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.

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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.