Neganthropic Differential

According to certain calculations (see, for example, Steven Pinker’s book Better Angels of Our Nature) we live in more humane times than did, say, human beings in the age of the Mongol Invasions. These calculations place the respective total human populations in these different eras in relation to the total number of victims of war and other types of slaughter. On this account, the 20th century, despite its two world wars and its genocides, does not come out too badly by comparison.

If one applies the factor of death and ruin of the Mongol Invasions to the several billion people who were alive in the 20th century (so goes the calculation) many millions more would have had to die in this latter era in order for the total suffering to be proportionately equal to that of the former. But such calculations leave out of account the constant growth of a specifically neganthropic differential. With the progress that has been achieved in medicine, science and technology ever more human beings might potentially be preserved from lingering illness, hunger and from the ills ensuing from lack of education and opportunity. The means and the know-how required for this are already available. But the inhumane way in which the world economy is organized does not allow this potential to be realized, so that year after hundreds of thousands of children die from as easily curable a disorder as diarrhea. Some 10 million children under the age of 5 die every year from the consequences of malnutrition, epidemic disease and impure water.[1] The cause of these millions of deaths lies not in any objective lack of drugs or any other goods but above all in the fact that the goods which are already available are not being distributed.

Edmont Kaiser (1914–2000), founder of the child aid organization Terre des hommes, wrote: “If one were to lift the lid from the pot of the world, heaven and earth would shrink back before the cries of pain and woe that would emerge.  Because neither heaven nor earth nor any of us can truly measure the terrible extent of the suffering of children nor the violence of the forces which crush them.”[2]

Instead, then, of living in humane times we live, perhaps, in the most inhumane epoch in human memory, since the means to saving the lives of so many people who will, without the provision of help, be condemned to death have never lain so clearly to hand as they do today and it has never been so easy as it is today to see to it, through contraceptives, that new human beings are not given over to the lotteries of genetic and social fate and come to be born into the most unfortunate and miserable circumstances. The neganthropic differential is something that truly shames us.

[1] For the numbers see Jean Ziegler, Das Imperium der Schande, S. 31

[2] Cited from Ziegler, a.a.O., S. 12

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