Voluntary Human Extinction Movement

The impetus behind this movement for the voluntary extinction of the human race is , in the first instance, a consideration for the interests of other organisms and living beings and biotopes which are – such is clearly the intention here – to be left, after the ebbing away of humanity, to tear each other to pieces without any further human involvement or intervention.

Vitality – Guarantor of the Natural Life-Context

In the following passage the great Existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers concedes that the impetus behind our perpetuating our own existence from limit-situation to limit-situation is essentially an impetus of bionomic-vital nature: “Why do we remain alive? The simplest answer is: by virtue of the vitality which causes human beings, as creatures, to cling on to life even in states of weakness and sickness. […] It cannot be denied: vital force, the drive toward life per se, something which we possess in common with all other animals, retains us in life, even filled with specifically human, perceptions, feelings and thoughts.” (Jaspers,Wahrheit und Bewährung,[1]


[1] Already in the second volume (Existenzerhellung) of his three-volume PHILOSOPHIE Jaspers had asked: “Why do we remain alive? – Initially out of an unquestioning lust for life … by virtue of our vitality…“

Via Auschwitz

Those of us, at least, born after 1945 in an industrialized nation should reflect on Auschwitz as a conditio sine qua non of our existence: Auschwitz, we must realize, could only possibly not have come to be if the constellation of historical and social forces had been entirely different; but in such an entirely different constellation of historical and social forces we ourselves would not have come to be either, since our parents would either never have met or would have conceived a child at quite some other point in time, with quite another recombination of genes, from which not we ourselves but someone quite different from us would have resulted. In this sense it is indeed the case that all those of us born after 1945, at least, have entered existence “via Auschwitz”. Given this background, it should be easy for any one of us to perform a symbolic >Renunciation of Existence. But “via Auschwitz” also lays claim to our attention and reflection in quite another way:  Just as we speak of a Via Dolorosa so too can we speak of a Via Auschwitz – which shines a strong, harsh light on the fact that the path which we have taken in history has been a wrong path.

Illusion of Contract, Nativistic

It is constitutive of contracts that there should exist a freedom not to conclude them. But this alone suffices to prove that there cannot be said to be any contract, bearing on our existence, between ourselves and those who initiate this existence. It is precisely this “contractlessness”, or distance from all contractuality, that constitutes the quasi-dictatorial aspect of every begetting. Thus, Hans Blumenberg notes that: “The metaphor of a contract has contributed, perhaps, most of all to rendering the obligations of human beings comprehensible and worthy of assent […] It was only one’s relation to one’s own existence, it appears, that was insusceptible of taking on the binding nature of a contract. Who existed had not assented to do so. It was impossible for him to have been asked about it.” (Blumenberg, Die Vollzähligkeit der Sterne) Notwithstanding all this, however, there was generally assumed to exist a certain unwritten contract whereby children were to be grateful to their parents for their existence and to repay these latter by behaving as good and reverent offspring.

Ironically, it is only at the point at which children attain their “majority” that parents are relieved of the legal obligation to see to these children’s welfare while it is only once the children have attained the age of (limited) “capacity to contract” that they come into a position to appeal to the law in order to dissolve, retroactively, the unwritten – and indeed un-writeable – intergenerational contract with the effect not, indeed, of rendering undone the beginning of their own existence but of giving, at least, their parents to understand that they (the children) had never consented to their begetting and would place, therefore, the demand upon these parents that the latter should indeed see to their (the children’s) welfare their whole life long. In short, this moral obligation for parents to provide for the welfare of the children they have begotten becomes something that the children are able to legally enforce only at the very point at which the children’s becoming “major” relieves the parents of this same obligation. 

If, then, the contractual character of the begetting of a human being is to be rescued, this is possible only, as Blumenberg shows, by recourse to the notion – a notion of Schopenhauerian inspiration – of a pre-individual blind will which nonetheless individualizes itself in and through the act of begetting new life or, in other words, by recourse to the notion of an àInfinitesimal I-ness: “It was only when Schopenhauer turned ‘Will’ into a metaphysical First Principle and the conceptive act of two humans making love into the execution of this First Principle that the generandum of the nasciturus became, with its ‘will to live’, the agency by which the ‘agreement’ binding the two parties in the act of conception was established. Fundamentally, they were both one and the same contractual party, each of whom concurred in the decision of the other to enter into existence. This presupposes that one may impute to the “becoming party” – or rather to that party that is just beginning its process of becoming – a having agreed to all those obligations involved in and implied by life.  More or less in the sense of accepting, indeed even of cultivating, both itself and the cosmic conditions of its own existence.” (ibid.) – This metaphysical rescuing of the contractual nature of our existence is, indeed, a fine construction. If it were meant seriously, however, it would founder, already in the first instance, on the fact that the will evoked here is a blind one,  a detail which gives rise to the further question of how such a will could possibly be “godfather” at the begetting of a specific individual. Nevertheless, this remains, for Blumenberg, “the only way in which it is possible to conceive that a human being ‘owes’ the world something. Because the other view, namely that it is the will of a providential deity, before whom all those must abase themselves who live by virtue of this deity’s power and strength, displays all the characteristics of absolutism: retroactive submission to the inevitable, heteronomous capitulation before the verdict that one is not one’s own master.” (l.c.) To adopt Blumenberg’s own vocabulary: the fact that we are “kicked into existence”, through the choice and action of others, rather than stepping into existence ourselves is to be understood as an “absolutism of reality”, as an imposition vis-à-vis a subject that would, then, be no more than apparently autonomous. Metaphors such as “the light of the world” and mythologemes such as that of the “pre-existing I” are intended to make this imposition something that human beings can live with.

Guilt About Displacement, Nativistic

If it really were a matter of such great importance to every living person that he or she began to exist, then we would all go through the world all our lives labouring under a certain nativistic sense of guilt. Because had things been different by only a hairsbreadth then not we ourselves, but rather some other person, would have been begotten and born. But this in turn would mean – so runs this nativistic mythologeme – that because we came to be, someone else did not come to be. Through our becoming another human being began not to exist who otherwise might have partaken of all the happiness on account of which there exists, supposedly, a moral obligation to beget new human beings.

Responsibility, Nativistic

(Prospective) parents like to speak of “taking on” responsibility. The formulation implies that this responsibility is passed over to these parents from some place or person external to them. What is overlooked, in other words, is that this situation of “being responsible” is created only through the act of bringing into existence a new human being. That is to say, rather than being a responsibility “taken over”, it is a self-created responsibility. From this point on, it is argued, everything possible must be done for the child thus created; it is above all incumbent on one to protect him or her from all the adversities of life. This aspect of “the ethics of parenthood” strikes one as constituting a special case of that general mechanism that was pointed up by Nietzsche in his On the Genealogy of Morality: a human being is deliberately exposed to harm in order that help, thenceforth, can be afforded him, thus serving to prove the moral worth of the person affording said help.

“Calling someone into existence” in order then immediately to set about protecting him or her from this existence is what the Argentinian antinatalist Julio Cabrera calls a “second-grade morality”. It is quite rightly, then, that Cabrera raises the question: “why should one have called someone into existence in the first place if one must then immediately begin to protect him from this very existence?” Herein is founded nativistic irresponsibility. Cabrera reminds those willing and eager to procreate that it may be a moral thing, indeed, to want to love, care for and protect someone who is already in the world but that one can never be justified in first bringing about the existence of a human being in order then to set about loving him, caring for him and “saving” him. Paradoxical as it may sound, the person eager to procreate leaves ab initio out of account that true philanthropy manifests itself in the form of acting in such a way that no further human being begins to exist.

True responsibility consists in having no progeny for whom one might need to “take on responsibility” in the first place. Mechthild Zschau articulates this truth when she writes: “I am afraid of the terrible responsibility that is implied in ‘creating’ a human being. I feel no ‘vocation’ to motherhood. I am afraid of the great power that a mother enjoys over her child, who remains totally dependent on her for a number of years. Indeed, I am afraid of power in general and wish to exercise it in no area of life at all.”[1] Applied to mankind in general this same truth runs: “True responsibility for the future of humanity consists in sparing it any future at all”. (Kohlbecher to Akerma, February 2011)

Irresponsibility of Procreation (Hans Reiner, 1896–1991)

Some remarkable insights into the irresponsibility of procreation are formulated by Hans Reiner in his 1960 book Der Sinn unseres Daseins: “Which of us has ever really meditated on the question of how we are really to answer for and justify the bringing of a new existence into the world, that is to say, the begetting of a child? From the viewpoint of a believing Christian, indeed, this question is not an urgent problem: because, as Christians, we let ourselves be guided by God’s exhortation to “go forth and multiply”. But even for the Christian the question remains of why God wanted, how God possibly could want, such a problematical race of creatures as human beings to come into existence and to perpetuate this existence generation after generation. [>Antinatalism, Christian-Theological] But if we set aside Christian belief, be it either because we have no such belief or because this belief has become, for us, something problematical, how then can we continue to bear the responsibility for the persistent procreation of new human beings? Does there, once we find ourselves in this position, suffice as justification for this action the simple fact that we want to have children, either because children are a source of joy for us or because it saddens us to think that our line will die out with our own deaths?” (Hans Reiner, Der Sinn unseres Daseins. Quotation found by Guido Kohlbecher).

Reiner also expresses in this book the idea that nativistic irresponsibility tends to manifest itself most clearly precisely there where parents become acquainted with the notion “better never to have been”. The continued procreation of something which is now perceived to be without sense or meaning demands an >Anthropodicy without the availability of which the future of humanity would be, at least metaphysically, at risk and would not look bright: “If we take all this into account and if there arises in our minds, in the face of it, even just a serious doubt about whether it is better to be born rather than not to be, how then can we take upon ourselves the responsibility of being ourselves the cause of others’ suffering that fate of being indeed born into this world? [>Damnators] The problem of this responsibility tips us, then, once more, in aggravated form, into the question of a “meaning of existence” that would extend beyond the meaning inhering just in the goals that we set for ourselves day by day and the general longing for happiness in which these latter find their common denominator. But this problem reveals itself, on closer consideration, to be one which does not just concern the personal ethical responsibility of each individual but is in fact of the broadest possible consequence for the future fate of humanity as a whole. If it is the case that we human beings have no other reason at all to procreate beyond the wish of the individual to “have children” or mere animal sexual desire, this tends to open up very poor prospects for the self-preservation of humanity in general, and in particular for that of its most intellectually advanced, leading strata. Because the technology of contraception today offers, to a very great extent, satisfaction to the mere sexual drive without procreation having to enter into the matter. And the wish for children has, especially among society’s upper strata, been greatly weakened and diminished by various other factors and circumstances. All this being the case, a doubt arising regarding ‘the meaning of life’ in general could well be a coup de grâce delivered once and for all to this weakened urge to procreate.” (Hans Reiner, Der Sinn unseres Daseins).


[1] Mechthild Zschau, Sterilisation. Nirgendwo ein Kinderwunsch. Eine Erklärung.

Vegetarianism, Veganism and Antinatalism

The field of objects covered by antinatalist moral theory comprises not human beings alone but rather all beings susceptible of suffering. For this reason there are perhaps more practicing antinatalists than one would think. Mostly without being aware that they are doing so, vegetarians and vegans practice a certain antinatalism: the more human beings adopt vegetarian or vegan diets, the fewer animals kept as livestock are slaughtered, eaten, raised, born, fattened up and slaughtered again. – Correspondingly, there are fewer suffering animals. If all human beings adopted vegetarian or vegan lifestyles, then numerous breeds, such as the domestic chicken, the domestic pig, or domestic cattle, would die out. >Axiopaths see an ethical iniquity in such a development, since (so they reason) every living being, species and breed of animal is valuable in itself and the world would become a place much poorer in values if one were to voluntarily cease to engender the maximum amount of living beings and to preserve the maximum number of different types and breeds.

Don’t you find the world to be lovely? – Valentin, Karl (1882–1948)

Below we reproduce a brilliant humorous dialogue invented by the Bavarian comedian Karl Valentin which renders whole collections of essays on these topics redundant:

LANG. So, you are a pessimist?

KARL VALENTIN. And you? An optimist!

L. I am indeed.

K.V. So everything looks rosy to you?

L. Indeed – everything!

K.V. The roses too?

L. Well, I would imagine that the roses look rosy even to you!

K.V. The roses, yes – but apart from them, nothing much looks rosy!

L. So how do you see the world?

K.V. Well, not rosy, I’ll tell you that! – Even though the old song goes: ‘O how lovely is the world…’

L. But why not? – Don’t you find the world to be lovely?

K.V. Not at all! – What’s lovely about it? – Everything, from birth on, is the very opposite of lovely. Or do you find birth lovely? Ask a midwife.

L. Well, “lovely” it isn’t – but that’s just the way things are.

K.V. Yes, “just the way things are” – and that’s just what isn’t lovely. It would be “lovely”, in my opinion, if things weren’t the way they are at all.

L. But if things weren’t the way they are, then you wouldn’t be in the world at all!

K.V. And wouldn’t that be lovely!

L. But if everyone thought like you there would be no one in the world at all!

K.V. Still lovelier!

L. For whom?

K.V. For all the people who wouldn’t have to be in the world!

L. But people who were never in the world can’t decide whether the world is lovely or not!

K.V. But just that is the lovely thing: that they were never in the world.”

Here, Valentin wittily jumps over the Shadow of his own existence by declaring frankly and freely to his interlocutor that a course of the world without him, Valentin, in it would have been preferable to the actual course of the world. The interlocutor, on his side, proves practiced enough to retort that it cannot really have been a fine thing for those human beings who never existed to have indeed not existed.

Utopias

Utopias are indices, and sometimes eloquent expressions, of a fundamental refusal to condone and tolerate our Conditio in-/humana. In many utopias we find an implicit avowal of the neganthropic constitution of our existence.

Primal Guilt

In his 1979 book The Imperative of Responsibility Hans Jonas treats the presence of human beings on the earth as indeed an unconditional imperative. Which is as much as to say that human beings ought to be, and are to continue to be brought into being, quite regardless of whatever conditions they might have to live under. Some years later, however, we see Jonas begin to express some doubt regarding this ruthless principle of an absolute imperative to exist, under all and any circumstances whatever. That “responsibility vis-à-vis Being”, as the “guardians” of which Jonas had long conceived us, begins to take on the form of a guilt:

Jonas’s Confession of Primal Guilt

“What exactly is it that justifies our imposing existence on a being – a being that cannot possibly have had any part in this choice – by bringing it into the world? There is a sort of primal guilt involved in the begetting and bearing of a child. Because we do not just give the child the >Gift of Life; we impose it upon him [>Diktat of Birth] without his having asked us to do so. We do simply presupposing that this child will surely “want his own life”, that is to say, that the life we are bringing into the world will surely be one that will embrace and affirm itself. But this is, in a certain sense, to be monstrously presumptuous.  Every one of us must be prepared to respond to that cry which once issued from the mouth of the prophet àJeremiah: “O Mother, why did you bear me?” And the response to this cry can only be: “Because the order of things in Nature will have it so, that it is only under this condition that human beings can be – although this being is a gamble, inasmuch the bearing of children means that the beings born are not only empowered to be human beings but also condemned to it”.

– The burden of existence is heavy, and perhaps those human beings whose existence has been the most worthwhile have been those who have suffered most under this burden. I remember once asking Martin Buber, who had known Kafka personally, what kind of impression this great writer had made. I will never forget his answer: “I can say one thing for sure: he was the unhappiest man I have ever encountered. Nevertheless, that a man like that should have existed is surely worth all the suffering. This is a terrible thing to say, I know, but his sufferings surely were ‘worth it’. [>Damnators]. Let me rather turn the question around. The problem, surely, consists not in what we owe the new-born baby in order that he or she might survive – this, we may say, is the aspect of positive responsibility – but rather in how far we may legitimately go in imposing existence upon a child that has been begotten by us.” (DIE ZEIT, 25.8.1989 Nr. 35, p. 9–12)

Just a few years before his death in 1993 we begin to see the re-emergence in Jonas’s statements of those >Gnostic themes and sentiments in the examination of which he had first made his name as a scholar. Jonas openly concedes that existence is an imposition; it is not so much “given as a gift” to the child – as the metaphysics favoured by all parents would have it be – as “dictated” to the child, and the child “condemned”, without his consent thereto, to take the burden of existence upon himself.

In the case of human beings who have contributed a great deal to human culture, such as Kafka, Mozart, Beethoven or Van Gogh, this “suffering from existence” is often at its most intense – but it is a suffering, Jonas suggests, that can be seen (at least retrospectively) to have been “worth it”, since the imposition of existence upon these men has resulted in their giving so much to others that has, perhaps, made existence easier for these many latter to bear: great books, great music or great painting. Jonas is performing, here, a crude utilitarian calculation in the worst sense of the term “utilitarian”: “condemnations to exist” are necessary because, without such condemnations, there could not only be no “useful” human beings but indeed no human beings at all. The question of just why there should be human beings remains, however, no more elucidated by Jonas in this context than he succeeds, elsewhere in his work, in justifying the imperative that there be a human race. Instead of this, it begins at least to dawn on him that the condemnation of human beings to an uncertain existence might be something irresponsible. Whereas in most of his writings Jonas tends to aspire only to equipping human beings, using the tools of metaphysics, to deal with present and future outbreaks of barbarism – to render them, in one image used by him, “Auschwitz-proof” – so that human existence is not sacrificed to the anticipable horrors of what it is to be human, here at least Jonas raises the key question of the >Limit Value, inasmuch as undertakes to consider “how far we may legitimately go in imposing existence upon a child that has been begotten by us”

Eye-Witness Evidence of Suffering Imposed, Parental

Most parents begin to become sickly and frail only at a point in time when their children have already become parents themselves. This means that parents generally come to live through those nightmare aspects of the Conditio in/humana to which they have condemned their own children only when it is too late. To experience these terrible aspects “in good time”, in this context, would mean: being an eye-witness to the sufferings of old age and sickness, as these become manifest in one’s own parents, early and vividly enough to shrink back from imposing these things on one’s own children, so that one rescinds any pronatal decision one might have taken, or takes no such decision in the first place.

In Fabio Volo’s novel The Road Home two brothers visit their aged father, who is slowly dying of dementia. Of one of the brothers Volo writes: “He knew that his father’s present state was the future that awaited him himself. When he looked at him, then, he saw not just ‘him’ but a ‘we’, a collective fate.”[1] – It is high time that human beings, through moral action, put an end to this grim collective fate!


[1] „Sapeva che il presente di suo padre era il futuro che lo attendeva, per questo quando lo guardava non vedeva solo un ‚lui‘, ma un “noi”, un destino collettivo.“ (La strada verso casa).

Immemoriality

Each of us, we may say, lives in “time immemorial” in the sense that we are unable to envisage a world in which we would not exist: as soon as we attempt to do so, we find that we are indeed present in the world that we envisage. This “immemoriality” may well go to nourish the effectiveness of the  >Natal Myth even on into our modern age: of that myth, that is to say, whereby we come from far away and were, at least in the form of an “infinitesimal ‘I’”, always already somehow “there”.