The Non-Compensatability of Suffering in Individual, Social, Geographical and Intergenerational Terms (Introduction, part 3)

But even where the anti-natalist successfully repudiates these charges of hostility to children or of general hatred of humanity, it will inevitably still be pointed out to him or her that life does not consist of suffering alone and that every sentient existence has its moments of happiness or even whole stretches of time that are suffused with a sense of joy. But, in the life of any individual, the happiness felt in the past and that which one might expect to feel in the future can counterbalance and compensate for the suffering one is experiencing in the present moment only to a very qualified and limited extent. That is to say, past and future happiness can do this only for suffering of a certain degree of intensity and only during certain specific stages of a human life. Likewise, it is only to a limited extent that presently-experienced happiness can counterbalance and compensate for the suffering one has experienced in the past or may expect to experience in the future. Generally speaking, we may say, the competence of happiness to offer comfort and solace for suffering is a decidedly restricted one. This becomes especially clear if we quit the “Robinson Crusoe” viewpoint that we have briefly adopted above, which sees the equation of happiness and suffering as resolving (or failing to resolve) itself within the span of a single individual existence, and consider Man as a social being. Even someone who may have experienced their own life as a bed of roses will usually leave mourning and sorrowing people behind them if they – as it will seem to these latter – unexpectedly and without prior sign of illness pass away. And this quite aside from the incorrigible optimism leading such a person to an evaluation of their own life and its happiness which possibly stands sharply at odds with the conclusions that might be arrived at by an impartial external observer of this latter.

Furthermore, to pass over onto the plane of the social in a still more emphatic sense, the relative wellbeing of one single caste, class or stratum within a society surely does not compensate for the suffering of other social groups in said society; likewise, the comparatively happy and prosperous life led by many in advanced industrialized nations does not compensate for the suffering undergone in the vast regions of the world that are plagued by poverty, war and famine.

Finally, to consider the question from the intergenerational viewpoint, the good life enjoyed by citizens of today’s affluent societies does not compensate for the miserable existences of people in the much poorer societies of the past; and likewise, the vague prospect of a humanity which might in some future century finally find itself both materially and mentally liberated, freed even from the structural violence of the need to work to survive, does not compensate for the present hardships of those who, today and tomorrow, will continue to be put out into a world where they must eke out a bare existence by the bitter sweat of their brow.

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