Good Omissions (Introduction, part 9)

The author of a handbook on antinatalism must necessarily face the question: “why do you argue for and promote a practice of non-procreation instead of devoting yourselves to (what would seem at least) the more fruitful enterprise of bringing aid and succour to already existing human, beings? Why expend argumentational energy in the cause of preventing potential human beings from beginning actually to exist – since such merely potential human beings cannot, since they are only potential, actually be “helped” by such a course of action – when there exist millions upon millions of human beings to whom one might really offer aid and succour? Our answer to this (entirely justified) critical enquiry runs as follows: it is not just actions that can be morally meritorious but also the omission of certain actions. To give one – simplified – example: someone who omits to perform an action that would pollute the environment by cancelling a long-distance flight sees to it that the living conditions of other human beings are better than they would have been had he gone ahead and performed this action.

To show support and solidarity for suffering human beings is indeed a good action. But it is also morally meritorious to revise and rescind one’s wish to have children and to act in such a way as to avoid procreation, because in this way (at least) one less human being will begin to exist who will need such support and solidarity, inasmuch as he will have to undergo mental and physical pain and suffering, will inevitably at some point have to witness the sickness and death of close relatives, and will have eventually himself to die. Even if “no one” can actually be named for whom ”it might be better not to begin to exist”, it is nonetheless generally acknowledged to be bad to act in such a way that “someone” must die as a result. But it is exactly this that is done by the person who acts in such a way that, as a consequence of his or her action, someone begins to exist. Whoever creates a human being by procreation does indeed act in such a way that a human being must (eventually) die from his or her action – something which, except in cases of self-defence, tends to be unanimously condemned before the bar of our common moral sensibilities. In short: when we say “it is better to do x, or to omit to do y”, the action, or omission to act, concerned can be moral even in the case where it is not possible specifically to name a person for whom “it” is better. – We compare “states of the world” with one another and give the preference to a “state of the world” O, which comprises no suffering (and likewise no joyful) beings, over a “state of the world” M, which comprises both these latter, even if in the “state of the world” O there is no one who actually gains or profits from the fact that no one exists. This inasmuch as, in “state of the world” O, it is also the case that no one can suffer from this fact that no one exists, whereas in “state of the world” M there will indeed necessarily be “someone there” who suffers.

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