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.

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