Estimation of the Consequences of Procreation and the Objective-Collective Co-Responsibility of All Parents

In terms of moral theory, people are considered as beings capable of justifying, and of taking responsibility for, their actions and omissions of action. Antinatalist >Enlightenment urges people who may, initially, be willing and ready to engage in procreation to undertake an estimation of the consequences of this procreation. Part of such an estimation, if it is to be thorough and circumspect, is a taking into account also of unforeseen and unintended consequences against the background of a >Heuristics of Fear

Objective-Collective Co-Responsibility of all Parents all that which Befalls All Human Beings

There resides in these unforeseen and unintended negative consequences of an act of procreation, which are nonetheless accepted as “worth it” by one engaging in such an act, what we call the objective-collective co-responsibility of all parents for all that befalls human beings be it through Nature or through the agency of other human beings. Generally speaking, parents do not pose themselves the question of the objective consequences of their bringing other human beings into existence, since they tend either to act egoistically in doing this or to look upon their progeny as “realizing” certain values. Procreating persons understand themselves as place-holders for such fundamental values as the “necessary” survival of the species or of the state, or the desirability of the presence of “freedom” in the universe; they leave out of account the fact that their value-directed actions give rise to consequences which undermine these very values. The community of procreators, in other words, imagines itself to be in harmony with a ruling system of values and narrows its gaze down onto the corresponding value-sphere alone: for example, onto the sphere of the family, or of that which sustains the state. Every procreative act, however, has effects in neighbouring value-spheres to its own: the natural environment, the state in its conflictual relations with other states, and the “life” thus brought about itself, the >”Gift” of which inevitably brings with it the death of another human being. – The realization of “the value: life” is indissolubly intertwined, then, with the negation of this very value.[1]

The objective-collective co-responsibility of all parents for all that befalls human beings becomes even clearer where we also apply, as follows, to the unintended consequences of progenerative decisions the standards of the unforeseen (1) and of the unforeseeable (2):

(1) Whoever has begotten children whom some ill has later befallen in their lives usually excuses himself by telling himself that he had not wanted this nor had he foreseen it. But this argument hardly holds water, since almost all that befalls human beings at present or is likely to in future has already befallen human beings in the past: really, everything was foreseeable and “checkable” inasmuch as it could be gleaned from the human species’s >Certificate of Past Conduct – i.e. from the testimony of history – so that it was really impossible to exclude just such conduct’s reoccurring in future. As in so many cases, what was supposedly “unforeseen” proves in fact to have been something deliberately ignored. Whoever makes a decision in favour of procreation does so in the knowledge – which is a definitely accessible knowledge which ought to be made still more accessible by antinatalist Enlightenment – that the future will not look very different from the present or from the past.

(2) Whoever begets children exposes them, furthermore – in a manner that is irresponsible and that therefore involves a moment of co-culpability – not just to the unforeseen but to the unforeseeable, inasmuch as she has taken her decision despite the given objective uncertainty.  Progenerative decisions are always also decisions made under conditions of objective uncertainty because, for example, nothing certain can ever be said either about the emergence of, or, once emerged, the persistence of, social or environmental conditions that will be tolerable for the begotten child. For this reason the parents are also in this regard co-responsible both for the suffering that befalls these begotten children and for that which they occasion.

Not-Being-Able-to-Know as Disguise for Not-Wanting-to-Know. On the Assigning of Moral Responsibility for the Consequences of Pro-Generative Decisions

Against the background of a reflectively-examined history of our species – a history in which genuinely humane states of affairs have remained, throughout, essentially absent – the generation of progeny is, in our view, an aspect of human action and omission which is most definitely susceptible of having moral judgment passed upon it. Both “common sense” awareness and philosophy, indeed, have largely immunized themselves against any attempt at making an examinable problem of the fact of human procreation (>Immune system). We have to do here with nothing less than an anathema set up by society as a whole (> “Criminal” Antinatalism).

Of key importance is a discussion of the criterion of intentionality. Since – so it is argued – it is not possible to impute a subjectively evil intention to any individual who engages in procreation, it cannot either be possible to render anyone responsible or culpable for the likelihood of the misery that has characterized mankind’s past and present’s continuing on into the future. If it is indeed the case that the human beings of the future end up in situations of physical and mental distress, this can at most be said to be due to a “systemic evil” arising spontaneously out of the sum of collective actions – an evil, in other words, that the individual could never do anything about and for the perpetuation of which his individual contribution had necessarily to be negligibly small. We cannot speak of “culpable causation” or even of “calculability” where the causal agency seemingly exerted by a single individual tends in fact to be dissolved in the structures of complex social systems or indeed the incalculable complexity of the future. The conditions we live under are so complex that it is impossible for anyone to know what effects his actions might produce, regardless of whether he procreates or not. Thus, inhumane conditions likely to obtain in the future due to pro-generative decisions taken today are excused and forgiven on the grounds that these decisions, and thus the later conditions, were not intended. Future inhumanity is, in this way, presented as something entirely separate from the decisions made by any individual.

This exculpation, however, by reference to the non-intentionality and non-foreseeability of any such inhumane consequences as may emerge in the future, of every individual making up the community of procreation amounts to nothing less than a liquidation of moral subjectivity. It is indeed indisputably the case that that individual who brings about the existence of another human being only follows imperatives arising from biological radicals, from the urge to self-realization, and from the value-claims of the various collectives in which she moves and lives. But it is also the case that mere reference to the facts that whoever procreates intends no evil thereby and that the future is unforeseeable is powerless to ground any anthropodicy and does not at all suffice to exculpate the individual. The decisive consideration remains rather the following: whoever, today, commits procreation ignores and forgoes, in doing so, the appropriation, and the existentially responsible mental processing, of knowledge that is easily accessible and of which she cannot possibly be oblivious. This is a knowledge which, provided only that the will to process and implement it exists, cannot but lead to the reconsideration of any such pro-generative decision as may already have been taken. The belief in the tenability of a simple dichotomy opposing intended to unintended ill forms part of that social >Immune System alluded to above; it is this belief, in large part, that serves to sustain the socially-required illusion of the moral incontestability of procreation.[2]


[1] For the above see Robert K. Merton, Die unvorhergesehenen Folgen zielgerichteter sozialer Handlung, in: H. P. Dreitzel, Sozialer Wandel, Luchterhand, Neuwied und Berlin 1967, p. 169-183.

[2] Instructive with regard to this issue are certain remarks made in Wolfgang Würger-Donitza: Grundlegung einer negativen Anthropologie. Band 2: Die Macht und das Böse, p. 152-189.

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