shortcomings that we have indicated – shortcomings that can be abolished only in and through the abolishing of the very existence of human beings on the earth. This structural shortcoming is the co-extensiveness of procreation, existence and violence. Gandhi’s basic principle, therefore, runs:

“If destruction is violence, then the creation of a thing is violence too. This is why procreation involves violence. The bringing into being of something that is doomed to perish does in fact contain violence.” (Vol. 37, p. 337f)

As a consistent proponent of the principle of non-violence (Ahimsa) Gandhi cannot condone the bringing forth of new human beings who are all doomed to die – be this (in the India of the colonial period) of hunger or be it (elsewhere in the world or at other times in history) of sicknesses or accidents or through the colonization of their lifeworld.

Gandhi is perhaps the only “icon of peace” who is entirely rightly seen as such: peace cannot be said to prevail as soon as no warlike confrontations are any longer occurring; but only then, when human beings are no longer causing other human beings to enter into an existence already formed and shaped by violence. Whoever thinks of begetting another human being is playing with the thought of condemning a human being to perish – an act of violence which we must, with Gandhi, condemn.

It is not progeny of one’s own that constitutes, for Gandhi, the goal of human life but rather that principle of Moksha that is characteristic both of Buddhism and of Hinduism: the putting of an end to those sequences of procreations, births, deaths and more births that form an endless chain. In a discussion with the social reformer G. Ramachandran (1904–1995) in October 1924 Gandhi replied to the question of whether the abolition of humanity by non-procreation that he preached was not also a form of violence and did not amount, indeed, to the destruction of humanity itself by saying: “Then you fear there will be an end of creation? No. The extreme logical result would be, not extinction of the human species, but the transference of it to a higher plane.” (Vol. 29, p. 267f) – The earth, in any case, would be empty of human beings.

[1] Cited from: The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (Electronic Book), New Delhi, Publications Division Government of India, 1999, 98 Volumes

[2] Cf. http://www.welt.de/vermischtes/article106164248/Oesterreicher-zeugte-offenbar-600-Kinder.html

Birth-Houses – Death-Houses

We have “birth-houses” in the form of maternity units; but there is barely an example in our societies of “death-houses”. A tolerable death, however, is surely the very least that a civilized society owes to its citizens, all of whom became such, after all, through no deliberate choice of their own. It is Witold Gombrowicz (1904–1969) who argues particularly eloquently for “death-houses” as compensation for our existential heteronomy and portrays, furthermore, how far we still are from this point:

“Why is the death of human beings still today so like the death of an animal? Why do our death-agonies remain so solitary and so primitive? Why have you not succeeded in civilizing death?

To think that this terrible thing, the final death-agony, is still so rife among us as in the very first days of Creation. In the course of millennia we have succeeded in changing nothing here, have left this savage taboo quite intact. We have television and use electric eiderdowns, but we still die as the men and women of savage eras did. Very occasionally, a doctor will secretly and ashamedly shorten the sufferings of a dying human being with an increased dose of morphine. A desperate intervention, always too little in the face of the terrible omnipresence of death and dying: I call for “death-houses” in which the most modern means for bringing about an easy death would stand at the disposition of everyone. “Death-houses” in which one might bring about one’s death unproblematically without having to throw oneself in front of a train or hang oneself from a doorknob. “Death-houses” in which exhausted, broken, used-up human beings might confide themselves to the care of specialists who can ensure for them a death without shame or excessive suffering.” (Gombrowicz, Tagebuch 1953-1969)

In this following passage Gombrowicz speaks of being “condemned to life” but does not name the “condemners” (the parents) by name, even though he does insist that the inevitable fate of all (children) who are caused to begin to exist is a fate that is clearly known to everyone:

“Each one of us is slowly and gradually destroyed until the day when his or her countenance is no longer to be recognized at all – and you know this, you know of this inevitable fate, yet lift no finger to spare this suffering to yourselves and to your own. What are you afraid of? That all too many people will simply bolt if you open the gates too wide? Allow those who wish to die to do so. Force no one to carry on living just because dying would be too uncomfortable – to do so is base and cruel […] This life to which I am condemned can trample me and violate me with the cruelty of a savage beast; but I possess a great and sovereign recourse against this: I can take my own life. If I do not wish to, I do not need to go on living. I did not invite myself into this world but I have the choice, at least, of leaving it… and this is the foundation of my freedom. And indeed also of my dignity (because to live with dignity means to live of one’s own free will).” (Ibid.)

Peace, Eternal

In the case where humankind fails to achieve insight and to set in motion the process of its own ebbing away, eternal peace on earth will only be achieved once the lighter elements of the sun have fused together and it has become, instead of the yellow giver of all life, the red ball that burns this life into annihilation.

Apology Paradox

The so-called “Apology Paradox” addresses the following state of affairs: if someone asks pardon for the terrible misdeeds of their forefathers – and if this asking for pardon is really sincerely meant – then this person is also accepting and embracing their own non-existence. The reason for this is that, in certain regions of the world, major neganthropic events such as slavery or the genocide of the Jews have been so crucially determinative of the course of history that their not having taken place would have meant that the person asking pardon for them would most likely never have begun to exist at all.

In her essay “The Apology Paradox” Janna Thompson acknowledges the paradox inherent in this fact that a sincerely-meant apology for the misdeeds of one’s forefathers must imply a sort of renunciation of his or her own existence on the part of the person making the apology. Speaking more concretely: if a person born in Germany after the historical genocide perpetrated upon the Jews apologizes for the crimes committed by his or her recent ancestors, then this person must necessarily also wish that the course of historical events leading up to this genocide should have been quite different than it actually was. Had this been the case, however, then the parents of the person offering the apology for the actions of his or her forefathers would either never have met or have met, at least, at some quite other point in time, so that the person in question would never have been begotten. Since, however, almost every individual is happy to have begun to exist we are confronted here, says Thompson, with a paradox: on the one hand one indicates, by offering this apology, that one would have preferred that history take a different course; on the other hand, one suddenly recognizes that one’s own existence is placed symbolically in peril thereby.

For antinatalist moral theory, however, this connected group of ideas addressed by Thompson displays no real paradoxical aspect: even someone who states of themselves that they are quite content to be in existence can at the same time express, without falling into paradox, the view that they would nonetheless have preferred that world history had taken a course such that they would never have begun to exist at all. The appearance of paradox arises only if one assumes that someone would have been in some way harmed by this existence never begun, or that something would have been withheld from someone thereby.

Pardon Me for Having Been Born!

In particularly marked cases of the Parent Taboo there can occur a complete sublimation of Parental Guilt which takes the form of an inverted reflection of this latter: instead of reproaching his parents, be it even in an oblique or cryptic manner, with having begotten him, the child asks pardon – vis-à-vis these parents, society in general, or the world – for his own existence. One piece of evidence that testifies particularly forcefully to the existence of this configuration and for the overwhelming force of the “parent taboo” is the title of Elisabeth Edward’s autobiographical work: “Pardon Me For Having Been Born! Memoirs of an Augsburg Woman”, the narrating subject of which feels guilty by reason of her very existence and concludes her narration with the words: “I hope that I too can be forgiven and I say: ‘Pardon me for having been born!’” (Edwards)

Happy to Have Been Born

If one were to take a survey on the subject the great majority of human beings would most likely answer that they are happy to have been born – or, in the words of D. H. Lawrence: “He dashed his glass to the ground and declared, by God, he was glad he had been born, by God, it was a miracle to be alive.“ (Lawrence, Women in Love) Now, firstly, this question “are you happy that you were born?” is an extremely crude all-or-nothing question and, secondly, we must, when such a “big question” as this one is posed, consider the possibility of cognitive distortions. In this case particularly the phenomenon of substitution (cf. Daniel Kahneman) needs to be taken into account; which is to say that it may be that a simpler rather than the true, larger question is really being answered here. Such a simpler question – which, instead of the larger question that is seemingly posed, is in fact being unconsciously and involuntarily responded to here – might, for example, be: “Are you happy that you can, at this moment, go on living?”

In order, then, to arrive at some genuinely nuanced and differentiated conclusion regarding the question of whether human beings are happy that their parents acted in such a way that they began to exist we must make use of a subtler way of proceeding. If it were really the case that human beings were happy to have been born then it would be to be expected that their lives, and the continuation of these lives, would be something extremely valuable to them and that they would never engage in any sort of behaviour which might in any way be detrimental to the quality of these lives and to their continuation. But as the antinatalist Sarah Perry explains in her book “Every Cradle is a Grave”, this is not the case. What we observe, on a very large scale, is rather types of behaviour which take great risks with future quality (and duration) of life in order to make the present more bearable. One form of this behaviour has been given the apt appellation “desperate partying“. Consumption of Narcotics and other dangerous leisure-time activities or types of sport strongly indicate that it is not suicide alone that constitutes a sign that life is not generally or consistently very highly valued by human beings and that it must rather be made bearable by certain types of behaviour detrimental, in the longer term, to life (cf. Perry).

Balzac provides a masterful description of such “desperate partying”: “These primates work day and night, slaving away, never pausing for a moment…Then, however, they show utter disregard for the future and, avid for pleasure, throw away in the tavern, great lords for a day, all the money they have sweated to earn…” (Balzac, “The Girl With the Golden Eyes”) Balzac speaks of the “unhappy ‘happy people’” (ibid.) whom we need always to bear in mind when evaluating answers given to the “big questions”, among which there counts the question of whether someone is happy to have been born.

What ephemeral factors the answer to such a question can depend on is clearly shown by a study in which two groups of subjects were asked to answer two questions – firstly in the sequence AB and then in the sequence BA:

A How happy do you currently feel?

B How many dates have you had in the past month?

and

B How many dates have you had in the past month?

A How happy do you currently feel?

When the questions were posed in the sequence AB, no greater degree of happiness, surprisingly, was reported by those who declared that they had had many dates; the correlation was, in fact, practically zero. When, however, the same questions were posed to another group in the sequence BA, a significant correlation was to be noted: those who had had many dates stated themselves to be happier. Clearly, what was at issue here was a certain emotional resonance: among the persons questioned, those who had had many dates were reminded of happy phases of their lives, which in turn influenced their answer to the second question (see Kahneman).

 

Gambling With One’s Life

Far from looking upon one’s own life as the highest and most unassailable of values, the famous mountaineer Reinhold Messner recommends a certain “gambling” with one’s own life as an appropriate reaction to the fact that one’s existence began heteronomously: “A human being is simply thrown into life, or he suddenly finds himself ‘there’ with a certain stretch of time at his disposal in which he can ‘gamble’ with his own life, that’s the way I see it (…) And one can really only gamble with one’s life if one recognizes that one has limits, that sooner or later one is going to die. As soon as one realizes this, it becomes unimportant when exactly this happens…“ (Reinhold Messner, Mein Paradies, die Berge, in: Paradiese, Saphir Verlags GmbH, Munich 1978) By the same logic it would, then, already have become unimportant that, at a certain point, one began to exist and it can no longer be looked on as imperative that one act in such a way that some new human being begins to exist – the right existential attitude for whom would now, in any case, consist in likewise “gambling” with a life that would become for him, once he had gained insight into Thanatality, something unimportant.

Heteronomous Arisal and Autonomous Self-Abolition

Despite the oft-cited notion that we are all “architects of our own good fortune” we still really do not know how many people can legitimately be so described: very much in our lives, certainly, is predetermined by the lottery of our genes and our destiny. It remains quite beyond dispute, however, that no one is the architect of his or her own entry into being. That we came into existence did not lie in our own hands; we were never in a position either to aspire to this state of existence or to refuse it. The only possibility we have of acting, in questions of being and non-being, as autonomous entities is in the question of non-being. Durs Grünbein thus offers the following formulation with regard to people committing suicide: “Fearing the possibility of terrible suffering, they decide to put an end to things themselves. Mortally wounded by the involuntary act of birth, they aspire, through a brutal clutching at this end, to win back their sovereignty as subjects.” (Das erste Jahr, Ff/M 2003, p. 50f) But why does Grünbein emphasis here the “brutality” of the suicide’s “clutching” at his end? Is it not much more brutal to simply suffer, far from all autonomy, the catastrophe of dying, or to damn people who have become incapable of such an action to simply waiting out the end which will overtake them as it does all creatures?  

It was Wolfgang Pfleiderer who found the right words in this connection: “Dying is an art. Most people simply let themselves be struck dead.“ (Wolfgang Pfleiderer, Bienen und Wespen, p. 41. Found: GK) The true art of living, in fact, may consist in autonomously and axionomically taking back into one’s own hands that dying which was involuntarily mandated by one’s parents to Nature, instead of waiting for this unknowingly commissioned “contract killer” to bionomically execute the parental sentence of death. To such a line of reasoning it is often retorted that “suicide is the coward’s way out” – to which Pfleiderer replies by pointing out that, whereas the majority of human beings are doubtless cowardly, suicide remains a relatively infrequent phenomenon: “Suicide is cowardice – but if this were the case it would surely occur much more often!” (ibid.., p. 18) In fact, the person who extracts himself, by suicide, from a creaturely situation which offers no other way out resists thereby the nigh-ubiquitous masochism of our world and proves himself to be, qua deserter from his servitude to this world, the true sovereign of the earth.

(Un)freedom of Procreation

To every individual’s constitutionally-guaranteed freedom to procreate there corresponds, in neganthropic terms, the impossibility of any individual’s adopting, beforehand, any position with regard to the beginning of his or her own existence – that is to say, an aspect of unfreedom.   

Let us consider Article 2 of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, paragraphs (1) and (2):

“(1) Every person shall have the right to free development of his personality insofar as he does not violate the rights of others or offend against the constitutional order or the moral law.

(2) Every person shall have the right to life and physical integrity. Freedom of the person shall be inviolable. These rights may be interfered with only pursuant to a law.”

From paragraph (1)’s guaranteeing of the right to the free development of personality one may derive a right to freedom of procreation. At the same time, according to paragraph (2), each citizen has the right to physical integrity. This, however, would require the existence of a duty to give birth to a healthy child: a duty which is almost never spoken about. But this in turn means: nobody has the right to be born healthy. – The disadvantage of having to accept being born unhealthy counts as an acceptable price to pay for avoiding the infringement of the freedom of procreation.

Progress

From an antinatalist perspective the progress achieved by humankind corresponds to the degree to which humankind succeeds in abolishing itself qua Nature-bound nexus of procreation and suffering. Decisive as regards the undermining of this Nature-bound nexus of procreation are the factors: basic material sustenance and methods of contraception. In the  20th century the development of technical-agricultural forces of production and that of mankind’s powers of destruction stayed more or less in equilibrium with one another. It was thus at the same time the most progressive and – by reason of certain aspects of this very progress – the most regressive century in mankind’s history. From the antinatalist perspective, however, the 20th century is decidedly to be classed as the most progressive century, since without the invention of modern methods of contraception it is to be supposed that many billions more human beings would have begun to exist.

Flaubert, Gustave (1821–1880)

In French literature of the 19th century Flaubert forms an antinatalistic antithesis to the marked pronatalism propounded, for example, by ->Zola: “The thought of bringing someone else into the world fills me with horror. I would curse my own self if I were ever to become a father. A son of my own! Oh, no, no no! Let my flesh and blood perish along with me and let me not pass the tedium and ignominy of this life on to anyone else.” (Flaubert, quoted in Tintenfass. Magazin für Literatur und Kunst, Nr. 4, Diogenes, Zürich 1981 p. 265)

 

Beginning of Existence Without Consent

Already in the autobiographical novel he composed in his youth, “Memoirs of a Madman”, Flaubert insists, in antinatalist spirit and in a manner that prefigures the work of Georges àPoulet, on the non-consensual character of the beginning of our existence: “But first of all: why were you born? Did you want to be? Were you asked if you wanted to be? It was simply blind fate that brought you into the world… Great as you may be today, you were at one time something as filthy as spittle and as ill-smelling as urine[1]; then you went through various metamorphoses, much as a worm does, and finally came out into this world, near-lifeless, shrieking, crying, with eyes still tight closed, as if you felt hatred for this sun, which you have nonetheless exhorted, so many times, to rise.” (Flaubert)

 

The Last Human Beings and the End of Humanity

Flaubert’s anthropofugal imagination not only prompts him to paint a portrait of the end of humanity and to wish this end to come all the quicker because of the cruelty hitherto displayed by Man; in one passage he even wishes for something that most people, if they encounter antinatalist ideas, perceive as an especially horrific and repugnant possible consequence of these latter: namely, to live on earth as the very last of the human race: “Infinite space will surely have one day to become weary of this speck of dust which makes so much noise and disturbs the majesty of the void. (…) A few last human beings will still wander back and forth across the dried-out earth and call out to one another now and then. But when they approach one another they will wince back in horror, terrified by each other’s appearance. And they will die alone.”[2] (Flaubert) “When the world no longer exists, oh yes, it is then that I would want to live, without Nature, without human beings; how glorious that emptiness will be!” (Flaubert)

 

Ecological Anthropofugality

Flaubert is no proponent, indeed, of an ecologically-based àAntinatalism of the sort that we encounter among supporters of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement; nevertheless, he gives expression to a certain ecologically anthropofugal vision: “The trees will grow and bear their leaves without any human hand being there to rip them down and break them. The rivers will flow on through gaily-coloured meadows; Nature will be free without human beings to subjugate it; and this species will die out, for it was an accursed one from its infancy onward.” (Flaubert)

 

[1] This vaguely recalls the phrase ascribed to Saint Augustine: Inter faeces et urinam nascimur.

[2] The wanderings of human beings in a world of this sort has been powerfully described by Cormac McCarthy in his novel “The Road”.

Blindness to Parental Guilt

It is in Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness” that we encounter one of the most striking cases of blindness to parental guilt. Because, although it is a central thesis of Sartre’s that we are all of us “condemned to freedom”, he remains entirely blind to the fact that it is our parents that condemn us to what goes under this latter name. Indeed, instead of speaking of parental guilt, Sartre goes so far as to say that Man, being condemned to be free, “bears the weight of the entire world on his shoulders; he is, as his very way of being, responsible both for the world and for himself.” (Being and Nothingness) And that “it is specific to human reality that it is without excuse” (ibid.) Implied here is a vision whereby the person “landing up” in a war would have to accept this as his own fault inasmuch as it would always be open to him to kill himself and thus remove himself from all that might befall him. But we consider this to be àSuicide Cynicism and ask: how could Sartre ignore the fact that we human beings are not causes of our own selves – that we are not primordial products of our own freedom but rather the beginning of the life of every human being is subject to the action or omission of his or her own parents?

Confessions of Parental Guilt

Confessions of guilt on the part of parents who retrospectively rue having caused the beginning of their children’s existence will tend to be rare, since parents believe they have the right to claim lack of knowledge concerning the future development of their children.

 

Thomas Mann’s (1875–1955) Three Confessions of Parental Guilt

Mann’s First Confession

On 13.11.1918 Mann notes in his diary:

“When I came back, the child’s ear was just being bound. He was rolling about and crying so badly it tore my heart in two […] When one brings children into the world one creates a suffering that is outside oneself: an objective suffering that one does not oneself feel but only watches others feel and that one feels guilty about.” (Mann, Tagebücher 1918-1921, S. 76 f. ; found by GK)

We have to do here with a confession of parental guilt of which the majority of parents, perhaps, would not be capable. It is, after all, considered as part of the “musical accompaniment” to every normal existence that children cry, be it from physical pain or psychological discomfort, just as they tend, indeed, quite generally to make a lot of noise (since their parts tend to buy them loud toys). But this piece of popular wisdom “Children just cry, that’s all” in fact reveals a shattering hermeticism of necessity which aspires to deny to the crying of children the moral seriousness which is due to it. This denial involves overlooking the fact that children – in contradistinction to grown-ups – tend to become completely absorbed in their own situation of distress and to be entirely dominated by their own pain.

Mann’s Second Confession

A further confession of parental guilt on Thomas Mann’s part is to be found in the volume edited by Erika Mann “In Memory of Klaus Mann”. In the foreword which he contributes to this book Thomas Mann writes:

“My heart is without bitterness over the fact that, in the end, he was unable to think of us. It would really be going too far to speak of ingratitude for a gift as ambiguous and laden with guilt as is the so-called ‘gift of life’” (Mann, My Son Klaus, S. 11. Found by GK)

This formulation is revolutionary from the point of view of the ethics of natality. It contests the belief that children owe their parents gratitude inasmuch as these latter are the cause of their being. Mann, on the contrary presents us here with an àInversion of the Guilt of Natality: The child is not under an obligation to his parents because he has received from them “the gift of life”; rather the parents are under an obligation to the child because what they have given him, in giving him life, has been a “gift” of profound ambiguity.

 

Peter Weiß (1916–1982)

“It is intolerable that I was the one who bestowed on you this world, that I was the one who bestowed on you this disfigured life.” (Die Besiegten)

Parental Guilt

Parental guilt[1] designates an incontournable guilt which all initiators of human existence necessarily bring upon themselves. The incontournability of parental guilt corresponds to the fact that all children, without exception, are condemned to undergo those sufferings which go hand in hand with birth, life and death. The degree of specific individuals’ parental guilt, however, is measured by how far they have been able to benefit from antinatalistic àEducation and Enlightenment and on the extent of practically accessible ->Parental Freedom, that is to say, the freedom of choice as regards deciding for or against procreation. There attaches to parental guilt a certain social-historical index: the greater the availability, on the one hand, of methods of contraception and the more widely disseminated, on the other hand, information about the Conditio in-/humana – or, in other words, the knowledge of the human species about itself –, the more significant will be parental guilt. The poor woman in Niger or Bangla Desh today, or the female factory worker in Germany in 1900, will bear less parental guilt than the men of their respective eras, or than prosperous Westerners of the time around the turn of the millennium, who all had the opportunity to fully inform themselves about the past, the present and the likely future of humanity and of each newborn human being from the cradle right up to the Geronto-Camps or deathbed in a hospital.

Parents living in the “Information Age” know not only about the vulnerability of their children, whose begetting or coming into the world they would have been able to prevent relatively easily, but also about the probable manner of their necessary physical decline and death. They accept this by adducing similar considerations, perhaps, to those which are adduced by the meat-eater to ease his acceptance of the notion that animals must die in order for him to eat as he wishes: “But they had a good life for as long as it lasted!” and “It’s really not so bad after all!” The physician Sherwin B. Nuland opposes this view. Not least among the targets of the argument of his book “How We Die: An End With Dignity?” are those medical peers of his who attempt to beautify the actually generally torturous process of our dying with spurious claims about this latter:

“I am baffled by such assertions. I have too often personally experienced how people die in the most agonizing way and how their near and dear ones suffer from their inability to help them for me to believe that these clinical observations of mine are misinterpretations of reality. I can bear personal witness to the fact that the last weeks and days of most of my patients’ lives were marked by pains like the pains of Hell. […] It is a certain shame which ensures that the thought is repressed of how miserable our end actually is.” (Nuland, How We Die) What kind of shame, exactly? Clearly, the sight of real dying human beings gives rise to shame because one realizes thereby that one is complicit in the propagation of that lie so necessary to bearing and sustaining life that our existence is really a garden of roses and that the agonies of our demise are not at all an imposition inasmuch as they are more than made up for by the pleasures we will have enjoyed beforehand.

To the extent that prospective parents are informed of these facts – and who can possibly remain uninformed about the hellish conditions of the dying and the hellish sufferings they undergo? – this must mean that, by procreating, they must accept and even condone the most terrible agonies for their own children. There shows forth, through the argument that the children in question, before their death, will have had a fine life, a one-sided prejudice in favour of the present or the immediate future, with the less immediate future being arbitrarily “faded out”. But the fact that something – in this case “pains like the pains of Hell” – is undergone at one particular point in time or another does not alter the quality of what is undergone. That great pains are suffered only at the very end of life does not make these pains any less cruel. Moreover, we encounter here an instance of the widespread tendency to place low value on the old: prospective parents justify the inevitable suffering and death of those children of theirs who will one day become old by telling themselves that it is “only” very old people who will suffer in this way.

[1] We first encounter the concept “parent-guilt” in Dieter Thomä’s book “Parents”, p. 222, Anm. 9.

“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).

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.