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.