Criminality of Begetting

To act in such a way that, as a consequence of one’s action, someone necessarily dies is (except in cases of self-defence) considered to be acting criminally. In order, then, to distinguish actions as a consequence of which an already-existing human being must die (real criminality) from actions as a consequence of which some additionally-arising human being must die, we speak of a “criminality of begetting”. There would belong to the general class of acts falling under the rubric “criminality of begetting” also all types of action ancillary to this latter, from the performing of artificial-insemination measures through to midwife services.

Fernand Calmettes on Léon Dierx

„… he will say to them that there is really only one form of crime which comprises the origin of all other crimes: namely, the crime of offering up victims to life, of allowing children to come into the world.”[1]

Mayreder (1858–1938)

A good sense for what constitutes “the criminality of begetting” is displayed by Mayreder when she writes of the offence of conception as a symmetrical form of the offence of homicide: “Since it counts as a crime to take life away from a human being, is it less of a crime to give life to him?” (Mayreder, Zur Kritik der Weiblichkeit, S. 192) People, who premeditatedly beget another human being do not just impose countless ills upon the begotten person but also arrange things so that, in one way or another, a human being loses their life. In her memoirs of her youth Mayreder describes how – despite a mistrust of and rebellion against her own father – she did not succeed in recognizing, herself, this “criminal offence of begetting” but had to have this aspect of the matter pointed out to her by a young friend. What Mayreder presents to us in her Critique of Fatherhood as her own insight was in fact nothing to which she felt, emotionally, inclined although, rationally, she could not but concur with this insight: “Despite the inner resistance I felt to paternal despotism within our family no thought so heretical as that of calling my father’s moral right to beget children into question ever crossed my mind. Imagine my shock, then, when a young man from a rather more exalted social circle than our own one day, in my presence, raised the question: ‘with what right do fathers bring children into the world and impose on them the expectation that they should endure existence in it – indeed even that they should show gratitude to their parents for this thoughtless and arbitrary deed? If it generally counts as a crime to take the life of a human being, is it really less bad to give such a human being life?” I was stunned to be presented with this way of looking at things: it seemed to me fundamentally false and yet at the same time irrefutable, provided only one ceased unthinkingly to feel and perceive life itself to be an incomparably valuable >Gift (Rosa Mayreder, Das Haus in der Landskrongasse)


[1] „… il vous dira qu’une seule forme de crime existe qui contient en elle l’origine de tous les autres, le crime de livrer des victimes à la vie, de faire naître des enfants…“ (In: Fernand Calmettes, Leconte de Lisle et ses amis, Librairies-Imprimeries réunies, Paris 1902, S. 155)

Time-Ignorance

A cognitive distortion which brings it about that the duration of a negative experience becomes, retrospectively, of relative unimportance, provided only that the stretch of time in question was not concluded by said negative experience and that at the end of this latter there occurred some relative improvement.

Dignity

Not least of the intentions behind the raising of “human dignity” to the status of highest principle of the current German constitution was surely a certain desperate aspiration to take actions leading to new human beings’ beginning to exist and make them appear, even after the terrible mass murders of the 20th century, ethically defensible. After the human species had once again degraded itself – and perhaps this time more deeply than ever before – in the course of the Second World War (àFall, neganthropic) the taking up of a supposed guarantee of human dignity into the German constitution represented an attempt to circumvent what was really the only appropriate and adequate reaction: a voluntary renunciation of all procreation as the only measure that could really prevent something so terrible from ever occurring again.

This general political-juridical commitment to “human dignity”; the fact that the demand for this dignity’s preservation has found its way, in the 20th century, into so many state constitutions and international declarations – these are, far from being expressions of mankind’s having risen to some new and higher level of moral awareness, rather to be ascribed to the fact that this century represented a culmination point in terms of infringement of just this human dignity (See F. J. Wetz, Die Würde des Menschen ist antastbar) F. J. Wetz argues as much in his book Human Dignity is Violable: “Today, at the end of the 20th century, which has seen two world wars, liberation struggles, tribal conflicts and revolutions on all continents, with millions of men, women and children of all ages dead, crippled, raped or otherwise robbed of their dignity, history continues to offer a spectacle of misery, a comfortless drama of suffering…” (Wetz, Die Würde)

While the constitutions and declarations, then, continue to describe “human dignity as inviolable” this dignity is in fact gambled with, irresponsibly, with each new birth. Because no institution or person in the world was or is in a position really to guarantee any new-born human being an existence with dignity. And every birth means the condemnation of a human being to a freedom which he can often only acquire by taking his own life.

The appeal to human dignity is part of that cultural immune system which is intended to preserve us from insight into the fact that, since Auschwitz at the very latest, the only morally defensible way to preserve this dignity is to remain without progeny. The author of the just-cited book appears also to intuit this truth; but he omits to make the antinatalist consequences explicit – something which also goes to show how deeply-lying and effective this cultural immune system continues to be:

“Humanity’s fate was always a difficult one and it is an illusion to believe that it was only in the 20th century that the world went ‘out of joint’ and that all was well and good before. Many places on the earth have always been sites of suffering and destruction, so that one cannot help but anxiously confront the question of whether life is not perhaps something which, rather than being lived with dignity, must, at best, be suffered through and put up with till the end (c.f. Wetz, p. 65) It seems impossible to fathom how, on the basis of this insight, there has failed to arise a general demand that distance be taken, in future, from the bringing of any more human beings into the world.

Nativistic Miracle

The fact that, even in the face of the history of the human species up till now and with the fates suffered by their respective relatives, dead near and dear ones and other acquaintances plainly there for them to observe, there are still people who become parents.

The Illusion of Being “Well-Born”

Grimmelshausen’s Simplicissimus arrives at the conclusion: “The word ‘well-born’ is a complete untruth. One would hear such an untruth from the mother of any baron if one were to ask her how things had gone for her during the birth of her son.” (Grimmelshausen, Der abenteuerliche Simplicissimus

Value-Blindness

The existence of human beings, and the continuation of this existence, enjoy the status of an absolute value. The glistening of this absolute value renders us blind to the fact that the realization of this value is to be effected only at the price of the negation of many other values, indeed at the price of the collapse of whole value-systems.

The World and Ourselves

Instead of saying “XY is dead” it would perhaps be less open to miscomprehension to say: “The world is now without XY”. If we say “XY is dead” the amphiboly of the concept of existence suggests that this person is still – even if in some quite other state or condition – somehow amongst us. More correct is the form of words: “XY is no longer amongst us”. Analogously, it is not correct to say that we “enter into existence”; more correct is: “the world is increased by us” when we begin to exist.

Premeditated Begetting

In times and places which have already entered the >Era of Contraception it is overwhelmingly mostly premeditated >Perpetrators of Existence that become parents. Individuals take a conscious decision not to prevent the worst occurring: namely, that yet one more human being will have to suffer and die. They decide not to make use of contraceptive methods – which are nonetheless easy of access – in order that children that they wish for themselves begin to exist. Long before the start of the Era of Contraception Schopenhauer expressed what is essential about this fact of “premeditated begetting” when he wrote, in his Parerga und Paralipomena that “To bring a human being into the world without any subjective passion, without the drive of sexual pleasure or any other form of physical urge, merely by premeditation of the act and in cold-blooded deliberate intention, simply in order that the human being in question be brought to ‘be there’ – this would be a profoundly morally questionable action the onus of which only very few would take upon themselves; indeed, one might say that such an act of premeditated begetting stands in the same relation to the conceiving of a child due to simple sexual desire as a coldly planned and premeditated murder stands to an act of manslaughter committed in a moment of blind fury.” (Schopenhauer, Parerga und Paralipomena, § 167) But Schopenhauer clearly makes a fundamental error here. Even where we take due account of “subjective passion”, in times and places where contraceptive methods are quickly and easily available it would be impossible for conception to occur without a certain “premeditation and cold-blooded deliberate intention”. It is not, then – as Schopenhauer suggests – only a very few who take upon themselves the onus of such a “profoundly morally questionable action” but rather the great majority of the members of many societies. The great majority of people take it willingly upon themselves to act in such a way that a person (their own child) will have to die, after having undergone various moments and phases full of pain and suffering. The argument that every such person brought into the world experiences joy and pleasure as well as suffering does not hold water inasmuch as the prevention and diminution of pain and suffering weighs far more heavily, ethically, than does the bringing about of joy and happiness. Heinrich Heine also appears to have conceived the idea that “premeditated begetting” is something immoral. He writes: “Neither of us have any children. In order to beget children, a certain conviction is necessary.” (Heine, Aphorismen und Fragmente) Unfortunately, Heine does not specify in any more detail just what kind of “conviction” a person would need to have in order premeditatedly to beget offspring.

Thereness

Natality-critical category intended to designate an abrupt, usually diffuse coming-to-consciousness of one’s own having-been-placed-in-the-world, of one’s own heteronomy and one’s status as the effect of a cause that is not oneself, and of the non-necessity, in the last analysis, of the fact and manner of one’s existence.

Voluntary and Exploitative Fallacy

From the fact that most of us, at almost every point in time and in almost every life-situation (>Readiness for Misery) have, qua >Vitality, the bionomically-induced wish to go on living – i.e. from the fact that we are biologically driven – there is drawn first one erroneous conclusion, namely that new, other human beings ought to begin to live, and secondly a further erroneous conclusion, namely that procreation requires no justification:  

Since I believe that I know it to be true of myself that I would wish to go on living even in misery and that I would accept such misery rather than putting an end to my own life, I conclude that I can pass on life to others with a good conscience. But whoever thinks like this overlooks the fact that misery is decidedly something from which we try to escape. Analogous to this “voluntary fallacy” is the “exploitative fallacy”, which runs:

Since exploited human beings prefer to persist in their enslaved, subservient, exploited existence rather than take their own lives, exploitation must be something that is morally defensible.

Bernard Williams (1929–2003) – biological radicals weigh heavier than reason

Williams brings to expression here the idea that the rational reasons for persisting in our practices of procreation are so weak that, were this question to be decided by reason alone, humanity would long since have died out. “Humanity would quite certainly die out if the wish to live were not stronger than any reasons perceived to speak in favour of human beings’ remaining alive.” (Bernard Williams, retranslated from German edition)