Social-Historical Index of Culpability and the Progression of Guilt

Parental guilt is not an ahistorical constant. It varies depending on social position and historical circumstances. The easier the access to contraception and to information regarding the past, present and likely future of humanity, and the more self-determined the manner in which women are able to live their lives, the greater will be parental culpability for the neganthropic consequences of procreation

The degree of parental guilt must be assessed as especially high where the begetting of children is advocated despite a well-founded knowledge of a most likely problematical future for these latter. Thus, the French author Amin Maalouf states his belief that it is likely that already our children and grandchildren will feel the grave effects of climate change while pleading, nonetheless, for a persistence in “the adventure that is humanity”: “Despite my irritation and perturbation, I continue to be fascinated by the adventure that is humanity. I love it, I revere it, and I would not exchange it, for any price in the world, for life as an angel or as a beast.”[1]

The condition of possibility for a continuation of this “adventure that is humanity” is the engendering of new human beings – an activity to which Maalouf persists in exhorting even in the face of a catastrophe which he holds to be very likely imminent. Even if one were to offer him the form of existence of an angel which might preserve him from the coming climate catastrophe Maalouf (born in1949) would prefer existence as a suffering human being. And it is unequivocally clear from the lines cited above that he considers it reasonable to expect of all those born after him that they live in a world degraded by climatic catastrophe.

Contraceptive Culpability Index

The contraceptive culpability index is the product of the degree of women’s self-determination on the one hand and the accessibility of effective contraceptives on the other. Thus, for historical periods and regions of the world in which the contraceptive pill is freely available at no charge and women enjoy more or less equal rights with men, this contraceptive culpability index must clearly be set very high. Every birth, in such periods and regions, is a contraception that has been consciously forgone. Whoever, then, was born in any largely secularized industrial nation of the Western type may more justifiably raise against his parents the reproach: “why did you beget me?” than may, for example, someone whose parents – and most particularly whose mother – lived in a society or an era more thoroughly permeated by religious convictions. In industrial nations of the Western type the processes leading to the conception of a child are much less coercive and inevitable than they are in traditional cultures.

Abortion-Related Culpability Index

All that has been said above with reference to the contraceptive culpability index applies here as well: the more safely and less onerously (i.e. less painfully) both for the pregnant women and for the foetus an abortion can be carried out, the greater will be the moral weight of that reproach of any individual born into the world which has been articulated over and over again in the form of the “Mä phynai” and all its cultural successors. Here, however, the reproach takes on a form which has no such tradition behind it, namely: “why was I not, if circumstances were such that I had to be conceived, at least aborted before the conception could result in a birth?” For this particular reproach it will surely be difficult to find much evidence of literary-aesthetic articulation down the millennia of human culture, since the practice of preventing the birth of an already-conceived foetus was, for a very large part of human history, experienced as something far more perilous and threatening than the prevention of conception in the first place. In these remarks made on an online forum, however, we see just such a reproach directed, anonymously, to someone’s mother for having omitted to terminate her pregnancy: “Often, she left me alone for whole nights on end. If I came to her with a problem, she just yelled at me. Today, I suffer from anorexia and depression and wish that I had been aborted in the womb, so that I would not have to suffer as I do now.” As proof, however, of the invincible optimism of the human race we find another contributor to this discussion replying with the words: “Personally, I think you ought to be happy that your mother did not terminate her pregnancy. However many problems you have, life is the most beautiful thing. Keep your chin up, then. Most problems have a way of working themselves out and then life is usually even better than it was before the problem emerged.” (, accessed on 26.5.2014)

[1] „En dépit de mes irritations et de mes inquiétudes, je demeure fasciné par l’aventure humaine; je la chéris, je la vénère, et pour rien au monde je ne l’échangerais contre la vie des anges ou des bêtes.“ (Maalouf, o.c.)

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