What counts is not only the antinatalist mätopia – a world without sentient beings prone to feel pain – but rather to argue in favour of a revision of pronatal decisions. Contributing to the revision of as many pronatal decisions as possible is at the heart of antinatalist moral theory and practical antinatalist ethics.
Everybody has an idea of utopia. By analogy and against the background of antinatalism and certain forms of nihilism one should also speak of mätopia with non-existence as its ideal (‘mä’ being tantamount to ‘not, non’ in ancient Greek).
Every now and then people would say „Listen to that child’s carefree laughter!“ Those incidences should be looked at as a most revealing insight into the human condition. Because what is the make-up of a world in which it is necessary to always highlight children’s light-hearted laughter? Children should be light hearted and carefree all the time. The unfailing attention paid by bystanders and the apparent scarcity of easygoing laughter unwittingly testify to the fact that something isn’t right with acting in such a way that a new human being begins to exist.
If one subtracted the metaphysics of will from Schopenhauer’s general philosophy some non-metaphysical antinatalism would have to ensue. Therefore, one might suspect that after the demise of German idealism a corresponding thinker, an outspoken antinatalist, would have taken up the vacant systematic place well before the still hesitant antinatalist pronouncements by Norwegian thinker Zapffe or in the setting of Negative Utilitarianism (first and foremost by Hermann Vetter).
As a matter of fact there is such a philosopher. He wrote under the pseudonym of KURNIG defending an outspoken and – with respect to Schopenhauer or Eduard von Hartmann – non-metaphysikal antinatalism.
Here are two quotations from his work ‘Neo-Nihilimus’ as a sample:
“I consider human life as something which is overall unpleasant, as a misfortune. Unborn people would not ask for it. In the face of abysmal misery I was unable to simply watch taking on the passive role of an observer.”
“I beget you (we hear a parent saying) in order to see with pleasure what is inside you and what is not. By the same token, however, I am forcing upon you a lot of suffering and, finally, the ghastly catastrophe of dying.” [Kurnig, Der Neo-Nihilismus. Anti-Militarismus. Sexualleben (Ende der Menschheit), Verlag Max Sängewald, Leipzig 1903]
Those who read German may want to have a look at my contribution on Kurnig’s early antinatalism [website is currently being reworked]: Exodus aus dem Sein. Kurnigs Neo-Nihilismus als buddhistisch säkularisierter Geist des frühen Christentums
Even today impartial discussions around the noble ancient Greek concept of euthanasia are hardly possible in German speaking countries. The concept of euthanasia is still tainted because of Germany’s Nazi past and the perversion of the concept by the Nazis.
At first glance the same seems to go for the concept of antinatalism. Before the concept of antinatalism was used in order to designate a moral theory it had been used by such thinkers as German historian Gisela Bock in her contribution ANTINATALISM, MATERNITY AND PATERNITY IN NATIONAL SOCIALIST RACISM (1994). In her text Bock scrutinises Nazi antinatalism as being directed first and foremost against women and especially women of Jewish and “Gipsy” origin, many of whom became sterilized. Bock even draws a line from antinatalism to euthanasia and genocide. Against this background the concept of antinatalism looks tainted and it wouldn’t recommend itself as a name for a humane moral theory.
However, there is a second usage of the concept of antinatalism – prior to designating a moral theory. It is in the domain of research on development policies from the 1970s and 1980s where we find the concept of antinatalism being used in order to discuss such topics as an antinatalistic population policy in a series of developing countries (see e.g. Christian Oswald, Familienplanung als volkswirtschaftliches Investitionsproblem, 1979).
At a second glance it looks like the concept of antinatalism first appeared in research on more recent population policies. And only later was it used in order to reflect on earlier Nazi population policies.
While this suggestion needs confirmation by further research it seems probable that one cannot reasonably consider the concept of antinatalism as a tainted one.
Will music ever be another gateway to antinatalism?
To be or not to be
See for yourself
Being spelling hell
Why not favour stringent void?
So strange, same old game
Life doesn’t match human dignity
Why perpetuate the race?
Song by song we got it wrong
Song by song place duties on
More people to come
Cradle to grave, just one thing is save
Rainbows, time flows from formation to decay
Francois Tremblay’s comment on the last post has lead to some further clarifications. Francois said:
“I think you got the correlation backwards here. It’s atheism that helps people open their minds enough so they can hold to other non-religious positions. All ANs I know except one started off as atheists.”
This is an important topic which would require more elaborations than what follows:
Other points of departure towards antinatalism seem thinkable and even occurred in history. Think of Christian antinatalism: Life in this world is vain and worthless. Leave your family and earthly goods, Jesus said – and do not procreate since the end is nigh. In the same manner quite a few Church Fathers were in favour of strict antinatalism while at the same time sticking with God’s existence.
Or think of Manicheism as a kind of inverted Christianism: Our world is the product of a malevolent creator. According to Manicheism one must abstain from procreation in order to not perpetuate this world. At the same time Manicheism, as antinatalism, sticks with a supreme being outside evil creation.
There is at least a logical pathway leading from vegetarianism towards zoo-antinatalism which will eventually morph into anthropo-antinatalism: Vegetarians – inadvertently or not – opt for non-procreation among farm animals. One can easily agree on this with any vegetarian. This agreed, vegetarians will have to defend restricting antinatalism on suffering farm animals and they are prone to admit that their antinatalism’s scope will have to encompass all sentient beings. Looked at from this angle vegetarianism is a gateway to antinatalism.
Let us take the phrase “Parents might have only good intentions regarding their offspring”. Why is it then that a vast majority of parents seem to contribute at full speed to the deterioration of their children’s living conditions? I am not talking here about a general course of civilization but rather about personal decisions which are within everyone’s cruising range:
The decision to drive a car/to eat meat/to use one-way products when other options are at hand is a decision which – if universalised – deteriorates children’s living conditions considerably.
All these decisions are being made before the background of information age. No one could claim: I was poorly informed on the inextricable bound between consumer decisions and one’s children’s living conditions. The conclusion seems inevitable, therefore, that the above mentioned phrase on parents’ good intentions needs revision. It should read: When it comes to consumerist behaviour people as a rule decide to their children’s detriment.
An antinatalist triad reads as follows:
ANTINATALISM – ATHEISM – VEGETARIANISM
Atheism is a consequence of antinatalism inasmuch as “God” said:
“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Vegetarianism is a consequence of antinatalism inasmuch as a (strict) vegetarian diet reduces the demand for and the production of ever more sentient and suffering beings.
If you so wish listen to the song NO GOD
Historically informed antinatalism
History has laid down for all to see the good things and the bad things which people can enjoy and must endure and the atrocities which some people can administer to many others. Presumably, most of the good and bad things will not disappear if we move into the future by ten, a hundred or a thousand years. However, there would be no people at all in the future to experience the good and the bad things if people ceased to procreate as from today. I suggest people should refrain from procreation as the good things in life do not compensate for the bad things and, first and foremost, the best things do not compensate for the worst things.
The experience of unspeakable pain, the agonies of the wounded, sick or dying are not counterbalanced by the delight the sufferer experienced earlier in life; nor is the suffering of the inmates of concentration camps neutralized by many contemporary peoples’ well-being.
The part played by philosophy in the whole of culture amounts to that of an immune system. Where pro-natal religion has set out on the retreat, philosophy is there to keep at bay what one may label the luring gnostic temptation: to abstain from procreation in order to prevent future suffering. In such metaphysical systems as the thought of the Church Fathers, Kant’s teleology, Marxism, positive utilitarianism, R. M. Hare’s prescriptivism or the ontologies of Nicolai Hartmann and Hans Jonas, it ascribes a mission to man, anchoring him in Dasein. In my books SOLL EINE MENSCHHEIT SEIN? / OUGHT MANKIND TO EXIST? (1995) and VEREBBEN DER MENSCHHEIT? / EBBING AWAY OF MANKIND? (2000) I demonstrate how philosophy failed in its endeavour to secure man a metaphysical place in the universe. Without such a place, however, procreation becomes ruinous and selfish.
If philosophy is the brain of religion, then anti-natalism is the neocortex of philosophy. In the guise of the question OUGHT MANKIND TO EXIST? the human spirit offers evidence of its having reached the age of discretion. No matter how much man may be his own product, he originally was, and at least in part still is, a product of natural lottery. By virtue of the moral theory of anti-natalism man testifies to his capability of self-liberation from the presettings of a natural heritage which still permeate our existence. Anti-natalism is man’s emergence from immaturity which is equally imposed upon him by nature and self-incurred.
I am not of the opinion that coming into existence goes along with being harmed, nor does coming into existence go along with a benefit – as harms and benefits presuppose the existence of the respective human being. However, I am convinced that once we are here we will experience severe harm and that many of us will harm others.
To my mind, a universe void of sentient creatures is neither good nor bad. In my judgement, it is ethically neutral. Consider: The first sentient being comes into existence. In scenario A its first sensation is pleasure, whereas in scenario B its first sensation is pain. In my view, a hitherto neutral universe is rendered good in scenario A whereas it becomes bad in scenario B.
Some philosophers claim an asymmetry according to which a universe in wich pain is absent is good while a universe in which pleasure is absent is not bad. In my judgement, pain and pleasure would be symmetrical here: If a universe is deemed good because there is no one in it who experiences pain, then, by the same token, a universe would have to be labelled bad, if there is no one in it to experience pleasure. I do not, however, accept this logic. Consider a universe that, day by day, contains less pain (fewer sentient beings who experience less pain or less severe pain). Such a universe becomes better and better until – at a certain point in time – it has become ethically neutral. This occurs when the last sentient being has ceased to exist. Such a universe might be amenable to aesthetic judgement, but not to ethics.
Is there a moral reason to procreate with respect to the pleasure one’s offspring would experience? I think not.
Is there a moral reason not to procreate regarding the pain one’s offspring would experience? I think the answer should be yes.
Why is this so? Apparently, pleasure and pain do not count equally. Pain seems to weigh more, ethically speaking, than pleasure. This seems to be confirmed if we move to decisions and their reversal. Consider couple C who have decided not to procreate as they think their children would be miserable because of their genetic disposition. One day they are informed this was wrong. Their children would be extremely well off. Now consider couple D who have decided to procreate because they think their children would lead happy lives. One day they are informed their children would suffer extreme pain from the first day on. Apparently there is more reason for couple D to reverse their decision than there is for couple C. Which is to say: Expected pain outweighs expected pleasure by far. In ethics, pleasure and pain do not seem to be on a par.
The slaughterhouse clarification
People who come into existence are not harmed by their coming into existence. Rather, the existence of people or other conscious beings is a prerequisite for there to be harm. I would even admit that some people lead good lives. Nonetheless I am an anti-natalist, and I do recommend to reverse any pro-natal decision on the grounds that many people will suffer unspeakably even though all parents might have only good intentions regarding their offspring: The pleasure parents derive from having children and the bliss some people experience in life are inextricably interwoven with the pain countless other people (and non-human sentient beings) experience. Let me clarify this with respect to the institution of the slaughterhouse: The pleasure most people derive from eating meat is inextricably interwoven with intense suffering on the part of the animals that are raised and slaughtered. The animals’ suffering is not compensated for by the fun most people experience when they eat meat. Pointing to some animals that have decent lives and are killed painlessly is to no avail. In a similar manner, the joy that a considerable number of people experience in their lives is built upon an ocean of suffering. As every procreation implies a lottery (genetically and socially) and as history has revealed to us what man is capable of doing to his counterpart, any decision to procreate should be reversed. – While there is no such reason to reverse a decision not to procreate regarding those few who would presumably lead decent lives and die pain- and fearlessly.
[This is an older text which which I copied from my German website]