That imprecation cast upon existence which has become a topos par excellence spanning all the epochs of human culture takes the form of the lament: “Oh would that I had never been born!” (in Ancient Greek: μὴ φῦναι / mä phynai). This exclamation, recorded in many different cultural documents, implies, in the first place, a symbolic rescission of each individual’s respective having-come-into-the-world (>Rescission of Conception). But, since the person uttering such an exclamation had necessarily to have already been born in order to utter it, we have to do here with a nativistic-performative self-contradiction. This nativistic-performative self-contradiction “Oh would that I had never been born!” evokes the question: “But what, then, ought to have become of you instead of being born?” Let us sort through the various conceivable responses to this question. If our lives, in every case, began in fact not with our birth (>Birthdays: the Lie We Choose to Live By) but rather months before that as a foetus, the demand that one “never be born” might have been satisfied in one of three ways:
It would have been better to remain in utero. Prophets, thinkers and poets such as Jeremiah or >Rousseau (1712–1778) have discussed this remaining in utero as the better option.
It would have been better if my coming into the world had been prevented by the aborting of that embryonic organism that was eventually to become me (>Oh would that I had been aborted).
It would have been better if my mother had suffered a miscarriage (>Biblical Antinatalism >Job).
 Peter Jacob (in his book ‘Lieber Herr Grünberg. Oder vom Glück, nicht geboren zu sein’) raises, without giving any conclusive answer to it, the question of whether the dictum ought not rather to run mä genesthai. Nor do we offer any conclusive answer to this question here.
No one could, or had to, either consent to the beginning of their own existence or refuse it. It is only after one has been in existence for quite some time and has become a person that one can possibly adopt a consenting or refusing attitude toward this beginning of one’s existence. But the “no” of the no-sayers is ethically weightier than the “yes” of the yes-sayers. Were people, starting from today, henceforth to act in such a way that no more human beings began to exist, then there would be no more yes-sayers who might retroactively consent to their own existence. But in the case where human beings continue, as hitherto, to be begotten, there will surely be some among them who condemn the action which brought about the beginning of their existence.
Whereas the category of objective >complicity leaves it an open question whether someone acting in accordance with the Conditio inhumana is or is not informed about the consequences of their actions, the expression “malign voluntarism” refers to informed actions whereby evil is knowingly accepted and condoned, collaborated in or perpetuated. The person who buys meat accepts and condones the suffering of animals which goes hand in hand with this latter and initiates, through his purchase, a new chain of suffering stretching through the birth, fattening-up, transport and slaughter of ever new generations of animals.
Whoever acts in such a way that a new human being begins to exist constrains him at the very least to experience the sickness and death of other human beings and animals or to suffer these things himself and thereby imbeds him in a >Concatenation pervaded by suffering.
The malign voluntarism of a meat-eater or àPerpetrator of Existence is, admittedly, parameter-dependent: that is to say, it is proportional to the quantity of – fully and properly mentally processed – information about just what and how much suffering is involved in meat-production / a human life. But since it was never, at any point in the past, as easy as it is today to acquire information about these things, malign voluntarism is surely more prevalent in the present day than it ever was.
All physical and mental sufferings, all misery, all sickness, all pain, all war, all murder and mass murder, all death and dying of any kind are things made possible first and foremost by the parents of the persons affected by them. All complaints and accusations in connection with these things, then, must be directed not against Nature – known by everyone to be hostile in many regards to human existence already before any possible decision to become a parent – or against the highly vulnerable existential constitution that is Man’s but rather, first and foremost, against these parents themselves, at least in the measure in which they can be taken to have participated in the antinatalistic àEnlightenment typical of the modern era. Such complaints and accusations, in other words, must throw light primarily and essentially on the guilt of these procreating parents qua final causes of all the suffering. Far too seldom are these parents called to account by their victims – even under those circumstances in which human mortality allows such a calling to account – for the moral guilt that they bear. And society is careful, indeed, never to expect of those among its members who cherish a will to procreate any painful awareness or sense of bad conscience on account of this irresponsible causation of so much suffering and so much death.
One is tempted to say: in laughter there announces itself an anthropodicy which no one has yet succeeded in verbally articulating. It has often been urged upon a suffering humanity that we limit the Conditio in/humana’s dominion over us by simply laughing at “the way of the world”. Where human beings laugh they declare their existence to be, even if only for a moment, something other than a total failure. Laughter thus resembles a “God of the moment” who announces the unattainability of Paradise.
But how can the Conditio in/humana be “laughable”? Let there suffice, as an answer to this question, what Helmuth Plessner writes in his “Laughing and Crying”: “To the extent that sympathy or disgust does not prevail as, for example, at the sight of the crippled or the sick, every emancipation of what is usually instrumental,whether physical or not, has a comic effect. Exaggerated ceremonial, mechanical bureaucracy, hybris, which substitutes human regulation for nature’s are laughable. What is decisive here is not ugliness, which repels us, or irrationality, which irritates us, but stiffness and the want of life.” (Plessner, Laughing and Crying. A Study of the Limits of Human Behavior, Northwestern University Press, Evanston 1970, p. 82) If this reflection of Plessner’s holds true, must he not laugh loudest who comes to understand that human beings tyrannize other human beings unnecessarily inasmuch as, generation after generation, they act in such a way that progeny of theirs begin to exist?
The topos of distancing oneself from the Conditio in/humana by laughing at it, in its entirety inclusive even of one’s own death, is a topos which we encounter again in Hedwig Dohm, who – on her own deathbed, no less! – composed a small piece of writing whose protagonist achieves a demise of a certain grace by laughing herself to death over the divine >Experimentum mundi:
“And the dying woman laughed scornfully when it occurred to her that the creation of creatures destined from birth on to become just food for worms or, in the case of the cremated, a handful of ashes, was perhaps only a joke on the part of the cosmos or some experiment of God’s!
Did human life, then, have any sense to it at all? No, no, a thousand times no. It is either a grotesque plundering or a will to self-destruction. Laughable, then, too was all the pointless trouble that the universe had given itself to bring about the emergence of superfluous bipeds like ourselves. One could truly laugh oneself to death over it!
And indeed she laughed. And laughed on without stopping, loud and louder still until she choked on her own laughter.” (Hedwig Dohm, Auf dem Sterbebett, in: Der Missbrauch des Todes)
One notices the carefree laughter of children and signals to those present to be silent and attentive whenever it occurs. Could it be, then, that one is fully aware of how life’s various sorrows will soon render fewer and fewer the occasions for this laughter as light and spontaneous as birdsong? But if so, why did one bring these children into the world at all, since one knew how very short that phase of their lives would necessarily be in which they would be capable of such carefree laughter?
The first drawing of a landscape without human beings – though featuring human constructions – may well have been Leonardo da Vinci’s Arno landscape of 1473, while Albrecht Altdorfer’s “View of the Danube with Castle Wörth” (circa 1522) is possibly the first painting in which no human beings at all are to be seen.
It is surely Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840), however, who must count among the first painters who took up a genuinely anthropofugal perspective in painting. His landscapes devoid of all human presence anticipate a world as it will be after the ebbing away of humanity. In giving rise to a certain aesthetic pleasure in the viewer, such paintings devoid of all human presence secure, in a subtle way, this viewer’s consent to the notion of a liberated and pacified world. Friedrich’s artworks are important objects of a comprehensive “philosophy of antinatalistic forms” which is not limited merely to textual expressions and articulations.
When Albert Schweitzer formulated the proposition most succinctly expressive of his philosophy of “reverence for life” – “I am life that wishes to live amidst life that wishes to live” – he forgot to add that each of us is life in the midst of life which is forced to live – forced, namely, by the will of other persons or due to a blind process of Nature.
Most, if not all, human languages contain a word which designates the end of our existence: that death which represents the consummation of the long process of dying. But are there languages which have an equally concise term for the beginning of this existence? One can, of course, in almost any language, have recourse, where all conciser terms are lacking, to the composite expression: “beginning of life” as a direct counterpart to “life’s end”. Whereas, however, the term “death” and its equivalents in the various languages can count, unproblematically, as synonyms for “life’s end”, the same is by no means true of “birth” as a synonym for “life’s beginning”. This inasmuch as it has long since been common knowledge that we are alive prior to our being born. Let us opt, then, for the moment, for the notion and expression “beginning of life”.
In contradistinction to the “organismic” theory of the beginning of a life the “mentalistic” theory which we wish to present here holds that a new living being begins to exist only at the point at which an organism (or some other entity) begins to display mental characteristics.
A new living being begins to exist at the point where a hitherto consciousness-less organism acquires consciousness or (as we might also put it) at the point where such an organism begins to display psychical or mental characteristics. A different sort of “beginning of life” might hypothetically occur in another way: namely, through some non-organic entity – an electronic system, for example – acquiring sentience for the first time.
On earth/in the universe in general what is generally called “life” began when the first organism acquired psychical properties.
“The beginning of life” is thus to be distinguished from conception, from the first emergence of an organism, and from birth. A human being begins to live when an existing human organism (a foetus) develops for the first time psychical/mental qualities such as the capacity to experience pain or taste. Generally speaking, the beginning of a life takes the form of a transition from the state of an organism without consciousness to that of an organism endowed with consciousness. Organisms (or other entities) with consciousness constitute living beings.
The overwhelming majority of people favour the thesis whereby a new living being begins to exist at the point at which a new functioning organism arises. On this thesis, the fact of a new human embryonic organism’s having come into being would mean that a new human being has begun to live.
According to this “organismic” theory of the beginning of life a highly complex electronic system possessed of (self-)awareness, for example, would still be no living being, since such a system does not constitute an organism.
Even after three industrial revolutions the great majority of people still find themselves compelled either to lead a completely precarious existence in material indigence or psychical distress or, alternatively, to put themselves through around a decade of drudgery in school and university in order to acquire the privilege of subjecting themselves to another four decades of drudgery at an office desk. To impose on someone this lifetime of drudgery which needs, moreover, to be performed in accordance with that further, almost universally deplored imposition of punctuality – a drudgery which everyone dreams of escaping by flight into some imagined never-ending weekend – is a neganthropem which parents-to-be attempt to block out with the wishful thought that their child, in contrast to all others, will surely be a genius and will thus find himself dispensed from the drudgery imposed upon the millions. But whoever turns out to be in fact not so dispensed will find himself compelled to betake himself, already as a young man, to one of those institutions legally established to the end not of self-realization but rather of self-derealization and of the undermining of human dignity: namely, factories, offices, building sites or “temples of commerce”, which leave their marks on the faces, bodies and minds of those who are employed in them. There is hardly anything that human beings toil at their lives long as hard as they do at the work that is their livelihood and at the education that prepares them for it – both things that are heteronomously imposed upon them by those actions of others which bring it about that they begin to exist.
The newborn child who first sees the light of our industrialized world almost certainly does so in an environment which is filled, early every morning, with the ringing of alarm clocks, appointed to ensure that the sleepers they awaken arrive at the proper hour for artificially illuminated study in their schools or to put in their shifts at their places of employment, with the exception of those who work the night shift or who are “unemployed” and therefore, according to the generally predominant notion, simply surplus to requirements in this world. The counter-argument – namely, that one should be happy to be able to sustain one’s own life, and/or the lives of others, by the work of one’s own hands and to have learned all the skills that are required to do this – does not hold water, inasmuch as the beginning of our existence was not something that merely inhered in the nature of things but was rather an event that depended upon the actions or omissions of human beings.