Natality Templates

Natality templates are the attempt to express the moral-logical superiority of a specific ethics in terms of simple schemata.

 

David Benatar

David Benatar attempts to establish, with antinatalistic intent, an asymmetry whereby it is a good thing, with regard to the suffering which thereby does not enter the world, if a couple begets no offspring. Intuitively, one might expect there to obtain here rather a symmetry, inasmuch as it could also be argued that a couple’s begetting no offspring means that a certain quantum of happiness does not enter the world, and is by this token a bad thing. Benatar, however, insists that the situation is rather to be characterized as asymmetrical, since the non-existence of happiness is, in itself, “not bad”:  

 

Scenario A:                            Scenario B:

(X exists)                                (X never exists)

1

Presence of pain

(Bad)

 

3

Absence of pain

(Good)

2

Presence of pleasure

(Good)

4

Absence of pleasure

(Not bad)

 

In the case where person X is begotten (scenario A), argues Benatar, it is bad if this person suffers and good if this person experiences happiness.  

In the case, however, where no person X is begotten (scenario B) the non-existence, indeed, of the suffering which they would surely have had to undergo had they been begotten is indeed a good thing, but the non-existence of the happiness which they would likewise surely have experienced had they been begotten is rightly to be characterized merely as “not bad”.  

This natality template of Benatar’s has been the object of much discussion (although it should be noted that Benatar does not discuss an earlier natality template of Vetter’s, which we discuss below), it appears to suffer from a fundamental flaw. Benatar distinguishes between scenarios A and B. In scenario A there exists a specific person, designated as X. Hardly anyone will wish to contest the fact that this “person X”’s suffering is axiologically a bad thing and their happiness a good thing. In scenario B, however, no person exists. Consequently, our judgments, relative to scenario B, regarding the existence or otherwise of suffering and happiness cannot be person-related or X-related but must rather have an impersonal character. Thus we can say, for example: àIt is a good thing that there are no beings capable of feeling pain living on the moon; the absence of suffering in this case is good. But, according to Benatar, the same does not apply to the absence or non-existence of happiness; the non-existence of this latter, he says, is merely “not bad”. One would surely expect, however, that where such an impersonal attitude is adopted a symmetry would obtain (Benatar allowing such a symmetry in the case of the person-related judgments): i.e. one would think that, if the non-person-related absence of suffering is to be characterized as simply “good”, then the non-person-related absence of happiness would have to be characterized as simply “bad”. Benatar contends, however, that this is not so: the non-person-related absence of happiness in scenario B he designates as merely “not bad”. He defends this position as follows: “… if the absence of pleasure in scenario B is ‚bad“ rather than ‚not bad’, then we should have to regret, for X’s sake, that X did not come into existence. But it is not regrettable.” (p. 38f) But here there must be raised against Benatar the objection that it is not for X’s sake that we regret the absence of happiness in question (since there exists no X “for whose sake” this might be regretted) any more than we might approve the absence of suffering for X’s sake (since in this context too there exists no X “for whose sake” anything can be done); rather, we simply say, without making reference hereby to any person, àIt is bad.

Clearly, Benatar fails to sufficiently weigh the necessary logical consequences of the fact that in Box 3 above he evaluates the absence of suffering as morally good, even though it cannot be said to be good for X that the suffering in question is not undergone (since, in the context posited in Box 3, no person “X” exists). In other words: if the absence of suffering in the scenario posited in Box 3 is to be considered “impersonally” good (since it is clear that in this scenario no “X” exists), why should the absence of happiness in the scenario posited in Box 4 not be considered “impersonally” bad (since it is equally clear that no person “X” exists in this latter scenario either)? It is difficult to make out what leads Benatar to the conclusion that the absence of happiness can only be described as “bad” where a person X is assumed to exist with regard to whom this absence of happiness is so. Difficult, specifically, because in Box 3 he describes an “absence” of just this sort – namely, of suffering – as “good” without any person’s being posited as existing with regard to whom this absence would be so.

It must, indeed, be taken into account that Benatar’s asymmetry argument is only the founding half of his antinatalist position and that, as he himself declares, this foundation would not be complete without the other half that comes to supplement it: namely, his “quality of life” argument, whereby every beginning of life, without exception, does harm to the person whose life thereby begins and every life, without exception, is so bad that it would be better for it never to have begun (see Benatar, Every conceivable harm, p. 146).

 

Herrmann Vetter

More convincingly than does Benatar’s natality template the natality template formulated by H. Vetter (of which Benatar makes no mention) demonstrates that non-procreation is morally superior to the begetting of progeny.

 

Column 1

child will be more or less happy

Column 2

child will be more or less unhappy

produce the child no duty fulfilled or violated duty violated
do not produce the child no duty fulfilled or violated duty fulfilled

 

The background to this template is the recognition that there may exist no moral imperative to beget another human being even in the case where it is certain that a more or less happy life – and, as we need also to add, a peaceful death – will fall to his or her lot. Whereas, by contrast, there certainly does exist a moral imperative forbidding the begetting of other human beings in the case where it is certain that more or less bad lives will be their fate.

If a child is begotten, it can turn out either to be more or less happy (Column 1) or more or less unhappy (Column 2). And it emerges from this second template that it is the case of begetting alone that can imply the contravening of a moral obligation.

The fact that parents can never know with any certainty what kind of life will fall to the lot of the child that they beget does not mean that the generation of new human beings becomes something morally unproblematical. On the contrary: so long as parents cannot, with certainty, exclude the possibility that their child will be more or less unhappy or will at some point have to undergo some suffering, the in-principle morally unobjectionable scenario: “child not begotten” must take precedence. Which is why Vetter demands “that in any individual encounter, and by any institutional activity in education, mass media, economic and legal policy, people should be discouraged from having children. If such tendencies are successful enough, the number of men on earth may begin to decrease, and if such development continues long enough, the human race will disappear.“ (Vetter 1972)

In his essay “Antinatalism, Asymmetry, and an Ethic of Prima Facie Duties” Gerald Harrison attempts – just like Vetter, but once again without any mention of him – to give a more detailed justification of his antinatalism, which he at the same time understands as a supplement to the position expounded by àBenatar. Harrison proceeds upon the thesis that moral obligations can only exist in cases where there also exist potential victims. Thus, we would be under a moral obligation not to bring about that suffering which necessarily goes hand in hand with every new life but we would be under no moral obligation to actively bring about the joys and pleasures which may also go hand in hand with such a life. This would be true inasmuch as, were we to contravene (by begetting new human beings) the obligation not to bring about suffering, there would be victims of this contravention. But even were we to suppose the existence of a “moral obligation” to actively bring about happiness by means of begetting human beings, there would be no victims in the case of the contravention of such a “moral obligation”: no one can rightly be said to “suffer” from having never been brought into existence, consequently there can be no question here of a “moral obligation”.

Harrison extends this argument by adding to it his own interpretation of the supposed “prima facie obligation” not to impinge upon another person without first getting his or her consent to do so. By begetting someone, Harrison argues, one very definitely “impinges” upon them to a very considerable degree. But with this element of his defence of his own antinatalism – an element which we reject – Harrison clearly contravenes the àPrinciple of Presupposed Existence.

Further natality templates can also be constructed. The following template, for example, emerges where we proceed upon the ethical imperative that nobody should act in such a way that someone will die as a consequence of his action, assuming that no such death would have ensued had the action been omitted: 

One more human being must die Obligation contravened
Child begotten Yes Yes
Child not begotten No No

 

The following natality template (inspired by T. Govier) proceeds on the one hand from the assumption of a couple who are resolved to beget a child and on the other hand from the assumption of a couple who are resolved not to do so. The template makes clear that, whereas unexpectedly poor future prospects for a child that a couple may have resolved to beget should lead to the rethinking of any progenerative decision that may already have been taken, unexpectedly good prospects for such a child need not necessarily lead to the rethinking of an antigenerative one.

 

Best external knowledge: Child will be extremely happy/healthy Best external knowledge: Child will be unhappy/unhealthy
Couple willing to beget children because the child will have a good life No obligation to go back on decision Obligation to go back on decision
Couple unwilling to beget children because the child will have a bad life No obligation to go back on decision No obligation to go back on decision

 

Whoever had been resolved not to beget a child (for example, because such a child would be poor or might be supposed to be the bearer of a hereditary illness) is not morally obliged to go back on this resolution should new information suggest that it is very probable that his progeny will enjoy, in fact, an extremely good life (because, say, he, as his parent, inherits a fortune or the hereditary disease turns out to be a false diagnosis). On the other hand, those resolved to have children may well indeed, on receipt of bad news about the likely quality of life of this latter, be morally obliged to revise their decision. Here too there is revealed the moral superiority of an antigenerative decision once taken, since this latter does not stand in need of correction even where circumstances change.

Natal Myth

One of the most regularly recurringly encountered forms of pronatalistic thought is the explicit or implicit recourse to the notion of some pre-existing soul-like entity, be it individual or non-individual. Since the implicit or explicit claim that there really is such a pre-existing soul or soul-substance represents something of a “foreign body” with the scientific forma mentis of our modern world, we must see in the occurrence of such a notion a modern “natal myth”. Progenerative decisions may well owe a part of their impetus to the effects still exerted, underneath the surface of our modern culture, by such natal myths.

We may recognize, for example, the presence of such a modern natal myth in  Esther Vilar’s formulation that “we slaughter animals and eat them but it is thanks precisely to this pitiless behaviour of ours that these animals see the light of day at all.” (>Livestock, Human and Animal). The “existentially grateful” Günther Anders too recurs involuntarily to this myth when he remarks that he is happy to have been allowed to come into this world, a piece of good fortune that has been refused to most (>Gratitude for Existence >Anders).

As in many other places we are witnesses here to the difficulty – which proves, for many, impossible to overcome – of conceding the possibility of  the creatio ex nihilo of a consciousness in as radical a way as cosmologists attempt to conceive of the “Big Bang”. It reveals itself to be extremely hard to assure oneself of the fact that animal consciousness (Vilar), or one’s own self (Anders) did not, until relatively recently, exist at all (but the world had nonetheless taken its course without us) and that “we” had neither been helped nor harmed when we began to exist (inasmuch as a “helping” or a “harming” demands a comparison with an earlier existential situation: a situation in which we never found ourselves, since we simply did not exist).

There do indeed occur constellations in which the natal myth serves antinatalist tendencies: for example, when the beginning of an existence is declared to be a harm. We find an instance of this in the first lines of  Wildgans’s poem “Nichtsein”:

„Who can have the heart / To awaken a human being / From the slumber of non-being? / Does he not sleep there in sweet twilight / Wishless, spared all fear and all need?”

 

The Guf Space

As an explanation of modern natal myths we might adduce a certain placeless region which we can call, drawing on a Talmudic mythologeme, the “guf space”. In an old dictionary of mythology we read: “Guf (Talmud.), the gathering-place for all souls, which God is said to have created all at once. The number of souls, this myth contends, amounts to only 600,000 in total and these souls gradually transmigrate through all the universe’s bodies.”[1]

According to Talmudic tradition God stored all those souls which He had created in a single moment within this guf (Hebrew for body but also sometimes called otzar: treasure-house), or in the “Hall of the Souls” located in the Seventh Heaven (also called arabot) intending that they should be united, one by one, with bodies. Once all these souls, it was said, had been called down onto the earth by the process of human procreation the Son of David would appear as the Messiah. [2] This mythologeme, in other words, makes procreation a salvationary task, since only he who creates progeny contributes to emptying the guf and thus to drawing nearer the day of the Messiah’s arrival. This means also that each new human being that is born acquires the significance of being a kind of symbol of this progressive emptying of the guf. Each human being is significant, indeed indispensable, inasmuch as through being born they have contributed to the coming of the Messiah. This latter, one might say, is “drawn down by human procreation.[3]

One of the rare references in non-Jewish literature to this natal myth of the guf space is to be found in George Eliot’s novel Daniel Deronda: “In the doctrine of the Cabbala, souls are born again and again in new bodies till they are perfected and purified, and a soul liberated from a worn-out body may join the fellow-soul that needs it, that they may be perfected together, and their earthly work accomplished. Then they will depart from the mortal region, and leave place for new souls to be born out of the store in the eternal bosom. It is the lingering imperfection of the souls already born into the mortal region that hinders the birth of new souls and the preparation of the Messianic time.“ (Eliot, Daniel Deronda)

Moreover, this mythologically-founded commandment to procreate may at least in part explain why no thinker with close associations to the Jewish cultural milieu – and particularly not the thinkers of the Frankfurt School – ever recommended renunciation of all procreation, even though the members of this School’s first generation, at least, barely cherished any hope of human society’s ever attaining a state of peace.

 

Guf Potential

By way of explaining and forming a clearer notion of these natal myths that continue to exert their effects even in the modern age we might detach the “guf space” from the Talmudic context of its emergence and place side by side with it, as a hermeneutic tool, a certain “guf potential”, with the aid of which we might draw the following analogy: just as cosmology proceeds on the assumption that there is no such thing as an absolute vacuum, so does this modern mythologeme proceed on the assumption that there is no such thing as a state of absolute “non-self-ness”. Even where there would seem to be absolutely no “self”, there hovers in fact a sort of “guf potential”, conceivable perhaps in terms related to those of panpsychism[4], a sort of “almost-self” or “proto-self” which can be called into existence at any time, or which, pronatalistically, can or must be helped into a state of full existence.

[1] Vollmer’s Wörterbuch der Mythologie aller Völker, p. 225.

If this guf is indeed inhabited by only 600,000 souls then it must never have been in fact possible to enjoy the good fortune of never being born.>Polgar, >Freud.

[2] Alternatively, Adam is sometimes called the treasure-house (in the sense of the store-room) of all souls. See Hans-Joachim Schoeps, Gesammelte Schriften, Abteilung 1, Band 2, Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim 2007, p. 99 Anm. 2. On Guf/Arabot see also Jones, The soul of the embryo, p. 96f.

[3] See Wikipedia article on “Guf” unter http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guf, consulted on 10.12.12 along with the bachelor’s thesis of Robert Luschan: Die ethischen Ansichten der Weltreligionen hinsichtlich der Empfängnisverhütung und des Schwangerschaftsabbruches und die Möglichkeit einer kultursensiblen Beratung und Aufklärung in Österreich, submitted on 22.9.2010, p. 28.

[4] For further details see Galen Strawson et al.: Consciousness and its place in nature. Does physicalism entail panpsychism?

Natal Myopia

The fact that persons willing to conceive children, and especially pregnant women, tend to be extremely concentrated upon the new-born child and have all their emotions focussed upon this one point in experience, meaning that the entirety of the life stretching out before said new-born child, i.e. the long-term consequences of this birth, tend, by contrast, to be “screened out”.

Natal-Categorical Imperative[1]

The consequences of the natal-categorical imperative in terms of an “ethics of responsibility”:

Parents and all those who advocate the perpetuation of our species are obliged to declare the pronatal maxims of their action to be maxims valid for all without exception and thus to justify the following:  

  1. Human beings have a basic right to have children, even though these latter are necessarily refused the choice of either agreeing to or refusing their own coming into being. (>Diktat of Birth)

  2. Children may legitimately be surrendered up to all that is inherent in the negathropic condition, including being injured along with injuring and killing and to a destiny which, while being unpredictable in all other respects, will always predictably end in death.

  3. Human beings have the right, in their quality as parents, to perpetuate the àSpecies Experiment and to render possible, over and over again, every imaginable suffering, every misdeed, every social catastrophe – such as war and mass murder and death itself (?)

  4. Given the fact that our existential constitution lies largely beyond our control, it is hardly possible to justify, from the above-specified “ethics of responsibility” viewpoint, these just-noted consequences of procreation. Consequently, it makes no sense either to demand that parents bear liability and that there be incumbent on them a duty of reparation.

[1] This formulation draws heavily on some remarks of Kohlbecher’s.

Minimalists

Those poets and thinkers, who do not restrict to human beings alone the notion that non-existence is a desideratum but rather extend,panempathically this notion to all beings capable of feeling pain or sorrow, since even the slightest negative sensation is, in the face of an option of non-existence, too much.

 

Büchner’s (1818–1837) Atomic Pain

For Büchner the existence of even the slightest physical pain documents not just the fact of Creation’s having turned out to be a failure but also puts atheism entirely in the right:  

“One can deny evil but one cannot deny pain (…) This is the rock on which atheism is built. The slightest twinge of pain, even if it occur only in a single atom, tears a rent in Creation from top to bottom.” (Werke und Briefe)

That such “atoms”, the simplest and most elementary component parts of the world, might possess psychichal properties, a kind of basic consciousness, is a notion that is still today defended by some “pan-psychicists”[1]. We might speak, then, with Büchner of the experiment of Creation’s having proven a failure from that moment on in which a living creature first felt pain or distress. But if Creation finds itself judged and condemned already with “the slightest twinge of pain”, then clearly condemned as well is every human perpetration of existence.

 

Zola, Émile (1840–1902)

„No, the only happiness is to be nothing; or, if one is something, to be the tree, to be the stone, even less: the grain of sand that cannot bleed under the kicks of men. “ (Germinal)

 

Hardy, Thomas (1840–1928)

„A woeful fact – that the human race is too extremely developed for its corporeal conditions, the nerves being evolved to an activity abnormal in such an environment. Even the higher animals are in excess in this respect. It may be questioned if Nature, or what we call Nature, so far back as when she crossed the line from invertebrates to vertebrates, did not exceed her mission. This planet does not supply the material for happiness to higher existences. Other planets may, though one can hardly see how.“ (Quoted in: Deborah L. Collins, Th. Hardy and His God)

[1] See, for example, Galen Strawson et al.: Consciousness and its place in nature. Does physicalism entail panpsychism?

Misanthropy and Euanthropy

It is quite wrong to hold that antinatalism is borne by a spirit of misanthropy. The credo of antinatalism is rather a euanthropic one, namely: act in such a way that already-existing human beings live lives as good as it is possible for them to live but aspire also through one’s activity to bring about a situation such that no new human beings begin to live.

Empathy

“Empathy” is a term which embraces both >Shared Joy and Shared Sorrow. A person’s capacity for empathy corresponds to their capacity to project themselves into the being of another person. A person X who possesses this latter capacity is able to ask himself the question: “how might it feel to be, at this moment, Person Y?” Interestingly, most people, given the choice, would not wish to actually become anyone other than the person they are. That is to say: almost everyone feels the fates suffered by all others to be unacceptable for him- or herself. – This is certainly a case of a strong antinatalism.

Modernity

Insofar as modernity inclines to the judgment that there is no God it relieves itself of the task of discovering a àTheodicy but thereby also burdens itself with the duty of providing an àAnthropodicy.

Mortality Myth

The mortality myth consists in a notion, not necessarily bound up with religion, whereby the “I” would not completely cease to exist after death but would persist in being as some sort of minimal consciousness or potential for consciousness. The mortality myth is thus the counterpart to the >Natality Myth. It allows the reduction of >Parental Guilt inasmuch as, for those who have recourse to it, death is not the absolute end of a consciousness.

Experience of the Deaths of Near and Dear Ones

Everyone who is “called into existence” – and supposedly becomes thereby the recipient of a precious gift – finds themselves condemned by their own parents not only to experience the death of these parents themselves and to have to go through the hard work of mourning therefor, but also to experience the deaths of grandparents, aunts and uncles, older and younger siblings, as well perhaps as the deaths of many members of their family by marriage and also those of friends, colleagues and house-pets. These experiences of the deaths of near and dear ones count among the impositions of existence that it is impossible to get around.   We know from the very start about everyone born into the world that, in the words of Julio Cabrera, “he will lose people he loves, just as people who love him will eventually lose him”.[1] Even if one is an only child and has parents who were themselves only children, so that only one’s own two parents and four grandparents along perhaps with a small family by marriage come into account, one must still reckon with twelve experiences of the death of dear ones.   So as not to have to experience death close-up friends, acquaintances and even family members tend to be left, everywhere where modern mores have become the norm, to die alone.

Jakob Burckhardt addresses this evil of the experience of the death of near and dear ones as a constant component part of our Conditio in/humana in a remark included in his Greek Cultural History about what Greek life, on balance, amounted to:

“In Solon’s story about Tellos the greatest happiness in life is said to consist in two things: namely, in his having been able to die fighting for his country and in the fact of no one in his family’s having died before him.” “Once a family exists, however, one must reckon with the misery of separation and of death. The nurse in Eurpides’s ‘Hippolytus’ says at one point that it is best that relations between human beings should stay distant and superficial, so that it can never come about that one has to bear the pain of two…” (Burckhardt, Greek Cultural History: On the overall balance of Greek life)

[1] „que perderá a los que ama y que los que le aman le perderán… (Cabrera, S. 60)

Natal-Mortal Indifference

How are we to interpret the following testimony to ancient Chinese wisdom? “Thus, the wise man looks into space and does not regard the small as too little nor the great as too much (…) He has gained clarity regarding the straight and even way, so that he is not happy about his birth nor unhappy about his death. For he knows that neither end nor beginning can be fixed or held.” (Zhuangzi, Das wahre Buch vom südlichen Blütenland, S. 181)

Zhuangzi recommends an attitude of natal-mortal indifference, the ataraxic “middle way” between belief in the advantage of having been born and in the disadvantage of having to die.  – It is an attitude which “sits out” one’s own life and permits the begetting of further human beings, since these latter too will be free to cultivate the attitude of natal-mortal indifference.

From Kurnig to Marie Huot

The first modern antinatalist, a man named Kurnig (see my article on Kurnig), left virtually no biographical traces. Information that goes beyond the little we know can be found in a book by the author Francis Ronsin on Neo-Malthusianism. At the same time this book establishes a close link in the history of antinatalist ideas between Kurnig and Huot:

‘It was a woman, Marie Huot, who first made available antinatalist ideas to a large number of people. In reality, the radicalism of Marie Huot’s thoughts is far away from Malthus’s philosophy and has only a distant connection with neo-Malthusianism.’(Francis Ronsin, La Grève des ventres: Propagande néo-malthusienne et baisse de la natalité en France (XIXe-XXe siècles), Aubier 1980, p. 44, translated from French into English by KA)

The above citation offers an early occurrence of the term ‘antinatalistic’ in the current moral-theoretical sense. In addition to that Ronsin’s book also confirms a close link between compassion for animal suffering and the rise of antinatalist aspirations:

‘It was in September 1892, in the Salle de la Société de géographie, boulevard Saint-Germain, that Marie Huot presented her ideas during a public lecture. The scandal was reported in the press. A scandal which, in reality, was more sought after than feared by Marie Huot. She was a member of the Ligue populaire contre la vivisection, and had already become famous by attacking with her parasol Professor Brown-Séquard, who, at the Collège de France, operated on live rabbits. Marie Huot had the taste and talent for brilliant and spectacular actions, designed to give the ideas she defended the benefit of great publicity…’ (P. 44)

In what follows I present an important piece of information which Ronsin has gathered on Kurnig:

‘Finally, a very limited body of information allows me to mention two other organizations that are also important to be linked to the neo-Malthusian movement. A German named Kurnig spreads very original propaganda throughout Europe, from Heilbronn am Neckar, based on what he calls Neo-Nihilism and the total rejection of procreation. Since 1896, he has distributed a first brochure in French: Nouvelle appréciation de l’instinct sexuel (pessimisme, jurisprudence, psychiatrie), in which he claims to be inspired by Schopenhauer’s work and, in particular, by his chapter: Metaphysics of sexual instinct. Kurnig’s efforts to towards France would continue for several years. Having founded an international educational consulting centre in Heilbronn, he published a new manifesto: Neo-Nihilism-Anti-Militarism-Sexual Life (End of Humanity), which he distributed free of charge in a large number of copies, particularly among French teachers.’ (P. 118)

The next quote does even suggest a direct influence emanating from Kurnig having reached Marie Huot:

‘If we are to believe l’Éclair of 8 June 1908 (that very scandal sheet that unintentionally did so much to popularize neo-Malthusianism), “nearly five hundred French teachers have submitted their support to Mr. Kurnig. Every day he receives new ones, which he proudly publishes in his Bulletin.” These figures are certainly very exaggerated since Kurnig’s undertaking caused little noise, if any protest from the repopulators, according to whom: “this intervention by a German to combat the French birth rate could explain many things”. As for the synthesis he makes between nihilism and the rejection of childbirth, his work has most certainly influenced some French neo-Malthusians (in particular Marie Huot).’ (P. 118)

Early Antinatalist Marie Huot (1846-1930)

In Marie Huot (1846-1930) we encounter a fascinating animal rights activist who strongly sympathized with Neo-Malthusianism but left it behind in favour of a more stringent moral theory. Considering what humans do to animals and what humans do to other humans, Huot became an early and explicit antinatalist (and is labelled as such by Francis Ronsin in his book La grève des ventres, published in 1980).

As an antinatalist, she not only transcends the denatalist neo-Malthusianism of her time, but also fills the term ‘nihilism’ with new content in a purposeful way by recognizing a consistent nihilism in antinatalism. Huot is also the inventor of the epochal term ‘Grève des ventres’ (Birth Strike), which she called for at a conference as early as 1892 and which from then on offered itself to all women who did not want to offer further victims to the orgies of human destructiveness.

In the following I offer some translations from Huots pamphlet LE MAL DE VIVRE from 1909, which is available here in French language:

‘We have often been accused of being revolutionaries, because we demand a share in social rights for animals; accused of being anarchists, because we do not admit that intelligence arrogates to itself a tyrannical omnipotence towards our less gifted brothers, and accused of being troublemakers, because we want to change this natural as well as merciless order that relentlessly delivers the weak to the whims of the strong.’

‘First and foremost we are nihilists. Not these shy sectarians, who restrict themselves to religious or political questions and stop halfway through the doctrine, terrified at the idea of nothingness, but rebels saying to life: you will not go any further!’

‘Even if man only accepted this burden personally, he could be forgiven; but, passive to the core, he obeys his enemy – the instinct – like a coward. And thus he perpetuates the cursed heritage by giving life to beings who did not ask to be born.

Unconsciously, he most often commits this homicide out of negligence, and he is usually severely punished by the disastrous consequences of this moment of oblivion.

Wherever he premeditated this crime, it must be said, no punishment is hard enough to make him expiate for it.

Whatever the feeling obeyed by those who procreate, as long as they act knowing the facts, aware of the fact that they create an organism sensitive to pain, a soul for disappointment, a wretched being, both victim and perpetrator, they are criminals; and the child has the right to consider his father and mother as mere murderers.

Yes, murderers! Since to give life implies to cause death.

This perspective should suffice to command abstention.

But then what?… It’s the end of the world!… Obviously, it’s the end of the world in the near term… and, for my part, I don’t see any disadvantages. I do not even dislike to behold, in the mists of eternity, the earth, finally purged of its human microbes, left to the flora and wild fauna, waiting for the blessed day when, stripped of its last teeming with life:]

This old shaved globe, with no beard nor hair.

Will roll through the skies like a big pumpkin,

Moreover, everything in the universe indicates that nature itself is moving towards this solution – that it is wise to hustle things on in the general interest.’

‘…the perversity of this Creator inciting his creatures to procreate for the pleasure of seeing them devour each other.’

Man and World

Very much in accord with antinatalism would seem to be the proposition: “If this individual had never begun to exist he would have been spared all the suffering which he has now had to undergo.” But where the matter is considered more closely, it can be seen that it in fact makes sense only to say: “If this individual had never begun to exist all the suffering that he has had to undergo would never have been in the world / would never have been undergone at all.”  The reason for this: if the individual in question had never existed, there would not have been any ‘someone’ who might have been ‘spared’ anything at all.

And since no one was ever somehow already “in the world” prior to his beginning to exist it is, analogously, never possible really to speak of anyone’s having been “given life”. At best, one might speak of the world itself as something to which a further human being has been “given” each time someone begins to exist.   

“Humanistic A Priori”

A “ humanistic a priori” can be said to come into play wherever the moral necessity that there be human beings is presupposed to be inviolable – and procreation, consequently, presupposed to be morally enjoined upon us – quite regardless of whatever conditions the human beings in question will have to live under.  We run up against such a “humanistic a priori” wherever the response is made, to any such ethical injunction arising out of the complex of ideas associated with antinatalism as, for example, the argument from negative utilitarianism: “But if one were to obey the injunctions of such a moral theory, humanity would die out altogether!” As if, in the face of so supposedly horrific a prospect, the debate on such issues were once and for all, self-evidently, settled.

Experiments on Human Beings

Experiments on living human beings count officially as some of the most vile misdeeds imaginable. Implicitly, however, they are endorsed and approved of. This inasmuch as every  Perpetration of an Existence is an experiment, in which one causes a human being to enter into existence so as to see whether the cherished hopes and the ideals striven for will perhaps allow themselves to be realized.  

Humanity’s Minute, Humanity’s Day

We often envisage human history as a slowly rolling stream of unspectacular events which is disturbed now and then, at lengthy intervals, by wars, failed harvests and epidemics. But a very different picture emerges if one considers microscopically thin samples of human history – samples of a duration of no more than a minute – and asks, with  Stanislav Lem, just what is befalling a given number of human beings in the space of one such minute. If one does this one recognizes that each such minute is so laden with suffering that one would wish, ideally, to halt the course of the world altogether:

 

Lem (Doubts About the Nihil inhumani a me alienum puto)

“The image of what people do to other people to torment them, to humiliate them, to exterminate them, to exploit them regardless of their being ill or healthy state, in their age, their childhood, their infirmity, in fact uninterruptedly, in every single minute – this image can take away the breath of even the most hardened enemy of mankind, who believed that no human infamy was alien to him.” (S. Lem, One human minute)

Metal-Based Organisms

Experiments are underway aimed at creating “non-organic organisms” from metal compounds. Cell-like entities have already been successfully manufactured from molecules with metallic content (polyoxometalates). Work is currently going on on endowing these organisms with the property of a capacity for self-replication.

Where the implications of these experiments are taken fully into account we need to include in any moral calculation the possibility that there might not only be organic, carbon-based extra-terrestrial organisms (ETO) but far more organisms than there has hitherto generally been assumed to be. The basis for transitions, on other worlds and planets, from functioning organisms to living beings capable of experiencing both joy and suffering would be much broader than it could possibly have been if the only organisms coming into account in this regard were carbon-based ones

Natal-Theoretical Metamorphoses

The most important natal-theoretical transitions from phase to phase are perhaps:

– The transition from Obligations in Terms of Theodicy to Obligations in Terms of Anthropodicy.

– The transition from Guilt of God/Accusations Against God to Guilt of Parents/Accusations Against Parents.

Existence abstraction as a metaphysical reagent

Antinatalism does not only demand that no more human beings be begotten; with strict consistency, it also advances the thesis that it would be better if none of the already-existing human beings had ever begun to exist. This is sometimes interpreted as meaning that antinatalism requires of the individual human being that he condone and approve of his own destruction. But this is a – perhaps deliberate – misunderstanding. What antinatalism requires is a ’Winding-Back’ to a Point Prior to One’s Own Existence – that is to say, a mental setting-back of the course of events in the world to a point in time before one’s own ‘I’ had begun to exist in order to be able, from the perspective of this imaginary place, to answer the question of whether someone was there who wanted to begin to exist.

We antinatalists invite this “winding-back” to a point before one’s own  Beginning of Life in the conviction that nothing will be found there beyond, perhaps, a wish for children on the part of one’s parents or also – and this will by no means seldom be the case – an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy.

This exhortation to a “winding-back” before the beginning of one’s own existence may prove apt to bring about a revealing of certain metaphysical elements within the current forma mentis. Someone who holds the view that ”it” would have been morally wrong if they had not begun to exist hereby becomes obliged to describe this “it” more precisely. But said person can only do this by explaining themselves in metaphysical terms. They might, for example, advance the view that they were, at one point, a kind of àHalf-Existent Entity, a potentiality awaiting its actualization (i.e. that they were, as such a potentiality, “quasi-existent”) and that this potentiality would have been destroyed had they not, in fact, at some point begun really to exist. Or they could say that before the actual beginning of their existence they were a “slumbering soul” that was awakened, or called into existence, only through the act of procreative conception.

Mill’s Harm Principle

In his essay “On Liberty” John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) lays down that so-called “harm principle” which now counts as one of the fundamental principles of liberalism: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community against his will is to prevent harm to others.”

Now, there is no doubt but that, every time action is taken such that another human being begins to exist, the points are set in such a way that harm, indeed harm to the point of death, for another will inescapably result. Would, then, a truly civilized community based on Mill’s “harm principle” not have the right to constrain people to practice contraception, so that couples would not act in such a way that a third party – once he or she began to exist – would inevitably come to harm and even have to die?

Milton, John (1608–1674)

The author of Paradise Lost represents a landmark in the history of antinatalism: he has the first human couple instigate a metaphysical àRevolt: he has Adam complain that God has placed him in quite intolerable conditions of existence without his (Adam’s) wishing it. And he has Eve meditate on whether, in the face of all the ills that await them, it is not better simply to cease to procreate.

Milton thus reveals for the first human couple the possibility of allowing there to follow upon the first disobedience that took place in Eden a kind of “second Original Sin”: namely, the refusal to perpetuate an already accursed existence.  

Paradise Lost stands as a turning point from theodicy into anthropodicy. – Past, from this point on, are those comparatively paradisical conditions in which human beings could push off from themselves, onto some superhuman being, the guilt and responsibility of the  Conditio in/humana