“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.

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