(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.