Lifelong Sentence of Death

Every bringing of a human being into the world goes implicitly hand in hand with the passing of a sentence of a death: one more human being that has to die. What must be emphasized about this inevitable dying is that all parents must be aware from their own experience that almost nobody actively wants to die. They themselves, it must be supposed, want to go on living. Nevertheless, they accept the unintended consequence of their progenerative decision and beget this human being who will have no chance of escaping a having to die. They will perhaps already during the pregnancy have played out in their minds how they will answer those questions with regard to the abyss of death that will be posed to them by their surely already partially aware progeny – among these the question whether everyone must really die. “Why did you beget me if I must then afterward cease to live” – have the couple posed this question to themselves ad hominem and do they know how to answer it?

Feldmann, Arthur (1926–2012)

Following Arthur Feldmann, we might express this notion through the image of a “lifelong sentence of death”: “Already before being born I was given a life sentence and also a sentence of death. Only the exact date of the execution remained unspecified.” On this same terrain he dismantles all the talk of “the gift of life”: “One exposes a child to death in giving him ‘the gift of life’”. (Kurznachrichten aus der Mördergrube)

Walser, Martin (*1927)

With regard to this sentence of death that goes hand in hand with every conceiving of a child Martin Walser feels justified in describing parenthood as “unforgivable”. In an interview with the magazine Psychologie Heute he candidly states that he himself has passed four such sentences of death:

“This is also the really base and wicked thing: that someone was once a child and then later has to die. What is unforgivable in parenthood, I find, is that every time one becomes a parent one passes a sentence of death on someone else. I have passed such sentences of death myself. PH: Four, in fact, no? Walser: Yes, and it is only gradually that one becomes aware of what one has done. This too belongs to the inalienable conditions of human existence.” („Meine Mängel sind mein Denkanlaß“. Der Schriftsteller Martin Walser über Kindheit, Psychoanalyse und sein Selbstverständnis als Deutscher, in: Psychologie heute. March 1993)

Imprisoned, apparently, within the fleshly housing of the Conditio in/humana, Walser leaves unconsidered the most fundamental principle of philosophical anthropology: that act of becoming a parent which founds another existence, and which is also necessarily the passing of a death sentence, is, in the case of human beings, not that mere inevitability that it is in the case of other animals but is rather left up to the choice and discretion of that constitutively cultural being that Man is. We are not condemned to procreate but rather – as Sartre famously recognized – “condemned to be free”. And thus also to be free to produce no progeny.

That the founding of another human being’s existence goes hand in hand with the passing of a death-sentence on this human being is something, Walser states, “of which one becomes only gradually aware”. And indeed it does seem to be the case that, even despite all the massive catastrophes that have befallen it, our human species remains so mentally dominated by one or another variant of pronatalism that almost no social >learning progress in the direction of antinatalism is yet to be registered. Until some radical new development occurs, then, the situation will remain that Walser and all other individuals will have to try to push forward alone and unassisted to a recognition of the moral value of antinatalism and that countless human beings will have to continue to be born only to die.

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