Indirect Antinatalisms – The Antinatalism of Entitlement

A moral theory which refuses suffering as an unreasonable imposition and thus, as an antinatalism, looks upon the begetting of human beings who will inevitably have to undergo various forms of suffering as a morally reprehensible act – such a moral theory does not emerge and stand alone in a vacuum but can find, in fact, many points of institutional contact and support and respectable – even if not always conscious and willing – allies:  

 

Health

An example of how portions of antinatal morality find themselves (unintendedly) embedded within the fabric of our large institutions is that very high criterion for what constitutes “health” that the WHO took up, in 1948, into its official definition of this latter concept:

“Health consists not just in the absence of illness and infirmity but is rather a condition of complete corporeal, mental and social wellbeing.” (http://www.admin.ch/ch/d/sr/i8/0.810.1.de.pdf)

Here, “health” is defined no longer merely negatively – as a measurable absence of illness – but rather as a lived wellbeing. Whoever has slept badly; whoever finds it impossible, try as he might, to recall the final line of a poem he has laboriously learnt by heart; whoever sits anxiously in a delayed train; whoever experiences an urgent need to urinate in the middle of an important meeting; whoever, contrary to his expectations, finds he has not been invited to a friend’s birthday party  – each and all of these people, according to this definition, is suffering “illness”. This definition, in other words, throws a glaring light on the facts that even the most fortunate human life is made up of a near-uninterrupted series of states that are far from optimal and that the human being who begets another human being is bringing into existence a being bound to be incessantly more or less ailing. 

Only from that moment on where this sovereignly-proclaimed criterion of the WHO would cease to be a mere proclamation and become rather a right guaranteed to every denizen of the earth would the bringing of new human beings into existence once again become something that might be contemplated as possibly morally defensible. Prior to such a state of affairs’ coming to pass, we will continue to enter existence as by definition ailing beings and waste away miserably for a number of decades until we at last succumb to that final sickness called death.

Following on from this WHO definition we argue that there should be established at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg an authority to which every individual who feels him- or herself to be “ill” in this positive sense proposed by the WHO can appeal and lay a claim to compensation for the personal suffering occasioned by their having been begotten.  

Stated in explicitly antinatalist terms: through its re-determination of the meaning of the notion “health” the WHO has established a claim, the ambitiousness of which must be welcomed, which implies the repudiation of that all-too-hasty contentment with existence which has arisen through the habituation of millennia of need and deprivation. On account of the unattainability of “health” in the sense defined by the WHO, the framers of this definition have been accused of utopianism and of nurturing a moral culture of near-limitless entitlement. Instead, however, of scrapping this ambitious definition, it seems to us much more appropriate to retain these claims, once so formulated, to a successfully constituted existence and – where and insofar as the conditions set here cannot be guaranteed to all those new human beings arising from procreation – to cease to engage in this latter.  

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The contents of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child[1], which came into force in 1990, have been summed up in the form of a 10-point programme by the Children’s Rights organization of the UN (UNICEF)[2]. Among the ten basic rights outlined here counts the “right to health”. But, inasmuch as “health” in the sense in which this term is defined by the World Health Organization would be almost impossible really to attain, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is tantamount in substance to a (paradoxical) claim that children have a right not to be begotten and not to be born. But since, for basic ontological reasons, the unbegotten are unable to raise any claim, the true content of this Convention consists in an obligation, incumbent on potential begetters, not to beget children.

[1] Siehe: http://www.unicef.de/fileadmin/content_media/mediathek/D_0006_Kinderkonvention.pdf

[2] Siehe: http://www.unicef.lu/Grundrechte. Without it being clear exactly why, the very broad WHO definition of health is considerably mitigated in this latter text.

Pronatal Immune Systems

The question is almost never posed of whether it is morally defensible to beget other human beings. Within the context of an as it were “pronatal immune system” procreation passes for something normal, natural and even necessary. It counts as normal because all cultures, in all periods, have been “human-begetting” cultures. It counts as natural inasmuch as all non-human species too beget their own kind. And it counts as necessary because without procreation humanity would die out. – But this in its turn must count as something catastrophic. This recourse to the notions of the normality, naturality and necessity of procreation serves to obscure the existence of blatant contradictions between, on the one hand, certain widely-shared values and, on the other, the inhumane consequences of progenerative actions for the millions of human beings affected by them. As long as the pronatalistic immune system remains unnamed, its victims too remain invisible: billions of begotten human beings who must undergo existential and corporeal crises such as lingering illnesses and mortality in their own selves and be witnesses to them in their family and loved ones and who may also become victims of wars or other catastrophes – things which are in fact neither normal, nor natural, nor necessary.

 

Perinatal Immune System

Also part of that cultural “immune system” without which those antinatalistic seeds which are sown around everywhere in our culture would surely begin to sprout is that silence, never explicitly agreed upon but everywhere observed, regarding what has been designated, in the title of a book, as “the violence of childbirth”. In this book, authored by Isabelle Azoulay, we read that “…our expectations regarding childbirth have been so thoroughly tinted by fine-sounding promises for the future that the notion that birth could be the source of many ambivalent feelings hardly ever any longer arises. Our culture really has driven a wedge, so to speak, between our consciousnesses and these unacceptable realities.”  (Azoulay, Die Gewalt) “We can look upon women’s typical repression of the memory of the pain of childbirth, as well as the more general amnesia of society in this regard, as bolts slid across our lived experience to spare our bodies and minds all contact with these unacceptable but fundamental realities.” (Ibid.)

The philosophy of Man has propagated the insight that Man is by his very nature a cultural being. This truth could well be made to apply also to human childbirth, inasmuch as the unimaginable pains involved in this latter could be reduced to a minimum, or made to disappear entirely, by anaesthetics. Nevertheless, it is still the case that no more than around ten per cent of women experience largely pain-free childbirth. It would almost appear as if even our modern civilization still lies under the curse of its sadistic God who decreed to Eve and her descendants “in sorrow shall you bring forth children”. Childbirth, which is frequently accompanied by an actual fear of death, represents, we may say, a violent intrusion of our most basic biology – the “acultural” par excellence – into the sphere of culture: “In view of the fact that even physicians consider the pains of childbirth to count among the most extreme states of pain experienced by human beings, the silence that generally reigns regarding these pains seems like a secret conspiracy, as if everyone had implicitly commonly resolved to close their collective eyes to the reality of this limit-experience: birth.” Instead of recommending to women about to give birth that they request peridural anaesthesia the currently predominant practice among midwives and doctors is to do the very opposite and urge them to undergo the almost intolerable pains of childbirth as if this were a positive experience. This despite the fact that trauma of the pelvic area ensuing from childbirth is not something we see only in human beings of recent generations but rather something that has been occurring for four million years. These traumas are to be traced back to the fact that the diameter of the birth canal and that of the head of the neonate are as a rule almost identical so that, if there is even a slight variation in either of these factors, it can easily come about that the pelvic diameter proves too small (see New Scientist, 7. January 2012, p. 11) Regarding the unacceptability of procreation and birth, we may say, there predominates a collective silence, accompanied by an unspoken collective awareness of what is actually the case.