Burdening of Children With Guilt

No human being can close himself off entirely to the pain of others. Not even the most ingenious form of emotional self-insulation that the human psyche is capable of can fully succeed in doing this. There is imposed upon each of us, through a birth occurring without our consent and with a view to benefiting people not ourselves, an inevitable co-experiencing of others’ suffering.

In his 1946 book The Question of German Guilt Karl Jaspers derives from the involuntary (!) testimony of each German contemporary some far-reaching moral consequences. His fourth category of guilt, the metaphysical, makes “every one of us co-responsible (…) for all that is not right and not correct in the world, and quite especially for crimes which occur in our presence or with our knowledge. If I do not do whatever I can to prevent them, then I share in the guilt.”  (Jaspers, Die Schuldfrage / The Question of German Guilt) To the extent that Jaspers’s reasoning holds true we may say that all parents make their children co-responsible for all the wrong and evil that they witness. Through his category of “metaphysical guilt” Jaspers illuminates the Conditio in/humana, albeit without drawing any antinatalistic conclusions therefrom. Since he has never protested against the indefinite prolongation of the chain of new births he implicitly imposes on billions of human beings a burden even greater than just that of their own existence. This inasmuch as his principle of  àCo-Responsibility demands openness and engagement with regard to the burdens of existence borne by others, burdens which every individual human being who is “open to the world” to the degree that Jaspers demands is obliged to collaborate in bearing. As an existentialist of deep moral insight who proves nonetheless not to be open to antinatalism Jaspers becomes an objective accomplice in the reasons for that very guilt which he imposes on all those born into this world.

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